DICK WESTCOTT: Insights From a Search into the True Nature of Islamic Religion
What happens to 80-year-olds who send themselves back to college, not for a reunion, but a week of four classes each day, question-and-answer sessions with professors and evening lectures?
In search of the answer to "What is Islam?", my wife and I fired up some dormant brain cells and set off for a small Midwestern liberal arts college. We were challenged but mercifully spared tests and pop quizzes.
Attention span was the first thing challenged. Going back 4,000 years to Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael to follow Jewi-sh, Christian and Muslim cultures, while dipping into the Constitution of Medina, the Quran and other documents along the way, called for sustained concentration that was a little balky from disuse.
The second challenge was the scope of knowledge presented, a bit intimidating where Islam is involved. Unfamiliar words like orthopraxy, Dar-al-Islam, dhimmi, People of the Book, Shahada, Sharia, Haj, and ummah, pile on top of the more familiar words Muhammad, Ramadan, jihad, Sunni and Shi'ite. As the story they tell unfolded, there was no problem with attention span while we explored Muslim history, religion, art and politics.
The Quran was dictated to Muhammad (some believe he was illiterate) by the Archangel Gabriel. You might enjoy reading it, but it is not the word of Allah if not in the original Arabic. Etymologically (need a dictionary? I did), Arabic is short on vowels. For example: SLM (to submit); iSLaM (submission); MuSLiM (one who submits); SeLaM (peace in God); ShaLoM (peace) all tie together.
Muslims share the Old Testament with Jews and Christians -- hence "People of the Book." However, the latter are Dar al-Harb, ruled by infidel governments, and hence "dhimmi" and persecuted. Muslims are Dar al-Islam, ruled by Muslim governments, and part of the "ummah," a community distinct from other people.
So much for assimilation. Muhammad acknowledged Moses and Jesus but displaced the laws of Moses with Sharia law and dealt with Jesus by claiming he did not die as claimed and was not resurrected.
Political issues introduced more variables. We tend to think of regime change in the context of current events, but Aristotle wrote about it around 350 B.C., Muhammad was achieving notable success with it in 630 A.D., and Wahhabi Muslims would like nothing better today. Mix Muslim politics with diverse religious beliefs and geographical differences in the world of Dar al-Islam, and the answer to "What is Islam?" becomes increasingly obscure.
It turned out there is no precise answer to "What is Islam?" Among the Sunni, there are four Schools of Law plus Salafism and Sufism. Among the Shi'ite, there are Twelvers, Ismailis and Zaidis. But some insights slowly emerged:
Muslims struggle to cleanse themselves spiritually and morally -- a "greater" jihad. However, a "lesser" jihad, or fight, struggles against sin in the world. Quite possibly the majority of Muslims do not condone terrorist violence but they are committed to the lesser jihad.
Muslims seem to hate Americans, but a better term might be contempt -- contempt for perceived decadence. Since the Muhammad era, Muslims have been able to poke a weak and decadent culture, watch it collapse and move in.
When Muslims overran a culture or regime, they imposed Sharia Law. Christian and Jewish minorities, People of the Book, were tolerated as long as they paid heavy taxes and accepted complete submission as "dhimmi." Others were not tolerated.
Islam is not going away. If their birth rates continue to exceed all others, Muslims will become the majority in Europe.
The Muslim culture respects strength and is contemptuous of weakness.
The third challenge was to do some critical thinking. This became a wake-up call for me. Do we Americans understand who we are and what principles we stand for? And should we insist that all who come to this country accept these principles as nonnegotiable? There seems to be too much uncertainty about who we are. Are we becoming a weak culture which, when poked by Muslims, will collapse?
There is plenty of evidence of decadence on television and in the daily news. You may draw your own conclusions, but one thing is certain. If that collapse were ever to happen, Sharia Law would be inevitable -- and for me, intolerable.
Dick Westcott is a retired business executive and former member of the Pinehurst Village Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story