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Two Faces of Islam

February 27, 2015

A reading of the Qur’an leads one to believe that this is the most tolerant of world religions. It tells Muslims that “people of the book” (Jews and Christians) are not to have their worship interfered with nor are their places of worship to be desecrated[i].

I was invited to the house of recent Coptic Christian immigrants from Egypt for dinner and got quite another view of Islam and Muslims. One individual, a friend of mine, was in Tahrir Square during the overthrow of Mubarak and lived in fear for his life from Muslims. He told of a time when he was a teenager that he was pulled out of a cinema and beaten by Muslims he had considered friends.

The Arabic word Islam means surrender to God and Muslim refers to those who have surrendered to God. The first jihad (challenge) is to surrender to God.

We are warned by some that Muslims want to make Sharia law compulsory in the U.S. During the Ottoman Empire, non-Muslims living within their borders were given a choice between settling a dispute in either a Sharia court or a European court. A native Syrian who served in the State Department under Reagan said that is still true today.

Unlike the Christian Bible which is an accumulation of events by diverse authors and has gone through several translations from original scripts, the Qur’an is accepted as the word of God as given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel and cannot be changed in any way. Translation of Arabic into English is challenging and the Qur’an can best be understood by reading it in the original Arabic.

Finally, Islam is broken down into two basic factions, Sunni and Shia representing a split in choosing a successor to Mohammed in the seventh century. There are subsets of each. Sunni Muslims look down on the Shia as not worthy to be called Muslim.

Usama Bin Laden was a member of the wealthy Bin Laden family who are contractors in Saudi Arabia, site of holy ground, Mecca. He was upset by the presence of U.S. troops located there during the first Iraq war. Infidels are not allowed anywhere near Mecca. And by the way, the word infidel does not appear anywhere in the English translation of the Qur’an.

Distrust of European powers was exacerbated during the first world war when the English promised independence to Middle Eastern countries to get their help fighting the Germans and the Turks while adhering to the then secret Sykes-Picot agreement with the French to divide up the area.

Conflict: Middle Eastern Blood Sport

Unlike Christianity which keeps itself arms-length from government, Islam prescribes the method and structure of government along with faith values. When a predominately Christian nation makes war, it is not a conflict between its religion and some other religion. When a Muslim nation makes war, it is a religious war with an accompanying religious fervor propelling the combatants.

A battle cry Allahu Akbar, God is the Greatest, confers a righteousness justifying all sorts of terrifying behavior like suicide bombing. For those needing more incentive, there is the aspect of 72 virgins available upon reaching heaven which may turn out to be 72 white raisins in alternative translations.

As has been seen in recent years, a strong man with a little bit of charisma can ignite a group of followers with little effort and do not need tanks, planes and other accoutrements of a regular army to create havoc in the neighborhood. In fact, they need to spread violence in order to grow with more recruits. We have Al Qaeda and offspring groups, The Muslim Brotherhood who formed the nucleus of Hamas, Boko Haram and now the new kid on the block, ISIS, all in competition with each other.

Threat to U.S.

In the short run, our lackadaisical approach to border security coupled with limitations on intelligence activities leave us vulnerable to Jihadists bent on staging terrorist activities within our borders. Even with beefed up border security, we can’t be assured that their reach can be stopped 100% of the time.

Europeans have tried appeasement which only leads to more ransom incentives. Appeasement is taken as a sign of weakness to be exploited exemplified by the second intifada following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Besides being very expensive, a beefed up U.S. military presence in the area would slow down the expansion of Jihadi movements but the very long term commitments could likely not maintain taxpayer support at home. In the long term, a threat to the world’s oil supply cannot be ruled out.

A permanent solution lies in the reintroduction of power concentration ala Sadam Hussein, the Shah, Assad, Mubarak and the like. Support and assistance to Syria’s Hafaz Assad would be a most effective antidote for ISIS. Imposition of Western values like democracy, women’s rights etc. on the Middle East have met with zero success. Human rights are not big issues in these environs and our attempt to impose our view of the way things ought to be only builds resentment. We need to get over ourselves.

Muslims in America

Population estimates run from 0.6 to 1% of the over 300 million US population or around three million Muslims in America. Headlines dealing with Islam focus almost exclusively with Jihad and terrorism, so what do we have to fear? The short answer is we should fear our own ignorance.

Ramadan is a 30-day period of fasting when Muslims refrain from food or liquids from sunrise to sundown. Since they operate on a lunar calendar, its occurrence varies from year to year but lately, it falls during late summer. Once during the month, they observe IFTAR which is the breaking of the fast during Ramadan to which they invite clergy from other faiths and local officials to attend.

