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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is Violence at the Heart of Islam?

John L. Esposito has recently written a book entitled: The Future of Islam. He believes that Islam in general has received a "bad rap" due to 9/11. He writes:

If a group of Jews or Christians had been responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center, few would have attributed it to the beliefs of mainstream Judaism or Christianity. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish fundamentalist was not attributed to something in mainstream Judaism; nor was the clergy sex abuse scandal attributed to the heart of Catholicism. The most heinous crimes committed by Jewish or Christian extremists are not tagged as reflections of militant radical Christianity or Judaism. The individuals who commit such crimes are often dismissed as fanatics, extremists, or madmen rather than labeled Christian or Jewish fundamentalists. By contrast, too often the statements and acts of Muslim extremists and terrorists are portrayed as integral to mainstream Islam (p. 6).
Is he correct? I don't think so. In the case of the Roman Catholic sex scandals, the offending priests knew they were acting in violation of their religion. They did not offer a scriptural or theological defense of their actions. In the case of the assassination of Yitzsak Rabin (in 1995), this was the act of a single individual who had misinterpreted an obscure Jewish Law (din rodef). Similarly, in the case of Christian fundamentalists who kill abortion doctors, they tend to be "lone actors" not part of a coordinated effort.

Radical Islam, on the other hand, is an organized group(s) with definite religious leaders who claim that their actions are based on scriptural authority. Granted, these extremists are a small minority within Islam, they are much larger and better organized than similar extremist Christian or Jewish groups. More importantly, I think that the Islamic extremists do have a scriptural basis for their actions. Islam has always been a violent religion. It spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa at its beginning because of the sword. Those that would not submit to Allah were infidels and deserved death. One could make an argument that this is a central tenet of Islam and the radicals are merely doing what fundamentalists do--taking their Scripture literally.

Mark Durie writes:

The classical approach to violence in the Koran was neatly summed up in an essay on jihad in the Koran by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Hamid, former chief justice of Saudi Arabia: “So at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory: (1) against those who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims)… (2) And against all those who worship others along with Allah.”

At the beginning, in Mohammed’s Meccan period, when he was weaker and his followers few, passages of the Koran encouraged peaceful relations and avoidance of conflict: “Many of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) wish that they could turn you away as disbelievers… But forgive and overlook, till Allah brings his command.” (2:109).

Later, after persecution and emigration to Medina in the first year of the Islamic calendar, authority was given to engage in warfare for defensive purposes only: “Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors.” (2:190)

As the Muslim community grew stronger, and conflict with its neighbors did not abate, further revelations expanded the license for waging war, until in Sura 9, regarded as one of the last chapters to be revealed, it is concluded that war against non-Muslims could be waged more or less at any time and in any place to extend the dominance of Islam.

Sura 9 distinguished idolators, who were to be fought until they converted – “When the sacred months are past, kill the idolators wherever you find them, and seize them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every place of ambush” (9:5, the ‘verse of the sword’) – from “People of the Book” (Christians and Jews), who were to be given a further option of surrendering and living under Islamic rule while keeping their religion: “Fight… the People of the Book until they pay the poll tax out of hand, having been humbled.” (9:29)
("Does the Koran Incite Violence?")
The fact is that all three of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have violent pasts. All are guilty of murdering large groups of people. The question, though, is:  Does this violence reflect the teaching of the religion's founder or scriptures? I think the case can be made that violence is much more reflective of the teaching of Muhammad than it was Moses or Jesus. I think a further case can be made that violence is more of the heart and core of Islam than it is of Judaism or Christianity.

One could argue that the modern state of Israel and/or the United States of America are guilty of much violence. However, in both cases, the violence is fueled by political concerns not religious dogma. Israel and the United States are both secular nations not theocracies. Islamic states, however, such as the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the current regime in Iran are Islamic theocracies and both have advocated terrorism in the name of Allah.


  1. I had a discussion on facebook about this with my mom & later my niece. I took the passive approach, telling them (truthfully) that I was in no position to be the arbiter of what Islam does or does not teach. I hoped that would be enough for them to reflect on the possibility that they also are not the arbiters of what Islam does or does not teach.

