The story of Islam is an illustration of how a common belief, however irrational, can forge fragmented aspirations of tribes together and so become a nationalistic political force.
In the case of Christianity an obscure figure in Jewish history became its representation of the ideal man. Six centuries later an Arab was chosen to be a religious leader. Prophet Muhammad captured the minds of his people and unleashed a power that set its mark on the history of the world.
Nederlandse vertaling van deze pagina. Subjects:
- Integration problems
- Psychology and the rise of idols
- The craddle of Islam
- On hearing voices
- The Koran
- Jihad, the holy war
- The era of glory of the Islamic empire
- Decline after institutionalization
- The West takes the lead
- Oil riches scandered
- The blame culture
- Aspects of Islamic society
- Criticism suppressed
- On losing faith - apostasy
- Suppressed sexuality
- Faith - a mixed blessing
- Literature and links
The following observations are not meant to represent either a comprehensive view of Islam, or even a balanced one. It is a reflection on the why of its decline and its resistance to integration and enlightenment. Much in favour of the religion has been said. This is an attempt to fill the gap of what is not spoken of.
Muslims seem in general content with their religion - in fact consider it unique - Islam is a way of life. Why should outsiders bother and scrutinize the second largest belief in the world with more than 1 billion devoted followers?
Well, the answer seems obvious considering the impact of Islam on the outside world today. On one hand the threat to world peace from fundamentalistic extremist groups and on the other the lack of integration of Muslim immigrants in foreign countries. In the Netherlands 6 % of the population is Muslim. One Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, who criticized the Islam, was murdered and so was a cinematographer/columnist, Theo van Gogh.
Professor Bernard Lewis of Princetown University estimates that towards the end of this century the majority of the population of Europe will be Muslim. Their presence is now already felt in the big cities where in a few years' time nearly half of the population will consist of immigrants. It has led to more criminality, drug trade and social welfare claims. The increase of their numbers is mainly due to Muslim and Turkish youth prefering to marry girls/boys of their faith. Some do so in their home countries/villages and then return with the unprepared bride(groom), who can hardly integrate in the non-Muslim environment.
Whereas most foreign workers from Spain and Italy went back to their countries, Muslims prefered the benefits of the welfare society, created by unbelievers, which they lack in their homelands.
This has led to mutual recriminations as well as a fresh search for identity of each of the population groups. A closing of ranks is the result . An intensified identification with Islamic culture and a fresh religious zeal. Women insist on wearing veils far more than their counterparts in the Islamic world. (One wonders why the men do not prefer growing beards as in Afghanistan. But that time will come surely.)
Stricter clinging to Islamic sexual mores in an environment geared to erotic stimulation has resulted in feelings of frustration. It may well be one of the contributing factors to leanings towards fundamentalism. Subconscious drives cannot be suppressed!
Psychology and the rise of idols
Part of the problem in Islam is a psychological one: human beings have a herd instinct, a need to belong to a community in a certain peck-order. It is an ideal breeding ground for institutionalized religions. They provide a myth that influences and establishes a certain frame of mind for the whole population and so introduces a form of social control.
Believers are prepared to undergo humilation, suffering, and sacrifice to follow in their idol's lead. What they fear most is a scrutiny of their faith, for deep down in themselves they realize that it is built on quicksand. Moreover they know that the unbelievers or doubters awaits the big stick of a terrible punishment in the hereafter.
The Christ myth did so two thousand years ago. A myth around an unknown Jewish rabbi became a means to hold a continent in its clutches for nearly two millenniums .
It need not be religion: modern ideologies had the same effect. A communist regime held the population of Russia in its power by means of terror under the cloak of a high-flown view of an ideal society. Their idols being: Marx, Lenin and Stalin. People were brainwashed into believing their, in essence benevolent, civic theories, which in practice became the opposite.
Alas, Islam does not differ from other religions. It is an amalgam of existing beliefs. Transposed to one religious faith it released an enormous dormant power. Yet it could not avoid decline by institutionalization and stagnancy when the initial fervor wore off.
Probably none of its believers experienced it as such. Generation after generation of brainwashing and lack of contact with the West made them convinced that theirs was an unique way of life. Uplifting words from the Koran and the powerful spiritual leaders, the ulama, satisfied their spiritual needs and made them acquiescent to their backward way of living, wanting welfare, and class distinction. Such is the case even today amongst Muslims living in the West unable to adapt themselves to the capitalistic Western world, which tantalizes them so much.
It is signifant that the Islam has all the characteristics of a cult: a closed system, group conformity, idealisation of the leader and scapegoating.
The craddle of the Islam
The religious practices of the Arabs before Muhammad were characterized by idolatry, veneration of trees, stones, and wells. Mecca's holy stone, the Ka'ba, was controled by Muhammad's Quraysh tribe. Sacrifice of children to deities took place. Circumcision was practised and meant to replace human sacrifice to the gods. Arabs were obliged to pray three times a day towards Mecca where in the Ka'ba 350 images of gods, amongst them Allah, were installed. Three times a year was a fast, the longest being for thirty days. (Note the similarities with Islam!).
Yet the Arabs in the seventh century were surrounded by a cosmopolitan world far more advanced in their outlook on life. The phenomenon of an independent systematical religious organisation had developed outside their borders in Christianity and Manicheïsm: the so-called Dïn. Islam developed at a time of great transition from the matriarchal nomad culture into a patriarchal urban society.
Organisation, scripture, morality and language played a main part in this fresh concept of institutionalized religion. Faith and relationship to one God stood out in such religious community of believers. Also the concept of personal conduct subject to a divine judgement had evolved.
Islamic scholarship does not want to accept that this novel concept of organized religion, that had developed outside Arabia's borders, stood model for Islam. For Muslims it is quite intolerable to consider the notion that a religion becomes more and more sophisticated as a result of the development of man's mind, specifically its lingual capacity, instead of being the ultimate inalterable truth of God.
