Where is the Islamic Renaissance?

Where is the Islamic Renaissance? March 6, 2015

In the late 1500s, Japan had more guns than any European country, but that ended as Japan entered a self-imposed isolation that lasted over two centuries. This peaceful Tokugawa period was the time of the shoguns and samurai.

That changed in 1853 when U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry appeared in Tokyo Bay with his black ships and demanded that Japan open up as an international trading partner. Concluding that trade was preferred to colonization, Japan signed treaties with many Western powers. By 1868, the emperor became more than a figurehead with the Meiji Restoration. Japan began an aggressive period of industrialization, and this former insular country defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. It had become a world power.

From shunning outside influences to mastering them in 50 years is pretty impressive.

Can the Muslim World do the same?

Let’s compare that Japan with another region of the world: the Muslim world of the Middle East and North Africa (I’ll refer to this region as MENA). Japan showed that a country can change a lot in 50 years if it is dedicated, and we’ve seen a lot of change in MENA. The Middle East became the world’s largest oil producing region 50 years ago and now receives over $800 billion per year from its oil. So how has MENA used its 50 years?

We can evaluate countries on governance and democracy using Country Indicators for Foreign Policy data, which considers six criteria: democratic participation, government and economic efficiency, accountability, human rights, political stability, and rule of law.

The MENA countries don’t fare well. Half are in the worst 25%, including most of the largest ones: Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The Muslim world is grossly underrepresented in science Nobel Prizes, and it is not a source of innovation today. A David Fitzsimmons cartoon illustrates this with a modern pollster with bow tie, briefcase, and clipboard asking a barefoot terrorist, “Are you better off now than you were four hundred years ago?”

With the enormous windfall of outside technology and cash, MENA could’ve done so much more. And the incredible thing is, they did. With the support of Islam, this region of the world was a center of civilization during the Islamic Golden Age, roughly 800–1250.

While Europe stumbled through the Middle Ages, the Muslim world of the Middle East and North Africa built libraries and great buildings, preserved the works of Aristotle and other Greek scholars, and developed trigonometry, algebra, and astronomy. Our numbering system (zero, positional notation, Arabic numerals) was invented in India but introduced into Europe by North African Arabs a thousand years ago. Over 200 stars and galaxies have Arabic names (Betelgeuse, Rigel, Vega, Andromeda), and some of our scientific ideas came from the Arab world, as can be seen by their Arabic names (algorithm, algebra, azimuth, alchemy).

A thousand years ago, the libraries of Moorish Spain had close to a million manuscripts, and the translation of Greek works, preserved in Muslim Spain, helped fuel the European Renaissance.

Chaos after the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258 allowed conservative sects of Islam to gain power, and the Islamic Golden Age was over.

Historians can tell us why MENA’s recent history played out as it did. But how plausible were other paths? Is it naïve to wonder if history could have played out other ways with a benign or encouraging flavor of Islam that would’ve allowed a Renaissance in the Islamic world? The Arab Spring gives one hope, ISIS not so much.

You could say that the Koran has a lot of crazy stuff in it, but so does the Bible. Christians have been able to put that behind them. Christians may be inconsistent, but the point is that they don’t see in the Old Testament justification for things that modern people simply don’t accept.

If Christian Europe could go through a Renaissance, the Muslim world can too, especially since they’ve been there.

The ink of a scholar is more holy
than the blood of a martyr
— attributed to Mohammed

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/19/12.)

Photo credit:Wikipedia

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  • MNb

    You’re quite optimistic, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong of course. Kemal Ataturk tried something similar, with some success. But what reliloon Erdogan is doing is not exactly encouraging.
    However the problem is recognized by MENA scholars. The question is basically the same as after the Mongol conquest of Baghdad: “if Allah is with us, how come he seems to favour perfidious western democracies? IS in this respect might actually be a good thing. It has made so many enemies among muslims in MENA that they very well might begin to question fundamentalism.

    • Pofarmer

      Interesting thought.

    • RichardSRussell

      Regrettably, competent scholarly studies have shown that, when TBs are challenged — even with documented facts, voices of authority that they respect, and the evidence of their own eyes — their normal reaction is to cling even more steadfastly to their irrational beliefs.

  • Pofarmer

    From Luther to today it took, what, 500 years, and bloody years, to loosen the grip of christianity. The last religious war of the Catholic church, maybe, was in the early years of the 20th century. The last person burned for heresy in the 1850’s. I guess paint me not e tie hopeful.

  • Maoh

    I would like to point out 2 fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam
    1) the crazy stuff is mostly in the Old Testament, which allows liberal Christians to simply and cleanly declare things like stoning gay people, apostates, and rebellious children to be part of the “Old Covenant” which was replaced by Jesus. It can be ignored with minimal cognitive dissonance.
    2) Christianity was founded by an itinerant rabbi and spent the first few centuries of it’s existence, the time the Bible was written, as a minority religion in a pagan empire. While Christians are often all too eager to hijack the state and impose their beliefs on everyone, they aren’t explicitly ordered to do so by their holy book. Church and State can be separated because they were separate to begin with. Islam on the other hand, was founded by a warlord, during the time the religion was formed, and for centuries afterwards, the Muslim word was ruled by a theocratic Caliphate, Thus their book contains instructions to subjugate and repress other religions by force.

    • 1) Yes, Christians do ignore the OT, but they had their chance to reject it, and they didn’t. They’re stuck with it (in contrast to other early Christianities that did explicitly reject it).

      • Maoh

        Of course, but my point is that for Christians who are inclined to disregard it, it is really really easy. That was how I did it up until I left Christianity all together. It is a lot harder for Muslims to simply ignore big chunks of the Quran.

    • Nemo

      Excellent point on number 2. Had Jesus and Muhammad swapped sociohistorical contexts with each other, their stance on murder would no doubt be opposite.

    • MNb

      This is not incorrect because it’s wrong, it’s incorrect because it’s incomplete and one-sided.


      Nr. 2.

      Which is why the populations of the conquered Byzantine areas so easily converted to islam. Plus these conquests happened with the active aid of christians and jews:


      How else do you think a bunch of illiterate desert nomads managed to conquer such a large area in such a short time and keep it?

      • Maoh

        Good job. Now how about rebutting things I actually said. I was talking about Islamic doctrine, not military history.

    • SparklingMoon,

      Thus their book contains instructions to subjugate and repress other religions by force.
      God commences the Holy Qur’an with the following verse(1:3)That is, ”all perfect and holy attributes belong exclusively to Allah, Who is the Lord of all the worlds.” The Arabic word ‘alam comprises all different peoples, all different ages and all the different countries. The commencement of the Holy Qur’an with this verse was designed to counter the views of such people as attempted to monopolise God’s unlimited providence for their own nation and imagined that the other nations did not belong to God or that having created these other people, God discarded them as being of no consequence, or else perhaps they were shelved to oblivion by Him, or (God forbid) they were not even created by Him.

      To illustrate this further, we refer to the view of the Jews and the Christians, still commonly held by them, that all the Prophets and Messengers of God belonged only to the House of Israel, and that God completely ignored the religious and spiritual requirements of other people, as though He were displeased with them and that, despite finding them in manifest error and ignorance, He showed least concern for their spiritual welfare.

