Monday, September 17, 2007

Islam again, a response

There have been a number of responses to my post suggesting that

Islamic tradition, as opposed to the Koran (with which there is also considerable fault), is what has given the Islamic world five centuries of underachievement and brutality. It is something to be contextualised and reformed, not perpetuated with absolutist and fundamentalist fervour.
They can all be read by following the above link. I'll try to respond to every point made by Ismaeel, while at the same time being as brief as I can.

I find this contradictory:
Mecca was not conquered by the sword, the people of Mecca surrendered the city to the Prophet (PBUH) and most of them became Muslims voluntarily despite being given a very long amnesty in which they were allowed to carry on with their pagan rituals. Yes those who were pagans had to eventually choose to leave or convert. That is because for 23 years they had been at the forefront of waging war upon the Muslims.
They weren't conquered, they surrendered? I think you just dislike the sound of the word "conquered", while being unable to deny the military aspect of the occasion. By way of contrast, St Patrick landed in Britain without a sword, and converted people who were heavily armed. You know I'm not a cheerleader for Christianity, of course, I'm just pointing out the difference. Islam was spread by the sword, even in what is now Saudi Arabia. You acknowledge this in your next sentence, with the word "war":
They however lost the war and they were treated in a far better manner than any contemporary victor treats it's enemies. Can you imagine Saddam Hussain or Mullah Omar being forgiven and recruited into high office by the US govt? No neither can I.
I have no idea how the Meccans were treated, but no I can't imagine the US government behaving like that. Unlike you, and this is something I'll come back to, I don't feel attracted by the "yes but" line of argument. I do feel that our experience in Northern Ireland, and that of the South Africans, shows the wisdom of letting even what might feel like unforgivable conflict, violence and oppression be forgiven, if not entirely forgotten, in order to find peace, and I feel this is a lesson that Israel has yet to learn. Even continuing terrorism by fringe or splinter groups should not be allowed to derail a more general peace.
As for the land of Sham (modern day Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria)it is instructive to note that the Muslims were seen as and welcomed and aided by the indigenous population who wanted to be well rid of the oppressive intolerant and corrupt Byzantium Empire who had indeed spread the Orthodox faith by the sword persecuting any other form of Christianity within it's borders- I remember actually discussing this with you in Oxford and you agreeing.
I'm afraid I don't recall that detail of our conversation, but you're making a rather false distinction here. I said that this land was Christian, and you acknowledge that. As we both know, it is characteristic of different traditions of any given religion that they fight one another. But every reference I have been able to find considers the Islamic occupation of Jerusalem and the surrounding lands to have been a conquest. Every single one. If you want to maintain that it was not a military exercise, I'd appreciate a reference. What I suspect is the case, is that you are cherry picking some evidence of a particular response to the Islamic military invasion, and omitting the context.
Your discussion of the conquest of Constantinople doesn't tally with the accounts which i have read, it is important to note however that it was again the Byzantines who provoked the attack on Constantinople by encouraging crusaders to enter the lands as they felt the young Sultan Mehmet was not skilled enough to withstand a strong military attack. In the interests of securing the security of his state Mehmet had to attack Constantinople- a pre-emptive strike shall we call it?
The final, ninth crusade was in 1271/2. The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans was in 1453. To suggest that pre-emptive action was taken in 1453 to protect against an attack in 1272 is completely absurd. But just as absurd is the suggestion that the conquest by Islamic armies of vast areas of land suddenly became pre-emptive when they reached Constantinople.
I will not pretend that there have not been tyrants amongst Muslim sultans and caliphs there have been and i will not pretend there have not been atrocities and intolerance perpetrated by such people either in the name of Islam or otherwise.

However it would be foolish of you to suggest that we could not find parallels in western tradition whether Christian or Secular. It is blatant denial of the facts to suggest that Facism and Communism weren't the children of an atheistic, secular modern world in the west.
That's fatuous, but it's a very commonplace fatuity. Whereas some atrocities have been, and continue to be, committed in the name of Islam, it is ludicrous to suggest that the communist and fascist atrocities were committed in the name of secularism, or atheism.

