In this paper, I will be delving into some very sensitive material; it is my intent to deal with the many issues covered as objectively as possible. One of the purposes is to dispel many of the myths about Islam that we hear in the West, and to bring a more balanced approach to understanding this religion. In doing so, I focus on its numerous positive aspects, and give a feeling of some of its great wonders. I purposely do not dwell on its negative side as this is covered so aggressively by, but poorly I’m afraid, our own media. As a non-believer but with a fervent fascination for religion, I try to see both the positive and negative sides of all religions and leave it at that. Another purpose is to help the reader see the US and the West from both an Islamic and Arab viewpoint – not that you have to agree, but only to see their side of the issues. So the overall goal of this writing is, To understand this baffling but fascinating subject.
Juan Cole wrote the following in his new book, Engaging the Muslim World: “Kalead looked at me with a broad smile. He was almost laughing. At one point, when I told him that he should abandon all thoughts of being a suicide bomber – that he could influence more people in this world by becoming a journalist – he put his head back and shot me a grin, world-weary for a man in his teens. ‘You have your mission,” he said. “And I have mine.’ His sisters looked at him in awe. He was their hero, and their teacher, their representative and their soon-to-be-martyred brother. Yes, he was handsome, young – just 18 – he was dressed in a black, and he was ready to immolate himself. His brother Hassan had driven his explosives-laden car into an American military convoy in north-western Iraq. His picture was proudly displayed on the wall.” And I ask you why, why do they hate us, and do we really care? Is he just another Islamic terrorist from a religion that is violent and wants to terrorize America and the Western world – or is there something much deeper?
Have we really looked behind the veil of corporate media and asked the hard questions? Do we see that these types of bombings are happening not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, India and Indonesia, but of course they do not count because they are not Westerners and wear funny clothes and have dark skin, but also in England, Spain and of course in our own country. Terrorism is as old as civilization itself. Terrorism is used as a means to awaken the populous and spread fear throughout the land and the world. Often, but not always, terrorists are people who are oppressed or otherwise disenfranchised and have little power, but use this method to gain adherents to their cause and to stir rumblings within the land. But let’s look at some figures: between 1900 and 1990 the world averaged 15 terrorist attacks per year. In the year 2000 there were about 426, and 2001 and 2002 about 400 – – – but then, after our invasion of Iraq, the number soars to between 4,000 to 14,000 in 2006 and 2007. In 2011, one estimate is that there were 4,564 terrorist attacks. Now, again, Why? Let’s explore, let’s peer under the shelf of corporate media – let’s do our homework.
All over the Muslim world that includes well over one and one half billion people and is the fastest growing religion in the world, poll after poll shows that people have an unfavorable view of America but not Americans as individuals. When one is in these countries, they will tell you that they like Americans as individuals, our outgoing friendliness, openness and the way we will talk to waiters and taxi drivers. In 2007 a poll taken in 26 countries shows that 51 percent say the US is having a mostly negative influence on the world.
A recent Pew Research shows that in four Muslin countries, on average, 70% had an unfavorable view of the US with our great ally, Egypt showing 82%, a country whom we give 1 ½ billion dollars a year in aid – almost all military. Osama Bin Laden is dead, but it seems his spirit lives on, and for many splinter groups all over the Middle East, this spirit has been a rallying cry for killing Westerners, especially Americans.
So they hate us, we hate them or at least see them as a violent religion that is trying to take over the world, even the good old USA. Wow! They might make our women wear veils and us men have four wives. By the way, wearing of veils goes back to the 13th century BC in Assyria and was worn by Greeks but only by women of higher status. They were not allowed on the lower classes and prostitutes. This practice was carried on in England up to the Tudor period where the veil was replaced by the higher class wearing elaborate head scarves.