In Muhammad's time Arabia was strong and flourishing. It had become a refuge for Christians, who had become victims of persecution for heresy, and Jews who had fled from the destruction of Jerusalem. They had grown very powerful in their new environment. Several tribes and rulers embraced their religion, which made Muhammed at first show great regard to them, adopting many of their opinions, doctrines, and customs in the hope to interest them in his own revelations. Early 7th century all Egyptians were Christians. The organised Christian religion had an appeal to the Arabs: a simple myth had become the base for the Byzantine and the later Roman empire. This is what had been failing the polytheist disunited Arab tribes so far.
In the absence of a strong national government Arabs had to turn to their tribe for security. A man's life was dependent on the system of honour and custom of their tribesman. Most of them also accepted protégés, such as slaves, freedmen, craftsmen, and itinerant traders, who often came from outside Arabia.
By the end of the fifth century a highly developed form of oral poetry became popular. It was recited by story-tellers, the râwî's. The object of their poetry was the glorification of bedouïn life. The ability to get the better of people of other tribes by taking their camels, abducting their women, killing their men, or slitting the noses of their defenceless slaves was highly prized. Violence permeated tribal society. Yet they were only raiders, and never staged a major conquest until the jihad provided them with a proper excuse to stage war against other nations.
The Arabs before Muhammad had already accepted and worshipped a supreme god called 'Allah'. He was one of the Meccan deities and god of the moon, who was married to the sun goddess, frequently attested to in pre-Islamic poetry. In Islam he became a benevolant merciful God, but only for those who believed in him, preferably male.
The word Islam also already existed. It meant originally : defiance of death, heroism, to die in battle. In Islam it was given the meaning of submission.
The Christ myth could develop because anything could be attributed to the nebulous, docetic Jesus figure as there is no reliable historical record of his life. In this vacuum pious followers could make up an exemplary life of their idol using Jewish and pagan stories of godmen and prophets. As historical records, which could contradict their hagiography, were destroyed for safety's sake, no limits were posed on their fantasy.
Muhammad at the besiege of Bano-Nadir
In studying ancient scriptures one must realize that adhering faithfully to the facts was not considered an ethical command at the time. If it were to glorify a revered person any story might be attributed to him/her by an unnamed author. Hagiography was the rule. James Thomas remarks: It would be impossible to point to any epoch so loaded with literary fraud as the first centuries of our era. (p. 384).
Quite a different approach to the Christian faith has developed since as a result of biblical exegesis, stylometric and other research into its source material.
Not so with Islam. The orthodox ulama have always resisted objective research into Islamic origins. In Saudi-Arabia archaelogical finds are being covered with concrete so as to prevent any study of them.
Supposedly there is more information about Muhammad than about Jesus, but research into independent sources has shown that the accepted claims to historical fact are completely untrustworthy.
Who was the icon of Islamic faith then according to tradition? For this we have to rely on the sunnah (sunna an-nabî) - early Muslim records of the sayings and doings of the prophet; the Sira(sîrat an-nabî), a biography by Ibn Ishâq (704-767), and the collections of accounts of the Prophet's words and deeds: the hadiths. The six most reliable collections have been given the name of Sahih Sittah, the six authentic and trustworthy collections. They were collected by imam al-Bukhari (810-870) and are considered to be inspired.
Yet it is surmised that qussâs = pious storytellers, have embroidered the life of Muhammad with all sorts of ancient traditional pagan tales.
From the abovementioned Islamic records we are informed that :
- Muhammad was born around the year 570 AD. He grew up in a nomadic polytheistic culture in which most people were analphabetic. The tribes fought each other and had to guard zealously their possessions.
- He was a trader, but also gathered wealth from the loot of pilferaged hostile caravans. Yet he is said to have lived modestly.
- He had many wives. But his first (wealthy) wife Khadijah played the most dominant part early in his life. Some sources say that he had ten women in his life. Scholar Ali Dashti lists 22 women, including 16 wives, A'ishah being only nine years old.
- From descriptions of his ailments it is suggested that he was a mental patient having pathological fits. Some neurobiologists conclude that he was suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy. The symptoms being: visual hallucinations, seeing gigantic figures (angel Gabriël), auditory delusions: hearing compelling voices. The Koran was communicated to him in a state of trance (wahi). He was transpiring when this occurred, even when it was very cold. In one hadith it is related that Muhammad suffered under an unbearable noise like hammering on metal. This gave him the feeling that he was to die of pain.
- In addition he is said to have suffered from a small tumor in the hypophysis: acromegalia, later in life.
- He had opponents killed without mercy, as sanctioned by sura 8:68: "It has not been for any prophet to take captives until he has slaughtered in the land.". Victims were: al Nader, who had scoffed at Muhammad; poetess Asma bint Marwan; Abu Afak; Kab ibn al-Ashraf and others. Thousands of victims were to follow. After the battle of the Ditch he ordered and witnessed the decapitation of more than 700 Jews. Moreover he ordered burning out eyes with hot irons (Hadith vol. 1, no. 234) and deprived people of water until they died (Hadith vol. 8, no. 796). Yet, in his defense it is advanced that he was not much different from other Arabs at the time coming from a violent tribal culture.
Non-Muslim sourcesIn Islamic scriptures, Mecca is depicted as a wealthy trading center, a natural crossroad for caravans of goods of prosperous merchants, not only from Yemen in the south to Syria and the Roman empire in the north, but also for east-west trade. It is surprising that in sixth century' reports of those countries no mention is made at all of traders in the city of Mecca, nor of the Quraysh, be it in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic, or other texts composed outside Arabia before their conquests. The only place name which conceivably could be related to the name 'Mecca' is Moka, a town in Arabia Petraea in present-day Jordan. Only Muhammad himself is known to have been a trader but not in Mecca but in Yathrib (later Medina).
