If it is it doesn't matter

Monday, March 13, 2006

Three questions

I am still getting back to everything I promised, but I wanted to post this -- and e-mail it to some people -- to bring the discussion more into focus. Again, if you'd rather e-mail me (jimbentn@verizon.net) I'll copy the comments I received and post them.

Three questions -- well, two of them are statements I want your opinions on:

1: I used to believe that a 'reformed Islam' was possible. As time has gone on and I have read more, as I said in "Changing My Mind" I believe that Islam is like my old computer, that by the time you fixed or replaced what was wrong with it, you would have 'nothing left but the case and the speakers.' In other words, rather than reform it, it would have to be replaced.

2: If Islam were reformable, why bother? What specific perceptions, ideas, principles (ethical, moral, practical, or whatever) are both exclusive to Islam and worth the effort of creating a Reform Islam? (I'll admit I have yet to see any, but that is why I am sending this to a number of Muslims, hoping they do. What I have seen is either principles that are common not just to most religions but to simple secular humanistic common sense, or principles exclusive to Islam -- like their treatment of women and unbelievers -- which are the reasons why the reform would be necessary.)

3: I have stated (in my 'Exchange with Deborah Lipstadt' below, which explains WHY I think this) that, while other religious, political, and social movements -- good and bad -- attempt to 'change reality,' Islam attempts to 'define reality.' Because it does, when its 'reality' is opposed by a Western reality, or historical or scientific facts, etc., since it cannot question its own reality or challenge the opposition on its ground, it reacts violently to attempt to destroy the 'competing reality.' Do you agree?

I hope this one will get comments. Again, I will post almost any e-mail I receive in reply.

13 Comments:

Blogger ArmyArtilleryWife said...

1. Islam, like Christianity and Buddhism, is a reform religion. Other religions have undergone major reforms in their past. So, yes, I still believe reform is possible.

2. Your question seems to assume that these features are a part of Islam, rather than a part of the tribalistic ethnic cultures of the Middle East. Why bother reforming? Because these problems are not in Islam. Furthermore, since Islam is the religion of choice for these xenophobic, misogynistic, chauvanistic cultures, the only way to reform those cultures would have to involve Islam in some way.

I would say that all religions resemble each other to some extent...which is evidence of God's love in my mind, not evidence that it should be wiped off this earth. Islam has remained more true to certain priciples (charity, prayer) than other religions, as well--so I do not see the need to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

3. I think you have a definition of any extremism here.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

AAW:
You say "Islam is a reform religion.' But I have seen no evidence of this, and have, in fact, seen a great number of Muslims deny that it has even had any sort of a Reformation. In fact, for the more fundamentalist/literalist ones, the idea is an impossibility.

You haven't actually answered #2, what features in it are worth reforming. You do make an intersting point, one I've considered, that since it is so intrinsically involved with certain cultures, maybe it has to be preserved to have a chance of reforming them. But you also say the problems are 'not in Islam' and my whole point is that they, in fact, are, in the Qur'an, the Hadiths, etc. Similarly, my point is that Islam IS different from the other religions, if you read my exchange with Dr. Lipstadt, you'd see this.
(I've also considered that the idea that 'all religions are alike' is something that no truly religious person could hold -- but as an atheist, maybe I am not qualified to comment on this.

And again, my key point is that there are many extremisms that try and 'change reality' but only Islam and Nazism try and 'define it.' I tried to explain what I meant by that.

1:39 PM  
Blogger jami said...

Jim your motives are very aparent and obvious now, you have some sort of anti_islamic mission, this is the second mostly widely followed religion in the world, your single ostracised internet based research and the fredom of blogs like these gives you the liberty ot say any f***ing thing your shallow mind can percieve.

You know beans about sociology and religion, you have spent a deprived life, thank god you did nto end up in a mental institute. For most people who faced a life like yours end up in such places.

Please stick to your expertise of aethism and thats it, do to cofused peopel with your limited knowlede about Islam.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Hallq said...

