Thinking about Islam 1

Islam is a vast and complex religion. Rooted in Arabic and the culture of nomadic tribes, it has spread into vastly differing cultures in Africa and Asia, and now began a new phase of implantation in the major cities of the West. It is this latter phase which has caused massive anxiety in the West, and cultural tensions are appearing that are tearing western counties such as France apart. In the western mind Islam is associated above all with terror, violence and political upheaval that threatens the western way of life on many levels. The cold bloodied murder of the off duty British soldier in Woolwich fitted neatly into these stereotypes.

Like all stereotypes there is always a kernel of truth, but only a kernel. Living out in the Middle East, as well as having some Muslim friends in the UK, I can see Islam as a very diverse reality, defining it being like herding cats. Just when you think you have it pinned down something else comes along which throws it all up in the air. Western religion, Christianity, in its largest form is very definable as the Catholic Church, with its Vatican State, its Supreme and infallible Pontiff and codes of law, together with its tightly authorised bishops and synods. As Christinaity so the usual for, of religin most Wnglish people ahve come across at least tangentially, they begin by assuming that Islam is a sortof 'foreign' version of Christianity when in fact theybare two very different models of how religon is. Protestantism, with its myriad versions and rooted in an infallible Book, is much more like Islam, less easily definable, more prone to extremism,  embracing a myriad of various variant readings and interpretations rooted in a lot of personal emotion. However, with its origins deep within Catholic Europe the trend is towards authority and definitions, such as episcopacy, elders, ordinations and prayer books, and so even here the assumption that knowing one religion means you fundamentally understand all others is a wild assumption.

Another block to seeing Islam clearly is the experience of colonialism and relative economic, technological and creative disadvantage. For a religion that began as a triumphalist military phenomenon that conquered large swathes of the known world almost miraculously, to find every Islamic country subjugated to Christian nations as was the case after WWI. The pretensions to greatness lasted long into the decline off the Ottomans, but denial is impossible when even the fiction of a great Islamic empire has been swept aside by the harsh reality of colonial rule. The humiliation and sense of injustice for any colonialists people was deeper for those for whom religion and politics were intrinsically entwined as a single reality.

The situation is further complicated by the rise of modernity, something which has caused deep crisis within Christian Europe. Sexual revolution just hasn't happened for most Muslim societies, rooted as they are in the Arab model of exclusive extended families, and the remote cultures of the Pakistan highlands and the desperate poverty of Bangledesh for example. And as modernity is very much a western, and most especially associated with America, embracing it can seem like consorting with the colonialist oppressor. While the Internet has made a definite impact in exposing young Muslims to the attractiveness of western liberalism, it has done little to help them walk the tightrope between that and their families deeply held Islamicised way of life.

All of these factors make British people largely unable to relate realistically to Islam. Hence the sense of something alien and threatening. They are just 'not like us' and in so many confusing ways that people easily retreat into fear and suspicion, emotions which are easily fed by the media and its sensational reporting which grabs a headline at the expense of just about everything else.

More on this later...


  1. "All of these factors make British people largely unable to relate realistically to Islam." ---I disagree.
    While it is human nature to have in-group/out-group distinctions---the fact that White British people cannot relate to Islam has to do with their culture of superiority (racism) and xenophobia than with Islam. In fact---according to statistics---it is white British who are fleeing the "browning" of their neighborhoods---preferring all white neighborhoods.

    colonialism---what was wrong with colonialism is NOT Christianity or that it was "western" peoples---rather--what was done---people and land of the colonized were exploited so that the colonial nations could prosper while the colonized lived in poverty and oppression. This also stems from western racism and xenophobia---that "others" are "less human".

    sexual revolution---nowhere in the whole of Asia (East) has it caught on...irrespective of religion....and despite modernity................


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