Backstory: I am not now, nor have I ever been a Muslim, but I have lived and worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
I'm going to try to be super brief. I've just finished reading the remarks of this bonehead in Florida who wants to burn the Koran for a publicity stu. . . . um, I mean to demonstrate his faith. That plus all of the uproar over the "mosque at ground zero" (which isn't a mosque and isn't at ground zero. It's being constructed 1/3 mile up the street) moves me to speak.
"What is Islam?"
Islam is one of the three main monotheistic religions on earth. The word Islam means surrender, as in surrendering one's full being to God.
"But Muslims don't believe in God, they worship Allah, right?"
Allah, or 'al Lah' is the Arabic word for God. They have different words for things like 'house', 'car', 'puppy' and 'soccer' also. That's the way it works with foreign languages. The words are different. Nevertheless, Muslims worship the single God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Jesus.
"Jesus? But they don't have Jesus, they have Muhammad!"
Muslims do not have the same understanding of the relationship between God and man that Christians do. Muslims believe that God has sent prophets to earth throughout history, to various populations at various times, to teach the virtue of surrendering oneself in complete faith, to God. They believe that Jesus was a very high prophet who brought that message to the Jews. Muhammad was also a prophet, but he was different and very unique because he had the word of God spoken directly to him, which he recited and transcribed. That transcription is the Koran. He was also the final prophet on earth. Nevertheless, Muslims do not believe he was God's son, they do not believe he is immortal, they do not believe his blood cleanses sin . . . he is not claimed to be in any way analogous to the Christian understanding of Jesus. Muslims believe that salvation is achieved through God's mercy and that mercy is pursued by living in a state of surrender to God, or a state of Islam.
"What do they have to do to live in a state of Islam? Blow themselves up? Fly planes into buildings?"
Islam has 5 key pillars that make a Muslim a Muslim:
- You must believe that there is no God but God, and that Muhammad was his final prophet.
- You must pray five times a day.
- You must fast from sun-up to sun-down during the holy month of Ramadan.
- If you are physically and financially able, you must make the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Haj) once in your life.
- You must give alms to the poor, the widowed and the orphaned according to your ability.
All of the bad, scary, medieval institutions that we have come to associate with "radical Islam" or "fundamental Islam" are not at all fundamental. Those five things in that list up there are the fundamentals. All the ugly stuff that we equate with Islam are actually political and social constructs.
"But Islam IS abusive toward women, right?"
It is very important to differentiate between "Islam", and those cultures that claim to be "Islamic".
In all honesty, none of the three monotheistic religions can claim to be bastions of gender equality, but Islam certainly gets pegged as the worst one, and that's mostly because of ignorant interpretations of Shariah law by certain "Islamic Republics", and the existence of the hijab (headscarf).
Think about every depiction you've ever seen of the Virgin Mary. Is her head ever bare? Think about the most traditional Christian sects in the western world (the Amish). Do those women (or men for that matter) ever go about with their heads uncovered? Of the three monotheistic religions, Islam is the only one to explicitly grant women the right to initiate a divorce. It's also the only one that specifies that daughters should inherit the wealth of their fathers directly, without having to surrender anything to their husband. The degree of obedience that Islam demands from women is actually obedience to God, not man. That's how they see it. The cultural expression of modesty is important because it is a demonstration of surrender to God.
Christians and Jews have mostly gotten away from the headscarf and the Muslim world hasn't. Aside from that the three religions aren't terribly different in terms of how they deal with women, good or bad. So the gulf that exists between Pamela Anderson and the full burqa has a lot more to do with culture than religion..
"So why do they shout "al Hamdu lillah!" and "Allahu akbar!" and then blow up our troops with a bomb vest?"
Those two phrases mean "Praise be to God" and "God is Great" . . .it's really unfortunate that some Muslims have been duped into thinking they are doing God's will when they do such a thing, but it is NOT FUNDAMENTAL ISLAM (see the 5 pllars above).
If you'll notice that list above, you can see how it differes from Christanity. Christians believe that salvation is about a state of relationship with the savior and the acceptance of His sacrifice as atonement for their sins. Salvation is achieved by something personal and internal, not by deeds or actions. Islam is clearly not this way. Islam involves lots of doing and demonstrating.
Christians are familiar with the term "the body of Christ", as describing all of Christendom. Muslims have a term called "Ummah" which comparably describes the global Muslim community. Doing the right thing for the Ummah and placing the good of the Ummah before oneself is considered the highest and most noble thing a person can do. This is where wackos, fundamentalists and ignorant sons of bitches become a problem . . .
It doesn't matter if you're talkng about Jews, Christians or Muslims, the self-described fundamentalists always think they are under attack, they always think things are worse now than they've ever been, they always think they are victims at the hands of some diabolical plot that is cleverly disguised as "tolerance", and they always think they have carte blanche to do whatever they must to defend God against this barrage of unholiness.
Naturally, throughout the Muslim world, there is an undercurrent of belief that us westerners are out to get them. First we get them drinking Pepsi, they we make them watch "Friends" (hugely popular in Iraq . . .that's no bullshit), then we convince them to ditch the headscarves and before you know it we're teaching their kids to sing "Jesus loves me, this I know". Oh . . .and of course we're invading their countries, occupying their holy land and stealing all of their mineral wealth in the process. So for a religion based on actions and doing things, what do you do?
In the eyes of a weak minded, easily influenced young Muslim, this is all justification to defend the Ummah. If your country has a piss poor military or no military at all and you know your government is complicit and corrupt, the idea of beng a hero starts to sound pretty good.
It is NOT IN ANY WAY SUPPORTED by the FUNDAMNETALS of Islam to blow yourself or anyone else up. It's unfortunate that we live in a world where some self-appointed emissaries of God think that evil can somehow be done in the name of good, but that's evil for ya.
"So how can we invalidate the fundamentalists belief that we are anti-Muslim?"
Wow, that's a really good question! And it's very perceptive of you to realize that diplomacy and good foreign policy (as opposed to outright war) is the key to undoing all of the rationale behind Islamic terrorism. I'm very impressed!
Let me answer that by asking three questions that might give you a clue as to how we might be able to go about that.
- Angry, violent opposition to the construction of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. Help or hurt?
- Flat unwillingness to hold our own people accountable when they commit terrible transgressions against Muslims in their own homeland. Help or hurt?
- Publicized, impassioned incineration of the recited word of God. Help or hurt?
You get the idea . . .
So if you find yourself at Disneyworld and you see a family of Muslims over by the visitors center kneeling in prayer, there's no need to fear. They're not getting ready to blow themselves up. They're probably just getting ready to ride Space Mountain or get a churro, just like you. Before that they need to pray to God . . .
The God of Abraham.
Who had many sons.
And I am one of them.
And so are you.
So just praise the Lord.
Then stand up, turn around, sit down.