Islam: The Religion of Peace (long)

The current thread ranting about the latest bombing in Saudi Arabia, and it got me thinking about a subject I have been meaning to post about on here, but have been held back by lack of time. Seeing as I have nothing much to do tonight, I may as well try to tackle it.

I once was Muslim. I was raised Catholic, but by the age of 11 or so I had become an agnostic, occasionally dabbling in Neo-Paganism. The summer before my senior year of high school, I decided to learn what I could about Islam. I quickly became interested in what I was reading and hearing, and decided to convert. I suppose what attracted me to Islam was its uncompromising stance on monotheism, and the fact that it was a logical, orderly system of beliefs descending from the axiom that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. My Catholic upbringing had been largely a cultural thing (I’m of Irish-Italian descent), and I was never exposed to the heavy-duty theology and philosophy of the Church. Islam was the first religion I had looked at seriously, that both had a long tradition behind it and was more than a collection of folk beliefs and traditions. It was logical, and I liked it.

So I became Muslim. I was fairly devout, as new converts tend to be; I prayed 5 times a day, fasted in Ramadhaan, and hung out a lot at masjid. I started learning Arabic, in preparation for beginning Qu’ranic memorization studies. The masjid I attended was fairly small, compared to the other mosques in Houston, but the people seemed to be fairly laid-back, compared to the media portrayals of Islam I had grown up seeing (although I later learned from some Naqshbandi Sufis who had been mostly forced out of that mosque, though they still occasionally attended, that the leadership there and a large part of the congregation were hardline Wahhabis, although I never noticed any extremist behavior. I suspect that they may have held back a bit on their rhetoric, or at least kept it in Urdu, to avoid scaring me off, as I was both the only male of European descent, and the only male convert at that mosque. I never interacted with females there; that portion of the Islamic stereotype, at least in masjid and related functions, is accurate).

So I was a new practising Muslim, and I started to build up a decent library of every English-language piece of Islamic scholarship I could; I got the whole set of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, every English-language translation of the Qu’ran, commentaries on the Qu’ran, studies on fiqh (jurisprudence), history of fiqh, The Reliance of the Traveller, etc. I knew some about the warfare committed in the name of Islam, the persecution of Jews and Christians in Islamic lands, “conversion by the sword,” etc. I knew that atrocities had been committed in Allah’s name, but, much like the atrocities in Christianity’s history, I believed that they were actions of misguided individuals, and a perversion of the ideals of the religion.

When I began my in-depth studies on Islamic jurisprudence (well, as in-depth as I could with the books available in English, which, while far from exhaustive, most likely went into far more detail on the specifics of Islam than most Muslims would ever know or care about), I quickly found that there was a key difference between the crimes committed in the name of Christianity, and those in the name of Islam. While Christianity has as some of it’s core teachings the ideas of “turn the other cheek” and “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Islam taught at its core the the idea of spreading Islam by any means necessary. Islam has no conception of separation of religion and state; thus, I find somewhat dishonest the claims that such-and-such Islamic government that has committed atrocities wasn’t really representing Islam, when the government claimed it was, and (and this is the key point), according to the ideals of Islam, it was.

Regarding this last point, unfortunately the only cites I am currently able to give come from Umdat as-Salik, or The Reliance of the Traveller (with commentary by Umar Barakat and Sheikh Nuh `Ali Salman, translated by Nuh Ha Meem Keller), as the bulk of my Islamic texts are in a box in my attic. However, I believe that quotes from this book will suffice to provide basic evidence of my point, as the Reliance of the Traveller is one of the definitive statements of Shafi’i fiqh (Shafi’i being one of the four great schools of Sunni jurisprudence), and it was written in 1368, still in the later limits of the “Golden Age” in Islamic thought, and long before the rise of modern Islamic extremism.

From `Umdat as-Salik, section o9 (Jihad): (commentary by Barakat) “Jihad means to war against non-Muslims.”

o9, quoting a hadith reported by Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim: “the Prophet said 'I have been commanded to fight people until they testify thnat there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat.”

o9.8: “The caliph (theoretically, supreme religious and political leader of Islam) makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians … until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax.”

o9.9: "The caliph fights all other peoples [i.e. non-Christians, Jews, or Zoroastrians] until they become Muslim.

o9.15: “It is permissible in jihad to cut down the enemy’s trees and destroy their dwellings.”