    I knew that they might appeal to some ugly passages from the Quran as support for their version of "what Islam teaches". My plan - had they done so - would have been to ask how long since they had read (for instance) Judges.

    If Christianity had a large and empowered radical element in the 21st century, or if someone wanted to credit the "teachings" of Christianity with the horrors of the church's past, they would find plenty of grist for that mill in the Bible.

    I think there is some truth to your position vis a vis Islam - but only insofar as it applies or could apply as well to Christianity. Or even Marxism and other non-theistic ideologies.

    I can imagine, should the "Islamic world" (to the extent that it exists) transition to modernity in sociological and intellectual terms, that it would look a lot like Christianity does now. And critics of it, citing this period and its holy texts, would meet with a similar response as Christianity's critics do today.

  2. Ken,

    I appreciate you putting this kind of issue re. Islam "on the table." It is an important issue for our votes (indirectly, of course), our personal political philosophies and our national foreign policy, etc. France, with the burka and mosque-building issues, is facing it in practical/political ways; Britain has real issues, as does Holland, etc., and we may not be far behind.

    I think your points are probably valid, and I do tend to agree tho my knowledge of Islam, its history, etc. is minimal. But I do see trends that are positive, though painfully slow. As your recent post on fundamentalism showed, the reaction we tag as that is a reaction to change, and to secularization in particular... it challenges the dominance of any given religion or sect, or any tight belief-system with its outward organization. Thus a perceived threat, even if just to the hope of being able to spread one's version of utopia or "right living" to all of one's society or the world. And the lower up the developmental ladder one's form of religion is, and one is personally ("ego" state), the uglier and more violent is the reaction to real or perceived threats.

    Your subject is a prime area showing the relevance and importance of pursuing understanding of developmental stages... various developmentalists and stage theories exist, often focused on one aspect of personal development. The best broad material I know of, dealing with many theorists and creating the most comprehensive model, and that includes and speaks meaningfully to religion/spirituality, is the work of Ken Wilber.

    My sense/hope is that Islam, tho perhaps guilty of what you charge, IS on a modernizing/positively globalizing track, as is Christianity and Judaism, and that it will eventually be able to effectively push to the side and contain its fundamentalists to a degree similar to Christianity now (still vibrant/noisy, but not AS dangerous).

  3. Oops... I see my wording was not very clear... Middle of 2nd paragraph meant to say that secularization is the perceived threat that causes reactions, sometimes violent ones.

  4. Smijer,

    I agree as I said in the post that the Bible is full of violence both the OT and the NT. Most of the violence in the NT is still future (if the Bible is true)God pours out his wrath. However, I see a marked difference in Islam in that it seems to me that it encourages violence on the part of its followers, at least it did in the past and Islamic fundamentalists believe that it still does. I also find it interesting that very few Muslim leaders have come out and clearly condemened the violence. I think that it is because they know it is really a part of their religion.

  5. Howard,

    I hope that perhaps Islam will "mellow" and become less of a threat but I am not optimistic. It seems to me that the religion is very intolerant. I think that is why democracy will never work in Iraq or Afghanistan unless the religion changes (which will not happen). In order for democracy to work, one has to be tolerant of other's beliefs. (By tolerant I don't mean that you can't disagree. What I mean is that you can by force eliminate the disagreement).

  6. Religions are neither tolerant or intolerant. That's a quality of people. It's true that we are in a time when there are large segments of the Muslim population that are intolerant. And, no - there's no guarantee that will change. But, I don't think that the problems that cause it or keep it from changing are unique to Islam.

  7. In its early centuries,it swept east and west from Arabia, did Islam insist on the conversion, at knifepoint, of those whom it conquered? So you seem to suggest. But in fact nothing of the sort occurred--the process of conversion was much delayed, and seldom occurred at knifepoint.

    You say the founder of Islam sanctioned violence as the founders of Judaism and Christianity did not. But you would agree that one does not have to seek far in the pages of Joshua, Judges, or Deuteronomy to find the God of Israel sanctioning or even insisting upon killing thousands of those who by our lights can only be regarded as innocent. Thus the Christian or Jewish fanatic can cite scripture as readily as the Muslim fanatic.

