CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 14, 2016 — It is an understatement to say that the Middle East is a whirlpool of confusion. Understanding the many nuances of Islam is key to comprehending the struggles in that region.
In early January, Hugh Fitzgerald, managing editor of the “Iconoclast,” a blog in the New English Review, wrote an eloquent article explaining the fundamentals of Islam’s history and its continuing battle with itself. His article, written with complex nuance of its own, is not an easy read, but in the end, it offers a mini-history of Islam and a poignant question that suggests a solution to the Middle East crisis.
“Let’s begin with the all-encompassing nature of this faith,” writes Fitzgerald. “Islam is a Total System, a Complete Regulation of Life, a Complete Explanation of the Universe. The True Believers in Islam are consumed by their demands of their faith. There is no such thing as ‘wearing one’s faith lightly’ when that faith is Islam.”
This is basic to understanding Islam. What makes Fitzgerald’s observation so maddening is that so many people in the West do not “get” his basic premise.
Fitzgerald describes the tools Islam uses to spread its message:
Among those instruments are economic warfare (less of a threat now that the “oil weapon” has so obviously faltered, and oil producers are desperate for customers), propaganda and diplomatic warfare, and the latest instrument of Jihad, demographic conquest, through the large-scale movement of Muslims into non-Muslim lands, where through their mere presence they gain political power and inhibit the freedom to maneuver of political leaders and the freedom of speech of people who become too fearful to speak out about Islam.
Fitzgerald explains the hypocrisy of Islam, which is another strategy employed by the faith to further justify its goals;
As Muslims like to say, meaning something quite different, “Islam is not a monolith.” By that phrase they attempt to inhibit non-Muslims from ever speaking about something called “Islam” because—since it is “not a monolith”—any such generalizing attempt would be false. Yet in the basic tenets and teachings, in the centrality of the Quran, in the agreement as to which are the most authoritative collections of Hadith, in the understanding of what constitute the Five Pillars of Islam, the faith called Islam is indeed a “monolith.”
One aspect of Islam that befuddles non-believers is how and why it continues to grow when it has such obvious ties to extremist thinking. Politically correct politicians and many scholars like to point to the hopelessness of high percentages of people worldwide and the appeal that Islam has to the poor.
Fitzgerald goes deeper:
Islam is a universalist faith. It is meant for everyone to accept. And those who among the Ahl al-Kitab, or People of the Book (that is, Christians and Jews), do not accept the full message of Islam—i.e., become Muslims.
The universalism of Christianity does not admit of favoring of one group of Christians over another. In Islam, however, Arabs are privileged. (emphasis added) If Muslims are “the best of peoples,” then among Muslims, “Arabs are the best of peoples.” Islam was revealed to a 7th-century Arab, in western Arabia, and written down in the Arabic language, the same language in which, ideally, the Quran ought to be read.
Arabs know well the advantage of being the birthplace of Islam.
The one-on-one relationship between man and God is a source of strength for Muslims. Islam, in a broad sense, can mean whatever it means for each individual.
Fitzgerald adds, “Muhammad, who for all Muslims, and for all time, remains the Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil) and Model of Conduct (uswa hasana), was, of course, an Arab. No wonder that Islam itself is called ‘the gift of the Arabs.’”
Muslims regard Muhammad as “perfect,” but unlike Christians who claim that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, Muslims do not consider Muhammad to have been divine. The distinction is significant.
Though considerably condensed, the above background lays the foundation for what Hugh Fitzgerald believes is a potential solution for the turmoil we see in the Middle East and around the world today.
When broken down to its lowest common denominator, Fitzgerald’s answer has been proposed by others in much simpler terms. In a later column we will explore Fitzgerald’s conclusions as a possible way to bring the chaos of hatred to an end in that part of the world. Or, at the very least, to contain it.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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