The Early Settlers in the Arab World
The Bedouins, called the original Arabs, lived a life, and still do, in the desert where tenacity and endurance enable these nomads to survive where almost everything else perishes. Individualism is so deeply ingrained that he has never become a socially conscious being. His loyalty is to his family and then his tribe nothing beyond that – no concept of state or religion for that matter. Attacking other tribes and caravans for food and other supplies was part of their life, but violence was to be avoided if at all possible. Discipline, respect for order and authority are not among his ideals. His credo, however, is hospitality; for he knows that under the harsh conditions of sand and rock, death is just a swallow of water or few dates away. His second code is revenge, and this often translates into blood feuds that may last for decades. Their women, although under the mastery of their husbands, could have their own property and could cast off their husbands if they were mistreated and remarry. These proud people in the words of a famous Islamist Caliph “furnished Islam with its raw material.”
Whereas the Bedouins are found East of the Nile river, the Berbers, another ancient people that go back centuries begin their world on the West side of the Nile and are found in Libya and Tunisia but mostly in Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. They are not Arabs, and for years fought against their occupation, culture, language and even Islam. Today, they are mostly controlled by Arabs, however in some countries such as Algeria, over 30% of the population believe they have Berber blood in their veins. The invasion of Spain was led mostly by Berbers. In summary, both of these ethnic groups have a profound influence on the culture of the Arab world.
But now on to the Prophet and the World of Islam
The Prophet changed the world of the Arabian Peninsula in his lifetime and his legacy changed much of the world forever. He changed millions of people from paganism with its hundreds of deities that had no concept of right or wrong or any moral message, to the worship of one God, the Christian and Jewish God of Abraham and Moses, and with Jesus as one of the great prophets. Jesus is mentioned 28 times in the Quran but Muhammad felt that Christianity had taken a wrong turn when they made him the Son of God and established the Holy Trinity. Man, he felt, corrupted Christianity. He recognized all religions, especially Jews and Christians as they were “People of the Book.” He replaced the allegiance to tribal leaders and corrupt administrators to this God he called Allah. His focus was not on what you believe in but how you can become close to God: give to the poor and protect women, humble yourself to God by praying five times a day, and by living a good righteous life. He gave women the right to manage their property (hundreds of years before the West), to divorce, and to retain that property after divorce. For this he caused an outrage, and his life was constantly threatened . In Islam there is no concept of original sin, and again, it’s not what you believe, but how you live your life. Many think this allowed the scientific exploration and philosophical inquiry and teaching that brought about the Golden Age of Islam while Christianity shut out scientific inquiry with its obsessive insistence on people believing and obeying the dictates of the church; the consequence of disobeying was death.
Ah yes, and now Jihad. Contrary to public opinion it is not to go out and kill people. Jihad is to struggle to find God and to put God into practice in your private life as well as to encourage your community to be just and righteous – “Striving in the way of Allah.” It is the struggle to promote justice and to implement a just society. It was also used to defend you village or country against an aggressor – but not to justify initiating a war against another village or state. But what about the Jihadists that you hear about almost daily shouting “Kill the Infidels?” I want to put this nonsense to bed right now by quoting the very conservative Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis who for me is no friend of Islam and who as another noted scholar said about Lewis, “is perhaps the most significant intellectual influence behind the invasion of Iraq.” This is Lewis’ quote, “Muslim fighters are commanded not to kill women, children, or the aged; not to torture or otherwise ill-treat prisoners; at no time did the classical jurists offer any approval or legitimacy to what we nowadays call terrorism. Nor indeed is there any evidence of the use of terrorism as it is practiced nowadays.” He also said, “the widespread terrorism practice of suicide bombing is a development of the 20th century with no antecedents in Islamic history, and no justification in terms of Islamic theology, law, or tradition – – – and generally speaking, Muslim tolerance of unbelievers was far better than anything available in Christendom.” Let me add this, before our invasion of Iraq, terrorism was never on our front page – not even on the back pages. It was a non issue for the West and only a small fraction of Muslims were considered fundamentalists. By the way, the Muslim Brotherhood was never considered fundamentalist –the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia and the Salafis in Egypt, yes, but they were never considered violent.
