Is Islam a Religion ?

As usual, Richard Fernandez gets to the heart of the matter with the least number of detours.

The important thing to remember about rebellions, even small ones, is that everyone who thinks they can control the forces unleashed — can’t. That goes for Obama and that goes for Trump. A friend who was a veteran of the Anbar Surge wrote that democracy was scary and to calm himself down he repeated to himself Winston Churchill’s soothing words: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

Yes, I think we are on the threshold of a revolution. Whether it is a Revolution, with a capital R, is yet to be seen.

Fernandez begins with the incident of Gessler’s Hat.

in 1307 Gessler raised a pole in the market square of Altdorf, placed his hat atop it, and ordered all the townsfolk to bow before it. Tell, whose marksmanship and pride were legendary, publicly refused. Gessler’s cruel wrath was tempered by his curiosity to test Tell’s skill, so he gave Tell the option of either being executed or shooting an apple off his son’s head in one try. Tell succeeded in splitting the apple with his arrow, saving his own life. When Gessler asked why he had readied two arrows, he lied and replied that it was out of habit. After being assured that he wouldn’t be killed, Tell finally admitted that the second was intended for the tyrant if his son was harmed.

Yes, it is best not to put all your cards on the table until they are needed.

Gessler, enraged, had Tell arrested and taken by boat across Lake Lucerne to Küssnacht to spend the life he had saved in a dungeon. A sudden fierce storm made the crew terrified, and since William Tell was a better sailor, they handed the wheel to him. But instead of heading towards the dungeon, he escaped to shore. There he ambushed and killed Gessler with an arrow, launching the young Confederacy’s rebellion against Austrian rule.

The result was freedom that still endures. What does this tell us ? Not much but Andrew McCarthy has some ideas.

Donald Trump’s rhetorical excesses aside, he has a way of pushing us into important debates, particularly on immigration. He has done it again with his bracing proposal to force “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” I have no idea what Mr. Trump knows about either immigration law or Islam. But it should be obvious to any objective person that Muslim immigration to the West is a vexing challenge. Some Muslims come to the United States to practice their religion peacefully, and assimilate into the Western tradition of tolerance of other people’s liberties, including religious liberty — a tradition alien to the theocratic societies in which they grew up. Others come here to champion sharia, Islam’s authoritarian societal framework and legal code, resisting assimilation into our pluralistic society.

Now what ?

As understood by the mainstream of Muslim-majority countries that are the source of immigration to America and the West, Islam is a comprehensive ideological system that governs all human affairs, from political, economic, and military matters to interpersonal relations and even hygiene. It is beyond dispute that Islam has religious tenets — the oneness of Allah, the belief that Mohammed is the final prophet, the obligation of ritual prayer. Yet these make up only a fraction of what is overwhelmingly a political ideology. Our constitutional principle of religious liberty is derived from the Western concept that the spiritual realm should be separate from civic and political life. The concept flows from the New Testament injunction to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Crucially, the interpretation of Islam that is mainstream in most Muslim-majority countries does not accept a division between mosque and state. In fact, to invoke “mosque” as the equivalent of “church” in referring to a division between spiritual and political life is itself a misleading projection of Western principles onto Islamic society. A mosque is not merely a house of worship. It does not separate politics from religion any more than Islam as a whole does.

McCarthy knows something about mosques as he prosecuted the 1993 WTC bombing conspirators.

he is most notable for leading the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others. The defendants were convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and planning a series of attacks against New York City landmarks.[4] He also contributed to the prosecutions of terrorists who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He resigned from the Justice Department in 2003.

He has also written extensively about Islam.

In our non-Muslim country, there is no point in debating what the “true” Islam says or whether Muslims are at liberty to ignore or reform classical sharia. There may not be a true Islam. Even if there is one, what non-Muslims think or say about it is of little interest to Muslims. Our job, in any event, is to preserve the Constitution and protect our national security regardless of how Islam’s internal debates are ultimately resolved — if they ever are.

Fernandez thinks this is not enough.

We are probably not there yet, but a few more tight turns, a bit more G, a little more inattention from the incompetent pilot and we may be ready to depart. For the moment there’s still airflow, there is yet some lift from the wings. But we have been warned. We either make our choices in good time or find that we have none left.

This is a good time to think about just what Islam is. This City Journal discussion is a good start.

