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Al-Buruj: Religious persecutors

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

The introduction to Karen Armstrong's second, post-11-SEP-01 biography of Muhammad were fresh in my mind when I read this sura, specifically:

"We have a long history of Islamophobia in Western Culture that dates back to the time of the Crusades… Since the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, members of the Christian Right in the United States and some sectors of the Western media have continued this tradition of hostility…

"[T]his type of bigotry… is a gift to extremists who can use such statements to "prove" that the Western World is indeed engaged on a new crusade against the Islamic world."

As I read this sura, I found myself a bit in the mind of one of those extremists, and saw all of us in these lines (full text is below the jump):

As for those who put to the trial the men of faith and the women of faith,
     remorseless for the wrong they did–
     for them is the pain of
Jahannam and the pain of the burning
And as for those who kept the faith and worked justice–
     for them are gardens with rivers flowing underground

Have you heard about the armies marching
Pharoah and Thamud?

To an Muslim extremist, we are the modern Thamud and 'Ad and Pharaoh–a civilization that denies the word of God. In their eyes, we persecute the men of faith and the women of faith–the Islamophobia in our media and our political leaders would be clear evidence that our political and military actions in the Islamic world over the past sixty years (supporting brutal regimes in Saudi, Iran, Egypt, Iraq; our invasions of Iraq & Afghanistan; our support of Israel) are based on a hatred of Islam, no more no less. And we show no remorse, at least, not in a way a Muslim extremist would understand.

The Muslim extremist, he believes he keeps the faith, and somehow, in his twisted mind, he has taken Muhammad's view of justice (protecting/feeding the weak, education/literacy, treating women well, honesty in business etc.) and turned it into retribution against the West for it's persecution (both imagined and real) of Muslims.

Have we heard the armies marching?

Perhaps it just my state of mind, but I find this sura a sad vision, not because of its actual message, but because of how the entire text that I have read so far seems so badly corrupted, and how easily the evil empires of Muhammad's time could be replaced by us. And by how those who are so desperately afraid of Islam here at home unwittingly aid and abet the few thousands (out of 1.6 billion Muslims) who defame Islam with the actions they take against us in Allah's name.

<sigh/>

Beyond my impressions, Michael Sells had a few interesting points.

Regarding "By the sky with its mansions" this isn't some description of mansions in Heaven. Instead, he writes:

In the night sky of the desert, without lights, trees, or clouds to obscure them, the stars take on an overwhelming presence. The stars were guides for the bedouin who used them to navigate the trackless desert.

I also didn't get the bit about "gardens with rivers flowing underground." Apparently, it's a metaphor for an oasis:

"The imagery is clearly based on the lifo of the inhabitants of Arabia, where gardens were found in oases fed by underground rivers… To anyone who has ever walked into an oasis from the desert, the reference is clear. To those who have not it must be imagined: after insufferable heat, dust and glare, the air suddenly becomes fragrant with blossoms and fruit. The sounds of birds and the rippling of streams replace the howl and lash of wind-whipped sand.

Read more…

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No Qur’an burning after all

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The New York Times reports the Qur'an burning celebration is off.

Mr. Jones said he called off the burning in return for a promise to move a proposed mosque in New York City to a new location far from ground zero.

That supposed deal, announced here on the lawn of Mr. Jones’s church, does not appear to exist.

I wonder what Terry's gonna do/say when he "realizes" the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan is going forward as planned.

UPDATE:
Answer: claim the Florida Imam lied to him, and that the burning is now on "hold" rather than "cancelled" and he's considering doing the burning after all.

Categories: Current Affairs

Five more reasons to burn a Qur’an

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The Dove World Outreach Center has posted five brand new reasons to burn a Qur'an (though it's possible that the site has been farked or something–I can't get to it now).

I offer reasons Seven and Thirteen (no. 3 from the second post), along with the conclusion of the second post for consideration.

Seven: "The notion of a moral individual capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for them does not exist in Islam."

Thirteen/Three: "Remind the world we have freedom of speech."

Conclusion: "A small church, in a small town, down a back road, burning copies of its own books, on its own property, is not responsible for the violent actions anyone may take in retaliation to our protest."

Three points:

First, Americans cite the First Amendment as if it is an absolute, limitless right. It is not. The government of the United States has established numerous restraints on speech, including prior restraints, that have been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court. From libel, to incitement, to indecent speech, to threatening the President, etc. our freedom of speech is not absolute. In the case of the Dove World Outreach Center, while its speech is repellent and odious, I would bet the Center is right in thinking that their speech would not meet the "imminent lawless action" test of Brandenburg vs. Ohio. Not that I think Dove World Outreach is aware of the test (nor the fascinating history of its predecessor, the clear and present danger test and the series of dissents authored by Justices Holmes and Brandeis in an attempt to loosen and dismantle the test Holmes had first devised, and which the court ultimately adopted in Brandenburg). But legally, they are on safe ground.

