Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category


burkaThe burka – or burqa as some write it – is the head-to-toe covering that some Muslim women wear over their clothes when they go out in public. Sometimes all you can see is their eyes, but sometimes even their eyes are covered (with a netting that they can see through).

Burkas are mostly seen in Afghanistan and South Asia – Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In India only one Muslim woman in 20 might wear it; in Afghanistan under the Taliban all women were forced to wear it. In Pakistan it used to be quite common, but it has been dying out, especially in the big cities.

Even though some will argue it is not in the Koran, in most of the Muslim world hijab, or modest dress, is understood to be a religious duty or virtue for women (and, to a lesser degree, for men).

The form that hijab takes is different from place to place. The burka is the most extreme form.

In Iran women wear a chador, which covers everything but their face, hands and feet. In some Arab countries women wear the abaya which does the same thing. In other places, like Turkey, women wear just a headscarf. And some Muslim women dress in a completely Western fashion, though with more of their body covered than Western women.

Burkas, abayas and chadors are just for going out in public. They are something women wear over their clothes. When they are at home they take them off and you find out that they are not dressed quite so plainly. When Neda died during the election protests in Iran in 2009, for example, we found out that under her chador she was wearing  blue jeans!

Governments sometimes force women to follow hijab, like the Taliban or Iran under Islamic rule. Yet others  have forced women to do the opposite, like Iran under the shah.

In France it has been against the law to wear a burka to public school since 2004. And now they want to go even further and outlaw it altogether. In 2009 President Sarkozy said:

The issue of the burka is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity. The burka is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory… I tell you, we must not be ashamed of our values, we must not be afraid of defending them.

This only makes sense to me as a piece of xenophobia: Muslims make him feel uncomfortable.

For many Muslim women it is in fact a matter of religion. And keeping themselves covered up from the eyes of men is a matter of dignity. Even in the West, modest dress was seen as part of a woman’s dignity until the 1900s.

Your religion – or even a lack of religion – is part of who you are. To be told you cannot express it when you are hurting no one goes against one’s freedom and dignity.

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Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan (1987-2007), an American soldier. Colin Powell said it well:

Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That’s not America. Is there something wrong with a seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion that [Obama] is a Muslim and might have an association with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel particularly strong about this because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay, was of a mother at Arlington Cemetery and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards – Purple Heart, Bronze Star – showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn’t have a Christian cross. It didn’t have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith.

And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life.

– Colin Powell

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The God of Abraham (by -1363) is worshipped by half of mankind: he is the god of the Jews, Christians and Muslims; he is the god of the Bible and the Koran.

He first appears in Egyptian records by -1363 as YHW. He is also known as YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elah, Allah, the Lord, the Holy Trinity, God Almighty and the Demiurge. I will call him by his common English name, God.

Jews, Christians and Muslims say he is the only god, the one who created the world. Other gods are demons or made up.

God talks to us through prophets, angels, holy books and prayer. He tells us what is right and wrong. At the end of the world on Judgement Day he will judge us, rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is beyond human thought and word.

Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same god? Historically, yes. Theologically, it depends who you ask.

Christians say that God has three Persons: he is one God yet somehow he is also God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. This is called the Holy Trinity. They see Jesus Christ as God made flesh.

Gnostics call him the Demiurge, which means Creator. But they mean that in a bad way: they see this world as a prison of matter that our spirits have fallen into. He is hardly God Almighty.

Even though he was the god of a people with an unhappy history, he has conquered the gods of the Roman Empire, the gods of the  Greek philosophers, the 360 gods of Mecca, the gods of the Aztecs and countless others.

Three things set him apart from other gods:

  1. Like a wife, he is jealous. He wants us to worship him alone. Even though he started out as a god of the Jews, a people who never built an empire, he says he is god of all men, of the whole universe! Other gods are happy being the god of rain or war or whatever and sharing men’s worship with other gods. Not this one.
  2. Like a hard father, he is severely moral. Unlike other gods he does not use his power to do whatever he wishes. He always acts justly and morally and demands the same of us. But with justice comes mercy:
  3. Like a friend, he listens to us and shows mercy. He is not some nameplate in the sky, he is the “living God”. He hears us and cares about us. But like a good father he will punish us out of love and yet pardon us when that is wisest.

Because he is so wise, he is often pictured as an old man with a long white beard, as Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel (pictured above). But of course he is beyond anything we can picture. Muslims and Jews and some Christians say it is wrong to even try to make a picture of him.

– Abagond, 2007, 2015.

