Psychology and Sociology of Religious Fanaticism
A Five Part Series
What is Jihad?
The Arabic word “jihad” is often translated as “holy war,” but in a purely linguistic sense, the word “jihad” means struggling or striving. The Arabic word for war is: “al-harb.” In a religious sense, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, “jihad” has many meanings.
In the Muslim world as well the non-Muslim world, human behavior can, and often is, based on a mixture of motives. In turn, different motives can and do lead to differences of opinion that account for differences in value judgments about a particular set of religious scriptures.
Scriptures and their meanings in the Holy Bible have also produced a plethora of differing groups espousing different interpretations of what the bible means. If there was unanimity of opinion in Christianity, there wouldn’t be so many divisions (Catholics and the multiple factions found among Protestants). It should not be surprising then that Judaism also has four major factions from the most conservative to the most progressive, including those who are ethnically Jewish but non-religious atheists.
Today, with all the violence, the religious ideology and concept of Jihad is foremost in the spotlight of worldwide attention. Consequently, what follows is a presentation of assessment of opinion as to what Jihad “really” means and also how the Quran and its followers are viewed under the microscope of world opinion. First up to bat are the moderates.
The Voice of Moderation
Top 10 Myths about Islam
Huda is a Muslim educator and writer with over two decades of experience researching and writing about Islam on the Internet. An American woman of European descent, she has been a Muslim for 25 years.
Huda is an educator, freelance writer and editor. She is the author of The Everything Understanding Islam Book, originally published in 2003, with a 2nd Edition in 2009. She currently teaches elementary school in the Middle East.
“Islam is a widely-misunderstood religion. Those who are unfamiliar with the faith often have misunderstandings about its teachings and practices. Common misconceptions include that Muslims worship a moon-god, that Islam is oppressive against women, or that Islam is a faith that promotes violence. Here we bust these myths and expose the true teachings of Islam.”
“Some non-Muslims mistakenly believe that Allah is an “Arab god,” a “moon god,” or some sort of idol. Allah is the proper name of the One True God, in the Arabic language. The most fundamental belief that a Muslim has is that “There is only One God,” the Creator, the Sustainer — known in the Arabic language and by Muslims as Allah. Arabic-speaking Christians use the same word for the Almighty.”
“In the Qur’an, stories about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (called ‘Isa in Arabic) are abundant. The Qur’an recalls his miraculous birth, his teachings, and the miracles he performed by God’s permission. There is even a chapter of the Qur’an named after his mother, Mary (Miriam in Arabic). However, Muslims believe that Jesus was a fully human prophet and not in any way divine himself.”
“While Islam is often associated with Arabs, they make up only 15% of the world’s Muslim population. The country with the largest population of Muslims is Indonesia. Muslims make up 1/5 of the world’s population, with large numbers found in Asia (69%), Africa (27%), Europe (3%) and other parts of the world.”
“Most of the ill-treatment that women receive in the Muslim world is based on local culture and traditions, without any basis in the faith of Islam. In fact, practices such as forced marriage, spousal abuse, and restricted movement directly contradict Islamic law governing family behavior and personal freedom.”
“Terrorism cannot be justified under any valid interpretation of the Islamic faith. The entire Qur’an, taken as a complete text, gives a message of hope, faith, and peace to a faith community of one billion people. The overwhelming message is that peace is to be found through faith in God, and justice among fellow human beings. Muslim leaders and scholars do speak out against terrorism in all its forms, and offer explanations of misinterpreted or twisted teachings.”
“Throughout the Qur’an, Muslims are reminded that they are not the only ones who worship God. Jews and Christians are called “People of the Book,” meaning people who have received previous revelations from the One Almighty God that we all worship. The Qur’an also commands Muslims to protect from harm not only mosques, but also monasteries, synagogues, and churches — because “God is worshipped therein.”
“The word Jihad stems from an Arabic word which means “to strive.” Other related words include “effort,” “labor,” and “fatigue.” Essentially Jihad is an effort to practice religion in the face of oppression and persecution. The effort may come in fighting the evil in your own heart, or in standing up to a dictator. Military effort is included as an option, but as a last resort and not “to spread Islam by the sword.”