There are a number of other sources that point at Jerusalem being the original centre of devotion: a tenth-century Coptic bishop in Egypt, states that the qibla (=direction of prayer) in the first mosque at Kufa (in Iraq) was westward, instead of south-southwest as would be the case if presentday Mecca were its focus. A recent archaeological discovery that an ancient mosque under the Great Mosque of Wasit was not oriented toward Mecca adds weight to the speculation that the Muslim movement started in northern, not southern, Arabia, and that the story of Mohammed's movement from Mecca to Medina and back might be a myth to deprecate the influence of Judaism and Christianity in order to glorify Arab nationalism.
The canonical text of the Koran was not fixed for nearly two centuries. After the Arab conquests it is speculated that there arose a need to hold the empire together and legitimize its rule. In a process that involved a massive backreading of history, using Jewish and (apocryphal) Christian writings and oral tradition. In fact according to some scholars a large part of the credit for the Islamic myth should go to the fertile imagination of Arab storytellers. As a founder an Arab trader Muhammad was put forward. His supposed life and revelations became model for moral conduct.
Digression: on hearing voicesThe basic scripture of the Muslims, the Koran is said to have been received by the Prophet by inspiration, or voices, either by God or archangel Gabriel.
In this respect it might be useful to dwell on the subject of inspired communications, although this is of course anathema with Muslims.
Hearing voices is quite a common problem. Psychiatric treatment is available, specially for those who hear commanding voices. The nature of this phenomenon is not completely understood in spite of their being many sufficient theories. One of them is by psychologist Julian Jaynes who has speculated that in the early development of lingual capacity the frontal lobes of the brain were not yet working well in unison. The intimations of the right lobe were not recognized by the left and taken as coming from an outside source. This being the case the unrecognized voices and intimations had a commanding influence as they were projected on unseen figures. People assumed that they originated from those. These communicators were believed to be deities or other divinely inspired entities. Worldly objects as trees, wells, statues served as target for projection and as such were endowed with power.
Messages received by prophets, and similar revered historical figures belong to this category. Nowadays such communications are routine in spiritistic circles. The profoundness of the injunctions continue to amaze people:
Just to give a few examples.
- 'A course in miracles' (1975?), was dictated allegedly by Jesus Christ to an atheist, non-believing professor in psychology, Helen Schucman. It has been acknowledged, even in academic circles, for its profoundness.
- Joseph Smith Jr. had visions of an angel Moroni. On the basis of his revelations the Church of Latterday Saints, the Mormons, was founded.
- Medium Geraldine Cummings were dictated The scripts of Cleophas, a fantastical tale, fraught with miracles, to supplement the Acts of the New Testament;
- Chaplain Levi H. Dowling was communicated The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ .
Page of Koran 14th century
The KoranAccording to the Islamic religion, however, the revelations of the Koran came straight from heaven and were not of any earthly source. The Koran (or Qu'ran) is the 'uncreated' word of Allah. Yet Western scholarship shows that Islam is based on the customs and fables of pre-Islamic Arabia, Judaism and other religious traditions and concepts. It is written in the Quraysh dialect (Hadith vol. 6, no. 507) of Muhammad's tribe.
In this respect the following observations by scholars:
- The first intention of creating the Koran was to update and unify tribal polytheistic beliefs. The revelations in the Koran merely confirm existing traditions, customs and superstitions. Sura 113: "In the name of Allah, the Benificent, the Merciful. Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak, from the evil of that which He created; from the evil of the darkness when it is intense, and from the evil of malignant witchcraft, and from the evil of the envious when he envies."
Pagan gods: sura 53:19-20:"Have ye thought upon Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza, and Manât, the third beside?".
In the Koran we also find a belief in jinn, demons and evil spirits:
Sura 15:26-27: "Verily we created man of potter's clay of black mud altered, and the Jinn did We create aforetime of essential fire."
- No original copy of the Koran exists. Muhammad's recitations (Koran means recitation) in the course of twenty years were written down by listeners on leaves. Yet, one wonders how they did so as most listeners were analphabetic. The first caliph Abû Bakr made after Muhammad's death a first collection. But there were different collections of his sayings, some of which contradicted each other. A definite version of the Koran did not appear before the third Islamic century. Presently a codex edited by a committee appointed by caliph 'Uthmân is mostly used. In addition the collection of hadîths (=Islamic tradional texts) of al-Bukhârî are a source of information on the genesis of Islam.
- It is highly surprising and gives to think that a sanctified treasure as the collection of leaves and other materials on which the original transcriptions of Muhammad's revelations were said to be made were destroyed by one of the caliphs.
- As it is, scholars question the authenticity of the koran itself. The only available parts in a recension by Ibn Hisham date two hundred years after the death of the prophet. The majority of traditions of the Prophet are not documents of the time which they claim to belong to, but the product of centuries of development and manipulation.
- The day of Judgment takes a prominent part in the Koran. It is believed that the source of his views on the Last Day was from Syriac Christianity: the sounding of the trumpet, the splitting of the heavens, the opening of the graves etc. ending with the deeds of men and jinns being judged by God. Either heaven or hell awaited them. But there was also the promise of an actual resurrection of the physical body. These concepts were foreign to Arabs and caused ridicule in Muhammad's time.
- The Koran is described as an ethical system based on fear. It decrees barbaric punishments that are to be meeted out to trespassers : amputation, flogging, immurement and crucifixion.
- Some errors have been noted in descriptions of historical (biblical) figures in the Koran.
- Although Muslims are deeply moved by recitations of the sura's its poetry had no such impact on Western readers. Thomas Carlyle said of it: "It is as toilsome reading as I ever undertook, a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite."
Piety in Islamic society is more exception than rule. Few Muslims understand what is being recited.
