I just finished Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History and I was bugged. Don’t get me wrong. Armstrong is a good writer, and Islam is a fascinating topic. What bothered me, however, was Armstrong’s consistent practice of passing theological judgment on various Islamic movements. She was always able to discern with unerring accuracy which movements were “perversions” or “aberrations” from “the true spirit of Islam.” Obviously, Armstrong is reacting strongly against Western stereotypes of Islam as a backward and violent religion, so she goes out of her way to emphasize the progressive, tolerant, and peaceable aspects of Islam. All well and good. I certainly agree with her that the West’s perceptions of Islam tend to be horribly distorted.
Armstrong’s approach bugged me on two levels. First, on some points she was obviously stretching to make her point. For example, good English author that she is, she has a fairly detailed discussion of Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie, going to great lengths to argue that it was inconsistent with “true Islam.” Her evidence: the fatwa was widely condemned by Arab governments. I suspect that if you asked the man in the street of Cairo or Damascus they would blanche at the idea that Asad or Mubarek as arbiters of true Islam. Second, there is something a little gauche about a non-believer confidently opining on the true meaning of someone else’s faith and confidently declaring which movements represent its “true meaning” and which are apostate. Of course, Armstrong describes herself as “a freelance monotheist” so in her way, she would no doubt insist that she is a believer. Still, one can’t help but feel that at times Islam had ceased to have a voice in her book, and had become a canvas on which she could play out her own attempt at post-secularist theology. It felt patronizing to both Islam and the reader.
Of course, I have other beefs with Armstrong’s book. She has some vague notion of agrarian societies, their development and limits, which she thinks can explain Islam’s current condition. There are two ironies here. First, as economic and political history, it seems unlikely that agrarianism can do as much work as Armstrong wants it to do. More interestingly, she invokes the concept as a way of offering an oddly Marxist defense of religion. Here is her basic problem. Armstrong wants to argue that Islam is actually a wonderful religion that has been much maligned by the West. Fair enough. Her zeal in the pursuit of this goal, however, means that she cannot ascribe the social, political, and economic decline of the Islamic world to any ideological force that might somehow place blame for the decline on Islam. Colonialism is a potential villain here, but it is ultimately question begging. In 1500, there is absolutely no way that the West could have colonized the Islamic world. By 1920, the entire Middle East was being divided by middle-level civil servants in Paris and London. Colonialism occurred because of political, military, and economic weakness, so it is difficult to point to it as a causal factor. Which leads us back to Armstrong’s agrarianism thesis. It is all about the means of production. There was just something about the economic structure of Islam’s agrarian society that made it destine for decline. We don’t quite know what this is or where it came from, but she is pretty dang sure that Islam had nothing to do with it. Don’t get me wrong. I am not claiming that all of the woes of the Middle East must be placed at the feet of Islam. On the other hand, a historical narrative that is being so transparently driven by current political concerns must of necessity be suspect. Finally, I have my doubts that Armstrong has the economic competence to make her theory work. For example, it is worth noting at the outset that the Islamic world carried a massive amount of international trade in its heyday, occupied largely marginal agriculture land, and was commercially very active for centuries. Her vision of an Islamic economy tied inextricably to the soil doesn’t ring true to me.
It is a nice, short, history of Islam, which is its ultimate goal, but it is not without problems.
Thanks for the review. I picked up this book awhile ago and for reasons I can’t remember now put it back down. Though I do remember that I walked away with the impression that though she is non-Muslim apologist for Islam. That isn’t always a problem though. I have been reading Montgomery Watt’s biographies of Muhammad (Muhammad at Mecca and Muhammad at Medina) this past week and found them very interesting. Watts also comes across as a defender of Islam (at least to some extent) but his extensive knowledge of the material makes it all worthwhile.
What bugged me was not so much that she was an apologist for Islam. I’ve no objection to that per se, but rather that she was making essentially theological claims about the real or true meaning of the religion. I also think that at times her zeal led her to make what I see as methodological mistakes.
I should also point out, that the book was a facinating read and provides a wonderful sweep of Islamic history. I’ve got the three volumes of Hodgson’s _The Venture of Islam_ for the nitty gritty, but I have only dipped into it (for the legal stuff) and will probably never have the discipline or time to plow through the whole thing.
Is that you? Danimal from the Arabic House? If so, this is the Ice Queen “Laila” from the girls side…
Remember me? Email me @ [email protected] if you want to say hi! I am not a regular on this site, although it looks great.
Lol Carrie! ‘Sup ‘sup. :) An email will be on the way shortly.
Armstrong’s tendency to pass sweeping theological judgments is not limited to Islam. In her _A History of God_, she treats us to a few gratuitous swipes at allegedly undesirable trends in conservative Christianity (e.g., popularity of the death penalty, etc.), and she does so in passing, as if no real argument was required. I’m also a bit less enthralled by her prose, generally, than I think you are.
Nate, what do you think of Bernard Lewis’ stuff, generally speaking. (I think I already know what you think of Edward Said).
Aaron: _What Went Wrong_ is my next book. I will post something when I get done. I enjoyed _A History of God_, but I agree with you about it penchant for sweeping generalizations. There is a certain pop, spiritual guru aspect to her writing that is annoying at times, but unlike most pop-spirituality she has a real grasp of history and the depth of traditional theologies.
I don’t know if anyone on this thread will be looking for other suggestions for histories of Islam, but I found Gerald Hawting’s “The First Dynasty of Islam: The Ummayad Caliphate, AD 661-750” to be quite good. It isn’t a long read (176 pages) but it is full of useful information. I originally picked it up because I wanted to know more about Abd al-Malik — but I found the overall perspective of things that it took quite useful. For one thing, it provides some room for the possibility that many of the facts we have about Muhammad (from the traditional Islamic histories) could be quite wrong. We really don’t know for sure what happened during Islam’s (or whatever it was called at the time) first ninety years. It also gives the reader a decent sense of how long it took for islamization to take place in the larger Arab empire. For example, it explains that during his short reign, Umar II (who ruled from 717-720) had to send envoys into his empire just to teach the people how to pray — as well as other basics of the Islamic religion. It gives us a better sense of the facts-on-the-ground and the development Islam went through, to know that in many parts of the Ummayad empire, nearly a century after Muhammad, the people weren’t even sure how or when to pray.
Danithew (or should I say danimal): Have you read God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam? I have run across several references to it in some of the stuff that I own on Islamic law, and though I might get a copy.
Cartoon History of the Universe III has a nice summary on the birth and expansion of Islam for those not inclined to real books.
Nate, I’ve read The Spiral Staircase (her second, improved autobiographical book) as well as The Battle for God (which might be called “Against Fundamentalism”). Her years as a Catholic nun and her excellent education sort of give her credibility to both a religious and a secular audience, and she’s friendly to both sides in a Jan Shipps kind of way. But I find her analysis always hovering above the field of intellectual battle, viewing from a distance but never really grappling with disputed facts or clear, specific claims that one should support or reject. I don’t think there was a single table or chart in all 500 pages or so of The Battle for God. Her good writing papers over a scarcity of factual argument.
The other thing I picked up was a whiff of liberal disdain for conservative religion, which is after all a couple of steps closer to fundamentalism, the Big Problem of religion in her eyes. But as a “freelance monotheist,” her unstated position seems to be that she can affirm religion and religiosity in general, but not in any particular institutional form (although if one must participate institutionally, better a liberal denomination, not so good a conservative one, and very, very bad a fundamentalist one). She never seems to realize the inconsistency of claiming to affirm religion in general while distancing oneself from all particular traditions or denominations. I guess she belongs to the Church of Karen.
