Religion is still an integral part of many modern societies, influencing laws and people’s behavior, as well as the way adherents relate to others in the world. Are religions going away any time soon? Despite what some decry, there is little evidence of that. What is changing is the composition of the world’s believers.
Christianity has been the world’s largest religion for millennia but its reign might come to an end sometime during the current century, overtaken by Islam. Muslims are the world’s largest growing religious group, according to Pew Research,increasing twice as fast as the world population. While the world’s population will likely increase by 32% in the ensuing decades, the number of Muslims will possibly grow by 70%, rising from 1.8 billion in 2015 to around 3 billion in 2060. That would make this group 31.1% of the world’s population rather than the 24.1% that it is currently.
Nothing is more satisfying than the conviction that your enemy lacks the ability to think critically. What could be more gratifying than the idea that the person you are fighting is trapped in an airlock of unreflection? It blesses your struggle, redeems your cruelty, legitimises your violence. If a definition of humanity is the ability to think for oneself, then what could be wrong with fighting the unfree?
The modern pairing of Islam with the incapacity for critical thought is a fairly old gesture – the Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz said Muslims were so fatalistic they wouldn’t even jump out of the way of carts. Over the past fifteen years, however, the internet has enabled and amplified a panoply of voices with this view.
From the digital rooftops, a thousand voices are shouting down Islam as a space inimical to any form of rational reflection: millionaire right-wingers masquerading as free-thinkers such as Bill Maher, Eton-educated “voices of the people” such as Douglas Murray, sophisticated hate-distillers such as Ann Coulter and her not-so-bright British version, Katie Hopkins … even Greek classics professors-turned-Islam experts such as Tom Holland have joined the fray.
Some of the historical acrobatics involved in this gesture are awe-inspiring. Any academic would be laughed out of the room if they suggested St Augustine was somehow complicit in the bombing of abortion clinics, or that the medieval Hohenstaufen culminated in the Third Reich, or that the Renaissance never happened. Almost on a daily basis, however, confident, context-defying lines of continuity are drawn for Islam across centuries and continents, monocausally linking the Ottomans to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), or seventh century theology to attacks on shopping malls. In these re-writings of history, contrary or problematic episodes (such as the vast contribution of the Islamic world to geometry, astronomy and the vocabulary of science in general) are not just left out – anyone even trying to mention them is mocked as a naive, idiot liberal. It’s a wonderful age to be alive.
In the aftermath of the Brussels and Pakistan attacks, we once again find ourselves in a heightened climate of panic and anxiety. The widespread fears emanating from these attacks, while understandable, nonetheless can get the best of us, tempting us to buy into deceitful propaganda that views all Muslims as enemies.
The Christian tradition calls its followers not to bear false witness. So how do we live out this calling? What does it mean not to bear false witness against Muslims in the age of ISIS? Here are three false assumptions, if not outright lies, often repeated about Muslims and terrorism, along with some facts that can help us have more honest conversations about our Muslim neighbors and about the violence we encounter in western nations.
1. Muslims do not condemn ISIS or terrorism.
Every time ISIS-inspired attacks strike close to home, a chorus of voices calls upon Muslims either to condemn ISIS or to speak out more forcefully against them than they are.
The problem with these calls is that they ignore the many instances in which Muslims have condemned ISIS and terrorism. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti, the Arab League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Muslim Council of Britain have all condemned ISIS in no uncertain terms. More than 100 Muslims scholars signed an open letter to al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph, to condemn his interpretations of Islam.
(A LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA NEWSPAPER)
In the age of the “Muslim Ban” and increased Islamophobic hate crimes, Islam is at the forefront of political discourse. Although Muslims are at the center of attention in the media, the public and even at the dinner table, they are rarely involved in these discussions. From conservatives who try to restrict Muslims from entering the United States to liberals who strive to “save” Muslim women, debates and conversations about Muslims occur regularly, but Muslims are not being invited. Islam is discussed by CNN and Fox News, who constantly perpetuate false stereotypes and homogenize Muslims. Although we like to think university campuses are a space for critical thinking and open discourse, the ideas that are pushed by the mainstream media still make their way to schools like the University of Minnesota.
On our campus, there have been several instances of Muslims being targeted. In early November 2016, the Muslim Students Association’s panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge was vandalized with “ISIS” written boldly across the Islamic calligraphy. Just a few weeks earlier, several Muslim Students were personally targeted and had their names and information posted on flyers around campus. Muslim students have reported being harassed on the streets of Stadium Village.