- Muslims find in its poetry and calligraphy proof of the Koran's divine origin. Yet oddly Muhammad was not impressed by poetry according to the Koran. "Those who go astray follow the poets."(sura 26:224)
- The Muslim' belief that the Koran is the precise word of God is a barrier to critical analysis on the part of Islamic scholars. Yet the Mu'tazilites, a body of dissident theologians, had dared to challenge this assertion in the ninth century. A person could determine moral conduct by using his own reasoning power. After a tumultuous battle the Mu'tazilites were beaten by Islamic orthodoxy. A step backward which Muslim scholars have not forgotten to this day. Fear for reprisals keep them from serious scientific study.
- New 'explanations' (tafsîrs) of the Koran were devised with the aim of proving that the Koran does not contain inconsistencies. Abrogation of conflicting sura's proved to be a useful but unconvincing instrument.
- The Koran now used widely by Muslims is of Egyptian origin of a corpus of secundary literature - a reconstruction of an 'Utmân' codex which which was written down long after the death of the prophet.
- The authority of the scripture is anxiously guarded by the ulama. Shi'ite ulama and ayatollas claim absolute divinely ordained authority.
- The Koran is being recited to Muslims from childhood onward. In modern psychology it is observed that sound carries authority: "to hear is actually a kind of obedience" . The classical Arabian formula for a servant is "I'm listening and obey" (samcan wa-tâcatan). Muslim theologists called the revelations to Muhammad: as-samc, "listening".
Jihad, the Holy WarAllah's messenger was asked, "What is the best deed?" He replied through archangel Gabriel To believe in Allah and his Apostle. The questioner then asked, What is the next? He replied, To participate in Jihad in Allah's cause. (Hadith vol. 1, no. 25).
The Koran and Hadiths time and again praise participation in a holy war.
- Those who die in a holy war are guaranteed to go to Heaven.
- "The person who participates in Jihad (Holy battles) in Allah's cause and nothing compels him to do so except belief in Allah and His apostle, will be recompensed by Allah either with a reward or booty (if he survives) or will be admitted to paradise (if he is killed)." (Vol 1:35)
- Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait (ambush) for them in every strategem (of war) . . .(Surah 2:193; 9:5).
There were several forms of Jihad:
- Jihad of words. In Arab culture it was customary for feuding tribes to select a poet to mock and provoke the opposing forces with cursing. So did Muahammad.
- Jihad of the sword. After fleeing to Medina in 622 AD, Muhammad summoned his followers to attack and plunder the caravans of Mecca. To back up his command he presented a series of revelations commanding Jihad. Looting was permitted: Whoever has killed an enemy and has proof of that, will possess his spoils – Hadith vol. 4: 370.
- Jihad of slavery. Was the booty not large enough, Muhammad held captives as hostages until their families paid a high ransom for their release. Capture of slaves is allowed by the Shari'a. In some Muslim countries slavery still exists.
Sura 5:33 records what is done to infidels who resist Islam:
"Their punishment is...execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from the opposite sides, or exile from the land."
The era of glory of the Islamic empireAfter the death of Muhammad there was much strive about the management and control of the legacy. Four caliphs (=successors) consolidated the Islamic empire. Although considered a flourishing era it was marked by constant civil wars: three of the four caliphs were assassinated.
In the beginning of the ninth century AD the abovementioned rationalist movement of the Mu'tazilites sprung up. They opposed the idea that the Koran descended uncreated from heaven. This movement became the official state ideology. Caliph al-Ma'mun (786-833 AD) showed a great interest in Greek culture. An Arabic literary culture developed that flourished until the 16th century. A school for astronomy was founded in Baghdad - algebra invented by al_Khwarizmi. Circulation of blood, already described by 13th century Syrian physician Ibn-al-Nafis, was rediscovered only centuries later.
A separation of religion and state was respected.
Abu Nuwas (762 -813 AD) became known as one of the most radical poets praising the blessings of wine and homosexual love. He discredited the poor Arab desert and nomadic origins.
Ultimately the caliphs lost their power to the ulama.
At its peak the Muslim empire had hardly any equal and surpassed that of Rome in power, expanse and splendour. Muslim armies conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and finally Spain and Portugal before invading France, Sicily and Italy. Counter attacks, such as the Crusades, failed.
In the East Tatars of the Golden Horde had conquered Russia between 1237 and 1240. When the Tatar Khan and his people were converted to Islam in 1252 Russia and much of Eastern Europe fell also under Muslim rule. The Ottoman Turks conguered Anatolia, the ancient Christian city of Constantinople and the Balkan peninsula. Their Northern empire now reached as far as Vienna.
Thus in the 16th century the Ottoman empire, which now also included Iran, had only one remaining enemy: Persia.
The Islamic world was also foremost in commerce. The trade in goods from Asia flourished. So did the import of slaves from Europe and Africa. Its civilisation now surpassed all that had been accomplished in the arts, sciences and philosophy. Muslim philosophers had islamatised Greek philosophical traditions. Aristotle can still not be studied without reference to Ibn Sînâ (Avicenna,d.1037) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes,d.1198).
Yet, the origin of these breakthroughs came from contact with civilisations of a higher developed culture than Arabia. The Islamic orthodoxy opposed vehemently such foreign influences.
Hunain ibn Ishaq (809-873) the most important translator of Greek philosophy into Arabic was a Christian. Ar-Razi, the famous phycisian of the Middle Ages, denied the prophethood of Muhammad.
Decline and the rise of Western civilisationIslamic superiority kept pace with what was happening in Europe for many centuries. Yet before the Renaissance the Europeans had already made significant progress, surpassing scientifically, technologically and culturally some achievements of the Islamic world without that they were aware of it.
Strategically the Ottoman empire suffered set-backs: Spain and Portugal were lost to Christendom. In 1699 they were defeated by a 'Holy League' of Christian countries and compelled to sign the treaty of Carlowitz.
