This post is being created because my response to a blog post over at philosoraptor exceeds the character limit, so I just linked to it.
I apologize for this post being beneath the standard to which it should adhere. I wanted to write something really good with carefully chosen quotations and lots of citations and links for evidence, but that just kept me from posting, and instead, you got to hear from some very interesting Internet denizens. So, I thought I might throw my two cents in as it is, coming straight from my head.
I continue to believe that the Koran is one of the finest religious works yet offered by humanity. The pain of bearing witness to the depraved lunatics calling themselves Muslims has become so great that I rarely engage these sorts of conversations anymore. I’ve stepped up as a Muslim to defend Islam in contexts where I was shouted down not only by detractors of Islam but also by Muslims. For a religion which famously (and rhetorically) asks whether Abraham and Noah were Israelites or Christians, and answers with the assertion that they were neither, but they believed in God and the Last Day, and therefore they were Muslims, the adherents have become mightily aggressive about ideological partitions.
And were an observer of this behavior to study the Koran, that observer would be astounded. The Koran is by far the most universal text of the Abrahamic scriptures, and the Torah and Gospel go quite a distance in that direction on their own. To the Koran, all who worship God as construed by the Abrahamic faiths, are Muslim. Knowledge of the Koran is not made a prerequisite for membership in the faith. Rather, virtue itself is what makes one dear to God, and every man who makes himself Godly in character, regardless of his fortunes and ideological acquaintance, is on the straight path.
Most religions are bent to evil ends in environments fecund for the purpose. We know that socioeconomic strife places a people in a vulnerable condition; just look at Germany and Hitler. It’s not a forgone conclusion, but it is no mystery to me that Islam and Christianity are in their respective conditions given the average socioeconomic conditions of the respective populations. It is especially noteworthy that the Catholic church is so unbelievably wealthy.
This is no condemnation of Christianity, of course, and it hasn’t always been this way (as I am sure you are well aware). The history of Islam is rich with scholarship, and it has contributed invaluably to the scholasticism whose products serve as a foundation to much of our culture. It is a religion which promotes reason and learning, peace and righteousness, while giving strong approval for self-defense.
The verses of the Koran covering the latter serve as some of the most abusively exploited. One major problem with modern Islam is the hugely schismatic nature of the faith. There is very little faith-based intra-Christian violence (though it is not entirely absent, as in Africa, again, where socioeconomic turmoil is heavy), but there is much faith-based intra-Muslim violence. A major contributor to this sort of problem is that the Koran includes injunctions to respect those figures put in authority over you, and an honest reading sees that this is not approval for just any old authority figure. The Koran says that to no man is it given the prophecy and the book that he might turn to others and say ‘be you servants to me, apart from God’ (here’s where I’d check my verbage and cite it if I were doing a real good job…). Further, the Koran says that its readers ought to be masters in that they study and know the Book.
Illiteracy and ignorance are huge problems in the tumultuous regions in which Islamic extremism (and, I would say, any extremism is likely to) thrives. Men sufficiently learned and insidious rise to authoritative positions in their communities, and they do what sufficiently learned and insidious men do; they leverage their power against the people and incite them to violence. Islam has great respect for the opinions of the learned, and this leads to those declared as such to having the power to issue fatwas, or injunctions, which become sharia (law) for the people, morally binding per the (abused) authority clauses in the Koran.
Incidentally, on the second page of the Koran, it warns the readers that some there are who do corruption in the earth and yet they say it is only they who put things right, but only themselves do they deceive, and God knows their sin. There will be those who call themselves Muslims and do horrible things.
Christianity doesn’t suffer so greatly from these problems (…anymore). Major denominations are generally thoroughly well funded and established in peaceful lands from which they may send representatives into tough areas. This gives them a great stability not commonly found in much of the countries where Islam is predominant.
It is ironic that such twisted interpretations of Islam abound. After all, Islam is so heavily based on an individual relationship with God. It puts to the reader that, had God so willed, all would be believers, and then asks rhetorically if the reader would, knowing this, try to constrain the people until they believe. It states that God changes not in a people what the people changes not in itself. It informs the reader that, should the reader encounter an unbeliever (that is, one who actively disbelieves, not merely suspends judgment), to deliver the message, but if that message is rejected, then the reader is simply to say ‘I have my works and you have yours, I am quit of what you do, and you of I. I will be with you, waiting and watching,’ the latter end referring to the coming Day of Judgment when souls will be judged for their righteous works and their sinful ways. As I paraphrased earlier, the Koran instructs readers to be masters in that they study and know the Book.
Unless there’s a quote I haven’t yet seen which can be characterized otherwise, the quotes from the Koran which appear to allow for violence against unbelievers are taken out of context in extremely disingenuous ways. The passages discuss the proper response against unbelievers who violently break their agreements and treaties with Muslims. No person learned of the history of Islam would think that Islam requires the
conversion of all unbelievers or that everyone be subject to forced obedience to the Koran. In fact, the Koran famously states “there is no compulsion in religion.” That’s one of the myriad reasons it holds such a dear position in my heart.
Just compare the current so-called “Islamic State” with the original Islamic State founded by Mohammad with the Constitution of Medina in which Muslims, Pagans, Christians, and Jews lived side-by-side, in alliance, and with explicit respect for religious freedom. It is a remarkable document, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the mindset of the author of the Koran.
For what it’s worth, I read the Bible and most of the available early Christian and Jewish apocryphal works. I studied them for years, and I then read the Koran. It asserts that Mohammad is a prophet, and that no division should be made between any of God’s prophets, including Jesus, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jonah – every one of them.* Modern Christians have this outrageously false perception of Islam, thinking that Mohammad is to them what Jesus is to Christianity, but it’s not even close. In fact, the Koran explicitly assert the falsity of the Trinity, but places Jesus alongside Mohammad as prophets. The Bible is viewed by the Muslims to have been altered in some way, and at various degrees depending on who is asked (and this, too, results in wild interpretations cast about by the previously mentioned assholes who rise to power among impoverished peoples), but the Bible is believed to be of God, and numerous, numerous commands are given in the Koran to treat well the People of the Book, including Jews and Christians. Numerous times, the Koran assures all People of the Book their place in Heaven.
I could go on, but I hope this suffices for my point. I can’t say I think it fair to allow that Islam gains the reputation given it by modern psychopaths. For what it’s worth, my studies have led me to consider myself a Muslim, earnestly backed by a reasonable interpretation of the Koran and learned men such as Avicenna or Averroes. But alas, since modern Islamic doctrine varies so dramatically and includes so many wildly differing interpretations from various persons of illicitly-gained authority and their commands, perhaps that suffices to mean that Islam has a doctrine problem.
It certainly has a people problem.
*The original reason for the proscription against depictions of Mohammad was to prevent idolatry – that is, erroneously worshiping Mohammad rather than God. Nowadays, the proscription is relied upon for little beyond an excuse for violence, and Mohammad is improperly elevated among God’s prophets, against the Koran itself.