Sunday, February 12, 2006

Discussions Around the Web: Islam v. World

I've had many discussions around the web the last three days with Muslims of many different ideas. I think that these discussions are extremely helpful in getting an idea of the many voices and concepts that we see on a daily basis.

I would like to point you to some of these discussions if you have not already read from these sites on a regular basis. Some of them will, no doubt, raise ire in my Western friends for Islam because the comments do represent some of the fears that we have regarding the conservative brands of both Shia and Sunni Islam. Some of the words may give you hope when you see we have a discussion as humans about common ground and ideas. Others will give you hope because the commenters are just as disgusted or worried about the fate of their nations and the fate of Islam under its current struggle for domination by one sect or the other.

When you see the contrasts I hope it will provide an education into what is the problem between us and what we may do to resolve it.

When you read the comments, I hope you will also see that we have some problems too. One of which is that many have such an extreme dislike (can I say "hate") for Islam that they can appear as troubling as some of the Muslim commenters.

The truth is, if we are to avoid war, it is not necessarily that we must become more Islamic or deferrential to Islam nor that Islam must be destroyed or necessarily become more liberal (though, that would be nice). What I read and spoke about with people leads me to believe that the primary problem with Islam is that many adherents don't just see it as a matter of faith. Islam is, as one of the more conservative people put it, "a way of life". For many, it controls every aspect of their lives, from food, to dress, to prayer, to politics, to viewing others that are not like them either in religion or political view.

For many, the idea of Islam and the conversion of people to the belief is similar to the ideas that some Christian sects see as their responsibility to spread the faith, but in Islam, it must be the immersion and conversion to an entire way of life, not just a matter of saving the soul or turning a man away from evil deeds.

In some ways, Islam as it exists today for many as "a way of life" does resemble a cult though I would hesitate to deem every Muslim a cultist. Yet, because it is more than a concept or idea of saving the soul, but is "a way of life" and that way includes the control of every aspect of life from washing, to eating, to praying, to marriage, to family life, to outside relations and even to treating those who leave the religion as "dead" or even actually killing them as well as the belief that dying for the religion in the process of spreading it or protecting it with violence is acceptable, it has the veneer of cultism.

Before we congratulate ourselves on any recognition, nodding our heads to the idea as if we finally understand what is completely wrong with Islam and that it should go, we should understand that religious cults are not just products of Islam or some strange hindu sect or something separate from our own base religion of Christianity (though many an atheist or agnostic may consider Christianity a cult as well). Christianity has had its cults pop up in the name of Christianity far too often, though it is usually small enclaves led by individual leaders all with differing ideas on the purpose and processes of their Cults. Nothing so successful as the ingraining ideas of Islam. However, one would not forget such notables as Jim Jones or David Koresh, just to name two, who were able to convince different people to commit to and live their lives as these men had set down as a way to salvation.

Interestingly, one of the websites I visited about cultism was a Christian website and it did not simply speak about cults as if it were outside of Christianity, but in fact reflected the idea that cult like behavior could occur at any church, large or small, part of a larger sect or one that saw itself as completley independent. The website talked about what to look for inside their church including demands for the adherents to give more and more of their time to the church, the organization of "shame" monitors who would watch if the person came to church or who were in their local community and would keep tabs on the person, then the entire church or designated people may approach the individual and shame them about missing church or drinking liquor or whatever it is.

There were many pointers. In speaking with some of my Islamic acquaintances the last few days, I had an eery feeling that I was speaking to a member of a cult, not just a political, religio political or geographical opponent. One of the interesting aspects was the idea of the "absolute". There are somethings that are simply "absolute" that some people could not be moved on. Of course, occassional interjections from other commenters that were, shall we say, less than rational or reasonable from the opposition, sometimes threw up the proverbial brick wall and reasonable, rational discussion would come to a screeching halt. I understand sometimes the desire to scream, screech and generally lash out when you read someone's words and they seem to be the plodding, insistent, irrational, conspiracy laden comments that we always see.

Of course, with most conspiracy theories, there is always some truth to whatever is being said, but it is often blown out of proportion to its reality or capability to actually effect the world. And, if I may further the opinion of the cultist behavior of many of the adherents of Islam that we see being expressed, I believe that it is these irrational fears that are used to keep the people of these nations, the followers of Islam toeing the line, inside the Ummah, the Muslim enclave, insisting on its protection as the whole, thus making any action against individuals an action against the whole of Islam, re-enforcing the idea that Islam is under attack and that the only protection is to be had within Islam. Even further, the modern Islamist has taken that a step further to include the need to attack anyone outside the enclave that is perceived as threatening the enclave, whether that is through non-physical infiltration of ideas, fashion, food, products or anything else that may lead a man or woman not to follow the tenets of Islam as they would have it, as "a way of life".