    You rightly suggest that when one plumbs the motives of those who in non-Islamic climes have engaged in slaughter, one finds nothing purely religious: the political and social quickly emerge as well. But I daresay the religious purity of Islamist motives seldom is found to unsullied by more secular impulses. And even today, in the caves of the Kush or the hills of Yemen or the plains of Somalia, would you say the motives of those who dwell there and plot the killing of the innocent are purely religious, driven entirely by certain suras and hadith, unsullied by a grasping for power or political ideology?

    I am enormously impressed that you have reached the bottom of every true Muslim’s mind and heart, and find there a sense of obligation to seek and kill the non-Muslim. I’m confident that this deep discernment will do a bit to lead to the adoption of policies by the world’s only superpower that will lower the chances that one of these millions of fanatics will emulate bin Laden.

  8. @Anonymous - You couldn't be more wrong. You have it exactly backward. The fundamentalists are quite sincere, and are following Quran closely. It is the secularists who are driven by a grasping of power.

    In addition to having read the Quran multiple times, I've read all of the most influential Muslim thinkers of our time: Sayyid Qutb, Hassan Al Banna, Abul Ala Maududi, etc. I have stacks of their books and have read them all. I also know a lot about the history of the Muslim world. You should learn some history yourself before making ignorant statements.

    Let's take Al Banna, for example. His was a life of great self-sacrifice in service of his deep belief in the Quran. He would make most Christians look insincere. I would love to see you try to smear his character or accuse him of false motives. He is probably the most influential Muslim thinker of the modern era, and his ideas reconfigured the entire map. Even in modern Egypt, which is perhaps the most secular of Muslim countries, his party is massively influential.

    Followers of Qutb, Banna, and Maududi have assassinated moderate leaders and led to radicalization of the entire Muslim world. No Muslim country can get away with ignoring the desires of these radical Islamists, so they are virtually held hostage by the idealogues. This is not my definition of "small fringe". They control the Muslim world.

    And, again, it's utter hogwash to claim that these people are not motivated primarily by the Quran. Have you read *anything* they wrote? Do you know their life stories? The Quran is very explicit about the process that Muslims must follow to rid the world of kafirs and establish the Ummah. This isn't just some speculative exegesis; it is the plain teaching of the prophet. That is why the Muslim world universally supports their cause, and even those Muslims living in peaceful secular societies donate large amounts of money to the cause of establishing the Ummah.

  9. Let’s work backwards.

    What is the threat we need to worry about?

    Not any attack by any state, certainly not any state where Muslims predominate, since they are all puny military powers by world standards--or even local standards, alongside Israel--and easily deterred.

    Then the attacks we need to worry about emanate from non-state actors.

    In the annals of such attacks, there is one outlier--9/11, a very lucky hit, a very well designed attack, and one which caused fifteen times more fatalities than the 2004 Madrid subway attack--another well designed attack.

    It’s important to note that even 2979 fatalities, and the loss of eleven million square feet of downtown Manhattan office space, proved to be inconsequential, easily absorbed by the strongest economy in the world. Even this outlier of accomplishment by a non-state actor itself amounted to little and has not been replicated. Further, the man who conceived the attack (no great student of the Qur’an, one might note, and one motivated by to an appreciable extent by non-religious considerations) has capabilities reduced from those he possessed in 2001.

    But on September 11, Osama bin Laden proved to extremely capable. Hence his motives are of some importance. In 1978 he was still an adherent of the peaceably inclined Hudaybi. Shortly thereafter, he was an adherent of Qutb.

    So are we to take it that (a) Qutb and the post-1978 bin Laden read the Qu’ran correctly, (b) Hudaybi read it incorrectly, (c) Allen and Pullian read it correctly, (d) Esposito reads it incorrectly (is a heterodox or deceitful Muslim), and (e) there was nothing political in bin Laden’s motives for hostility towards the United States and embrace of terrorist methods?

    Are we to take it that the optimal way to reduce the likelihood of Muslims around the world being recruited to the ranks of the terrorists is to regard all orthodox Muslims everywhere as being subjects of and contributors to the likes of Qutb and bin Laden?

    Ah yes, a very clever way to increase our safety--to see the threat for just what it is--all billion of them, coming straight at us.

