A New Direction

December 19, 2009

This course: Islam: Politics and Human Rights has been one of the most fulfilling and educational courses I’ve ever taken in college.  On the course grading sheet where students get to rate the effectiveness of their professor/the course/what could they have done to make the course better etc for the first time I actually honestly rated the course “I learned much more than typical”.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about Islam this semester.  Islam in the United States, the Prophet Muhammad, Islam in Indonesia, Secularism and the role of Shari’ia, women in Islam, Islamic principles, values, and views on navigating oneself through the world.

Coming into the course, I had a completely open mind about Islam but did not know much about the beliefs, values, and history concerning Islam.  As a history nerd at a young age I’d play historically based video games or watch a History Channel  special concerning Islam, or Islamic countries.  However, my knowledge base about Islam was severely limited.

After the events of 9/11, and I have to pause for a second.  It seems like everyone now speaks of the world after 9/11 almost like the world was completely different before 9/11.  Students my age are especially aware of growing up in a time when America and our international relations weren’t in the “post 9/11 era”.

As soon as I saw the course for Islam: Politics and Human Rights, I had to take it.  My interest and lack of knowledge produced this intense curiosity to prove that Islam wasn’t representative of the actions of Osama Bin Laden.  Ever since 9/11 I had this sinking feeling that Muslims weren’t much different than any of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Judiasm).  From my limited knowledge, everything in my consciousness told me yes: Christians were unbelievably overly-zealous and expansionistic during the pursuing the Crusades, but the Muslims were equally at fault for atrocities committed during the war.  In religious conflicts its okay to say that both are at fault and stop blaming each other.  Around 2001, I really resented hearing George W. Bush’s “Crusade Speech”.  After watching it again now knowing what I do about Islam, I shudder hearing that statement and realize it’s tremendous and traumatic influence on the Muslim community worldwide.  Especially pertaining to the Middle East.

When Gordon Brown pulled out England out of Iraq, America lost its primary, and basically only seriously legitimate ally in the WoT.  Brown may be a smart politican for getting England out of Iraq and such a terrible mess with the WoT, but he hits the issue right on the head.

The WoT is still being conducted under the guise of religious language even if it has become America trying to clean up it’s own messes in the Middle East, securing a democracy, and trying to get home in one piece.  To Muslims the WoT and American’s frequently hostile and largely ignorant attitudes towards them surely must make it feel like they are being held accountable for 9/11 and will now come under attack.

After studying Islam and even visiting a Masjid for my first time I’m confident that religion is another victim of “great in theory, but misunderstood, misapplied, and misrepresented in reality”.  It’s also one of those “too many dead bodies have floated in the water that’s passed under the bridge, so it’s been kind of hard to just call it water under the bridge”.  Actually, I don’t think the second one is really a saying per-se.  What I mean by these statements is that Islam is a religion of peace that seeks to provide human beings with set of simple rules and examples on how to lead a better life.  However, both Islam and Christianity, and Judiasm for that matter, have been misused by politicians to manipulate the great mass of religious people throughout the world that certain issues are religious or ideological conflicts that they must subscribe to due to their religion.  By making something a “higher calling” it’s basically out of the human’s hands to have a say in the matter.  Here religion has been misunderstood, misapplied, and misrepresented by Bush.  He doesn’t understand the religious implications of calling the War On Terror a crusade.  Again, crusade, misapplied word and ideological ideal.  Misrepresented-the WoT as comparable to the Crusades of the Middle Ages.  Case in point:

You’re with us or you’re with them.  He repeated this in his state of the union speech, and on numerous occasions.

I hope the man reads this, Bill o’Reilly, you’re a disgrace to Marist College.  I’m sad that people like you have audiences on TV that watch your show and believe your ideology as fervently as you do.  Anytime the two Muslim students attempted to state that solutions needed to be reached over the problem of Americans believing Islam is a violent religion and Muslims are like Osama Bin Laden, O’Reilly shut them down.  He also explicitly reiterates the sentiment that George W. Bush states.  Now Americans all over the country who watched the state of the union address and the O’Reilly Factor will hear both rgue that all Muslims have a duty to aid America is rooting out “Islamo-fascism”

I like this kind of response to O’Reilly’s propaganda.

However, we still have the trickle down effect, and it effects our youth, the dumb and impressionable pimple faced kids who don’t know wether they’re coming or going, who or what they are.  Being a teen is a rough age, but venting one’s frustrations and holding these kinds of ideas are exactly the reason why Muslims around the world feel affected by the WoT.

