There is a frenzy of flummery about Islam in this newspaper, on radio and television, and even from pulpits across America. I suspect most of it comes from people who never actually met a Muslim. We Americans used to be a people who challenged ignorance and prejudice, but perhaps that noble sentiment died on September 11. We are different now. Ignorance and prejudice are perfectly acceptable when directed against a billion Muslims. Any outrageous thing can be said about Islam as long as it’s declared with authority and wrapped up in the lingo of God and Country (it helps to throw in a few book titles). Even the most boorish comments are quickly dismissed as harmless good ol’ boy racism or a sort of benign bigotry du jour, the stuff of whispered off-color jokes in polite company.
Our history is littered with discarded invective, fading artifacts of bygone hatreds and irrational fears. Perhaps this too shall pass. Perhaps we’ll look back some day and relegate these dark years to our pantheon of shame. I sure hope so. The foolishness that is written and spoken of Muslims today pollutes our cultural landscape and cheapens our conversation as much now as when we once freely used racial and ethnic slurs to mock and denigrate others. Most of it is intentionally misleading, lies and distorted half-truths cleverly crafted to justify injustice and to keep Americans in a perpetual state of fear.
As long as we cower before mirages of an imagined horde of infidels arrayed against us, we are a diminished America. Our founding revolutionaries wondered whether the day would come when we would abandon our liberties and our principles for the twin illusions of peace and prosperity. Well, our liberties are waning. And this unchecked season of intolerance has certainly sullied our principles. A handful of terrorists and the apocalyptic visions of a warmongering prince have made us so fearful of improbable dangers that, in many ways, we have become that nation of endless warfare and mind-numbing “breaking news” that George Orwell predicted nearly 60 years ago.
Are we still the same nation that once believed “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights?” Or has fear and loathing of Islam changed us forever? Aren’t Muslims also created equal? Aren’t Muslims also endowed with certain rights, or did the Creator limit those to just Americans, and more specifically, to just those Americans who profess some sanctioned variant of Christianity (or anything but Islam)? As long as we tolerate the pompous presumption that we are better than everyone else, as long as we fail to challenge poisonous rhetoric about any religion or people, then those famous words from our Declaration of Independence are as meaningless as a forgotten fable.
Last summer, a provocative essay began circulating on the Internet. It asked the question “Can a good Muslim be a good American?” Not surprisingly, the author’s emphatic answer was NO!
Fortunately, the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) responded with objections to each of the points raised in the essay. ABTS was established by American Southern Baptists back in 1960, back in those halcyon days when Middle Eastern cities were still naming their streets for U.S. Presidents. Here are a few excerpts from the essay that address some of the sillier ideas about Islam that seem to resurface every few weeks. ABTS’ comments are inserted after each answer.
The essay’s opening question: Can a good Muslim be a good American?
[essay’s] Answer: Theologically, no, because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia.
ABTS: As indicated by the name of Muhammad’s father “Abdallah,” Allah is the Arabic name for God probably used by Arab Christians long before Islam. Most likely its root is the Syriac word “Allaha” which was used by Syriac Christians since the second century.
ABTS: With this in mind, if “Allah” comes from the name of the moon god of Arabia, then it may be argued that “Elohim” is the plural version of “El,” a Semitic pagan head divinity; and that “Theos” is the generic name of any Greek Divinity; and that virtually every other appellation of God in European languages, such as “Dieu,” “God,” “Gott” and others were adopted into Christianity from pagan religions and rites of the regions that adopted the Christian religion.
[essay’s] Answer: Religiously, no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256).
ABTS: Looked at from this angle, it can be argued that neither does Judaism accept the legitimacy of Christianity or Islam. Nor does Christianity accept the legitimacy of Islam while it restricts itself to a specific interpretation of Judaism that may be described as Christo-centric. A historical reflection can lead to the argument that Islam’s institution of Dhimmi status guarantees more religious tolerance for minorities than Christianity did in the Medieval period.
[essay’s] Answer: Domestically, no, because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).
ABTS: Here again, it must be clarified that a Muslim is not “instructed” to marry four women but rather is “permitted” to do so on condition that he treats each of them equally and fairly. This reflects medieval tribal norms that were current in Arabia at the time of the rise of Islam. It does not justify these teachings, but at least places them in context. On the other hand, the more “spiritual” Muslims of today will not favor polygamy, and certainly scourging one’s wife is viewed as barbaric by educated Muslims. The problem is not religious. It is cultural and depends on people’s level of education.
ABTS: Perhaps this warrants a reflection on one’s own non-Muslim society and the increasing number of divorces and remarriages, not to mention the tolerance for sexual immorality and adultery that is widespread in non-Muslim societies. How do we think that Muslims view these aspects of Western cultures? The same applies for domestic violence – particularly in North America.
[essay’s] Answer: Philosophically, no, because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.
ABTS: Once more we kindly recommend a thorough and in-depth study of the on-the-ground realities including North American support to dictatorial Islamic regimes in various countries and regions of the world. One anticipated outcome is a reflection on how overly abused and misused is the term “democracy” in our day today. Perhaps, the concept of democracy needs to be revisited to highlight the striking variance between the concept itself and its application.
[essay’s] Conclusion: Therefore after much study and deliberation…. perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both “good” Muslims and good Americans. Call it what you wish…it’s still the truth!
ABTS: In reality, the afore-mentioned statements reveal that not much in-depth study has been made. We are Arab Christians who live in a majority culture and amongst our team are people who have done thorough studies and earned doctorate degrees in the field of Islamics. Moreover our Institute of Middle East Studies holds annual Middle East Conferences (during the third week of June) with the objective of creating a better understanding of Islam and Muslims. May I kindly take this opportunity to invite the “writer” and others who are interested in gaining a better understanding of our context to attend these events?