“The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of two decades, calling people to worship One Almighty God and to live their lives according to this faith. The Qur’an contains stories of Biblical prophets, because these prophets also preached the message of God. Stories are not merely copied, but the oral traditions are referred to in a way that focuses on the examples and teachings that we can learn from them.”
“Prayer is a time to stand before God and express faith, give thanks for blessings, and seek guidance and forgiveness. During Islamic prayer, one is modest, submissive and respectful to God. By bowing and prostrating ourselves to the ground, we express our utmost humility before the Almighty.”
“The early Muslim community did not really have a symbol. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Islamic caravans and armies flew simple solid-colored flags (generally black, green, or white) for identification purposes. The crescent moon and star symbol actually pre-dates Islam by several thousand years, and wasn’t affiliated with Islam at all until the Ottoman Empire placed it on their flag.”
By Amelia Rosch—Posted on (September 25, 2014)
Following President Obama’s declaration at the United Nations yesterday “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace.” Over 120 international Muslim scholars released a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Within the letter, they call ISIS un-Islamic and argue that the group is incorrectly using scripture to support its cause.
The letter said that the group’s claim to a caliphate is illegitimate, arguing that their “attitude is based upon a corrupt circular logic that says: ‘Only we are Muslims, and we decide who the caliph is, we have chosen one and so whoever does not accept our caliph is not a Muslim.’” The scholars argue in the letter that it “is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims” and that ISIS is “a group of no more than several thousand [that] has appointed itself the ruler of over a billion and a half Muslims.” The scholars also say that ISIS’s claims to jihad are also illegitimate, arguing that they “have killed many innocents who were neither combatants nor armed, just because they disagree with your opinion. There is no such thing as offensive, aggressive jihad just because people have different religions or opinions.”
In the letter which has been released online in both Arabic and English, the scholars outline 24 practices that ISIS has been carrying out that the authors say are forbidden by Islamic scripture, including denying women and children their rights, torturing people and killing “emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats” including aid workers and journalists.
The scholars quote from Islamic scriptures which promise rights to both women and children and lay out the way that ISIS has broken those promises, saying “you treat women like detainees and prisoners…” and by torturing and executing children who “are so young they are not even morally accountable.” The scholars say that ISIS’s practice of enslaving women also breaks a century-long Islamic prohibition on slavery. They argue that mass killings and decapitation, both of which ISIS have been documented doing, are both forbidden under Shari’ah, Islamic law. They also say that journalists are “emissaries of truth” and aid workers “emissaries of mercy and kindness” and that killing them goes against the rule saying not to kill emissaries.
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said that the letter purposefully used the “heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” in order to offer a point-by-point argument to the group’s claims. He said that the goal of the letter was to reach out to the Muslim community, not a Western audience.
The letters’ authors included leading Islamic scholars, including several of whom are Egyptian, members of the United Arab Emirates, and Nigeria’s fatwa councils, and the muftis from Egypt and Jerusalem.
The group of scholars joins many other Muslims speaking out against the Islamic State. Last week, German Muslims held a national day of prayer to “make clear terrorists and criminals do not speak in the name of Islam…and that murderers and criminals have no place in our ranks, in our religion,” according to the head of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek. In England, British Muslims have been using the hashtag #NotInMyName to call out ISIS and distance Islam from the group.
In addition to Obama, other world leaders have made a distinction between Islam and ISIS; in a speech last week, David Cameron said that members of ISIS “are not Muslims, they are monsters,” while France’s foreign minister said that “they are not representative of Muslims.”
The Voice of Criticism
In this segment of Part III I will report on material opposed to Islam and whose criticisms will resonate with many in Cyber-land. These criticisms pertain not to just ISIS inspired violence, but also to the very foundation of Islam itself—the very scriptures found in the Quran.
Due to space limitations in Blog writing, I’ve limited the material to the first five statements found at the site. I recommend interested individuals go to their site and read other evaluative statements. The site can be found at TheReligionofPeace.com Home Page.
The previous section presented the opinions of moderates; this section looks at the criticisms. It is up to the reader to decide where the truth lies.
The Myths of Islam
“Muslims often complain of popular ‘misconceptions’ about their religion in the West.