In fact, religion, communism and fascism have this in common: they are all totalitarian. They all claim the whole (the totality) of every person alive, their thoughts, property and actions, in the name of some greater good. Totalitarianism is the enemy, whatever clothes it might be wearing at any given time.
As you also know and again we have discussed, it was Muslim scholars who preserved, applied and expanded on the very same Greek philosophy which was then retransmitted by means of Islamic universities in Spain into western Europe which were the means of the succession of reformation, renaisance and enlightenment.
All of these scholars were acting on Islamic imperatives found in the Qur'aan to seek out knowledge and examine the natural world.
Nope. Those imperatives don't seem to have been very, er... imperative in the past half millennium. The scientists of the "Islamic" golden age were enjoying a period of religious abeyance. It ended in a context of war - Mongol invasions - but what actually brought it to a close, specifically, were the suppression of the tradition of ijtihad (independent reason) and the promotion of the tradition of taqleed (imitation), by religious authorities in the twelfth century. The religious shutters that continue to limit the power of the Islamic world slammed shut all those centuries ago, and there has been stagnation and barbarism ever since. It was your version of Islam, Ismaeel, that killed the Islamic golden age*.
You know as well as i do Islamic tradition is not monolithic and it is worrying to see an intelligent man as yourself allow yourself to be drawn into such a polemic.
If you read this blog you'll have noticed my support for Muslims who follow enlightened traditions, including Ali Eteraz (which is where we came in). I'm perfectly well aware that Islam isn't monolithic. It is, however, blighted at the moment in many of its traditions by backward-looking and violent forces.
Shaykh Faiz's words are particularly pertinent because they explain clearly the issues that concern you. Young Muslims who have not had the traditional spiritual training- in the jihad against oneselves in controlling one's desires and emotions, seeing a world in which Muslims are under attack and suffering horribly subject Islam to their own individual interpretation- thus the results we have seen, this is a characteristic of such things throughout histroy and of all people. Ali Eretraz's interpetations in this sense are no difference in their manner, they seek to submit the Divine to man rather than the other way around.
The characteristic pattern is, and has been for one and a half millennia, that of Muslims attacking everyone else. And once you insist on the submission of man to the divine then you open the doors, if such is your interpretation of the divine, to the most horrific brutality, with no room for humanity or rational moderation of behaviour. That's what we're seeing in radical Islam today. It is repugnant.

Now, you account for the decline of the past centuries as follows:
If we look back this has been the period of great internal strife amongst Muslims- of disunity, civil war, the breaking up into states and empires- all in contradiction to the entreaties of our Prophet (PBUH) to remain united under one Imam.
When we look at the modern Islamic world, the majority of governments are non-Islamic and even anti-Islamic and yet there is no progress materially. Instead the trend of corrupt rulers making themselves rich and fat (if not attacking their neighbours) continues whilst the people suffer.
The fact that this situation is subsidised by many western governments means that the natural inclination to identify with Islam as an alternative to this decadence means that people are inclined also to be anti-western.
I agree that it has been very wrong of Western governments to support corrupt leaders in the Islamic world, and elsewhere for that matter, but scientific endeavour has never flourished under religious governance, for very obvious reasons. Science is not the process of expanding on religious thinking, because religious thinking is wrong in so many areas. Science has always conflicted with received wisdom, even that found within science itself. The most important developments of the past couple of hundred years have directly contradicted religious teachings and, more importantly, religious authority. By saying that the problem with the Islamic world is that it isn't sufficiently Islamic, you're saying that the problem with a dead horse is that it isn't sufficiently dead.

Religious authorities suffocated the golden age of Islam and have kept the pillow pressed firmly to the face of people unfortunate enough to have been born into those theocratic societies ever since.

Then we have the classic "yes but":
Last century Germany tried to conquer Europe twice, Russia attempted to swallow Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the rest of the world. The British Empire, French Empire, Dutch and Portugese Empires were all dismantled last century. All of these were built on Enlightenment values and were hardly free of violence, conquest, slavery and supremicism now where they?
Yes, but the West has been nasty too! Well, yes it has. But the - totally inaccurate - implication in your words is that slavery, conquest, violence and supremacism were enlightenment values. They weren't. They pre-dated the Enlightenment and it was the Enlightenment that has enabled (most of) us to shed them. The same cannot be said of Islam: they are intrinsic to an absolutist view of Islam, and this is part of the problem.

Islamic tradition, as I said before, needs to be contextualised and reformed if you are to be rid of them.

Finally, I call your organisation extremist because you are seeking to dominate, however you dress this up in nice words like "civility". You are seeking to suppress those who dissent or dislike your beliefs. You have shown an almost sadistic wish to humiliate and control those who have offended you - take your demands of the publishers of the Danish cartoons:
A full apology by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten and all others who re-printed the caricatures for offending 1.6 billion Muslims, and:

o To hand over the rights of the cartoons to Muslims;
o To publish one saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) every day for 1 year, promoting civility, as selected by the Muslim Action Committee;
o The proceeds from the defamatory caricatures to be given in trust to children's charities.
But most of all, you seek to argue that human reasoning and morality must be suppressed utterly, and that religious teachings, as interpreted by you and the authorities you consider valid, should dominate human behaviour now and forever. How much more extreme could a person be?

