Islam At The Crossroads
(Understanding Its Beliefs, History And Conflicts)
By: Paul Marshall, Roberta Green, And Lela Gilbert
- What Islam Is? (Page 21)
Who are these modern Muslims, who obediently respond to the call of the mosque? Islam is a complex religion. In fact, it is far more than a religion. It is a way of life that touches every aspect of a Muslim’s existence.
- How Could Islam spread so fast? (Page 49)
How could Islam spread so fast? There were several reasons. First, the main opposition to the Muslim, the Byzantine Empire, was tired. The emperor Justinian, who died in 565, had nearly bankrupted the empire with wars to recapture most of the ancient Roman lands, massive building projects like Hagia Sophia, and fighting the Persians to the east.
Second, internal strife weakened and Christian. Justinian had persecuted Christians who did not accept the standards of the 451 Church Council of Chalcedon, and he persecuted Jews. At that time, perhaps a majority of the Christians in eastern Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Spain did not accept Chalcedon’s view of Jesus. Also, Byzantine taxes were high and religion verves were raw. Consequently, many of these Christians and Jews felt that Muslim rulers might be better for them than the Byzantines.
Third, nomadic Arab had already moved into Syria and Palestine in previous years. When their fellow Arabs swept up from the south, they were ready to welcome them.
- About Assassins
Many people think the name “Assassin” derive from the Arabic word hashish, a plant akin to marijuana, and that Assassins were so called because they used hashish to gain vision of paradise. In his book The Assassins, Bernard Lewis confirms that the name comes from hashish as it was used to denote Indian hemp, known for its narcotic effect. But, he says that other Muslims used the term not because the Assassins used hashish but to show contempt for their wild beliefs and extreme behavior. (Page 53)
The Abbasid reign also saw movements that affect our lives today. After the Islmaili Shiites spilt off, they produced two other groups. The first, the Fatimids, nearly conquered the Muslim world for Shiism from their base in modern Tunisia. The second group, as we’ve seen, was the Assassins. But history pulls or attention in another direction, for the Fatamids and the Assassins played out their lives against the backdrop of the Crusades. (Page 57)
- Islam or Imam? (Page 54)
Was a true Muslim one who believed or one who practiced the rites? During the Umayyad years practice came to count more than faith alone. Those who practiced the prayers and the five pillars (Al-Islam) were true Muslim (“those who practice”). Al-Imam or “faith alone” was not sufficient. Hence, the religion is called Islam, not Imam.
- Page 55
To the Sunnis, killing the grandson of the Prophet was not a major issue, since he had rebelled. But for the Shiites it had profound implications. The issue deepened the rift between Sunnis and Shiites. For the Shiites, Husayn became a martyr, and Shiite emphasis on the importance of the imam, the spiritual leader, became a religious issue.
- Islam’s Problems (Page 78-80)
Lack of democracy. According to Freedom House, only eleven of the world’s forty-seven countries with an Islamic majority have democratically elected governments. This is significantly worse than the rest of the world. Muslim countries lag behind not only the West in terms of democracy and freedom but behind other non-Western areas of the world as well. According to Freedom House’s survey, Freedom in be World, 2001-2002, a non-Muslim country is more than three times more likely to be democracy than a Muslim county. A majority of the world’s most repressive countries have an Islamic background. If we turn to the Islamic core, the Arabic-speaking Muslim states of North Africa and the Middle East, the situation is even worse. None of these countries is genuinely free or democracy.
While every other region in the world has seen an increase in democracy and political freedom in the last twenty years, the Muslim world has shown a decrease. The “democracy gap” between the Muslim world and the rest of the world countries to increase.
Similar problems exist in the area of human rights, especially religious freedom. According to Religious Freedom in the World: A Global Survey of Freedom and Persecution, none of the Muslim countries covered is classified as “free.” Countries with Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist background have more religious freedom than most of the Muslim world.
Widespread religious persecution thrives in Islamic lands. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Mauritania, the law mandates that anybody who tries to change their religion from Islam should be killed. In many other Muslim countries, the law may not require it, but radicals or family members are likely to kill anyone who tries to change their religion, and the government will often turn a blind eye.
In Pakistan the law mandates death for anyone who blasphemes against Allah, Muhammad, or the Qur’an. This law is especially dangerous for non-Muslim because, in an Islamic court of law, their testimony only counts for half that of a Muslim. Even moderate countries, such as Egypt, harshly restrict building or repairing churches, and the government is very slow to punish Muslims who attack Christians.
Groups who are regarded as having deviated from Islam, such as the Baha’i or the Ahmadiyas, have an especially difficult time. In Iran, Baha’is area executed as heretics. Ahmadiyas in Pakistan can face a similar fate.
The Islamic world also suffers from economic problems. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait, and the smaller states in the Persian Gulf, are wealthy, but these riches stem not from economic development but from the good fortune of finding huge oil deposits in their land. Even in these countries, the wealth accumulated through oil trade with industrialized nations has not usually been used to found broad economic development, and most of these nations remain utterly dependent on oil. In the rest of the Muslim world, countries such as Malaysia and Turkey that have made major steps to suppress strong Islamist sentiment. Most Islamic countries remain in poverty. World economics is, of course, complex, but for most of the Islamic world the current picture is one of either oil wealth or grinding poverty.
An additional difficult is that much, though certainly not all, of the major opposition to dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world comes not from those pushing for genuine freedom and democracy but from movements fighting for extremist Islamic government along the lines of Saudi Arabia or the Taliban in Afghanistan.
- About History According to the Islam and America (Page 81)
History matters to Muslims. By contrast, Americans usually ignore history. Ambrose Bierce once wrote that “war is God’s means of teaching Americans geography”—that we only learn about place when we are at war with them. A similar thing could be said about Americans and history.
History is not just what taught in books and university departments, but much more so, it is our understanding of who and where we are and how we got here. Americans emphasize new beginnings and new ages. We want to put the past behind us; naively we even think we can put the past behind us. Consequently, we are amazed and puzzled when other people seem to drag up grievances that are countries or millennia old.
In the Islamic world, as in most of the world, history is not what happened a thousand years ago or a hundred years ago. It lives with us now. A villager can tell you how someone took his or her land in 1300. Defeats and victories long past still cause revenge or celebration. As Lewis points out, in the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, government propaganda on both sides made allusions to Sunni and Shiite battles of the seventh century, confident that their soldiers and people would understand the brief references.
- The different of Shaheed
The word shaheed, which we often translate as “martyr,” has very different meaning from the Christian word martyr. In Christian theology a martyr is a witness, one who gives up her life, who accepts death rather than forsake or discredit her faith. In contemporary Muslim usage, a martyr is one who dies in a jihad, attacking the enemies of Islam.