We took a hard look, however, and found that the most prevalent myths of Islam are the ones held by Muslims and Western apologists. The only glaring exception to this is the misconception that all Muslims are alike (they aren’t, of course), but even Muslims often believe this as well, as evidenced by the various contrary factions insisting that they are the true Muslims, while those who disagree with them are either infidels, hijackers, or hypocrites.
Don’t be fooled! Hear the myths, but know the truth.”
[Islam Means Peace]
Lesser educated Muslims sometimes claim that the root word of Islam is “al-Salaam,” which is “peace” in Arabic.
An Arabic word only has one root. The root word for Islam is “al-Silm,” which means “submission” or “surrender.” There is no disagreement about this among Islamic scholars. al-Silm (submission) does not mean the same thing as al-Salaam (peace), otherwise they would be the same word.
Submission and peace can be very different concepts, even if a form of peace is often brought about through forcing others into submission. As the modern-day Islamic scholar, Ibrahim Sulaiman puts it, “Jihad is not inhumane, despite its necessary violence and bloodshed, its ultimate desire is peace which is protected and enhanced by the rule of law.”
In truth, the Quran not only calls Muslims to submit to Allah, it also commands them to subdue people of other religions until they are in a full state of submission to Islamic rule. This has inspired the aggressive history of Islam and its success in conquering other cultures.
[Islam Respects Women as Equals]
The Quran places men and women on equal foundation before Allah. Each person is judged according to his or her own deeds. Women have equal rights under Islamic law.
Merely stating that individuals will be judged as such by Allah does not mean that they have equal rights and roles, or that they are judged by the same standards.
There is no ambiguity in the Quran, the life of Muhammad, or Islamic law as to the inferiority of women to men despite the efforts of modern-day apologists to salvage Western-style feminism from scraps and fragments of verses that have historically held no such progressive interpretation.
After military conquests, Muhammad would dole out captured women as war prizes to his men. In at least one case, he advocated that they be raped in front of their husbands. Captured women were made into sex slaves by the very men who killed their husbands and brothers. There are four Quranic verses in which “Allah” makes clear that a Muslim master has full sexual access to his female slaves, yet there is not one that prohibits rape.
The Quran gives Muslim men permission to beat their wives for disobedience, but nowhere does it command love in marriage. It plainly says that husbands are “a degree above” wives. The Hadith says that women are intellectually inferior, and that they comprise the majority of Hell’s occupants.
Under Islamic law, a man may divorce his wife at his choosing. If he does this twice, then wishes to remarry her, she must first have sex with another man. Men are exempt from such degradations.
Muslim women are not free to marry whom they please, as are Muslim men. Their husband may also bring other wives (and slaves) into the marriage bed. And she must be sexually available to him at any time (as a field ready to be “tilled,” according to the holy book of Islam).
Muslim women do not inherit property in equal portion to males. This is somewhat ironic given that Islam owes its existence to the wealth of Muhammad’s first wife, which would not otherwise have been inherited by her given that she had two brothers and her first husband had three sons.
A woman’s testimony in court is considered to be worth only half that of a man’s, according to the Quran. Unlike a man, she must also cover her head – and often her face.
If a woman wants to prove that she was raped, then there must be four male witnesses to corroborate her account. Otherwise she can be jailed or stoned to death for confessing to “adultery.”
Given all of this, it is quite a stretch to say that men and women have “equality under Islam” based on obscure theological analogies or comparisons. This is an entirely new ploy that is designed for modern tastes, and disagrees sharply with the reality of Islamic law and history.
[Jihad Means ‘Inner struggle’]
Islam’s Western apologists sometimes claim that since the Arabic word, Jihad, literally means “fight” or “struggle,” it refers to an “inner struggle” rather than holy war.
In Arabic, “jihad” means struggle. In Islam, it means holy war.
The Quran specifically exempts the disabled and elderly from Jihad (4:95), which would make no sense if the word is being used merely within the context of spiritual struggle. It is also unclear why Muhammad and his Quran would use graphic language, such as smiting fingers and heads from the hands and necks of unbelievers if he were speaking merely of character development.
With this in mind, Muslim apologists generally admit that there are two meanings to the word, but insist that “inner struggle” is the “greater Jihad,” whereas “holy war” is the “lesser.” In fact, this misconception is based only on a single hadith that Islamic scholars generally agreed was fabricated.