Nate, I don’t recall being called “danimal” but that was years ago and could very well have been used. I’ve managed to pick up a host of nicknames over the years and they all manage to sound pretty goofy. Probably not a good sign. Sigh.
Anyway, to answer your more serious question … I’ll bet that “God’s Caliph …” would be interesting and worthwhile reading. I believe it is by Patricia Crone who also co-wrote Hagarism with Cook. I’ve read Hagarism and at least one other book by Crone (not the one you mentioned). There are problems with her work (as is true with most scholars) but she definitely does her research.
Since you like law you’ve probably already delved into books by Goldziher, Schacht and Wansbrough? If not, you might really enjoy some of those. They are specialized and Wansbrough’s works are heavy reading (vocabulary-wise), but somehow I don’t get the feeling that might just spur you on and these are probably the most important scholars in the study of Islam. Again, I feel a bit odd making suggestions to you as you are quite the scholar and I woudn’t be surprised if you’ve already read them or know something of them.
Hmmmmf … as usual my editing of comments leaves mistakes that were worse than the originals.
I mean to say, “… somehow I get the feeling that might just spur you on” …
danithew: I have read Schacht, but not the others. The primary text for my Islamic law class was N.J. Coulson’s history of Islamic Law, which was published as part of the same series as Montogomery Watt’s History of Islamic Philosophy.
Nate, if you’ve read books by Schacht then already you’re on the strait and narrow. He is one of the giants in the field. Here are some specific titles that might interest you:
Muslim Studies / Ignaz Goldziher
The Spirit of Islamic Law / Bernard Weiss
You might want to read The Sectarian Milieu by John Wansbrough, just for the vocabulary wrestle. I’ve never encountered anything like it. He really knows his stuff but even hardcore scholars complain about his opaque style of writing. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in a dictionary.
Patricia Crone and Michael Cook’s book Hagarism has been dismissed by many but it is an incredible thought process and approach to Islamic origins. It is an important landmark and worth a read. Due to your interest in economics and Islam, you might want to read Patricia Crone’s book Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam which also questions the traditional narrative of Islamic origins.
Nate, I forgot one other Wansbrough book that might interest you more than The Sectarian Milieu. Wansbrough also has a book titled “Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation.” This book may be ultimately of more interest for someone interested in legal studies.
I’m way out of my league here, but I just finished “A History Of God”, and, just for the record, Karen Armstrong affirms her atheism in the introduction (on page xviii) saying “Eventually, with regret, I left the religious life, and, once freed of the burden of failure and inadequacy, I felt my belief in God slip quietly away. He had never really impinged on my life, though I had done my best to enable him to do so. Now that I no longer felt so guilty and anxious about him, he became too remote to be a reality.”
I enjoyed her discussions about a personal God (which she claims is the root of all evil fundamentalism) vs. a more abstract or spiritual God, but I came away rather confused about the role (and nature) of this latter God. In any event, I liked the book – very existentialist approach to religion.
Isn’t “danimals” a line of children’s clothing? (or is that garanimals)
I’m a little late to the discussion, but your critique of her book reminds me of an old Law & Order episode. The criminal was a white American who converted to Islam and may have (possibly) worked for the Taliban (or not – that was a minor point in the story and it wasn’t followed through on).
Anyway, at one point, the psychiatrist (or someone) who was working with the DA said something to the effect of “if we can understand why he joined up with the aberrant parts of an otherwise legitimate religion, then we’ll understand his motive”
I may not have the quote exactly right, but the phrase “otherwise legitimate religion” struck me, and my first thought was: Who gets to determine which religions are “legitimate” and which aren’t? It seemed rather hubristic on their parts, and I’m not too confident the DAs office will always be able to tell which religions are legit and which aren’t.
Karen Armstrong is clearly an apologist for Islam. But there are others who have taken this politically correct approach to Islam. Edward Said’s warped philosophy has certainly intoxicated the mainstream thought processes in academia, and that of his protege, John Esposito, is no exception.
Anyone recall John Esposito’s book, “The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?” This was published just a few months prior to the 9-11 attacks. In this book he unequivocally stated that Osama bin Ladin is not someone we should be concerned with.
Very few people took notice of this, mother of all goof-ups, and Esposito has since been exalted to the status of America’s preeminent scholar of Islam. What is wrong with this picture? And what is wrong when people like Karen Armstrong, former Catholic nun and fickle agnostic, go on taxpayer funded TV programs in an effort to paint a rosey picture of Islam, avoiding all critical scholarly discussion; something the PBS special on Jesus Christ didn’t manage to escape.
According to Daniel Pipes, the book in question represents a, “scandalously apologetic and misleading account written by a former nun with an ax to grind.” He goes on to offer a thorough critique with specifics:
Armstrong goes out of her way to soften every hard edge, explain away every unpleasantness, and hide what she cannot otherwise account for. The massacre of the Jewish tribe of Qurayza she acknowledges a “horrible incident” but urges the reader not to judge it by the standards of our time; has moral relativism sunk so low? As for hiding what she cannot account for, the author has the temerity to characterize Muslims living in the West as “beleaguered and endangered,” without making the slightest reference to the likes of such fanatics as the blind sheikh of New York or Cemaleddin Kaplan, known as the “caliph” of Cologne. And if Muslims are oppressed in the West, why do they wish to immigrate there in record numbers?
Inaccuracies also permeate this foully dishonest text. Armstrong’s account of the breaking of the treaty of Hudaybiya (“the Quraysh violated the treaty by attacking one of the Prophet’s tribal allies”) gets the facts wrong (it was not Quraysh itself that attacked but one of its tribal allies, the Bani Bakr) and so mangles the whole import of this incident. Nor can she keep track of time: “On the eve of the second Christian millennium,” she pronounces with her wonted pomposity, “the Crusaders massacred some thirty thousand Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem.” But the eve of that millennium was 999 and the Crusader massacre took place in 1099. Turning to the present day, she states that Malcolm X “became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam … when he discovered the moral laxity of Elijah Muhammad.” Well, “became disillusioned with” is one way of putting it, but a more accurate verb might be “expelled from.” Likewise, she ascribes to Malcolm X the founding of the American Muslim Mission, an institution that in fact did not come into existence until 1981, or sixteen years after his death.
These represent but the smallest fraction of faults early and late, large and small, of omission and commission, that mar Armstrong’s dreadful book. Avoid it at all costs.
The massacre of the Jewish tribe of Qurayza she acknowledges a “horrible incident” but urges the reader not to judge it by the standards of our time;
I wonder if she would make the same claim about the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
Very often Islamic tolerance has been favorably compared to European Christian intolerance. Honestly, any comparisons to the European Christian treatment of Jews sets the bar extremely low — just about anything looks good in comparison — which isn’t saying much. And when criticisms of Islam or a focus on the negative aspects of jihad arise, the Crusade card is often played reflexively — as if that should entirely end the discussion.
The other point I get sick of hearing — that Muhammad vastly improved women’s rights during his time by ordering a cessation to the burial of infant daughters.
Well, it is good to know I’m not the only Mormon “bigot” willing to express his anti-PC views about Islam (grin).
Kevin, I hope that being critical isn’t equivalent to bigotry.
My last class was titled “The Figure of Muhammad” and was focused on the Sira. And occasionally this marvelous change from pre-Islamic society to Islamic society (the cessation of the burial of infant daughters) would come up. Underlying this was an emphasis on the idea that Muhammad appreciated women and worked for their benefit — that he was a feminist in his time. The feeling I get is that this point is used to pre-empt criticisms of how (some) Islamic societies consider and treat women today.
