Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Islam is a Peaceful Religion" 2

Any time now, attention will be paid to groups like the Fiqh Council of North America and the Islamic Society of Central Florida. Anniversaries of the 9/11 attack of 2001 and the July 7, 2005 bus and subway bombings in London are coming up, giving news media an opportunity to do 'this month in history' pieces.

I was particularly impressed with the Fiqh Council of North America a couple years ago, when they made a quite definite statement about the place of mass murder in Islam.

The short version is 'terrorism isn't right.' The long version is still available online (NPR's All Things Considered, July 28, 2005) with a sort of digest in an MSN/NBC article of the same date.

I'm still impressed by this excerpt of the fatwa, taken from the NPR page:
"Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians' life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram – or forbidden - and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not 'martyrs.'

"The Qur'an, Islam's revealed text, states: 'Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.' (Qur'an, 5:32)"
(NPR's All Things Considered, July 28, 2005)
That's about as definite a statement as I could hope for. The statement about "religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives" needs a precise definition of "extremism" and "innocent" to make me completely convinced: but that's nitpicking.

Even more impressive, this was a fatwa, or "scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law" - which is about as authoritative as it gets in Islam. With no hierarchical authority, Islam leaves a lot of elbow-room for alternative interpretations.

Now, that keeps things interesting.

The Fiqh Council of North America has an article "In Regards to the 9/11 Tragedy" on their website. It's undated, but that page has a 2006 copyright statement. The article makes the same basic points as the 2005 fatwa, as this excerpt shows:
"The Fiqh [juristic] Council of North America reiterates its earlier, repeated, unequivocal and unqualified condemnation of the destruction and violence committed against innocent men and women on September 11, 2001. This condemnation is deeply rooted in true Islamic values based on the Qur'anic instructions which consider the unjust killing of a single person equivalent to the killing of all humanity (Quran, 5:32).

"It also condemns any subsequent acts of violence and victimization of Muslims or others."
(The article's full title is "Statement of the Fiqh Council of North America on the Day of Remembrance of the Tragic Events of September 11, 2001.")
More good news surfaced about a year ago in Florida. U.S. Muslims Warn of Threat From Within headed an article of August 31, 2006. Imam Muhammad Musri, head of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, was quoted as saying "'Here in Central Florida, talking to most people, they are literally upset by the actions of Muslims _ or so-called Muslims _ overseas in Europe and the Middle East, because they say, "We wish they would come and see how we're doing here,"' Musri said. 'We know who the real enemy is _ someone who might come from the outside and try to infiltrate us. Everybody is on the lookout.'"

What's the point of bringing up all this old news?

First, not all who follow Islam are itching to kill people they don't agree with. Saying "Islam is a peaceful religion" isn't the lunatic statement that events in the Middle East and elsewhere might suggest.

Second, there are, here and there, Muslims who are willing to say, publicly, that the people who say that they're killing for Allah aren't being good Muslims. Considering how easy it to lose your head over such statements, that takes nerve.

Maybe Islam really is a peaceful religion.

Posts on this topic:

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.


Ottavio (Otto) Marasco said...

Unfortunately, there will always be radicals who harbour the notion that Islamism despises democracy because freedom is the single greatest threat to their extreme view of the tenets of their religion and political system.

One way to control these radical Islamists is to establish and promote freedom and democracy in the Middle East and, at a local level to westernise followers by promoting a more liberal discourse amongst its followers, one that empties Islam of its fundamentals in order to conform to western values and concepts - what is called "liberal Islam" or "civil Islam.

Islam is historically overdue for a reformation from medievalism to modernism. Radical Islamists have taken it in the opposite direction; one that endangers Western democracies.

Opportunely, there are many quarters of Islam that go to some length to say that extremism and militancy is against the spirit of Islam as “our faith propagates peace, harmony and tolerance”. The debates within the religion are about to start in earnest.

Brian H. Gill said...

Thanks for the comment: and the insight.

I agree that this is going to be a very interesting time for those who follow Islam. My sincere hope is that the debates are conducted primarily with words, not suicide vests.