I’ve never watched the show 24, but I did happen to catch one episode a while ago.  Watching this video I remembered the 24 episode.  It portrayed a group of Muslim terrorists with nuclear or atomic bombs blowing up major cities in the United States.  Then it contrasts this with the heroic, patriotic, and kick ass/take names character “Jack Bauer”.  Thinking about it, the entire portrayal of the episode was a huge propaganda piece.  It basically dramatized the absolute worst case scenario situation and broadcast it to millions of Americans.  The effect of this show is that it is implicitly portraying the larger Muslim community as terrorists by putting an image of a Muslim.  Combined with the ideas circulating around America that Muslims should be helping in the war on terror to unjustifiably kill their radical Muslim brothers (at least in Iraq), it simply portrays Muslims in a poor light.

I like the way ABC puts this together, albeit politically left of center.  Sums up the last 8 catastrophic years for our national well being.

So after taking this course and learning what I have I’d like to propose a solution for the future.

To link this concept together with the previous material, I’d like to draw our attention to this video, as I’ve been running into the concept of multiculturalism in liberal democracies recently in political science and history courses.  Although this speaker is a little too sarcastic and out of line, the man has an excellent point.  However I still think he goes too far.  I have to concede that he’s right.  In order to believe in multiculturalism, to truly respect another culture, its people, their traditions, and their belief systems, you definitely have to know your history on that group, and how to treat them.  He makes the argument that as a multiculturalist you have to know everything about every culture.  Well, that’s where he goes too far.  Just because those war protesters saying “War isn’t the answer”, and they don’t know the capital of Saudi Arabia….I honestly don’t see how that is in any shape or form a relevant question, or an example of multiculturalists not knowing anything.

Multiculturalism means a respect for the other cultures of the world by giving them equal dignity, and granting their ambassadors (immigrants and minority groups) equal rights.  Multiculturalism is also about former colonial powers or oppressive governments getting a chance to make up for past discrimination or racist policies that caused economic and social inequalities that minority groups have yet to dig themselves out of.  Consequently, and boy I wish I wrote my capping project on this…I think it would be advantageous to the education of United States citizens and good for improving relations with the Muslim world that a mandatory multicultural policy geared at providing citizens with information on the foundation of the Islamic faith and it’s relation to Christianity and Judiasm, the way the Prophet Muhammad lived his life, and problems within the Muslim faith today such as the subjugation of women’s rights, and the current whabbisation of the Muslim world.  Although this policy will be difficult to enforce, throwing a little money out as an incentive will ensure excellent participation.  What this education tool should be, I don’t know.  If it concerns public schooling, people will throw a fit that it’s violating the separation of church and state.  If it’s conducted over the internet or at local colleges, public schools, town halls, and universities it will raise issues like what if someone doesn’t have access to a computer or transportation.  So how this would work is cause for some collective thought amongst members of government.  However, the idea of a voluntary, multicultural policy of courses to shed light on the “truth” about Muslims with a tax break incentive or check from the government as a reward.  Perhaps a mass youtube video course, or in class courses, who knows…like I said, I’m just a concerned citizen who thinks those we’ve elected to do a good job should finally remonstrate some of the problems caused by our participation in the WoT.

More on Irshad Manji

December 18, 2009

While watching the video and listening to Reza Aslan talk about the sheer diversity of Islam, I too wondered…what is the proper representation of Islam?  Does Islam have a single face to represent the religion?  At this point I paused the video and actually racked my brain thinking what do most Americans think about when they think of Islam?  After a few minutes I asked myself the same question.  What does Islam mean to me?  I’ve always thought of Islam during the Golden Age.  What it must have been like to live in Cordoba in Al-Andalus under Abd al-Rahman III.  Rahman was one of the most enlightened rulers I’ve ever read about.  But who thinks of that as Islam right?  To me it represents everything great about Islam.  Toleration of religion (in the middle ages any toleration of religion was a watershed, so private worship must have been a godsend), Scientific advancement, Astronomy, Mathematics, Brain surgery, streetlights, toothpaste, freedom of worship, an 800,000 book library, translation of Aristotle’s works, the philosophy of Maimonides, running water, irrigation….seriously the list goes on and on.

