Islam is not the Problem.
Within the last six months, Islam and Muslims around the world have become the centre of attention when it comes to many global issues. Whether it be the constant tension between Palestine and Israel, the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris or the attacks in Sydney near the end of 2014, Islam and Muslims are being pegged by some media outlets, people, and countries as the main source of violence in the world today, causing increased fear, displacement, and war around the world. Reza Aslan, one of the most highly regarded Islamic scholars from UC Riverside went on CNN News in Late September to defend these generalizations about Muslims and Islamic majority states. After watching that clip, keeping up to date on current events and listening to debates on the topic, I this have to say:
Stop blaming Islam for the world’s problems. Islam is not to blame for the recent issues in the world. People are.
There’s a large enough proportion of the world’s population that believes that Islam is a cause of evil in the world and that all Muslims are employed by Al-Qaeda or ISIS, and something needs to be said.
There’s a difference between Islam, a religion that encompasses 1.6 billion diverse people around the world, and Militant Islam, the radical fundamentalist sect of Islam that dominates those who propose to the agendas of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other religious fundamentalist groups. Islam itself doesn’t promote violence, but instead promotes peace, as do most other religions around the world. Reza Aslan, when discussing the rise of ISIS on CNN in September said it best when he stated “If you are a violent person, you can get justification of your beliefs through any text of scripture and if you are a peaceful person, you can get justification for your beliefs from that same text of scripture”. Like with other religions around the world, the scripture has been interpreted in multiple ways.
Furthermore, the notion that Islam as a religion promotes inequality towards women and limits the freedoms and rights of its people is just ridiculous. Interestingly enough, Islamic majority nations of Turkey and Indonesia have elected more female heads of state than the United States and Canada combined. These countries, including Indonesia being home to the largest percentage of the world’s Muslim population, are free democratic societies in which women and men are treated equally before the law. The previous notions of limiting the rights and freedoms of women and democratic freedoms of people are certainly true of individual countries, but not of Islam as a whole. Certainly, places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran are some of the most restrictive countries in terms of people’s freedoms (especially the freedom and rights of women), but those are problems that need to be addressed within those countries, not Islam as a whole. For example, Saudi Arabia, depending on the crime, can sentence a person to death by stoning. In a 2011 Thomas Reuters Foundation poll, it was revealed that 90 per cent of women in Pakistan were subject to domestic violence and that over 1,000 honor killings (the killing of a family member who has been believed to have brought shame and dishonor against their family) had taken place. The Iranian parliament, October 20th 2014, discussed a bill to enact local militias to enforce women to wear one of the most recognizable cultural symbols of Islam, the hijab. To compare Indonesia with Saudi Arabia simply on the basis of their dominant religion is ludicrous. Even though the countries share a common religion, they are completely opposite in the way that they practice it.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Russia, Mexico, the USA, and the UK are all Christian majority nations. However, these nations all in some way, shape, or form limit the freedom of their people. In the DRC and Ethiopia, female genital mutilation is extremely prevalent in everyday life. In Russia, their abuses of democracy and legal suppression of sexual minorities are well publicized, most recently before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Mexico, one of the most devout and largest Catholic nations, has some of the most strict abortion laws in the world where women can even be considered criminally liable if they have a miscarriage. Even countries like the United States, where gay marriage is illegal in 13 states, or the United Kingdom, where the traditional class system still plays a huge roll in limiting the possibilities of its citizens, what we now deem human rights are still limited. Yes, these limits may not be as drastic as in Saudi Arabia, but limited nonetheless. These Christian majority countries are some of the most notorious for practising violations of human rights, but do people characterize Christianity as the root of evil in the world based on the actions of these individual countries? No, they blame the leaders, or the warlords, or the cartels, or the human elements of society rather than to characterize the society as a whole based on the majority religious belief. So what’s stopping us from treating Islam the same way?
Militant Islam has nothing to do with traditional Islam. It is a bastardization of Islam that calls for radicalized and extreme measures to promote the beliefs of Islam according to the people who prescribe to the twisted beliefs of Militant Islam. Islam, as with Christianity and most religions around the world, does not promote violence, abuse of women, or violations of human rights. It is simply another mode in society that people can use and distort in order to fit their own individual agendas. Islam should not be a dirty word and Muslims are not all terrorists. Once we as a society let the minority (those who take a radical, possibly militaristic standpoint) speak for the majority (those who practice a belief system in a state of harmony and co-existence with the rest of the world), then we have many more problems to be concerned about.
Cover photo courtesy of Muslims at Your Service volunteer Omar Yaqub.