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Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a reformer and favorite of Bill Clinton whose political career ended in 1998 when he was imprisoned by Prime Minister Muhathir Mohamed on false charges of corruption, recently spoke at Stanford University. Addressing Americans’ perception of Islam he said:

    This is a country full of contradictions. The level of sophistication and intellectual flavor is unparalleled. So why must people be so prejudiced? Why is misunderstanding so pervasive? To say that Muslims are entirely anti-America is wrong.

Every so often I come across a particularly egregious example of the miscomprehension of Islam that is all too common in this country. Indeed, much of it seems deliberate and willful. I get depressed thinking about all the work that needs to be done just to return to a neutral starting point for discussion, given all the self-promoting bullshit floating around out there and contaminating the atmosphere.

Here are just three examples I’ve stumbled across in the last couple of weeks. The first is the documentary film Islam: What the West Needs to Know, released on January 15, 2006, as described in Wikipedia:

    …various commentators argue that Islamic violence stems from the teachings and examples of Muhammad…historical evidence of enslavement and massacres…the Islamic principle of Taqiyya, Islamic dissimulation, which the lecturers argue, enjoins Muslims to deceive non-Muslims in order to advance the cause of Islam…a form of totalitarianism that is divinely enjoined to dominate the world, analgous in many ways to Communism.

Can the makers of this film be bothered with the subtle difference between Communism, which is among other things dogmatic atheism, and Islam, which insists that the material world will one day be swept away and that God alone is real?

Here is another example, a blog called View from the Right which proposes that:

    1) Islam is the problem. 2) However, we do not have the ability to destroy Islam. 3) Nor do we have the ability to democratize Islam. 4) Nor do we have the ability to assimilate Islam. 5) Therefore, the only solution is to separate ourselves from Islam.

Yes, that seems like an excellent solution. So what will accomplish our “separation” from 1.2 billion people? Apparently a global program of ethnic cleansing. Or as he calls it, “my isolate, rollback and contain strategy.” Surely a lot easier than accommodation and understanding.

Finally there is the testimony of America’s favorite atheist, Sam Harris, who rose to fame for his book The End of Faith, and was recently quoted in the Washington Post as saying:

    Most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith.

I want to like Sam Harris, because in the same article it says he took ecstasy as a young man and ran off on a spiritual quest to India (on his mother’s money), but does the above statement make any sense? For someone whose argument is that religion is irrational and indeed unreasoning, shouldn’t he hold himself to a higher standard? I mean come on, most Muslims? Has he even met any Muslims? I’ve met a few hundred up close, and I wouldn’t call most of them “utterly deranged.” Indeed they seem to be quite capable of sensibly discussing their views, in many cases with a sincerity and rigor that is rare in our own culture.

I hate it when I see people spouting off about things that fly in the face of my own experience. I’m not going to doubt my eyes and ears, or my sanity. So I can only assume that these people don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re so eager to prove themselves right that they don’t care if what they’re saying corresponds to reality. There’s a lot of that going around in our culture lately. It seems to have started with the invasion of Iraq. Anyway, maybe you can answer Ibrahim’s question, because frankly, I don’t get it.


Comment from From the Eyes of Baba
Time: November 8, 2006, 01:46

I think there are a lot of misperception about Islam and what it stands for. This problem is not only prevalent among non-Muslims but, unfortunately, also amongst Muslims themselves.

For example, in Islam, believers of every other faith have a place in an Islamic state/country. Unfortunately, this has never been explained in great clarity, length and dept.

Another example is in the pursuit of knowledge. Historically, Islamic scholars were the most advanced in terms of pursuit of knowledge. Not only knowledge of the “after-world” but also all those related to the worldly needs. What happened? Muslims, unfortunately, have regressed as the world progress. What today’s Muslims failed to understand is that the pursuit of “new” knowledge would enable them fully appreciate the creation of the Almighty Allah/God!!!

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 8, 2006, 17:33

You know, I agree with you completely. I was raised outside of religion by secular parents (originally Catholic) who believed that religion and science are contradictory. But as I have discussed religion with my Muslim friends in Morocco, I have come to see Islam in the way you describe.

There seem to be at least two levels of understanding Islam, those who feel that it is about “following the rules,” praying in a certain way and so forth, versus those who can understand what I mean when I say that “I am a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu and Buddhist at the same time”. All religions pay tribute to the same universal Intelligence, and no one religion “owns” knowledge of God. Allah can be known by observing the universe (science) or by meditating on why we are here (philosophy). The details of prayer, fasting and so forth are to remind ourselves that we are part of a religious community, not because it “adds” to God in any way (a logical absurdity).

Unfortunately Muslim dialogue with non-Muslims often comes in the form of “proofs” which are only convincing to someone who is already a believer, or even made-up stories about the conversion of Jacques Cousteau or Neil Armstrong. I don’t see how any of this could be persuasive to a thinking person, because religion isn’t trophy-hunting to see which famous people have converted. To a Westerner it is more convincing to use a philosophical approach, and show that Islam is open to dialogue and committed seeking knowledge. I was lucky to have friends like that in Morocco. They stretched my understanding of Islam and I stretched theirs! This is what needs to happen, and will happen as Islam participates more and more in the global conversation. I think the age of “regression” as you put it is over.

You might also enjoy some of the other articles on eatbees like Islam Is Democratic and Progressive Islam (two conversations)….

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