Introduction: I am very excited and happy to be posting on Freethought Blogs, it is an honor and a great privilege. I want to thank everyone for providing this opportunity for me.
“There is no Islam except political Islam.” – Ruhollah Khomeini
This is a sequel to what I wrote previously and had appeared on Butterflies and Wheels and before that on The Proud Atheist. The responses and the reactions I got were very heartwarming. However, there was a valid criticism many people raised, and that was the fact that I had not touched upon the tenets and the philosophy of Islam itself. Point is, these two pieces were meant as one piece, but “it grew in the telling” and I decided to cut it there. The previous piece dealt with some difficulties associated with subjective fluid concepts such as radical and moderate, and it meant to prove that Muslims in Muslim-majority countries are more radical, and that a moderate Muslim in Iran is actually a radical Christian if he were transported to the United States.
[There’s also another valid criticism people raised, concerning the fact that Islamophobia is a real issue in the west and I might add to the arsenal of the bigots. I quite understand this objection. My article was retweeted by extreme right-wingers, and they used it to argue for things I completely opposed. This is something I will discuss later].
It brought up a legitimate question: is it the fault of the religion, really? Maybe Muslim countries are just poorer, maybe the tradition of tyranny prevails, maybe other socio-economic factors are involved. Maybe Islam is not intrinsically and inherently worse than Christianity or Buddhism.
But it is. In the following paragraphs, I’m going to enumerate the reasons that Islam is actually worse.
But before that, let me stress that I’m not denying that the other factors are important. Certainly the poorer the people are, the more likely they are to get radicalized. It doesn’t help if you starve a ruthless tiger. Undoubtedly democracy and safety and freedom of speech would somehow improve the situation. For sure the history of Western colonialism and the conflict with Israel have worsened the situation. It doesn’t help if you poke the ruthless tiger with an iron blade.
But none of this means that the tiger is not a tiger, that it is actually a poor angry misunderstood kitty. It is wrong to reduce everything to religion. But it is also equally wrong to pretend that religion is not there, and does not contribute to the situation.
I also understand that there are very different readings of Islam. Yes, there were Muslim mystics who were liberal and open minded. There were mystics who praised Satan as God’s greatest worshipper and his holy agent on earth. [However, it’s wrong to assume all mystics and all Sufis were like that]. By all accounts, the Mu’tazilah movement was as rational and as tolerant as one could be in the confines of a religion. Nowadays there are Muslim thinkers like the late Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamed Abou-Zeid or the Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush who are moderate, liberal, tolerant, and advocate the idea that Koran was not the literal word of Allah.
I know all of that. But I don’t care. Not because I want to only look at the evidence which supports my claim. Because I want to look at all the evidence. Movements and people like this are (1) in the absolute minority and (2) contradict the main spirit of Islam. They are fringe elements.
I hope that was introduction enough. Now let’s count the ways that Islam is unique, and how it makes it more radical [Or, makes radicalizing individuals very easy]:
1) Islam was born into a warlike primitive culture.
Muhammad and his followers were born into one of the most violent and warlike cultures of history. This is not what I claim, Muslims themselves tend to use this fact as the proof that their religion is miraculous. There were different warring tribes. The structure of these tribes was extremely patriarchal. Women were considered property, and they were shameful. It was customary to bury them alive when they were born (a custom Muhammad forbade). A man could have as many wives as he wanted (a number Muhammad limited to four for everyone… except himself). The head of the family was the owner of everything and everything was defined in the politics of war. They were extremely superstitious, and they sought the cause of everything in supernatural entities. They believed that poets were inspired by demons.
There is no doubt that Islam is more progressive than this primitive backward culture it was born into by miles. But it’s strange to assume that it has not been deeply influenced by it.
And it has. The majority of Shraia laws are not the ones which were introduced in the Koran or in the Hadith, but they were the ones that Muhammad did not change and kept from the original traditions of his contemporaries. Stoning and Islamic veil are just two of those.