      The Qur’an is that revered book which laid the foundation of peace
      between nations and acknowledged the truth of all Prophets belonging to all the different nations. It is the Holy Qur’an which enjoys the unique distinction of teaching us with regards to the Prophets of the entire world that: (We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit. (Al-e-‘Imran, 3:85) Therefore, O Muslims, you should declare: We believe in all the Prophets of God belonging to this world and we do not discriminate between them as to reject one and accept the others.

      Name one book like the Holy Qur’an which is so dedicated for the cause
      of peace. The universal beneficence of God has not been confined by the Qur’an to any specific House. It acknowledges the Prophets of the House of Israel, one and all, be they Jacob(as), Isaac(as), Moses(as), David(as) or Jesus(as). And it acknowledges the Prophets of other nations regardless of whether they dwelt in India or Persia. None of them have been labeled as deceitful or imposters. On the contrary, it clearly proclaims that Prophets appeared in every nation and in every township and laid the foundation of peace between all the peoples. (Ruhanikhazain)

      • Maoh

        Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing…

        but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.

        • SparklingMoon,

          Prophet of Islam and Muslims had to face persecution for thirteen years in Mecc but never confront them .Muslims had migrated from Mecca to Medinah but the people of Mecca extra marched 300 miles to kill them then God Almighty first time permitted Muslims to retaliate in these verses of the Quran:

          [2:191] And fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors. [2:192] And kill them wherever you meet them and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing. And fight them not in, and near, the Sacred Mosque until they fight you therein. But if they fight you, then fight them: such is the requital for the disbelievers. [2:193]But if they desist, then surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful. [2:194] And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for Allah. But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors.

          Fighting is permissible only to repel or halt aggression; but even in the course of such fighting; Muslims are not permitted to adopt unduly aggressive measures. “Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely, A1lah loves not the transgressors.” (2: 191) ‘Persecution is worse than killing’, for it seeks to destroy the soul. (2:192) Therefore, “fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for the sake of Allah; but if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors.” (2: 194) The phrase ‘but if they desist’ is mentioned not only in verse 193 but also in 194 clearly sealing the interpretation that the warfare is only defensive.

          The word ” persecution” in these verses does not mean to make a war with the people of other religions to change their faith as you have described in your post.The word persecution is used for disorder that is against safety and peace of humanity. As it is clearly state in the Quran the purpose or the need of wars in a religion of peace, Allah says, “If Allah were to not prevent the aggression of one group by another group the safety of cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft remembered, would surely have been destroyed.” (22:41)

          In this verse by mentioning the places of worship of other religions before the Muslim mosques, the Holy Quran is very eloquently declaring religious freedom for the whole mankind.
          We read a similar message in Sura Baqarah, “If Allah were not to repel a section of mankind by another, the earth would be filled with disorder, but Allah is full of bounty towards all peoples.” (2:252). Here again the stress is on ‘all people’, so the purpose of wars is not to change the faith of others or collect spoils or to seek political advantage, but to restore religious freedom for ‘all people’

        • Maoh

          Of course, I bet the Meccans, and other Arab tribes whose beliefs and ways of life were ground into the dust and obliterated by Islam would give a different story. We’ve learned not to trust Caesar’s account of the Gauls, why should we accept Mohammed’s account of the peoples he enslaved uncritically?

        • TheNuszAbides

          yeah, the notion that it was a progressive scripture (as scriptures go – and certainly not outdone in hindsight by howlers like Mormon retcons and copycatting of Masons) can be overstated; there’s always something convenient about No True [Believer] long after anyone’s decided that one specific work of literature contains the unique & most important truth that ever needs to exist.

  • Nemo

    Please don’t repeat the myth that Islam fostered a Golden Age. The Golden Age of the Islamic world was brought about almost entirely by dhimmis (nonbelievers who were second class citizens) and by “Muslims” who rejected the teachings of the Quran.

    • Tell me more. References?

      • kraut2


        not necessarily directly answering your question, but a more balanced approach towards the topic of IGA.

        • MNb

          How do you mean, more balanced? Fact is that scientifically and technologically the Arab countries were far ahead of medieval Western Europe at least until the 13th Century. When catching the bubonic plague for instance you had a much better chance to survive in the Arab countries.
          And that’s exactly what the Islamic Golden Age means.

        • kraut2

          From your comment I take it you did not read the article.

      • Skeptiker
      • Nemo

        From the Quran, 5.101: O ye who believe! Ask not questions about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if ye ask about things when the Qur’an is being revealed, they will be made plain to you, Allah will forgive those
        Arabic numerals, often attributed to Islam, were borrowed from the Hindus, and al Razi, one of the most prominent Muslim scholars of the “Islamic” Golden Age, was considered a heretic even in his day.

    • MNb
    • Sophia Sadek

      Good point. The Sufis predate Islam. They have always been detested by fundamentalist Muslims.

  • Matt

    Not a single word on the effect of western colonization of the region? When was the last time that the Christian countries you are refering to were under colonial rule? How about Japan? In comparison, just about every MENA country has been under western colonial rule in the last 100 years. Almost half of them have been a colony of the west in the last 50 years.

    Another way to ask your question is to wonder why countries that have been free for 50 to 100 years, albeit at the constant intervention of western influence, are less stable than countries that have had centuries of own rule and stability. Suddenly the question answers itself.

    • MNb

      “In comparison, just about every MENA country has been under western colonial rule in the last 100 years.”
      So were South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. They started from about the same point as the countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Your question doesn’t answer itself at all.

      • Matt

        South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have not gone through the continuous violent western intervention as countries in the Arabian Peninsula. Those Asian countries have been given a chance to stabilize which is not the case for most of the Arabian countries in question.

        • Yes, some MENA countries were colonized, but that was a while ago. Libya became independent in 1951, for example. I don’t see any colonialization in the history of lots of MENA countries–Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to take two important examples.

          I’m missing your point. If you’re complaining about outside meddling, Japan was pretty much starting from scratch due to outside influence in 1945, but it bounced back pretty well in 50 years. Can any MENA country point to anything similar? And the examples of S. Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan that MNb offered.

          But what is your point? That the MENA countries need 50 years post-colonization to thrive? Are you making a prediction about their future health since the 50 years is almost up?

        • raveries

          I think it can be useful to draw a distinction between countries which were historical states before colonization and those which were created by the colonizing powers out of disparate and often warring tribes and with no real regard for traditional borders – it’s much harder to build a stable society in conditions where you’re forced to work with people who you’ve been raised to see as the enemy.

        • Matt

          Like I said, the colonization AND the costant foreign interventation is what prevents countries from thriving. In the 50 years since 1945, Japan has not been a victim of the repeatedly destabalization caused by outside influence that many MENA countries have gone through. This is the point.

          Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia make up about 40% of the population of the middle east. Please look back at the last 70 years and explain to me at what point were these countries suppose to bounce back and thrive. Iran was on the right track before the Shah, Saudi Arabia petrodollars and support from the west guarantees the current regime wont be overthrown any time soon and Iraq had a US lead coup of its own and almost non western influence in the last 50 years.

          When were these countries suppose to bounce back?

        • Interesting distinctions; thanks for that. But at what point do we assume that these countries take some responsibility for their own situation? I don’t suppose you’re saying that there’s a drive for them to be innovative, socially progressive countries, with the West slapping down every nascent move in that direction?

          And back to the point: what role does Islam play? A regressive one, I suggest.

    • Wick Samuel

      Good example is India (Hindu) & Pakistan (Muslim), just look at the post partition progress in each country. Pretty amazing difference.

