Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What really is the message of Islam?

In the last week I have had, in effect, 3 gentle warnings from 3 different people about what they see as a serious misconception of Islam and so I have been reflecting on our recent discussions in the context of July 7th. Who are we to be discussing Islam? What do most of us honestly know about it?

One of the three people expressed concern about politicians 'romanticising' Islam, another in a newspaper article drew out contrasts between the New Testament and the Koran, emphasising that the latter had nothing like the message of love that Jesus proclaimed, and the third directed me to the following website for some 'real' information about Islam!!! If I understood correctly, the essential point that all three were trying to make was that whilst individual Muslims may be peace loving the message of their faith is not. As I have still not managed to read any more than selected quotations from the Koran and have not yet tackled the pile of books Alifya kindly lent me some time back I am yet to make my mind up on the issue.

HOWEVER what I do know is that in politically sensitive times like these it is very difficult to have a proper debate on the important issues and very tempting to get caught up in the wave of hope that we can all live peacefully together without trying to find the root of the problem. As I said, I have not made up my mind on many things about Islam yet, but I dare say that there is now an increased risk that anything said publicly in criticism of Islam will be deemed as spreading Islamophobia. And why is it that the newspapers are either at one end of the two extemes? Either they're sensationalising the presence of Muslim clerics who preach messages of hate or as Becky points out on her blog they are burning with "self-rightous, bleeding heart indignation" over backlash attacks. Why can't we have a middle ground where the facts of the matter are debated in a rational manner?

And finally, changing my mind yet again over the proposed legislation against the incitement to Religious Hatred, I share the concern of the writer of the afore mentioned newspaper article that in the future the new legislation could " see me incarcerated for expressing my sincere thoughts".


At 12:54 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to profess that I am not as knowledgable about my religion as I ought to be or would like to be, so please don't take my answer as authoratative but I do know that it is as peace loving religion as the next monotheistic religion. It is much more similar to the old testament than the new testament, So yes, there is less of the "Jesus loves me" message.
Islam prescribes in more detail than many religions the way of life and there are strict views about warfare. There are limited grounds on which you can attack- i.e. defence of religion and muslims under direct threat or attack. Buildings should not be
destroyed, im fairly certain that women and children arent supposed to be hurt. Rape is strictly prohibited. Some misunderstandings comes with interpretation of the koran. As the language of the scripture is arabic, many people are reliant on interpreters of the text and are thus very impressionable. For example Jihad by most people is considered a personal life long struggle or war against temptations to the self. it can be holy war in the sense that it is more widely used in the west but in prescribed circumstances.
I am very interested in what the people meant. As far as i know buddhism and certain branches of hinduism are the only main world faiths that advocate non violence in all circumstances.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam all envision warfare as a reality and none advocate unprovoked mass murder. Suicide is strictly prohibited by Islam.
If i sincerely but misguidedly believed that the route the bombers took was my way to salvation and
truly believed that there was a war against my faith and these people were enemies to the right path then i would consider myself in the battle against evil. It would all be a bit tolkein-esque.
I think it's when people's perception and belief of what is good and what is evil get far removed from the norm or they feel they personally need to avenge the suffering of others that this kind of disregard for life becomes an acceptable reality to a few.

hmmm, breathe out.

At 7:36 pm, Blogger Katrina said...

Thank you very much for your response - I don't know that many Muslims and so it is good to hear your thoughts. I suppose the question I'm pondering is not whether it is possible for Islam in the modern Western world to take the form of a peace loving religion, but whether this attitude is actually contrary to the message of Islam. Sure, I have heard Jihad described as a personal struggle thing before but was it always that way? Has it maybe been softened in the light of modern sensibilities and increased contact with non-Muslims? All religions undergo change and there are some Christians for example, such as the Quakers who are complete pacifists, but as you rightly point out Christianity, like Judaism and Islam have historically seen warfare as a reality. So in a way you could regard Christian pacifists as not facing up to the reality of their religion. In a similar way then what I'm wondering is whether we, Muslim and non Muslim alike are facing up to the reality of Islam. As yet this is a question I cannot answer.

