I’m going to start this article with what I originally wrote as its conclusion, which is also a prediction. This article is going to get three different responses. Non-Islamic people on the left, as well as Islamic fundamentalists, will condemn it. This article will get a mixed review from the political right – some of whom will think I’m naively friendly toward Islam. Those responses won’t surprise anyone, but the third response will: most American Muslims are going to agree with this article.
Update: This article is taking on more importance now that the President of France is openly discussing the possibility of a ‘two state solution,’ for France – many in France believe that carving France in two may be the only way to avoid a full-blown civil war, as Islam tries to turn France into an Islamic state.
I hate Islam. Let me be upfront about that. I find some of the basic tenets of Islam deplorable, and particularly the parts about killing moderate Muslims, or about the forced conversion and/or killing of non-Muslims. I hate many of the tenets of Sharia Law, and I hate the way the Koran calls Jihad the quest to bring all of human-kind under Sharia Law. Muhammed called his followers to spread Islam ‘by the sword,’ and my belief is that we should meet those followers who pick up this mission, with guns.
That said, I do not hate Muslims. More to the point, I think it is a wonderful thing that the United States gives safe haven to the many millions of Muslims who have fled Sharia Law, in order to live in safety and comfort, in the United States.
Here is the thing. There are two viable ways to judge a religion, and this is true of any religion. One way is to look at the teachings of that religion, gauging the religion based on what those teachings say. Within that, you might look at whether or not you believe the teachings to be true, or, perhaps more importantly, you might look at how tolerant those teachings are toward those who do not agree with those teachings.
Perhaps a better way to judge a religion is by the way adherents actually practice it. In terms of Christianity, most of us fall far short of Christ’s teachings, making Christianity, as practiced, worse than Christ intended for it to be. Islam, on the other hand, is generally practiced in a way much better than Muhammed prescribed, with most Islamic people viewing Sharia as a personal code of conduct, and Jihad as a personal struggle to live by Sharia. To the degree that this is the view of Muslims, Islam is no worse, in a secular society, than is Christianity.
But that is only half the story. We also have to consider what becoming more fundemantalist does to an adherent.
To the degree that someone wants to follow Christianity more closely to its actual teachings – to the degree that someone wants to be more ‘Christ-like’, as we Christians put it, that person becomes more loving and generous toward other people.
The more closely someone tries to be ‘Muhammed-like’, following the teachings of Muhammed in a truly fundamentalist light, the more violent they are apt to become, both toward other Muslims (those who do not practice ‘correctly’), and non-Muslims alike.
Many of the teachings of Islam really are abhorrent, as are many of the stories in the Old Testament, and many of the laws in Deuteronomy. It is, however, important to realize that these religious texts are very old. The Koran is about 1,400 years old, and Deuteronomy was written about 3,500 years ago. As a student of history, I am open to the possibility that laws that sound absolutely abhorrent today might have made more sense several thousand years ago. Just as one example, Deuteronomy says that if a man rapes a woman, he must then marry her. That sounds abhorrent, but note that an Israelite man, 3,500 years ago, could have as many wives, and as many households, as he could afford. Forcing a rapist to marry his victim did not mean he was allowed to live with her, but it did mean he was forced to provide for her material needs, for the rest of her life. Such a penalty makes far more sense than what the wording of Deuteronomy initially sounds like, when read under today’s cultural norms.
I am also open to the possibility that much of Sharia Law may have made far more sense, when it was written, than it does today, and just as nobody practices those parts of Deuteronomy that no longer make sense, to the degree that nobody practices those parts of the Koran that no longer make sense, once again, Islam is no better, and no worse, in a secular society, than is Christianity.
But then there are those who want every law in the Koran to be practiced, verbatim, today, including those that say to kill any Muslim that does not practice Islam ‘correctly’, as well as any non-Muslim who does not convert (Christians being given some rights to live as second-class citizens).
There are also a number of Christians who want every law of Deuteronomy practiced, verbatim, today, including those that prescribe things like taking a wife who commits adultery, out beyond the city gates, and stoning her to death.
The difference is that Christ did not teach to take a woman who commits adultery, out beyond the city gates, and then to stone her to death. Christ, rather, said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ The abhorrent teachings of Islam were not thousands of years old when Muhammed lived – the Islamic commands that tell people to do horrendous things came directly from Muhammed’s mouth.
Imagine how different Christianity would be, had Christ taught to kill all non-Christians. There are some Christians who might want to do that, even though Christ taught the opposite. Imagine Christianity in which Christ was a warlord.
Muhammed was a warlord.
We use the word, ‘Islamaphobic’ today to refer to anyone who says anything negative about Islam. That’s a critical mistake, but at the same time, there is a valid use for the word ‘Islamaphobic.’ To me, someone is Islamaphobic when they take hatred for some of the tenets of Islam, and apply that hatred toward those Muslims who do not believe in those tenets of Islam. A large majority of American Muslims want nothing to do with Sharia Law, except as a personal code of conduct. I have no issue with people following Sharia, as long as they do not try to enforce Sharia upon other people.
I know a lot of people who are against Christianity. I can’t go a day without seeing a meme mocking Christianity on Facebook, or seeing someone say something mocking ‘the sky god,’ and yet nobody calls those who mock Christianity, ‘Christianaphobic.’ Society seems to have learned to separate criticism of Christian teachings, from criticism of those who practice Christianity. Islam, being a religion, should be open to the same kinds of criticism, and I truly do hate some of the things the Koran teaches. But then, many Muslims hate the same Islamic teachings I hate, and as a rational person, I am happy to call all Muslims who want to live side by side with other religions, in peace, friends – and particularly when the fundamentalist Muslims want to kill the moderate Muslims even more than they want to kill everyone else.
I reject the notion that I cannot criticize Islam, and I also reject those who criticize everyone who practices Islam. Criticizing the more violent tenets of Islam is, in fact, the best way to help protect the large majority of Islamic people who do not want to live under forced Sharia law, from those who want Sharia enforced over all mankind.
Criticism of a belief structure is fair game. Criticism of a group of people, who may or may not all share a belief structure, is not. It is about time we start to get this distinction right, and it is about time we do that on both sides of the political spectrum.