I suppose Muhammad does deserve some credit for this (assuming the traditional Islamic narrative is accurate on this point). But I also have to think that parents ought to have some kind instinct for preserving their children. I kept imagining what I might express to a couple that says “After considering the matter we have decided not to bury our baby daughter in the back yard.” And of course a sarcastic “congratulations for the ephiphany” immediately springs to mind. One can only give out so many compliments on the matter.
Perhaps I should add to this that I regularly consider the possibility that Muhammad could have been a real prophet. He had great achievements and may have embodied the characteristics of both a Moses and a David. First, he brought a real religion to his region — as opposed to the polytheism or “tribal humanism” described by Montgomery Watts in his biographies of Muhammad. Second, he used that religion to unify the tribes in a manner that hadn’t happened before. Watts describes this early unification as a sort of “super-tribe” and I think that perspective is useful. I also think Muhammad deserves major credit for achieving something that neither Moses or David accomplished — he managed to completely eradicate polytheism from the region.
So I have to think that Muhammad was truly special — either a real prophet or a genius of some sort — someone who was able to see the needs of his society and meet those needs. He truly transformed his world and the world after him. I think one of the prophecied signs of Joseph Smith’s name is that it will be spoke of, for good and evil, in all the world. That is even more true today of Muhammad than it is for Joseph Smith.
What I meant to say is that the prophecy that Joseph Smith’s name being spoken of, for evil and good in all the world, appears to be a foretold measure of his greatness and importance. And it seems obvious at this time (by that measure) that Muhammad’s name is more widely known and more widely praised and vilified.
Actually, I was joking because my own critical commentary of Islam and Muhammed was instantly classified as bigotry in other Mormon forums. LDS used to anti-Mormonisms tend to blench at any form of criticism; especially when a religion falls in the cross-hairs. It is good to know I’m not the only Mormon willing to test the waters of political incorrectness. Having said that, I think the possiblity that Muhammed was a bonafide prophet of the Lord to be far fetched. Muhammed flat out denied the atonement of Christ. He made this point unambiguous in the Quran. In fact, he taught that Christ wasn’t crucified at all, let alone resurrected. What spirit was he listening to during his 7th century “spiritual experiences”? He further indicates that he is the “comforter” which the NT prophesied would come to mankind.
I think it is extremely difficult to digest this information along with 1 John 4:1-5 – which makes it perfectly clear that any spirit which denies these facts cannot be considered “of God” – and conclude that, because he accomplished things in a way only Napoleon Bonaparte could appreciate, Muhammed may have been a true Prophet of God. Bagh!
Removing polytheism might seem admirable on its surface, but when it is done by erradicating the polytheists by the sword, well…. what were we saying about moral relativism? Also, I think the hoopla over an Islamic “Golden Age” is for a significant part mythical . As far as “by their fruits you shall know them,” I’d be willing to apply this to Muhammed any day of the week. Unfortunately, the idea of doing so is considered “intolerance.” Because the end result isn’t pretty.
I have read somewhere (and I don’t have the recall others on this post have) that a large part of the draw to him is that above all, Muhammed was successful.
Moses never made it to the Promised Land, David fell into disfavor with God, Christ was crucified, even Joseph Smith was killed. But Muhammed? Died a conquering hero.
“Moses never made it to the Promised Land, David fell into disfavor with God, Christ was crucified, even Joseph Smith was killed. But Muhammed? Died a conquering hero.”
Actually, accordng to Islamic tradition, Muhammed was poisoned by one of those dastardly Jews. So I fail to see how he was anymore successful than Christ, Moses or Smith. His primary claim to fame was strict monotheism, which was hardly an Islamic innovation. It was borrowed from Judaism. So what “truths” did Islam offer the world that wasn’t already established by the Judeo-Christian tradition? Nobody has been able to answer that for me as of yet.
And Muhammad’s “assassination” by a Jewish woman is one of the reasons why Jews have been traditionally despised throughout Islam’s history. The Quran refers to them as monkeys, and Islam’s highest authorities support a literal interpretation of this. Even Bernard Lewis stepped across the line of polictial correctness when he said anti-semitism is integral to Arab thinking. Islam is by far, the most “intolerant” religion on the planet today. Does that make me intolerant for saying so?
Kevin, I get the impression you’ve read a lot of anti-Islamic polemic and that some of the sources you read were misinformed. There are hadith traditions in Sahih Bukhari or Sahih Muslim (possibly both) that a female Jew or a group of Jews brought a poisoned sheep to Muhammad and that he suffered ill effects therefrom. But there are no traditions or information in any of the biographies I have read that connect this incident to Muhammad’s death. Nor have any of the Muslims I have spoken with ever raised the possibility that Muhammad was assassinated by a Jew — a point which would have been raised in today’s political climate if it had any basis in the traditional Islamic narrative.
Also, I believe this tradition (of Muhammad eating poisoned food) is used to prove that Muhammad was a prophet — sort of in the spirit of the Christian idea that missionaries might be bitten by snakes but they will not die because of their divinely-issued calling.
Almajog wrote: Moses never made it to the Promised Land, David fell into disfavor with God, Christ was crucified, even Joseph Smith was killed. But Muhammed? Died a conquering hero.
I agree with what you’re saying but thought perhaps I should point out that believing Muslims generally reject the David and Bathsheba adultery/murder story and will tell you that Jesus was never crucified. From the Muslim perspective, David is a prophet and prophets don’t make such tragic mistakes. Muslims tend to view ultra-negative stories about prophets (Lot’s story of incestually impregnating his daughters is also considered in this category) as corruptions of scripture.
I also believe Islam teaches that a person who looked like Jesus was crucified in Jesus’s place. I’d need to verify this a little better but I’ve heard it enough times to think it is what Muslims believe.
Actually, the “anti-Islamic” sources were two Muslims I used to work with in Atlanta. You’re probably right about it not killing him, but the point is, Jews in the Quran and in the various hadeeth are described in a universally negative light. And that my friend is “Islam.” An extremely intolerant system of religion from start to finish. When three-year old children are proudly peaching hate and bigotry we have to wake up and admit something is terribly wrong.
Kevin, you are very right about Jews and the Quran being described in a very negative light. I went to some effort to pull out all the ahadith in the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim collections that dealt with those who had various non-Islamic belief systems (mainly Jews, Christians, polytheists and apostates). There was a lot of material about interactions between Muhammad and Jews or Muslims and Jews and almost all the material reflected a very negative (if not outrightly malefic) relationship between them. Nor did I really find a tone of respect for “the people of the book” that we hear of so often. The fact is that the sources teach anyone who does not convert to Islam is damned to the sadistic tortures of hell — and that includes Jews, Christians or “the people of the book.”
In my previous comment I meant “Jews in the Qur’an” not “Jews and the Qur’an“
A few years ago I wrote an essay for a contest in response to the question “How has 9/11 changed our understanding of religion?” I think very few people entered the contest, and I won. At the departmental awards ceremony, some brief comments from the essay contest’s judges were read about my paper, including something to the effect of “She examines the relationship of the terrorist attacks to Islam and concludes that Islam is not a violent religion…”
I was really irked. I had most certainly not concluded that Islam wasn’t a violent religion–actually, I had suggested that it was! Or, at least, I argued that there are undeniably violent strands in Islam, just as there are violent strands in Catholicism or Mormonism or many (most?) other religions, and that attempting to tease out the violent threads and say they aren’t the “real” Islam is pretty unproductive, no matter how PC it may be. Instead, I think it’s healthier (not to mention more intellectually interesting) to examine the violence in our religious traditions honestly, to understand what motivates it and how it is expressed.