      • That is a good example. Pre-partition India was colonized. Then the British left, then there was partition. Presumably you’re saying that India did much better than Pakistan despite the fact that they both came from colonial India. Sounds like evidence against Matt’s hypothesis.

    • Nemo

      The United States, if given the chance, probably would have done to Japan as Britain did to China. The Japanese, having seen the British more or less rape China in the name of the East India Company, sought to prevent this by embracing modernity. Indeed, China had opportunities to at least try and modernize, but the traditionalists kept winning out.

  • Wick Samuel

    You could say that the Koran has a lot of crazy stuff in it

    Careful bob, those guys don’t turn the other cheek

  • Rob

    Yes, you’re missing out a lot of critical American military history, I’m pretty sure.

    If America, the world’ most powerful nation, “wanted” the African Continent to be economically, culturally and socially successful, then by now it would be vastly further ahead than where it is. You don’t have to think very long to realize it MUST be largely due to US negative influence. No proof but a massive preponderance of circumstantial evidence and you don’t have to be an economist or a historian while Common sense continues to make good sense.

    Only Americans think American Exceptionalism is good, because only America benefits from it. But America is part of the world, and religiously believes it is or should be all of the world.

    Islam will have its day when it is allowed to by various external powers.

    • If America, the world’ most powerful nation, “wanted” the African Continent to be economically, culturally and socially successful, then by now it would be vastly further ahead than where it is.

      America wants the Middle East to be democratic. It isn’t. We don’t get all our wishes.

      You don’t have to think very long to realize it MUST be largely due to US negative influence.

      I’m thinking, and this conclusion is not popping to mind. Your argument is a little stronger if you talk about negative influence from the West. America wasn’t that big a world colonizing force compared to Europe.

      If your axiom is something like “America is the cause of most of the world’s problems” then we’re not on the same page. MENA has a lot of problems at the moment, but it seems to me that their own governments (and, dare I say, the powerful influence of Islam?) are the primary problem there today.

      • Ross Balmer

        “America wants the Middle East to be democratic” // Then why did it oust the democratic government of Iran and put the monarchy back in power? Why does it support the Saudi theocracy? The USA only pays lip service to democracy while it pursues economic interests by anti-democratic means.

      • Karen

        ¨America wants the Middle East to be democratic. It isn’t. We don’t get all our wishes.¨

        This is extremely naive. The last thing America wants is a democratic Middle East since that would be an added obstacle in pushing our foreign agenda in the region and every move we have made in the last 70 years points to this.

        The irony of blaming most of this on Islam is that the secular West has done almost as much damage in the region as the religious fanatics. Not only has the west´s presence in the last quarter of a century prevented part of the region from having any form of stability, we have also overthrown democratically elected leaders and supported one of the most oppressive regimes in the world today.

        Two idiots kill some cartoonists and millions hits the streets in protest. The west calls Saudi Arabia one of its closest allies and the reaction is alot more tempered.

  • Sophia Sadek

    Let us not forget that Christians participated with Hulagu in the destruction of the Abbasids in the 13th century. Along with the conservative Muslims, they did not appreciate the level of intellectual integrity that had developed.

    • The Mu’tazila ideas were the closest thing to a ‘global’ Islamic Enlightenment that ever was. In many ways, it was even more progressive than the Christian one.

      • KoreanKat

        “many ways”…and yet you don’t name a single one. Sounds like the tired romanticization of Medieval Islam that has been extant since the Enlightenment.

        • Please don’t put words in my mouth, especially when you don’t understand Islamic history and need other posters to explain it to you…your assertion that I somehow romanticize Medieval Islam or any other religion is false, and frankly ridiculous.

          Saying “in many ways” Mu’tazila Islam was more progressive than the surviving churches of the Christian Enlightenment (an enlightenment still in progress) is not “romanticizing Medieval Islam”…any more than my saying the Anti-nomianist school was more progressive than the rest of Medieval Christianity magically makes me a fanboy of Medieval Christianity.

          One of the tenets of the Mu’tazila school was that the Quran was not the eternal word of Allah, and that Islam could evolve with new information coming from the sciences, world exploration and philosophy. It was of course deemed heretical once that became a widespread view among its scholars. I think that alone makes it more progressive than even many schools of Modern Christianity are today.

        • KoreanKat

          “Please don’t put words in my mouth, especially when you don’t understand Islamic history…”

          You didn’t explain yourself in your original post, and I told you how your posts comes of to another person, nothing more.

          You were also responding uncritically to someone whose obvious goal is to cast inordinate blame on Christianity for destruction wrought solely by the Mongols. “Christians” is lazy and ambiguous because it fails to distinguish between the Byzantines and Western Crusaders. Sophia has made her anti-American politics well-known to me mentality, which I saw you dabble with above including a very forced reference to the “Christian Right” which plays out along the same lines. So I did not make my comment without considering what you had written, which overall is very nuanced I admit.

          As to the theological point, I can’t take the Mu’tazila school seriously because it farcical to suggest an omnipotent being needs to “evolve” and contradicts the portrait of Allah extant in the Qur’an.

        • it farcical to suggest an omnipotent being needs to “evolve” and contradicts the portrait of Allah extant in the Qur’an.

          Umm, wow. I was preparing for a sincere response, but just this one sentence alone tells me you’re [a] a theist (except when it comes to someone else’s view of God) [b] believe in the No True Muslim&#153 fallacy, and [c] almost definitely trolling the atheism blogs.

          Good luck ‘splaining how when someone else believes your mythological, omnipotent, and mind-reading magic friend differently than you do, it’s just “farcical”. Entire wars have been fought over less. Lol, oh the irony!

          Thanks for the horse laugh this morning, I needed it.

        • KoreanKat

          Your reading comprehension is pretty funny since I reject the entire notion of a deity.

          I was mocking Abrahamic pretensions and you are so busy trying to act superior in the face of my criticism, you can’t even process that.

        • The ruminating and speculating about the character of other anonymous posters you’ve never met and the moderator of this blog says more about you than about them. I wanted to discuss the history of Islam with someone who was knowledgeable, and you’ve instead dragged me into your personality disordered relationships with other posters and complained that I won’t tutor you on things about Islam you could easily read yourself. Sorry, but I don’t cope well with intellectual laziness.

          This entire discussion with you has been a complete waste of time. I’ve learned nothing from this discussion except to avoid your trolling in the future.

          Good luck to you, sir or madam. I’m done with this thread.

      • Sophia Sadek

        That is not difficult. Medieval Christianity is pretty much brain dead.

  • Hrafn

    I think you may be drawing the wrong lessons from history. Whilst Western incursion awoke Japan almost immediately, it had a very dissimilar effect on neighboring China (which remained inward-looking for another century thereafter). Renaissances don’t happen on cue.

    Also, I’m less sure that “the enormous windfall of outside technology and cash” should have a positive effect. Spain gained enormous wealth from its New World empire, but went from a dominant position in European politics to being a bit-player in the same period. Too much wealth is far more likely to breed complacence than innovation.

    • Agreed, you can’t just toss in some positive conditions and be certain that an enlightened, prosperous society to inevitably result in a few decades. What’s pretty certain is that if you don’t have some positive conditions, you’re definitely not going anywhere.

      My question is: to what extent is the current flavor of Islam a negative factor?

      • Hrafn

        I have two (possibly related) questions of my own, the first being by way of answering your question with a question.

        Is the “current flavor of Islam” more a cause of the current problem, or an effect?