I have ordered a couple of Ibn Warraq’s books and plan to read them.

Understanding Islam is made all the more difficult because Islam does not distinguish between a ritual law in the Western sense, ethics, and good manners. I hope that we will distinguish a bit of that now. But, painting in broad strokes, it’s fair to say that tension between the Arab Islamic world and the liberal versions of modernity is one of the central issues, if not the central issue, of our era.

It’s not that the Middle East has been hostile to all versions of modernity; at different times, Fascism and Communism have taken hold among Arab and Islamic intellectuals and political leaders. In the case of Iran, it was Khomeinists and Communists who came together to overthrow the Shah in 1979.

That’s not an encouraging example of “modernity” in the Middle East. I studied Muslim history a bit when I wrote my history of medicine twelve years ago. There were some interesting developments in Islamic countries but not nearly as many as some writers allege. Science was quite limited and came to an early end after the Mongol invasion in 1255.

The Great Khan, Mongke, put his brother Hulagu Khan in charge of an army whose goals were to conquer Persia, Syria, and Egypt, as well as to destroy the Abbasid Caliphate. The campaign’s goal appears to be a complete destruction of Islam. Hulagu himself even had a very deep hatred for everything attached to Islam. Much of this came from his Buddhist and Christian advisors who influenced his policies.

The Muslim world at this time was in no position to resist the Mongol attacks. The Abbasid Caliphate was nothing but a shell of its former self, having no power outside of Baghdad. Most of Persia was disunited as the Khwarazmian Empire had mostly deteriorated by then. The Ayyubid state established by Salah al-Din was only in control of small parts of Iraq and Syria. In Egypt, a recent revolution had overthrown Salah al-Din’s descendants and brought to power the new Mamluk Sultanate. With his giant army of hundreds of thousands, Hulagu did not encounter much resistance.

Baghdad was destroyed and the Caliphate of the Abbasids came to an end. Osama bin Laden accused the US of being like the Mongols.

Ibn Warraq has strong opinions on Islam that I plan to explore by reading his books.

The other strand running through my book is Koranic principles. I thought that the Koran has not been subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the Bible has been subjected to since at least the seventeenth century with Spinoza. In subsequent books I wrote on the Koran—in The Quest for the Historical Muhammad and What the Koran Really Says. These are essentially anthologies of articles critical of various aspects, but on a more technical level, various aspects of the language of the Koran, the origins of Islam, the traditional story of the origins of the Koran, and so on. They were very critical, and I thought that it was time that we started applying the same sort of criticism of the Koran that had been applied to the Old and the New Testaments.

The West seems to be in a defensive crouch since 9/11 and this, it seems to me, invites more aggression by the Muslims who do not want to live by Western principles. Certainly, it should be made clear that Sharia Law has no place in a Western country. Britain seems to be losing that battle and we do not need to join them.

15 thoughts on “Is Islam a Religion ?”

  1. A hint:

    There is no “good Islam” or “bad Islam”–just as there are no “radicalized” Muslims versus “peaceful” Muslims.

    There is only Islam, and Muslims. What they do or will do at any given point in time may vary–but the goal is TOTAL dominance of the world and the ultimate elimination of ALL opposition.
    This gets VERY sticky where Islam dominates, as the infinite variations of Islam causes each and every sect to go after the others.
    Once the Europe mess falls, You’ll REALLY see some fighting. The spectacle should be great for popcorn and beer if we can keep them out of this here continent.

  2. Obviously Islam is a religion. It is a religion that has been in conflict with the West for 1400 years. Until recently in history the West had a strong numerical superiority and Islam had little chance of overrunning the West. But now the demographics are favorable for Islam and the survival of the West is now in doubt. The leaders of the West seem to have no interest in its survival and Western people seem to lack the will to resist. The West appears doomed.

  3. “Obviously Islam is a religion.” On those terms, communism was a religion. Not as long a history, of course, but a total system of living which the most prominent advocates ignored. The Saudi princes all have French Riviera bolt holes in case things get too hot.

    Saudi King Salman and a 1,000-member entourage were due to arrive on Saturday for holiday on the French Riviera, where over 100,000 residents have petitioned against closing the public beach outside his villa.