Now I’m not trying to claim that Christianity and Judaism were born into modern-day Switzerland… but they were not born to such warring cultures either. As far as I can tell (I’m not very knowledgeable about Judaism but I am knowledgeable enough when it comes to Christianity because of my academic major), the central Jewish myths are about persecution and being in a position of the oppressed, and the Christianity was born into a culture which focused too much on amateur prophets.
Most religions were born into a primitive culture, but few to a culture as backward as Islam.
2) Islam is a social religion.
Show me one instance where Koran addresses a Muslim as an individual, or it establishes a purely personal rule.
That’s right, it never does that. Koran always addresses the Islamic community, or Muhammad, as the leader of the Muslim community. Koran spends a lot of time discussing social laws and completely neglects the individual laws. Koran spends a lot of time detailing divorce laws, for example, but never discusses prayers. Each time that Koran mentions praying it simply says “pray”, and even then you know that it is referring to prayer as a social activity. People should pray together, to show to the world that they are Muslims; prayer is a form of “uprising”. Zakat laws are not really charity laws, they are tax laws.
I think it is evident that with such a mentality the social position of a person is more important, and it is more important to serve the society rather than the individual.
I understand that this can be found in other religions too. Catholicism, in particular, has a strict social hierarchy because of the existence of Vatican. However, the fact remains that one cannot doubt the fact that Islam is “society first” and Christianity is “salvation first”.
This gives Muslims far better excuses to butt in other people’s business, and also to get more riled up when they don’t get their way. The followers of all religions (and most ideologies) try to suppress what they don’t like in the society, but as I’ve said before, it’s not an either/or question. Few religions and ideologies have such a strong mental and ideological backbone to justify the erasure of the individual, maybe except fascism and Stalinism.
All religions are against the individual, even when they are individualistic. But it is much harder to define an individual within the Islamic context.
3) Theocracy is inevitable.
Following on what I said earlier, if you want to practice Sharia you have to have a theocracy. There is no other way. Who presides over marriages and divorces? Who collects taxes? Who punishes the criminals? Who presides over the inheritance laws? Who decides what should be the amount of the blood money? Who makes sure that the banking system is working without usury?
For the life of me, I can’t see how you can observe these laws without a government.
I understand that Christianity was a theocratic religion throughout history until recently (it still is in some parts of the world). But the point is that it does not necessarily have to be. Marriages and charities are things that people can observe without a government, and I think most Christians observe the laws of their religion without the need of a government. It gets trickier when it comes to abortion and creationism; this is when radical Christians try to influence the government in a negative way.
But no other religion (that I know of) has these deep roots into the governmental system, such infatuation with the political and economical process. And nowhere this is more evident than in Koran. Islam is not merely a religion; it is also a political party.
History supports this claim too. Muhammad was the ruler of his country. If you go by the Sunni religion, his four holy successors were his political successors too, his caliphates. According to the Shiites, the first two major Imams were caliphates and the rest were trying to become caliphates. The early history of Islam is a history of political uprisings, wars (more on that later), and power struggles. It’s not an accident that Islam begins its calendar not at the birth of Muhammad but at the time of his migration to Medina, which is the time that he lays the foundation of his empire.
And from the early Islam onwards, there are two major dynasties, whose ruler is at the same time the emperor and the religious leader (Amir al-Mo’menin, the ruler of the faithful). Now, even in the heights of its theocracy Christianity at least separated the Pope and the king into two people (England is the only exception I can think of).
And even after the downfall of these two political dynasties (the Ummayad and the Abbassid), which lasted more than a thousand years, most of the ensuing governments, up until today, have tried to implement the Sharia law and have tried to claim religiosity. The Ottoman Empire was completely religious, for example. Today King Abdullah is both the religious and the political ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Even most of the so called “secular” regimes are not “secular” by any measure. The constitution of both Iran under Shah and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak included Sharia, and in almost all Islamic countries all the Sharia laws I mentioned are enforced by their “secular” governments. There are some governments in Islamic countries that go to the opposite extreme and limit religious freedoms (which is obviously equally wrong). But even in those countries, the Islamists have either successfully rose to power and have dismantled the system (Turkey and Tunisia) or are the most prominent opposition.