Kevin G. wrote: I think the possiblity that Muhammed was a bonafide prophet of the Lord to be far fetched. Muhammed flat out denied the atonement of Christ. He made this point unambiguous in the Quran. In fact, he taught that Christ wasn¡¯t crucified at all, let alone resurrected. What spirit was he listening to during his 7th century ¡°spiritual experiences”? He further indicates that he is the ¡°comforter¡± which the NT prophesied would come to mankind.
If the Qur’an accurately represents the revelations Muhammad received, then these things are a problem. However, the manner in which these recitations were preserved, written and compiled creates problems with that kind of acceptance — we simply aren’t sure the degree to which they might have been changed. As I currently understand it, the Islam we recognize today had not fully bloomed until at least three or four centuries after Muhammad. When I suggested that Muhammad could have really been a prophet, it was with the understanding that it is possible his revelations were corrupted afterwards. I certainly don’t accept Qur’anic passages that state Allah does not beget or that Allah cannot have a Son.
The Qur’an strikes me as being quite different from the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, in the sense that narrative only appears in fragmentary form — only vestiges or traces of narrative are there. The Sira (which has been translated into English by A. Guillaume) is in my view, much more readable and it integrates Qur’anic passages into a larger Islamic narrative and history of Muhammad’s life — much as doctrinal teachings and preaching are integrated into the narratives of the O.T. or N.T.
Your Comment: That is very interesting Anna.
The scholar Bat Ye’or made a very interesting comment subsequent to her being lambasted for a lecture she had given at Georgetown. Students chastized her for having “made no effort to make a clear distinction between pure, harmonious Islam, and the acts of a few, who falsely claimed to act in the name of Islam.” Ye’or responded to this claim with common sense: “This, of course, is pure nonsense. When one studies the laws of the Inquisition, or the Crusades, one does not feel obliged to make a clear distinction between pure Christianity and those historical events.” In fact, the only people making this distinction are Christian/Catholic apologists. And what becomes of the historians who do not make the distinction between Crusading efforts and Christ’s teachings? Are they black-balled as bigots? No, of course not. Islam is taboo, Christianity is not. Plain and simple. Further, it is the duty of Islam’s religious figures (leading sheiks/Imams) to decide what is “true Islam,” not academia in the west. Everytime I go to a Muslim religious authority to find out what “true Islam” condones, I’m called a bigot because, apparently I should be listening to those far and few between “reformers,” or the University professors of Arabic. American professors of course, not those at Al-Azhar!
Hey Dan you suggested that the Quran might be wrong. Well, Muslims will universally reject that prospect. That is, after all, what makes Islam unique. It has teh only uncorrupted scripture. To suggest it might not reflect Muhammad’s true revelations is fine, but it realy tells us nothing about what constitutes “true Islam.” In fact, this sounds like something you’d hear from some fringe, liberal Islamic reformer who has been banned from the Middle-East for expressing such views.
Kevin, I can’t prove anything regarding my thoughts on the Qur’an or Muhammad as a potential real prophet. And these aren’t hard held beliefs … merely suspicions and speculations. Currently I am convinced that Muhammad was a uniquely qualified human being and it seems to me that due to the tremendous impact his personality had on the region, he was at minimum some kind of key component in God’s ultimate design. It isn’t hard for me to imagine Muhammad being one of those huge personalities and prophets who is present at the judgment bar someday — and that perhaps he might have some clarifications to make on the turns the Islamic religion has taken. But again, I can’t prove my speculations or suspicions on this matter. And of course you are right to say that believing Muslims would completely reject some of my speculations — because they accept the Qur’an wholly in its current form as legitimate and true. All I can say for sure is that the more I examine the Qur’an, the more I’m convinced that it is fragmentary (and thus incomplete) in nature. And it seems to me that a hodge-podge of materials were probably used in putting the Qur’an together.
Thanks Dan. BTW, what is your opinion of Daniel Pipes, Martin Kramer and John Esposito? If you don’t mind my asking.
I’m with Daniel ‘Danithew’ B. I believe that accepting Mohammed as a prophet probably requires believing that the Koran as presently constituted is both fragmentary and not wholly his work. Granted, most Moslems would disagree, but I don’t see why that should stop us.
Kevin, I am subscribed to Daniel Pipe’s email newsletter but I’m also subscribed to CAIR’s email newsletter, so I’m not sure that tells you anything. Let’s just say I like to listen to what everyone’s saying and then keep my own counsel. I think Daniel Pipes makes some unpopular but true criticisms but I also often feel that Pipes is too beholden to the pro-Israeli lobby — to the extent that I don’t think he is sufficiently critical or supportive of positive concessions to the Palestinians. For example, if I remember correctly (tell me if I’m wrong) I think Pipes has expressed opposition to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza — an action I support completely and enthusiastically … the sooner the better!
I read Martin Kramer’s book about Ivory Towers on Sand and I thought he had some good criticisms. He hasn’t made people at Area Studies programs (like my graduate program at the UofU) very happy though.
I’ve gotten the impression that John Esposito was a hopeless apologist for Islam. I’m not sure how much he has adjusted his views since 9-11. I should probably read more of what he has actually written.
I’m sorry, I didn’t expect that Dan should prove his speculations, nor did I mean to imply that it was improper to assume the Quran was fragmented or possibly edited. I would agree that it was, but I don’t see how this makes it likely that these theological teachings regarding Christ were later innovations, not attributable to Muhammed. Proving a fragmentary state is one thing, but proving the specific verses in question did not originate with Muhammad, is another. Especially when the Hadith are always there staring us in the face, corroborating what the Quran says.
If we cannot trust the Quran to reflect his exact views, then we shouldn’t be able to use the Quran to ascertain, either way, whether he was a true or false prophet. So what information is reliable enough? Can we judge him by what he did according to the Hadiths? “By their fruits you shall know”… and all that? By what standard do we used to determine a person to be a bonafide prophet? What is it about Muhammad that would lead anyone to the conclusion that he could have been chosen by God? Because he was a good military leader and so many people thought he was a swell guy? His murderous rampages, and his intolerance towards non-Muslims cannot be dismissed as the actions of a typical military leader, because he made the military to begin with. He raided caravans, took women as slaves/wives after murdering their husbands in from of them, set legislation on how women captives could be raped, their children sold as slaves, etc. Am I wrong in calling this “brutal”? He made himself a leader of an army that would eventually threaten Christianity’s very existence. After all, in Islam, there are two houses right? The House of Islam and the House of War. Everything outside Muslim controlled territory is up for grabs.
Moses made himself a leader of slaves, Jesus a leader of pacifists and then eventually martyrs. Muhammad?
I guess my problem is 1 John 4. I’m not willing to give Muhammad a pass on this scriptural warning (especially since he is probably the ONLY person claiming to be a “prophet” that fits this warning!) because the relevant Quranic passages may have been changed at some later point in time. And again, I respect Dan’s opinion to the contrary. I’m really fascinated with the various responses from people when they say Muhammed was or could have been a real prophet; especially from those learned in the field. The same rhetoric can be found from Church leaders and to be frank, I simply don’t get it.
Cair and Pipes huh? :)
That says alot about your openmindedness, and I commend you for that.
Kevin wrote: … the Hadith are always there staring us in the face, corroborating what the Quran says.
The ahadith are very problematic as corroborative evidence for anything. Even the traditions recognize that perhaps hundreds of thousands of ahadith (plural of hadith, btw) were fabricated. Imam Bukhari reportedly went through three hundred thousand ahadith before settling on something like seven thousand of them for his collection Sahih Bukhari. The same or a similar number is associated with Imam Muslim’s collection, though it contains (I think) a lesser total number of hadith (perhaps five thousand or a little more). That these men felt obligated to screen such a high number seems to give a sense of how many ahadith had problems. The other canonical ahadith collections are not referred to with the term Sahih but by the term Sunan (as in Sunan Dawud, Sunan Nisa’i, etc.) because they include hadith traditions that were considered weak and are noted as such.