Is there any reason to want to keep Islam around in a form? Eh, not really. Will we see a reformed Islam? Probably. As Middle Eastern countries liberalize, many people will continue to insist on calling themselves Muslims, whether or not doing so makes any sense, simply because of the strong hold tradition has on people.

I wonder if reform will require a time period of theocratic hell, though. A large motive, I think, behind moves to tolerance in Christianity was Protestant-Catholic wars (as well as persecutions among various sects of Protestants). Perhaps it will never work for a country like the United States to tell them they should have freedoms, they need to experience the alternative and reject it.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Jami: I was not surprised to get personal attacks over my opinions. What surprised me was when I checked your profile, and found it was you.

You are someone I considered -- and still consider, despite the attack -- my friend. You are, in fact the 'person in Dubai' who I mentioned in my first post, who I offered a column to.

And, as someone who saw most of the 1500+ posts I made on the forum we shared, you KNOW my mind is not shallow and I do not speak from ignorance. I am as capable of being totally wrong as anyone else, of misinterpreting things or misreading them, but I usually have evidence to back up my statements.

You saw my mind change when I was on the forum, and in e-mails we exchanged afterwards. You know how I fought against the conclusions I reached. You know I was sincere when I asked people to show me I was wrong, because I don't like thinking this way. You saw the changes, first after the Indonesian school girl beheadings -- done by true extremists, yes, but another Muslim horror that has been forgotten. I think (and hope) you read the petition I suggested people on the board should circulate distancing 'mainstream Islam' from the extremists -- and how totally it was ignored. You saw how I attempted to discuss atheism in general terms, and how our fellow members kept throwing the Qur'an at me until I read it through.

You saw my immediate choice to leave the board rather than to attack Islam, and we discussed my reasons for so doing. And you've seen the headlines, the boycotts, the troubles in Iraq, that have forced me to look more deeply into the ideology driving Muslims, and the way my investigation has, yes, changed me.

And ironically, your response to this is a prime example of what bothers me, and makes my point. If I am, as you insist, ignorant, why didn't you enlighten me? If I am not seeing the good things in Islam, why didbn't you list them, or even mention them? The only positive statement you made was that "this is the second mostly widely followed religion in the world." Other than that, you attacked me. Not my facts, not my reasoning, me. And this is what I meant in my third question.

(Twenty years ago it could have been said that many people lived under Communism and supported it. This hardly made it anything but the corrupt and non-sensical ideology it was, and it turned out that most of the people DIDN'T support it.)

I will not reply to your personal attack, except to say that, because I DO believe in freedom of speech, I am glad you had the chance to make it. (And some of the things in my background that you may be referring to are things I have wanted to discuss here, but just haven't gotten around to. Hopefully I will, because if you are referring to one thing, I am EXTREMELY proud of that.)

7:37 PM  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

HallQ: Chris, your image of the Protestant-Catholic wars is one of the things scaring me. If a true Reformed Islam came to power in any country, I could see the Saudis leading (or given the Saudis, bankrolling) other Muslim countries in an attack on that country. And we've got a LOT more powerful weapons these days.
(People who are anti-Muslim rather than anti-Islam have said, in my presence, "Good, that means they'd kill each other off." I can't dismiss the loss of lives that easily. I care about people, even ones as wrong-headed as many Muslims are. I don't want to see that sort of bloodbath.)

7:45 PM  
Blogger ArmyArtilleryWife said...

You say "Islam is a reform religion.' But I have seen no evidence of this, and have, in fact, seen a great number of Muslims deny that it has even had any sort of a Reformation. In fact, for the more fundamentalist/literalist ones, the idea is an impossibility.

I am speaking in the historical sense. Islam was a reform of the situation in Mohammed's time, as Christianity was a reform of Judaism and Buddhism was a reform of Hinduism.

I am not placing a value judgement on that reform, whether or not it was necessary, or its success...but Islam did make some serious reforms to the Arab culture of Mohammed's time.