Now about Sharia Law. Sharia is seen as God’s law for all humankind, not just for Muslims, and is based on how he ruled in the city of Medina. One cannot separate Islam from the state, because law in the Muslin community is religious, so there is no such thing as a church and state – they are one. There is no “church” or religious organization – no bishops or cardinals or for that matter priests. The people are chosen to lead prayers because of their knowledge of the Quran and Islamic teachings and not by an institution. The role of state is to be guardians of religious law. Throughout the history of Islam, Sharia law has been open to much interpretation with wide division among their own scholars and philosophers, some believing in loose interpretations to accommodate the ever changing modern world and those that want a strict interpretation of how the Prophet ruled Medina and Mecca. Since the founding of the state of Israel and the Iraq war, the fundamentalists have had their rallying cry.
The Spread of Islam – Once Islam was established in Medina and later Mecca, it quickly spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula with little resistance. It appealed to many for it helped consolidate tribes into believing in one God. After his death in 732, the elite that followed him used the term “holy war” to convert people from paganism both by persuasion but also by conquest. There is much controversy between Islamic scholars about how much the spread of Islam was, “Through the Sword” or through conversion. Digging through a score of articles and books on the subject, it is difficult to reach a definitive conclusion on where to put one’s mark between the two polls in this continuum, however, it is clear that the sword played no insignificant role in the spread of Islam. Likewise, the wars between Roman/Byzantine and Persian empires had left both sides exhausted, and the people were fed up with the killings and destruction as well as having to pay extra taxes. In addition Arabs were resisting Byzantine attempts to convert them to Christianity. In addition, non believers were attracted with the efficiency of the new rulers and to the religion itself. By converting to Islam they did not have to pay the extra tax required of non-believers. Even with this tax, all religions were recognized, especially Jews and Christians as they were the, “People of the book,” and for centuries, all religions were recognized and people lived in relative harmony. Within a hundred years, after the Prophet’s death, Islam had spread from the Atlantic Ocean through Spain, North Africa, Persia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, parts of India and finally to the borders of China.
Now Let’s Look at Crucial Events in History that led to our Situation Today
The Golden Age of Islam: For 750 years, the Islamic world was the center of civilization at a time when the West was primitive and backward. They excelled in the sciences, architecture, mathematics (developed algebra, and trigonometry) and explored literature and philosophy, studying Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers. People came from all over the known world for their clean hospitals and state of the art medical services while the west was still using exorcism and blood-letting. Many say that after visiting Cordoba and other Muslin cities in Southern Spain, Europeans were astounded at not only the beauty of the cities and their art, but of their development of functional water and sewer systems, while the cities of Paris and London hovered in stench and filth – garbage and human excretion thrown in to the streets and rivers. India had its golden age under Islamic rule with the Taj Mahal as its centerpiece.
The Crusades – One might think it silly to go back centuries to 1091 AD. It is important because for hundreds of years, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Pagans lived together peacefully throughout the Muslim world. When the first crusade captured Jerusalem and slaughtered the whole city, including women and children and Christians, this set the stage for Muslims thinking of Christians as “Christian Barbarians.” Steven Runciman, perhaps the most famous historian on the Crusades said, “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed. The Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.” Osama bin Laden would tell his fighters in Iraq that they are “God’s trusted soldiers who will liberate [Muslims] from the serfdom of the crusaders.”
Colonialism – We don’t have time to pursue this topic, but only to ask you how you would feel if a foreign power with different color skin, different religion and radically different culture occupied your country with military force that imposed their culture on you and your children. What about your sense of pride and dignity? This is still a huge factor in “Why they hate us.”
The Partition – During World War I, the British promised the Arabs an Independent Arab state after the war if they would help defeat Turkey, a member of the Axis powers. They also promised that there would be no State of Israel if the Arabs joined the British. Instead, Britain as well as France “stabbed them in the back,” through the Balfour Declaration and the French Pinot- Sykes treaty. Not only did these documents eliminate the possibility for an Arab state, but in addition, they laid the foundation for a state of Israel.