    The king and his inner circle’s three-week visit at the family’s seafront villa in Vallauris, where U.S. actress Rita Hayworth celebrated her wedding to Prince Aly Khan of Pakistan in 1949, will be a boon for the local economy.

    But the prospect of closing the public beach for privacy and security reasons has stirred up a local storm. A petition against the “privatization” of the Mirandole beach below the Saudi villa gathered more than 100,000 signatures in a week.

    Does anyone think this will matter ?

  4. Michael: I think the issue here is the word religion. In the United States in the 21st Century religion appears to mean beliefs about the divine. I think this definition reflects the narrowness of the place to which the American coastal elite has confined religion in their own lives. However, the courts, run by those same elites, have used that definition in their campaign to drive God from the public square.

    OTOH, historians and social scientists know that religion can be a much broader phenomenon than Americans now think it is.

    But, how broad religion is depends vitally on the historic circumstance of the societies where it is manifest.

    Islam was created as the belief system of the Arab tribes that conquered the Maghreb, Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Persia in the 6th and 7th Century. It codified their way of life as divinely commanded. Byzantine Christianity, which had ruled the western area of their conquest was theo-political, and so was Islam. They also took a great deal of intellectual structure from Jewish Halakhah, which can be seen as a total way of life, even though it originated in communities that were never self-governing, and where Jews were always a tiny minority.

    Nor, did Islam have any challenge to its supremacy in its own lands, until the 19th century.

    Western Christianity could never be as total as Islam was because Europe was a theater of conflict between Germanic secular rulers and the Roman Church. The sides used each other in multilateral combat for centuries, until the protestant reformation created national churches the rulers could control.

    Calvinism, which was not a national church at its origin, sought to be a total way of life. Calvin’s Geneva was a totalitarian polity where heretics were burned. Calvinist New England tried to imitate Geneva. The Puritans lost their faith pretty quickly — by the 19th century they were Unitarians, and by the 20th Marxists. But, they have retained the totalitarian urges and punitive tendencies of their ancestors.

    It is also instructive to look at East Asia. There Confucianism wrapped up politics, morality, and everyday life, but incorporated only fragments of traditional religious practice. There, Buddhism and Taoism were allowed to take up intimate and spiritual parts of life, but were excluded from politics and public life.

  5. To Mike K. – Well communism has often been likened to a religion and certainly communism is extremely similar to a religion. I’m quite comfortable with describing communism as a religion. It’s true that communism tried to present a rather thin scientific veneer but I don’t think that communism is any more “scientific” than Scientology. Islam, Marxism, Scientology are all religions.

  6. Richard, I think a better case can be made that Islam is a Jewish heresy. There were Jewish tribes in Arabia before Muhammed and some behaved quite a bit like Arab tribes.

    One reason assumed to be true for the hatred of Jews in Islam, and it goes right back to the beginning, is the refusal of Jews to adopt Muhammed’s “New Religion” which he asserted was an “improvement.” The Christians encountered similar resistance by Jews and this stimulated the thread of anti-Semitism in Christian Europe that persisted until recently.

    I am no Religion scholar but it is my belief that both Christianity and Islam permitted the Jews to maintain their stubborn adherence to their own faith in return for certain role-playing in the society of the time. Money lending and certain other functions were largely restricted to the Jews in Christian Europe. Winston Churchill even attributes the expulsion of Jews from England at one point to attempts to collect on bad debts owed by nobility by taking possession of land. The Muslims used Jews and “converted” Christians, mostly Greek, to run their Empire as Islam is not a very good system to organize society. It is useful for war but not peace.

    I am unable to find a successful Muslim country in economic terms. The Arabs happened to sit on a lake of oil which was found, produced and used by non-Muslims.

  7. Michael K:

    You can’t be a heretic of a religion you never belonged to. The Arab tribes were pagans according their own history, and I see no reason to disbelieve them on this matter. So they could not have been heretics of Judaism nor of Christianity.

    Islam is a historically familiar type — syncretism. There have been numerous examples of this type such as Baha’i, Sikhism, and Manicheism.

    Mohamed seems to have been a a charismatic war leader, who united quarrelsome tribes, and set them off on a historic, but not unparalleled, course of war and conquest of more civilized peoples. Attila the Hun and Gengis Khan were quite similar.