In the field of science Muslims also lost their edge. Religious orthodoxy caused the last observatory built by Taqi al-Din in Galata being destroyed on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti. None other were built since until recently.
The Islamic world had hardly any idea of what was going on in the West. Renaissance, Reformation, or the scientific revolution went by unnoticed. Until the 18th century, with the exception of one treatise on syphilis, no Western books had been translated into any of the languages the Muslims could read. In Europe on the other hand in the 16th and 17th centuries chairs in Arabic had been established at European universities. Studies by Orientalists on Arab countries now became available . Typical for the Islamic attitude: there were no Occidentalists in the Orient until a comparatively recent date.
Westernisation / Occidentalism
In the 18th century a limited number of Western experts began visiting the Ottoman empire. In return the Ottomans sent special envoys for specific purposes to Europe. Many of them were non-Muslim: Jews or Greeks, as Muslims did not speak Western languages. In foreign countries they were accompanied by dragamans, interpreters/guides. French culture commanded greatest respect. Patriotism and nationalism in France or England were greatly admired and recognized as being a binding force.
Western techniques were introduced and adopted in Muslim countries under the pretext that they had to learn to fight the non-believers more effectively. Yet the battles of their updated armies brought nothing but humiliating defeats.
Meanwhile European governments opened consulates and embassies in Islamic nations, whereas these countries had none in the West.
The revenues of typical Arab exports of coffee and sugar cane dwindled by the end of the eighteenth century. They were even supplanted by imports of coffee from Dutch Java or Latin America, and sugar from the West Indies.
In contrast to the great changes in Western countries Islamic societies lagged behind stultified. In spite of Islam being an egalitarian religion, elites and aristocracies emerged. Hardly any social reform was introduced. The distinction between classes had only grown. So did inequality in distribution of wealth.
In Christianity a re-evaluating of its roots, scriptures and traditions had taken place. In the course of time, under ecclectic pressure, backward untenable notions had been relegated to the background.
In Islam such enlightenment had not taken place. It had no answer to the colonial ambitions of Western countries in the nineteenth century. Some form of westernization of customs took place. Hoca Ishak Efendi( d.1834), a Greek Jew converted to Islam, became a pioneer in the translation of Western literature into Turkish. Another device of of modernization, the printing press, made local and foreign literature more readily available. Yet the number of Western books translated into an Arab language has been very poor. From the ninth century onward no more translations became available than yearly in Spain!
Yet, newspapers and the telegraph brought news of outside events. Steamships, railways and paved roads accelerated communication. Nowadays, of course, there is the powerful medium of the television, albeit censored.
New laws were enacted based on those of Europe - commercial, civil, criminal and even constitutional. Secular lawyers opened offices next to the ulama, the jurists of the shari'a. Students at colleges and universities were taught by a new style teachers. In the areas they ruled, the French and British colonial powers created constitutional and parliamentary regimes: British style constitional monarchies and French-style republics. Following French law slavery was abolished. Only family law remained based on the shari'a. The moon and sun calenders were replaced.
However, attempts to reinterpret the outdated Koran came into conflict with the ulama, whose approval was also needed to push through political decisions.
An Arab version of socialism failed disastrously and was abandoned, although a high level of state involvement in economy remained.
Difference in economic approaches can be seen in their distinctive forms of gaining profit. In Arab countries maximum profit is generated by attainment of a position of power which may be exploited by means of corruption, exerting bribes. Islamic Indonesia is an example of one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
In Western capitalism, however, profit is generated in the market and out of manufacture of products.
Arab attempts to catch up with the Industrial Revolution failed for lack of investment. As a result there was no job creation and increased productivity. Fifteen procent of the population is jobless.
Exports and income became stagnated. Even recently, according to a World Bank estimate, the total exports of Arab countries, other than fossil fuels, are less than Finland, a country with five million inhabitants.
Wealthy Middle Easterners lack entrepreneural spirit, or faith in their own people and prefer to invest in non-Arab industrialised states. Works of construction have to be contracted with Western, or Far Eastern companies.
The quest for prosperity through development brought in some Muslim countries only impoverishment and corrupt economies in recurring need of external aid. Traditional autocracies were replaced by tyrannies, or new-style dictatorships, modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination. A striking example is Iran, where in 1979 Khomeini fundamentalism came into power. In name a republic, but in reality an totalitarian theocracy.
The average income of an Arab is as low as US$ 2000 p.a., even if the huge oil income is taken into account. And it is going down: in 1980 no less than 20%!According to the Arab Human Development report of 2003 the nine leading Arab economies had 370 patents registered in the USA between 1980 and 1999. In the same period of time South Korea alone had 16.328 patents registered! In Arab countries hardly anyone uses the Google search engine! Unacceptable web-pages are being blocked in Saudi-Arabia. Work is now being transfered by Western companies to India and many other cheap labour nations, but not to Arab countries!
When asked for the reason of Western success the answer is always religious: Muslims are being punished by God for having abandoned the true path. The question why God favours the infidels is never asked.
Oil riches scandered
Islamic Mediterranean countries are not blessed with optimal agricultural conditions. Natural poverty changed when oil was discovered. But it were not the Arabs who explored and exploited these oil riches. The infidels from the West had to take the initiative again, leaving the Arabs whistling for it. Instead of wisely exploiting the resulting huge income Arab countries dissipated much of their new wealth in luxury, instead of being of long-term benefit to society as a whole. Saudi-Arabia counts 7000 princes many of whom squander its wealth. Arab students, instead of enriching their culture, flee the stifling conditions in their homeland, prefering the liberties of life in Western society.
Others, like Osama Bin Laden, used their wealth to incite terrorism, abusing the name of their revered religion in the eyes of the world.