Iran – The former proud Persian Empire: – In 1953, with “Operation Ajax,” the CIA, under Kermit Roosevelt (the grandson of Teddy) overthrew the first democratically elected government Iran had ever had. They kicked out Mossadeq and put the Shah back in power after Iran had fought for over forty years to have a freely elected President. The US CIA helped to reestablish the Savak secret police and for the next 25 years there were mass killings, terror and corruption. The Shah banned veils on women; one could see soldiers ripping off the veils with their baronets, to insure a secular government. The tragedy is that, before the coup, most Iranians saw the British as the oppressors and looked to the Americans as the bastion of hope and freedom in the world. Now is there any wonder that Iran rejected a secular democracy, created a revolution in 1979, brought in the Ayatollah and adopted a radical Islamic state, which by the way, they never had before? And now we call them one of the evil empires, and we wonder why the Iranians don’t trust us.
Israel: It would take several books to deal with this subject, but one thing that must be kept in mind, whichever side of this elusive fence one is on, is that from an Arab or Palestinian prospective, Israel is occupying Arab land which is considered sacred by all Arabs and most Muslims and in 29 separate cases between 1972 and 1991 in the UN Security Council, the United States has vetoed resolutions critical of or condemning Israel and as you all know the US recently voted against Palestine being recognized as a non-voting member.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bin Laden – After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by Saddam, Osama bin Laden opposed the United States using their military base in Saudi Arabia from which to launch the invasion of Iraq in the first Gulf War. Bin Laden strongly objected to having infidel foreign forces on holy Muslin soil that contained the most holy of all sites, the city of Mecca. Many observers think this was the key, or one of the key reasons for his attacking the U.S. on 9/11.
Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban – In Afghanistan under the Soviets, the CIA, through the Pakistan intelligence agency, ISI, armed the various Mujahedeen with sophisticated weapons and money, and after the Soviets left, we also left, leaving the country to fight among the various factions with disastrous results. Civil war broke out between various Mujahedeen’s and other power brokers and bedlam was everywhere. There was no functioning central government and the whole country was in chaos. Kabul and other cities were under constant bombardment. The Taliban (“students” in the Pashtun language) came in to fill the vacuum and create stability but with a brutal regime. It is said that the Taliban movement started when a group of students saw some of power brokers raping young boys. The students formed a group and forced them to stop. They won that small victory and their ranks immediately swelled with many followers coming from the fundamentalist madrassa schools in Pakistan funded by Saudi Arabia. In Kandahar they defeated an army of a powerful Mujahedeen and from there won victory after victory until they controlled most of the country. They stabilized the country, but under a very oppressive system. We know what happened after 9/11 with our invasion and how we pushed the Taliban towards Pakistan. But then we left again, taking our key troops and CIA top staff out to invade Iraq after promising to rebuild Afganistan country.
Western Values: In much of the Islamic world there is fear that Western values, including globalization, are encroaching on their traditional values and way of life; and people see America as the driving force behind this. In their tradition, family and extended family are the fundamental foundations of life, followed by their community and tribe. They see the breaking up of American families, single parents not taking care of their children, materialism, consumerism, individualism, violence, promiscuity (American women are often seen as prostitutes) and the American obsession with success and making money. Let’s add another – putting our parents into retirement homes – unthinkable in most Muslim countries where the elders are not only the patriarchs of the family but have an almost saintly status.
US Supported Dictatorships – Oil is the fuel that drives our economies, and by far the largest supply has come from the Middle East. Our policy for years has been to insure that all these oil rich countries would keep us well supplied with oil. When the colonial powers finally turned over their colonies to the newly independent states, it was to the kings and sheiks– not to any parliament or democratic form of government. They all started with dictatorships set up by colonial powers. From independence, power was handed down from one dictator to another. We felt that we had to support these dictators to insure the flow of oil. Every poll shows that the vast majority of people in the Islamic world, even in the Middle East want democracy, and they feel that America and other Western Powers have blocked that movement. These polls are consistent in revealing statements by the people stating that America is “hypocritical” about democracy – that we preach one thing and then do the opposite. That is only one of the factors for “hating us.”
