Tag Archives: muslim

World Religions: Islam – Lecture 11: Islam in the West

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 11: Islam in the West

Currently about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. according to a recent Pew Research Study and an estimated 44 million in Europe.

In the U.S. many groups have converted to Islam from Christianity citing their forced conversion at the hands of slave owners.  Most notable of these groups is the Nation of Islam.  Formed in Detroit in 1930, the NOI represents a splinter of Islam that is more or less completely divergent from core Muslim belief.  They do not observe the five pillars and teach the superiority of the African American race and advocate for a separate Black Muslim nation.

In the mid-60s, there was a movement to align the group more with Islam proper under the leadership of Malcolm X, then a charismatic high-ranking leader in the NOI who converted to Sunni Islam.  Unfortunately, before this revolution could full take hold Malcolm X was assassinated at the hands of the NOI and eventually leadership fell to Louis Farrakhan who holds closely to the original teachings of the NOI.  The belief system of the NOI is diverse and makes for entertaining reading but I will not belabor this article with undo detail.  Suffice to say that the movement’s alignment with Scientology is not merely promotional but at least somewhat stems from shared philosophical sentiment.

Problems for Western Muslims

Previously, Western Muslims were fairly invisible but now with increases in violence they are suddenly shoved into the forefront.  Unfortunately, there seems to be little appetite for proper understanding of the religion and the majority of Westerners merely judge the whole of based on a few blurbs in the news.  For the first time, the West is forced to deal with a group that is divergent from the typical Judaeo-Christian values that it has become accustomed to and therefore judges them all as primitive and violent.

France has gone so far as to outlaw the Hijab in public under the argument that it violates the country’s secular values.  This despite the fact that no other religious icons or practices were impacted.  Since the law was passed in 2011 very few, if any, arrests have been made but the negative impact has been felt by women who report being harassed and even physically beaten by passersby on the street.

The problems for Western Muslims also fall into the more practical.  Muslims must eat Halal, food prepared and butchered according to strict Quranic guidelines but this is not always available in schools.  Holding a job can be problematic unless allowances are made for required facial hair or time off for daily prayers and Friday Mosque.  As we’ve seen in France the Hijab can be problematic as well as general bigotry and hate from the misinformed populace.  To combat these issues, many Muslims have turned to opening Islamic schools and Homeschooling just as many Christian parents do.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 10: Women and Change in Islam

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 10: Women and Change in Islam

The West judges Islam’s treatment of women in terms of the extremes we see in the news.  In reality, the conditions are widely varied from country to country (Note that this lecture is somewhat dated and some of these may no longer be strictly true):

  • Egypt – Women can serve in parliament, but can’t be judges
  • Morocco – 20% of the judges in the country are women
  • Saudi Arabia – Can own land, but are restricted to feminine professions and cannot drive
  • Kuwait – Could not vote until 2005 (after this lecture was recorded)
  • Iran – Wear chadore or hijab, but are professionals and serve in parliament
  • Pakistan – A woman served as prime minister
  • Afghanistan – Cannot attend school; must be accompanied by a male outside the home at all times

The veil or hijab, burqa or chadore is seen as a sign of repression by the west.  The practice varies widely from a simple head scarf to full body covering.  When the tradition started in early Islam it was seen as a sign of high rank within the community.

While the west sees it as a sign of submission, Muslim women for the most part view it as an act that allows them to be free from exploitation as sex objects.  Western women in short skirts and makeup are seen as the ones who are victims of a male society.  In fact, some modern Muslim women have taken up the burqa again despite the fact that their mother’s eschewed them just a generation before.  To the modern Muslim woman, wearing of the veil means that they are valued for who they are and what they have to contribute, not there mere physical characteristics.

Early in its history, Islam gave women rights they’d not had under previous systems.  The Quran is emphatic that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah and both are equally responsible for upholding the five pillars of Islam.  It gave women the right to own property and restricted divorce and polygamy.  Even more importantly it ended the practice of child marriage.

If this is so, then why the inequality we see today?  It must be understood that even with the Quranic edicts in place to establish equality, the larger Muslim society was still largely patriarchal.  In the very earliest days of Islam many women leaders arose and were held up as examples to be emulated.  In fact, it was typical for women to be the first within a household to convert to Islam.  Over centuries, however, the older and more traditional patriarchal tendencies eroded this foundation to the more erratic one we have today.

Much disagreement about this continues even today as old rules are brought under scrutiny.  The law, for example, that in a trial the testimony of two women counts the same as one man still holds sway in over a dozen countries including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  The reasoning for this being that women, it is judged, are not of the proper “temperament” to make these judgments.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 9: Islam at the Crossroads

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 9: Islam at the Crossroads

This lecture, more than the others, doesn’t try to provide answers so much as it attempts to frame the questions that face Muslims in the world today.