  10. I knew I should have checked, and now I have.

    Esposito is a Catholic--raised in Brooklyn, long on the faculty of Holy Cross.

    But there are of course Muslims who hold his soft view of the faith.

  11. @Anonymous - I think you're trying to change the subject. Nobody said that Islamic countries have militaries powerful enough to threaten us (yet). And nobody said that there were not liberal (ex-Catholic, ex-Protestant, German, etc.) Muslims.

    Ken made the claim that Islam, at it's core, and in it's history, is centered on violence. That is indisputable. The thinkers I mentioned are by far the most influential worldwide today -- from Indonesia to Egypt and anywhere else. They interpret the Quran pretty clearly -- if you're going to assert otherwise, you need to explain why.

    As I mentioned already, the Muslims before Qutb/Banna/Maududi were not "interpreting the Quran differently". They mostly weren't even reading it. The ones who were, were violent -- have you read anything about the founding of Wahhabism? Seriously, you need to learn some history before putting forth this utterly unbelievable idea that violence in Islam is just an aberration due to faulty interpretation.

  12. A recent Pew poll asked Muslim respondents whether they agreed that suicide attacks are often/sometimes justified. 
Here are the findings

    Sunni 33

    Shia 46

    Nigeria 34

    Egypt 20

    Jordan 2
Pakistan 8

    Turkey 5


Respondents were also asked whether they had a favorable view of al Qaeda

    Lebanon 3

    Nigeria 49

    Egypt 20
Jordan 34

    Indonesia 23
Pakistan 18 [confidence in bin Laden, not favorable al Qaeda]
Turkey 4

    Levels of support for suicide attacks and for al Qaeda have both declined over the decade, presumably because respondents have come to read and be guided by the Qur’an, the Hadith, and its interpreters to a lesser extent. Just as, no doubt, the remarkable variations between countries are explained by readings of the sacred texts and their interpreters. 

    Another question seems pertinent;
    percent agreeing military force is sometimes necessary to maintain order in the world.
Turkey 49
Lebanon 58

    Egypt 39
Jordan 35
Indonesia 61
Pakistan 44

    United States 77

  13. I don't know what's more disturbing -- the fact that you're using a Pew poll about Al Qaeda to represent the hearts and minds of the world's Muslims regarding oppression of Kafirs, or the fact that you think those numbers about suicide attacks make Muslims look good.

  14. I didn't say and don't believe that Muslims look good. Some scare the be-jesus out of me.

    I do mean to suggest that asking people what they think is not a bad way to find out where they stand.

    And I mean to suggest that many Muslims look fine, and the sole superpower should adopt policies that might increase their number. That would not be policies founded on the assumption that violence lies at the heart of Islam--that it is an essential characteristic of the Muslim that he strives to kill kaffirs, and nothing else can be expected of him.

  15. Anonymous, nobody said that oppressing Kafirs and calling for the extermination of Israel is the only thing that can be expected of the majority of the world's Muslims. For example, one can expect them to have a repressive view of women, argue by tautology and repeated assertion and redefinition (like Mojo Jojo), demand that secular governments outlaw the drawing of cartoons of Mohammed, and countless other things.

    I'm just curious; if you did a Pew poll asking southern fundamentalist Christians if it's OK for a pastor to rape a 15 year old girl, what do you think they would say? Would you be convinced by the poll results, having seen what you've seen Ken posting about here?

  16. There are 47 majority Muslim countries, the largest of them Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Sudan, and Algeria. None of them is a liberal society, and only Turkey seems to have the makings of one, maybe. They all--along with many non-Musim countries--mistreat women. None of them permits freedom of religion, all discriminate against Christianity and other faiths. All of them joined in the protest against the Danish cartoons--none of them are tolerant of attacks on their religion.

    But I very much doubt that Indonesians, Pakistanis, etc., if they are educated, can't argue and reason as ably and fairly as Americans. Further, I'm sure that there are good numbers of Indonesians, Pakistanis, etc. who are as liberal and humane as any American, and some of these men and women are also devout Muslims.

    But for the most part, these societies are illiberal and repressive--the world is full of such, which is something I guess I deplore--though that doesn't make much difference.