Those pictures were self taken in Cordoba at the Mezquita.  Beautiful structure and Muslim architecture, rows upon rows of those columns of red and off white.  The bottom picture is still at the Mezquita.  The real shame is once the Christians took Cordoba in the Reconquista, they ripped the ENTIRE center of the Mosque out and implanted a Cathedral.  It’s a living, visual representation of intolerance and arrogance.  The architectural difference is even more shocking in person.  The two structures clash and it feels just like the situation was during the Reconquista.  The Christians were sticking it to the Muslims and trying to show off while while doing it.

But back to the question at hand….

Certainly Arabs and Muslims are viewed by TOO many Americans as the same thing, neither is mutually exclusive.  Problematically, if we can’t recognize the plurality of the Muslim world (Reza Aslan stated it Arabs consisted of 8% of the world’s Muslim population!) I hate to say it, but I’d have to say that seems like an awfully uninformed misrepresentation of Islam.  I’ll be the first to admit I certainly didn’t know this fact before 2001 (eh come on I was only in 6th grade), and even now I haven’t acquired the reality behind the nuanced diversity of Islam across the globe.  However, through studies of Indonesian Islam, I can only imagine Islam throughout the world is highly diverse.

So the discussion is getting really deep at this point, and now I’m left with more questions buzzing around my head like mosquitoes.  I scratched my head and noted, maybe the world is seeing a reformation of Islam.  I mean it’s entirely feasible.  The Christian religion split violently resulting in vicious religious wars (1618-1648 30 year’s war).  Let’s examine this notion.  Religions seem to have reformations.  The Buddha reformed/split from Hinduism and created Buddhism.  Jesus reformed/ split from Judaism and created Christianity.  Martin Luther (and many before him, props to the guys who burned at the stake for heresy, that seems like a tough way to go) proposed reform and subsequently Christianity split between Protestants and Catholics.  Muhammad died and the religion split between Shia and Sunni…violently.

Are we beginning to see a pattern?  All things change, including religions.  They must adapt, or remain monolithic, but they must change.  What both Manji and Aslan are driving at is 9/11 was a tremendous turning point in Islamic history.  Aslan even argues that the War on Terror accelerated the “Wahhabisation” or conservative direction of the Muslim world.  Thus, his whole thesis asserts that the War on Terror-America’s reaction to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, that Islam’s reaction is to almost cleanse itself.  Therefore, this explains the movement to return back to the roots of Islam, which conservative Imams wrongly preach is to maintain a certain level of gender segregation.  However, this interpretation of Islam does not reflect the reality of Islam in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, it really reflects today’s conservative current in Islam.  A reactionary movement that can only be reversed by education and questioning.

So let’s change pace from the doom and gloom shall we?

Cat Stevens is one of the coolest guys.  Wrote some great songs, then one day was caught out in the Pacific surf out in Malibu and could get back to shore…gotta hate those leg cramps.  So Cat shouted something to the effect of “Oh God! If you save me I’ll work for you”.  Sure enough a wave mysteriously appeared and brought him back to shore.  What a unique guy, he devoted his life to the Islamic faith after dabbling in some other religions.  Cat said that after reading a few holy books, Islam was the one religion that gave him internal peace.  Hence, Cat converted to Islam, gave up the music biz because of the corruption and money making techniques of record companies, and changed his name to Yusuf because he liked the stories about Joseph in the Qur’an.  Gotta love Cat Stevens or Yusuf.

I really like the end of Yusuf’s song (Cat Stevens) when he says that Allah is the one and only God and Mohammed, Abraham, Jesus, Moses, and Noah and he probably names more but I left some out, are his messengers.  Wouldn’t it be unbelievable if the monothestic religions actually had some enlightenment and realized they were all brothers and sisters of the same God and ultimately of the same faith, subject to the same final judgement?

Yea….and pigs fly.  I’m pretty sure if you injected the piggie of Religion with multiple IVs of red bull, i don’t care how many cans of that battery acid you pumped into him….that little piggy AINT flying anywhere.  He’s going NO WHERE.