        How closely do the China and Islam situations resemble each other? Both were formerly vibrant empires, that had turned inward, and then been humiliated by a technologically superior and militarily/economically aggressive West. Both endured a ‘crisis of confidence’ (for want of a better term), when their self-image of superiority was punctured by their inferior position on the world stage. Can Islamic Terrorism and ISIS (and the ‘flavors of Islam’ underlying them) be considered analogues of the Boxer Rebellion, an instinctual lashing out against their perceived humiliation, and an attempt to recreate their ‘glory days’?

        • SparklingMoon,

          Is the “current flavor of Islam” more a cause of the current problem, or an effect?
          The Arabs indulged in prolonged inter-tribal feuds over petty matters before the advent of Islam. Islam put a stop to this. It joined Muslims into a brotherhood, free of rivalries and discrimination of any sort. But when Muslims ceased to live by the teachings of Islam, brothers became foes and tribal rivalries returned to the forefront. So what we observe in the world of Islam is not truly Islamic in character. It is another case of the revival of old feudalistic tendencies.

          Secondly,it can not be denied that west totally have no role in that is going on at this time in Arab World. There is an example of Iran and Iraq war to understand the situation ‘When there was going on a war between Iran and Iraq the great powers had roundly condemned the war and repeatedly demanded a cessation of hostilities, but they were themselves responsible for a constant supply of arms to both Iraq and Iran. After all, warplanes, rockets, missiles, cannons, tanks, other artillery vehicles and destructive weapons which were freely used by both warring factions were not manufactured on their own soils. Overtly and covertly, Middle Eastern oil and Western weapons changed hands. The fire of war was fuelled, in the ultimate analysis, by the oil which was produced by Iraq and Iran and converted into weapons by Western and Eastern non-Muslim powers. As far as the West was concerned, this was not a bad bargain at all—Middle Eastern oil was bought in exchange for obsolete or relatively old weapons. What more advantageous bargain could be envisaged than this?

          When all had been said and done, all debts settled, and the exchange of commodities taken into account, perhaps it would be pertinent to consider the question of who after all was the beneficiary of the hostilities? We had seen that Islam is condemned as a barbaric religion which upholds terrorism, preaches hatred and intolerance and divides adherents into opposing camps of bloodthirsty foes. This was not surprising. There were fringe benefits to be obtained by those who design, plot, implement and provide the instruments of destruction to the most unfortunate warring factions of the Muslim countries.’

        • Hrafn

          Thank you SparklingMoon for that lengthy and polemic non sequitor.

      • SparklingMoon,

        My question is: to what extent is the current flavor of Islam a negative factor?
        The Muslims who use violence and terror in the name of Islam are not following the Quran or holy example of prophet of Islam (sa) but some Muslim scholars who have misguided them.Syed Maududi: a political person and founder of a political party in Pakistan, without having an academic knowledge of the Quran and history of Islam had written books about Islam and introduced and propagated false notions in Islamic world through his books. According to him : “Islam is not merely a religious creed or compund name for a few forms of worship, but a comprehensive system which envisages to annihilate all tyrannical and evil systems in the world and enforces its own programme of reform which it deems best for the well-being of mankind.”(Sayeed Abdul A’la Maududi, Jihad in Islam) ”If this Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non-Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place.”(Reality of Jihad 1964;p 64)

        Syed Qutb of agypt also like Syed Maududi motivates other Muslims to fight against “those who have usurped the authority of God” till they “give up their power”. He calls people towards a Jihad that ”must not merely be defensive,it must be offensive, to carry Islam “throughout the earth to the whole of mankind.” (Milestones )

        All such proposals of Muslim scholars are nothing but a human murder in the name of God. The whole message of Islam rejects these ideas to use power or to attack people of other faiths or neighbour countries for promotion of Islam.. During his entire life Prophet of Islam(sa) never raise a sword for the propagation of Islam.

        Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has written:”Muslim Clergies completely misunderstand jihad and misrepresent it to the general public. The public’s violent instincts are inflamed as a result and they are stripped of all noble human virtues. This is in fact what has happened. Muslim Clergies who persist in propagating these blood-spattered doctrines are in fact responsible for murders committed by ignorant, egotistical people who know nothing of why Islam was forced to fight battles in its early history. They consider jihad to be obligatory in their hearts, and few of them think otherwise. They should remember that their understanding of jihad is not at all correct, and that human sympathy is its first casualty.”

        • You say you’re authentically Muslim and they’re not; they say the reverse.

          How about if we all drop the supernatural ideas and just deal with reality?

        • TheNuszAbides

          what kind of world would that be, i wonder…

    • TheNuszAbides

      Renaissances don’t happen on cue.

      they also aren’t events, but rather cumulative effects only discernible in hindsight. (although the smaller the geographic area the easier to spot closer in time, I suppose)

  • Guest

    You think the USA would allow them to have a renaissance? Iran used to be a secular democracy until someone put the Shah back in power. Are they going to have a renaissance in Saudi Arabia where brutal theocracy reigns with the full support of the West? Are they going to have one in Iraq or Syria now amidst the utter chaos following the Iraq war? The USA doesn’t want an Islamic renaissance, it wants economic domination. It can’t have both.

    • The West is sucking at the economic domination thing if they’re giving MENA close to a trillion dollars per year for their oil.

      • Guest

        No, they are not giving MENA close to a trillion dollars a year, they are giving a privileged few who are impossing opressive regimes close to a trillion dollars a year and at the same time preventing the region from habing any kind of stability because with stability, they risk democracy and with democracy they risk their power over the region. How is this sucking at economic domination?

  • These are my own opinions, based solely on my personal reading and experiences… they all play a variable role in the Islamic world’s current difficulties:

    Increasing wealth inequality: brought about by maldistribution of oil and mineral wealth (especially in places like KSA, Brunei and Nigeria), with mismanaged or dysfunctional western capitalism masked as globalization creating a lot of resentment in the Islamic world (and elsewhere). Arab Spring uprisings were co-opted in many cases by Islamists…when reform is slow and people are frustrated and powerless, they often turn to religion as their ‘opiate’….not realizing they are replacing a repressive oligarchy with an oppressive theocracy.

    Misguided western meddling: Vestigial mercantilism and colonialism, as well as the aggressiveness of the Christian Right, Mormon Church, etc that are proselytizing and using economic influence to find new converts and upset age old balances and dialogue between religious communities (especially Africa, but also long-standing rivalries in Pakistan and India). Also, western foreign policy makers often fail to take regional tensions into account in meeting their short term goals (i.e Bush’s Iraq War causing worsening tensions between Sunni and Shi’a that are being exploited by ISIS).

    Climate change: This has been implicated as causing rural–>urban population shifts due to failing agrarian communities, with poorly educated workers migrating towards low paying jobs in overcrowded slums, and more interethnic/ interreligious conflicts as they adjust to multiculturalism.

    Cultural conflicts as global isolation decreases: Finally, old concepts of “morality” are being upended…ideas like womens rights, gay marriage and LGBT rights are being used as a bogeyman to scare people in less progressive nations to resist other Enlightenment ideas as ‘creeping westernization’. Many groups are showing their patriotism and nationalism by holding onto provincial thinking and strongly resisting humanist values by playing on old fears.

