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religions of peace? September 9, 2006

Posted by Brad Richert in politics, religion.
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Although I am a Religious Studies major, I do not pretend to know much about Islam. I have never had an interest in the academic study of Islam. This is not to say I do not know the history of Islamic nations, as I have been fascinated with the stories of Muhammad and grateful to the Muslims who preserved the works of classical Greek philosophies while the Christians were burning the “heretical” works. As we close in on the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the world is starting to become more aware of how religion affects society, and in turn, geopolitics. My own studies concentrate in Christianity, a major geopolitical force, and Buddhism, a relatively minor philosophical force in today’s religious spectrum of extremism.

The problem with public perception of religions such as Christianity and Islam is that it is generally limited to the the presentation on the major media networks of any given geopolitical region. CNN, FOX News, Al-Jazeera, and the BBC all contribute to narrow or biased perspectives of specific religions. The results are misconceptions and misguided intolerance. These religions represent billions of people with extremely different views and actions. The mainstream news relays only the perspectives of the “loud minority” (IE. religious fundamentalists, extremists) which, because of their very vocal activities, often find there way into power. To claim that Islam can be represented by charismatic leaders such as Khomeini or Ahmadinejad from Iran, or Huissen from Iraq, is about as accurate as saying George W. Bush and Tony Blair represent all of Christianity.

As I am from a western nation, I am not ingrained with the misrepresentations of Christianity to the extent that a Muslim from Tehran might have. I just have different ones. I am, however, forced to put up with the gross exaggerations of Muslim extremism on a regular basis. Do I deny that there are Muslim extremists? No more than I deny that there are Christian extremists. To counter stereotypical allegations against extremism, moderate Muslims have emphasized their faith as a “religion of peace”. Some scoff at this notion of a peaceful Islam since their perspective is formed by a media that is obsessed with the “us versus them” mentality.

My main concern with this mentality is not so much that it is a gross exaggeration as much as it does not distinguish between the religion and the rest of the culture. This may include national or international politics as well as social or moral aspects of culture. This is not to say that religion is not part of the problem, but that to label “Islam” as a religion of violence is completely disregarding the surrounding cultural and political atmosphere. I stumbled across a website that is dedicated to the portrayal and proof of Islam as anything but a religion or peace. Below is a quote from their “about page”.

On the other hand, however, Islam is clearly not a religion of peace. The ridiculous level of violence committed in the name of this religion is staggering, despite the many billions of dollars that are spent each year to prevent attacks.

Nor should Westerners continue to think that the solution to the violence is greater understanding and tolerance for Islam, as Muslim apologists often imply when commenting on high-profile terror attacks. It is the killers and their supporters who need to learn understanding and tolerance, not their victims.

Islam will be a peaceful religion when Muslims stop preaching hate, stop killing in the name of Allah, and stop remaining apathetic to the violence. Until this happens, we will faithfully document each of the reasons why this is anything but a “Religion of Peace.”

I completely agree with the pronouncement of halting the preaching of hate and killing in the name of Allah. However, the understanding that is being presented by this website (and many who would agree with its stance) is limited in its knowledge of the political history of the areas. Islamic leaders have preached against democracy and subjugated their people using religion to keep themselves in power. This is not religion, it is politics. The reason I quoted the above passage from the site is that it is a significant condemnation that has been used against religion in general, not just Islam. I am sure that you could find many other websites dedicated to the destructiveness of Christianity in the Roman, Medieval, Enlightenment, Modern, and contemporary eras.

The level of violence committed by “this” religion is staggering.

Greater understanding and tolerance of the *victims* is not a solution to the violence.

The violence will only stop when adherents stop preaching hate.

All of these claims can easily be leveled against Christianity as a religion if that is how you want to understand it. But one must ask whether you believe that the “leaders” of these religions, or even the practitioners, are acting out of obedience to their religion or using their religion as an excuse to settle a political score. Yes, some extremist Muslims did fly planes into the World Trade Center five years ago, killing three thousand people. Yes, they probably did use “Islam” as justification for their martydom. But was it Islam, or was it vengeance on the western culture that has used Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Egypt, not to mention the entire African continent for imperialist reasons for the past three hundred years, completely raping the land and the people for the benefits of western luxuries. Is it as simple as pointing a finger at al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas for spreading violence in the Middle East? Is it as simple as denying Islam as a “religion of peace”? Most Christians would like to think, and probably rightly so, that Christianity is a religion of peace, yet history and contemporary politics would not agree.

It is not solely on the onus of the “preachers of hate” in the Muslim world, be it in London or Kabul, to cease the ongoing global violence. The onus is on every single individual to understand the truth behind the religions before they judge what is peaceful and what is not. The organizers of TheReligionofPeace.com website have obviously only read the propaganda of the extremists rather than actually reading the Koran and true Muslim apologists and theologians. Peace, as George Bush II has pointed out, is a relative term.

