How Should We Respond to Islam?

by frankbeswick

Christians are obliged to be fair in their critical response to other faiths, welcoming what is good and criticizing what is not.

Islam is going through a bad time at the moment, for a serious political crisis grips the Muslim world and many of the world's refugees are Muslims fleeing from their own religion's fanatics, fanatics who also target Christians and Yazidis, or indeed anyone who disagrees with them. Yet there are a billion Muslims in the world, and among them there is a wide range of opinions. The right way to proceed is not to tar all Muslims with the same brush, but to acknowledge that the problems with Muslim fanaticism come from specific sects, while there are other Muslim sects who are very peaceful.

Image courtesy of Imkawakami

The Problem

Not too long ago Donald Trump considered banning all Muslims from entering America, a pledge from which he now seems to be rowing back. At the same time in my own country, the UK, a land already troubled with an increase in xenophobic race crime, following the country's grossly unwise decision to leave the EU, there has been an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment. There was a problem that some young Muslim extremists tried to create Muslim zones and enforce shariah dress codes with Islamic patrols, an activity quite illegal. The police did respond firmly, but so did the extreme right, a group now troubling our land, and they established "Christian" patrols, also illegal. Not in my name, I declare! You cannot legitimately hijack Christianity to right wing nationalist sentiments, and the church has no military/policing function. So  no Christian patrols,please! I have not heard of them recently, but I suspect that they will be back. Some of these right wingers  have had to be banned from intruding into mosques to challenge imans. I consider this disreputable and unacceptable behaviour. No one should disrupt religious services or damage religious buildings. Yet there have been even less acceptable activities with Muslim women being targeted for verbal harassment about Islamic dress.  Note that the people who do this target single, often lone women rather than males; which is just bullying. 

As usual,political correctness has intruded with its normal ill-consequences. Its trying to assimilate criticism of Islam to Islamophobia or racism is a mistake. Yes, there is Islamophobia in some cases, and  some anti-Islamic sentiment can be tied up with racism, but there is no wrong in discussing or criticizing a religion. Any religion or philosophy can and should be subject to critical discussion, and that includes my religion, Christianity. But all discussion should be open-minded, fair and conducted in a peaceful, non-aggressive way. Furthermore, when discussing a religion it is important to ensure that you have informed yourself about what you are discussing. As a Christian I become irritated with misinformed secularists aggressively spouting misunderstandings of Christianity, so what I dislike being done to me I would not do to others. 

Furthermore, an informed approach to Islam or indeed any religion requires participants to be aware of differences within the faith under discussion.There are some violent Islamic groups, but there are also many peaceful ones.Fairness in discussion involves recognizing this and admitting it within the debate. Without honesty in debate there can be no genuine progress. Furthermore, if we are to criticize the evil done by Islamic terrorists, we must also be fair and honest enough to recognize and the good done by Islamic charities and individuals. Failure to meet this standard of honesty turns argument into propaganda, which is unacceptable. 

Variations within Islam

Only recently a Muslim who had declared his allegiance to ISIS drove a lorry into a crowded German Christmas market. He was not many days later killed in a gunfight with Italian policemen. But around the same time there was a group of Muslims going round my own city of Greater Manchester, UK, giving Christmas presents to homeless people, the numbers of whom are a damning criticism of my misgoverned land. We also saw on television a food bank distributing food aid to the poor, at least one of whose helpers was a Muslim woman. If we condemn the killer, we are morally bound to praise the charity worker. Honesty demands no less. 

Islamic political movements that use terror tactics, for example Islamic State and Al Qaeda, all derive their ideas from a small number of sects in the Sunni branch of the religion. These sects include  the Wahabis,a puritanical Islamic movement that holds power in Arabia through the the fact that the House of Saud, the Saudi royal family, supports it. The terrorism that has emanated from Saudi sources is driven to a great degree by Wahabism. There is also the Salafi movement, which sometimes gives rise to terrorism, but not always. Salafism and Wahabism are hard to pull apart in some circumstances. Basically,Salafis look back to the early years of Islam as the ideal time, and model their lives on the practice of the Umma,Islamic community, of that period. They also hark back to the time of Islamic imperium, when many lands were under Muslim dominion, such as Spain and India, and they believe that these lands should be returned to Islamic rule, a recipe for aggression among some Salafis.

Yet there are Muslim sects and movements that are gentle and non-violent. The Sufi movement, a living stream in Islam composed of a multitude of sects that have a leaning to mystical spiritual practices, has a long tradition of non-violence and harms no one. Of the many sects belonging to the Shia branch of the faith the Ismaelis, followers of the Aga Khan, have a long record of peaceful behaviour.

