January 06, 2006

Pondering the Ways and Whys of Islam

The following article appeared recently in the Monterey County (California) Herald. Although I'm not particularly fond of naming talks or articles "Entering (or Inside) the [Insert Group's Name Here] Mind," I liked what Mr. Provost had to say. It's refreshing to see a (presumed) non-Muslim giving accurate information about Islam to the public instead of misinformation presented by yet another hysterical Islamophobe.

Would David Koresh be considered a representative Christian? Are members of the IRA Christian terrorists?

These comparisons are worth pondering when looking at how Islam is often portrayed by the news media, according to John Provost, philosophy instructor for Monterey Peninsula College's Gentrain program, who spoke Wednesday at MPC on "Entering the Muslim Mind."

News reports of the fiery deaths that culminated in the FBI siege of Koresh's Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and the ongoing war between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, didn't link Christianity and terrorism, he noted, but the actions of Muslim fanatics, and conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims, are joined in the phrase "Islamic terrorism."

That's a mistaken view, Provost said, and holding it won't help get a clear view of the problem or work toward a resolution of the conflict between Islam and western secularism.

The fact that a suicide bomber believes that his act makes him a martyr bound for heaven doesn't make that belief true, Provost said, and most Muslim scholars reject that doctrine as "a gross distortion of the Qur'an."

Martyrdom isn't foreign to Christianity either, he said, and suicide bombers represent "a dark side of Islam that is hard to explain."

But it is the hallmark of the fanatic to seize on a particular aspect of doctrine and apply a literal interpretation that justifies such an action, he said.

"We need to be careful how we speak about religion and politics," he said.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity all sprung out of the Middle East and all trace their lineage to Abraham, but as they have spread to other areas of the world, all three changed as they assimilated into other cultures, Provost said.

Islam began in Arab culture, and its sacred language is Arabic, but a Muslim in Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan or Afghanistan is not like a Muslim from Arabia, Iraq, Syria or Egypt. All adhere to the "Five Pillars of Islam" -- the fast of Ramadan, recitation of the creed that "There is no God but God and Mohammed is His prophet," prayer fives times a day, the giving of alms and making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Islam does not recognize a separation of church and state, he said. Islam is society and culture, and therein lies the root of conflict and misunderstanding between Muslim and Westerner.

"How can you be Muslim in a modern, secular society?" Provost asked rhetorically. "It isn't easy. It's not easy to be Christian or Jewish either."

He noted that Islam enjoyed its Golden Age under the Caliphate, advancing in art, literature, philosophy, science, mathematics and medicine, while Europe floundered in the Dark Ages.

Islam then entered its own dark age as Europe became resurgent after the Renaissance, and by the 1800s, nearly all Muslim nations had been colonized by Europeans, Provost said. Now they are independent and trying to find their own way.

Europe's example, he noted, isn't particularly admired by Muslims, who cite the 100 million killed in the wars of the 20th century as a path they don't want to follow.

Muslims feel threatened by Western capitalism and culture, the flood of goods and ideas that they feel undermine their own civilization.

"You don't need troops to invade a country," Provost said. "You can do it with MTV, advertising, Marlboros, Levis, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's."

Muslims find this cultural imperialism "very offensive. It destroys their culture and what they feel is important. It's why they feel attacked. There's a reason why they call us the Great Satan."

A strong belief system with rules and laws can be a source of comfort and support to those caught up in the rapid changes of modern life, he said.

While liberal westerners decry the status and treatment of women in Muslim countries, Provost said a study of Mohammed's writings shows a relatively progressive view of women for his time. It was he who first preached their rights to education, inheritance, property, a dowry as a hedge against divorce, and he limited marriage to four wives in a highly polygamous culture, and then only "if the husband could treat each wife the same."

The practical result, he said, is that 95 percent of Muslim marriages are monogamous.

While news media portray women clad in burqas, Muslim women in many countries dress as stylishly as any westerner. The Quran only requires "modesty," Provost said, not the complete cover-up that some adherents of Islam demand. Cultures change the observance of all religions.

It has been less than 100 years since American women got the vote, he noted, and Christianity allowed slavery for 1,900 years before it was abolished.

"To live up to the founders of your religion, you have to be changed. You have to walk the talk."


1 comment:

Edward Ott said...

very interesting article i really enjoyed reading it. keep it up.