Dude…that’s rough

Samuel Huntington’s thesis in The Clash of Civilizations predicts a grim future, and provides an obstacle to greater cooperation and dialogue amongst the world’s diverse cultures.  He writes, “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.  Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” (Huntington 22).  Furthermore, he defines a civilization as, “A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.  It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self =identification of people.” (Hungtington 24)

Here is a picture displays the different cultures that Huntington accounts for:

The theme and goal of this blog is to uncover common ground as a foundation for better international/human relations.  In an earlier blog I noticed many fundamental similarities between the 3 monotheistic faiths.  These principles in each respective holy text have formed the core values and beliefs of each civilization.  Thus, these three “clashing cultures” have more in common that Huntington, and many people in the world may believe.  Therefore, the clash between civilizations seems less about culture, and more about artificial constructions.  This blog post will attempt to provide examples that may expose shortcomings and inconsistencies in Huntington’s troubling thesis.  I would like to posit that Huntington and the world has completely misjudged and oversimplified their fellow man.  As posited by Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, violence occurs when humans reduce each other to simple categories like Christian or Muslim, or Arab or American.  Instead, he argues we must see the plurality of roles contained in each individual.  For example, Huntington’s classification reduces my identity to an American.  However, Sen’s classification correctly asserts I am an American, a son, a white man, middle class, a young adult, a student, an idealist, etc etc.  These roles defy simple, polar classifications that drive a wedge between humankind.

There are many relationships that completely unravel Huntington’s thesis.  For example, two of the most irreconcilable cultures have had some of the closest relationships in international politics.  Thus, we’ll see how Huntington’s clash thesis deflates in this specific instance.

Bush just can’t seem to take a good picture, seriously…

HAHAHAHA okay that’s hilarious.  Apparently, King Abdullah was only about to whisper in President Bush’s ear.  However, it really looks like the US and Saudi Arabia have some close relations.

Hmmmmm, that chain looks awfully familiar….

Ah!  That’s where I’ve seen it before.  Looks like business as usual despite presidential changes over decades.  Here’s a great video that displays the founding of US-Saudi Relations.

Okay, so the United States and Saudi Arabia have had close and harmonious relations for decades.  However, Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive, conservative, and authoritarian nations on earth.  On the other hand, the United States prides itself on freedom, liberty, justice, and equality.  What many Americans do not realize is Osama Bin Laden is Saudi, and the participants in the 9/11 attacks were predominantly Saudis.  Americans shun Saudi Arabia’s repressive and deplorable treatment of women, and Saudis are equally disgusted with our treatment of women and are justified in citing the incredible amount of sexual assaults, and rapes in the USA.  These two nations both stand for the principles that the other seeks to destroy.  Thus, how do these two distinct cultures have such a great relationship and do not naturally clash as Huntington’s thesis suggests they should?  The answer lies in Saudi Arabia’s willingness to supply the US with much needed oil and natural gas, for which the Saudi’s are paid handsomely.  American taxpayer’s dollars maintain the security and continuation of a terrible regime in Saudi Arabia.  However, due to the mutually beneficial economic partnership, diplomats from both nations are hesitant to stir up trouble by imposing their seemingly irreconcilable values upon the other.

Is economic partnerships a plausible way to ensure cooperation between cultures that seem to clash?  Historically, France and Germany before WWII had some shaky relations.  The Germans beat the pants off of the French in numerous wars including the phase of German Unification in which the French were humiliatingly defeated in mere months.  France was crushed under the weight of the Nazi jackboot in WWII, and occupied under the Vichy government.  However, after WWII both nation’s economies lay in ruins.  Despite their differences France and Germany were the main proponents of the ECSC or European Coal and Steel Community in 1951.  1951!!!!  That was only a few short years after Germany had brutally subdued France.  Yet, both nations came to the table in order to create an economic partnership to rebuild their shattered economies.  The ECSC later evolved into the EEC, which formed the basic for today’s European Union.  Today, the EU is one of the most powerful, wealthy, and expanding actors in international politics.

Is it possible that the solution to the world’s problems is a mutually beneficial economic agreement between clashing cultures?  Does money really make the world go ’round?  Well, in both these circumstances, this theory seems to hold some water.  If the Palestinians and Israelis can form an economic partnership with non-tariff barriers, I guarantee you’ll see improved relations within a decade.  In a few decades who knows, maybe a two state solution will be mutually beneficial: peace, a rise in the standard of living, stronger economies etc.  It seems highly feasible.