Another part of oil income was being channeled to build 1500 mosques and 2000 Muslim schools on five continents. According to apostate follower of Wahhabism, Mansour Nogeidan, these mosques are hotbeds for terrorism, their school system outdated.
Some hardly convincing explanations for the deplorable state of Islamic society have been advanced:
- The relegation of women to an inferior position has left half the population being illiterate and downtrodden.
- Transmission of knowledge was hampered severely by the ban on images and representations.
- Inbreeding: the prevalence of cousin marriage, especially in the countryside.
- Disuse of wheeled vehicles after the middle ages. Some travelers in the Middle East were surprised to see so few of them. A return to the time of the Prophet when wheels were hardly in use?
Who is to blame? The blame culture.The Koran (22:38-42) says: God will defend those who have believed, God does not love the false, the infidel. Nevertheless the inexplicable occurred that the latter came into power.
Non-believers by their own efforts fared far better. The Japanese, when defeated by the Americans in the nineteenth century, were so clever to master western technology and used it to beat their opponents both military as well as commercially and so grew to one of the most advanced nations in the world. Trade in cities as Hong Kong, Singapore and former British colony Aden is booming.
For a long time the Mongol invaders were blamed for the decline of Islamic civilisation. When this excuse wore out the Turks who had occupied them became the next target. Turks could blame their adversary, the Persians, in turn. In modern times Jews, Christians, and Americans are held responsible. In the glory time of the empire, under the dhimma rule, non-Muslim monotheist inhabitants were given protection. Such in sharp contrast to the persecutions that often haunted them in Christians countries. Nowadays the dhimma rule is largely forgotten and minorities persecuted.
Denial is another popular strategy: a first reaction to the 9-11 terrorist attack was to lay the blame on other enemies of the USA, American extremists like McVeigh of the Oklahoma massacre, and finally on the Israelis, of all people.
So the question remains: 'What has Islam done to the Muslims?', or, 'What have the Muslims done to Islam'? Why was America not discovered by Arabs? (Little about the United States was known in Arab countries until the twentieth century. Influenced by Nazi and Communist anti-American propaganda it became an arch enemy, particularly for its support of Israel.)
Other aspects of the Islam
- Muslims are superior. The Quran teaches that Muslims are superior to others: Ye (Muslims) are the best of peoples evolved for mankind . . . (Surah 3:110)
- Identification with Muslim culture. Muslim scholar Dr. Ali Dashti, explained that Islam must be understood in terms of an essential identification with seventh-century Arab culture. Muslims must dress the way Muhammad and his women did, eat what they ate, speak like he did, make his political views their own, and pray the way he did. They must accept that everything that Muhammad did, taught, and believed is the word of Allah. The whole religion is based on the lifestyle and communications received by him.
- The concept of honour. Another specimen of tribal folklore. To blacken the family blazon is tentamount to a capital offence. It has to be revenged, often in a savage way, in order to vindicate the trespass.
In the West honour has to be gained by being a valued member of society for one's honesty, uprightness, dependability. People who boast of their honour are suspect. Usually their pride is a cover-up for being felt left-out: an inferiority complex.
- Muslims are forbidden to befriend Jews or Christians: O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is one of them . . .(Surah 5:51).
- Criticism. In Arab countries any criticism of Muhammad or the Koran is considered a criminal offense punishable by death. But in fact it exposes a great hidden uncertainty about their faith.
- Apostasy. Few Muslims dare to defect from their religion. So easy as it is to accept its faith, so dangerous it is to change one's mind. The Hadith teaches that apostasy is punishable by death: Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him.(Hadith vol. 4:260 & vol. 9:57). Recent history in Egypt and Algeria has shown that in cases this commandment is even carried out!
- Hostility towards non-believers. Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait (ambush) for them in every strategem (of war) . . . Surah 9:5 (also 2:193).
- No mercy for those who resist Islam: The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution or crucifixion, or the cutting off of the hands and feet from opposite sides or exile from the land . . . (Surah 5:36).
- Discrimination of women.. The Koran states that men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other. Do not the men spend their wealth to maintain them? (Sura 4:34)
It is not surprising then that Koranic verses about women seem to belittle them, in spite of denials and attempts to reinterpret them:
Tradition has it that women form the majority of the inhabitants of hell, and consequently it is not surprising to learn that they also constitute a minority in heaven.
- Women's testimony has only half value.
- A man cannot be asked why he beats women. Quran, Sura 4:34 states: Men are the managers of the affairs of women...Those you fear may be rebellious--admonish; banish them to their couches and beat them.
- In Saudi-Arabia women may not wear white clothes or trousers. A number of schoolgirls, though modestly dressed, were allowed to burn to death in a fire because they were not wearing black outer garments and so were not considered fit to be taken outside the burning building.
- In Saudi-Arabia women can use the library only one day a week.
- Though in sura 33:59 veils are prescribed for the Prophet's wives, this rule is now believed to apply to all women.
- Female circumcision. This barbaric practice is not generally customary anymore fortunately. However, in countries like Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia and in East Africa this mutilation is still the rule. Yet there is no single text in the Koran and Hadith requiring it, even for men. In fact it was a pagan practice. Yet according to Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar University, the highest autority for nearly a billion Sunni Moslims called circumcision a laudable practice that did honor to women, according to the BBC..
Criticism suppressedCritical views about the revelations of the prophet assailed Islam from the very beginning. Already in the late eighth century there were those who doubted that the Koran was the "uncreated" and eternal word of God. Under the Caliph al-Ma'mun (813-833) the heretical view was adopted that the Koran was created gradually.
By the end of the tenth century the opposite view, that of the inimitability of the Koran, was taken and adhered to. As a result the mainstream Muslim understanding is that the Koran is the literal and uncreated word of God. There is even a day of festivity to celebrate the event of the holy book descending from heaven.
