No True Muslim?

Yes, yet another “does ISIS represent Islam” article! So…does it? The members of ISIS would happily kill you if you said they didn’t, but of course, just because a person or group claims to be X doesn’t necessarily mean they are X.

In full disclosure, however, I take the position that “Islam is no worse than any other religion–the problem is that ‘extremists’ simply follow the text more fervently than moderates”. I arrive at that position from the idea of Fundamentalist Christians vs. Mainstream Christians, and how much of the Bible each group actually takes at face value (I’ve engaged in numerous debates, and I can assure you that the gap is large in how much of the Holy Bible each side actually believes). However, I’m still posing this as a Question, not as a Statement and would be very happy for a discussion in the comments section.

Oh, and many of the articles I link to contain several links within them, so follow those as you wish, but of course you’ll gain much more by more linky following.

The Arguments

Jerry Coyne, in his blog Why Evolution is True (who first wrote a book by the same name), shares and discussesJesus ‘n’ Mo comic about the topic of “no true Muslim” and the practice of “takfir”, which is basically “excommunication”. The extremists excommunicate the moderates (and thus have license to kill the apostates and infidels), and the moderates excommunicate the extremists, thus eliminating the need to consider reform–according to Hirsi Ali, a Somali ex-Muslim woman, who has called for the reform of Islam and been criticized by moderate Muslims for doing so.

And while not directly related to ISIS, Christopher Hitchens, in writing about Major Nidal Hasan back in 2009 in Slate, mentions the practice of takfir. Did you know that the U.S. is in a war against Islam? That can only be true if the Taliban (and now ISIS) are the only True Muslims, while the Muslim governments we are supposedly fighting with are not.

CJ Werleman writes in AlterNet, in response to an article by Sam Harris, who was writing in response to Werleman…that terrorism is our fault–the result of Oil Imperialism. There is a lot to agree with, as Western foreign policy has caused a lot of problems. He argues that our support of repressive Arab monarchies creates a “criminal underclass” (of desperate, repressed individuals) who make up the ISIS ranks. However, I feel this doesn’t answer a lot of questions, like why Major Nidal Hasan, who had never suffered as a result of Middle East Imperialist Oppression, decided to yell “Allahu Akbar” before shooting up a Texas military base. Why didn’t he yell “Free Tibet” (or, you know, Free Iraq)? Werleman mentions that many of the Muslim youth who are coming out of Britain to join ISIS are coming from poverty-striken areas, and so it is socio-economics, not religion, that is driving them to join a “gang” from which they expect to profit. Aren’t there any gangs in the UK?

I suppose in the end the question is: is there any divine warrant for the actions of the extremists (like ISIS)? Are there any commands in the Qur’an or the Hadith that says “apostates or unbelievers can/should be killed”? According to this article, which seems quite balanced to me, there is. On the other hand, according to Tariq Ramadan, in a debate with Christopher Hitchens in 2010, what you read in the Qur’an says more about you than about the text.

Ramadan’s statement sounds like some hardcore apologetics to me, like Christians saying “you have to consider the times and culture” when it is pointed out that the bible instructs on the proper way to own and beat slaves, but take it as you will. Either the Qur’an says “kill apostates” or it says something different if you interpret it correctly.

The Wider Picture

President Bush said “Islam is a religion of peace”, and President Obama has said “ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” (I would be nit-picky on the “massacre innocents” bit, because if ISIS/ISIL is employing takfir, then they are not killing innocents, but apostates and unbelievers.) The problem we are coming up against, I think, is that to say “ISIS is made up of Muslims” is to say “Islam has evil teachings”, and that is not the politic thing to say, and could actually bring a world of hurt from offended members of the Religion of Peace (…awkward), who are either defending their belief from unbelievers, or are fringe lunatics perverting the words of the Blessed Prophet.

