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Understanding Islam

The great thing about Karen Armstrong’s ‘ISLAM: A Short History’ is that it is short (161 pages) and clearly written. The book is a must for those who need to understand more about Islam than they do – which means most of us. I’m a fan of the author, who converted me with her ‘A History of God’ and ‘Fundamentalism’. Armstrong was a Catholic nun, teaches Judaism and is a recipient of the Muslim Public Affairs Council Media Award.

The book cuts through the clichés and explains a faith that has inspired so many and is the basis of a civilisation with an illustrious past. I would not dare to attempt a synopsis, but set out a few extracts whish resound:

  • The ideal of democracy is not inimical to Islam but not the western formulation of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. In Islam, legitimacy is given by God and not people.
  • It is difficult for Muslims to set up a modern, democratic nation state, in which religion is entirely relegated to the private sphere.
  • Fundamentalist movements in all faiths share certain characteristics, including deep disappointment and disenchantment with modern society.
  • It is not correct that Islam has within it a militant, fanatic strain that impels Muslims into crazed & violent rejection of modernity.
  • ‘Fundamentalism’ is a word coined by American Protestants as a badge of pride.
  • In modern history, the American Protestants were the first fundamentalists, followed by the Jews and only in the second half of the last century, by the Muslims.
  • The Christians in the Crusades instigated a series of brutal holy wars against the Muslim world (and against Jews); and yet the received wisdom is that Islam is an inherently violent and intolerant faith, only able to establish itself by the sword. This myth has survived to this day.
  • Many atrocities have been committed in the past in the name of religion, but also secularism.
  • The West has not been wholly responsible for the extreme forms of Islam, which has cultivated a violence that violates the most sacred canons of the religion, but the West has certainly contributed to this development.
  • Muslims want modernity, but not one that has been imposed upon them by America, Britain or France. Muslims admire the the efficiency and beautiful technology of the West and they are fascinated by the way a regime can be changed in the West without bloodshed. But when Muslims look at Western society, they see no light, not heart and no spirituality.
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  1. “The West has not been wholly responsible for the extreme forms of Islam, which has cultivated a violence that violates the most sacred canons of the religion, but the West has certainly contributed to this development.”

    Utter and total NONSENSE, as anyone who has opened a Koran and read it even ONCE will attest. The Koran is filled with ORDERS to kill unbelievers, kill infidels, subdue & shame Non Muslims:

    [5:33] The just retribution for those who fight GOD and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the Hereafter.

    SURA 9:5: …slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush.

    SURA 2:39: But they who disbelieve, and deny Our revelations, such are rightful Peoples of the Fire. They will abide therein.
    (my note: Peoples of the Fire, aka burn them!)

    SURA 2:191: And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

    SURA 2:194: And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is with those who ward off (evil).

    SURA 2:254: …The disbelievers, they are the wrong-doers

    SURA 4:89: They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them

    SURA 4:91: If they keep not aloof from you nor offer you peace nor hold their hands, then take them and kill them wherever ye find them. Against such We have given you clear warrant.

    I say it almost daily:
    IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND THIS RELIGION AND THE REASON IT IS INVOLVED IN THE VAST MAJORITY (if not all) CONFLICTS ON THIS PLANET OVER THE PAST DECADE THEN YOU MUST OPEN UP AND READ THE KORAN FOR YOURSELF. Stop relying on sympathizers paraphrased booklets, go to the source yourself and draw your own conclusions.

    You needn’t be a scholar, or a Muslim – just go to your local bookstore, pick up a Koran (I recommend getting 2 or 3 translations) and start reading (or if you must, skim).

    WHat you will find is jaw dropping.

    See my blog for 2 interesting passages (more to come) wingless.aoriginality.com

  2. Waldo, you are absolutely INCORRECT. I have read both. You cannot compare the Old or the New Testaments with the Quran.

    The bulk of the violence discussed in the Old & New Testaments is the violence between men OR the violence metted out by G*d against man. The Quran is unique in that it is a list of rules, a list of commandments ORDERING the follower to kill, maim and DISMEMBER the infidels. They view the world in two parts, the Abode of Islam and the ABODE OF WAR. It is the Muslim’s duty to bring the ABODE OF WAR (all land not under Islamic control) into the ABODE OF ISLAM.