The Arab Spring – While preparing for this talk, a couple of people asked me to include “The Arab Spring”, and since I had already peeked into this phenomenon, I spotted my feeling of cautious hope combined with much skepticism, and decided to dig further. I was somewhat horrified at my discovery, as the findings exacerbated my dismal expectations. The biggest shock is the role Saudi Arabia, our close Ally but also the source of 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, who is financing radical, fundamental and often terrorist Islamist organizations throughout the regions and even setting up Madrassa schools (as they had for many years in Pakistan) in several places in the region. These schools are preaching fundamentalist and puritanical doctrines plus hatred and violence towards America and the West. There are persuasive articles and books describing these students out in the streets joining other youth in their violent drive to highjack the revolution in some countries. Wahhabism, the supposed villain in this, dates back to the 1860’s in Saudi Arabia, and was and is perhaps the most fundamentalist part of Islam, which has influenced the Salafis movement in Egypt and other countries. Both have been considered non-violent, but recent studies have shown them as becoming more militant.
And then there is Tunisia, which has had an authoritarian dictatorship for many years; but according to several sources, perhaps had the most progressive government system in the Arab world. They had free schools and health care, legalized abortion and sex education in the schools. Their education was ranked 17th in world (7th in math and science), 1/3 of their students go to university of which 60% were women. In addition, the fertility rate is down from 7.2 in the 1960’s to 2.08, and polygamy has been outlawed for decades. Now, after the Islamists won the election in October of 2011, Islamist thugs smashed up cinemas, TV stations, bars, synagogues and universities, physically attacked artists and secularists in addition to demanding women wear veils. The new administration has gained control of the country, and Tunisia at this time is the “poster card” success of the Arab Spring.
When the demonstrators flocked to Tahrir Square two years ago, and the Arab Spring spread to other Arab countries, I cautioned my friends to keep their expectations low as there were and still many constraints to full democracy. For one, the army in Egypt controls the country militarily but also much of the country economically – owning much of the fertile ground up and down the Nile where they have vast tracts of farming land and control much of the irrigation. They also own several industries and in turn own much of the wealth of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood, which on the whole has been fairly moderate, has built schools and clinics and have been a positive social force in the country and very popular with the people. Yes, there have been radical elements in the movement, but on the whole it is somewhat moderate. But recently, the very fundamentalist Salafis, although not nearly as organized as the Brotherhood, have emerged with strong influence. They are related to Wahhabism and fundamentalist part of Islam. As we all know these two Islamic movements received over 60 % of the popular vote and now control parliament and the new constitution. Libya has over 140 tribes, and observers have warned for years that Syria is beset with strife between ethnic minorities and democracy will be difficult. We now see radical and violent fundamentalists inspired by al-Qaeda come into the country to join the opposition forces resulting in the tragedy in Benghazi. These countries have little or no experience with democracy. Western media has mostly shown the revolutionary side of the strife, and almost nothing from the side of government nor have they talked much about the shopkeepers and business people or the vast numbers working in government or indirectly depending on government. Many say the general populous cares less about democracy than stability and order. This process of democracy will take years; perhaps decades to have what we would call true democracy. But whatever they come up with, it has to be theirs, and it might be quite different from ours in the West. Yes, we want them to have democracy, but let us let them do it their way. They have to have ownership.