Regardless, hadith fabrication was a huge industry for at least a few centuries after Muhammad (maybe longer?). Sometimes they were fabricated for pious reasons … a religiously-minded person felt a particular saying was wholesome for the Muslim community and therefore it was acceptable to attribute that saying to Muhammad. Ahadith were also fabricated for political reasons, for polemical reasons between religious camps that disagreed with each other, by rulers who wanted militate against their rivals or support their own positions. Even those who opposed the fabrication of ahadith were oftentimes guilty of fabricating hadith to support that position! Just read Goldziher to learn about this. I believe it is Goldziher who points out that by a certain point, people were extremely wary of ahadith because every time a person had an opinion and wanted to present that opinion, it would be phrased in the form of a hadith.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a solid factual core to the hadith traditions … but as far as I know, no scholar (secular or religious — including Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim) has presented a way to truly distinguish authentic ahadith from the fabrications.
Muhammad may have been brutal but it is possible to imagine that he was less brutal than Moses or Joshua — because Muhammad (at least according to the sources — and history seems to bear this out) allowed and even encouraged his enemies or former enemies to convert to Islam and become his allies. On the other hand, when Moses or Joshua were given the command to destroy a city and all its inhabitants, I don’t know if there was any escape clause for the targeted peoples. This is actually the first time I’ve thought of things in this way and I’ll have to ponder it some more …
Kevin, I hope you don’t feel like I’m trying to argue with you or target you. I’m not bugged at all and I hope what I’m saying is being read in a friendly tone.
Not at all Dan, I appreciate your insights. It is good to speak to someone who knows what he is talking about, and who doesn’t mind agreeing to disagree. And I also understand the tendency of judging people by the standard of their times as an underlying rule of fairness. But I don’t always agree with it because it usually smacks of moral equivalence. Moses and Joshua were at least two millenia removed from Muhammad’s day, so why is this a fair comparison anyway? Muhammad considered Jesus a prophet, so why didn’t he follow anything he taught? Jesus Christ changed everything. He fulfilled the Law. His standard of tolerance was light years ahead of all the prophets. Muhammad came along several centuries later and dragged us all back into the stone age.
It had been many centuries before Christ that God allegedly “commanded” the mass slaughter of the non-believers, and some scholars question whether or not these events ever really took place due to a lack of archeological evidence. Hundreds of thousands were claimed to have been killed. While archeological evidence of that period uncovers many things the Israelites “did,” nothing exists to support these wild tales of mass slaughters. The tale of 120,000 Midianites deaths by the hands of a measly 300 Gideons is reason enough to be suspicious. All of this is speculation at best, while the mass murdering of Islam’s founders are pretty much considered historical fact.
Ultimately, to me there seems to be more reason to believe these were traditions added later to the text, than there are reasons to believe Muhammad didn’t really author some of the violence mentioned in the Quran. After all, the Quran is only 1400 years old.
Nate’s idea that the decline of Dar al-Islam between 1500 and 1900 is largely the fault of Islam is interesting but I think simplistic. Even in the late 1600s, Dar al-Islam was expanding or at least static. We don’t need colonialism to explain the decline (at least the way Nate is using it). Rather, the rapid rise of Europe was due first and foremost to the Columbian Exchange which a) pumped huge amounts of silver into the European economy, b) provided huge amounts of desperately needed raw materials and c) provided an alternative all water route to China. This last point is extremely important as the Muslim empires and city states largely derived their wealth as middlemen in the old trade. Further, the Chinese withdrawal from naval trade (after the death of the Yongle emperor) left a void that the Portuguese and later the British filled. In other words, it is not so much that Islam declined as much as it did not develop in what turned out to be successful directions as quickly as the West. In some cases, the tolerance of Muslim states actually harmed them. While modern state formation in England and France was aided by religious intolerance and war, the Ottomans failed to develop a strong central state because of their system of letting each religion govern itself.
As a Jew, I find the notion of Islam being traditionally anti-Semitic pretty laughable. Only after ’48 does the situation between Jews and Muslims become it’s present disasterous situation. I know a charming little song learned in fifth grade Saturday school that starts “The Golden Age of Spain, the 10th to 15th centuries.” And that was after the ’73 war. In general, the Middle East debacle is as much to blame on the Soviets playing up anti-Israel sentiment to find allies and stick it to the US. Shame on Arab leaders for falling for it. Shame on their countrymen for tolerating it and now believing it long after the demise of the Cold War.
== As a Jew, I find the notion of Islam being traditionally anti-Semitic pretty laughable.
Maybe you should read more traditional Islamic texts. You know, like the Quran, which consistently refers to Jews in the worst possible way. I see nothing laughable about being called “apes and swine.” But you can blame their hatred towards Jews on 1948 if you like. I know of at least one Muslim apologist who does likewise.
== Only after ‘48 does the situation between Jews and Muslims become it’s present disasterous situation.
The Quran and the Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment predate this period. And before 1948 things were much worse for Jews. Ever hear of Bat Ye’or, a Jewish refugee who suffered the yoke of Islamic dhimmitude? http://www.dhimmitude.org/
== I know a charming little song learned in fifth grade Saturday school that starts “The Golden Age of Spain, the 10th to 15th centuries.”
Fifth graders aren’t your typical experts in Islamic history. The “golden age” was a myth.
“Nate’s idea that the decline of Dar al-Islam between 1500 and 1900 is largely the fault of Islam is interesting but I think simplistic. ”
David: I did NOT make this claim. I think that the decline of the Muslim world from 1500 to 1900 is a very complicated event. I am reacting against Armstrong’s rather strained insistence that (a) ideological factors had nothing to do with the decline; and (b) Islam — or at anyrate true Islam — had nothing to do with the decline. Other possible reasons for the success of Europe might have something to do with the rise of commercial law and modern financial insturments and institutions. This allows for the much more effective organization of national wealth (Kennedy makes this point with by comparing English and French modes of raising money in _The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers_). Banking has always been a real problem for Islam, as a direct result of the shar’ia’s harsh view of interest. I’ve absolutely no idea how important — if at all — this factor was in the success of the West against the Dar al-Islam, but it seems to me that these are the sort sof questions that it is perfectly legitimate to ask.
Kevin, … where does the Qur’an refer to the Jews as “apes and swine”? I’ve been aware of that specific vicious epithet being used in different places, but I was previously unaware that it had any basis whatsoever in the Qur’an.
David Salmanson wrote: In general, the Middle East debacle is as much to blame on the Soviets playing up anti-Israel sentiment to find allies and stick it to the US. Shame on Arab leaders for falling for it. Shame on their countrymen for tolerating it and now believing it long after the demise of the Cold War.
David’s attribution of cause for the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. I suppose the Soviets were one of the superpowers of the time, but could their influence have been the decisive factor and is it still the decisive factor to this day? A negative influence, maybe. But decisive? No. In fact, I’d put the influence of the Soviets way down on the list of problems. Where is this analysis deriving from? Perhaps from Anwar Sadat’s rejection of the Soviets, embrace of the Americans and the consequent peace agreements between Egypt and Israel? Even so, the peace between Egypt and Israel has in many ways been a cold peace, particularly from the Egyptian side. At least that is what I gather from the reports of blatantly anti-semitic remarks that are still made in Egyptian media and newspapers to this day.