The Ahmadiyya movement, considered heretics by orthodox Muslims due to the fact that they seem to award prophetic status to their nineteenth century founder contrary to Muslim teaching that Muhammed is the last prophet, have a long and noble tradition of non-violence, but they are themselves victims of serious persecution by fundamentalists,who in Pakistan have been known to attack their mosques in murderous onslaughts using suicide bombers. Many Ahmadis have fled abroad to seek safety. But even there they have not always been safe. There was one murdered in the UK not too long ago for his views, and his Muslim killer did not go without sympathy from some in his community who supported him.  

Reflections

A fair analysis of the present situation must recognize that the terrorism to which the world is subject at the moment has diverse and complex roots. There are religious origins, but they are sect specific and not all Muslims or Muslim sects are guilty of terrorism. Into the cauldron with religious ideas go a range of other issues that contribute to the turmoil. 

Arab nationalism is not to be overlooked, and I suspect that Islam is in some cases a flag of convenience for national pride in some individuals.In fact religion has long been used as a flag of convenience by people bent on power and domination. The Arab world has felt humiliated by the West, which has economically and culturally outstripped the Muslim world for many years, which is not to say that the West is right, for there are cultural elements in Western culture that are hardly anything to be proud of. But many in the Arab world  believe that the secular West is assertively proclaiming its values in the Muslim world, and they don't like it. 

To the poison brew add economic grievances. There are areas in parts of the Muslim world where young males have no work, parts of Egypt and Tunisia for example. Capitalism as it is practised leaves a trail of casualties in its wake, and sometimes there can be whole areas impoverished by the economic system.Young males with no future are easy pickings for extremists offering simplistic and ultimately destructive solutions to complex human issues. 

Essentially, if we are to analyse our world today we must ensure that our analysis and any criticism derived from it is informed and fair. It is wrong to target all Muslims with the sins of a few. To coin a metaphor, criticism must not be a blunt and heavy club, but a discerning rapier that dissects specific ideas and responds to them rather than stereotyping the many.  Unfair criticism will do no good and resolve nothing. 

 

Updated: 12/28/2016, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick on 03/19/2017

Correct. I am glad that you approve of what I have written.

katiem2 on 03/19/2017

Enlightening and at such an appropriate time. The Golden Rule is such a simple rule to follow, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Great en-depth thoughts and facts!

frankbeswick on 12/29/2016

Thanks. I think that some extremists,such as ISIL,combine fanaticism in ideas with a deep level of corruption. Their ability to perform acts of gratuitous cruelty does not arise from a genuinely religious spirit. The way in which they misuse women does not come from the Spirit of God. Their throwing homosexuals from high buildings is a total abomination.

frankbeswick on 12/28/2016

Religious leaders are there to be guides, and currently in the world there are some really good ones, who guide people well: the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dalai Lama, various top rabbis, and the imams at the Islamic University in Egypt, to name but the main ones.

blackspanielgallery on 12/28/2016

The comment about looking to religious leaders is intended to say look to those who can approach the problem in a proper way, not with hysteria. Their approaches are often well thought out, and they can become our guides in how we should view things.

frankbeswick on 12/28/2016

If only we knew the full details of the Knights Templar, which are mired in historical myth and lies! I don't think that the Templars were ever a terrorist group, but they were certainly militant and amassed great wealth, not all of which was gained in a morally acceptable way, I suspect, but knights did do much plundering.

The proper use of history is not to think that the present always replays it, but to see that the issues of the present have roots in the past; and knowing these will help us understand the present to avoid past mistakes.

You mention the role of religious leaders. Religious leaders are influential, but often it is not the top leaders who cause the problems, but characters lower down the hierarchy. The Book Mediaeval Heresy by Lambert shows that often pogroms against Jews were in the eleventh century instigated by wandering preachers independent of the Catholic hierarchy. It was the activities of these fanatics that caused the Catholic Church to insist that all preachers have to have a licence from the bishop to permit them to preach. It was the only way for the church to stop them.

blackspanielgallery on 12/28/2016

Frank, much goes back centuries. I remember the history books, which are often slanted, giving the "conversion by the sword" alarm as the Moors swept through Europe. Yet, it was such a time that led to the Crusades, and later the Inquisition, wherein Christians were the fanatical warriors. Perhaps the Knights Templar evolved into a Christian terrorist group, and certainly are likely to have amasses fortunes by questionable means. So, what happened in history was part of another time, and need not be considered to indicate the way things are today, but unfortunately will be so considered by many.
The place to start is with the religious leaders, the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dali Lama, and the like. Listen to what they say, while remaining vigilant, as also the Muslims must, for those not so peaceful on both sides. Indeed, to ignore Hitler would have been a mistake, one we cannot repeat. The problem today is who is causing a problem, for they can hide among those not causing any disturbance? But to assume an entire group is out to do harm is itself wrong.
Religion has been used too often to claim justification for violence.


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