Iraq – Let’s go back to 9/11 and the horror of that day. The world was shocked and our country was in a state of disbelief, and that same day I said to my wife, I hope our president keeps his cool and takes a deep breath and won’t use this for political purposes – – – but then came his words . . . “War on terror,” and then the Afghan and Iraq wars – American ignorance of the world and particularly the Middle East and Islam raised its ugly head. Islam and Muslims became suspect as the media belched out how the Quran preached war against the infidels, how it cried out for Jihad against the West and especially the US. I was working as an advisor on a World Bank project in Azerbaijan (a Muslin country in the Caucasus with much of its Southern boundary bordering Iran). I watched this with my colleagues from many countries who were also working in development. We were in horror and dismay as this hysteria reigned through America. We knew that the Muslim world was not like this. We were also aware that Saddam Hussein, horrible as he was, had nothing to do with 9/11 or terrorism and that he had nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden, and in fact they despised each other – nor was there any al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. America used the excuse of WMDs in the country when Dr. Hans Blix, a distinguished Swedish diplomat and his UN inspectors had been in Iraq for months with complete corporation of Saddam and had found nothing and had six months of inspections to go. I was horrified when two of my favorite op-ed columnists from the New York Times, David Brooks and Thomas Friedman favored the war as did Leslie Gelb, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and many, many others. We all asked ourselves, how can we, just development workers know this was a scam, a set-up to invade a country without provocation, when most of the supposedly finest international experts and media in our country thought the other way. It’s pretty simple. We listened to BBC World, CNN World (a totally different CNN from what we see in the states) read British newspapers like The Guardian, the Times and the Independent and had summaries from papers like Die Welt of Germany and Le Monde of France. At the same time we witnessed the herd mentality of US media and Congress, embracing with full abandon the march to war like camp followers – no questions just wave the flag and march on.
Iraq Today – We have almost destroyed their country, a country with a cultural history that goes back 10,000 years as part of the Cradle of Civilization, the Fertile Crescent known as Mesopotamia. From the 7th century it became the center of the Islamic Golden Age, with the greatest libraries, universities, health centers, museums, and centers of learning in the world. Before our invasions in 2000 and 2003, it was arguably the most advanced scientific and cultural center in the Arab world with one of its greatest universities. It was noted for its national health care, universal public education and gender equality. Sunnis, Shias, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace, except when the Shias were urged by America to take down Saddam in the 1980 Gulf War – tens of thousands were slaughtered. Now electricity and drinking water are problematic, perhaps 4-5 hours a day in most cities. In the rural areas only 43% have access to drinking water, and one sees water taken from the rivers, which are polluted, for drinking purposes. Poverty is rampant and it is estimated that six million Iraqis are plagued by hunger. It has no functioning postal service, no public transportation, no national airline – and most goods are imported.
Estimates of how many Iraqis have been killed are all over the place, from 110,000 to over one million. What we do know is that most of them are women and children, and now there are over two million Iraqis in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Iran and two million more who are living in other areas of Iraq and don’t dare to go back to their homes. At one point, UNHCR estimated that there were 4.7 million refugees in Iraq. This is the equivalent in our country of 45 million people. They are afraid of going back to their homes and neighborhoods for fear of being killed because of the ethnic strife that we have created. Think of that. This is what we have done. We have created a new paradigm in our relationship with the world of Islam
View from Islamist – Let’s quickly get back to terrorism and for a moment detach ourselves from our country and our culture. Let’s put ourselves in the place of the Islamic world, especially the Middle East and Pakistan. Let’s be them for a moment. Remember, we are not judging them, but rather, trying to find out the roots of terrorism today – trying to find out why they dislike our country. So let’s pretend that we are citizens of these countries and put some issues before ourselves. The West and especially America has:
Colonized, ruled by force and basically humiliated our people
Constantly interfered in our governments and stifled our attempts at democracy
Conquered part of our sacred land, and placed infidels in its place
Constantly supported these people even against repeated votes by the United Nations for flagrant violations of international law
Blocked the creation of a Palestinian state
Ousted by a coup the only democratically elected President of Iran and imposed a ruthless dictator in its place
Allowed Israel to invade Lebanon twice
Invaded and occupied the country of Afghanistan
Invaded, occupied the sovereign nation of Iraq, killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of its citizens, mostly innocent women and Children, and left this great nation in shambles
Now let’s go back to the figures. For a century, terrorist attacks averaged around 400 to 500 per year, and since the attack and occupation of Iraq, are in the thousands. It’s like the fundamentalist were wrapped in a hornet’s nest where they were quietly sleeping with only faint hopes, and we took our a sledge hammer and burst it open and let fly the false adherents to unlawful and anti Islamic Jihad against the West – with no regard to innocent victims or women and children – violating every principle of Islamic law. Suicide, the key method of killing and destruction in terrorism, is categorically forbidden by the Quran.