Anyway, I think David Salmansan’s analysis has some serious problems. His mention of huge amounts of silver being pumped into Europe is ringing a bell with me. I’ve read that before and I think it was when I was studying the Ottoman empire many years ago while living in Israel … but I can’t remember what book that was in. Orientalism by Edward Said? Honestly, I’m only guessing and could be way off on that one.
I am curious about the silver argument. I don’t see that an influx of precious metals would increase the wealth of Europe per se, except to the extent that it would allow Europeans to purchase more goods from non-Europeans with their new found wealth. Internally to Europe, I would imagine that what precious metals would supply would be increased liquidity and a more stable currency. However, it seems to me that both of these things could be supplied by more sophisticated banking practices, which were on the rise at precisely the same time that the silver came pouring (and a bit before). I am just curious as to the precise economic mechanics of the silver argument.
The “Orientalism by Edward Said?” line was lacking a question mark in my previous comment. Please imagine it is there.
[Ed. – Done.]
Sura 7:166 “But when even after this they disdainfully persisted in that from which they were forbidden, We said to them, ‘Become apes—despised and disgraced!'” (also 2:65, 5:60)
Reformers might argue that this iis just figurative, but the fact is, the context seems to indicate the opposite. But more importantly Muslims have traditionally understood it as such. A great article critically examining this interpretation can be found by James Arlandson, who, after examining numerous Quranic references, concluded the Shieks properly represent the traditional, and more startling, the “mainstream” Islamic attitude towards Jews.
The Imam of the Al-Haram mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayis, explained in one of his sermons:
“Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil forefathers of the even more evil Jews of today: infidels, falsifiers of words, calf worshippers, prophet murderers, deniers of prophecies … the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah, who turned them into apes and pigs … These are the Jews – an ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption.”
Sheikh Muhammad Al-Saleh Al-‘Athimein said in a sermon at the Great Mosque in Al-‘Unayza, Arabia:
“O Muslims, the Jews are treacherous and deceitful people over whom lies the curse and anger of Allah. They permitted what Allah forbade, with the lamest of excuses; therefore, He cursed them and turned them into apes and pigs. Allah sentenced them to humiliation anywhere they might be …”
I tend to allow others of different faiths speak for themselves. When they tell me they hate Jews because God does, I tend to take their word for it. The fact is the anti-Jewish sentiment is expressed because of Islam’s sacred texts, not because of anything that happened in 1948.
== David’s attribution of cause for the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen
Interesting Kevin. I’m going to have to examine that verse as I’ve never given it much thought before. Be careful of using Saudi Arabian clerics as examples of mainstream Islamic thought. Sadly they do have tremendous influence due to the geographical location of the seats they sit in and the oil money that supports the spread of their views … but the Wahhabis are just a bit wacko sometimes.
One other line I disagree with in David Salmansons comment: Only after ¡®48 does the situation between Jews and Muslims become it¡¯s present disasterous situation.
Yes some exaggerate and say this conflict has been going on for thousands of years … it hasn’t. But there were Arab riots and demonstrations in Palestine as early as 1910. Arab fears of a Jewish majority in Palestine (with all its political implications) rose higher and higher as waves (aliyot) of Eastern European Jews swept into Palestine. The Nakhba disaster (as Arabs refer to it) or the War of Independence (as Israelis call it) that took place in 1948 was a decisive step in a long line of incidents that took decades to culminate in an Israeli state.
== I know a charming little song learned in fifth grade Saturday school that starts “The Golden Age of Spain, the 10th to 15th centuries.”
>Fifth graders aren’t your typical experts in Islamic history. The “golden age” was a myth.
For the Jews, the 10th to 15th centuries in Al-Andalus were indeed a Golden Age. Much better than what followed. This doesn’t mean all Islam treated the Jews particularly well (though certainly better than medieval Christendom), just that in Al-Andalus the jews had a respected place.
== For the Jews, the 10th to 15th centuries in Al-Andalus were indeed a Golden Age. Much better than what followed.
Maimonides, who had to flee Cordova with his entire family in 1148 had this to say: “..the Arabs have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us…Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they…” In 1066 at least 3,000 Jews were slaughtered by the Muslim community. When did the Christian Church organize a plan of extermination of Jews? When in Christianity were Jews officially declared as children of the devil, or subhumans who deserve whatever humiliation comes their way? Non-Muslims do not have equal rights under official “true Islam.” They are to be humiliated and pay a hefty tax if they want to avoid slaughter. This has always been true throughout Islam’s 14 centuries. Richard Fletcher sums up this myth quite well…
“The witness of those who lived through the horrors of the Berber conquest, of the Andalusian fitnah in the early eleventh century, of the Almoravid invasion — to mention only a few disruptive episodes — must give it [i.e., the roseate view of Muslim Spain] the lie. The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was of tranquility…Tolerance? Ask the Jews of Granada who were massacred in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126 (like the Moriscos five centuries later).In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism — assumed rather than demonstrated — foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of al-Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly, in the Moorish conquest and colonization). Stir the mix well together and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the Western world. Then pour it generously over the truth. In the cultural conditions that prevail in the West today, the past has to be marketed, and to be successfully marketed it has to be attractively packaged. Medieval Spain in a state of nature lacks wide appeal. Self-indulgent fantasies of glamour…do wonders for sharpening up its image. But Moorish Spain was not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.” (Richard Fletcher, Moorish Spain (University of California Press, 1992). pp.171-73)
Bernard Lewis said “Pro-Islamic” Jews promoted a utopian view of the egalitarian nature of Muslim Spain. Not surprisingly, Muslims eventually also picked up on this romantic Jewish myth about Islam, which became a standard part of their own self-image. However, Lewis concludes, “…The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam.”(Bernard Lewis. “The Pro-Islamic Jews,” Judaism, (Fall 1968), p. 401.)
“Following the cataclysmic events of September 11, 2001 there has been a decided tendency to recall nebulous “Golden Ages” of idyllic multireligious societies, invented so effectively that today one feels defenseless and disoriented, when brought face-to-face with the conflicts from another age, deliberately erased from history. We must forego this whitewashing and opt instead for a shared, candid reflection on the painful living legacy of dhimmitude to unite us in a joint effort for peace and mutual respect. It is a calumny to label as “Islamophobic” individuals wishing to promote this kind of difficult, but meaningful dialogue.”Dr. Andrew G. Bostom
I’m not claiming that Al-Andalus under the Umayyads was an idyllic multireligious society. I am only claiming that conditions were generally better then than later under the Houses of Aragon and Castile (although the Almoravids were no picnic either).
All Islam, throughout time and space, is not of a piece. Beliefs and treatments varied from time to time and from land to land. I’m not saying its improper to speak of general Islamic attitudes and tendencies. But it is improper to deny that there are many exceptions.
Daniel Bartholomew, you enjoy a reputation for being a very congenial fellow. That is a wonderful thing. You’ve also staked out an enviable position as the resident Islamist. Being agreeable has its limits, however. If your response in a public forum to the anti-Islamic agitation of a self-proclaimed anti-Islamic bigot consists of cordial agreement, then you are wasting your graduate education. Or not, if that is the route you choose for yourself. At some point you have to decide who to disagree with.
It’s been more like ‘cordial disagreement,’ Jonathan Green. See, e.g., #53.
“If your response in a public forum to the anti-Islamic agitation of a self-proclaimed anti-Islamic bigot”
I wonder who in here proclaims him/herself to be a anti-Islamic bigot?
Well-poisoning and ad hominem are the most common anti-intellectual responses to critical thought.