It reminds me, not long ago, when Prince Turki al Faisel of Saudi Arabia called the Islamists like bin Laden "cultists". I remember dismissing that as an excuse to mitigate their culpability in spreading Wahhabism, but as I go on and speak to many, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, the more I feel that the breaking of Islamism is not the destruction of Islam (we didn't destroy Christianity after Jones Town, we will not destroy Islam), it is the breaking of a cult and the only way that you break a cult member from these ideas is to isolate them and then insist on the reasonable and the rational, presenting them with evidence that contradicts their "brainwashing".

Let me be clear that Islam itself is not a "cult". It is a religion and it has its faithful. It is a particular practice of Islam that is "cultist". Islam as a faith has many things to recommend it, just as Christianity as a faith has many tenets which can help guide someone to live a better and more fulfilling life. The concept of praying five times a day, giving charity or making a pilgrimage (all similar concepts in Christianity) as basic tenets are admirable traits. The call of the muezzin for prayer is as beautiful as the ringing of church bells and the ritual prayers with their singsong nature reflect similar practices in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduims, Buddhism and many others. The idea that humility is preferable to arrogance, again, similar and acceptable.

But, the idea that leaving the faith is death, both figuratively and literal, is cultist. The idea that dying for that faith, not as a persecuted martyr but in the act of killing the enemy, is cultist. The idea that killing the unbeliever or enemy, even if they have not commited an act of violence against them, in order to protect the "faith", is cultist. The idea that each Muslim is responsible for the behavior of the others and must act to re-enforce the faith in violent and non-violent ways against these "backsliders" is cultist. These are the tenets that are not only dangerous to us, the unbelievers, but to the faith of Islam. In this, Islam becomes something more than personal faith and engenders the cult.

If we can understand that, we can understand one of the ways forward.

One of the biggest issues that we must confront is the conspiracies that surround and enable the cultists to maintain their hold whether from a religious or state practice. It is no more or less than the same propaganda that was used in order to keep Soviet citizens in thrall to the state and fear of Western democracy. Islamism and Communism are not the same, but have similar traits in engendering the Utopia, though, in one of my conversations, the idea of Utopia was rejected by an admitted Islamist from Iran. I hope and wish that to be correct. Yet, it seems that when a group will insist that the only perfection can be had within a state of pure Islam and that if the whole eschews the outside influences, clings closely to ideology and its rules, it can shut off temptations to be "different", this is the search for Utopia.

When I discussed with my friend that Utopia can never happen because man can never be perfect, while denying the search for utopia within the establishment of an "Islamic Nation", she said that I had lost hope in mankind because I did not believe it could improve itself, that I was hopeless and that she was afraid for the world if it was me the "hopeless" that was creating the ideas for the new world. We had talked about faith making people stronger in body and mind and I agreed, as long as it was faith of an individual freely chosen because without that free choice, it was not really faith, but simply rules one was forced to live by. My response to the "hopeless" comment was that I did not see mankind as hopeless. It is just that I see the hope of mankind in the unchained mind, where faith may give him guidance and discipline, but that he must be free to go beyond the bounds.

It is the unchained mind that created machines so that we can fly, developed vacines, created skin grafts, improved agriculture where we can feed billions. It will be the unchained mind that flies us to distant galaxies.

We had a very long conversation about things like "hegemony", "freedom" and a few other narrow subjects but it was most instructive. I would hope, unlike some of the commenters there, even if you find Islamic Nations comments offensive or they seem "stupid" to you, that you would approach the conversation with the idea that you are creating an open conduit of discussion and dialogue. One of the basis of free speech is that we can say what we want and often do, largely by shouting over one another to see who's idea can get the most support. But diplomacy and dialogue are based on not just speaking, but listening and responding to the specifics.

Please read Big Pharoah and comments here to get the feel of the situation.

I did not get to finish answering Islamic Nation certain questions about secret service intervention in the protests (I was not sure if that was in reference to CIA or the secret services of these nations), the comments about the Shah, giving chemical weapons to Saddam and, finally, the big question, why we are opposed to the establishment of an Islamic Nation. These and many other comments and answers are there, so read and get an idea what its like from the otherside.

Also read 7 Questions that Sandmonkey received from fellow Muslims and Egyptians about his non-support of the boycott and protests. I suggest that you scroll down in comments because it includes both secular and Islamic commenters that will provide even more color.

One of my favorites:

You say your mother is a muslim and your father too,I think for people like you Islam is something you inherited, exactly like being Egyptian, I won't be surprised though if Islam to you is just a punch of rituals. i'm not amazed because people think you are a christian or a jew, these are the people where most of Islam enemies came from, not much are aware of modern seculars who look at islam the same way non muslims look.

Don't you realize that Islam has two majors of speech, one for the non beleivers, and one for the beleivers, they are not contradicting but they are addressing differant issues.

For Example, when i talk to a non believer about the cartoons issue I my point should be mutual respect, while if i talk to you about the cartoon issue I should remind you that our Prophet is the best human that ever walked on earth and he should be dearer to us than our families, our people our money and our ownselves.

I can't use the same logic with you as I would use with a non believer, cause we - as muslims- should have established some common basis, and constants, like We only live our lives to worship Allah ,don't we ?