Furthermore, according to `Umdat as-Salik, non-Muslims living under Muslim domination have restrictions placed upon them that constitute an extreme denial of religious freedom. These include (o11.5): being forced to wear distinctive clothing, having to keep to the side of the street, not being permitted to build higher than Muslim’s buildings, not being able to openly display symbols of their religious or to publicly celebrate their religion, and not being able to build new places of worship.

The concept of Dar ul-Islam (the land of Islam) and Dar ul-Harb (the enemy lands) is found throughout classical Islamic writings on Jihad, and despite the modern effort to rehabilitate the word, jihad has had the meaning, and still does, of war for the purpose of expanding Dar ul-Islam and diminishing Dar ul-Harb.

It was learning things such as this that, over the course of that year, drove a wedge between myself and Islam; I found that I could not follow a religion that claimed to come from God and yet officially endorsed what I felt to be despicable and evil behavior. It is my personal opinion that the actions of the current Islamic terrorists are not aberrations in interpretation of Islam, but fall square within the historical tradition of jihad. Rather, I think that it is the modernizers and liberals in Islam, calling for Westernization and crowing about how jihad means struggle against injustice, who stand outside the pale of historical Islam.

I will conclude by saying that I am not terribly interested in debating the merits of Islam; I’ve done more than my share of that, on both sides of the issue. I simply wanted to give my thoughts on the current trumpeting of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance. I should also note that I have no special dislike of Muslims per se; I have known many Muslims who I felt were decent, moral and ethical people. I simply believe that the religion itself is, at best, not good.

Yes but can’t you make similar claims about Christianity in texts from that period (1300’s)?

Your post is far more detailed and researched then I can dispute, but it seems to me that any sort of reliance on ancient ideas is susceptible to flaws found in ancient morals. Any religion that wants to survive must adapt to the times.

That’s not to say there aren’t fundamentalists and extremists everywhere, but I propose that the majority of the stakeholders and participants change the core teachings and leanings to meet the modern day.

Paging Mr. Collounsbury! Mr. Collounsbury, customer needs assistance on aisle 5.

Mr. Tamerlane! Mr. Tamerlane to the front desk.

Well, just a nitpick or two…

I’d heartily disagree. By 1368 the old Pax Islamica had been fractured for almost 500 years and the episodes of the Crusades were about a century in the past. The ‘Golden Age’ probably came to an end no later than 1050 and probably a century earlier ;). It was in the 10th century when we first see the rise of extreme Islamic chauvinism and widespread ( if highly erratic ) persecution of non-Muslim minorities. It was in this period that arch-fundamentalists that Ibn Taymiyyah were doing their primary writing and it is no surprise that Saudi Arabia’s dominant Wahhabi sect rejects all innovation/additioons to Islamic thought penned after the 10th century ( if they were true purists of course, they’d reject all inovations since the Qur’an, but that would deprive them of their beloved 10th century extremists ).

1368 was in fact a period of considerable chaos in the Islamic world. The Maghreb was unsettled. The Ottomans were just beginning their rise in western Anatolia and southern Europe. Persia, Eastern Anatolia, and Mesopotamia were a mess following the collapse of the Il-Khanate. The stagnating Chagatai state was in near-collapse and was shortly to give rise to my namesake. And Mameluke Egypt and Syria were the sort of stable that isn’t - the perfect definition of a perpetually unstable stable state.

Quite true, though intermediate stages also were acknowledged, depending on the writer. I’ve discussed this elsewhere on this board recently ( you can do a search if you like ), but the briefly these concepts derive neither directly from the Qur’an or Hadith. Rather they are from jurists writing from about a century or so later, when the Islamic state appeared to be bound for eventual world victory - They have no force of Holy Writ.

Well, I’ll partially disgree. Terrorism has always been an aberration, and all religions evolve. Christianity certainly has. Though I certainly wouldn’t trumpet Islam as a paragon of peace and tolerance, either. However I’m about as tired of debating these issues as you seem to be uniterested in doing so, so I’ll leave it at that.

I will conclude by saying that I am not terribly interested in debating the merits of Islam; I’ve done more than my share of that, on both sides of the issue. I simply wanted to give my thoughts on the current trumpeting of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance. I should also note that I have no special dislike of Muslims per se; I have known many Muslims who I felt were decent, moral and ethical people. I simply believe that the religion itself is, at best, not good.

While I’ll certainly never quibble with a person’s own religious exploration :). Speaking as an athiest, I’m not particularly enamored Islam myself. How I ever became cast in the role of its perpetual defender on these boards, I’ll never know :p. The fact that I don’t acknowledge the existence of a God, nor any supernatural phenomena at all and you’ll get a razor near my pubes over my cold, dead body, kinda disqualifies me.