As to what these 3 people meant, well one of my sources stated "It is a plain, simple, historical fact that Islam has only ever spread through conquest; there are no exceptions!!" and thus went on to say that this alone should make us think twice before descibing Islam as an inherently peaceful religion.

HOWEVER all religions (even Buddhism and Hinduism) have been used/abused to further a cause fought by violence, simply because all humans, no matter what religion they belong to, have the potential to be violent. So I still remain to be convinced that Islam is any more prone to violence than other religions, BUT, and this is obviously a bit of a hot potato, I've not ruled it out.

At 5:37 pm, Blogger Shizue said...

I'm not religious as you know, so I tend to view all faiths as social constructs moulded over time by the various socities rather than independent entities.

As such, I believe it is people who make war, always. And in most cases you'll find the root cause is the desire for greater power or fear.

Religion doesn't cause war, just as guns don't kill, its the finger behind the trigger, or the person behind the pulpit that does that.

At 6:10 pm, Blogger Katrina said...

Well of course it is people that cause war - that much is obvious!!! However certain ways of thinking - be it religions or secular philosophies, advocate different attitudes to violence - one might consider violence as generally acceptable against the perceived enemy, others might proclaim the use of violence only in self-defence when other means have been exhausted and still others might promote pacifism. What I'm trying to figure out is where Islam fits in along this roughly drawn spectrum.

By the way, what do you mean by the phrase 'independent entities'?

At 11:09 am, Blogger Shizue said...

I mean that I don't believe that, for example, Christianity has any separate or higher existence other than as a philosophy/belief devised by and adhered to by people.
Basically, I don't believe in gods, so I don't view the Bible as an Ultimate Truth or the Word of God, as I don't believe in a deity. There is nothing concrete behind the ideology, that's it sum total. Does that make sense?

Also, what I was trying to say was that (from my admittedly limited knowledge) most faiths seem to contain a plethora of 'messages' and an even wider variety of possible interpretations and its a pick and mix effect as to what purpose these are turned to.

What I'm getting at is that usually faith is used as a tool to justify what the agressors want to do anyway rather than the catalyst itself.

At 3:55 pm, Blogger I'm Over The Moon said...

Speaking as this little blogring's resident witch, I am actually with shizue on the definition of religions. Her point is amply borne out by the variety of interpretations we see within each religion. As a pagan, we have no formal hierarchy or structure, so your basic unit of paganism is your witch, where in judaism it would be a synagogue (i understand this to be the name for the community not the building, though anybode must correct if i err). Therefore any group might commit good or evil acts in the name of witchcraft and be speaking for no more than the members of that group. However, it's not the lack of formal structure that does this. One individual C of E school near my gran has banned Harry potter books from the building, but they do not speak for all Anglicans.
As to the place that these bombers have within the 'Islamic World' (i beg sufferance for the use of that term in the way the media use it for just one moment, for want of a better one to use, ie all vaugely Islam related cultures), I would like Alifya to tell me if i would be right saying "Suicide bombers are to Islam what Satanists are to Christianity", that is they have the same starting text (as a satanist must believe in god to believe in angels to believe in a fallen angel called Lucifer) but interpret it in a totally opposite way than the majority of people who accept the words of that text to be The Truth, and to the extent that the majority of those other belivers would consider the point of the text to have been somewhat missed or selectively used. If that were the case blaiming Muslims for suicide bombers would be like blaming the Catholics for Anton le Vey!

At 9:46 am, Anonymous Leafy said...

to im over the moon, I personally think you're correct, I cant speak for all but i reckon your statement that

"Suicide bombers are to Islam what Satanists are to Christianity", that is they have the same starting text (as a satanist must believe in god to believe in angels to believe in a fallen angel called Lucifer) but interpret it in a totally opposite way than the majority of people who accept the words of that text to be The Truth,

has pretty much hit the nail on the head and most muslims would agree with it.

The problem with vast religious texts such as the Bible, Koran etc is that taking bits in isolation can pretty much provide an argument and justification for anything. It it the totality of the message and the context etc..that must be taken into account...

At 12:43 pm, Blogger I'm Over The Moon said...

Indeed. It's funny how people always remember the 'eye for an eye/smite the unbeliever' stuff and forget the 'do not judge/do unto others' bits!


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