    These issues will take decades, if not centuries, to resolve. Unfortunately for Islam’s 1.8 billion people, adapting to an evolving global culture that they feel they have little influence on is seen by Quranic literalists as a betrayal of their identity and heritage. Reform will have to come from within, but the folks that hold power today are doing an excellent job of keeping dissenting ideas in check. Free access to the Internet is the biggest problem for them. Even more than external military threats, they know that new ideas and growing demands for fairer (re)distribution of both national resources and corporate profits are the enemy.

    • Obviously, finding similarities between two societies (in our case, modern MENA and 15th c. Europe) doesn’t necessarily mean that the same path will be followed.

      Still, Europe of the Middle Ages, with a strong church, wasn’t eager for change. And yet change happened. I see the forces for stasis in MENA, but I wonder if there’s any hope for enlightened change.

      And again I wonder, how much of the blame for the current problems in MENA are due to Islam. I appreciate that it’s not the only confounding factor.

      • SparklingMoon,

        And again I wonder, how much of the blame for the current problems in MENA are due to Islam.
        Islam is just a religion and deals with those aspects of life that directly or indirectly relate to moral and spiritual progress of humankind. It has no concern to worldly organizations or territorial victories. The purpose of the prophethood of Prophet of Islam(sa) is mentioned in the Quran: ”We have sent to you a messenger from among you, who recites Our verses /signs to you, and purifies you, and teaches you the Book and wisdom, and teaches you that which you knew not.” (Quran2:152)

        One thing leads to another: Christianity has been purportedly involved in ugly acts of persecution and torture, and some Christian monarchs have indulged in brutal acts of violence and persecution under the misguided notion that they were serving the religion of Christ. During the years of the Black Death, 1348–9, were not many Jews burnt alive in their homes? In the age of the Spanish Inquisition, a long reign of terror prevailed under the guidance and direction of some Christian priests. Numerous helpless women at various times, were put to death because they were said to be witches and there was a distorted notion that this was the Christian way of dealing with witchcraft.

        However much these acts were related directly to Christianity, the crimes against humanity were a product of a very dark age when ignorance ruled supreme. The best representative of God’s revelation are His Prophets and the conduct of the adherents of a religion varies from country to country, from sect to sect, from age to age, and from person to person. A seeker of truth should not confused the both (religion with the conduct of its followers) for true understanding of a religion.

        Almost every form of communal violence witnessed in the world today, wherever that is and whatever cloak it wears, is essentially political in nature. Religion is not the exploiter; it is itself exploited by internal or external political interests. Terrorism is a global problem and needs to be studied in its larger perspective. Unless we understand the forces behind the violence, we shall not be able to understand why some Muslim groups and states are turning to terrorism to achieve certain objectives.

        • What does (sa) mean? I’m guessing it’s short for “peace be upon him” or something similar?

          Yes, I realize that many Christians did bad things. My focus is on whether any religions are actually true.

          It has no concern to worldly organizations or territorial victories.

          ISIS thinks that they’re being honest to the Koran.

        • SparklingMoon,

          My focus is on whether any religions are actually true.
          It is extremely difficult for pious people to bequeath their piety to subsequent generations for a long time. Seldom does it happen that the righteousness of the forefathers runs deep and long into the following generations. A vast majority of the first generation, ushered into light, never returns to the previous state of darkness. Faith however, gradually weakens over successive generations. It does not happen overnight. It is a long slow process of decadence set in after the demise of a prophet. For example, within a few hundred years from the time of Abraham (as), the House of Israel reverted to the evil practice of idol worship. This continued until the time of Moses (as). Although Moses(as) was an outstanding champion of the cause of Unity among prophets, idolatry kept infiltrating and defiling the faith of his followers during the subsequent centuries.The rulers of Umayyad and Abbaside were Muslims and but they style of rule was not representative of khilafat or the teachings of Islam but mostly like worldly kings

    • nauseateme

      Meddling, what meddling? We are not twisting anyone’s arms to sell their oil to us. It is their decision. Their decision alone. Are you saying we will offer them a nuclear threat, if they decline to sell oil to the US? LOL!

  • RichardSRussell

    I must say, this is one of the most thotful and enlightened discussions I’ve ever encountered on the Internet. Thanks to all for providing useful perspectives and keeping it civilized.

  • KoreanKat

    You highlight one of the key problems with Islam by virtue of extolling extolling its Medieval flourishing. I don’t like Christianity as a a faith, for a variety of reasons, but its detachment from political power in its early history may be a fundamental difference in the disparate trajectories. The fact intellectual flourishing happens only as religious dominance declines also presents an opposite lesson to be learned.

    So many Muslims and apologists for Islam are backwards looking. Salafist farcically look all the way back to Mohammed’s brief reign after attacking Mecca. Other Muslims look to the Abbasids and the various Iberian dynasties. Neither examples indicates any ability to function and flourish in modernity whatsoever.

    Westerners encourage this backward gaze because it fits the endless self-flagelation that many on the left confuse with even-handed critical analysis. “Guest” presents a good example of this mindset, when he or she frames the Iranian coup in 1953 in terms of America rather than the Iranian royalists who actively wanted to reseat the Shah. Notice how the Anglo-Soviet invasion against the pro-Nazi Shah in 1941, never gets the same play because it doesn’t fit the anti-American leftist line. Nor does analysis of how 800 years of Turkic rule impacted the Arabs receive sufficient attention in political discourse.

    There is also a strand of pure romanticism surrounding Medieval Islam that has grown up among Europeans since the Enlightenment, largely as a critical mechanism for Christianity. Walter Scott is a good example of this phenomenon. gushing ecumneical fantasies about Medieval Spain continue through the present.

    • Hrafn

      I’m not sure I agree with you that Christianity’s “detachment from political power in its early history” was as significant an influence as you appear to believe. Christianity achieved a significant measure of political power with Constantine in the early 4th century, and it was under his rule that Christianity was codified by the First Council of Nicea (still remembered for the Nicean Creed). Much of what happened before this period was either rejected as heretical (including some of the teachings of at least one church father, Tertullian) or overwritten with doubtful martyrdom accounts. The pacifist doctrine preached in a gospels soon became the religion of the militaristic Roman Empire, codified into Christian theology by the ‘Just Law’ doctrine of Augustine of Hippo.

    • SgtKardashian

      It’s interesting that Qubism is one of the most liberal forms of Islam despite being a sect that only follows the Qu’ran word for word and ignores hadiths.

      The Iranian Coup would have never of gone off without us, Mossedgdh was too powerful.

      • KoreanKat

        Qubism’s relative liberalism lies in rejecting Mohammed as moral example, seeing him literally as a neutral messanger. Mohammed was a brutal warlord with a string of crimes surrounding him.

        What “us” do you speak of? It is hard to not view your position as Western paternalism/narcissism when you do not even distinguish between the disparatee actions of the U.S. and Britain. The reality of the coup is much more complicated than the ‘anti-imperialist’ mythology that surrounds it.

        • SgtKardashian

          The conquerings and real crimes didn’t really take place until after Mohammed. He conquered Mecca relatively peacefully and really only fought some tribes in battles which actually may have not have taken place.

          Not really, England got mad they couldn’t steal more oil from Iran and the US backed them up. Iran’s probably one of the worst examples of Cold War short-sightedness.

          How are you doing?

        • KoreanKat

          It is unsurprising based on my history of arguing this with other liberals/leftists on islam that you leave his treatment of women unmentioned. Even avowed feminists leave that question conspicuously unaddressed except for RadFems, with whom I disagree on issues like trans rights and sex biology.