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The Prophet Muhammad (570-632) was an Arab prophet who founded Islam, today the religion of a fifth of mankind. He wrote its holy book, the Koran. Islam says he is the Final Prophet and the Perfect Man, but he is in no way divine. He is the Paraclete promised by Jesus Christ in the Bible.

Unlike the founders of world religions, he fought battles and founded an empire. This has made Islam a very political religion.

He worked no miracles, but God spoke to him through the angel Gabriel. He wrote it all down word for word. That became the Koran. It is itself a miracle: no mere man could have written it. The Hadith has the sayings and deeds of Muhammad.

Islam says he is the Final Prophet and the Koran the perfect Word of God. The prophets that came before, like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and Jesus, had their prophecies put in the Bible. But the Bible has been corrupted by men who, for example, made Jesus into the Son of God.

So Islam is not so much a new religion, but religion purified. It is Christianity, for example, without the priests, holy bread or Jesus as one of three gods.

Yet Muhammad did keep some of the old Arab religion, like the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Muhammad was a businessman from Mecca. Every year during the month of Ramadan (then always in summer) he went to the mountain to pray and fast. In 610 the angel Gabriel began to speak to him. It sounded at first like ringing, but in time he heard the words. Gabriel spoke to him till his death. Gabriel’s words have become the Koran.

When Muhammad got back to Mecca he told people what happened and gathered followers. They became the first Muslims.

In those days Arabs fought each other in an endless this for that. Arabs were divided by bloodlines into tribes and worshipped many gods. The Muslims were something new: a community based not on kin but on faith. They seemed like strange sort of tribe.

The Muslims soon became a threat to Mecca and its old ways of tribes and gods. They had to leave. Their flight to Medina, in the following summer in 622 is called the Hegira. This began the Muslim calendar. In Medina they built the first mosque, where they could pray.

In Medina the Muslims attacked traders on the way to Mecca. This led to war, which Muhammad won. By 630 Muhammad ruled Mecca and Medina.

Because Muslims promised not to fight each other, the Muslim part of Arabia was a region of peace. This made it stronger than the rest of Arabia, which was divided and consumed by countless little wars. So in time all of Arabia became Muslim and by Muhammad’s death it was united into one country.

In the hundred years after his death, Arabs went on to conquer lands from Spain to India. It was the start of the Arab Empire and the Muslim world.

– Abagond, 2006.

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Jihad is holy war as a religious duty for Muslims. In our time some use the word in a moral rather than a military sense. In Muslim law, where it gets a whole chapter, it is always used in a military sense.

A jihad is a war either against infidels (those who do not believe in Islam) or against apostates (Muslims who have fallen away from the true faith). Only rulers can call a jihad.

Those who fall in battle in a jihad go straight to paradise. They are called martyrs or shahids.

Jihad has certain rules. Among others:

  1. Women and children are not to be killed unless they attack first.
  2. Those not fighting in the war should be treated well.
  3. Rulers must honour agreements they make – jihad does not allow them to break their word.
  4. Enemies must be told that war is coming.

On the other hand, jihad is winner takes all: the winner has rights over the property and persons conquered.

The conquered are treated differently according to their religion:

  1. People of the book: these include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Mandeans – those who follow a revealed religion. They can either convert, pay a tax or die.
  2. Kafirs: those who worship gods, idols or spirits. They can either convert, become a slave or die.

So, for example, jihad does not justify 9/11: it killed thousands of unarmed men, women and children, some of them even Muslims. It was not called by any recognized ruler, it was hardly an attempt to extend Islam to America. It was merely a low, cowardly act. Thus the hijackers did not go to paradise but where they belong.

For the same reason it does not justify those who blow themselves up at bus stops since, again, they wind up killing old men, women and children.

In theory, jihad is unending until all the world falls under Muslim rule. In history, however, jihad does not go on all the time: only when and where it makes political and military sense to Muslim rulers.

In our time, the greatest jihad by far has been in the south of Sudan where countless Christians and others have died or been sold as slaves.

The most famous jihad of our time, however, is the one Osama bin Laden has declared against America. Not being a ruler or even a religious authority, his ability to do this is highly questionable. That has not stopped thousands from gathering to his black flag.

Sometimes jihad is between Muslims. For example, the Arabs under the Saudis fought a jihad against Turkish rule: the Turks were not Wahhabis like the Saudis, so the Saudis did not see them as true Muslims.

Christians have fought holy wars for their faith too. But unlike jihads, their aims were limited and falling in battle did not mean you would go to heaven. Popes and bishops have promised that only on occasion. It is not general doctrine as it is in Islam.

