Stop Pretending ISIS Isn’t Muslim

shahada

I am Muslim, and I know Islam to be a religion of peace. Historically and according to the scripture, Islam is a religion of inclusion. Sharia, as it was practiced during and following the time of the Prophet Muhammad, codified inclusion and coexistence. It protected the rights of women, instituted a reasonable and sustainable tax system, and led to one of the most powerful and successful empires in history. Despite all this, there is a large contingent of Muslims in the modern world who are not only ignorant of this history, but actively act in direct contradiction to its lessons.

It is troubling to me when people say that members of ISIS, and similar groups, are not Muslim. They proclaim the Shahada, the central creed of Islam, and constantly profess that they are acting according to what they believe Allah has ordained for them. The Muslim world’s rejection of ISIS by saying they are not truly Muslims is actually problematic because it takes the focus off a very important aspect of this conflict, that terrorism is being bred in Muslim countries. ISIS is partly the result of what Islam has become in the modern world. The sooner the Muslim community admits and recognizes this, the sooner it can be dealt with.

Yes, unwelcome intervention from other nations has played a direct part in creating power vacuums and societal conditions which lead to radicalization. However, this particular snake has more than one head. The modern Islamic world is comprised of nations with astounding amounts of wealth being put to shamefully bad use. Despite the problems the coalition’s invasion of Iraq caused, Saddam Hussein wasn’t exactly a good guy. Iran’s regime has been supremely oppressive for decades, despite some attempts at popular resistance. I don’t even need to talk about Saudi Arabia. Education is terrible, poverty rates are incredibly high, economies and fragile, and freedoms are limited. Since just before WWI, the Islamic world has been in a decline that is now arguably reaching its apex.

Here’s the problem: Muslims continue to hide behind a rejection of obvious fanaticism while refusing to be introspective about the established regimes and policies which contribute to the rise of that fanaticism. Governmental policies and practices are not rooted in actual scripture. Rather, they are norms designed so that the wealthy who are in control can remain as such, and they’re working. Muslims the world over will immediately get on the TweetBook to reject dramatic acts of violence. Yet, Saudi Arabia publicly beheads over 150 people, and people don’t say a thing. The elite in Pakistan are inordinately wealthy, and yet the total adult illiteracy rate in the country hovers between 40% and 45%. The bombings in Turkey receive universal condemnation, yet Narges Mohammadi is currently dying in an Iranian prison, and you probably don’t even know who that is.

You may say that these things are the fault of a few oppressive groups and individuals. Remarkably, my experience has been quite different. It is the populations of these countries which allow and almost encourage these types of things to happen. When I can walk around after the Orlando shooting and hear people say, “Well, they shouldn’t have been gay,” then I know it isn’t just those in power who allow this hate to fester. Adults will often overtly demonstrate a false politeness but will internally harbor bigoted ideologies and will promote those ideologies among their communities.

It’s easy to say that ISIS isn’t Muslim. After all, what reasonable person would want to associate themselves with that type of ideology that is hated the world over? But, if you denounce their violence and then go home to beat your wife, you have no claim to the moral high ground. If you support women not being able to drive or attain a quality education, then your claims about being a real Muslim are nothing but moral masturbation. If you criticize people fighting for the ability of young girls to attain an education as being “puppet[s] of the West,” then you’re really looking in the wrong place to direct your indignation. If you publicly execute people for drug addiction and refuse to provide treatment for alcoholism, then I wonder where your knowledge of what is un-Islamic comes from. It’s no secret that the social conditions created by these so called Islamic policies create a boiling point necessary for terrorism and violence to thrive. When people are not provided for, when they lack accessible education and liberty, when they suffer from daily lives mired in tiresome difficulties, they turn to what promises them hope of salvation, love, and escape.

ISIS was created, at least in part, by Muslims in the modern world. While these people are quick to reject violence and cite their favorite quotes from the scripture in that effort, they refuse to turn the same critical eye to their own actions. Where is the Hadith of Gabriel when Dubai and Saudi Arabia build the world’s tallest buildings? Where are the references to the Prophet’s wives Aisha and Khadeejeh when women are denied education and economic rights? Where are the references to the many Hadith about kindness to animals when animals are abused and neglected?

What is arguably just as bad as terrorism is the society that fosters it. Islam has provided a blueprint for a successful life and society, and that blueprint has been demonstrably successful, leading an empire to prosperity for 1300 years. I don’t like writing preachy posts like this because God knows I’m not perfect. I have my own sins to repent for, and I’m not really in a place to tell others how to live their live. But, what I am in a place to do is point out obvious inconsistencies. ISIS isn’t the only group of people who have perverted or forgotten the lessons of Islam. It is just the most stark example that we have to point the finger at, but that finger should really be pointed at ourselves first.