*UPDATE: Note that by arguing that man should submit to the divine and not seek to interpret, Ismaeel is actually advocating the very thing - the suppression of independent thought in favour of imitation (tradition) - that killed the Islamic dawn.


Ismaeel said...

Thanks for your response Peter.

Of course there was a military aspect to the opening of Makkah, the Prophet (SAAWS) came with 10,000 men armed, but there was no fighting, instead there was a peaceful surrender and a general amnesty even for people who had committed what we today would call war crimes. The fact that you say you don't know how the Meccans were treated displays your ignorance of the issue. As I made clear fighting was initiated by the Pagans, the Muslims were defending themselves.

If we want to talk about unarmed peaceful conversion within Islam well we need no look no further than the first converts to Islam who were all Meccans who embraced Islam when the Prophet (SAAWS) had no political power and was heavily persecuted. The King of Abyssinia also embraced Islam when it was offered it to those Muslim refugees who had taken refuge in his kingdom during the early years and many of the people of Madinah also embraced Islam- the Prophet (SAAWS) was invited to Madinah by it's people to be it's leader- thus the initiation of the Islamic state involved no blood shed. Similarly Islam was spread to many regions, e.g. Yemen, South India, Sri Lanka Malaysia and Indonesia without any military involvement.

Facism and Communism regardless of totalitarianism were utterly married to modernity, secularism and atheism- you are only kidding yourself if you think otherwise.

The whole material dialetic of Marx presupposes the non-existance of spirituality and God and religion was branded the opium of the people.

No the west hasn't given up on supremicism, slavery, conquest and violence and nor will they- enlightenment values brought us nationalism and all the evils that entails, rampant and destructive individualism and unfettered capitalism. This has led to the abolition of formal slavery and the institution of informal slavery by global corporations of so many in the developing world. Euro-centric views of the world are prevalant as are your supremicist views about your "enlightenment values" being superior to everyone elses. Violence and Conquest is very much the order of the day in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else which refuses to toe the line of the dominance of the western world.

You clearly don't know what ijtihad is or what it entails, you've clearly been suckered in by the Irshad Manji explanation of it as: free thinking. It is not- it comes from the same root as jihad and it means to struggle with the sacred texts to derive rulings. The closing of the doors of ijtihad was a recognition of the ulema of the day that the process of developing METHODOLOGIES to discover ISLAMIC RULINGS on any given subject had been completed and all the four METHODOLOGIES would now be used to derive rulings from the texts on LEGAL issues. This had absolutely nothing to do with the questions of applying one's thinking to the various philosophies, sciences, worldly crafts etc. As i said these were stifled by poor governance and lack of patronage.

Your assertion that science goes against religion and science can never flourish in a religious background is unfounded and even a brief survey of western science's history will show that many of it's pioneers were clergymen.

As i've made clear many times the radical interpretations of Islam that we mutually dislike are because of reformist attitudes which disregard classical scholarship and are thus people worshiping their own lusts rather than Allah (SWT).

I feel i am repeating myself and i get the feeling that either you don't want to understand some of the points i am making or your just being obtuse.

As for my desire that the whole world embraces Islam- if you consider that extreme i'll concur, but i view your desire for the whole world to embrace atheism and humanism as extreme as well. However i can't understand how the MAC actually stipulating a way in which a proper and satisfactory apology could be made at a time of global crisis when no-one else was putting foward a clear method of resolution as extremism strikes me as odd. I would hardly characteristic as sadistic either.

Anyway Peter i don't believe we're going to get anywhere with this, so i suggest we agree to disagree.

Anonymous said...

scientific endeavour has never flourished under religious governance

Sigh, often and commonly stated, however the Catholic Church has often been the patron of scientific endeavour. Even Galileo was supported and encouraged by the Church, only getting into serious trouble when he insisted on repeatedly attacking the Pope personally.

Yes, there have been conflicts between Church and science, but they were never as bad as has been painted.

Anonymous said...

Well said. This is a great blog, don't comment often but always make time to read it. Thanks Peter.

Anonymous said...

I feel this is a lesson that Israel has yet to learn. Even continuing terrorism by fringe or splinter groups should not be allowed to derail a more general peace.

In the 1990s, during the Oslo years, Palestinians committed atrocities against Jews on a regular basis. For the most part, the attitude of most Israelis — and I knew half a dozen reasonably well at the time — was in general just the attitude you're so confidently lecturing them about: That it was worth tolerating a certain level of violence for the sake of peace. The level of that varied, because events affect public opinion. When Palestinians committed some unusually spectacular atrocities in 1996, the pendulum swung back for a bit, but then Barak got elected, etc. On the whole, though, the political will was there on the Israeli side.