Political Islam is not new. Politics was always the heart, the mind, the body, and the soul of Islam. All religions are political to a degree, but none as political as Islam.
4) Islam is a religion of war.
You don’t need me to explain to you how awesome Jihad is supposed to be, no? Good. Of course, most likely, you misunderstand Jihad, and you reduce it to one of its aspects. Jihad is simply a struggle. It can actually be one of the better parts of Islam, when it is about a person (it is a major Jihad to try and become a better person). Voluntary work and charities are Jihad. Peaceful demonstrations are Jihad too. Basically, trying to make the world a better place is Jihad.
Before we go on any further, let’s clear something up. To say “Islam is a religion of peace” is less true than to say “Communism is a radical objectivist ideology” or “Ayn Rand was the most prominent Marxist of the 20th century”. First off, no, the word Islam does not mean “peace”. It means “surrender”. Like what a defeated army does. After being defeated. It means surrendering yourself to God, like a defeated army surrenders into the victorious party. So there’s that.
Secondly, I have a book called Moghazi written by Muhammad Ibn Omar Vaghedi. It’s one of the major Islamic texts and anyone who wants to understand Islam has to read it. It’s three volumes. Together they are 949 pages. This giant doorstopper is the history of the wars led by the prophet Muhammad. Not the ones led by his successors. Not the ones in the early Islam. Muhammad, during his ten years of governance. 35 wars are chronicled in this book. 35 in 10. Think about it. (Most Muslims think Muhammad led only three wars. Only the major three are mentioned in schools). [Also some people will protest that Mohammad didn’t start these wars. First off, he did some of them. Secondly, it doesn’t matter; they are still treated as the most beautiful moments and glorify war].
As I’ve said, there is certainly a non-violent side to Jihad. But there is also a violent side. And it is encouraged both in Koran and in Hadith: “Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward” (4:74) or “Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). Unto all (in Faith) Hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight Hath He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward” (4:95) [Source: University of Southern California Website]
But even if Koran is not 100% clear how awesome it is to kill for Allah [it is], it’s 100% clear how awesome it is to die for Allah. Martyrdom is a pillar of Muslim faith. This is one of the most famous Koran verses: “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord; They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the Shuhada’s [martyrs’] glory is in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve” (3:169-170). There are many verses similar to that in Koran. There is also this Hadith by Mumhammad: “The best jihad is the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled” (source: http://www.kalamullah.com/Books/MashariAl-AshwaqilaMasarial-Ushaaq-RevisedEdition.pdf).
And then there is the fact that Mohammad’s successors engaged in imperialistic wars and conquered the neighboring countries and made them Muslims. This is conquering in the vein of Attila, pure and simple. Now Christianity was spread the same way – but the difference is that the Roman Emperors, unlike Omar and Abu-Osman, are not the pillars and the founding figures of their respective religions.
I know that you are going to bring up the crusades and such. All religions cause wars, yet war is in the very nature of Islam in a way that it is in the nature of very few religions.
I think these are the features that make Islam unique. Of course, I can quote Koran, Hadith, and tradition extensively to show how irredeemably sexist Islam is, how it instills hatred of the others, how it teaches people to dislike all that is “other”. But those parts are really the same in all the other religions. These are the features that are unique to Islam. Islam is particularly dangerous because it incorporates an ideological political mentality akin to Stalinism and mixes it with the Jewish/Christian mythology and spirituality.
Remember, I am not a fan of Christianity and Judaism. This is not a defense of those religions. I believe Christianity has many great flaws which are unique to Christianity alone, and they come from the parts that even some atheists call “the great moral philosophy of Jesus”. However, if someone holds a gun to my head and asks me would I prefer all people of the world to follow Jesus blindly or Mohammad, I’d choose Jesus.