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Reader comment on item: Islam's Future [Can Be Modern]

Submitted by Abu Sannad (United States), Apr 22, 2004 at 21:27

Given the recent worldwide attacks by Islamic terrorists, why isn't the question "Is Islam evil?" With few exceptions ( Turkey , for example), Islamic countries are fascist, autocratic or theocratic, where women are subjugated and minorities persecuted. Islamic countries are rife with poverty and have been for centuries. Polls show that in many Islamic countries a majority of Muslims lionize the man responsible for the atrocities of September 11th and the terrorist gangs who routinely slaughter civilians in Israeli buses and restaurants. In Arab schools and on Arab television, children are taught the glory of becoming suicide bombers. Almost everywhere that Islam borders other cultures, there is violence.

The idea, then, that Islam is evil has far more plausibility than the idea that United States is evil. But merely, raising the question, "Is Islam evil?" provokes an instant, inevitable outcry: "Bigot!" "Racist!" "Zionist!" Indeed, the attempt to suppress debate on this question is so intense that few people in the mainstream will ask it.

The level of banality goes beyond the empty name-calling. Typical knee-jerk questions are: "How can you call all Muslims evil?" "Have you ever met a Muslim?" "Don't you think Muslims have children, too?" Notice the switch from the religion to the demographic group. Muslims, as individuals, range from lapsed to devout, from "in name only" to fully practicing Jihadists. As in all religions, some individuals retain the label even if they don't practice the religion. Indeed, knowledge of the religion varies from person to person. It is not at all unusual to find members of a religion who don't understand the doctrines, practice, or history of their religion. As a broad label, "Muslim" is nothing more than a meaningless demographic term. To judge a religion, one considers those who understand and practice the religion. Would we judge Catholicism by someone who, following the tradition of their parents, calls themselves Catholic but has no knowledge of the teachings of the Church, the Pope, the Saints, and the Bible?

To get to the heart of Islam, start with its founder: Muhammad. Like Christianity, Islam's essence is tied to the nature of a central figure who gives the religion its distinctive soul. Muhammad's professional life as a religious leader can be divided into two, roughly equal periods. In the first, he preached tolerance while he struggled for acceptance in Mecca. But in the second period, after he rises to power in Medina, he became increasingly harsh, mean-spirited and warlike.

In Medina, he inaugurated his reign of terror by assassinating two critics who posed no physical threat: an elderly man and a poetess. Unaccustomed to the farm life of Medina, he tried his hand at raiding caravans traveling to and from Mecca. After several failed attempts he finally succeeded -- during the holy month. (As usual, he conveniently had a revelation to justify this breach of regional ethics.) Muhammad had found his calling: plunder.

The mere existence of the Jewish tribes in Medina threatened Muhammad's authority. Muhammad packaged his religion as the completion and perfection of the monotheistic religions: Judaism and Christianity. His converts were Arabs; Jews refused to accept him as an authentic prophet of their religion. In a policy of ethnic cleansing, he banished two of the three Jewish tribes and slaughtered the third. Of the several dozen battles fought either by Muhammad or in his behalf, only one, the Battle of the Ditch, was defensive. Islam, however, classifies them all as defensive, virtually removing any meaning from the word. Muhammad had perfected his technique: slaughter.

The chapters in the Koran, called "Suras", are Muhammad's "revelations" from God. The Suras from the Medinan period reflect the corruption of Muhammad's rule. Sura 9, one of the last revelations, contains some of the most uncompromising doctrines of aggression and belligerence. The progression from the early Meccan Suras to the latter Medinan Suras transforms the nature of the religion. The Koran and the Hadith (the collection of Muhammad's deeds and sayings, often called "the living Koran") paint a bleak but unmistakable picture: Islam is a warrior religion of conquest and oppression.

Compare and contrast Muhammad's life to the life of Jesus. Is Jesus a violent warrior? His worst act of violence is overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. In fact, in one part of the Gospels he appeared to be advocating pacifism. Although he is called "King of the Jews," he never ruled and gave no indication of ever wanting earthly rule. According to the followers who recorded his deeds and sayings, Jesus' career consisted of a few years as an itinerant preacher ending with his crucifixion. According to the Gospels, he didn't rise to power but rose to heaven.

As a devout Jew, Jesus' holy book was the Old Testament, which does have some harsh passages and violent episodes. But the Jesus of the Gospels is more concerned with the spirit of the law than with the letter. (Witness his preaching on the Sabbath.) He boiled his religious beliefs down to two essentials: love God, and love thy neighbor. In effect, Christianity modified the religion of the Old Testament's ever-jealous, ever-vengeful, take-no-prisoners Yahweh and his never-ending rules and regulations (see Leviticus and Deuteronomy) with a more benevolent and less legalistic message. Paul solidified this transformation by exempting converts from Jewish law.
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