I have read “arguments from population” in that there are about two billion Muslims and so if Islam were a violent religion there would be a world war right now. I would counter that truth is not derived democratically, and that Islam is like Christianity. Do Christians keep the 10 Commandments? No. Why? Because almost nobody keeps the Sabbath–everyone keeps Sunday. There are a number of arguments that Christ said, or by example said, the Sabbath wasn’t really that important anymore (and that the Sabbath, quite conveniently, is the only one of the Commandments that is part of the Old Covenant that Jesus did away with); on the other hand, the New Testament church regularly gathered on the Sabbath. And regardless of whether the Sabbath is absolutely required anymore, the keeping of Sunday is nowhere mentioned. Does the bible teach Sunday worship? No. But I think nobody would consider a sabbath-keeping Christian to be a “true” Christian. The bible also preaches “the prayer of faith will save the sick”; people do pray for healing, but they also go to the hospital, and when the doctor has healed them through medicine and/or surgery, they praise God. However, if you rely solely on prayer and faith…you’re a nutter! So who are the “true” Christians?

To borrow some phrasing from the movie Kingdom of Heaven, “There are no true Muslims. All are true Muslims”. I think that until a large, vocal group of Moderate Muslims gets together to vocally oppose the more ardent, fundamentalist, extremist members of their faith, there can be no moving forward. When groups like the Muslim Student Association of Yale start battling extremism instead of trying to silence criticism, then progress will be made. The same process that has happened with Christianity needs to happen with Islam, or else for the foreseeable future, while not all Muslims will be terrorists, almost all terrorists will be Muslims.


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4 responses to “No True Muslim?”

  1. Douglas Becker says :

    I’m having some problems with the assumptions here. It may be that my skepticism concerning Islam is biased by what others claim.

    From what I have seen of news reports, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States and certainly the fastest growing religion in jails and prisons. One report says that Texas alone has 400,000+ Moslems and a few come from former Protestant pastors. So one day your a Baptist minister and the next you’re a Moslem? How does that work?

    Now one of the claims I have seen is that people don’t understand the… I’ll call it the Koran (sorry if that insults anyone’s sensibilities, but it’s easier to enter on this keyboard). Supposedly, yes, the Koran contradicts itself. It starts out all flowery (yes, I’ve read the translated opening chapters — not the original Klingon, mind you) and ends up all “death to the infidel”. The supposed explanation is that the Koran is the final revelation of Allah Akbar (the greater God — we’ll get to this in a minute) and corrects / clarifies all further revelations — even in the Koran itself. Thus, if it says earlier in the Koran that those of the Word (Jews / Christians) are not to be harmed, but later, they must either convert, be enslaved or be killed, you have to go with the conversion, enslavement and killing, because it was the last reveal on the topic.

    I have some real heartburn with provenance (not unlike the New Testament). Apparently, Muhammad was an Arab business man (not unlike Herbert Armstrong) who lived from 570 to 632. He saw the Arabs were scattered and needed unification, so for business purposes, he proposed Allah Akbar — the greatest of the 360 pagan gods of the Arabs, the moon god, Sin — be the one true god. You must admit it did unify the Arabs (with only seven major splits over centuries as opposed to 700 splits over decades) and it was good for business. The problem is that Muhammad didn’t seem to write much down and it was something like 150 years later that his followers got around to writing the Koran (much like the Catholics took 300 years to get around to writing the New Testament). If all of this is true (and I don’t at the moment see why not, though it may be somewhat suspect), the provenance is a terrible problem and with the logical internal contradictions, certainly is more than suspect. It is even the case that someone somewhere may be able to use science to demonstrate it is completely wrong. Who knows? Also the account of the life of Muhammad doesn’t necessarily inspire much in the way of confidence of his sanity.

    Anyway, back to the issue at hand as to whether or not Islam is basically peaceful: Several sources claim that no one in Islam can criticize anyone else for pursuing spreading of Islam by any means. This is reflected in no prominent proponent in Islam has ever apologized for 9/11. It’s a silent conspiracy. If this is true, we should be very concerned about that — almost as concerned as we are about Eric Snowden’s reveals about the CIA spying on us.

    Now I know there is great room for skepticism here and that’s as it should be. Nevertheless, there is a principle with which most of us should be familiar: By their fruit you shall know them.

    And right now, it’s not looking good.

    For either Islam or Christianity.

  2. eSell says :

    The big argument is that “there are 2 billion Muslims living peaceably in the world, thus Islam is a religion of peace”. Just like Christianity, it is simply that those 2 Billion are not following their holy book too closely. And which group is the “True” Muslim? The only problem I’m having with the whole debate is everyone scrambling over themselves to say that Terrorism and ISIS have nothing to do with religion. Jerry Coyne, writer of the book Why Evolution is True, has a lot to say about it over on his blog of the same name.

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