          The actual historicity of Mohammed is of secondary importance because Muslims have believed and promoted those possible myths as real and thus as a real basis for moral instruction. And those things which “may have not have taken place” include genocide. And ISIS shows us that ‘moral’ example is not just some abstract notion.

          “one of the worst examples of Cold War short-sightedness”

          The “Cold War” was pretty hot in Eastern Asia. Millions of Koreans were dead in war launched by Kim Il Sung with Stalin and Mao’s approval. Eisenhower made his decision in tense circumstances, not rarified hindsight.

          The Chinese were about to embark on policies and repression that killed tens of millions. Clowns like Noam Chomsky were babbling how “decent” China was into the mid-60’s, much like earlier leftists had babbled on about the USSR while millions died in the Holodomor and Purges.

          Yet Western leftists flail themselves over American coups and guerrilla support, which claimed a mere fraction of the lives. I condemn American and its Allies war crimes in VietNam (where my dad’s service won us our immigration rights), but the fact Communism had to be opposed and was the greater evil in is not in question.

        • SgtKardashian

          Communism is a failed idea that murders millions and supports totalitarianism, you get no argument from me.

          However, we can’t ignore or forget that our actions as a nation really have created many of the enemies we have today.

          Why are you so awesome?

        • KoreanKat

          I reject the term “created” because it denies non-Westerners moral responsibility for their chosen actions in most cases. Our actions have _contributed_ to the exact form our enemies take today and an honest debate will tease out this balance. Virtually all debate falls on a religion-imperialism dichotomy unfortunately.

        • SgtKardashian

          No it doesn’t, it really stops us from denying our actions. Love you doe.

        • KoreanKat

          You inadvertently admit I am correct by noting that your goal in using a term like “created” is not to discern the best possible understanding of the situation, but rather to deliver your political goal of having “us” take on what you consider an acceptable amount of self-criticim. Your thinking is akin to addressing a shower than is too cold by throwing it on full hot.

        • SgtKardashian

          Nah B chill, in order for us to fully understand the situation, we need to look at our actions and how they affect others while seeing how the actions of others have affected us.

          We can’t deny others agency but dumping blame on them for the consequences of our actions is selfish and denies us truth. It’s pretty lame.

        • SgtKardashian

          I did forget to address women, you right.

        • SparklingMoon,

          Mohammed was a brutal warlord with a string of crimes surrounding him.
          Holy Prophet of Islam (sa) did not appear in the land of Arabia in the capacity of a monarch. It therefore cannot be suspected that he had royal majesty and power with him, such that the people gathered under his banner for fear of their lives. Now the question one faces is simply this: When he waged his lone spiritual battle for the pronouncement of God’s Unity and for the establishment of the truth of his ministry in a state of utter helplessness and poverty, then where was that sword which struck terror in their hearts, and coerced the meek into submission? And had they refused to believe or had they persisted in their rejection of him, from which king did he beg for a contingent army to be sent to his aid so that they may be forced to yield?

          The first phase of the Holy Prophet’s (sa) reformation began with that of the Arabs.The Arabian peninsula was in such a hapless state that it was hard to refer to its dwellers as humans. Name an evil which they did not exhibit; name a form of idolatry which they did not practise. To steal and rob was the order of the day, and committing pointless murder was like trampling an insignificant ant under their feet. They murdered innocent children and usurped all that belonged to them. It was not rare for them to bury their daughters alive. They took pride in fornication and boasted of it in their songs. Drinking was so common among them that there was no house without cellars of wine. They led the whole world in gambling. Beasts would feel ashamed at being likened to them and snakes and wolves would be disgraced if called Arabs.

          When Prophet of Islam(sa) stood up with a resolve to reform them and decided to cleanse their hearts with all his spiritual intent, within a matter of a short time they displayed such rapid changes as transformed them from beasts into humans and then from ordinary humans into a cultured people and from a cultured people they became Godly and became totally immersed in the love of God. For the sake of that love they suffered every torture as though their sense of pain had been paralyzed. If it is not the command of God and the power of spiritual attention of His Prophet, which worked magic on their hearts, what else could it have been which gravitated them so irresistibly towards Islam? What magic transformed them and made them bow on the threshold of a humble man who had once treaded the streets of Mecca without any kind of friendship, wealth, or power? (Ruhanikhazain)

      • SparklingMoon,

        It’s interesting that Qubism is one of the most liberal forms of Islam despite being a sect that only follows the Qu’ran word for word and ignores hadiths.
        To hold fast to Islamic injunctions, the Muslims have three things.
        First, the Holy Qur’an which is the Book of God than which we have no more conclusive and certain statement. It is the Word of God and is free from all doubt and speculation.

        Secondly, the practice of the Holy Prophet (sa), which is called the Sunnah. (Hadith and Sunnah are different) By Sunnah we mean the practice of the Prophet of Islam(sa), to which he adhered and which appeared along with the Holy Qur’an and will accompany it. In other words, the Holy Qur’an is the Word of God Almighty and the Sunnah is the practice of the Holy Prophet(sa). It has ever been the way of God that the Prophets bring the Word of God for the guidance of people and illustrate it in practice with their conduct so that no doubt should remain in the minds of people with regard to the Divine Word. They act upon it and urge others to do the same.

        The third source of guidance is Hadith, by which we mean those traditions which were compiled from the statements of diverse narrators a century and a half after the Holy Prophet (sa).

        The distinction between Sunnah and Hadith is that Sunnah is a continuous practice which was started by the Holy Prophet (sa). It is only next to the Holy Qur’an in its certainty.As the Holy Prophet (sa) was commissioned for the propagation of the Qur’an, he was also commissioned for establishing the Sunnah. As the Holy Qur’an is certain so is the continuous Sunnah which he practised. Both these tasks were performed by the Holy Prophet (sa) as his duty. For instance, when the Prayer services were made obligatory, the Holy Prophet (sa) illustrated by his action how many rakats were to be performed in each Prayer service. In the same way, he illustrated the performance of the pilgrimage. He thus established thousands of his companions on his practice. The practical illustration which has been continuous among the Muslims is the Sunnah.

        On the other hand, the Holy Prophet (sa) did not have the Hadith recorded in his presence nor did he make any arrangement for its compilation.When the time of the companions of the Holy Prophet(sa) had passed some of their successors thought of compiling the Ahadith and they were compiled. There is no doubt that most of the compilers of Hadith were very pious and righteous. They tested the accuracy of Ahadith as far as it was possible and tried to steer clear of those which, in their opinion, were manufactured. They rejected every Hadith any narrator of which was of doubtful veracity. As all this activity was ex post factum, it was no more than conjecture.Yet,it would be most unfair to say that all Ahadith are vain and useless and false.The correct way, therefore, is neither to treat the Ahadith as having greater authority than the Qur’an, nor to regard the Ahadith vain and false The Qur’an and Sunnah should judge the Ahadith and those that are not opposed to them should by all means be accepted. This is the straight path and blessed are those who follow it. (Ruhanikhazain)