The question, of course, is exactly how much continuing terrorism you're asking people to tolerate. By the end of 2000, it had gotten to be just a little bit too goddamn much. At some point, the level of violence gets to where calling it "peace" is a joke.

religion ... [claims] the whole (the totality) of every person alive, their thoughts, property and actions, in the name of some greater good.

Uh, Beavis? Some religions do; most don't. The problem with bigotry is that you go around very angrily believing stuff that's not true, and acting on it. That's counterproductive. I know it feels good to have somebody to hate and to blame things on, particularly if you've found a fashionable target, but that's a poor excuse for enlightened secularism if you ask me.

Being all logical and scientific and stuff doesn't require you to go around hating everybody who's religious; in fact, it actually requires you to go around making up your mind based on the actual evidence in each case, and trying to prove yourself wrong every chance you get. Preferring the Enlightenment to religion isn't like rooting for the Red Sox against the Yankees, where you just pick one and have at it. Unlike baseball, there's actually supposed to be a difference between the two choices, not only in how the teams operate, but in how the fans operate as well.

Peter Risdon said...

Galileo got in trouble - and here's a thing that's not widely known - for his embrace of the atomic theory of matter. The heliocentric solar system was part of it but the real biggie was atoms, because this was held to be in conflict with the idea of transubstantiation.

I don't hate people who are religious, but the conflict between irrationality (faith) and rationality is pretty clear cut. I do hate totalitarians, though. Not all religious people are totalitarian, but all religions are - by definition really, think about the scope of their concerns. Remember I made the point that people mould religion to themselves, and not the other way round, and this of course includes Ismaeel, Desmond Tutu and Ian Paisley. It includes Leonard Cheshire and the Dutch Reformed Church.

Ismaeel, the impression you have given, that you think Muslims rode peacefully around the Middle East, wearing armour, carrying weapons and riding in military formation because they thought it made them look cool - and not at all in any way in war or conquest - will give a lot of people a great deal of harmless amusement.

Anonymous said...

there was a peaceful surrender and a general amnesty

Sorry, but even this phraseology is evidence of violence. You don't 'surrender' to someone who isn't threatening you.

This is an acknowledgment that the takeover of Makkah was accomplished via the threat of violence, even if the trumpets never sounded. And the people of Makkah were aware of the violence that Mohammad had been visiting on both them and other opponents for years.

During the war the French government declared Paris an 'open city', in fact surrendering it to the Germans without a shot being fired. To claim that Paris was captured peacefully would be absurd, meaning that all the violence that lead up to that one event was ignored.

The two situations are analogous, and comparable.

Question on my part - Can anyone name any Muslim lands which were not taken by the use of violence, actual or threatened, other than Medina and the Malay islands and peninsula (includes Malaysia and Indonesia).

the initiation of the Islamic state involved no blood shed


Quite right, would have been nice if that had been continued. However -

Once in Medina Mohammad immediately began a career as a bandit chieftain, attacking merchant caravans for no better reason than that he wanted to buy the loyalty of his followers by giving them loot and slave girls to rape.

In what way was this an example of non violence?

Peter Risdon said...

SEMML - You're right: I take back what I said about Israel. They endure daily rocket attacks, and continual deliberate provocation from south and north - far more than either the British or the black South Africans had to put up with.

Anonymous said...

I'm stunned by some of the claims made like the "peaceful" surrender of Mecca facing a 10,000 strong army.

This strikes me like arguing that a woman who doesn't struggle, hasn't been raped; the implicit threat of violence somehow not being enough.

Well to recall that the fall of Mecca came soon after the massacre at Banu Qurayzah.

Ibn Sa'd wrote "the people [of Mecca] embraced Islam willingly or unwillingly." (Vol II p168)

Some were not given the option. A list of six people, two women included, were to be shown no mercy even in they had sought sanctuary in the Ka'bah. They included Abdullah bin Sa'd an apostate who had once written down the Koranic revelations for Mohammed.

Similarly Islam was spread [with no blood shed] to many regions, e.g. ... South India

Now this is a rather ingenious device. There is no doubt that northern India was conquered by the sword. Nor is there any doubt that Islam waged war against the Hindus for centuries thereafter. Estimates for infidel deaths range from 40m-100m. But I suppose if you draw the line far enough south you might avoid any of that nastiness.

PS: Peter, when I made that contribution to the original thread, I never knew that you and our friend had a history.