Monday, July 02, 2007

Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam

I just finished reading “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades” by Robert Spencer (link). I had originally learned about Spencer when he was interviewed on C-SPAN a while back. I have checked out his Jihad Watch web site a few times, but have not followed him very closely. A friend passed the book along to me and I decided to give it a read. Like other books in the “Politically Incorrect” series, it is a relatively brief (270 pages) and easy read.

I found the book to be extremely informative. While I have not researched Islam very extensively, I have since 9/11 made an honest effort to become better informed. I have read other books, watched movies, seen TV specials, and visited web sites on the subject. The problem is that there is a great deal of conflicting information out there regarding Islam, and it’s hard to put everything together into coherent picture that helps to explain the world we live in today. After reading this book I felt I had a much stronger handle on Islam and how it relates to the “War on Terror” that we face today.

I believe the key take-home message of the book is that Islam is not just a religion, it is also a political movement. It is the fusion of religion and politics that makes Islam so volatile, and fundamentally incompatible with modern pluralistic societies. Islamic states are governed by Sharia law, a legal system based upon Muslim principles of jurisprudence that covers all aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, business, family life, and social issues. It is sharia law that gives religious leaders their political power, since they are the ultimate authority on every aspect of law. Many Muslins today seek to unite all Islam under a single global ruler, known as the caliphate. This may be thought of as the Islamic equivalent of the Catholic pope. The caliphate was abolished in 1924, and many Muslims trace their political downfall to this event. Restoration of a global Islamic leader is viewed by some as a means of regaining lost glory. The goals of jihadists is to restore the caliphate and establish supremacy of Islam in the world.

There is no “separation of church and state” in Islamic countries, the church is the state. Consequently, the modern notion of universal human rights, such as the freedom of religious expression, is nonexistent. Indeed, purely religious acts such as blasphemy, apostasy, or conversion from Islam to another religion is a capital offence under sharia law, punishable by death. Furthermore, Islamic law officially classifies non-Muslims as second-class citizens, under what is known as the dhimma. The dhimma are essentially those conditions under which non-Muslims are allowed to practice their religion. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable by death. Within Islamic states non-muslims are offered a triple choice: voluntarily convert to Islam, accept dhimmitude, or death.

Another central theme of the book is that historically, Islam has been spread by warfare. Indeed, Muhammad himself was a warrior, and he lead the charge militarily to spread his new religion as far and wide as he could. The Qur'an is unique among the sacred writings of the world in counseling its adherents to make war against unbelievers. The violence that we see today from Islamic militants is just the latest expression of this warfare. The killing of innocent non-combatants (as occurred in the World Trade Centers) is acceptable because to fight against the persecution of Muslims by any means necessary is the highest good. Other Islamic principles that help to shed light on the current conflict include:

  • Allah will grant victory to his people against foes that are superior in numbers or firepower, so long as they remain faithful to his commands. Islamic terrorists have no fear going up against seemingly insurmountable odds because they believe Allah will grant them victory. Likewise, when things go wrong, it is punishment for not being faithful to Islam. It also doesn’t hurt that Paradise is guaranteed to those who "slay and are slain" for Allah.

  • Prisoners taken in battle may be put to death at the discretion of Muslim leaders. Those who reject Islam are "the vilest of creatures" (Qur'an 98:6) and thus deserve no mercy.

  • Anyone who insults or opposes Muhammad or his people deserves a humiliating death — by beheading if possible. This is in accordance with Allah's command to "smite the necks" of the unbelievers (Qur'an 47:4).

While there are verses within the Qur’an that are more tolerant of nonbelievers, they are subject to the Islamic doctrine of abrogation (naskh). This is the idea that Allah can change or cancel what he tells Muslims. According to this idea, the violent verses of the ninth sura, including the Verse of the Sword (9:5), abrogate the peaceful verses, because they were revealed later in Muhammad's prophetic career.

While all of this may seem rather extreme, the point that Mr Spencer makes is that Islam is extreme. Because the Qur’an is believed to be the literal word of Allah as revealed to Muhammad. It is perfect, immutable, and not subject to the sort of nonliteral interpretation that has mellowed some other religions. Those Muslims that are moderate and do not follow the literal teachings of the Qur’an are not “true Muslims” in the eyes of Islam. In other words, “there are moderate Muslims but Islam itself is not moderate”, as author Ibn Warraq is quoted as saying. Mr Spencer points out that while we are told that it is only the "bad Muslims", the Wahhabis and other extremists, who are responsible for all the violence, it is these very same bad Muslims who most fervently accept, in every area of life, the actual teachings of Islam, while the more relaxed, unobservant, and above all non-literal minded Muslims who are committed to pluralism and peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims.

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