A retired Muslim physician contacts neighborhood people to attend and learn more about the religion and he recounts a conversation he had with a lady who seemed eager to accept the invitation. When she failed to show up, he went back to her to find out why. Her response was that she was talking to a policeman friend who cautioned her not to go because they keep guns in the Mosques.

“What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America”

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf authored a book by that title in which he paints a very positive picture for assimilation of Muslims into America. An Imam is Muslim clergy and Rauf is Imam of the New York City Mosque. He calls for development of an American Islam much like immigrant Catholics developed an American Catholicism and Jews an American Judaism.

Irshad Manji has authored two books on the subject, “Allah, Liberty and Love” plus “The Trouble with Islam Today; A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”. She was born in 1968 in a British colony in Uganda and when she was three years old, Idi Amin ordered the colony out of the country. She and her family settled in Vancouver. After soul searching thought, she confirmed her faith and considers herself a devout Muslim today.

Ms Manji has spent a lot of time in the Middle East with Palestinians and her advice to them is, “quit complaining”. She says “God bless Israel” and “God bless America”.

On the flyleaf of her “Allah…” book, Deepak Chopra has written, “Irshad Manji is the new voice of reform not only for Islam, but for all religions. When we realize that liberty and love, meaning and purpose are more sacred than ideology and dogma, our religion and spirituality will come of age.”

It is not an easy sell to the Muslim community. She advocates ijtihad which means that every individual can interpret the Qur’an for themselves. Ask most devout Muslims what they think of ijtihad and they are likely to look at you like you committed a sacrilege.

Irshad Manji is gaining grudging respect within the Muslim community, not an easy task for a woman and especially not for a self-professed lesbian.

What are Muslim-Americans Doing to Help Their Image?

Many encourage Muslim-Americans to speak out with a stronger voice against Jihad inspired violence. If you ask one of them why they don’t speak out, you will likely hear how the media pays no attention to them. Imam Ibn Rauf in his above cited book, recounts a December 2003 gathering of Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics at the White House to urge the U.S. to be more active in Israeli, Palestinian peace efforts. He relates a press account at the conclusion of the meeting with the headline, “Clergy Urge More Active White House Effort for Mideast Peace”. He goes on to say the article, “quoted remarks from all the clergy except me. Is it any wonder, then, that the popular impression Muslims have is that the American media is not interested in recognizing Muslims as moderate? And is it any wonder that Muslims are constantly and angrily asked, where is the moderate Muslim voice?”

Drawing the much needed bright line is not helped by the media’s preference for remarks by CAIR (Council on America Islamic Relations) on things Islamic. CAIR has been cited for its ties to Hamas and was recently added to the United Arab Emirates terrorist list. Their recent comments regarding Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians have been ambivalent at best. American media operates solidly in the secular world and violence from a religious source fits their narrative.

“I have to be honest with you. Islam is on very thin ice with me… Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?”

– Irshad ManjiThe Trouble with Islam : A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, 2003

[i] The spelling of their sacred text is not Koran. The correct spelling, Qur’an is a contraction of two Arabic words, read, recite.


  1. John

    It is the virtue of Uisio, as I see it, that different opinions could be expressed. I think it is the antidote to today’s problems that we should be able to express our different views. In this sense, I agree with the author on the Janus-faced nature of Islam. It looks peaceful but when you delve deeper into contemporary settings of the religion you see that actually it is a war waging religion. But I disagree that a “beefed up” presence of the US in the Middle East would help protect our borders. In the first place, we should see that most of the problems in that region stems from our military interventions and plans. Author agrees that even a beefed up presence would not protect us all the time. So it means that instead of military, we should change our attitude that only we know the best. Ones who were tortured and destroyed with developed weaponry of the west do not have a lot of choices. Their radicalization should not come as a surprise. In Palestine people are killed daily. In Iraq we all know what happened. Same goes for a lot of different countries like Afghanistan. Think of the drone attacks that kill the innocent! Can’t we really see that more than Islam, the west radicalizes the muslims?

    I am writing those as an American. I am not even a Muslim. But seeing the truth is easy when we genuinely want to see.

    I thank the author for the piece, and also Uisio, for providing us a ground for dialog.

    • Muhammad Asghar

      I stumbled upon this article searching for something else. I am surprised the author, an engineer, tends to draw rules from a single person account which may not be really true itself.
      The basic question is: Why should USA go intervene in the affairs of far off continents. I have seen USA and I have known Americans. The common American is sweet human. But their tax money is misused by the politicians to wage war in places whose well established culture they do not even understand. Democracy and fair play demand that the true Americans check this misuse of their trust.

  2. michael ericson

    “Unlike Christianity which keeps itself arms-length from government. When a predominately Christian nation makes war, it is not a conflict between its religion and some other religion.” please read history. “limitations on intelligence activities leave us vulnerable to Jihadists” the NSA has a program called PRISM that has obliterated the 4th amendment, look it up.

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