You haven't actually answered #2, what features in it are worth reforming. You do make an intersting point, one I've considered, that since it is so intrinsically involved with certain cultures, maybe it has to be preserved to have a chance of reforming them. But you also say the problems are 'not in Islam' and my whole point is that they, in fact, are, in the Qur'an, the Hadiths, etc. Similarly, my point is that Islam IS different from the other religions, if you read my exchange with Dr. Lipstadt, you'd see this.
(I've also considered that the idea that 'all religions are alike' is something that no truly religious person could hold -- but as an atheist, maybe I am not qualified to comment on this.


You're losing me here.

I clearly state that charity and prayer are two principles that I admire in Islam.

Which problems are specifically in Islam, rather than in the culture in which Islam has taken root?

As to my statement that "all religions resemble each other to some extent," in this post, you said:

What I have seen is either principles that are common not just to most religions but to simple secular humanistic common sense...

Since you pointed Sam's readers to this post...I read this post.

Reading your other post, I disagree with your assessment of the Quran. First of all, the Quran recognizes the Bible as part of its spiritual history, so all of those "heroic" women are part of Islam as well. Second of all, Islam does add to that.

Finally, the Quran is read by at least a few prominent scholars as actually IMPROVING the status of women at that time.

I am also puzzled by your interpretation of Christianity...there is no way to God except through Jesus. That would seem to mean that non-believers (not just sinners) do not go to heaven.

All of your arguments about the current state of Islam could be made about Christianity during the Middle Ages...and Islam today is different from Islam 500, 1000, or about 1500 years ago.

Which is what I mean when I say something is not inherent in Islam...

And again, my key point is that there are many extremisms that try and 'change reality' but only Islam and Nazism try and 'define it.' I tried to explain what I meant by that.

I disagree--I think this is a definition of extremists of every stripe.

This only addresses a few of your points...not because I am avoiding them...but because you make a bewildering number of points. If you want me to respond to something specifically, please feel free to concisely point me towards it.

10:07 PM  
Blogger doxRaven said...

for me the question "is reformed Islam possible" is somewhat academic.

My response is: maybe, but are we prepared to try a grand social experiment just to find the answer. What for?

That's where your second question comes in. I see no saving graces for Islam. Again, I don't care particularly what might or could be, I care more what is. For me religion is how it's followers practice it today. If what is written is tolerance and what is practiced is intolerance then that IS a problem for Islam and follower of Islam need to solve it insead of pleading being misunderstood. Show me.

No truer words were spoken when someone said about Islam during cartoon rage: "you don't want my respect you want my submission".

Charity and prayer? Is that your best? What charity? and prayer is just a means to an end, nothing noble in itself about that: pray that the infidels may rot in hell.

Islam CAN be reformed, otherwise there would be no sects but a monolithic ideology. But what reform?

Then there was the comment what is Islam and what is cultural. The question should be: what cultural elements does Islam drive? I only see a tendency towards intolerance of non-believers and critical thinkers (sorry Irshad Manji). Maybe I should get out more, maybe to Luxor, or to Bali, maybe to London, Madrid or New York, maybe to southern Sudan, or Bamiyan etc.etc.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

A few interesting posts worth commenting on. Let's start with AAW.

First, what difference does it make if Islam WAS a reformation of Arabic polytheism of the 7th Century?
In fact, it seems more to have been an attempt at a Reformation of Judaism given the strong influence that the Old Testament had on the Qur'an. There have been some researches recetly that would imply that it was more than that in the beginning, however I won't coment more on these until I get a chance to read more of the writers who have been examining early Islamic history, and not just Ibn Warriq's survey of them.

As for your admiration of the ideas of charity and prayer, my POINT was that these are not exclusive to Islam. Prayer is common to most religions, and giving to charity does not need a religious sanction. To rephrase my question, if Islam were, hypothetically, to vanish from the Earth tomorrow, what would be lost?