    One question is how the US should relate to these Islamic countries. As I said, and as we seem to agree, there's no danger of their attacking the sole superpower.

    Maybe at the margins we can induce these countries to adopt more tolerant policies. I'm all for that, but don't think such efforts will get very far.

    I am very much concerned if these countries provide aid and succor to militants intent on committing terrorist acts in other countries. Pakistan and Afghanistan present a problem in this regard, and I favor whatever measures are most conducive to drying up the pool of militants. If it proved to be the case that seeking the adoption of more tolerant policies undercut measures to discourage support for terrorism abroad, I'd drop the attempts to gain more tolerance. But of course I'd hope to be able to do both.

    Since governments can be deterred, I worry most about non-governmental organizations like al Qaeda. Some few Muslims are already gone over to a commitment to terrorism. The majority are opposed to terrorism. I want their numbers to grow, and I want the marginal few who might or might not provide active support to terrorism to be reduced to be as few as possible.

    I believe that disrespect and contempt by Americans toward Muslims generally will only serve the interests of recruitment to al Qaeda and comparable organizations. And I don't believe that in fact there's an Islamic essence such that the Muslim deserves disrespect and contempt.

  17. If I was going to keep a woman down on the farm, the first thing I’d do is make sure she didn’t get educated.

    UNESCO data shows that the percentage of Egyptian kids in in primary school who are female is 48, in secondary schools, 48, and at the tertiary level, 42.
    In Indonesia, the comparable figures are 49, 48, and 37.

    Maybe the oppressors should be more thorough.

  18. If I was going to oppress a Muslim nation, I would drop a nuclear bomb on it.

    U.N. data says that the number of Muslim nations that have been nuked is zero.

    Maybe "the world's only superpower" is doing a poor job of oppressing Muslim countries.

    Mr. @Anonymous, you are an extraordinarily muddled thinker. You're doing a great job channeling the Mojo Jojo style of apologetics.

  19. Gender Disparity in Pakistan (Wikipedia)

    Among other criticisms the Pakistani education system faces is the gender disparity in enrollment levels. However, in recent years some progress has been made in trying to fix this problem. In 1990-91, the female to male ratio (F/M ratio) of enrollment was 0.47 for primary level of education. It reached to 0.74 in 1999-2000, showing the F/M ratio has improved by 57.44% within the decade. For the middle level of education it was 0.42 in the start of decade and increased to 0.68 by the end of decade, so it has improved almost 62%. In both cases the gender disparity is decreased but relatively more rapidly at middle level.[12]
    The gender disparity in enrollment at secondary level of education was 0.4 in 1990-91 and 0.67 in 1999-2000, showing that the disparity decreased by 67.5% in the decade. At the college level it was 0.50 in 1990-91 and reached 0.81 in 1999-2000, showing that the disparity decreased by 64%. The gender disparity has decreased comparatively rapidly at secondary school.[12]
    However, the gender disparity is affected by the Taliban enforcement of a complete ban on female education in the Swat district, as reported in a January 21, 2009 issue of the Pakistan daily newspaper The News. Some 400 private schools enrolling 40,000 girls have been shut down. At least 10 girls' schools that tried to open after the January 15, 2009 deadline by the Taliban were blown up by the militants in the town of Mingora, the headquarters of the Swat district.[13] "More than 170 schools have been bombed or torched, along with other government-owned buildings."[13]

    If I could find a point of substance in the foregoing to reply to, I would.

  20. @Anonymous, you're trying to change the subject again. Showing that some Muslim countries allow girls to go to school is not the same as saying that women have equal rights in Muslim nations, any more than our lack of dropping nukes on Muslims proves that America is perfectly fair to Muslim nations.

    The Muslim apologists have a sickening habit of trying to redefine words like "equal rights". They only rape and stone "bitches who deserve it". They only put bags over their women's heads and practice female circumcision, "for the women's own good". The clerics explain how it is actually humane to beat your wife only on her arms and legs, since "she is a human, not an animal". I'm disgusted that you would point to school enrollment statistics as proof that Islam does not oppress women. It's offensive.

    And we could copy-paste Wikipedia articles all day. 31 of the world's 38 wars involve Muslims who can't get along with their neighbors. The vast majority of terrorist attacks against civilians come from Muslims. The only current genocide being perpetrated in the world is being perpetrated by Muslims.