By contrast, the most reliable of all Hadith collections is that of Bukhari. Jihad is mentioned over 200 times in reference to the words of Muhammad and each one carries a clear connotation to holy war, with only a handful of possible exceptions (dealing with a woman’s supporting role during a time of holy war).
[Islam is a Religion of Peace]
Muhammad was a peaceful man who taught his followers to be the same. Muslims lived peacefully for centuries, fighting only in self-defense, and only when it was necessary. True Muslims would never act aggressively.
There shouldn’t be any argument over who the “true Muslim” is because the Quran clearly distinguishes the true Muslim from the pretender in Sura 9 and elsewhere. According to this – one of the last chapters of the Quran – the true believer “strives and fights with their wealth and persons” while the hypocrites are those who “sit at home,” refusing to join the jihad against unbelievers in foreign lands.
In truth, Muhammad organized 65 military campaigns in the last ten years of his life and personally led 27 of them. The more power that he attained, the smaller the excuse needed to go to battle, until finally he began attacking tribes merely because they were not yet part of his growing empire.
After Muhammad’s death, his successor immediately went to war with former allied tribes which wanted to go their own way. Abu Bakr called them ‘apostates’ and slaughtered anyone who did not want to remain Muslim. Eventually, he was successful in holding the empire together through blood and violence.
The prophet of Islam’s most faithful followers and even his own family soon turned on each other as well. There were four caliphs (leaders) in the first twenty-five years, each of which was a trusted companion of his. Three of these four were murdered. The third caliph was murdered by those allied with the son of the first caliph. The fourth caliph was murdered in the midst of a conflict with the fifth caliph, who began a 100-year dynasty of excess and debauchery that was brought to an end in a gruesome, widespread bloodbath by descendants of Muhammad’s uncle (who was not even a Muslim).
Muhammad’s own daughter, Fatima, and his son-in-law, Ali, who both survived the pagan hardship during the Meccan years safe and sound, did not survive Islam after the death of Muhammad. Fatima died of stress from persecution within three months, and Ali was later assassinated by Muslim rivals. Their son (Muhammad’s grandson) was killed in battle with the faction that became today’s Sunnis. His people became Shias. The relatives and personal friends of Muhammad were mixed into both warring groups, which then fractured further into hostile sub-divisions as Islam expanded.
Muslim apologists, who like to say that is impossible for today’s terrorists to be Muslim when they kill fellow Muslims, would have a very tough time explaining the war between Fatima’s followers and Aisha to a knowledgeable audience. Muhammad explicitly held up both his favorite daughter and his favorite wife as model Muslim women, yet they were invoked respectively by each side in the violent civil war that followed his death. Which one was the prophet of God so horribly wrong about?
Muhammad left his men with instructions to take the battle against Christians, Persians, Jews and polytheists (which came to include millions of unfortunate Hindus). For the next four centuries, Muslim armies’ steamrolled over unsuspecting neighbors, plundering them of loot and slaves, and forcing the survivors to either convert or pay tribute at the point of a sword.
Companions of Muhammad lived to see Islam declare war on every major religion in the world in just the first few decades following his death – pressing the Jihad against Hindus, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists.
By the time of the Crusades (when the Europeans began fighting back), Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world by sword, from Syria to Spain, and across North Africa. Millions of Christians were enslaved by Muslims, and tens of millions of Africans. The Arab slave-trading routes would stay open for 1300 years until pressure from Christian-based countries forced Islamic nations to declare the practice illegal (in theory). To this day, the Muslim world has never apologized for the victims of Jihad and slavery.
There is not another religion in the world that consistently produces terrorism in the name of God as does Islam. The most dangerous Muslims are nearly always those who interpret the Quran most transparently. They are the fundamentalists or purists of the faith, and believe in Muhammad’s mandate to spread Islamic rule by the sword, putting to death those who will not submit. In the absence of true infidels, they will even turn on each other.
The holy texts of Islam are saturated with verses of violence and hatred toward those outside the faith, as well as the aforementioned “hypocrites” (Muslims who don’t act like Muslims). In sharp contrast to the Bible, which generally moves from relatively violent episodes to far more peaceful mandates, the Quran travels the exact opposite path (violence is first forbidden, then permitted, then mandatory).