And, here

Ahamad - May peace and Allah mercy and blessings be upon you, Mocking a "dead" man (not to mention a prophet) does NOT equal mocking a living man.

Mocking from a prophet sent as mercy to mankind, and who represents a religion AND its followers, is equal mocking the religion AND its followers, WAKE UP

Sandmonkey Responds:


One cartoonist, one man, out of 5 million danes, made a cartoon that depicted the prophet of having a bomb-shaped turban.

Another man, Editor in chief, agrees to let the cartoon get published.

2 men's choice, just 2 men, led to all of this talk about how "the west mocks Islam and the prophet" and all the other shit that followed.

I don't know about you, but 2 men mocking me or my religion, prophet or god- while reprehensible- doesn't equate the whole west "mocking Islam and muslims". That's just not fair ya Ahmad. It's not fair to punish 5 million people cause 2 men mocked the prophet. And it's not fair to lump the whole west in that category. And it's also not fair to ignore our responsbility towards curbing the assholes that do the shit that invite such mocking in the first place. I am sure that the Prophet and his sense of justice would see the unfairness in that as well. But as you said, he is dead, and now his followers are making sure his reputation gets and stays tarnished.

However,let's ignore all that, and think about something for a second. One of the basic concepts in Islam is "el A3mal belneyat", right? As in, judge the action by the motive.

Now, if we believe the newspaper's side of the story, the point behind this "exercise of free speech" by them aimed at testing whether or not they exercise self-censorship in regards to Islam, whether the whole world is afraid of insulting muslims cause no one wants to die. Taking that into consideration, their inetntion of drawing the said cartoon wasn;t to mock the prophet or to insult Islam, as much as it was an experiment to see if their style of living is comrpromised by those so called islamists today and a crtique of what the Prophet and his ideas (and by extension the islamic religion) are being viewed in the west in the light of the actions of his followers. What, you thought that they made the turban, which is placed over his head into a bomb for no reason? You don;t think that's suppsoed to signify that they view that his views and beliefs are both dangerous and explosive? And why would they think that ya Ahmad? Is it because they took the time to learn his views and beliefs? Or is it because they see the violence and the mayhem caused by those who call themselves the Mujahedeen and profess doing what they do in the name of allah, Islam and the prophet and no one challenging them or stopping them?

Shown in that light ya basha, one could argue that the intentions behind the cartoons were not to mock the prophet, Islam or muslims, but rather highlight a growing image problem that the whole religion is having because of the actions of its followers as being violent, intolerant and explosive. Sure, the artist could've taken a much lesser controversial route in showing that problem, but he didn't in order to showcase the gravity of the issue: The symbol of Islam is portrayed as explosive because of what Muslims nowadays do. And instead or realizing that, or maybe because it's easier not to take on that issue, we instead chose to attack those who made the cartoon as an offense against every muslims and a mockery of muslims and Islam everywhere, and proceed to go crazy, killing poepole, burning embassies and bombing churches, thus proving the point of the artist to be right and enforcing that stereotype of the prophet thanks to the actions of those muslims worldwide.[snip]

I liked your solution because it acknoweldged the flaw in the design: We are not engaged in the war of ideas, and we are not engaging in enough dialogue with those who view us in that way. Your solution said to me : We say that the prophet is sent as a mercy to mankind, well, let's show them how and why. Let's take control of the debate. And I encourage that and stand with you behind that 100%. You don't seem to get that, and I am less and less concerned that you do with every passing minute!

And then, another favorite:

Ayya - Be ashamed of your Hijab

I look at you with utter pity
Simply because you’re far from witty
For I know what goes inside:
Mythical fears- deprived your mind
A surreal shape is enough to attest
That your brains is under arrest
At your will you are enslaved
To a dogma your group engraved
Your voice under the layers of attire
Replicates your diction- a satire
"O ye women, wrap close your cloak,
So you won't be bothered by ignorant folk",
God doesn't tell you to dress this way,
it’s the beardoos to whom you pray
Oppression for you is a sanctuary
Liberation- a blasphemy
Yes it was given years ago
Check when! If you care to know
Check the sources in history
Not the man-made wana-be
Sure you can climb mountains, cross seas
With a mind loaded trivialities-
You loop in darkness under your gown
“Can I pray with nail polish on?”
God had given us liberty
But man deprived its faculty
For you’re using identity cover
Of lost faith that’s gone forever
Right after the prophet’s death
How could you know that
When you’re deaf!

Btw; just in case your minds wander; I am a Muslim by birth

Read the rest

I also suggest that you read this or the comments from this section (over 315 including right wing western and Muslim commenters as well as voices of reason; but educational for both I think).

And, if you have not caught up on the Iraq political scene, I suggest that you jump over to ITM and get some reading done.

1 comment:

Wade said...

Interesting perspective.

I think many westerners don't quite understand how Islam is more a way of life than a religion that its extraordinarily difficult even for people highly exposeed to the west to break out of.