    You've already admitted that Islam was created from violence, grew through violence, and has been reformed into a violent religion, as the Quran clearly teaches. This is not about "contempt for Muslims"; it is simply calling a spade a spade. This is what Islam is.

    I really don't give a damn whether or not U.S. policies will increase their numbers, or whether you personally find it "contemptuous" to tell the truth about them. I don't know why you keep bringing it up. Violence is at the very heart of their religion -- that's a simple factual statement.

  21. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. (I’m not being snide.)

    It’s said that Muslims oppress women, and that it’s required by their religion that they do so. But if even Pakistan is making rapid strides towards equality of education, that counts against the notion that do or must oppress women. (Which is not to deny that the atrocities occur, nor that they occur in the context of homes where wife-beating is a common practice.)

    I did not suggest nor do I believe that the sort of atrocities you describe do not in fact occur in Islamic societies. Your disgust is misdirected.

    I would hope that as Muslim women (and men) become educated, the sort of atrocities you cite will occur less often.

    Your reference to international wars, terrorist attacks, and genocide is telling. Let me consider each.

    We know that genocide is not peculiar to Muslims--it has been perpetrated by Germans, Rwandans, and Cambodians. Further, it’s by no means obvious that the slaughter in Darfur traces to religious sentiment, let alone a reading of sacred scripture.

    I’m trying to bring to mind the most atrocious of the wars of the last couple of decades. I resort to Wikiedia,, and find a dozen or so post 1990 conflicts that resulted in 500 or more fatalities. It seems to be true that most of them involve Muslims, and that includes the bloodiest by far, the Iraq War. But this war was not initiated by Muslims, nor was the regime against which it was directed one inspired by religious conviction. Another of the larger conflicts, the drug war in Mexico, isn’t being fought by Muslims.
    The one war where religious Islamist convictions loom largest is the 2004+ conflict in Northwest Pakistan. Others, too, might be seen to involve religious conviction--the insurgency in south Thailand, the struggle against Algerian control in the Maghreb, But even these, and still more the others listed, aren’t led by men whose motives and convictions are based in religious conviction. More to the point, even if these are men who’ve read their al Banna or Qutb they’re not interested in coming after us.
    The early centuries of Islam, and later periods as well, were not founded on, did not practice, forced coercion. It is a brute fact that by 750 Islamic armies had reached across as far as Spain and Afghanistan. But I wouldn’t admit that “Islam was created from violence” or “has been reformed into a violent religion” because the heart of Islam is the five pillars and the six articles and nothing there tells me or anyone “you must strike the twin towers, you must leave bombs on the Madrid subway, you must carry a backpack loaded with explosives into Paddy’s Pub in Bali.” I would not concede for a moment that one of the great world religions, with a magnificent history of learning and great achievement reduces to squalid acts of murder and destruction.
    I am dismayed to learn that any American finds of no concern the number of those bent on repeating the disaster of the twin towers. Though I worry more about how we might react to such a disaster, still nothing in foreign policy concerns me more than to diminish the chances of another September 11.

  22. @Anonymous - I don't think the examples I cited were particularly relevant, nor do I think yours were. I was simply demonstrating what it would be like if we each continued citing Wikipedia statistics. It's a silly game.

    I'm touched by your faith that "education" will bring about equality. Do you think that we would advance equality of the sexes by legislating that all American women be required to get an education from Bob Jones University?

  23. Of course there's more to equality than education, but education is hugely important--as Afghan girls and the Taliban well know.

    Maybe the reading and writing girls get in their schools is inferior to that boys get. I assume not.

    In any event, whether girls get the same education as boys in Pakistan today is apparently not determined the dead hand of Muhammad or al Banna.

  24. @Anonymous - Prove it. The poor are educated at Madrassas in Pakistan, which indoctrinate children by compelling them through violence to memorize the Quran, including all of the Quran's misogynistic and repressive themes.

    Wikipedia says "In 1947 there were only 189 madrassas in Pakistan. In 2002 the country had 10,000-13,000 unregistered madrassas with an estimated 1.7 to 1.9 million students. A 2008 estimate puts this figure at "over 40,000"."