Furthermore, Huntington’s thesis is unbelievably provincial.  It’s almost laughable to think that an educated scholar would actually believe there is a harmony and uniformity between his stratified cultural groups.  Huntington lumps Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Indonesia, and Turkey together as one uniform Islamic culture.  Seriously Huntington???  Sir, you have clearly not done your homework if a college senior can realize there are tremendous differences between these nations and civilizations.  It is extremely problematic and narrow minded to lump these highly diverse civilizations together simply because they are Muslim majority states.  After reading An-Na’im’s chapter titled Indonesia: Diversity and Pluralism, there seemed to be little similarity between Arabic Islam and Indonesian Islam.  Islamic missionaries in Indonesia converted the local peoples by emphasizing a principle known as adat.  Adat is an amalgamation of local beliefs, practices, and rituals.  Therefore, Muslim missionaries converted the Indonesians by emphasizing similarities between Islam and their indigenous religions/beliefs.  Much like St. Patrick’s conversion techniques in Ireland, these early Muslim missionaries used visual examples to display the power and truth of their faith.  Thus, illiterate Indonesians could more easily understand the benefits of converting to this alien religion and system of beliefs.  Consequently, Indonesian Islam is blended with uniquely Indonesian beliefs, values, and heritage that is completely divorced from that of say…Syria or Egypt.  Moreover, these supposedly “united Islamic cultures” are plagued by mistrust and have even gone to war with one another.  Recently, the Iran-Iraq War in the 80s is an excellent example of how Huntington’s uniform Islamic culture is not so uniform.

Samuel Huntington’s thesis is more of self fulfilling prophecy than a truism.  Also, it does not take into account the differences and nuances of each civilization he proses.  Therefore, Huntington’s thesis is provincial and incomplete.  It seems catered to war hawks and it creates more harm than good.

While watching Me and the Mosque a few classes ago I found myself deeply troubled.  The barrier separating women from men was really alienating women from their religion.  The idea of a fence of barrier serves a few functions: to  demarcate territory, to keep people out, to keep people in, and to protect one’s property.  However, when the barrier was applied to separate women and men in the Mosque, it was supposed to serve the function of reducing temptation.  While watching the documentary, the barrier didn’t seem to help nor serve its stated function.  Instead, the barrier alienated Muslim women from feeling like part of the Mosque.  When interviewed, women agreed that the barrier made them feel like they weren’t welcome, like they were second class Muslims.  Muslim women come to the Mosque to practice their religion on their own volition.  They have been active members of the Islamic community for hundreds of years.  However, conservative interpretations of the Qur’an are producing poised fatwas that seek to completely separate women and men in Islam.  Please take a glance at this picture.  Does it look like Zarqa Nawaz is able to practice her faith the way she wants to?  Does this barrier foster good feelings, peace, and serenity at the Mosque?me_and_the_mosque_muslim_movie_2

“When our mosque put up a barrier it became difficult to feel a part of the community. Women couldn’t see or hear properly. I felt it was a symbolic representation of our non-involvement in the mosque.”-Zarqa Nawaz

In Me and the Mosque it seemed barriers in Mosques separated women from men, often times in a balcony or enclosed room.  Unfortunately, Canada was not a special case, and barriers have been popping up in Mosques all over the world for the past 20-30 years.  Nawaz visited one Mosque with a one way mirror so men could not be tempted with the mere sight of a woman.  Women were completely excluded from the Mosque and forced behind a faceless mirror.  Also, new Mosques were being erected in the same fashion, despite the pleas of engineers and community members.

According to Nawaz, separating men and women “…became ritualized in mosques, but it has nothing to do with Islam. This is about patriarchy being confused with faith, something that has happened in every major religion.”

When Nawaz spoke with intelligent male Qur’anic scholars they both agreed that the barrier was not a part of the Mosque in the time of the Prophet.  Instead, the muftis revealed that women often led prayers, and contributed ideas/interpretations to discussion at the Mosque.  The scholars claimed the idea of the barrier was constructed in the Whhabi conservative Islamic reform movement around the 18th C.  However, the barrier has almost become a mainstay in the mosque.  Thus, they repeated that the barrier was more of a cultural practice than a mandate from Allah to the Prophet Muhammad.  They agreed with Nawaz and lamented that the barrier was due to patriarchal control/dominance and a lack of education on Qur’anic doctrine.  In fact, one of the muftis invited women to join the men at his mosque to pray, just like the Prophet.


palestine-matt-miller-1

Here are two good discussions on YouTube about the barrier in the Mosque.