However I’ve met far too many decent Muslims, genuinely pious Muslims, to ever dismiss the religion in a blanket fashion. And I’ve read far too much history to regard claims of superiority by other faiths as anything but highly equivocal.

  • Tamerlane

I, too, want to believe that there are redeeming qualities about Islam, and that most of the problems are a misunderstanding between our respective cultures.

But then, this happens and it gets very frustrating.

This feels like a slap in the face, I tried to understand and support Muslims and Islam during all of the recent “unpleasantness” and now this! :frowning:

Freyr, that looked mighty tangential. Especially, since a follow-on paragraph in your cite reads

Gay rights is hardly an Islam vs. the rest of the world argument.

Point taken.

In my own way, I have tried to defend Muslims and Islam in my own country (the US) against the prejudice of many of my fellow countrymen. But then the article above happens and now where do I stand? I don’t hate Islam or Muslims but I have little urge to help defend a group of people who would as soon see me in jail or worse, simply for who I am.

That’s my delimma and why I feel like it’s a slap in the face.

For some reason Testy’s original account of his story of the terrorist attack has been locked. Anyway, I just want to say that Testy is an inspriring man and my prayers are with him, and wish him (and those he is watching over) good luck and godspeed.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in the middle of a war zone and have to deal with the horrible things he’s going through.

My prapers, and my familiy’s prayers are with you and your neighbors, Testy.

zuma, it was locked at Testy’s request. My assumption, and that’s all this is, is that he was needed on many fronts over there and he could not continue to respond to the many questions being put to him in a thread he’d started and simply asked that it be closed so that any silence on his part would not be misconstrued. Let’s hope he can come back at a near date and provide more 1st hand insight.

yBeayf, interesting OP and replies by all.

Surely, if you’re going to blame a particular religious group for opposing gay rights in the U.S., Christian fundamentalists would be the most obvious target. But the bigger issue is that bigotry, is the real problem, not a particular religion.

Ugh. Are you kidding? Listen, I am truly sorry for what happened to him, and I understand his anger, but that anger is completely misdirected and I think that’s sad. It is not “inspiring” in the least, and I’m glad that thread got locked (albeit for the wrong reasons).

blowero, try having a look at page 3 of Testy’s thread where he moderates his opinion.

I think the “inspiring” thing about the whole thing is not his emotional response, but rather the support and care he showed to his fellow people during their time of need.

That said, let’s not ruin a perfectly good discussion with yet more arguing about said thread.:slight_smile:

Well, it’s a shame that that horrible thread ever got started in the first place, but I can certainly empathize with someone who’s been through such an experience, and I am glad to see that Testy did come around at the end of it. That shows a lot of character to be able to let go of that anger and hatred.

As for “ruining” the discussion, I disagree. It’s wrong to blame an entire religion for the actions of a few, and I will continue to say so no matter how many threads you think it ruins. When people stop hating, I will stop “ruining” threads.

blowero’s got it right. The biggest thing I got from the locked thread was that quite a few people think that we’re all bigots and, when provoked, it’s okay to start making racist comments. I’m not sure if those who feet that way think it’s okay to go out and start hanging folks.

I’m with blowero in thinking that, no, not everyone’s a bigot underneath–just the bigots are.

Go back and read the article I quoted. It was about a UN resolution that the Muslim countries derailed.

I agree wholeheartedly, it is about bigotry. If Muslims want the bigotry directed toward them stopped, they have to stop the bigotry they keep directing towards others.

Listen, fuck you with this “go back and read the article” crap. I don’t need to re-read anything. If you are going to blame Islam itself for being anti-gay (rather than blaming the actual people who are responsible), then you have to blame Christianity just as much. How many gay rights initiatives have been killed by the Christian Right in the U.S.? People have been using their religion as an excuse for bigotry for thousands of years, and the problem is not peculiar to one particular religion. So if you want to blame ALL Muslims for the persecution you feel, then you aren’t any better than those people who blame ALL gay people for their problems.

Honestly, I would think that, as a member yourself of a group that is often unfairly stereotyped, that you wouldn’t be so quick to denigrate the entire billion or so Muslims in the world.

Well, youthful enthusiasms lead to disillusion, a typical tale really.