    Sure, reading and writing is really liberating for people "educated" that women are slightly above beasts. LOL.

    If you knew the slightest thing about Pakistan, you would cite Maududi, and not Al Banna. Al Banna's hand is far from dead in Pakistan, and Maududi's hand even less so. You seriously need to give it up. You're compensating for your ignorance with stubborn persistence, and it's getting annoying.

  25. I didn't say al Banna's hand or Maududi's was dead in Pakistan, nor did I say that benighted forms of Islam don't have much influence there . I said Pakistan has taken long strides towards educating girls and boys alike.

    I suppose if the Islamic equivalent of a Christian fundamentalist and a liberal Muslim were debating the question "is violence at the heart of Islam?" you'd agree with the Islamist. I wouldn't.

  26. Pakistan has taken long strides toward a certain sort of equality, and the decisions to do this must have been made by officials not under the sway of Maududi and his ilk.


  27. "Pakistan has taken long strides toward a certain sort of equality, and the decisions to do this must have been made by officials not under the sway of Maududi and his ilk."

    I see, since there are more girls in school being educated about why they need to wear burkhas and obey their husbands, that makes up for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and the immediate reversal of her reforms.

    Maududi's religious organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, controls something like 1/3 of the seats in parliament, and they have assassinated other moderate Pakistani politicians. Do you really know anything at all about Muslim history, or do you find facts inconvenient? If you want to say that Islamists don't have sway over the Pakistani political process, I'm going to say you're delusional.

    "I suppose if the Islamic equivalent of a Christian fundamentalist and a liberal Muslim were debating the question "is violence at the heart of Islam?" you'd agree with the Islamist. I wouldn't. "

    Apparently. The difference is that I have history and facts on my side. You still have no answer for Mohammed's mass slaughters, the macabre rise of Whabbism, the ability of Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan to select leaders by assassination, and so on.

    The fact that some pusillanimous anonymous correspondents on the Internet claim some magical hidden interpretation of Quran that is non-violent, is not very persuasive "evidence".

  28. As to Allen and me, I stipulate that Allen has read all the pertinent texts in Arabic, knows all there is to know about Islam, and is brave and principled, whereas Anonymous is weak-minded, ill-informed, and pusillanimous (and holds the view that it’s fallacious to attempt to persuade by linking the validity of a premise to a characteristic of the person advocating the premise).

    But to the subject at hand: Islam’s essence.

    A not unrelated question: must a Christian believe that three days after the crucifixion, Jesus walked out of the tomb alive? Paul says he must, and it I’m inclined to agree. Yet I’d be surprised not to find millions of people who don’t believe in the resurrection as just described and yet insist that they are Christian. Are they Christian? Well, more so than I, and who am I to deny them their self-identification?

    But as for violence at the heart of Islam.
    There are (a) the authority of the Qu’ran, (b) the sword verse, and (c) the tribute verse. (There’s also Wahabbisim, assassinations, and the prophet’s resorts to slaughter. But the first is but a sect among many, the second common in the history of Islam but easy to condemn on doctrinal and scriptural grounds, and the third needs further explication. But there’s not the beginnings of a case for any essence here, let alone a violent one.)

    As to a-c, I’d simply say that the the reach of b and c is subject to interpretation, such that in any particular case (September 11 or London 7/7, for instance) any reader could say they fall far short of supplying justification. And they could appeal to the liberal Muslim’s godsend, the no-compulsion verse. So also might go the argument as to the justification of killing Bhutto or Sadat, actions which were after all condemned by many a devout Muslim.

    Does Islam have an ugly history, scarred by appalling outbreaks of violence? Quite so. So also does Christianity. (If you do a body count, I suspect Islam wins. But as one explores what was done to the Jews, the Muslims, the witches, the Albigensians, one’s enthusiasm in defense wanes.)

    Are there many Muslims homicidally inclined, against westerners, against each other? Quite so. More than are to be found among non-Muslims? Wouldn’t be surprised. Can they find justification in scripture and tradition? Readily. (So surveys of opinion and patterns of behavior show.)