Many false claims about Islam made on the news and by people in positions of power are echoed on campus, having a wider impact on students pursuing ambitious careers in many diverse fields. With the constant negative stereotypes of Muslims, spectators often take these claims as the truth. With disproportionately limited access to positions in media and political power, Muslims are being told what they believe in and what their religion is.
Since the 45th President of the United States took office last January, the social, economic, and cultural landscape of the U.S. has shifted. For the average American, these changes are not terribly pronounced. Sure, their taxes may go up or down a little, and they may not be able to afford health care, but for the stereotypical white, red-blooded American, there is no worry of physical safety nor cultural belonging. This is not the case for many Muslims living in the United States under reign of President Trump.
Islam is the most feared and misunderstood religion in America. Despite notions of American diversity, Americans are grossly intolerant of Islam.
For many years after 9/11 the villain in action movies were Islamic terrorists. The film and television industry capitalizes on popular opinion when selecting the archetypal “bad guy” for the silver screen. These days the villains tend to be Russian or vaguely North Korean, again reflecting the zeitgeist of American mob mentality. Perhaps the term “American” here is disingenuous and I should be more specific. A Pew Research Center survey found, in 2017, that Republicans, white evangelicals, and those with less education are much more likely to express reservations about Muslims and Islam than any other group of Americans. On their “feeling thermometer” from zero to one-hundred where absolute zero indicates the most negative possible rating and one hundred the highest possible favor rating. The average Democrats rated Islam at 56 while Republicans and those leaning towards the Republican party came in at a cool 39. 63 percent of Republican respondents believe that Islam incites violence while only 26 percent of Democrats agreed with that statement. Additionally, Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say that Islam is not part of mainstream American society (68 percent vs. 37 percent) and that there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy (65 percent vs. 30 percent) according to Pew Research Center.
In the popular imagination, Buddhism is synonymous with introspective peace, Islam with violent blind faith. But both conceptions are nothing more than Western fantasy. Revisiting the centuries of Buddhist-Muslim cooperative interaction forces us to rethink our stereotypes.
The Buddhist monastery of Nalanda was founded in northeast India in the early 5th century. Over time it became the premier institution of higher learning in Asia and, much like leading universities today, had a world-renowned faculty working on the cutting edge of the theoretical sciences and a student body drawn from across the Buddhist world. This prestige also brought with it ample gifts from the rich and powerful. At its height Nalanda had an extensive faculty teaching a diverse student body of about 3,000 on a beautiful campus composed of numerous cloisters with lofty spires that “resembled the snowy peaks of Mount Sumeru.” Then, suddenly, the serenity of this Buddhist institution was shattered. In the fall of 1202, Muslim soldiers on horses rode in and hacked down teachers and students where they stood. The once majestic buildings were left in ruins: the savagery was so great it signaled the end of Buddhism in India.
This powerful story has been told countless times. Today it is ubiquitous, appearing in everything from scholarly mono- graphs to travel brochures. Indeed, by its sheer pervasiveness, this one episode has in many ways come to encapsulate and symbolize the entire 1,300-year history of Buddhist-Muslim interaction. As a result, anytime the topic of Buddhism and Islam is mentioned it almost invariably revolves around the Muslim destruction of the dharma.
This is problematic for many reasons, not the least being that the story of Nalanda is not true. For example, not only did local Buddhist rulers make deals with the new Muslim overlords and thus stay in power, but Nalanda itself carried on as a functioning institution of Buddhist education for another century. We also know that Chinese monks continued to travel to India and obtain Buddhist texts in the late 14th century. In fact, contrary to the standard idea promoted by the story that Nalanda’s destruction signaled the death of Buddhism, the historical evidence makes clear that the dharma survived in India until at least the 17th century. In other words, Buddhists and Muslims lived together on the Asian subcontinent for almost a thousand years.
King Abdullah II of Jordan in a new interview said he believes Islam is not fully understood within both the halls of Congress and the walls of the White House when asked about President Trump‘s rhetoric about the religion.
“Whether I’m in Washington in the Congress or with the administration, I think maybe there’s a lack of understanding of Islam,” the Jordanian leader said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
The king defended the religion, saying the foundations of Islam are the same moral virtues seen in other religions such as Christianity and Judaism.
“It is not a religion of hate. We as Muslims believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. We believe in the Holy Virgin Mother. We believe in the Bible and the Torah, and I think this is the way that all of us were brought up,” he told Zakaria.
“When we all greet each other as Arabs and Muslims, we say, ‘As-salamu alaykum’ — peace be unto you,” he added, describing the frequently uttered phrase as “the basis of Islam.”