Innumerable commentators attempt to give credence to the idea that Islam is ‘peaceful’ and perhaps on the verge of reformation, that thereafter ‘moderate’ Muslims will join forces with ‘moderates’ in other religions and secular ‘moderates’ to create a world of universal mutual tolerance.
Regrettably, these commentators belong to the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if’ school of ‘thought’.
Maybe it would be nice if the Islamic world abandoned the idea of converting the rest of the world to ‘God’s religion’, by force if necessary; but there are at least two good reasons for rejecting this hope as fantasy.
Firstly, fundamentalist (some say radical) Islam is growing, both in numbers and in ferocity. In other words, much as we would like to see a growing majority of ‘moderates’, we observe exactly the opposite. Once upon a time there were was the Muslim Brotherhood, a very intolerant political movement within Islam. Hardly anybody in the west had heard of them. In the last half century we have seen the increasing influence of Wahabism in Saudi Arabia – very fundamentalist and very rich. Wahabists have funded mullahs with extreme views all over the world. More recently we have experienced the fun and games of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and ISIS. Everybody has heard of them. They are all closely allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founders would be mightily impressed and encouraged by their emergence.
Allegedly, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. There seems to be no doubt that the most violent and intolerant groups within it are proliferating alarmingly and disproportionally. Complacency is less and less justified. Pious hope of the kind of reform we would like to see is not encouraged by the evidence.
Secondly, despite the supposed importance of the five pillars of Islam: Shahada (profession of faith), Salah (prayer), Sakhat (alms giving), Haj (pilgrimage) and Ramadan (fasting), the real foundations of Islam are the prophet Mohammed, the revelations he claimed to have received (the Koran) and the accounts of his doings and those of his companions (the Hadith).
The five pillars, apart from the first, are not a problem for most non-Muslims. Mohammed is a very big problem. By my standards, by the standards of the Catholic Church, by the standards of most secular westerners, Mohammed was a very bad man, a warlord, a paedophile, a murderer. And yet, he is exalted by Muslims as being the ‘excellent example’.
The Koran is another very big problem. Muslims regard the Koran as a miracle, perfect in every respect. By pretty well every objective standard the Koran is risible. It is without organisation, self-contradictory and full of nonsense, including nonsense about the physical world. It is derivative, ahistorical and absurd. Some Christians have been converted to their faith simply by reading the Bible (not my position). It is difficult to imagine a non-Muslim being startled into Islam simply by reading the Koran.
The Hadith texts are Muslim accounts of Mohammed’s behaviour. Some portray him in what we might regard as a favourable light. Many do not.
The point is this: All the vicious, violent Muslim groups causing mayhem around the world can, quite correctly, point to texts in the Koran and the Hadith which justify their activities – and they do! They cite the example of Mohammed. When someone like Robert Spencer quotes them, he is accused of hate speech.
The melancholy truth is that Islam, unlike any other faith, defines itself by hatred and contempt for other religions. An extraordinary proportion of the Koran is devoted to Allah’s hatred of non-Muslims. Moreover, and this is my opinion, the theology of Islam is surprisingly thin. Granted, Islam is fiercely monotheistic. Christianity and Judaism are also monotheistic. Christianity, I cannot speak for Judaism, is remarkably rich and textured. God’s nature is taught to be Love. Our central prayer commands us to address the Deity as Father. Central to Christianity is the doctrine of Free Will. Muslims cannot speak of the future without saying ‘inshallah’ (God willing).
Much as I would like to share the hope that Islam will be reformed and that we shall be able to leave in peace and tolerance with Muslims, some of whom are, indeed, people of good will and tolerance, I regret that, for the above reasons, the hope appears forlorn.
The Koran is divided into the Medinan suras, which contain much which is irenic, and the Meccan suras, which are alarmingly bloodthirsty. Sadly for those who urge that Islam is ‘a religion of peace’, the Meccan suras are later revelations than the Medinan and therefore, according to Muslim authorities, may abrogate them. The Koran is a miracle of perfection; but the later passages are more perfect than the earlier ones!