    Based on the Sura and Hadith a Muslim can be UTTERLY RUTHLESS to his enemies. Muhammed even lied and ambushed the Jews at Khybar (after signing a peace treaty with them!). Once an area is conquered and brought into the Abode of Islam (Dar Al Islam) then the polytheists are killed. The “people of the book” (monotheists – aka Jews and Christians) are afforded DHIMMI STATUS. Dhimmi status is 2nd class citizenry (AT BEST). Dhimmi are humilated and must pay a form of extortion so that they can live under the Muslim’s “protection” (it’s called the Jizya poll tax, and it’s higher than the Zakat that Muslims pay…). THe clincher is that this is all written out CLEARLY and CONCISELY IN THE KORAN! And the reason Dhimmi are treated in this way? Sura 9 tells us: so that they feel subdued and know themselves to be inferior to the Muslim.

    Again, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT BELIEVE ME! I encourage you to pick up these books and read for yourself.

    I am not what you would call “religious”. I come at all this from a humanist viewpoint. I find the monotheistic books fascinating more for the history and their roles in shaping mankind’s development than anything else. The Koran, in many ways, reminded me of Machaevelli’s The Prince in its clear message that to arrive at your “ideal ends” ALL MEANS ARE JUSTIFIED.

  3. The ideal of democracy is not inimical to Islam but not the western formulation of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. In Islam, legitimacy is given by God and not people.

    So how do you explain the state of the Muslim world? They are ruled by a group of tyrants! Most of these tyrants don’t even feign religious devotion (Suharto, Mubarak, Abdullah Hussein, Assad, Musharaf, Khadafi… none of these are/where religious men nor have they claimed to be ordained by G*d)


    It is not correct that Islam has within it a militant, fanatic strain that impels Muslims into crazed & violent rejection of modernity.

    CORRECT. There is nothing fanatic or extremist about the terrorists, they are simply orthodox Muslims who follow the Koran which sanctions their actions.

    ‘Fundamentalism’ is a word coined by American Protestants as a badge of pride. In modern history, the American Protestants were the first fundamentalists, followed by the Jews and only in the second half of the last century, by the Muslims.

    So Muhammed wasn’t a fundamentalist? And those that came after him were not fundamentalists? I’m not talking about the word but it’s meaning.
    ??? The Jews fundamentalists?! Are you kidding? The majority lived in Shtetels counting the days between pogroms.


    The Christians in the Crusades instigated a series of brutal holy wars against the Muslim world (and against Jews); and yet the received wisdom is that Islam is an inherently violent and intolerant faith, only able to establish itself by the sword. This myth has survived to this day.

    The Ottomans were the Muslim Crusaders, their Jihad captured the entire MidEast and parts of Europe. Their legacy contributed to many of today’s wars, and the very fact that the MidEast is so homogeneous. Wars in Balkans and Israel are all related to the fall of the Ottomans.

    As for calling Islamic violence a MYTH. How do you explain the fact that they are involved in just about every conflict being waged on this planet today?

    Israel has been attacked by all of it’s Muslim neighbours for the crime of being established by a United Nations vote in 1948 (this was after the Arab “Palestinians” were given over 70% of Palestine in 1918, which became Jordan)

    In Darfur Arab Muslims kill Black Muslims

    The Christian Lebanese let in the PLO after Jordan’s King Hussein killed more of them in ONE MONTH THAN ISRAEL DID IN 50 YEARS. Their reward? The Muslims immediately began massacring the Christians. The Maronites survived Empires, and hardships spanning centuries, yet they were nearly wiped out by the Islamists. Their kindness was percieved as weakness – various other Islamic groups invaded and infected the nation (among them Iran’s satellite force: Hezbollah)

    The Phillipines is attacked by Muslim Aby Sayaf Rebels

    Bali, Indonesia has been targetted by Muslims (probably from the mainland) several times.

    Hezbollah, a radical Muslim group ordered, funded, trained by Iran (essential the Persian occupier of Lebanon!) has killed nearly 1000 Americans. They massacred hundreds of Marines in a 1983 bombing who were in Lebanon as part of an International Rebuilding force.

    Jews in Argentia have been massacred by Hezbollah (their crime: being born Jewish)

    In Iraq the Sunnis and Shiites are at each other’s throats.

    The Kurds have been victimized by Iranian, Iraqi and Turks (all Muslim nations)

    In Somalia, Islamist Warlords prey upon the populace.

    Call it coincedence… But as Christianity outnumbers Islam, should we not see Christians being represented equally within world conflicts?

    These are facts.


    Many atrocities have been committed in the past in the name of religion, but also secularism.

    And the sky is blue…


    The West has not been wholly responsible for the extreme forms of Islam, which has cultivated a violence that violates the most sacred canons of the religion, but the West has certainly contributed to this development.