Second, is the question of taking responsibility for one's own actions. The Center attacks Islam because it claims Islam does not hold its followers responsible for the consequences of their own actions. But then the church refuses to take responsibility for any potential consequences to its own deliberately inciteful speech. The church is right in that their inflammatory speech should not result in violent reprisals against, say, American troops in Afghanistan, as Gen. David Petraeus has warned. Islam has a problem, and the Dove World Outreach Center did not create it. But it is quite possible to condemn Muslim extremists in responsible, non-inflammatory ways that highlight the good things about our country–such as religious tolerance and lively but peaceful political debate–rather than the bad things–our long struggle with tolerating ethnic and religious minorities.

Third, I wonder whether the Dove World Outreach Center would support speech that it finds hateful. For example, if I burned a Bible? Or an American flag? Or a copy of the Constitution? I wouldn't do any of these things, and I find all of these worthy of condemnation. But would the Dove World Outreach Center be as careful as I have been in condemning their odious speech without suggesting that that speech be outlawed by our government?

Categories: Current Affairs

Reason Ten to Burn a Qur’an

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

More fun Islamaphobia from Florida, a place so crazy it has its own tag on Fark.com. And the only state that can claim a bombing of a Mosque.

Reason Ten: Islam is a weapon of Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism. Wherever Islam has or gains political power, Christians, Jews and all non-Moslems receive persecution, discrimination, are forced to convert. There are massacres and churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship are destroyed.

Let's unpack this shall we?

Islam is a weapon of Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism.

Right. Arab and Islamic countries have done really well recently in the whole colonialism and imperialism sphere. I mean, 1916, the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire made out like bandits in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which granted them a united state free from French and British colonial control. Or, like, umm, the union between Egypt and Syria proved so successful between 1958 and 1961 that the United Arab Republic grew to include all Arabic speaking countries today. And Saddam Hussein was able to merge Iraq and Kuwait pretty smoothly in 1991.

Wherever Islam has or gains political power, Christians, Jews and all non-Moslems receive persecution, discrimination, are forced to convert.

Sura 3:84
Say: We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendents, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the prophets: we make no distinction between any of them.

Sura 5:48
And if God had so willed, He would surely have made you a single community [religion]: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what he has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you must all return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ

Sura 5:69
Surely, be they of those who declare faith [in Islam], or be they of those who are Jews or the Sabaeans or the Christians [or of another faith] — whoever truly and sincerely believes in God and the Last Day and does good, righteous deeds — they will have no fear, nor will they grieve [i.e. they will go to Paradise].

So persecution of Christians and Jews isn't in the Qur'an.

It did happen, of course. Spain is a good example. The Umayyad caliphate in Spain did, at times, pressure Jews and Christians to convert, and all non-Muslims in nearly all pre-Modern Islamic states had to pay a tax called a jizya to retain their religious status. In exchange, they were exempt from military service, could manage their own legal system, and were exempt from zakat, a tax that is all but compulsory on all Muslims.

Continuing with Spain: After the Reconquista, Spain's Catholic rulers initially offered Grenadan Muslims a similar deal of paying taxes for protection and retaining their religious identity (Jews were kicked out). Then the Christian rulers of Grenada changed their minds, and said "convert or die (or get out)." A century later, the Christian rulers of Spain said, "umm, yeah, we don't care that your great-grandparents converted and that you've been Catholic since birth. All y'all can get the fuck out." 

Where did most of Spain's Jews go? The Ottoman Empire. Where they would actually be protected compared to Christian Europe. I'll make a blanket statement here: it was safer to be a Jew in the Middle-East than in Europe from 300 CE until 1948 CE.

There are massacres and churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship are destroyed.

Because this didn't happen when the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099; Martin Luther didn't advocate that Synagogues should be burned and Jews massacred; and there were never any pogroms against Jews in Christian Russia. None at all.

People do horrible shit in the name of God (or some other creed). Doesn't matter which religion. If there's a religion, people have done horrible shit to each other in that religion's name.

Pot calling the kettle black, Florida dude.

Reason Seven to burn a Qur’an

September 7, 2010 1 comment

Back to Florida and Reason Seven to burn a Qur'an on 11-SEP-2010.

"Islam is not compatible with democracy and human rights."

Is not the pot calling the kettle black here?

I don't think of major Christian rulers such as Charlemagne or Richard Coeur de Lion or Charles V or Henry VIII as particularly fond of democracy or dissent. Nor do the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition or the Thirty Years' War or Russian Pogroms seem overtly concerned with human rights. Frankly, the Christian Right in this country is pretty selective about who deserves human rights (not gays, not immigrants, not non-Christians).

Regarding Democracy specifically, after Muhammad died, four men were elected by their peers to take the position of Commander of the Faithful in a process that is little different from loya jirgas in Afghanistan to the smoke-filled rooms of American party politics that nominated decades of presidential candidates before the modern era, including dark horse unknowns such as Warren Harding and James K. Polk. Islam started in democray, though the practice ended with the fifth caliph, Mu'awiya, who turned the caliphate into a hereditary rulership. Just like every Christian nation for over a millenia.

In the modern period…

When Muslims talk about "justice" (and this is a critical code word), they are demanding what we term human rights. Freedom from police oppression. Freedom to travel. Freedom to choose. And "justice" is a deeply Qur'anic principle. The governments in the Muslim world are not particularly Just.

