Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It's Not Islam

Many Americans (and Westerners in general) believe that Islam is a violent, savage religion. They may not openly admit it, but that's their tacit opinion. Some, however, like Donald Trump, Bill Maher, and Sam Harris, are very vocal about their condemnation of Islam.

As my last post explained, Buddhism refutes the idea that anything can exist on its own; all phenomena are empty of self-existence. There is no thing called Buddhism, America, Earth, burritos, or humans. These are convenient terms that we ascribe to the limitless, interconnected swath of reality that defies definition.

Likewise, there is no thing called Islam. There are approximately 1.6 billion people on earth who identify in some way as being Muslim, but their definitions vary broadly. Some may be nominal devotees who simply pay lip service to their religion in the same way as many Christians do in America (only attending church on Christmas and Easter, if at all). Others may be cultural Muslims, while still others may be...

And on the list goes until we eventually arrive at militant fundamentalists whose actions most commonly are seen to represent Islam. Kareem Abdul Jabbar recently made a great comparison: right wing jihadist are no more representative of Islam than the Westboro Baptist Church is of Christianity.

But what about all of the violence that the Koran advocates? skeptics contest. 2,821,364 people are killed in the name of God in The Bible, yet we don't see any major vocal condemnation of Christianity and Judaism. This includes genocide and butchery of the most savage sort.

As an example: I have been watching Vikings, the History Channel's drama series, and was shocked to watch as a woman had her ear cut off because she committed adultery. No, she wasn't a Viking, but a Christian. Her punishers were too. In fact, they read the punishment from the Good Book as they severed her ear. Lucky for her, they stopped with one ear, for the full punishment included cutting off both ears as well as her nose (Ezekiel 23: 25)! Yet no one identifies that bloody, literal interpretation of scripture with Christianity and Judaism.

My point is this:
Burnings at the stake, mass slaughter, enslavement, genocide (all of which have biblical and historical precedents) are no more representative of Christianity than ISIS is of Islam. 
For those who then argue that Christians don't commit these horrible crimes, but Muslims do, I say, "No they do not. Anyone who claims to kill in the name of Allah (Arabic for God) is not a Muslim. They may claim--or sincerely believe--that they are, but they are not. At least not in the same way as peace-loving Muslims are." Most Muslims do not subscribe to literal interpretations of Sharia Law any more than Christians and Jews believe that adulterers should have their ears and noses cut off. 

Which brings us back to where we began: there is no Islam. For convenience's sake, journalists and politicians might call ISIS "radical Muslims," but for convenience's sake I will also say that the term "radical Islam" is an oxymoron. There are no radical Muslims, for the moment people become militantly radicalized they are no longer Muslims; they are radical militants

Again, I am playing with words because words and concepts are both malleable and potentially constrictive/destructive. Buddhism reveals that words are ultimately incapable of capturing the ever-fluid, complexity of reality; yet, paradoxically, they can liberate or enslave us. It's our choice whether to see clearly--free of bias, prejudice, fear, and anger--or become ensnared in the thorny entanglement of blame and hatred.


  1. I do not know about DT or BM but Sam Harris is very specific about how and why some Islamic ideas are bad and others good and how it effects some people and not others and why. Your painting of Harris here rather misses the nuance of his position. Furthermore, to claim that "there [is no] condemnation of Christianity and Judaism" is just wrong. Have you listened to Sam Harris you'd know there is a comprehensive attack on Christianity and Judaism in the same way as there is in Islam.

  2. I refer to Bill Maher and Sam Harris as examples of the general anti-Muslim sentiment pervading Western nations. As an American living in a very liberal state, I am shocked and revolted at how wholesale discrimination against Muslims is tolerated. I can only imagine how aggressive this prejudice may be in other, less progressive and diverse, parts of the nation.

    While Sam Harris may be critical of Judaism and Christianity as well, I do not get the sense that they are under verbal attack the way that Islam is, especially Christianity. The presumptive Republican nominee for President of the U.S. advocates a form of religious profiling against Muslims. The other Abrahamic religions are not subject to that kind of Western mainstream attack in the 21st century. If Donald Trump is elected President--a real possibility, which speaks volumes about American anti-Muslim sentiment--America is likely to see attempts at legislation that could openly discriminate against Muslims in a way that Christians have never experienced in America.

  3. I understand your point, but with weekly terrorist attacks in the news carried out by Muslims it's unrealistic for there to be no scrutiny of Islam. If we lived centuries ago when it was Christians who were the aggressors the focus would be different.