As to what problems are specifically in Islam rather than cultural, most of them. The command to kill unbelievers is in the Qur'an. The treatment of women as objects of men's sexuality, of objects in general is in the Qur'an. The treating of women -- in regards to inheritance and testimony -- as equalling half a man is there. (And don't say 'Oh, but that was progressive for its time.' Even if it was, the point is that the Qur'an and Islam are, supposedly, unchangeable, and these ideas remain how they were then. The rules remain today, when they are abominable.)
Furthermore, the idea that apostasy is punishable by death remains, and if the death sentence is rarely carried out, the punishment of forcing a man to divorce his wife IS, and other punishments are given.

Nor am i so willing to accept the 'its only cultural' argument. A religion is SUPPOSED to change the cultures it comes in contact with. (If Incas were still practicing human sacrifice today, would we accept a Christian explaining that, yes, they were Christianized, but this is part of their culture, not a part of Christianity.)

If islam is supposed to make people better, why do these practices remain? Why do things like honor killings and forced marriages and female genital mutilation, only or predominantly appear in Muslim cultures, and why, even when there are laws against them, do the clerics oppose the laws being enforced?

As for your other points, quickly. No, the Qur'an does not accept the Old Testament, it merely repeats certain stories, claiming that the Jews misinterpreted them. Nor does it 'add to that.' (I'd like you tell me where it does, if I am wrong.)
Christianity does not require its adherents to memorize a text in which the statement about the punishment of unbelievers is repeated hundreds of times, does not declare unbelievers are scheming against it, does not demand they be fought against and overcome physically, etc. And despite the fact that Christianity during the middle ages had its problems -- as it still does -- none of the statements I made about islam were true about Christianity then or now.

And Islam purports to be the unchangeable word of god. I will be doing a post in the next few days entitled "They REALLY believe this stuff.' You are seeing Islam through Western eyes, as do too many people, seeing it as a Specturm of Belief, seeing it as not taken literally by any but a few believers, with the majority taking it more 'casually.' This simply isn't so.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Hallq said...

Jim-

You mentioned the war that could happen if a liberalized form of Islam came to power. Would it be any better if a completely secular government came to power? It doesn't seem like this is a good reason to prefer total secularization to reform.

9:38 PM  
Blogger ArmyArtilleryWife said...

First, what difference does it make if Islam WAS a reformation of Arabic polytheism of the 7th Century? [...]

The difference it makes is because you phrased the debate as to Islam as a religion, rather than just as a cultural phenomenon, and whether or not that religion is capable of reform.

That it was born out of reform seems a valid point in that case.

As for your admiration of the ideas of charity and prayer, my POINT was that these are not exclusive to Islam. [...] To rephrase my question, if Islam were, hypothetically, to vanish from the Earth tomorrow, what would be lost?

Again, I think Islam in its current state has remained more true to these principles.

I stated originally that you find a lot of common threads in all religions.

So, I don't think a religion has to necessarily bring something "unique" to the world. I am not avoiding your question... I just disagree with its assumptions.


As to what problems are specifically in Islam rather than cultural, most of them. The command to kill unbelievers is in the Qur'an. The treatment of women as objects of men's sexuality, of objects in general is in the Qur'an. The treating of women -- in regards to inheritance and testimony -- as equalling half a man is there. (And don't say 'Oh, but that was progressive for its time.' Even if it was, the point is that the Qur'an and Islam are, supposedly, unchangeable, and these ideas remain how they were then. The rules remain today, when they are abominable.)
Furthermore, the idea that apostasy is punishable by death remains, and if the death sentence is rarely carried out, the punishment of forcing a man to divorce his wife IS, and other punishments are given.


As you have acknowledged...these are common to the other religions that came out of that region at that time...and remain in most cases in their holy books.

The difference is these other ones have had reform movements.

And I thought that was what we were discussing...whether or not Islam is capable of such.

Nor am i so willing to accept the 'its only cultural' argument. A religion is SUPPOSED to change the cultures it comes in contact with. (If Incas were still practicing human sacrifice today, would we accept a Christian explaining that, yes, they were Christianized, but this is part of their culture, not a part of Christianity.)

What I am saying is that these particular elements are from the culture...not that it makes them acceptable. I am not a relativist.

