As an ESL educator, one of the most important concepts that I teach in the classroom is using context clues to determine the meaning of new and unfamiliar vocabulary. As a student when I was in school (decades ago), I loved history class; it was one of my favorite subjects. Any student of history will tell you that a true education about the past has little to do with memorizing names and dates and much more to do with understanding the framework through which historical events took place.
Context is a very important aspect of learning and comprehension. It doesn’t matter if you’re studying language or history or even culture. Figuring out the context is akin to asking the all-encompassing question: why? I have lived in two very different Muslim countries (both on the liberal side of the Muslim scale), but I can tell you that it’s difficult to determine where the split between Arab and Islamic culture occurs, the lines have blurred over the centuries. One followed the other and was created within the culture’s subjective context. Westerners don’t know enough about it to understand, and Muslims themselves don’t look critically at their past, nor do they ask provocative questions about their present and future. And that was all part of the founder’s plan.
Or was it?
The religion of Islam was born over 1,000 years ago on the Arabian Peninsula in a time without order, without technology, and without real civilization. Imagine if you will a desert world with 20 or 30 different tribes in a constant state of war with one another. There were no real cities, no governments, no infrastructure. Arab tribes were comprised of family units and bloodlines; fighting to protect and secure those clans wasn’t only encouraged, it was necessary for survival.
During the same period, the European nations operated under the feudal system with kings and queens ruling over large estates of land called kingdoms. The Roman Empire had fallen and the Holy Catholic Church had taken its place, with a religious hierarchy that not only dictated the way people behaved and thought, but also maintained a substantial amount of wealth and power. Yes, in both locations a historian might use the phrase “dark ages” to describe the situations. The difference being that eventually the European dark ages came to an end while the Arab dark ages persist even to this day.
The current world issues with Islam didn’t start with the religion. Problems of violence and aggression against other Muslim factions and even non-Muslims began with Arab tribal culture of the sixth and seventh centuries. It was that world into which Islam was conceived and born. A world where men were more valuable than women. A world where you drew your sword instead of asking questions. A world where your political and religious leader was the same man. A world where you could die of starvation and thirst in a hot, desert climate if you didn’t take what others owned to ensure your own survival.
It is within this context that one must first look before really understanding the culture of Islam and why there is so much violence associated with its holy text, the Quran. Islam has been called the Religion of the Sword – and for good reason. The Quran states in multiple places that believers must convert or kill disbelievers, which is very unlike Christianity and Judaism (Jesus was a pacifist, who preached love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek). There are many similarities between Christianity and Islam, though, and it’s no wonder since the Muslim prophet, Mohammad, was quite familiar with the other monotheistic religions of his day and borrowed from them as he saw fit.
Whether or not the Quran and Mohammad were the real deal or not isn’t the purpose of this article. Suffice it to say, the man who created one of the major world religions today was a warrior and political figure. He wanted power and used his religious ideas to develop a following, form alliances, and build an army to do his bidding. He used his faith to unify the previously pagan and warring Arabic tribes into one violent mega-tribe. And it is that mega-tribe – which extends from Morocco all the way to Indonesia – that is still fighting in the 21st century. That mega-tribe is the problem, not necessarily the religion that was used to create it.
The Arab world in our day and age has stagnated. They ceased making any kind of progress centuries ago, because they disregard and discredit those among them who think critically and ask questions about their culture and their religion. Muslims in the 21st century live in much the same way their ancestors did in the 11th.
Sure, they watch television, drive cars, and use cell phones, but they don’t value education, they don’t strive to better themselves as individuals or as a society, they don’t seem to have a decent work ethic, and the men still rule in a very misogynistic and patriarchal way of life that has been virtually dead in the West for a hundred years. Can you name any Arabs who have made substantial contributions to humanity? The Arab world is eager to use the West’s contributions to better their lives but then fight against us when convenient for their message.
The Muslims/Arabs I have met and spoken with (and of course, this isn’t true of all Arabs, but it’s the vast majority) still maintain a very primitive and archaic mentality about the role that religion plays in their lives, the roles men and women play in society, and their role in an ever-shirking global community. When viewed in the context of Mohammad’s life and experiences, Islam was his way of gaining power and influence over varying groups of people who at that time, weren’t listening to any centralized authority. And we’ve seen it since then as well. What happens when one man wants to control huge populations of people? He creates totalitarian dictatorship regimes and burns books.
Asking self-reflective questions and thinking critically about faith and life is forbidden in the Muslim holy book. Not merely discouraged or frowned upon – literally forbidden. Mohammad wanted his followers to have blind faith in whatever he said to them. He didn’t want any situations where another man or group could challenge his ultimate position as their new leader. The angel Gabriel visited the prophet and told him, “O, you who believe! Ask not about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble.” (Quran 5:101)
When Mohammad died and others picked up the baton of his new monotheistic religion, they didn’t exactly know what to do with it. So they took the words in the Quran literally. Anybody throughout the history of Islam who questioned the literal interpretation of Mohammad’s ideas has been denounced or killed. To this day, Arab culture doesn’t ask questions. They don’t think critically, and they don’t analyze life, religion, or themselves. It’s blind obedience to the rules of their religion that were created in a time of strife and insecurity. But those rules are still being applied today in the name of honor killings, jihads, and forcing other cultures and peoples to submit to the will of Allah.
Mohammad didn’t choose the word Islam by happenstance, nor did I choose the name of this article in the same way. Both were calculated moves. The word Islam translates to submission. It’s an idea that could be beautiful, again within the right context (if we each submit to each other, then there will be peace all over the world). But Arabs, the world over, aren’t using Islam for peace. Even the ones who don’t believe in jihad (which is quite a few believe it or not) aren’t standing up for themselves and their version of their faith. They sit quietly while the more violent members of their clans justify murder in the name of Allah. At the same time, this silent majority does follow the ancient rules of their culture. They use it to subjugate and oppress half of their own population: women.
To Be Continued…