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Wahhabis (sometimes spelled Wahabis) are the chief sect of Islam in Mecca and Medina and all of Saudi Arabia. It is a very pure, severe, black-and-white, by-the-letter-and-not-the-spirit sort of Islam. There are not many Wahhabis outside of Saudi Arabia, but it has rewritten the book on jihad and is backed by a lot of oil money. So it gets heard above the rest.

Famous Wahhabis include Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers. The Taliban are not Wahhabis, but very much like them. Wahhabis have such a bad name in Russia that almost any violent Muslim there is called a Wahhabi.

The Wahhabi sect, also known as Wahhabism, was founded by al-Wahhab in the 1700s. He converted the house of Saud, which by 1932 would come to rule all of Arabia. It became the state religion of Saudi Arabia.

Wahhabis do not think they belong to a sect: they are just Muslims. Other Muslims follow corrupted forms of Islam. They are not real Muslims. Sufis are the worst.

Wahhabis do not smoke or drink or wear silk. Women cannot drive cars. Men must go to public prayers. Men and especially women must dress a certain way. It is against their religion to give women equality.

This sort of outward obedience to the letter of the Koran and the hadith (the sayings of Muhammad) matters. Among the Wahhabis it marks you as a Muslim in good standing.

Rulers must make sure their subjects know and follow God’s law. That is the purpose of government.

Wahhabis hope to bring back the Caliphate, a holy empire ruled by piety and Muslim law.

Al-Wahhab brought back the idea of jihad, which in his day had fallen into disuse. He taught his followers to kill anyone who does not convert to his teachings – not just Christians and Jews, but even other Muslims! In Saudi Arabia 14-year-old boys are taught in school that Muslims and Jews will fight till the end of the world when the Muslims will win. Christians and Jews are their enemies.

When Al-Wahhab first came to Mecca he was shocked: people lived in luxury and followed a sort of Islam that that was one part Islam and two parts something else. God, it seemed, was not enough: people turned to dead saints and even stones and trees in addition to God.

Two things had corrupted Islam. First, many of the ignorant beliefs people had before the Prophet Muhammad’s time still lived on. Second, over the centuries new things were added to Islam, especially by the Sufis.

So al-Wahhab set about to purify Islam.

First, God is enough. God is God, after all. Next, through Muhammad God has taught us all we need to know to get through this life and into heaven: it is all written down in black and white in the Koran and the hadith. What more do you need? Al-Wahhab, however, did allow anything added in the first three generations: Muhammad said they would be pious. Everything else, however, had to go.

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Is Islam violent?

We have entered a violent period in Islam’s history. Through most of its history the Muslim world does not seem to have been markedly worse than the West. But over the last thirty years it has got much worse: the horrors now done in the name of Islam almost as a matter of course were rare even a generation ago.

In a simple sense “Islam is violent” is a statement that almost proves itself: Last week Robert Redeker, a philosopher and high school teacher in France, wrote an article stating that Islam is a violent religion. It appeared in Le Figaro, a Paris newspaper, and now as a result he is in hiding after receiving serious death threats.

The way things are going, “Is Islam violent?” will soon become one of those questions that no one discusses in public. Which is bad for Islam because what will wind up happening is that most Christians and Jews will silently believe that it is violent – why else are they being silenced on the subject? What, because it is so peaceful?

My original thought was to go through verses of the Koran for and against the idea of jihad. But that is beyond my depth. And it is probably besides the point. To take a parallel case: a close reading of the New Testament in the years before the Crusades would not have revealed to the inhabitants of Jerusalem that their streets would soon run with blood at the hands of Christians.

Four signs that we are entering one of the most violent periods of Muslim history:

  1. Christians, who have lived in the Middle East for centuries, even as far back as Roman times, are now leaving. It is because Muslims are making them feel that it is unsafe for them to remain. Something they did not feel in past centuries, it seems. That means it is getting worse than it has been in hundreds of years.
  2. The destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Again, they have been there for centuries. Even Tamerlane, for all his destruction, left them standing. But in our generation they have been destroyed. Another sign that it is a lot worse than it has been in centuries.
  3. The rise of suicide killers as something new in Islam.
  4. The Ring of Blood: if you look at where people are dying because of war or political violence, you will see that most of it happens along the line where the Muslim world meets the rest of the world: Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Israel, Kashmir, Sulawesi, Nigeria, Sudan, Thailand and so on. Muslims make up only a fifth of mankind, so it is not a matter of chance. Nor was it true thirty years ago. Something new is happening.

Why has Islam become more violent? Because Iran, which supports a political form of Islam, and Saudi Arabia, which supports a severe form of it, have suddenly become very rich since the middle 1970s from oil money.

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