Someone who read some of my recent online articles about Islam took exception to my point of view and to the way I had expressed it. We are all entitled to our opinions. Let me say that I did not start out with any jaundiced view about Islam. I used to put it, without rancour, alongside Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, paganism, agnosticism and atheism and the many other ‘theological’ isms that could be listed.
To my mind, as a Christian, they were and are all wayward, but error is common and forgivable in human affairs. And, by the way, I didn’t specifically mention Judaism in my list because I treat it a little differently from the rest. It gave rise to rise to Christianity – so I think it is half right.
I am happy with my faith and, at the same time, am happy for others to practice theirs. Why, therefore, do I take exception to Islam, particularly when numbers of political and religious leaders outside and inside the faith proclaim its peacefulness? The answer is that I am deeply sceptical of its universal peacefulness. That’s it; nothing else.
My view is not based on Islam’s scriptures. True I have read accounts of Islamic scripture which argue that it is not peaceful but then, as a layman, you get into this endless and fruitless debate about violent passages in the Bible. Moreover, I would be very surprised if most prominent faiths were totally bereft of violent scriptural passages. My view is evidence based. There are too many contemporary examples of Islamic clerics preaching hate to dismiss them as entirely aberrant. There are too many contemporary examples of barbarous acts committed in the name of Islam to dismiss them as entirely aberrant.
You will know them by their fruits (ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing), Christ perceptively said. But, really, we don’t need Christ’s words; though it is nice to have them. In the end, we all judge those around us on the basis of their actions. Actions speak louder than words, as the old saying goes. If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck it is a duck; to add another old saying.
A woman has just had her head cut off at her workplace in Oklahoma City — if you can believe such barbarism - by a Muslim convert. In the aftermath of that news, Nihad Awad, the Executive Director and Founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s Fox News show. He said that “nothing in the Koran or in religious writings encourages the killing of innocent people”. Unfortunately he wasn’t asked for his definition of ‘innocent people’. “O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight…It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land” (Koran VIII: 65-67). My version of the Koran does not specify separating out the innocents before the slaughter commences. It may have been lost in translation.
My point is not to get into theological debate about the meaning of words. It is that we should be alert to the possibility that spokespersons for Islam choose their words carefully. I am wary of doublespeak. My mind is not eased, for example, when I hear complaints from some spokespersons that Muslim murderers are singled out as being Muslim, whereas murderers from Christian backgrounds are not so ingled out. Hint: that just might have something to do with some Muslim murderers singing out Allahu Akbar while hacking away at their victims, having previously posted hateful bile in the name of Islam on social media.
The position is not irredeemable. Islam could potentially reform itself. Leading Islamic clerics could once and for all put any intolerant and violent passages found in the Koran (and in other authoritative writings) into historical context. They could explain that such passages have no application in the modern world, just as Jews and Christians disavow instructions in the Bible to stone adulterers and the like.
They would need to confine Sharia law to ecclesiastical matters and to specifically concede that only democratically-elected parliaments have a legitimate role in making law. While they are at it, they might also look at, “Men are in charge of women…” (IV: 34) though, heretofore, imams might not have had that drawn to their attention. Feminists in the West appear to suffer from SUS — selective umbrage syndrome.
I don’t really believe that Islam is the kind of faith that can bend to Enlightenment thinking. It would be internally contradictory, I think. But what do I know? I live in hope. Because if this were to happen there would be nothing within Islam that violent people could draw on to engage in barbarity.
On a different level, in this imaginary post-Islamic Enlightenment world, who would care or be concerned about the Burka (in public spaces), if women genuinely and freely wanted to wear it. No-one, is the answer. We are relaxed about the way the Amish dress, about Sikhs wearing their turbans, about Chinese in fear of infection wearing face masks. The Queen used to wear headscarfs, as did my Mum. Nuns used to go around overdressed. (See my “Struggling with the Burka”, Quadrant, March 2011.)
What drives concern and so-called ‘Islamophobia’ is a view, based on the evidence all around us, that a sizeable element within Islam wants to do Western civilisation harm and, furthermore, has scripture and firebrand clerics on hand to justify it. Of course, most Muslims harbour no such intention. That is not the point.
Unfortunately history shows that a radical and thuggish small minority, armed with a political, nationalistic or religious philosophy, is able to cow a moderate majority. There will always be the potential rising of a thuggish minority in all societies of whatever race and creed. We need to rob them of any philosophical underpinning. In this case, only senior Muslim clerics are in position to do that. They won’t do it by mouthing platitudes.