It looks like there are a number of people in this country, and in the United Kingdom, who are Muslim, and have started taking a hard look at what some of their more-or-less fellow-believers are doing.

Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks for the heads-up.

I believe I put "Muslims Against Sharia" on the blogroll in September, 2007. (""Muslims Against Sharia" Put Money Where Their Mouth Is" (September 24, 2007) )

They're taking a bold step, and one that I believe deserves more attention than it's getting.

Probably just as well, for their sakes, though.

Unknown said...

I did a paper on Islamic feminism for my Iraqi Israeli Mizrahim Jewish professor. Her family's "Zion" was Baghdad, not the city of Tel Aviv where they now reside.

She introduced me to the writings of feminist Muslim women in the Arab world.

As a Muslim, I find that the tolerance which once characterized earlier Islamic periods of history seems to be threatened today by fear mostly.

Many Muslims are insecure in their state of being, Muslims for the most part are poor and impoverished. Governments that supposedly rule according to Shari'a are not really true to the original intent of religious law in Islam.

Islam is distorted and misunderstood not only be Westerners but Muslims themselves. Islamic jurisprudence, the basis of shari'a was not to be oppressive. In fact, in my study of Egyptian Muslim feminism, I discovered that family law courts in the 18th century during the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt, granted women more rights than we see in Egypt today!

But the thing that fascinates me about "radical Muslims" is that not all of them are uneducated. Many are quite educated, having been schooled in the West and they come from well-to-do backgrounds. So why do these men, most of them are men, become radicalized?

Muhammad Atta, the mastermind of 9/11, came from a moderate and secular Egyptian family, who were more nominal in being Muslim than practicing.

Unknown said...

American Interests and Uspace,

Islam like Judaism and Christianity has scriptures which contain violence. However, when reading the Qur'an, one must not forget the historical context of the revelations revealed and recorded in what became the canonical Qur'an.

The social customs of the Quraysh in the Hijaz of the Arabian peninsula during the time of Muhammad may or may not be appropriate today.

The earlier revelations of Muhammad were largely peaceful and this is what we would deem the Medinan period of his life. However, some of the later revelations are violent, however, during this time of his ministry, he was waging an armed struggle against the Arab pagan clans of Mecca who opposed his religious movement and saw it as a threat to their way of life.

Islam created a civilization that was a hybrid between East and West. The Italian Renaissance would not have been possible if early Muslim scholars had not preserved in Arabic the classical canon of Western literature from Greco-Roman antiquity.

The earliest mosques, examples of an emerging Islamic architecture, are indebted to the Roman basilica, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Grand Mosque of Damascus.

Even the modern hijab (veil) has roots in Syrian Christian communities that existed during the time of the Arab conquest of Byzantine and Sassanian Empires during the early Muslim period.

Muslims introduced Arabic numerals to the West, which actually were Indian in origin. Chess was a game of Asian origin from the Indian subcontinent brought to the West.

Islam has a civil character. However, colonialism has had its impact on the Muslim world. The Muslim world has never recovered fully, but change is underway.

Islam was a bridge that combined the best of the West and the East. Modern hospitals are indebted to Muslim hospitals during the times of the Crusades, in fact, European monarchs would go to Muslim lands for medical treatment.

The modern scientific method was utilized by Muslim scholars in the Middle Ages.

So Islam has shared its "civil Islamic" character with the West.

However, now, Islam is in a "crisis" one that claims more Muslim lives than those of the supposed "infidels."

Brian H. Gill said...


Re. your comment of April 8, 2008, 11:11 PM:

I greatly appreciate your look at Islamic history and culture. Sadly, I don't think that there's much doubt that the Arab/Islamic culture of the Middle East has seen better days.

I hope you come back to this blog from time to time. I've been hoping to attract the attention of (hope this isn't offensive) open-minded Muslims: to keep me honest, if nothing else.

Brian H. Gill said...


Re. your comment of April 8, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Thanks for bringing up some of the history of the dominant culture of the Middle East. I think you missed one, by the way: wasn't Baghdad at one time the city with the most pharmacies in the world?