A few historical points:

I’m puzzled by the last bit. I am sure you’re aware that men and women pray separately – and given the manner in which one prays, it rather makes sense. The whole butt in the air thing. Well regardless, living and working in predominately Muslim countries for the past decade and speaking fluent Arabic, I can tell you your experience is somewhat divergent from actual Arab Muslim and certainly African Muslim reality. Pity (or not) that you took up with a fundie mosque, although they were probably deobandi and not Wahhabites per se if they were indo-pak Muslims, although perhaps a distinction with less meaning nowadays.

Well, as an historical matter, forced conversion, for a variety of reasons not all particularly flattering (taxation), was in fact vanishingly rare. As for persecution, if one takes comprables, one finds rather readily the Xians and Jews got a far better deal under the Muslims than the inverse up until roughly the 19th century or so. On average. At the very least, Islam includes an explicit recognition of the other boys as valid religions – one that has been extended by ijtihad to other religions. By our late 20th or early 21st century standards, the jurisprudence of Islam from the 7th to 14th centuries leaves some things to be desired, but historians largely hold (see Lapidus and Lewis for example) practice was on average better than law, until the decline of the Ottomans in large part, although there are ugly episodes to be sure.

What else are ideals for, except to be perverted by reality?

A bold claim, for someone who has apparently not had very much exposure to the Islamic world. Perhaps true for much of the illiterate masses, but I would suggest a bit more humbleness for someone who apparently had some ad hoc studies in translation – given the mosque I would suggest you got a certain point of view included. That’s a rec. to realize you got a skewed view of Islam.

Your understanding here is somewhat impoverished by the fundies who were behind it.

Primo, it is very clear that there are rules in standard Sunnah about spreading Islam. No compulsion, respect for those who surrender and for pacts and the like, no attacking non-combatants. These are all clear rules. Now, of course, humans being humans, we do not lack for violations of those codes, any more than we do in the case of Xianity or indeed I would guess Judiasm, etc.

Second, although it is fashionable to draw attention to the somewhat different development of State versus religion in Xianity and Islam, the difference is rather exaggerated. Certainly in the modern American sense of separation of Church and State, no religion to my knowledge has it. Certainly European nations until the great secularizations of the 19th and most especially 20th centuries show frequent recourse in their laws to Xian “law” – rather obviously a less coherent and more varied in theory body than the Sunnah.

The specific tensions between the Church in Western Xianity and the State are indeed lacking, as they lack in Eastern Xianity with its tradition of priests in power. Accidents of history, but we can equally point to, in much Islamic history – indeed the balance of it, the lack of theocracy also. The Ulema stayed out of power, in gross. We can find exceptions, but rarely are those we might call “Ulema” found ruling a country. Advising and urging the application of the holy law – but this does not seem so very different in most respects from Xianity. Structures are different, but not so much when compared in proper time frames.

Actually let me quote Lapidus on this matter: “A central feature of these [historical Islamic] societies was the structure of state and religious organization. We commonly say that in Muslim societies state and religion are unified and that Islam is a total way of life which defines political, as well as social and familial matters. This, of course, is the common Muslim view embodied in the ideal of the Prophet and the early Caliphs who were rulers and teachers, repositories of both temporal and religious authority, and whose mission was to lead the community in war and morality. This ideal continued to inspire the efforts of reformist, revivalist, and ‘Caliphal’ movements to create an integrated Muslim state and society. …… Most Muslim societies did not and do not conform to this ideal, and were and are built around separate state and religious institutions. By the eighth and ninth centuries, the early Caliphate was already evolving into an imperial and secular political regime, while Muslim populations were being organized into a multitude of religiously defined and religiously led associations or communical groups. …… The separation on an institutional level of state institutions and religious associations become the norm for the late ‘Abassid Caliphate, the Saljuq and Mamluk Sultanates, the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires, and other Muslim regimes.

This separation, however, was neither clear-cut nor complete. While the separation was clear on an institutional level and in terms or organizations, personnel, and ethos, in cultural concept there was a deep ambiguity about both state and religio-communal associations. Muslim states, on the one hand, were considered instruments of worldly, secular power…. On the other hand, secular though they were, thee states also had a Muslim religious value derived from historical continuity with the early Caliphate, or based on their role as defenders, patrons, and supporters of Muslim worship, education, law and jihad. … Similarly, Muslim religious associations, though basically committed to small communal and individual religious pursuits, were involved in politics. While Muslim religious leaders were in fact committed to an apolitical form of religiousity, in concept they could not imagine their associations as entirely independent of an all-embracing Islamic political order.” [ Lapidus A History of Islamic Societies 1988, p.880-882]

There is further analysis, but this captures the essence.