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Comments»

1. Hutch - September 10, 2006

A balanced post, brad. Well written as well. I would respond that it’s a combination of Islam and politics. Islam on the one hand is inherently contradictory. The Koran in one Sura commands Muslims to protect Jews and Christian because they are both “people of the book” that have possession of holy writings inspired by God. Later, after Muhammad encountered resistance to the spread of his new faith, we start to see Suras in the Koran that command that conversion to Islam in Muslim-dominated ares be enfored at the edge of a sword.

And as long as there are sociopaths in any political office, religion will be misused and abused by them, because it’s an effective sheild to say, “If you question me, you’re questioning GOD ALMIGHTY!!!” Nevertheless, as you so aptly pointed out, G.W Bush is not more representative of the totality of the Gospel of Christ than Timothy McVeigh or Jerry Falwell. Let’s not let extremist on both sides of the equation hijack the conversation about the possibilities for peace in a political sense.

Loved this post!

Hutch

2. khalidmir - September 11, 2006

Hutch, some good points but I would to say that something is “inherently” contradictory is a bit strong. From a religious perspective apparent contradictoriness is , of course, quite admissible -and not too surprising given the different dimensions of a text and its meanings. I think Brad is quite right to point out the role of contextual understanding or as Fazul-ur -Rahman once said: the intersection of Revelation with History is the ‘cross’ a muslim carries.

As for the protection of Jews and Christians I think Goldziher’s Islamic theology is quite interesting in this regard pp30-34. It goes without saying that the actual practice of muslims over the course of time has been a rather chequred one (to put it politely) but this is as true for any other faith .

I don’t want to eneter a polemical discussion since I have neither the interest nor the qualifications , but I don’t think the idea of ‘edge of a sword’ is accurate and sounds like much of the orientalist rhetoric that one has grown accustomed to (see R.W.Southern’s Western Views of Islam). But yes, you may be right in stressing the difference in the Medina and Mecca verses (a point made by the Sudanese scholar, Muhammad Taha).

3. Hutch - September 11, 2006

I appreciate the feed back, khalidmir! I find it very interesting that Islam exists solely thanks to a Greek Orthodox monastery located in Saudi Arabia. When Muhammed was fleeing from Medina, the monks there gave him refuge. To this day that monastery is an island in the country, and one that no Muslim fundamentalist dare lay a hand on!

I have a tendency to respond rather quickly to questions of Islam, seeing as how I was once a Muslim myself. So if I come off a bit strong, you must forgive me. The questions of Islam and Christianity are something I’m quite passionate about, if that helps explain things any.

Thanks again!

Hutch

4. brad richert - September 11, 2006

Excellent feedback from the both of you. I think Hutch hit a critical point about our own experiences of any religion. Our experiences do not only dictate our thoughts, but also dictates the tone and rhetoric that we use. This is why religion is such a tricky (yet interesting) topic to discuss. My own experiences are limited to the hostility towards Muslims and Sikhs in the Christian ‘world’ which I grew up. This ’causes’ me to see the intolerant nature of Christianity before investigating that of the other religions I was not as exposed to.

5. khalidmir - September 11, 2006

Perhaps you are right Brad, experience does dictate thought to an extent (but everyhting is in that ‘to an’)…the sufis would say that the water takes on the shape of the container and so it is ‘determined’ in certain dimensions but i like to think that thought remains essentially open (Levinas has a brilliant chapter on this in his ‘Jewish Revelation’ but Eco’s open work is also fascinating in this regard [I’ve got some excerps on my blog….now how’s about that for self-advertising!:) ]

Hutch, you make a wonderful point about the fragility of religion. Of course, from a certain perspective that fragility or ‘chance’ that you talk about is anything but that! But irrespective of the ‘factual’ truth of what you narrate (and I have no reason to doubt you) I very much like the idea; reminds me of the Prophetic saying : Islam started as a stranger/exile and will end up that way.

Greek Orthodox? Please do elaborate. Were these the ‘Byzantines’ , the Najran Christians? I was unaware that there were Greek Orthodox. I hope it does survive because those crazies are demolishing much else. There is a delightful story of the Prophet (s.a.w.) protecting an icon of Mary in the Ka’bah.

6. brad richert - September 11, 2006

Dictate, I suppose, has certain connotations of determinism. I, however, mean it in a vaguely denotative sense of prescription or imposition. In reading my previous response I think that the problem is not so much in the use of “dictate” as much as in the use of “experience”. Although at the moment I think I am floundering with the correct wording, I think that the basic idea of developing a worldview from our interaction with different philosophies, ideologies, and religions was understood.

7. khalidmir - September 11, 2006

Quite true. I haven’t studied philosophy but it does seem to me that the problem -if it is a problem-is where does experience end and where does thought start? We seem to be caught between ‘viewing’ things sub specie aeternitatis (a thinking self independent of the world and language) and a purely historical self. As Coleridge would say: we want to see the stars AND feel them…

Inter-action is a good word. I see fundamentalism as precisely in terms of that lack of contact with the world, a radically ‘private’ or virtual religion, if one can put it so clumsily. Which is why they can never have a world-view, strictly speaking. I think in this day and age we must be on our guard against an unidelaistic ‘realism’ AND an unrelaistic ‘idealism’.

Now Brad, are you going to answer my question ? 🙂


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