Likewise, what former European colony did end up as a healthy, thriving democracy, no matter the religion, after colonial powers were pushed out. India? Costa Rica? That's basically it. We didn't leave much democracy in Africa. Or Asia. Or the Middle East. We left Kings. Dictators. Oh there were Parliaments, but they didn't last long. Colonial rule required creating countries with deep ethnic divides. Parliaments don't last when the divisions are ethnic, not political. Democray only thrived when the country came to it on its own. Like most of South America.

"The notion of a moral individual capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for them does not exist in Islam."

Sura 103: The Epoch
The human is always at a loss
Except those who keep the faith
    who work justice
    who counsel one another to truth
    and counsel one another to patience.

I'm seeing free will. I'm seeing responsible action. Is it just me?

"The attitude towards women in Islam as inferior possessions of men has led to countless cases of mistreatment and abuse for which Moslem men receive little or no punishment, and in many cases are encouraged to commit such acts, and are even praised for them. This is a direct fruit of the teachings of the Koran." 

Yeah, it's not a direct fruit of the teachings of the Qur'an. The early suras aren't particularly concerned with gender issues. But just a taste: the burqa/niqab/veil? It's cultural and completely external in origin from Islam. I'll get into this much, much later. It's a Christian tradition adopted by early Muslim nobles.

I'm not saying the Muslim world is particularly strong on women's rights.

I'm saying the Islam preached by Muhammad–a man who accepted a woman's offer of marriage (not the other way around), a man whose early wealth came from his (older) wife Khadija, a man who mourned for years over her death, a man who considered Khadija his closest confidant and advisor–is not a religion that would uphold the views held by some stone-age men who claim to be Muslims.

And I'm also saying the Christianity doesn't have such a hot record here either.

Florida Pastor: Reasons to Burn a Qur’an

September 7, 2010 3 comments

I'm sure you've heard the news about a Florida pastor who plans to burns hundreds of Qur'ans on 11-SEP-2010. The Slog linked to the site's ten reasons to burn Qur'ans (or more accurately, ten reasons why Islam isn't a real religion).

I was curious, so visited the top ten list. Of course, the first reason–as the Slog points out–is that the Qur'an isn't the Bible. The others are… well… about what you'd expect.

But I was fascinated by the fourth:

The earliest writings that are known to exist about the Prophet Mohammad were recorded 120 years after his death. All of the Islamic writings (the Koran and the Hadith, the biographies, the traditions and histories) are confused, contradictory and inconsistent. Maybe Mohammad never existed. We have no conclusive account about what he said or did. Yet Moslems follow the destructive teachings of Islam without question. 

"Confused, contradictory and inconsistent" was a conscious determination of early Islamic scholars. They preferred a situation where all the information available–contradictory or not–was codified and preserved for the edification, education, etc. of future generations of scholars and Muslims. The other choice would have been to select one storyline (and policital viewpoint) and suppress (or ignore, or forget, or lose, or dismiss) anything else that didn't fit their view at the time.

As to timelines…

The Qur'an itself was first written down and collected into a single document more than a decade after Muhammad's death in 632 CE (sometime between 644 and 656, when 'Uthman b. Affan–one of the earliest converts to Islam–was caliph and Commander of the Faithful).

It was only decades later, when Muslim scholars tried to adapt Muhammad's teachings–focused on the Arab community in and around Mecca–to fit a global empire stretching from India to Morocco. These historians wanted to collect as accurate a picture of Muhammad's life as they could, but they explicitly acknowledged that, after 100 years, contradictory stories about his life were inevitable. These historians would document every story, and if they were contradictory, would place them side-by-side so that the reader could come to his or her own conclusion about what really happened. 

Christianity went through a similar process (see, e.g. Origen), and the New Testament, for various reasons, did not include gospels of Judas, Mary Magdalene, Philip, Thomas and others. Even then, the current text of the New Testament has contradictions as well. When you add in the excluded text–e.g. the Gospel of Judas–the whole story of Jesus becomes much more complicated. And, in my view, a much richer and compelling history than that presented in the New Testament alone.

Categories: Current Affairs

An-Nas: Enter Satan, the “Whisperer”

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I seek refuge with the Lord Cherisher of Mankind…
From the mischief of the whisperer
Who whispers into the hearts of Mankind.”

Sura 114 comprises the final six ayas of the Qur’an.

I think this may be the first implicit reference to Satan (Shaitan) so far in the suras I have read. Shaitan is an interesting character—quite different from the Christian Satan in my opinion. I hope there’s a sura the goes into that in more detail.

But in short, the concept of the fallen angel is taken to a greater degree, almost making Satan a figure of pity and, oddly, piety. In Islam, Satan “fell” when God demanded the angels bow to Adam. Satan refused, saying he would only submit (the literal meaning of Islam) to God. Some Muslim theologians see Satan’s action as perhaps the ultimate submission to God, the ultimate sacrifice, and something to which Muslims, oddly enough, should aspire.

Read more…