There are four Muslim orientations towards faith and the greater world:

  1. Secularists – They believe that the Muslim faith is a personal engagement and that it should have no impact on the larger governance of the world.  “Keep Islam in the Mosque”
  2. Conservatives – Wish to follow tradition and allow for no change over time.  They rely only on past doctrine under the argument that these laws were specifically laid down by God and therefore should be immutable.  Leaders of conservative Muslim groups tend, therefore, to be high-ranking clerics.
  3. Mainstream or Fundamentalist – Beliefs based on Quranic teaching but more flexible and prone to interpretation in view of the world as it is now.
  4. Reformers – Liberal Muslims that borrow heavily from Western thought.  Beliefs are still rooted in the Quran but they draw a distinct line between divinely proscribed law and those rooted in man’s interpretation of those laws.

These groups, and even subgroups within these groups, vary wildly on a few key questions:

  1. What is the role of women?  In some countries, women can’t drive but in others women hold high-ranking political offices.
  2. What is the role of the democratic process in governing?  Some countries hold free elections while others are theocracies.
  3. Where is the separation, if any, between the role of the church in society and that of the government?
  4. What is the status of non-Muslims, or dhimmi?  In some countries, non-Muslims are treated as second class citizens forced to pay a head tax to remain in the country.  In others, they are treated as equals in every way.
  5. Does the hudud, Quranically proscribed punishments such as amputation and stoning, have a place in Muslim culture?
  6. At its heart, all these questions seem to boil down to one: Is the law of God mutable over time as circumstances changes or is it written once and for all time never to be changed?

So while Islam is monotheistic, it is far from monolithic.  There is much diversity and disagreement within the Muslim faith and debate continues daily on these and dozens of other points of view.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 8: Contemporary Resurgence of Islam

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 8: Contemporary Resurgence of Islam

Note: This lecture is an extremely boiled-down version of the history of the 20th century Middle East and very informationally dense even before I try to summarize it.  As such, the reader is encouraged strongly to seek out the source material directly.  This is the most currently relevant and interesting lecture to date but I cannot really seek to do it justice.

The current political states of the Middle East were created, for the most part, by European colonial powers after World War I.  These states were put together with little regard for history or demographics of the area and so it should come as little surprise that decades later they rebelled to form their own governments that more accurately reflect the people being governed.

Historically, these states have fallen into two basic groups

  • More secular governments were favored by the West and looked upon as more ‘Modern’ and easier to deal with.  As is typical, the West confuses “better” with “more like us”
  • Muslim governments are looked down upon as backwards or antiquated and fall out of favor with the west unless there’s some direct economic benefit to be had by dealing with them.

In 1967 the third Arab-Israeli War, or Six-Day War, tripled the size of Israeli-held territory while Arab forces from Egypt, Jordan and Syria were soundly defeated.  Even more importantly, Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam was no longer under Arab control.

In the Muslim community this set up a bit of an identify crisis.  Why had Allah abandoned the faithful?  This war become the rallying cry for a massive movement to reject Western identity and replace it with a stronger affirmation of the Islamic past and traditional values.

Over the ensuing decades, a quiet non-military revolution ensued in many countries in which educated Muslims rose to political power and replaced their previously secular governments.  Those old governments had been supported by the Western powers that had helped established them in the first place and met with resistance from their own militaries as well as old allies.

Despite being legitimate democratically elected governments, they also came under fire from Muslim extremist groups who considered them still too liberal.  Meanwhile Western powers feared them simply because of their religious backgrounds and resorted to a sort of secular fundamentalism.  Western governments seemed all too willing to support governments of any sort as long as it’s economically beneficial to do so.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 7: Islamic Revivalism – Renewal and Reform

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 7: Islamic Revivalism – Renewal and Reform

Note: This lecture in particular becomes very specific and talks in great detail about specific movements and various persons within those movements and their own personal roles and motivations.  In these notes I have endeavored to eschew the specific and instead focus on the big-picture of what is being described.  As a result, this section has boiled off more completely than others and will appear relatively short.  This brevity is not a reflection of the relative importance of this topic over others.

In the 17th through 20th centuries Islam went through a bout of moral and social decline.  The Quran teaches that each century a Mujaddid will appear at the turn of each century to revive Islam and cleanse it of improper elements.

All movements had to deal with a few fundamental questions:

  • Firstly, what is the role of the West?  Is it a source of corruption or is it a force for modernity to be adapted to and learned from?
  • Which portion of the Muslim faith is eligible for change and modernization and which ones are not?  Some movements went as far as to allow logic and reason to supersede even the direct written word of the Quran.
  • What caused the social decline of the Muslim community in the first place?  Was it because it had become too backward or failed to keep up or did the Western world invade and make it stray from the right path?