I used the term "dominant culture" up here deliberately. Although the Middle East has been the home of Islam for over a thousand years, I think it is possible to distinguish between Middle Eastern culture and Islam: Just as it is possible to distinguish western European culture and Christianity - even in pre-Enlightenment times.

And I don't think there's a reasonable doubt that Euro-American culture owes a great deal to the Middle East - from Arabic numerals to 'al-chemia.'

Finally: "However, now, Islam is in a "crisis" one that claims more Muslim lives than those of the supposed 'infidels.' " True enough.

Brian H. Gill said...


Re. your comment of April 8, 2008, 11:11 PM:

"But the thing that fascinates me about 'radical Muslims' is that not all of them are uneducated. Many are quite educated, having been schooled in the West and they come from well-to-do backgrounds. So why do these men, most of them are men, become radicalized?"

I think that the dominant western culture is due for a few reality checks. The standard-issue explanation for rebellions has, since the mid-20th century at least, been class struggle. The explanation for crime has been poverty and ignorance.

The class struggle rationale was useful for the 19th and early 20th century conflicts.

Poverty+ignorance=crime never was, in my opinion, a very good fit with reality. Les Miserables notwithstanding.

I've posted before, about western assumptions about class, poverty, and education, and reality:

"Terrorists as an Oppressed Class: That was Then, This is Now" (February 23, 2008)

"Doctors, Terrorists, and the Proletariat: What's a Person to Think?" (July 3, 2007)

"Attack of the Killer Doctors: Not a Joke, Now" (July 4, 2007)

Unknown said...

In America, the politics of race is still to some extent an issue, but even in electoral politics, religion plays an issue, when Mitt Romney ran for President, some people had issue with his Mormonism.

In the Middle East, religion is still a very powerful social factor, one that can limit or open opportunities.

Most people are surprised that Jews and Muslims of Arab ethnicity once lived in peace in many communities for centuries. The assumption that Jews and Muslims have been sworn enemies is false.

Iran is home to a thriving Jewish community still, Iran unlike Arab countries never formally forced Jews to leave Iran. Many did flee like royalists who were dissatisfied with the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy.

With the creation of Israel, Palestinians fled for various reasons and many Arab Jews were forced from their homes from Morocco to Yemen. So the "Naqba" (Catastrophe) that Palestinian nationalists speak of occurred for the Arab Jewish brothers too.

Arab nationalism prior to the creation of the state of Israel was largely shaped by Arab Christians. The founder of the Baath party in Syria was a Christian.

The Palestinian conflict and the continued occupation of Arabs by Israelis has bred a new kind of prejudice that previously did not exist in the Muslim world, namely, anti-Semiticism.

While Christianity has been largely tamed by rising secularism and the rise of the Western nation-state diminishing the power of the Pope and Vatican, Islam which has no agreed upon religious authority or center of power, has witnessed some followers preferring more rigid interpretations.

The weakness of Islam could be its decentralized theological authority. Islam from its earliest periods, was a religion with competing interpretations or fiqh in Arabic.

Having attended UCLA, I was involved in "progressive" student politics which was race cognizant. I use to be more politically "to the Left."

However, being in the military, it forced me to interact with people who have more conservative views. It was a good balance between the ultra-liberal days of college.

When I joined the military, I got some not so supportive comments from people who said "my choice was supporting American empire."

Now, I'm applying for the Border Patrol, I haven't even taken the exam yet for the hiring process, and being part Mexican, some of my college buddies are well shocked. They tell me, "How can you prevent people from trying to seek a better life?" (A reference to economic migrants from Latin America who come here in pursuit of better economic conditions.)

Brian H. Gill said...


Re. your comment of April 9, 2008 7:04 AM:

Thanks for sharing your viewpoint.

I'm going to have to do a little research into your assertions about Christianity and the Middle East.

About Islam: "The weakness of Islam could be its decentralized theological authority."

Protestant Christianity, in my opinion, has a similar situation. There are a number of large denominations, like Lutherans: and there are 'non denominational churches' with a few dozen to a hundred or so members - and everything in between.

And, they have a wide range of beliefs, including some that would be funny: if some people didn't actually think that, for example, long-stemmed glassware was evil.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.