Jonathan Green, I’ve tried to disagree, express reservations and even make corrections on a number of points that Kevin Graham made. I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you so badly in the tone that I’ve taken. Honestly, this is the first thread ever where I’ve conversed with KG and much of what he has said expresses the feelings of conservative and extremely pro-Israeli folks … stuff that I’ve heard before. I’ve heard just as strongly opiniated and partisan commentary from the pro-Palestinian side. There is quite a bit of bigotry to go around and there are even more accusations (sometimes unfounded) of bigotry to go around as well. Just the other day I saw that the author of a book had referred to David O. McKay as a bigot (something I feel is a bit insensitive to the greatness of a kind man and prophet). I find the term gets so overused these days. At the same time, maybe I’m so acclimated to this sort of thing that I don’t get outraged anymore. I’ll think about what you are saying.
You write: At some point you have to decide who to disagree with. I can usually tell when I disagree with someone in regards to Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Arab issues. What I have trouble with more often is finding someone to agree with, at least completely.
There was one point where I said I’d examine a Qur’anic verse that KG spoke about — I’d like to see the Islamic commentary on the whole “apes and pigs” comment (if there is any) because I’ve read that epithet used too many times — to the point that I wonder where some in the Arab society and culture are picking this garbage up. If I investigate it and find out it has no basis at all in the Qur’an, I’ll be the first to come back here and say so …
Jonathan, I’m about to head off to dinner, then to the airport, then to a late-night flight … tomorrow morning I should be moving into my new place. I have no idea when I’ll have my next internet connection. It could be a really long time. So if you respond and there’s silence, don’t feel I’m ignoring you. I’ll revisit this thread when I’m able and consider anything you have to say.
Kevin, “bigot” is your term, in comment #21. If you’re uncomfortable with it, don’t apply it to yourself.
Daniel B., Kevin’s central point is that Islam is the most intolerant of all religions (26), permeated by hatred (29), and uniquely characterized by violence and brutality (41, 44). So far, you’ve amicably quibbled about sources and methods, but have done nothing to dispute his primary contention. You have, however, disagreed vigorously with David Salmanson’s arguments to the contrary. Islam isn’t my beat, and I have little else to say here. I remain very curious as to whether or not you think Kevin’s basic outlook on Islam is correct.
== Kevin, “bigot” is your term, in comment #21. If you’re uncomfortable with it, don’t apply it to yourself.
It was made in jest, which is what most people would understand given the “quotes” and the (grin). I’m sure you understood this as well, but are probably more interested in using this flimsy, overused term to try running off anyone who disagrees with your take on a subject you admit isn’t your “beat.” Bigot-baiting is a common diversion for those who cannot argue the points.
== Daniel B., Kevin’s central point is that Islam is the most intolerant of all religions (26)
A point which stands on strong evidence. If you can refute it, then please do so. Attacking the messenger and dodging the argument doesn’t say much for your credibility.
== permeated by hatred (29)
Well, who (besides you) can ignore the hatred and bigotry expressed in the Quran and Hadith towards Jews? If you think I’m wrong, then prove me wrong.
== uniquely characterized by violence and brutality
== You have, however, disagreed vigorously with David Salmanson’s arguments to the contrary.
And rightly so. It is apologetic wishful thinking which appears to come from left field.
== Islam isn’t my beat, and I have little else to say here. I remain very curious as to whether or not you think Kevin’s basic outlook on Islam is correct.
Translation: “I’m very curious if you will cling to the politically correct, Saidian produced myth that is being pushed in academia, or perhaps think for yourself.”
You’re doing just fine Dan. I think you’re quite capable and intelligent enough to maintain a productive, critical dialogue without surrendering to a non-existent obligation to entertain those more interested in a pep-rally for an old, disproven Saidian philosophy. I hope you don’t allow yourself to get dissuaded by the PC patrolmen.
As always, I’m open for correction on anything I’ve said. But arguments via assertion and ad hominem don’t fly well with me.
Hi Dan, sorry I missed this commment
== Be careful of using Saudi Arabian clerics as examples of mainstream Islamic thought.
Why? The best picture of Islam we have is that presented by the American Muslims. Yet, are you aware of the fact that 80% of the America mosques are Wahabbi controlled?
== Sadly they do have tremendous influence due to the geographical location of the seats they sit in and the oil money that supports the spread of their views … but the Wahhabis are just a bit wacko sometimes.
I agree that the oil helps them spread Islam, but this doesn’t mean their view doesn’t represent true Islam. Arabia is the heart of Islam. Meccas is a city of the utmost importance. I can’t imagine American academia being able to legitimately declare “true Islam” to the Saudis anymore than I could imagine some Mormon historians in Norway declaring “True Mormonism” to Utahns. Having said that, I’m not convinced that the negative “things” in Islam can be blamed on Wahabbism. Osama bin ladin was no Wahabbist.
Nor am I convinced that the bad in Islam can be blamed on evil dictatorships. If the majority of the people do not represent what “true Islam” is, then who does? With democracy in full throttle, we see extremist organizations winning at the polls in Lebannon and Palestine. The Iraqi government is already trying to implement sharia-like laws. Extremists in Egypt are using democracy to overthrow the President. Why? Because democracy seems to work for Hezbollah. In a democratic Afghanistan we see riots and people being murdered over a rumor that the Quran had been flushed on theother side of the planet. At what point do we stop blaming the government and the “fringies” and whomever else we can think of, and start considering the fact that all of these “wacko” actions, which claim to be religiously motivated, just might have something to do with religion? It is taboo to even think this because everyone is scared to death of being labelled a bigot or “intolerant.” Truth be damned.
From what I gather, the really “wacko” things in Islam (such as the traditional doctrine of killing apostates who leave Islam willingly) are supported by all four schools of Sunni thought. The vast majority of Islam is Sunni. Slavery is also has been traditionally integral to Islam. The doctrine that all non-Muslims carry second-class citizenship status has always been a subtle point in the expected Islamic life in areas where such anti-egalitarian life is supported. Slavery is practiced today in places where the government allows it. There are no true “Islamic States” or else it would be practiced in those places as well. Even today we have the problem of wealthy Muslims, particularly from the Saudi monarchy bringing slaves to the United States who are abused and treated in subhuman fashion. Now my question is this. How does Sunni Islam differe dramatically from Wahabbism? Are the differences significant enough to where we can draw a line between “fringe and mainstream”? It doesn’t appear to be the case.
The key component that must be discarded, in my opinion, is the sharia law code. If one can divorce sharia from Islam, then there might be hope for a “reform” in Islam worth talking about. But when even the American professors say things like “sharia and Islam are inseperable,” (UCLA’s El Fadle) hope seems to fly out the window. Nobody is dealing with the problem head-on. Islam is not just a religion:
“Islam is a political, cultural and religious system. Religion, as based primarily on the Qur’an, is a part of the system, which informs all the other aspects of the Islamic system. Religious doctrine, however, is viewed in Islam as a preamble to Islamic law, the Shariah (divine law), which is a comprehensive code governing every aspect of life, because Islam is a religion primarily oriented toward law rather than theology.” – Nezir Hyseni
In any event, this is my first experience on a “blog” so I’m not sure if it is designed for drawn out discussions such as these. I set up an “Islam” category on the forum if you prefer to continue this discussion over there.
BTW, Amy, can I see the article you wrote? I knew two people who died on 9-11.
Kevin: Ah, I see, you are not a bigot. You were instead referring to yourself as a grinning bigot bracketed by curlicues. If this isn’t something you’re proud of, I’ll consider it a slip of the keyboard and mention it no more.