Mosques of the World #1 – Saudi Arabia

Welcome to a new series I’m doing. My recent posting in Dubai has afforded me the opportunity to travel around the world with a frequency I hadn’t been able to before. As a result, I’ve made it a point to visit at least one local mosque in every country I visit and comment on my feelings about that country. Let’s start off with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi MosqueThe mosque I visited was quite small, just the small room you see in the picture, enough for 25 – 30 people at most. The inside, however, was beautiful. Calligraphy carvings on the front wall, a clean and comfortable carpet, and a neatly tiled entry way gave the place a warmly welcoming and inviting feeling. The people were friendly, though they were Shia whose prayer rituals slightly differ from my own. It was a testament to what Islam should be, a faith which welcomes others, accepts differences, and provides acceptance.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country isn’t quite as inviting. To start, women are faced with many restrictions limiting what they are able to do. To start, women are not permitted to drive, and in some areas, cannot even own cars, let alone other property. Women must be completely covered with an hibaya, the traditional black veiled covering often worn by Muslim women. In the world of business, this leads to additional complications. The men on our team must secure rental cars and transportation. It’s risky to be seen riding in the same car as a woman I’m not related to. Additionally, business offices must construct a separate area for women to work, although no companies actually make their women work separately unless they’re being inspected.

This has always been interesting to me because Islam does not require, or condone, any of these restrictions. Women are not required to wear abayas in Islam. They are only forbidden from wearing tight clothes which reveal their figure, and even then, this requirement is only applicable to Muslim women. Islamic law does not extend Islamic rules to non-Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) first wife was one of, if not the most, successful and well known merchants in Arabia. Islam was the first religion in the area which allowed women to own property and gave them a place at the political table. The state of affairs in Saudi Arabia runs quite contrary to Islamic teachings.

The country also feels oppressive. Strict rules and punishments, like beheadings, still regularly occur in the country. I have to constantly be mindful of what I say or what I’m talking about for fear of persecution. It’s difficult to understand how valuable freedom of speech really is until you go to a place where it isn’t afforded. I must cover the tattoos on my arms because they might be found offensive as well.

These policies, among others, have resulted in the country being left in a poor state. There is little investment, and commerce struggles to thrive. There is a large reliance on oil money, much of which doesn’t go to the poor in the country. Agriculture is struggling, and the landscape of the country is barren and depressing.

It saddens me, as a Muslim, to see the nation which houses the centerpiece of my faith in a condition like this. It’s not as bad as is sometimes believed in the West, but it’s much worse than I wanted to believe it would be. Coincidentally, the people in the mosque, and those in the surrounding area, were very much against the royal family and the rules which have been imposed in the nation. Well, maybe that wasn’t so coincidental.

I can only hope that these things change in the years to come and the country experiences a rebirth.

Why France’s Free Speech Defense of Charlie Hebdo is Untenable

freedomofspeechBecause people judge before reading, let me start by saying that I do not condone the terrible acts of violence perpetuated against Charlie Hebdo. The teachings of Islam do not support or justify such actions. There are numerous versus in the Quran in which Allah command Muhammad to withstand ridicule and what others say against him. Allah clearly states that he will punish them, and Islam prescribes no human punishment for expressions of opinions which mock the Prophet and Islam. The Hadith also contain many traditions expressing Islam’s protection of peoples’ rights to fully express themselves, and many traditions which command Muslims to be kind in their responses to hateful speech and to restrain from violence. When it comes to speech Islam prohibits only slanderous speech and blasphemy. The blasphemy prohibition is only applicable to Muslims under Shari’ah and nobody else. But, the purpose of this post is not to explain Islam’s view on freedom of speech. You can read the Quran and Hadith for yourself. As a Muslim, I have always condemned all Muslim violence and terrorism committed against anyone, and I invite other Muslims to do the same.

That all being said, this post is intended to comment on the hypocrisy in the discourse around this tragedy. The media, and Western governments, paint a picture of Europe as a bastion of freedom of speech and expression which is being opposed by the restrictive religion of Islam. While terrorist acts committed by Muslims reinforce this narrative, it is actually far from the truth. France is one of the most restrictive societies in the world when it comes to freedom of religious expression. Religious symbols, included the Hijab, are forbidden to be displayed in public. There are restrictions around practice of religion in public and expressions of one’s personal beliefs. Denying the holocaust is forbidden in many countries in Europe, and the EU is the first body in the world to adopt a right to be forgotten which restricts digital freedom of speech. The justification for all these restrictions is that such speech is harmful to people. Religious expression in public incites dissent and tension among people. It has no place in the public sphere. Yet, somehow, completely obscene cartoons intended only to insult particular religions have a protected place in the public discourse. Expression protections in Europe are incredibly hypocritical. They are informed by each country’s history, and often at the arbitrary preferences of the government. Either freedom of speech is absolute or not. A country cannot restrict people’s freedoms with one justification and allow others to express their opinions when the same justification applies.

I don’t necessarily know what types of speech should be protected and what shouldn’t. I don’t know that any country in the world has come up with a system that works for everyone, nor do I know if such a system could exist. But the point is that any policy has to be fair and consistent. Condemning religious expression as hateful while protecting obviously hateful media expression is not consistent. It is a hypocritical policy. The narrative sounds great, and it sells news. It light a fire in people because they cling to the mantra of freedom of speech. I invite you to distance yourself from the narrative you find in the media and examine the truth before making judgments.