In a religion that is supposed to grant greater equality to women, the barrier is one of the glaring examples that there is a major difference between Islam in theory and Islam in practice.  I searched around the net for articles about the barrier’s prevalence and role in American Islam, and finally found one about the removal of a barrier in a San Francisco mosque.  When the barrier came down in the mosque a handful of veiled women protested in front of the mosque claiming that they wanted the barrier.  Also, a handful of men decided to leave the mosque and pray at another mosque with a barrier.  Many men made a little fuss, but returned to worship as normal.  Thankfully the wall remained down.  The article cited a terrible fact.  “In 2001, a survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations of more than 1,200 mosques found that 66 percent of them required women to pray behind a partition or in a separate room, up from 52 percent in 1994.” (http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/asbacodomusp.html)  Thus, there has been a rapid acceleration of the conservative undercurrent in Islam, even in North America.  The article really got me thinking why Islam has been heading in a conservative direction.

As I read on the author Neil MacFarquhar offered a plausible solution.

“Islamic scholars and women activists say they believe the trend has accelerated since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, attributing it to a newly pervasive insecurity on the part of North American Muslims who have counteracted it through a staunch adherence to tradition.” (MacFarquhar)  He continues, “There is a sense that there is a crusade out there against Islam, that Islam is under siege and we have to hold steadfast to our righteous ways more than ever,” said Khaled Abou El Fadl, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a prominent Islamic jurist known for his moderate interpretations.  Therefore, through this interpretation it seems the conservative undercurrent sweeping through Islam is due to a desire to return to the roots of Islam.  However, a lack of education is poisoning the good intentions of Muslims.  Conservative imams are improperly instructing Muslims that there must be a greater separation between men and women in the Mosque.  Moreover, conservative muftis are passing fatwas that utilize vague and specific cases to declare that men and women must be completely separated, almost isolated, in the mosque.

In the film I remembered the Qur’anic scholar who maintained that conservatives justify prayer barriers or separations because Muhammad’s wives were kept in separate rooms, like wings of the mosque.  However, in Muhammad’s time there were still the same issues as today of temptation.  Yet, Muhammad never separated his followers, but suggested men should pray in front in case men would be tempted to look at women’s butts as they prayed.  Zarqa Nawaz states, “Men try to justify it now by creating arguments that are ludicrous, like saying that men back then were more moral.  This is completely bogus. The men were exactly the same back then when it came to being distracted. The prophet didn’t deal with it by separation, he dealt with it by education.” (http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/asbacodomusp.html).  Consequently, we must deal with this issue through education and a more vigorous reading of the Qur’an.  Seriously, if one doesn’t understand one’s own religion and simply takes the words of imams like it is the word of the Prophet, they cannot say to be true believers.

Islam

September 25, 2009

Islam, Judiasm, and Christianity all derive from similar traditions, yet too often they separate violently like oil and water.  The Koran, Bible, and Torah all claim Abraham as a patriarch and an integral prophet in their teachings.  Also, each religion is based around the concept of monotheism, or belief in one and only one god.  Each religion seeks to establish a moral code, or better way to navigate through the world.  The Koran and Bible are suspiciously similar in terms of what is not permitted under their faith.  In the Christian and Judaic traditions these are the Ten Commandments.  In the Koranic tradition these are the words of God spoken to the Prophet Muhammad. I’ll quickly display some similarities between each religion’s basic tenets.

Qur’an 17:23
Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him . . .

Exodus 20:3
You shall have no other gods before Me

Clearly, both these passages establish the monotheistic tradition of worship to one and only one god.  Interestingly, their messages are identical, but each text contains slightly different language.  Consequently, under certain readings of each text religious extremists elicit can substantiate their violent ideologies.  Here I’ll continue with similarities between the religions, and the importance of language and it’s implications.

Qur’an 2:42

And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is).

Exodus 20:16
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Clearly, each religion holds a premium on truth.  God in each religion seems to value the truth and honest speech.  However, as it is written in the Bible God has decreed not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor.  To a religious extremist attracted to the rewards of martyrdom, the definition of neighbor changes drastically.  Is your enemy your neighbor?  Is a foreign army that occupies your homeland a neighbor?  Are these neighborly actions?  Clearly they are not.  Consequently, in a narrow or extremist reading of Christianity, a religious zealot could interpret god’s message that it is permissible to lie and deceive all those who are not your neighbors.

Qur’an 17:33

Nor take life which Allah has made sacred . . .

