The Great Debate (Part 2: Islam)

Continuing my discussion of polarizing world beliefs, this entry will be disseminating my views on Islam. For the purposes of general inclusiveness, I’ll be focusing on the Shia and Sunni sects in particular.

Of the major world beliefs, Islam is the most recently established and one of the fastest growing in many countries. It shares a fair amount of its textual lineage with Judaism and Christianity. Like Judaism, Islam views the life of Jesus as an admirable one, but doesn’t recognize him as the son of god. Depending on who you speak with, you’ll get responses varying from: ‘divinely inspired’ to ‘a prophet in his dispensation’ or ‘a man of high moral character’.

The place of reverence in Islam is reserved for Muhammad, who is believed to be the final prophet of earth. In the origin story of Islamic belief, its said that Muhammad was in the cave of a mountain, when he was visited by the angel Gabriel. After multiple visitations, Muhammad was able to vocally recite what later became the Quran to those native in his land. I won’t be delving too deeply into his character, but suffice it to say as with many other leaders of movements, there’s some unsavory stuff to examine if you so choose.

Now, I’d like to address the aforementioned sects of Islam. Lets begin with the origin of tensions between the Shia and Sunni, namely the hadiths. The hadith are a collection of alleged sayings of Muhammad, which were compiled several generations after his death. Both the Shia and Sunni recognize different hadiths as: ‘authentic’, ‘good’ or ‘weak’, with no general consensus among the clergy and local lawmakers. Traditionally, the Sunnis follow six hadiths, while the Shia follow four. Neither follow hadiths of the other.

Here in lies the first major grievance I have with Islamic doctrine. A large percentage of Muslims revere the Quran as infallible and not in need of revision. The hadiths are used today and were collected to help clarify some of the teachings in the Quran. Just as we find with some Christians, of which the baptists and evangelicals come to mind; who profess the perfection of their revered text (Bible), yet rely heavily on commentaries and footnotes to strengthen their understanding. They’re entrenched in double speak.

Next, I’m going to turn my attention to social issues I find alarming in Islamic belief. The first of which feels like a recurring theme, which is that of female oppression. Some of these offenses I find to be systemic in general among religious beliefs, while others are uniquely appalling in this particular faith:

(Quran 4:11) God directs you regarding the inheritance of your children: “To the male shall be as that given to two females.”

(Quran 4:129) And you will not be able to be fair regarding the women even if you make every effort;

(Quran 24:31) And tell the believing females to lower their gaze and keep covered their private parts, and that they should not reveal their beauty except what is apparent, and let them put forth their shawls over their cleavage.

As we see through the demonizing and degrading behavior in countless news articles, there are those of the fundamentalist/extremist tilt who take no issue with declaring their wives, sisters and mothers, as second class citizens. From the less obvious offenses (driving, clothing restrictions) to the most egregious (beheadings, stonings, genital mutilation, public floggings, living burials), not to mention the rape culture which permeates some environments, this level of abhorrent behavior stems from a mentality of superiority.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t broach the topics of intolerance and cruelty. As with any religion claiming to be the ‘one true faith’, there’s no shortage of inflammatory rhetoric for those seeking to hate monger:

(Quran 2:6–7) 6 As for those who reject, whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe. 7 God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and over their eyes are covers. They will incur a great retribution.

(Quran 5:51) O you who believe, do not take the Jews and Nazarenes as allies, for they are allies to one another; and whoever takes them as such from among you is one of them. God does not guide the wicked people.

This feels like a good place to mention, there are many who come from Islamic areas/backgrounds who are leading the charge for reform. Two that come to mind are: Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Raif Badawi. Moderate Muslims make up a majority of those we have direct interaction with. These are those who wish to practice their beliefs in private, who seek peaceful coexistence as many of us do.

Another observation I’d like to make, is that Christianity and Judaism have been around long enough to go through revisions and reformation. The age of enlightenment comes to mind, when speaking of necessary change. In this era of information and technological advancement, I’m optimistic that Islamic reform will happen with greater swiftness than that of either Christianity or Judaism. If not, there’s always a seat available at the godless table.


Joshua Brown

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