The reputation of the Koran as God's word would be irreparably damaged if it could be proven that unjust teachings and rules were part of the culture and custom of Arabia in the 7th century.
Christianity has a long history of exegesis and literary criticism of the Bible. Not so in Islam. Scholars and writers in Islamic countries who have ignored warnings have sometimes found themselves the target of death threats and violence.
- The fatwa on Salmon Rushdie is well-known.
- When Arab scholar Suliman Bashear maintained that Islam developed into a religion gradually, instead of coming fully formed from the mouth of the Prophet, he was injured after being thrown from a second-story window by his students at the University of Nablus on the West Bank.
- In 1992 the Egyptian journalist Farag Foda was assassinated by Islamists for his critical writings about Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
- In 1994 the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed for writing "heretical" conceptions of God and the Prophet Muhammad.
- Egyptian scholar Abû Zayd had to terminate his academic career as a result of judicial inquiry and persecution for apostasy. He is living in exile in the Netherlands as a lecturer now.
- In August 2004 the highest religious authority in Egypt, the Al Azhar university, ordered the confiscation of books of David Cook (see below) and Jamal al-Banna for violating 'islamic principles'.
Yet despite threats, a handful of experts have been quietly investigating the origins of the Koran, offering radically new theories about the roots of Islam.
- Christoph Luxenberg for one, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of the text are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars.
- John Wansbrough of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London maintains that the text of the Koran appears to be a composite of different texts compiled over dozens, if not hundreds, of years. There is no evidence of the existence of the Koran until 691 AD, being 59 years after Muhammad's death, when the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem was built, carrying several Koranic inscriptions, which are slightly different as we know them today.
- Much of what we know of the life and sayings of the Prophet - is based on texts from between 130 and 300 years after Muhammad's death. Patricia Crone and Michael Cook of Princeton University - have studied several non-Muslim, seventh-century accounts. In those texts Muhammad is not mentioned as the founder of a new religion but as a preacher in the Old Testament tradition, hailing the coming of a Messiah. Many of the early documents refer to the followers of Muhammad as "Hagarenes" and the "tribe of Ishmael" as descendants of the Jewish patriarch Abraham and Hagar, the slave girl and their son Ishmaël.
- According to Islamic tradition the Ka'ba in Mecca was built by Abraham and Ishmaël but Islamic scholar Snouck Hurgronje has shown that Muhammad invented the story to give his religion an Arabian origin.
- Incidentally, a group of archeologists led by Zev Herzog of the university of Tel Aviv stated in October 2003, after seventy years of research, that there is no historical evidence for the biblical stories. Abraham and Ishmaël may be figures of a legend.
Stoning to death in Iran
The humiliation of westernization evoked counterforces. Fundamentalist movements had already been in existence from the ninth century. Modern fundamentalist aspirations date from the '30s and '40s. Hasan al-Bannâ became a proponent of the Muslim Brotherhood. This brotherhood called in 1920 for an Islamic form of nation-state, a state where Islamic law, the shari'a, would be the law of the land.
In particular in Saudi-Arabia: in law schools of Sunni-Islam a return is preached to the purity of the letters and an imitation of the Salaf, the ancients of Medina and the model-life of the prophet. Thereby forgetting that Medina was scarred by a bloody civil war waged by these 'ancients' at the time.
Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), a Syrian theologian, made corporal punishment the very criterion of the Shari'a. Flagellation, chopping off of hands and feet, stoning and even crucifixion were the cruelties he recommended. It is still the basis of Wahhabism, the movement named after Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-1792) practised in Saudi-Arabia.
Fundamentalism is the curse that haunts any budding religion, whether it be Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism. Fundamentalists aspire to regain power. The same power as their opponents, the Western governments, with the difference that in Islam it is used to coerce mankind into obeying Allah's commands, the advent of the Kingdom of God.
Islam fundamentalism has a political as well as a religious component. It is a messianic dream, anti-modern in ideology, narrowed down to an overly concern with the hereafter. Its recent extreme form: terrorism, is encouraged by the instilled belief that martyrs await a heavenly reward.
Admittedly, to die for one's religion pre-existed in Judaism and Christianity, but there it was no excuse to hurt or kill non-believers and so bring one's faith into discredit.
On losing faith / apostasyLosing faith in Islam is an excruciating process. Not only by the threat of punishment upon defecting. In Islamic society it may mean banishment from social life. As Islam is more a binding social network between families and groups of believers than that it is born out of a religious inclination, leaving the clan is felt as an insult.
How serious the offense is may be clear from the following Hadith: "Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him."(Vol. 9:57).
Defective Muslims in the West have a way out to immerse in the non-religious society. Yet (s)he may feel thrown in a vacuum in picking up a new way of life without support of the family. No Allah to guide him/her, no outsiders to heap the blame on! Yet compensated by the feeling of release from oppressive social control!
Muslims have a lot to say about Western sexual decadence, yet seem to have forgotten that the Islamic empire until recently was considered a hotbed of (homo-)sexuality . Sir Richard Burton became an expert in the study of Persian-Arabic sexuality. He classified and detailed much of the aspects of Arab eroticism.
The Delight of Hearts -13th century by the Tunesian al-Tifachi
What deprivation of bodily needs can lead to has been observed in prison, boarding schools, army and catholic church environments in the West. In Islam as a result of the strong separation of sexes a significant homosexuality/pederasty existed. Even Muhammad promised young virgin boyservants in paradise.
Masturbation was the only thing left to those who could not restrain themselves. It became an art known under many terms.
Pederasty was not seen as an offense either.
Muslims emphasize time and again: Homosexuality is forbidden by Islam. Yet, as always, the opposite is being practised. From the nineteenth century onward many Western gays visited Muslim North Africa for its laxity in sexual mores, which their own society condemned.
