29 June 2007

The peace faction has got it wrong

They all sound the same - these articles that say Islam is a religion of peace. How convincing can they be? How effective in the battle against extremism? Full essay.


~[z][x]~ said...

I think you need to define what you mean by "an injection of secular humanist values as antidote to total reliance on religious teaching"

Religious fundamentalism is a reactionary attitude that arises when the religious community sense a potent threat to their faith/way of living. If this "injection" is conducted with an attitude of teaching "people to be sceptical of the whole she-bang", or to mock one's religiosity, I believe your plan will backfire quite dramatically. Indeed it will only add fuel to the fire.

I think a better alternative lies in teaching the religious community to read their scriptures intelligently and also, widening their understanding of other faiths to appreciate commonalities and respect differences.

You are right to point out that John L.Esposito was not convincing in dispelling the notion of violence from Islam. But instead of insisting that Islam must therefore be violent, why not dwell longer in these verses and question:

1) What was the political situation then when the Prophet issued these 'violent' commands?

2) Who really, were the Prophet referring to at that point in time, in that setting, as "Idolaters" and "those who believe not in God"? Is it fair to refer them interchangeably with "Non-Muslims" TODAY?

Perhaps many of us, the concerned Non-Muslims, and Muslims of course, ought to be more scrutinizing and diligent in reading up and learning about Muhammad/The Koran. Maybe then could we see a totally different face of Islam altogether.

I wrote to the ST with regards to the article by Zakir Hussian, from a not so "be sceptical of the whole she-bang" perspective though:

I refer to the articles “Muslim world needs moral and intellectual leadership” by Mohammed Ali and “Fight extremism by demolishing us-versus-them world view” by Zakir Hussain (ST Insight, June 22). While I heartily concur with many of the salient points brought up by these two authors, I believe a deeper investigation into the fundamental roots of religious extremism is imperative for this ideological battle to be won.

I would like to suggest that the “us-versus-them” world view described by Mr Hussain, as with the “fundamental radicalism” by Mr Ali, are but the mere consequences of an underlying and seemingly mild problem shared by but most religious people – the perceiving of one’s religion as superior above the rest.

The sense of religious superiority is the necessary and foundational platform for any extremism to take root. A moderate Muslim will not suddenly decide overnight to wage militant jihad against non-Muslims. His “conversion” to extremism is a long yet systematic path. The fundamental ground upon which this path can be walked is, however, his initial belief that his religion, or sect, is the only legitimate holder of truth.

Unless this intolerant view is honestly and adequately tackled, the roots of religious extremism will never be eradicated. I find it extremely disappointing therefore, that during the persecution of the “apostates” Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan in 2006 and Lina Joy of Malaysia recently, the Islamic authorities in Singapore have chosen to remain silent. Surely, the outright condemnation of such illiberal behaviour is morally, socially, and religiously (as the Koran clearly forbids compulsion in religion) justified. On the contrary, the act of remaining silent would reinforce the dangerous perception held by many Muslims that because Islam is superior, it can be rightful for an individual to be denied the absolute freedom of conscience such that the interests of the religion are “protected”. Gradually, when one is convinced that the subsequent rights of others can each be overridden as well for one’s superior religion, the path towards extremism has essentially been completed.

This intolerant and uncritical understanding of the faiths of others is not confined to Islam alone. As one who grew up in a church, I am equally disturbed by the fact that while I have listened to countless sermons on the importance and urgency of evangelism, (the conversion of others to Christianity), I have yet to hear a single sermon appealing to Christians to try at least, to humbly and graciously understand the truths and beauty of the many religions we can boast of in our multi-religious community. It dawns upon me as deeply ironic and hypocritical for the Church to see the eager attempt to convert others as a “loving and humble” act when most of the evangelizing Christians do not even know anything of the other faiths that they are persuading people away from!

In the words of the liberal theologian Keith Ward, “we must affirm our own beliefs with total commitment” but equally important, to “understand the highest motives that lead others to take other spiritual paths than ours”, which I see as so lacking in our society today. Religious extremism can only be eradicated when religious leaders are as enlightened as to appreciate the diversity of the human recognition of divine truth and become sufficiently bold and humble to preach not the superiority of one’s faith, but the validness of another, and how we can work with others to achieve common social goods such as mercy and justice.

Victor said...

Exactly. The Muslims should learn from the Christians how to achieve a more "liberal" interpretation of their Holy Book. Christians nowadays, when faced with scientific findings that contradict their faith or passages that run counter to modern moral norms, would say that these verses are "just figurative". A wonderful way to have your cake and eat it too.

~[z][x]~ said...

Oh no, Victor, they shouldn't.

Because of course, it is so much more PRACTICAL, AMIABLE and DESIRABLE to tell the 3.5 billion Muslims and Christians in the world - "Be sceptical of the whole she-bang and embrace the infallible ideology of secular humanism NOW!" than to invite them to utilize common sense in reading their Holy Books so that we might all co-exist peacefully.

Yes indeed. You are so right.

Wolfgang said...

Hi Victor,

I think you have opened a can of worms. I know a lot of Churches whose members believe that the bible is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

These Christians believe that the Universe and the earth was created in 6 days, evolution doesn't happen (they believe in creationism or intelligent design as they call it now). They scoff at scientist because the bible 'answers' all their 'scientific' questions.

I really have no idea how many Christian fundamentalist there are but it seems (to me that is) that their numbers seems to be growing each year.

I just hope that Singapore as a predominately Buddhist nation will never turn into what USA is today. A place where Christan fundamentalism rules and both policies and laws are made because "the bible says so", ignoring all scientific evidence that says otherwise.

Saltwetfish said...


on the contrary, we are seeing a rise in right-winged Christian fundamentalism from the US and some of these groups like Focus on the Family and Church of our Saviour and Liberty League have very strong influences and links to our government and education.

There is also a push for Intelligent Design which contradicts any peer review scientific evidence and replaced their own "scientific" evidence based on the bible.

This is not different from what they have been doing with Narth institute try to find "scientific" evidence for their violence and aversion towards homosexuals.

Anonymous said...

Wolfgang, I hope that singapore wont turn into the US too but Im not quite sure if singapore will remain largely buddhist for too long. Im a buddhist and I've seen a couple of my peers convert to other religions, ok, namely christianity...
Buddhism is seen as a superstitious religion, a mish mash of taoism to most of them.
When in fact, it is not. But that was what they were taught as kids, unfortunately.
They are the most vulnerable to conversion.

Anonymous said...

IMO if you were to go on looking for answers via the 'religious/region' avenue, you will continue to be sadly disappointed.

To my mind the problem is none other than that of one of western capitalism and imperialism disguised and preached as 'democracy' in the countless hypocritical manners and forms, ranging from international financial/economic to green/conservation issues, that western countries interface/deals with the rest of the non-western world. The leading perpetrator of such schemes and hidden agenda being none other that the US.

Just cast your mind around and ask: what issues that dominates the world today does not have the overt/covert hands of the US in them?

Anonymous said...

Your argument that less religion is the solution is academically tantalising (given the European experience)but is not workable. Try telling a billion (give or take a 100 million) muslims that what they need is less relgion, fat chance I say :)