    Whether Mohamed was a prophet or used by subsequent leaders as a religious symbol is neither clear nor very important. They created a religion that syncretised Judaism and Christianity. However, it was neither.

    I think the most important thing about Islam is that it was created to regulate the lives of an armed camp.

    Vis-a-vis Judaism, Islam adopts strict monotheism, but it rejects the Torah, and the history of the Jewish people. E.g. Ishmael was the son taken by Abraham to be sacrificed.

    I noted the formal similarity of Islamic shariah and Jewish halakhah, and it seems quite likely that Jewish sources were consulted by the authors of the first drafts of shariah. But, there is no evidence of derivation from halakhah, nor of a wholesale importation.

    Similarly, Islam takes features from Christianity, but a lot less than the whole, and it rejects the divinity of Jesus.

    Further, Islam keeps several elements of traditional Arab cultic practice, such as the Kabbah.

  8. I think “Is Islam a religion” asks the wrong question. The very wise, on the radio Priest, Father Know it All, tells us that the word ‘God’ comes from, if I recall correctly, an Indo-European word meaning ‘the one,who hears prayers’. With stern surety he said that the ‘god’ to which the Muslims ‘pray’, (scare quotes mine), is not the one who hears prayers. I would also suggest the question, do the Mohammedans have the correct concept of God? “God is not pleased by blood”, said Benedict XVI. The God of Christianity is triune, three natures, one being, and is The Logos. Allah is defined as pure will, constant First Cause constantly. Chew on that for a bit. Is Al-ah right now guiding, forcing my keystrokes? Further insights from Robert Reilly’s book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, wherein reasoning,inquiry and cause and effect were ‘cast out’ of Islam in the 11th century.
    Regarding the ‘communism could be a religion’…everyone needs God in their lives. If one denies the Real God, something will replace it.
    Solzhenitsyn: ” More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

    Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

    What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

    The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it. It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever. The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity.”

  9. I won’t argue about whether Islam is a Jewish “heresy” or an example of “syncretism.” The point is that Mohammed took much of the Jewish religion, which was common all around him in Arabia, and created a new religion that he thought was an improvement. The Jews of Arabia rejected him and his new religion, incurring his wrath. I don’t know that he had much exposure at that point to Christians.

    People attempting to study the origins of Islam have found the practice injurious their health with the result that scholarship is quite thin on the ground. I have read a couple of books and plan to read those by Ibn Warraq in the next month or two.

  10. The question that must be answered is “What is God’s plan for the people who live in the United States?” Only Religions can tell us what God’s plan is.

    The Constitution is actually a religious document. It separates church and state. It says that the people elect the President. The people elect representatives who create brand new laws. This is a heresy because Islam says only God makes laws. The constitution says marriage is 1 man 1 woman. It says women are equal to men. Islam disagrees.

    Historically in the 1500’s in Europe Kings were chosen by God and they ruled by the Grace of God. Religion ruled the government and the government ruled the people. Naturally the King either was the head of the religion or the head of the religion (not the people) chose and crowned the king. Religion ruled the government and no law was allowed that conflicted with God’s law. Kings did not make laws, they found them in holy books or in dreams sent by God. The Founders stopped this. Religion is separate from ruling the USA.

    Many Muslem countries, like Saudi Arabia, are ruled by kings who also rule the religion.

    If we allow 2,000,000 moslems into the country, 1,900,000 will be young men ready to breed and produce children. Sharia Law is God’s law, and outranks every American law and the US Constitution. In 40 years there will 500 miilion new Muslim voters born in the USA to take over peacefully (assuming 9 US ‘wives’ per Muslem).

    Of course the 2 million muslems might decide to form an army and simply conquer in God’s name the day the set foot on American soil.

    Why will they do this? Deus lo volt! God wills it!

    So it is a good idea to deny immigration to all Muslems until we figure out how much we want to have someone like the King of Saudi Arabia (who is descended from the prophet) as our ruler.

    Hillary says he is a nice guy.

    OTOH, the constitution is not a suicide pact.

  11. I am unable to find a successful Muslim country in economic terms. The Arabs happened to sit on a lake of oil which was found, produced and used by non-Muslims.

    That quite right, its a puzzle, are they created?

    However for the last 1000 year Baghdad/ Iraq invaded/ destroyed 10 times, so do you think if you place have had similar case will be developed?

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