    • SparklingMoon,

      In a prophecy the Prophet of Islam(sa),has said that as had happened with all previous religions, a time would come when the state of Muslims would become ruined and corrupted. The Muslim scholars would spread false doctrines and ideologies and there would be great division and conflict within the Muslim world. Whilst the Holy Quran would remain preserved in its original state, false commentaries and interpretations would be made which would lead Muslims away from its true teachings. According to the prophecy, when such a desperate state of affairs came to pass, God Almighty would send a person as the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi to rejuvenate Islam. He would clarify the correct meanings of the Quran and would inform the world of the true Islam practiced by the Holy Prophet (sa) and his rightly guided successors 1400 years before. The Promised Messiah would guide the world towards living together in love, peace and harmony and would foster a spirit of mutual understanding and reconciliation. Furthermore, the Promised Messiah would bring an end to all forms of religious warfare. The Promised Messiah and Mehdi who had appeared in the middle of eighteenth century (according to the prophecies of previous Prophets )tried to stop Muslims from their barbaric activities they are doing in the name of Jihad :

      ”Those who possess sight, read the Hadith and ponder over the Holy Qur’an should understand well that the kind of jihad practiced by many of today’s barbaric people is not Islamic jihad. Rather, these misguided activities that have spread amongst the Muslims are instigated by ‘self’ that incites to evil or by a crude desire for Paradise. Ignorant maulavis (Religious Clergies) have instructed the ordinary public in plunder and killing by calling these actions jihad. Is it not shameful that a complete stranger should be unjustly killed while occupied in his daily affairs, thus widowing his wife, making his children orphans, and turning his house into a funeral parlor ? Which Hadith or verse of the Holy Qur’an authorizes such behavior? Is there any maulavi (Muslim Clergies) who can respond? Refrain from evil and be truly compassionate towards mankind. At this time, I specifically instruct my Jamaat [Community], which accepts me as the Promised Messiah, that they should always stay away from these foul habits. God has sent me as the Promised Messiah and has clothed me with the garment of the Messiah, son of Mary. I therefore admonish you: Refrain from evil and be truly compassionate towards mankind. Cleanse your hearts of malice and spite, for you will become like angels through this habit. It is a filthy and unholy religion that is devoid of sympathy for humanity, and polluted is the path riddled with the thorns of a rancor based on selfish desires. (British Government and Jihad)

    • Veritas

      To say that intellectual flourishing happens only with religious decline ignores the fact that the university system and western intellectual tradition flourished in the church, not in opposition to it. Yes, there are competing ideas, but one does not stifle the other in Christian history. But… this is because Christianity has sought truth and reason together. Islam abandoned this path early on.

      • geoffrobinson

        Not to mention that science flourished because Christians believed in a God who ordered the universe, so the world is believed to be knowable and there are laws.

      • Yes, there has been intellectual work from the church, but there’s a big difference between go-where-the-evidence-leads scholarship and what the Christian church has practiced.

      • KoreanKat

        “ignores the fact that the university system and western intellectual tradition flourished in the church”

        Our definitions of “flourished” obvious differ greatly.

        While I acknowledge the religious roots of universities, they come into their own in the early 19th century, after the Enlightenment. The first secular university I know of, London University, today University College London, was founded then.

        The fact much early autodidactic scholarship resides in “the church” is a coincidental product of the the literacy required for the position rather than something the religious aspects encouraged directly in most cases. Where did a smart man (unfortunately being only men) go, if he didn’t want to kill people as a soldier or practice the law?

    • geoffrobinson

      //I don’t like Christianity as a a faith, for a variety of reasons, but its detachment from political power in its early history may be a fundamental difference in the disparate trajectories.//

      I love Christianity for a number of reasons, but this is spot-on. You’ll even read in the gospels “My kingdom is not of this world” and “do not love the world” (in a certain sense). Or in Psalms about how not to place your faith in princes.

      Islam doesn’t have a “church-state” distinction that can be teased out.

      • What do you think of the current intermingling of Christianity and conservative politics in the U.S.?

        • geoffrobinson

          Like anything, it depends. I don’t like it when churches are partisan or political. However, if they believe some things are worth commenting on, they should do so.

          Also, they should keep the church-state distinction in mind.

          But that’s how I believe the church should act. But it shouldn’t be enforced behavior by the government.

        • Kirbmarc

          They nature of early Christianity as a small cult trying to carve out its niche within society is not very relevant to the history of modern Christianity, not more that the nature of the early persecution against Mohammed is relevant to the history of modern Islam.

          If you look for it closely you can find suspicion of princes and power in the Quran, too. It’s in the nature of a powerful movement like a religion to be suspicious of other powers which could hinder its success.

          A strong emphasis on the Church-State distinction is a specifically American phenomenon. In Europe the kings always tried to battle with the Church and the pope to battle with the kings for political supremacy, from Charlemagne down to the Gallican church of Louis XIV.

          The various refugees of political and religious persecution who immigrated to the USA wanted to feel safe from political inferences in their very diverse set of churches and from a single state religion who could oppress others. They knew far too well the dangers of religious persecution and therefore created a constitution inspired by Enlightenment values such as the separation of Church and State.

          Also, many of the Founding Fathers weren’t Christian but Deists. They despised the collusion between kings and priests, and they despised the power of kings in general. Their religion was less focused on external rituals and on adherence to a specific sect and more on their private convictions.

          Religious plurality and the nature of refugees is what made the US such fertile ground for Enlightenment and the separation of Church and State, not the nature of Christianity itself.

          The largest threats to the separation of Church and State in the US have come either from highly isolated communities who want to create a theocratic state of their own (like the Mormons) or from a large group who wants to take over and impose their version of faith (like the Evangelicals).

          Religious plurality has acted as a check and balance against a theocratic takeover (which is naturally in the nature of all religions).

          In this context a rise of the number of unbelievers can only be beneficial, because it adds another element to the balance of powers between the different churches.

          The small religious communities should be particularly grateful that there’s someone putting the brakes on the Evangelical takeover which could hardly be beneficial to the competition.

        • Ozark

          Bob, you know I’m a politically indifferent individual who was pushed left by the Christian Coalition movement in my younger years –

          Still I would not deny that the political indifference of early Christianity has served a significant moderating role over the centuries that pays dividends to this day.

          There is no functional difference between a Falwell and a Mullah Omar – except that Islam mandates a political takeover, and Christianity actively eschews it in scripture.

          As Douthat says, theology does matter, and we can thank a smattering of verses that don’t care about politics for the society we live in today. Slave morality beats conqueror morality from the perspective of a secular materialist.

        • You put too much confidence in a few verses, I fear. I’m sure you’re right that one could cobble together a biblical argument that would argue that Christians should keep their religion out of the filthy secular world. But the reverse is true. And even if it weren’t, who would be surprised at someone getting a following behind the idea of a Christian theocracy?

    • Touma

      Medieval Spain is related to what I mentioned in my above post. Before the the conquest of Iberian Peninsula, there were thriving kingdoms, full of their own unique culture. Yet, it was swept away by the Muslims who used the infrastructure left behind, to build their own Iberian Muslim culture.

    • SgtKardashian

      The coup only had teeth due to foreign influence, even the CIA admits this KoreanKat.

  • MesKalamDug

    A long time ago Algeria hired the General Electric Company (yes – that one) to help it plan its economic future. The Algerians favored steel mills. It wasn’t hard for GE to show that steel mills were a bad idea – but coming up with a better one was not easy. The best thing they could suggest was cattle feed lots (to serve the European market). Algeria simply did not have the foundation for growth. That was fifty years ago. I suspect that the same analysis of South Korea at the same date would have
    been equally discouraging. But South Korea overcame its handicaps. Here is a newer example than Japan – what does South Korea have that Algeria lacks?