    Are most Muslims not homicidally, let alone terroristically, inclined? Yes. Do they, can they cite scripture and appeal to tradition in opposition to homicidal endeavors? Easily. (So surveys of opinion and patterns of behavior show.)

    When it comes to one sickeningly effective tactic, like many religions Islam has a deeply rooted prohibition against suicide. I see no reason to concede to the militants the notion that from an Islamic standpoint this tactic is justified.

    But the plain fact is that, when it comes to favoring homicidal actions, Muslims hold varied views both as to what actions are acceptable and as to why, from a religious standpoint, they might be justified or not.

    There is no Islamic essence. There is no standard-model Muslim bent on killing us. There is no Koranic, no scriptural, no traditional case for the homicides that concern us that all Muslims do or must accept. Violence is as violence does. Bin Laden did not come from the heart of Islam, he came from the heart of darkness. These are not the same place.

  29. "There is no Islamic essence."

    This explains a lot about you, as does your comment about "Christians" who don't believe in the resurrection.

    You do not come from the heart of reason. You come from the heart of a post-Hegelian black hole of meaninglessness, where words are redefined at will until they mean nothing.

    To me, the "Islamic essence" is what the Muslims preach and how they act, throughout history and in the present day. To me, it is very easy to detect an essence that uniquely characterizes Muslims versus others. Perhaps your fantasy world will someday come true, and Islam will be a peaceful religion. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

  30. Dante reports from the First Circle, or Limbo:
    “Here, as much as hearing could discover,
    there was no outcry louder than the sighs
    that caused the everlasting air to tremble.
    The sighs arose from sorrow without torments. ...
    They did not sin . . ..

    and I saw . . .
    Avicenna, {and]
    Avererroes, of the Great Commentary.”
    Canto IV, The Inferno, tr. Mandelbaum

  31. Who's a Christian?
    Is James McGrath a Christian? Does he subscribe to the historicity of the resurrection? Does even he know?
    Yet the man teaches Sunday school--and at a church nowhere near the Unitarian.

    As to the larger topic, which, as Allen and Anonymous agree, he, the latter, has a lot to learn, she should read William T. Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.

  32. "Granted, these extremists are a small minority within Islam, they are much larger and better organized than similar extremist Christian or Jewish groups"

    I agree with John Esposito and find your arguments flawed. The fact that Muslim terrorists may be better coordinated in their terrorist acts(rather than being "lone actors") has no bearing on whether the religion itself is integrally violent. Go back a few centuries and you will find quite a few coordinated efforts of Christian mass murder. It is no use to say that Christianity has become more peaceful over the last 3 centuries, since you are making a broad statement about the religious tradition as a whole(As for the Catholic child molestations not being justified by scriptural , I'll submit that point)

    "Islam has always been a violent religion. It spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa at its beginning because of the sword. Those that would not submit to Allah were infidels and deserved death."

    This statement betrays some woeful ignorance of history. The conversion of (largely Christian) Middle East and North Africa was a process of centuries; the initial conquests did not result in mass conversions. Although actual contemporary evidence is scarce all evidence seems to point to the fact that most conversions was peaceful, and actual persecution . Read the books of John Bulliet (Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Age) and Hugh Kennedy (The Early Arab Conquests) for actual information rather than the rants of pundits.

    "One could make an argument that this is a central tenet of Islam and the radicals are merely doing what fundamentalists do--taking their Scripture literally."

    Sure, you could make that argument- and that is what your quote by Mark Durie does- after all, the evidence is there, waiting to be molded to fit whatever particular debate you're trying to win. However if you are a sincere seeker of truth (rather than simply "making cases"), it behooves you to take a more highly nuanced view of the subject. Here is a starting point, an article by Dr. Sherman Jackson on the topic, "Jihad and the Modern World."

    You attempt a sort of argument comparing the acts of the Israel and the US to the acts of the Taliban and Iran. I won't address that since it does nothing to prove your point, which makes broad claims about a centuries old religious tradition.

    Anyway, having rejected a religion that you devoted much of your life to for intellectual reasons, I think you might as well take more than a cursory glance at Islam, since it addresses many of the issues you had with Christianity. For example, see T.J. Winter's articles on particularly his article on the Trinity. (He also has a few articles on terrorism).