    The Ottomans were massacring Christians and Jews, and subjecating the survivors to Koran mandated DHimmi-fication long before Americans set foot in the MidEast. In 1929 the Muslims of Hebron massacred the Jews who had lived there for 2500 years (the Hebronites were anti-Zionists incidentally). Muhammed made a peace deal with the Jews at Khybar but stabbed them in the back.

    THE WEST HAS NOT CONTRIBUTED ONE IOTA TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF ISALMIC VIOLENCE. ON THE CONTRARY: NOBODY HAS GIVEN MORE AID, BOTH MONETARY AND MILITARILY TO THE MUSLIMS OF THE WORLD.

    WHEN THE SERBIANS WERE KILLING THE KOSOVAR ALBANIAN MUSLIMS, SAUDI ARABIA AND IRAN SAT MUM! IT WAS THE USA WHO PUT ITS BOYS IN THE LINE OF FIRE TO SAVE THE KOSOVARS!

    IT WAS THE US WHO HELPED THE MUSLIM SOMALIS, LOSING ITS OWN YOUNG MEN TO HELP THAT NATION.

    THE USA PROVIDES ABRAMS TANKS and FIGHTER JETS TO EGYPT AND SAUDI ARABIA (aka loans that never get paid).

    EUROPE HAS TAKEN IN MILLIONS OF REFUGEES.

    ISRAEL, DESPITE BEING ATTACKED BY ITS NEIGHBOURS, DESPITE A POPULACE THAT ELECTED HAMAS (who’s state aim is the death of Jews and Pan Islamism) STILL BABIES THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF GAZA. Gaza has been Jew free for YEARS! Even the Jewish graves were moved. Yet still, Israel subsidized the lives of its enemies! Although Egypt is capable of providing this aid, it is ISRAEL who does it (IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD I CAN FIND NO PARALLEL OF A NATION PROVIDING THE BASIC NECESSITIES FOR A STATE AT WAR WITH THEM! Gaza is now an Arab state). Gaza gets electricity, water and food/supplies from ISRAEL!


    Muslims want modernity, but not one that has been imposed upon them by America, Britain or France.

    Did you just decide this? What evidence have you of this? The Muslim world continues to isolate and insulate.

    The greatest evil facing Islam is (a) lack of introspection, (b) their tyrants oppress them yet they continue to believe in the scapegoat of America and Israel (funny considering Muslims in Israel (make up 20-25% of the voting pulic) are the freest, healthiest, wealthiest, most literate Arabs in the Middle East), (c) the death of Itjdihad (IF, and I say *IF* they can overcome the violence within the Koran, then they must renew the tradition of Itjdihad, that is: open interpretation, questioning and free discussion… As it stands Muslim Imams keep the children illiterate so that they can mold them as best benefits their own agendas)…

    Irshad Manji, a devout Muslim (who also happens to be a Lesbian) talks about C in depth in her book. Her reward for trying to bring open discussion and fairness back to her religion? Death threats, bulletproof windows, armed gaurds.

    Alas, I too wish this was a shiny, happy world but it is NOT. The Clintonesque policy of “see no evil/hear no evil” proved that ignorance is only bliss in the short term, eventually an event like 9/11 forces your eyes open.

    And if you are not going to read the Koran, or Ibn Warraq, Irshad Manji, Wafa Sultan, Salman Rushdi, Brigette Gabriel then just ask yourself this (hey, I do realize I live in a world of 30 second soundbytes):
    If Islam is so peaceful and tolerant a religion why can’t Jews or Christians SET FOOT in certain Saudi cities? Why was it that when Jordan occupied Jerusalem (from 1948 to 1967) that Jews and Christian sites were desecrated and these people were forbidden from worshipping at their sites?
    (I chose those 2 examples because Jordan and the Saudi Royal family are considered “the moderates”… If that is moderate then who needs extremists?!)

  4. Islam is a Semitic religion, which has over one billion adherents all over the world. Islam means “submission to the will of God”. Muslims accept the Qur’an, as the word of God revealed to His last and final prophet, Mohammed (peace be upon him). Islam states that Allah sent messengers and prophets throughout the ages with the message of Unity of God, and accountability in the Hereafter. Islam thus makes it an article of faith to believe in all the earlier prophets, starting with Adam, and continuing with Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, John and Jesus amongst many others (may peace be on them all).

    Remember: Dont mix the black sheep in Muslims and blame the Islam what they do.

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