    And South Korea suffered under Japanese colonialism a lot longer than Algeria suffered under the French – but I supose we should not overlook the Ottoman colonialism that preceded it.

    • A fascinating example, thanks. I suppose you could argue that GE was too pessimistic–if South Korea could do what it did, was it not also possible that Algeria develop heavy industry?

      But this gets us back to the central question. Algeria had Islam and South Korea didn’t. How much of a factor was that? Some commenters have argued that the Islam is a factor in the noise and that colonialism and Western meddling were far bigger factors. I disagree, but I confess that I’m just an armchair historian and could easily be overlooking something.

      And, of course, starting from Algeria in 1965, say, and projecting forward can’t give anything but a guess.

      • Captain_America

        Jane Jacob’s description of how countries grow indigenous industry may be of service here.

        If you read her books, she described how a country, call it Outlandistan, would import bicycles, and forego having the US or Britain build a bicycle factory there. First would spring up bicycle repair shops, along with used bicycle stores. They would import the spare parts also. Then someone would start making replacement parts for the repair shops under the shade of a spreading chestnut tree. Soon, there would be enough spare parts makers to have someone begin an assembly shop. Later, all the little factories would amalgamate into one big bike factory. And the homegrown business would develop, at each step, people would build on what they could do and know and go a little further.

        How does this apply? The habits of thought which lead from the bike repair shop to the bicycle factory are the same habits which encourage questioning in other areas.

        Thought is a habit which must be learned, by doing. When you live in a society which discourages innovation and thought, which cannot allow deviant opinions or behaviors, you will not even want to think very much.

  • Touma

    >>If Christian Europe could go through a Renaissance, the Muslim world can too, especially since they’ve been there.

    I think it is important to point out the reason “they” were “there” (assuming you mean to say that Muslims had a golden age of science, culture, and arts). When the Muslims first came out of Arabia they had before them a world ripe for picking. Two glorious powers (Byzantines and Persians) were weakened by a many long wars with each other. They simply didn’t have the resources to resist invasion for long. So, areas of the developed, classical world were surrendered to the Muslims. Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad, Alexandria, Antioch, etc were all lost to the Muslims. The rest of North Africa would soon follow. Centuries of literature, philosophy, theology, art, science, math, etc was given over to the Muslim forces. They came into areas with built up infrastructure.

    On top of that, they came into possession of important, established trade routes. Now, ideas from west and east mixed into their lands, instead of into Greek or Persian lands.

    It is easy to have a golden era when the work has been done for you.

    • Fair enough, but that’s tangential to my point. I’m saying that Islam encouraged scientific inquiry then, and I wish that region would embrace change again.

  • SparklingMoon,

    Where is the Islamic Renaissance?
    The truth is that since man is prone to error and forgetfulness and is unable to show steadfastness in his practice of Divine injunctions, he is always in need of someone to remind him and revive his faith. Both reason and tradition testify that when the world is engulfed by the darkness of sin, the earth is filled with evil and vice, spirituality falls to its lowest ebb, the land becomes polluted with sin, love for the Almighty grows cold, and a poisonous wind blows over the land, at such times Divine mercy desires to resurrect the earth once again.

    This process is similar to the changing of seasons; in Autumn the trees are stripped of their fruit and leaves and flowers, and then comes Spring when the same trees take on an entirely different hue and colour, and bring forth fruits and flowers and leaves that are so pleasing to behold. Mankind goes through similar phases of light and darkness. Some ages are like Autumn, in which human excellences lose all their shine and luster, while others are like Spring, in which a heavenly breeze brings fresh life into people’s hearts. These two phases have alternately influenced mankind since its creation. The current age can be likened to the beginning of Spring.

    God has already foretold through His Prophets that, at the end of the sixth millennium after Adam when a great darkness would envelope the earth, and the deluge of sin would inundate the land,and hearts would become devoid of love for God- He will breathe into a man the spirit of truth and love and awareness, just like in the case of Adam, without resorting to any physical means. And this man will also be called the Messiah because God shall Himself anoint his soul with His love. Thereafter, for a thousand years, which have been described as the ‘seventh day’, God’s majesty, glory, holiness and oneness shall prevail upon the earth. And this shall be followed by the end of the world. Let it be known that I am that Messiah. Let him who will, accept me. (Lecture Lahore by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian India)

  • SgtKardashian

    You all realize that the person who kicked this idea off is the leader of a military dictatorship who only strives to increase his own power and wealth at the expense of his fellow citizens?
    He only cares about Islamic extremism as a propaganda tool to keep Egyptians afraid and as a way of gaining limited support. Nothing else.

  • John v. Hollande

    Incredible rewrite of history, Bob. The scribes, scientists, historians, translators, and intelligencia of the lands to the east of the Roman Empire primarily were the Christians of the Church of the East (“Nestorians”). Unlike in the West, Christianity never became the state religion, but only was a competing religion. Still, these Nestorian Christians provided the intellectual underpinnings of the “Islamic” contributions you note. For example, these Christians were the ones who translated the works of Aristotle and others into a language their governing Muslim lords could read. So, no, the Muslims did not preserve or provide anything to the Western world. They merely benefitted from the extensive work of the Nestorian Christians, Christians who wrote extensively in Arabic among many other languages while under Muslim control (and non-Muslim, non Arabic-speaking Persian control).

    • So Nestorian Christians as the scholarly engine of the Muslim empire for 500 years is the historical consensus?

      Interesting data point, but this misses the point of the post. Nestorians or no, Islam was OK with science, math, and (presumably) change. Not so today. Is this the fault of the modern flavor of Islam?

    • TheNuszAbides

      if that’s what’s being ‘rewritten’ it shouldn’t be hard for you to cite… something. anything.

  • Michael Hoggan

    I suspect a big part of the problem is the countries that MENA chose to emulate. Both Hitlerian Germany and the USSR were patrons for many of these countries. Ideology matters.

  • ronmurp

    The books of the Bible stand in something of a set created over a long time and allow much of the older stuff from the OT to be ignored – except when a good bit of bible thumbing is wanted. It’s easy to cherry pick. Christians can even ignore more or less everything other than the nice philosophical stuff that’s attributed to Jesus. There are Christians that are damned near atheists; and some are atheistic but still follow the teachings attributed to Jesus. See Pete Rollins and others.

    But the Quran is one big whole deal. And it’s inerrant. That makes reform very difficult for Muslims. Many ‘moderate’ Muslims won’t even contemplate it. And because of all the bad stuff in it Muslims have to engage in a lot of mental gymnastics (commonly known by weasel words like ‘context’, ‘scholarship’, ‘nuance’) in order to explain why the nasty stuff doesn’t apply right now – or if you’re ISIS, why it does.

    It’s going to be a hard sell. In a perverse way it might be ISIS attacking Muslims that eventually wakes them up to what horrors can be achieved from the Quran and Hadith.

    Mehdi Hasan has recently been telling us how un-Islamic some of the ISIS recruits are – supposedly reading ‘Islam for Dummies’ on the flight out.

    Pity Mehdi Hasan doesn’t realise that this isn’t good news. So, it turns out that ISIS are Islamic, or the Quran and Hadith are perfect recruitment manuals for a death cult.


  • Siam

    You said: If Christian Europe could go through a Renaissance, the Muslim world can too, especially since they’ve been there.

    Me: Not possible. They won’t hear it. It was the Quran that made Renaissance happen in Middle East. Now they follow hadiths of he says she says. It is an addiction. Won’t go away easily.