The idea is that I believe Islam can move beyond these elements.

If islam is supposed to make people better, why do these practices remain? Why do things like honor killings and forced marriages and female genital mutilation, only or predominantly appear in Muslim cultures, and why, even when there are laws against them, do the clerics oppose the laws being enforced?

I do not know why horrible things happen still in certain regions of the world, though I would argue that Hindus and atheists and others in Asia also abort female fetuses. Why do people do morally abhorrent things? I wish I knew, but I do not think that eradicating Islam will fix these problems.

As for your other points, quickly. No, the Qur'an does not accept the Old Testament, it merely repeats certain stories, claiming that the Jews misinterpreted them. Nor does it 'add to that.' (I'd like you tell me where it does, if I am wrong.)

Islam accepts Abraham as the first Muslim...and accepts the Torah and Bible as part of their tradition.

At least that was always my understanding and this was reinforced by the first five links when I googled it.

You claim that the misogyny in other religions is mitigated by the positive examples of women...but most of those examples are of submissive and obedient women, anyway.

To just assume for a second that they are not, I would say that Islam adds Kadijah, Aisha, and others.

Christianity does not require its adherents to memorize a text in which the statement about the punishment of unbelievers is repeated hundreds of times, does not declare unbelievers are scheming against it, does not demand they be fought against and overcome physically, etc. And despite the fact that Christianity during the middle ages had its problems -- as it still does -- none of the statements I made about islam were true about Christianity then or now.

Okay, the memorizing I see, but punishing non believers is in there...certainly there is also lots of smiting of enemies in the Old Testament... 'When the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show no mercy.' Deuteronomy 7:2


False prophets and witches are to be put to death...

If I were more of a Biblical scholar and had a little more time, I could go on...


And Islam purports to be the unchangeable word of god.

And many Christians believe the same of the Bible.


I will be doing a post in the next few days entitled "They REALLY believe this stuff.' You are seeing Islam through Western eyes, as do too many people, seeing it as a Specturm of Belief, seeing it as not taken literally by any but a few believers, with the majority taking it more 'casually.' This simply isn't so.

I never said any such thing...but thanks for putting words in my mouth or thoughts in my mind, whichever.

I do think you would be surprised if you spoke to those who regularly attend church, though. Living now in Texas as opposed to NY, the approach to religion has been one of the biggest culture shocks.

Do I believe there are moderate Muslims? Yes. Do I pretend to know what the majority of Muslims think? No.

Do I think Islam has some values of worth? Yes.

Do I think any religion based on this ethical system is capable of reform? Yes.

Should/will Islam reform?

I don't know. I am not a Muslim so it really is not up to me. If it does not, though, an ultimate clash with the West may be inevitable.

I do think that there is a better chance Islam will reform than that Muslims will abandon their religion.

So, I hope that Islam is capable of reform.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I'll respond further to AAW and Doxraven tomorrow. (That personal problem keeps getting screwier. If I get breathing room tomorrow, I'll also post "Dr. Kafka, I presume" which (a) doesn't even mention Islam, and (b), should be a bit of comedy relief. (That is, if i suvive the situation enough to write it. Physically, i should be okay, but as for the rest...)

Chris: I've never said I was opposed to the idea of a Reform Islam, merely that I didn't think it was possible, from a religious or a political angle. (Of course, I prefer a secular government in general because I am both an athiest and a Liberal.) But I think that a secular government is something that Muslims can handle, since they assue that the slow pressure of Islam would weaken it, as it has in other places, and since they've had them before. (See Turkey for the slow undermining of secularism. See Saddam for a secular government.)

But a government that was professedly Islamic, but tolerant, but opposed to Sharia, but with a new definition of Islam that would not have the current attitude towards women, towards the West. THAT would be the threat to 'their reality.'

1:12 AM  
Blogger AngloGermanicAmerican said...

In response to your question, I believe that Islam is "reformable". The basis for that belief is that I know Muslims who are reformed, and so do you.

10:42 AM  

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