Daniel B., you will see that Kevin agrees that I have summarized his position accurately. It is by no means a unique position, but rather one that seems to be shared by many Americans. As an Islamist in training, do you agree with it?
I’ve got some limited library internet time here (NYC Public Library) so I might not get to say much.
In general I’ve found Kevin’s comments to be too strident.
But I do have concerns about Muslim perspectives of other religions. I’m not trying to say that we should be suspicious of Muslim people in general — but the sources (such as the ahadith in the most prestigious ahadith collections) seem to have a lot of derogatory things to say about Christians, Jews, polytheists — basically every religious identity that isn’t Muslim. It bothers me that so many Muslim countries are 99% Muslim (or some other similarly almost-complete majority). This doesn’t seem to be the result of tolerance, but rather of erosive policies towards other religions that gradually (maybe even over centuries) lead their adherents to convert, leave the area permanently or wither on the vine. Just months ago I read an article about how one of Afghanistan’s last two Jews had left — leaving a single Jewish man to tend a synagogue.
I have very serious concerns about how Jews are portrayed in the ahadith. There are many stories about Muhammad’s interactions with Jewish individuals or peoples in the ahadith collections — and they are basically all extremely negative in the perspectives of Jews that are offered. Jews are portrayed as unmerciful lenders, disobedient to scriptural injunctions (refusing to stone to death adulterers), verbally abusive of the Prophet Muhammad, attemping to kill Muhammad — there might be more I’m forgetting right now. There is a hadith that prophecies that someday Jews will be hiding behind stones and trees (from Muslims) and that the stones and trees will themselves shout out: “Here he is, kill him!” I’m paraphrasing the hadith … but it is simply a downright vicious prediction. Taken together, my assessment of the ahadith is that they are extremely anti-Jewish. And of course today the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only further exacerbates the extremely negative portrayal of Jews that already exists in Islamic canonical sources.
I also simply have anecdotal experiences that have left me with concerns. I am particularly concerned about the Muslim principle that apostates from Islam should be killed. Not excommunicated. Killed. I have spoken with a few devout Muslims here in America and asked them their opinion of this — and they emphatically supported it. Basically, there is no legal or acceptable way in Islam to leave the Islamic religion. This is completely contrary to the principle of freedom of religion and it is violent. Since there is no specific legal apparatus described in the ahadith to achieve this, it also (as far as I can tell) promotes a certain degree of vigilantiism. It is true that there is a Qur’anic verse that says “la iqraha fi din” (or, “there is no compulsion in religion’) but the exegesis of this leads to the general interpretation that it only applies to people who aren’t already Muslims. In other words, once you are a Muslim you must be a Muslim for life. And because this teaching is attributed to Muhammad, many Muslims accept that it cannot be questioned or abrogated by reasoning.
The picture is complicated. I believe the vast majority of Muslims in the world today will never lift their hands in violence against others. I have Muslim friends and I think we should be friendly and respectful of Muslims. But I don’t think we should blind ourselves to extremely negative realities out there.
I was in a class a long time ago where a Palestinian Muslim classmate raised the idea that jihad was simply a peaceful comment, an inner struggle to command one’s carnal desires and obey Allah. My response was that he “had better open his eyes to reality.” After the class he expressed his anger towards me and basically told me if I said anything like that again he’d physically hit me. Some months later 9-11 happened.
Since then we (this classmate and I) have reconciled but I’ve often looked back at that as an example of how the realities in the graduate classroom do not always match the ugly realities on the ground.
== Kevin: Ah, I see, you are not a bigot. You were instead referring to yourself as a grinning bigot bracketed by curlicues.
Again, I trust most people will understand the difference between a statement to be taken literally, and one made tongue-in-cheek. I expect most people to read the context of my statement before jumping to conclusions.
== If this isn’t something you’re proud of, I’ll consider it a slip of the keyboard and mention it no more.
“Proud” of what, exactly?
== Daniel B., you will see that Kevin agrees that I have summarized his position accurately. It is by no means a unique position,
It is far more unique than the banal, untenable thesis that Islam means “peace.”
== but rather one that seems to be shared by many Americans.
Many? It seems to me that your position is based on a rehashed academic philosophy that is gradually being refuted. For someone who admittedly knows little about Islam is, you sure seem highly opinionated about what Islam isn’t. Again, I would challenge you or anyone else to refute anything I’ve said. Until you do, you’re only arguing against a view because it isn’t what you came to believe to be true. Having said that, “true Islam” is not determined by academians. I haven’t seen one “expert” in Arabic assert otherwise. To do so would be foolish. So why do we pretend someone with a doctorate in Arabic has the final say-so as to what “true Islam” condones? Theologians determine theology. I’ll ask the imams and sheiks what Islam approves of.
== As an Islamist in training, do you agree with it?
It seems clear to me that Dan agrees with at least some of what I say if not most. I can’t say I disagree with any facts he’s presented. Does it burn you up that much? Do you have anything meaningful to add to this discussion or were you simply trying to lure someone over to your world of political correctness?
== In general I’ve found Kevin’s comments to be too strident.
Fair enough, but are they incorrect? Have I provided any false information?
== But I do have concerns about Muslim perspectives of other religions… Just months ago I read an article about how one of Afghanistan’s last two Jews had left – leaving a single Jewish man to tend a synagogue.
Yeah, and add Egypt to that list. There are fewer than 300 Jews there.
== I have very serious concerns about how Jews are portrayed in the ahadith…Taken together, my assessment of the ahadith is that they are extremely anti-Jewish.
And consider the ahadith are second in authority only to the Quran….. what does that tell you?
== And of course today the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only further exacerbates the extremely negative portrayal of Jews that already exists in Islamic canonical sources.
More Muslims have died in Sudan in one year than in Palestine the past 40 years. Having Palestine given to another people gnaws at the bones of Muslims everywhere for one reason alone: Jews are involved. The infidels whom their own Quran says are to be humiliated.
== I also simply have anecdotal experiences that have left me with concerns. I am particularly concerned about the Muslim principle that apostates from Islam should be killed. Not excommunicated. Killed. I have spoken with a few devout Muslims here in America and asked them their opinion of this – and they emphatically supported it
Thank YOU! But to even speak of it attracts the bigot-baiters. Which is why I made the original comment with a “grin.” To complain of intolerance and bigotry results in the charge of intolerance. Isn’t it ironic? Those who accuse me of bigotry for being worried about bigotry, become hypocrites by default. Because they are doing the same exact thing.
== Basically, there is no legal or acceptable way in Islam to leave the Islamic religion. This is completely contrary to the principle of freedom of religion and it is violent.
Now, how do these facts bode with my statement that Islam is the most intolerant faith? I mean there has to be a faith that is the most intolerant, just as there is one that is the most tolerant right? Somewhere in the world the “worst” doctor is working, and someone has an appointment with him tomorrow. What is so wrong with acknolwedging this? Because it isn’t politically correct.
== I believe the vast majority of Muslims in the world today will never lift their hands in violence against others.
Very true, that is the job of the Muhujadeen right? Most americans will never shoot an Iraqi, but does that mean they do not support the war in Iraq?
== I have Muslim friends and I think we should be friendly and respectful of Muslims. But I don’t think we should blind ourselves to extremely negative realities out there.
== I was in a class a long time ago where a Palestinian Muslim classmate raised the idea that jihad was simply a peaceful comment, an inner struggle to command one’s carnal desires and obey Allah. My response was that he “had better open his eyes to reality.” After the class he expressed his anger towards me and basically told me if I said anything like that again he’d physically hit me.
Now that is funny.
Thanks for your insights.
danithew, thanks for clarifying where you stand.
Jonathan Green … what’s your stand on things?