A few lines on my “obsession” with Islam

A few lines on my “obsession” with Islam September 15, 2018


It also includes a seminary room, of course.
The Taj Mahal, near Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, is the one thing Mughal that most Americans will recognize, even if they don’t know the term “Mughal.” It should be enough, by itself, to refute the notion that Islamic civilization is intrinsically inferior. But the Taj is far from alone.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain)


A virulently anti-Islamic reader of this blog — I hadn’t noticed his hostility to Islam until the past day or two — has now posted several comments taking issue with my views on the subject.  I’ve decided to post my response to him as a free-standing blog entry, here:


GK: “I see. It requires nuance to understand how brutality in the name of religion 600 years AD is a good thing.”

I haven’t said — ever — that brutality of any kind, for any reason, is “a good thing.”

If you’re going to bear moral witness against somebody, you should take at least minimal care to make sure that you’re not violating the Ninth Commandment in doing so.

GK: “You’re obsessed with Islam. I’ve never seen anyone in the church ride a hobby horse with such intensity.”

Perhaps you’re unaware that I teach Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU?

Why the stupid personal hostility?

GK: “and then you expect everyone to fall in line behind you. It’s like you fancy yourself a prophet in your own right.”

My impression has always been that you brought value to the comments section of my blog. Unfortunately, though, if you’re now turning toward personal insults as your favored style here — this is, by the way, a huge surprise to me; I really didn’t expect it of you, though perhaps I haven’t been paying close enough attention to your previous comments — it may turn out that the ratio of cost to benefit is simply too high in your case.

GK: “When you quote from the Quran you replace ‘Allah’ with ‘God’ to give it the appearance that one is reading from the Bible. An interesting sleight of hand.”

No “sleight of hand” at all. And no subterfuge. (Do you really imagine that casual accusations of disingenuousness somehow make you more persuasive?)

The word Allah is simply the Arabic equivalent of the English word God.  It’s not a name. It’s used by Arabic-speaking Jews and and Christians, as well as by Arabic-speaking Muslims. It’s the word used in the Arabic Bible, the Arabic Triple Combination, the Arabic Gospel Principles manual, the Arabic temple ordinances, and the Arabic Articles of Faith. Translating Allah into English as God is no more dishonest or sneaky than so translating French Dieu or German Gott or Spanish Dios.

GK: “You’re looking at Islam through rose colored glasses as thick as Coke bottles, while diagnosing with myopia anyone that doesn’t accept what you’re seeing. Ironic.”

Nonsense. I recognize broad areas of dysfunctionality in contemporary Islamic societies. I’m quite aware of them; I travel in the Islamic world several times each year, and I read and/or teach about the Islamic world every single day. I’ve done so for decades. I’m willing to call out evil when I see it, but I’m not disposed to see it where it doesn’t exist.

GK: “You speak of Islamic ‘culture’ as though it has made monumental contributions to human understanding . . . when everyone can see with their own eyes that that is not true.”

It’s absolutely true. You’re welcome to attend my Islamic Humanities course. We’re meeting this term every Tuesday and Thursday, from 1:05 PM to 2:20 PM, and concentrating on architecture and literature in translation. Or, if you’re up to it, feel free to sit in on my course on classical Arabic literature. It meets TTh from 2:00 to 2:50. Right now, we’re reading Ibn Rushd’s Al-fasl al-maqal in Arabic. (My course on the Qur’an in translation also meets on TTh, from 9:30 until 10:45 AM.) Next term, you might find my class on Islamic philosophy (in translation) of interest; it will probably focus on al-Ghazali.

GK: “You speak of Islamic ‘culture’ as though it has made monumental contributions to . . . world peace, when everyone can see with their own eyes that that is not true.”

I’ve said absolutely nothing of the kind.  I’ve said nothing whatever on the topic.

You needn’t attribute opinions to me that you’ve invented on my behalf.  I’m quite capable of coming up with opinions on my own.

GK: “The vast majority (65%) of Nobel Prize winners are Christian, and even though Jews make up less that .2% of the world’s population, they make up 21% of Nobel Prize winners. Islam is the world’s second largest religion, and Muslims make up about 24% of the world’s population. What have they contributed to human understanding in the last 117 years? Answer: They make up a mere 0.8% of Nobel Prize winners. Let that sink in. They make up 24% of the world’s population, but make up only 0.8% of Nobel Prize winners.”

I presume that you’re not arguing that Muslims are intrinsically stupid. (I hope that you haven’t descended that low.) So I presume that you’re arguing that Islamic civilization is inherently inferior.

But such a claim is historically indefensible. There was a time when the Islamic world was far, far more advanced and sophisticated than was the Christian West — in terms of medicine, mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, and literature. Now the tables have turned. History is like that. Ups and downs. And very few things in human history are permanent.

Is the Islamic world in an era of economic and intellectual and political decline? Absolutely yes. Since at least AD 1800 and, I would argue, perhaps — in certain crucial ways — since sometime before AD 1500.  Very few people who know much about the subject would argue otherwise. Is Islamic culture inherently inferior, always and forever, to Western culture?

Absolutely not.

GK: “Rose colored glasses indeed.”

No. I simply know too much about this subject to swallow propagandistic caricatures.

GK: “What has Islam contributed to the cause of Liberty and the rights of man?”

Not much, in the past few centuries. Nor had the West contributed much, for many years. Such ideas are, alas, relatively modern — and are still only intermittently respected, even in the West.

GK: “Do Muslim countries highly value the concept of a wall of separation between mosque and state?”

On the whole, no. They are perhaps two centuries or so behind the West in that regard, although they could conceivably catch up in much less time than that.

There was an era, however, when Islam was arguably much more tolerant of religious minorities and of religious dissent than was Western Christendom. How many people were executed for heresy in the West? I can’t count them. How many were executed for heresy in the pre-modern Islamic world? I can think of two — Suhrawardi and al-Hallaj — and, in each case, the real cause for their executions was probably more political than theological. How many “prime ministers” (or whatever equivalent term you want to use) in the pre-modern West were Jews or Christians? I’m unaware of any. In the Islamic world, though, there were quite a few. (And so on and so forth.)

GK: “Obviously they don’t.”

So your question was purely rhetorical, intended to make me look like a fool. (Sorry to disappoint.)

GK: “So there is no reason to think that they will when they become a majority in what are now Christian countries. Only a person wearing rose colored glasses would expect such a thing.”

I’ve said nothing about such an expectation, though I’m interested to see how Islam and Muslims will develop, and are developing, in the West. You really don’t need to invent positions and then attribute them to me. I’ll state my own views, if it’s alright with you.

GK: “Did you happen to see the leaked internal Google video that was recorded after the 2016 election? Watch the whole video and tell me what opinions were not welcome in that meeting. Answer: The opinions of Christian conservatives.”

You seem to imagine that you’re arguing with a political liberal. What on earth led you into that illusion?

GK: “A juggernaut of Christian persecution is heading down the tracks at breakneck speed.”

Conceivably, yes.

GK: “What religion is joining that cabal of Communists/Socialists/Progressives/Atheists? Islam, of course.”


GK: “Islam isn’t stupid.”

Islam isn’t a person.

It’s also not a monolith.

GK: ” It’s going to ride the wave that will do the most harm to Christianity. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.'”


GK: “The writing is on the wall. Hard times are coming for Christians. The persecution is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Very possibly. But responding with historical ignorance won’t help anything.

GK: “So you can continue to paint that false image of Islam of yours, but no one with eyes to see is buying it.”




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