The handfuls of earlier verses that speak of tolerance are overwhelmed by an avalanche of later ones that carry a much different message. While Old Testament verses of blood and guts are generally bound by historical context within the text itself, Quranic imperatives to violence usually appear open-ended and subject to personal interpretation.
From the history of the faith to its most sacred writings, those who want to believe in “peaceful Islam” have a lot more to ignore than do the terrorists. By any objective measure, the “Religion of Peace” has been the harshest, bloodiest religion the world has ever known. In Islam there is no peace unless Muslims have power – and even then…
[Islam is Tolerant of Other Religions]
Religious minorities have flourished under Islam. Muslims are commanded to protect Jews and Christians (the People of the Book) and do them no harm. The Quran says in Sura 109, “To you, your religion. To me, mine.”
Religious minorities have not “flourished” under Islam. In fact, they have dwindled to mere shadows after centuries of persecution and discrimination. Some were converted from their native religion by brute force, others under the agonizing strain of dhimmitude.
What Muslims call “tolerance,” others correctly identify as institutionalized discrimination. The consignment of Jews and Christians to dhimmis under Islamic rule means that they are not allowed the same religious rights and freedoms as Muslims. They cannot share their faith, for example, or build houses of worship without permission.
Historically, dhimmis have often had to wear distinguishing clothing or cut their hair in a particular manner that indicates their position of inferiority and humiliation. They do not share the same legal rights as Muslims, and must even pay a poll tax (the jizya). They are to be killed or have their children taken from them if they cannot satisfy the tax collector’s requirements.
For hundreds of years, the Christian population in occupied Europe had their sons taken away and forcibly converted into Muslim warriors (known as Janissaries) by the Ottoman Turks.
It is under this burden of discrimination and third-class status that so many religious minorities converted to Islam over the centuries. Those who didn’t often faced economic and social hardships that persist to this day and are appalling by Western standards of true religious tolerance and pluralism.
For those who are not “the People of the Book,” such as Hindus and atheists, there is very little tolerance to be found once Islam establishes political superiority. The Quran tells Muslims to “fight in the way of Allah” until “religion is only for Allah.” The conquered populations face death if they do not establish regular prayer and charity in the Islamic tradition (i.e. the pillars of Islam).
Tamerlane and other Muslim warriors slaughtered tens of millions of Hindus and Buddhists, and displaced or forcibly converted millions more over the last thousand years. Islamists in Somalia behead Christians. In Iran, they are jailed.
One of the great ironies of Islam is that non-Muslims are to be treated according to the very standards by which Muslims themselves would claim the right to violent self-defense was the shoe on the other foot. Islam is its own justification. Most Muslims therefore feel no need to explain the ingrained arrogance and double standard.
There are about 500 verses in the Quran that speak of Allah’s hatred for non-Muslims and the punishment that he has prepared for their unbelief. There is also a tiny handful that says otherwise, but these are mostly earlier verses that many scholars consider to be abrogated by the later, more violent ones.
As for Sura 109, any true Quran scholar will point out that the purpose of the verse was to distinguish Islam from the gods of the Quraysh (one of which was named “Allah”) rather than to advocate religious tolerance for non-Muslims.
At the time that he narrated this very early verse, Muhammad did not have any power, and thus no choice but to be “tolerant” of others. By contrast, there was no true tolerance shown when he returned to Mecca with power many years later and demanded the eviction or death of anyone who would not convert to Islam. In fact, he physically destroyed the cherished idols of the people to whom he had previously addressed in Sura 109.
If tolerance simply means discouraging the mass slaughter of those of a different faith, then today’s Islam generally meets this standard more often than not. But, if tolerance means allowing people of other faiths the same religious liberties that Muslims enjoy, then Islam is fundamentally the most intolerant religion under the sun.
Now you have the information, opinion and debate. It’s up to my cyberspace audience to decide for themselves.
In Part IV ahead I will provide statistics on three variables I think provides a solid background as to why Islam and Islamic people are very susceptible to religious fanaticism. These variables are: education in the Islamic world, literacy rates, and unemployment.
These variables, in addition to the insightful work of Eric Hoffer in Part V, I believe forms the best explanation to date as to why what has happened in the middle east has produced a growing menace of Islamic Terrorism that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Terrorism is a major threat to the rest of the civilized world including the United States.