Islam as Religion
by Rebecca Bynum (June 2009)
A speech given to the New English Review Symposium May 30th 2009.
In describing Islam, many political commentators use words like radical, political, extremist or militant as qualifying adjectives or they use the words Islamism or Islamo-fascism in order to specify their criticism is of the political side of Islam and are careful to exhibit no hostility toward Islam as a religion. This approach caters to the prevailing political orthodoxy by implying that there is an overwhelming majority of Muslims devoted to the good religious Islam with only a small subset of extremists fighting for the bad political Islam, which Muslims themselves don’t necessarily endorse. We call this the “two Islams formula.”
Politicians love the two Islams formula, in fact, both administrations since 9/11 have subscribed to it, because it means they don’t have to do anything about Islam. Muslim immigration, mosque building, Islamic schools, proselytizing in our prisons and military, and the infiltration of our institutions by Muslim Brotherhood front groups all go untouched. Politically, we are limited to fighting terrorism and terrorist financing and that is it. Not surprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood loves this formulation and actively promotes it as well because it gives them religious cover for everything they do. We must recognize that the actual imposition of Shari’a law is the final stage of Islamization. So if we aim our attack on Islam’s political system alone and don’t deal with Islam as a religion, we will find the battle lost before it begins.
Shortly after 9/11, my husband, Hal Bynum, and I were in New York on the Joey Reynolds’ Show on WOR, when Hal banged his first on the table and said, “Islam is not a religion!” At the time, I thought he was going a little far, but today, after 8 years of study, I find myself returning to his original insight. As you will hear later, Geert Wilders makes the same assertion- that Islam is not a religion - and therefore should receive no religious protection from the state. So the question is, is this an avenue we should pursue?
To examine this question we have to look at religion as a whole. Now, I know a lot of you, especially you men, are worried that if you get too close to religion a great chasm will open up and incense and herbal tea will suck you right down into it. And you’re right to be wary of the strength of religion. Religion is the most powerful force in human affairs, bar none. Ideology alone doesn’t come close. Religion is the prime mover because religion forms the basis of a shared worldview. From this basic worldview grows culture and from culture societal structures are formed and the final fruits of this process are political systems. Our culture, social affairs and politics are ultimately anchored in morality and morality is anchored in the basic world view derived from religion.
Religion answers the primal question, what is the nature of reality? Do we inhabit a benevolent universe, a malevolent universe, or an indifferent universe? This is not trivial question and its answer determines the basis of all human interaction.
So let’s look at what religion does or ideally what religion should do. The following categories may not perfectly fit every religion, but I have tried to make them broad enough to cover Hindusim and Taosim on the one hand and Judaism and Christianity on the other.
1) Religion must exalt value. It must constantly point toward truth, goodness and beauty and their combination in divine love as the highest reality. Religion must exalt value above matter and physics, above mind and logic, above all other perceived reality. This is not to say that religion is irrational, it is not, but spiritual reality as it is perceived in the form of truth, goodness and beauty must be exalted as the ultimate source of order, therefore, logic cannot supersede value. In other words, truth must measure the content of mind, not mind the content of truth. This is the essence of religious thinking. When the human mind becomes the measure of all things, we have left the realm of religion and have entered the realm of ideology.
2) Religion must advance morality, and it must do so both for the individual and for civilization as a whole. Because for all the material advancement of civilization – advancement in science, advancement in technology and the advancement in material comfort - one must still ultimately measure the advancement of civilization by its moral progress. If you read Richard Rubenstein’s work on the Holocaust, you will understand what I am talking about.
3) Religion must nurture the individual and help him pursue the higher values, which is the ultimate goal of religion. All true religion fosters righteousness, the desire for truth and the sensitivity to beauty in the individual. The goal of religious living is the attainment of those values as living realities in one’s life.
4) Religion must preserve wisdom. Words of the God-knowing men of the past must be preserved for those seeking spiritual guidance in the present and future. Both Judaism and Hinduism have preserved religious documents for thousands of years. No easy feat before the time of the printing press and other technical advances we take for granted now. Today, religious wisdom is in danger of being lost in the general crush of information and entertainment, so religion’s task may be even harder today.
5) Religion must foster peace and social harmony. The promotion of empathy, tolerance and forgiveness among individuals, along with a sense of universal brotherhood is one of the most important aspects of religion.