Exodus 20:13
You shall not kill

Both religions do not condone murder.  However, it is interesting to note the slight difference in the Koranic tradition.  There is a definite loophole which extremists must love.  The passage in the Koran states that one cannot take a life which Allah has deemed sacred.  Thus, if Allah has not deemed a life sacred, or if Allah is not around to tell us who is and who is not sacred in his eyes, it seems that it would be permissible to murder.  Yet, if one understands the overall and most important message of love, tolerance, and compassion for one’s fellow man found in the 3 monotheistic religions it would be obvious that Allah has deemed ALL life sacred.  Obviously, extremists can utilize small loopholes in Koranic or Biblical verses to construct their radical ideologies.

Qur’an 17:32
Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).

Exodus 20:17
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or his male servant or
his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

http://muslim-canada.org/islam_christianity.html#10commandments

Both religions forbid adultery. However, Christianity seems to define adultery under the broader umbrella of coveting that can be applied to material goods and people.  Instead, the Muslim interpretation in this specific passage is more focused on preventing adultery, not coveting a neighbor or fellow man’s goods.

Furthermore, each of the monotheistic traditions (and almost every major religion) has developed a radical subset of extremist followers.  Judaism contains a small extremist group of zionists that can be labeled as catastrophic zionists.  Last year in my existentialism course I encountered a text by an extremist zionist from Israel.  The author survived the hollocaust only to learn that using nukes was Israel’s best chance for creating the biblical state of Israel.  He suggested that a catastrophic attack on Israel would justify her use of nukes against their enemies and he wouldn’t care if it happened because it would mean victory.  Wow….I’d say that’s fairly extreme.  So we can ask: what are the social, political, economic, and religious pressures of the late 1950’s in Israel.  However, those questions are enough for 2 semesters worth of research!  Next, we are all painfully aware of the terrorist attack of 9/11 by Al-Queda.  Also, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have established their society based on an extremist reading of the Qur’an.  We’ve often heard of people being stoned to death under their extremist interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence.  Finally, extremist Christians in the United States have prevented citizens from legally getting an abortion.  Furthermore, some extremist Christians have even bombed abortion clinics to prevent women from murdering what they consider to be one of god’s children, and violates a commandment.

http://english.safe-democracy.org/keynotes/religion-and-religious-extremism.html

Extremism doesn’t appear from nowhere.  Thus, some forces must be at work that fermented such a warped reading of a Holy Text.  Was it a lack of education?  Was the result a product of the society that produced the ideology?  So zionists utilize the Torah and it’s passages about the god given right Jews have to Israel.  Next, Al-Queda is fine with taking life because from one reading of the Koran, the US was not held sacred by Allah.  Instead, the US was at such odds with the teachings of Allah, that extremists came to the conclusion taking innocent life was righteous.  Finally, Christian extremists point to the language of the passage of the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill”.  They strictly interpret the language of the bible, or god’s word because the word of god is infallible.  Consequently, it violates every principle they stand for to take a life.  Thus, this is a highly oversimplified reading of the religious texts to arrive at justifications for religious extremism, that undeniably they use to convince themselves everyday.

Check out this video, it traces the spread of the Monotheistic religions on the globe.  Very cool and quick video.

Islam

September 14, 2009

I’ve never blogged before, so a good reference point to begin this blog will be what I’ve already encountered in our Islam Politics and Human Rights course. Also, a brief explanation of the blog’s tentative theme, and what I hope to accomplish seems appropriate. Wow, I just realized that today is September 11. Today marks the eighth anniversary of 9/11. However, the image of the second tower being struck by a plane is still fresh in my mind. It was sickeningly surreal as I watched the towers collapse on themselves and crumble onto the New York City streets. I’ll never forget that day for the rest of my life. Yet it’s important to realize that extremist Muslims that are out of touch with the true nature of their faith commited the horrible act. It was not a declaration of war by Muslims on America. Education rather than irrational fear is the only way to move forward.

My interest in Islam was ignited after studying for a semester in Sevilla, Spain. While abroad I encountered Islamic elements throughout southern Spain or Andalucia. Muslims controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula for over 700 years and under their reign Islam and society flourished. Al-Andalus was a beacon of learning and progress while Europe was struggling in the Dark Ages. Thus, Spain and especially Andalucia still retain many Islamic influences today. I visited many Islamic sites such as the Mezquita at Cordoba and spent a weekend traveling to three cities in Morocco. Consequently, I was eager to learn more about Islam. The focus of this blog and tentative theme will explore the divisions in Islam, and how these divisions can be healed. Also, I’ll attempt to find some common ground between Islam and the world’s major religions. Post 9/11 it’s important to accent the similarities rather than differences in our world.