Conservative or Fundamentalist movements tended to condemn Sufi practices and many important artifacts and monuments were destroyed even those related to the prophet himself.  These movements rejected modernization and considered the influence of the West as a purely corrupting influence.  The correct path, they would argue, is to return to the simplest underlying tenants of Islam and leave it at that.

Modernist movements rejected outright the idea of regression to a previous age and argued that the reason for stagnation stemmed directly from the tendency to cleave on to antiquated modes of thinking.  If Islam was to survive, it must adapt as it always had and return to the Golden Age of Islam in which the community had become a keen patron of the sciences.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 6: Paths to God – Islamic Law and Mysticism

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 6: Paths to God – Islamic Law and Mysticism

Islamic law is derived from three sources:

  • Sharia – the teachings of the prophet as embodied in the Quran
  • Sunnah – the example of the prophet
  • Ijtihad – human interpretation of Sharia and Sunnah by the Ulama (scholars) and application of common sense and reasoning.  For the Shia community, this last takes a secondary role to collected writings not recognized by the Sunni community.

The law is designed to establish definitively what it means to be a good Muslim and create a just society that is equitable to all.  For the Muslim faith, action and obedience to the law is considered much more important than questions of theology.

The law covers two basic areas:

  • Duties to God – essentially, the Five Pillars previously discussed
  • Duties to Others – rules about public and family life

Family Law – Family law covers three basic topics which will be outlined below.  It should be noted that these laws vary greatly from region to region to conform to some degree with local customs and have over time evolved significantly.  Legal opinions are passed down by means of the issuance of a fatwa, a formal legal opinion given by a Mufti.

  • Marriage – previous to the Muslim faith, women were treated essentially as a possession to be handed out.  Under Sharia, women became a party to their own marriage contracts and could benefit from their own dowries.  Polygamy was regulated and men were limited to four wives but only if they could legitimately support them.  Men and women are viewed to have equal partnership within Muslim marriage but to have complimentary roles with the man working outside the home while the woman is master inside the home.
  • Divorce – while still permitted, divorce is termed “the most abominable” of things allowed by the Quran.  Previously, a man needed merely to utter “I divorce you” to remove his wife from her position.  Now the rules are significantly more complex and the wife is entitled to financial support.
  • Inheritance – woman can now inherit whereas previously it was only the eldest male child which could see money from the death of a parent.

Sufism represents the mystical aspects of Islam and the lecturer’s description made me think of them like hippies.  They are observant when it comes to Islamic law but they find that the law alone isn’t really sufficient.  They seek direct contact with Allah through prayer, fasting and meditation.  Despite being, at times, in conflict with the ulama, since about the 12th century they have worked to spread themselves through the establishment of monasteries that bring to mind monastic aspects of the Christian religion.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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World Religions: Islam – Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

Note: This lecture was quite heavy with lots of detailed history but my real take-aways from it were higher level and more conceptual.  If you want the history, you’ll need to to watch the course.

The Muslim faith is divided into two groups.  The Sunni, which comprise 85% of the population and the other 15% are Shia.  The two only disagree on one key point which pertains to the selection of a leader.  The Sunni believe the most qualified person should lead but that his powers are limited to only the political realm.  Shia believe the direct descendants of the prophet should lead and that this leader should be both a political and a religious one.  Early in Muslim history the preferred Shia leader was martyred by the majority Sunni and thus the Shia have a long-standing feeling of being disenfranchised.

During the first few hundred years of its existence, Islam expanded quickly by assimilating its neighbors and by 750 the Umayyad Caliphate stretched from Spain and North Africa to Iraq and Pakistan.  Rather than destroy culture and infrastructure during conquest, the Caliphate preferred a process of assimilation in which local custom was adapted and the conquered could choose to either convert to Islam, pay a poll tax or if they refused even that they would be killed.  This policy was much less strict than that exercised by the Byzantine or Persians during their conquests of the same area.

The Golden Age of Islam stretched from the 8th century through the 13th and saw a great surge in the development of art, architecture and the sciences.  In fact, during the last half of the era, Europeans gained key knowledge from the the Caliphate including the recovery of some key Greek works that were previously lost and only found again through their Arabic translations.

The Crusades stretched from 1095 though 1453 and represented, among other things, an attempt by the Papacy under Pope Urban II to advance the political position of the church in Europe.  By 1099 Jerusalem is captured and Muslims, Jews, women and children are butchered and much of the city destroyed.  When the city was recaptured in 1187 the proceedings were much less bloody.  The Crusades ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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