6) Religion must hold to the transcendent purpose of reconciling man to a greater reality - it must lead man to God and bring God, or Love, if you will, into the life of man in ever increasing measure. Religion must always stand apart from the social and political institutions of the society it exists. Its function is not to uphold the status quo, its function is to show man a higher reality.
Of course, practically every religion has fallen short in these categories at some time or another. Most have become entangled in political affairs and many have from time to time lost the clarity of their spiritual vision. That goes without saying, but I am compelled to say so in anticipation of various objections from the “Christianity is just as bad” crowd.
So, how does Islam stack up? Let’s take them one at a time.
1) Does Islam exalt value? No.
Islam actually denies the reality any value higher than Islam itself. Islam essentially acts as a substitute God because it is presented as the will of God for all mankind for all time. Religion, as normally conceived, regards the will of God, outside a few general moral injunctions, as a matter for each individual to discover. In Islam, the “will of God” is a set of rules governing the most minute and personal aspects of behavior. Furthermore, Islam continually elevates the material over the spiritual, so much so, that values are essentially blocked from the consciousness of many Muslims. Let me give you an example. The following are the words of the father of a failed female suicide bomber:
“'If I had known what [my daughter] was planning I would have told the Jews. I would have stopped her.”
And of course the interviewer is thinking, of course. The man loves his daughter and any person would be appalled at indiscriminate mass murder. Of course, he would have tried to stop her. But then the father goes on to explain why he would have stopped her:
“In our religion it is forbidden for a girl's body to be uncovered even at home. How could a girl allow her body to be smashed to pieces and then collected up by Jews? This is absolutely forbidden.”
Mass murder is not the issue. His daughter’s suicide is not the issue – the issue is the purely material matter of her body parts lying uncovered in the street for strange men to see and then being collected by Jews, which, since Jews are in the same unclean category as feces and urine, defiles them further and brings a double shame on the family. The dead and maimed are beside the point. This is an extreme example, but in the years I have spent studying Muslim culture and attitudes, I can tell you it is part of a pattern that is repeated all the time. Islam comes first, life comes second and matter is elevated over value.
2) Does Islam advance morality? No.
Islam retards morality not only by elevating a set of arbitrary rules above spiritual value as we have just seen, but also because Islam lacks a true guiding moral structure.
All human beings are subject to pressure from two poles of passion broadly described as sentimentality on the one hand and brutality on the other. Between those two poles lies culture, which informs us how we should feel and should conduct ourselves in any given set of circumstances. Culture lends refinement to our emotions and informs and enforces self control. There can be no culture without self-control.
The skeleton of culture is morality - the enjoining of that which is right. Without a cultural morality requiring self control, man lurches from sentimentality to brutality with nothing between to balance or to refine emotion. This is exactly what we see among Muslims. They seem to lurch between weeping over dead babies on Al Jazeera to beating up their wives and children with no self-control whatsoever. Islam enforces self-control only in the sense of conformity to Islam. This is often disguised as moral consciousness, especially when enforcing conformity on women, but is it? Obviously, conformity and morality are not the same thing.
Islamic morality collapses in on itself because it is based on two things: 1) expediency (that which is good for the Muslim community is good in itself) and 2) the word and deeds of Muhammad (whose words and deeds were often immoral). So, without a true moral structure to uphold it, Islamic culture collapses into barbarism and Muslims themselves exhibit an extreme emotionalism lacking all self-restraint.
Of course this very emotionalism is what causes the authorities in the West to treat Muslims like children who cannot be expected to exhibit self-control.
Culturally speaking, though Muhammad is claimed to be the final prophet in the Hebrew line, he certainly cannot be said to have advanced morality beyond the point where Jesus and the olden prophets left it six hundred and fifty years earlier. In Islam, morality is defined as obedience to Islam and therefore the higher moral nature of Muslims is suppressed and even denied, because again, in Islamic thought, there is nothing higher than Islam.
3) Does Islam nurture the individual? No.
The individual is sacrificed at every stage of his life for the sake of Islam. All of life is thought to be a test of the willingness to sacrifice happiness (which means, in effect, the pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty) for a promise of life in the hereafter. The exercise of individual freedom and the pursuit of value through either the questioning of Islam or leaving Islam are both viewed as treason and are punishable by death. That way, ideas dangerous to Islam are not spread among the collective – which is often described as one body. In Islam the collective is always elevated above the individual. The rough edges of individuality must be suppressed in order that Islamic society will run smoothly. We can see quite clearly that for women, at least in public, individuality is entirely erased by the veil.