The video about Muhammad we watched in class raised some serious questions. Although I didn’t voice my opinion, I was equally as disturbed with the revelation from god to Muhammad stating men could take up to four wives if they could provide for them. This revelation was a matter of pragmatism after so many Muslim women had been widowed after the wars with Mecca. Smart idea for the time, absolutely. Muhammad didn’t want the fragile Medina society to break down with single mothers and grieving widows all over the place. However, I feel like things have changed a bit since 600 and we need to rethink doctrine made over 1,300 years ago. Women undeniably have more agency in society today then in the 600s. To put myself in a woman’s shoes, that’d be pretty messed up if my wife had four husbands. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t care for her with nearly the amount of love I could give to one woman if she was sleeping and living with three other men. As a western thinker I guess I have a totally different view of marriage and love than that of the Prophet Muhammad and for that manner, God. I’m absolutely baffled why outdated religious doctrines aren’t updated and refuse to evolve.

After I told my parents about the blog for class, my mother told me a highly relevant and sad story about her day concerning a young Muslim girl. The girl had never been required to wear a hijab that revealed as little of her body as possible. Perhaps because she was too young to have to conceal her features, as they had not developed yet. However, her parents sent her to Turkey for part of the summer, and when she returned, they demanded she had to wear the hijab. On the first day of school she was absolutely mortified due to all the student’s looks of surprise and comments. Students had never seen her wear the hijab before. She was incredibly sad that she was now being forced to wear the traditional dress. My mother was almost in tears recalling the events of the day because she felt terribly for the young Muslim girl. Thus, I felt this story was relevant to our class and worthy of some examination. Was it right for these parents to force their child to wear the hijab when she had never had to wear it before? More importantly, a religion should promote love and peace, not produce tears. Would this young girl be more devout in her faith if she didn’t have to wear the hijab? It seems forcing the girl to wear the traditional dress only pushed her farther away from Islam, instead of bringing her closer to the religion. Many feminists and westerners shun the hijab as oppressive and cruel. However, I feel a predominant amount of westerners are uninformed about the cultural significance of the hijab. Upon further examination online, here is what I learned about the hijab.

http://www.islam101.com/women/hijabfaq.html

One notable passage I encountered was: In the Quran, God states: “Say to 
 the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their 
 modesty…And say to the believing women that they should lower their 
 gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty 
 and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they 
 should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty 
 except to their husbands, their fathers…(a list of exceptions)” 
 [Chapter 24, verses 30-31] Also, “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and 
 daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer 
 garments over their persons…that they should be known and not 
 molested.” [Chapter 33, verse 59]

If one interprets this passage a certain way, it seems completely plausible that the burka or hijab is an excellent way to revere Mohammed and Allah by covering oneself modestly. The burka advocated in Saudi Arabia is an orthodox interpretation of this passage. This picture (below) is absolutely illogical. I understand the woman is honoring her god and prophet. However, the passage states that a woman should cover her body to maintain modesty, but it permits what ordinarily appears. This woman is covered head to toe. Not even her hands are bare. If Mohammed saw this picture what would he think? After watching the Islam video, Mohammed seemed like a highly pragmatic man. I don’t think he would believe that a full dark black burka worn at a hot beach and in the ocean is absolutely necessary in order to guard a woman’s modesty. Perhaps a one-piece bathing suit would be more appropriate for the beach, perhaps not.  I’m not Muhammad.

http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Veil.html

I learned that many Muslim women prefer to wear the hijab for many reasons. Some believe that the hijab is a display of their obedience to God and a visual expression of their Islamic faith. Others feel the hijab will grant them more equality with men because they cannot be objectified. Instead of the hijab reducing freedom, many believe that it is more liberating than revealing clothing. Yet, in the West the hijab is a symbol of female repression and male dominance. Feminists often cite that the hijab is a male technique to control women. However, investigation revealed that this view is unfounded. Thus, the hijab is only oppressive when it is forced upon women who do not wish to wear it. My mother’s story about her Muslim student reveals the psychological harm the hijab can do to those who do not wish to wear it.

Hello world!

September 3, 2009

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