Monday, November 5, 2007

Religous Extremists

This is a topic that needs to be addressed at some point so I might as well have a go at it now. This part isn't so much for me as for critics who would immediately point at radical Islam and ask how I could even consider it as my religion.

My answer to that question is that it's very easy when you realize that radical Islam is just as representative of true Islam as radical Christianity is representative of true Christianity. By radical Christianity, I don't mean pro-life Catholics or born-again Biblical literalists, I mean the kind who take radical measures like bombing abortion clinics or missionaries who torture the natives into accepting Christianity or kill them in the process.

Even most non-Muslims are aware that the terrorist acts performed in the name of Islam are condemned by most of the Muslim world. However, the strict enforcement of what is called Sharia law is opposed by many conservative Muslims as well. I'm obviously far from well-educated when it comes to Islam but I think that many of the current oppressive Islamic regimes go against the teachings and spirit of Islam in their practices.

For instance, one issue that is frequently raised against Islam is its treatment of women. Even though Muslims will tell you that Islam glorifies women and promotes fair treatment of women, that is not the case in many Muslims countries. However, these strict laws are not taught by Islam but are simply the result of Muslim societies creating overly-strict laws by extending Islamic rules or simply perpetuating strict cultural practices and claiming that they are required by Islam.

The following quote is from this article on CNN about men and women at Hajj.
"Why do Muslim women seem to have fewer rights than their men?"
In theory, they don't. For about 1,500 years, women under Islamic laws have had rights that might have surprised their counterparts in other religions, such as the right to independent wealth and property -- which can even be kept private from a woman's husband. One staunch feminist living in Saudi Arabia pointed out in an interview that the arrival of Islam, particularly in Middle Eastern countries, actually improved conditions for women. She said before then, the pagan, often nomadic, tribes treated women like easily discarded property. Islam set standards that looked after women's interests and protected them from men.

In fact, Christianity has a long history of oppressing women that only recently ended. Without having to do any research, I knew Paul's statement that women should not speak in church and should ask their husbands any questions once they are in the privacy of their own homes. However, once I started doing a little research, it appears that Jewish and Christian teachings about women are usually more oppressive than the Islamic teachings. This article addresses many women's issues from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic perspectives with many quotes from the Bible and the Quran as well as rabbis and saints. Of all the topics addressed: education, impurity of women, witnessing, adultery, vows, property, divorce, motherhood, widowhood, polygamy, and the head cover, with the exception of the head cover, Islam actually does more to protect women and ensure their rights than Judaism and Christianity. When it comes to head coverings both Judaism and Christianity have a tradition of women covering their heads. There is nothing mentioned in the Old Testament, although there are apparently rabbinic teachings requiring head coverings. In the New Testament women are instructed to cover their heads when praying, a practice that is still observed by many older Orthodox women, I've noticed, but it makes no mention of their daily lives.

We ignore the fact that Christian culture, in its modernization, has gone against Biblical teachings about women and pushed for gender equality. For some reason, we choose not to treat Islam equally and blame the backwards state of certain Islamic regimes as culture but we blame it on the religion instead. If we go back to the Bible and even Christian tradition and look at Christianity rather than modern Christian cultures, we see that Christianity affords fewer rights to women than Islam.

My main point, throughout all this, is that the extreme practices, teachings, and actions done in the name of Islam does not fairly reflect the religion. Similarly, just because modern "Christian" countries have modernized and ensure certain rights to people does not mean that Christianity necessarily promotes those ideals. I guess, in summary, I'm saying to judge a religion first on its teachings and second on its followers and try to distinguish between those who truly practice the religion from those who carry out their own wishes in the name of that religion.

This post has somehow turned mostly into a discussion of women in Islam, although I believe that terrorist Islamic thinking is simply the extreme form of the same train of thought that leads to oppression of women. If terrorism needs to be addressed as its own subject, I can return to that later but I feel this expresses my general thoughts on religious extremism in general.

When it comes to Islamic extremism, people usually think of Taliban Afghanistan or Iran but I believe Saudi Arabia even goes far beyond Islamic teachings in its oppression of women. Islam's laws try to promote respect toward women by keeping them from being objectified as sexual objects. This requires a basic amount of modesty. Likewise, Islam teaches men to avoid tempting situations so as not to have impure thoughts. However, not permitting women to travel alone or drive cars is taking that to a far extreme. Just as the primary opinion is that a women's face and hands may be exposed for practical purposes, it is only practical to allow women to move about to conduct daily tasks. How can a woman work if she cannot travel without her husband? (Remember that Mohammad's first wife, Khadija, was a business woman.) Similarly, how can a non-working woman run errands, go shopping, take the kids to the doctor, or accomplish anything if she is always tied to her husband? I know my mom had a full time job just being a mom; if my dad had to accompany her while also keeping his employment, he never would have slept.

I'm interested in what Muslims have to say about this. I'm sure most think that the Taliban are extreme but will they sympathize with my opinions about Saudi as well?

(As a footnote, I feel like this post was even less connected and logical than most; maybe I'm just out of practice after such a long pause.)

1 comment:

Azooz said...

I was hopeing your deadlines would keep you busy till I got over my writers block - I get them for months sometimes but I do keep on reading.

"Religous Extremists" - The Quran emphasisez the middle road as much as posible - in short, both types of extremists are always wrong, those that are self rightiuos are just as bad as those that do not pray.

Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi all have "cultural Islam" their culture is developing after centuries of ignorance of anything Islamic, divided, colonised and stuff - takes time. Women in Islam is best explained by the Sisters themselves - in Saudi for example I would be delighted if women drive and can hardly wait for the day they can - for men in Saudi have to act as drivers. How would you feel haveing to drive all your sisters, Mom etc to work, school, malls etc - America can devlop it's own cultural Islam at it's own pace and learn from our mistakes :)

What Islam does is guide societies thru guiding individuals - you become a better person and that helps make your society better. the Quran shows great use of plural and singular words (dual to) - the concepts of mercy are plural and include all humans on Earth, the plural of worship and taqwa are Muslim - but that to is a huge subject in itself that you best read.

Terrorisim, I wrote a while back how terrorisim is more propaganda than actual. The word is used mainly to get votes from scareing voters. I am getting addicted to both Liberal and Conservative American sites for they constantly talk about Islamic subjects that interest me - the hype is spreading Islam among both sides.

I'm not saying there is no terrorism, just that the media is useing it for it's own purpose of spreading fear of anting realted to Islam and Muslims - and it's is spreading Islam to.

Not many Saudi children in the 60s memorized the Quran, now over 200,000 go memorize it daily - their parents know it makes them more polite and rational. I wish my parents were that smart, but I am glad the new generation is better and more sane than mine was. The "extremisim" was not because of Islam really, it was becuase so little of Islam was known by the population - the Quran is an easy book to read and does help a lot on removing extremisim.

Sharia law - big subject, to make it simple ignore the laws and notice the justice - Sharia is not Sharia unless a judge has the ability to judge the "top" of the society (King, President, Shah, Khalifa etc) as easily as the lowest begger in his court room. Saudi, Iran and Afganistian, do not have Sharia - no one does for it takes a lot of people willing to protect and support their judges. Somalia had a few weeks of Shaira - but the courts got removed before they could develop - but while they were active they removed all the war lords, that was considered imposible before.

(As a footnote, I feel like this post was even less connected and logical than most; maybe I'm just out of practice after such a long pause.)