War on Terror: how could we as educated Americans fall for this nonsense? Gore Vidal, noted writer and historian remarked, “Waging a War on Terror is like waging a war on “dandruff.” What it has done, along with the invasion of Iraq, is make most of the Muslim world think that we have declared war on their religion. Every poll shows this, and there are many. And now in our ignorance, we call Islam a violent religion. It will take generations to correct perhaps the greatest foreign policy mistake this country has ever known.
Have we perhaps exceeded every dream that Bin Laden ever had in bringing the rise of radical, violent fundamentalism throughout much of the world to heights never even dreamed of in the Muslim world. One would speculate that he gave us the bait with 9/11, horrible as it was, and we jumped on it like a greedy adolescent. We have created a new paradigm in our history of foreign policy that will take generations to heal.
What can we do in addition to a little critical thinking? Think about how Islam has been high jacked by power brokers and politicians who have enlisted the support of the fundamentalist to drive their agenda. Engage with Islam, support their institutions and their struggles towards democracy, but let them do it their way.
Islam, by Karen Armstrong
Engaging the Muslim World, by Juan Cole
The Great War for Civilization, the Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk
Decent into Chaos, the US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid
Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid
After the Arab Spring, How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts, by John R. Bradley
What Went Wrong? The Clash between Islam and the Modern World, by Bernard Lewis
The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization, Jonathan Lyons
The Looming Tower, Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11: by Lawrence Wright (winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Rouge State, By William Blum
Feeling Betrayed; the Roots of Muslim Anger at America: by Steven Kull
The Arabs: A Short History, by Philip K. Hitti
Article – The Original Arab, the Beduion, by Philip Hitti
Islam from The Teaching Company, twelve lectures by Professor John L. Esposito, Georgetown University
The United States and the Middle East; 1914 to 9/11 from The Teaching Company, 24 lectures by Professor Salim Yaqub, University of Chicago
Some Useful Islamic Terms
Sunnah: Sunnah denotes the practice of Prophet Muhammad that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher of the sharī‘ah and the best exemplar. According to Muslim belief, this practice is to be adhered to in fulfilling the divine injunctions, carrying out religious rites and moulding life in accord with the will of God.
Hadith: The word hadith literally means communication or narration. In the Islamic context it has come to denote the record of what the Prophet (S.A.W.) said, did, or tacitly approved.
Caliph: from khalifa (literall, ‘deputy,’ ‘representative’); successors of Muhammad in leading Islam.
Imam: literally means, “one who stands before”; in Sunni Islam, the leader of worship in the mosque. In Shi’ite Islam, a spiritual successor to Muhammad who is endowed with the power to interpret the truth in the age in which he lives.
Muslim: literally means, “submitter” (one who submits to the will of God); one becomes a Muslim by utterance of the Shahadah: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”
Shahadah: Creedal statement of Islam: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”
Salifis: Salafism is related to or includes Wahhabism and has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam, and often viewed, with little to support it, by the west as Jihadis who espouse violence
Sharia: the path or way Muslims are to follow; hence, Muslim ‘law’
Wahhabi: Ultraconservative Muslim movement founded in the 18th Century in Saudi Arabia and opposed to all forms of change within religion and culture. Wahhabism and the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia formed a pact giving the Royal Family the right to rule
Jihad: literally means, “struggle”; referring to the obligation of all Muslims to struggle against error. In one sense refers to the defensive military struggle against those who would attack Muslims and subvert their faith, hence the concept of the ‘Holy war’
Abu Bakr: Muhammad’s father-in-law and first political successor (caliph)
Ali: Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, the first after Khadija to accept Muhammad’s teaching; the fourth caliph and the first Imam of Shi’ite Islam
Kaaba: literally means, “cube”; the central shrine of Islam, located in the Grand Mosque of Mecca. It symbolizes the center of the world and is visited by Muslims on the hajj.
Khadija: Muhammad’s wife and the first to accept his teaching
Koran (Qur’an): literally means, “reading,” “recitation”; Muslim scripture