4) Does Islam preserve wisdom? No.
Islam defines everything existing before the coming of Islam as the time of ignorance. The wisdom of old is therefore rejected and destroyed whenever possible. In addition to religious works, this includes cultural artifacts, art, literature and music.
Islam, as we know, claims to be an Abrahamic religion and yet has thrown out all the literature preserved by the other two genuine Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity, which in itself should disqualify it as an Abrahamic religion. It would be like a church claiming to be Christian while throwing out the New Testament. Despite the fact that this makes no sense whatsoever, everyone from the Pope on down seems to accept the claim that Islam is an Abrahamic faith without question.
Muhammad made his claim to be the last of the Hebrew prophets, the seal of the prophets in fact, by advancing the idea that he was descended from Abraham through the bastard line of Ishmail and co-opted the legend that Hagar and Abraham journeyed 750 miles through the desert on foot with a baby to Mecca even though there is absolutely no independent historic substantiation of this at all. There is, however, a record of the descendents of Ishmail remaining in the area of Hebron in the Bible. It is recorded that Ishmail attended his father Abraham’s funeral there, which is another reason why the Bible is rejected by Islam.
According to the Bible, Muhammad absolutely could not be the final prophet in the Hebrew line. The Jews of Medina are on record as having pointed this out, which is why Arabia is Judenrein today and Islamic antisemitism persists.
5) Does Islam foster peace and social harmony? No.
Islam is a recipe for perpetual war. Not only does Islam divide the world into the believers vs. non-believers who known as the “enemies of God,” but there is also perpetual warfare within Islam as well. Samuel Huntington called this the bloody borders and bloody innards of Islam. In the newspapers everyday we witness the fact that on average, more Muslims are killed by their fellow Muslims than non-Muslims are killed by Muslims and this despite the fact that around two million south Sudanese Christians and animists have been killed by Muslims in the last two decades. As Bill Warner has estimated, in the last 1400 years, Islam has caused the death of 270 million people and counting. With the destructive potential of the weapons they are quickly acquiring, it would not surprise me if another 100 million are added to that total in this century.
6) Does Islam hold a transcendent purpose? No.
One of the most important points to make about Islam is this: the purpose of Islam is the perpetuation of Islam. Islam literally has no higher purpose. It sacrifices human beings on the alter to itself and for no higher purpose than to spread Islam. If you’re looking for a greater meaning or value than that, you won’t find it.
In conclusion, though Islam resembles a religion superficially and harnesses the religious impulse for its own perpetuation, the case can be made that Islam is not a religion in any meaningful sense. Ask a Muslim a spiritual question and you will receive a material answer. If you ask a Muslim, “What do you believe in?” The answer will be something like, “We believe you have to pray five times a day, fast at Ramadan, go on the hajj to Mecca” and so on. And if you press the point, you will get a lot of detail about each ritual. “First you have to wash, first this foot then that foot then this arm, then that arm, then this nostril then that nostril…” By the time you get through all that you’ve forgotten what the question was. The Muslim questioned may actually think he has explained his religion to you. If you persist and ask why a ritual is performed, you will get a story about Muhammad - Muhammad said so or that’s the way Muhammad did it. Islamic rituals, elaborate as they are, have little or no symbolic meaning beyond that.
Just because Muslims themselves are convinced Islam is a religious faith, doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept it as such under our laws, laws that were meant to foster religions that exalt value, advance morality, nurture the individual, preserve wisdom, promote peace and that have a transcendent purpose. If we remove, or at least bring into question, Islam’s status as a religion, it will allow us to deal effectively with Islamization by regulating immigration, mosque building, Islamic schools and proselytizing in prisons. The foiled synagogue bombing in New York demonstrates how serious the problem of prison conversion is and it will only get worse.
Scientology, for example, is not recognized as a religion in every nation and scientology, as far as I know, is not inherently seditious and a danger to the state and to our citizens the way Islam clearly is. But, even if we do not consider its political aspects when considering the status of Islam, I believe there is enough on religious grounds alone to disqualify it as a religion in the Western world.
We don’t need to outlaw Islam, but we don’t need to grant it religious cover, either.
To comment on this article, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish interesting articles like this one, please click here.
If you have enjoyed this article, and would like to read more by Rebecca Bynum, click here.
Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click
here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.