Finally, I find the statement on Islamic governments, well, strange. First, the standard. The government of Spain in the 15th century certainly felt itself to be a Xian and truly holy government – and supported the inquisition. Do I conclude Xianity is bad from that? For all time? Was it representing Xianity truly? Some part of certainly, but how long to the statute of limitations run and what balances it with good deeds.

We’ll skip over the part of playing faqih, neither of us is remotely qualified.

See comments above. You need to learn some history. In general, sadly enough, learning about a religion in a balanced manner usually requires one not to be part of it, and to go for the neutral histories.

Regardless, if you wish to judge the above in its time, and in its actual application, I would suggest starting with some historians such as Bernard Lewis. Many of the items cited above are true, but partly true, and not true over the entire Islamic world or over the entire history of Islam. Regretably the extremists have an idealized and often false view of that history – one which seems positive to them, but really denies the historical liberalism that one could locate in the religion (as well as the nasty ugly parts that the extremists sometimes celebrate as virtues).

Well, I would not call it a modern effort to rehabilitate, but perhaps to retake the word. A legitimate aspiration. Certainly I would say most modern moderate Muslims do not think of the world in terms of dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb. Pity, once again, you took up with some immoderate ones – or maybe not as the case may be.

That’s certainly what the Wahhabite strain wants you to think, of course their POV on why this is the case comes from rather different sources. However, your thinking remains impoverished and skewed, sadly by a bunch of narrow minded asses. Again, I advise corrective reading from impartial historians, again such as Lewis, on historical Islam.

Certainly, the modes of modern Terror seem to fall largely outside of the Jihad tradition, at least in legalistic terms, targeting civilians in the manner it does. In reality, modern Islamism is novel and ‘modern.’

As you wish, you’ve an impoverished and warped introduction it would seem, which might be sad, although it does save me running into yet another wide eyed young idealist telling me not to drink and blithering on pointlessly about the beauty of Islam etc. – for all that I rather like the religion from some points of view and dislike it from others. But that pretty much covers religion for me. You can be assured my above comments are not in any interest to convert you or argue “merits” per se, I am simply disappointed by a lack of good factual support for them. As a general matter, such as discomfort with prevailing attitudes towards women or what not – for all I find almost all things to be in the end malleable by culture – there ample rational reasons not to be Muslim, including dislike of the entire idea of organized religion. Go for those, and not the less well based ones – there is little I find more irritating than ill-based dislikes, etc. for all that your experience is understandable, and better that you did not stay with the fundies.

Thank you both for the kind thoughts. I posted that thread while suffering from an adrenalin overdose. I was awakened just before midnight and went running around Riyadh to help some co-workers and personal friends. I wound up with a family-and-a-half in my home for the night, some of which were cut up from flying glass and all of which were in shock. In addition to that, compound security had just discovered a vehicle parked alongside the compound wall so we expected to get hit as well. (I suspect this was just some poor guy that had picked a poor time to run out of gas or have a flat.)
By the time I started posting the main event was mostly over but I was still pumped up. As the phone system was jammed, I got on the satellite connection and sent a few quick emails to friends to let them know what had happened and that we were OK. Reports were still coming in intermittantly on the GSM phone of people being stalked through the streets, one of my daughter’s friends had been shot while another would do nothing but scream. It seems she had gotten out of her house immediately after the blast and had stepped on some teeth and possibly other body parts. Anyway, to cut a long story a little bit shorter, I was sitting with the trusty laptop and had a bleeding kid laying across my lap and was simply pissed. (In the American sense.) As an OBTW, upon re-reading some of that I sound like the little girl had arterial bleeding which was not the case. She just got hit in the leg with a flying piece of something. Cement, probably.

By the next day the whole thread seemed like an over-reaction and I’d obviously taken a position I couldn’t defend so I requested it be closed. Coldfire was good enough to oblige me in that instead of letting the thing run it’s course and devolve into the inevitable and embarrasing train-wreck. (Thank you for that.)
As I mentioned in the thread, the little girl is patched up and the group that “needs killing” is slowly shrinking and by now is pretty much just the guys that pulled the triggers and their support structure. This would be a good subject for debate though and I’d like to take this up later in a more rational manner.

All the best.


Testy, I’m truly glad that you changed you position, and of course I agree that the people who did this are beneath contempt. In my opinion, you didn’t overreact; you just mis-directed your anger.