It is noteworthy that, under the relaxed Omayyads and the even more permissive Abbassids dynasties which ruled after Muhammad's death to about 1258, we have no record of poets being punished for their published sexual opinions and statements, or even for their sexual activities.... At all events, homosexuality seems to have been as widely practised and accepted under the Omayyads and Abbassids (and in al-Tifashi's own time) as it is in most Muslim countries today.... (Edward A. Lacey)
Hanging of two homosexuals aged 16 and 18 in Iran.
Yet nowadays the Muslim Hanabalites teach that severe punishment is warranted for homosexual acts. Al-Fatiha estimates that 4,000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since their revolution in 1979.
Now that Islam seems to have become prudish, one wonders whether this has not given rise to an enormous suppression of sexuality. Muslim youths pride themselves in living a virgin life which they presume is what the Prophet so wanted. Moreover they favour marrying brides from their own countries. This often results in postponing marriages till they are over twenty years old and in a position to set up a household as prescribed by Western immigration laws.
Little attention has been devoted as yet to an underlying suppressed sexuality as an explanation for excessive religious fervour. In the Middle Ages Christianity also demanded of its believers a chaste sex life - sexual intercourse only with the object of procreation - no sexual play, or eroticism. It gave rise to weird delusions. Witches being blamed for them and being burnt at the stake. Under Muslims lack of sex may result in overheated minds projecting their torments on innocent people, ending up in terrorism finally.
Faith. A mixed blessing
On blind faith Eric Hoffer writes: All active mass movements strive to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithfull and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it.
Few Muslims read the Koran, but the recital of suras evoke a great sentiment amongst the followers. It is their way of approaching Allah. Doing their daily prayers, visiting the mosque, observing the Ramadan, it all binds the community together into a feeling of belonging.
As is the case with so many other believers, the less they know about their religion the more fanatic they become. Muslims are prepared to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for their belief. The only sacrifice they are not prepared to make is to use their common sense - their Allah-given intelligence - to spend a few hours, may be days, to investigate the roots of the Islam, to see whether they are not mistaken in their belief.
They may ask themselves questions as to why:
- do inhabitants of Muslim countries not participate in welfare as those in other nations.
- are their lives moulded after outdated concepts dating from tribal allegiance.
- why the minds of Arab children, especially girls, become dulled by not being exposed to intellectual challenges. As a result their IQ falls in general behind that of children in Japan, China, and most modern Western countries.
- they are brainwashed into a shame culture, blaming all their misfortunes and neglect on the adversary, infidel persons or nations.
- new pathways in the arts and sciences are not available to them.
- there is no separation of religion and state
- outmoded Islamic shari'a laws, should rule their lives, instead of enlightened visions on the practice of justice developed in the course of many centuries.
- criminal acts are punished by biased selections of Koranic suras.
- independent study of Islamic origins is not allowed.
Believers are hooked on to a way of looking at things imprinted from childhood onward. There is no room for questioning in a religion that preaches that all truth is laid down in the Koran.
Most Muslims in Western society are focused on sustaining a comfortable life-style. Absorption in work alternated with escape into mass-entertainment. The few religiously inclined will search for a deeper meaning in life, surrendering and reaching out for Divine Grace. The task is to distill the sublime and discard the dead wood. The Sufis once did so but, although groups still exist, the flame of their torch of enlightenment flutters .... alas.
Links and literature
- Blackmore, Susan: The Meme Machine. (1999)
- Buruma, Ian & Margalit, Avishai: Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies (2004)
- Crone, P. & Cook, M.: Hagarism. The making of the Islamic world.
- Daniel, Norman: Islam and the West. The Making of an Image (Edinburgh 1960; revised ed. Oxford 1993)
- Donner, F.M.: Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing.
- Edwardes, Allen.: The Jewel in the Lotus. A historical survey of the sexual culture of the East (1960).
- Fallaci, Oriana: The rage and the pride (2002)
- Hoffer, Eric: The true believer (1951)
- Jansen, J.J.G.: The dual nature of Islamic fundamentalism (1997)
- Jaynes, J.: The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind (1976, 1990)
- Lacey, Edward A.: The delight of hearts (from the French, 1988)
- Lewis, Bernard: What went wrong? (2002); The crisis of Islam (2003)
- Meddeb, Abdelwahab: Islam and its discontents (2003)
- Rippin, Andrew: Muslims. Their religious beliefs and practices. (1990)
- Rushdie, Salman: Shalimar, the clown (2005)
- Schmitt, Arno and Jehoeda Sofer, eds.: Sexuality and Eroticism among males in Moslem Societies (1991)
- Shaikh, Anwar: Islam: Sex &Violence
- Smith W.C.: The meaning and end of religion (1962)
- Somers, H.H.: Een andere Mohammed (Belgian psychologist, analysing Muhammad's mental condition, 1993)
- Spencer, Robert: Islam unveiled. Disturbing questions about the world's fastest-growing faith (2002)
- Viorst, Milton: In the shadow of the prophet. The struggle for the soul of Islam (2001)
- Wansbrough, John: Quranic Studies. Sources and methods of scriptural interpretation (Oxford 1977).
- Wansbrough, John: The Sectarian Milieu. Content and composition of Islamic salvation history (1978).
- Warraq, Ibn: Why I am not a Muslim (1995)
- Wright, Lawrence: The Kingdom of Silence (article in The New Yorker, January 5, 2003?)
Nederlandse vertaling van deze pagina.
- Scholars scrutinize the Koran's Origin
- Muhammad's suicide attempts
- External References to Islam
- The mysterious illness of the Prophet Muhammad identified
- Wikipedia: Hallucination
- Wikipedia: Sufism
- Homosexuality in Islam
- Answering Islam
- Apostates of Islam
- The noble Qur'an
- The Christ myth
- Documentation of internet filtering in Saudi Arabia
Created 28th March 2004, updated 21 October 2017