Figure 1.--Here Egyptian boys in 1899 are memorizing the Koran. Islamic education focuses on the Holy Koran and other religious texts. It also heavily emphasizes memorization.

Islam is one of the great monothestic religions. The religion is set forth in the Koran which teaches that there is but one God and Muhammad is his prophet. The word is also used to descibe the civilization and countries in which the Islamic religion dominates. Islam for several centuries while Christian Europe fell into the dark ages and intolerance prevailed, Islam developed a rich often tolerant society. Scholars pursued science, mathematics, literture, and art. Much of this was based on mjor precepts of the Koran. One of those precepts was tolerance for other civilizations and religions, especially People of the Book. Today many of these basic precepts of Islam are questioned by Fundamentalist Islamic scholars. This leads to the question of whether democracy and Islam are comaptible. This is a topic that we are not very familiar with and welcome reader comments and insights.


Islam is new to most Americans. Ironiically the first foreign war fought by America was fought against Muslim pirates in North africa. This set American attitudes toward Muslims and this was fortified by Muslim attacks on the Christian minotity in the Levant. The first Arabs to reach America were Arab Christians fleeing Muslim attacks. Few Muslims emigrated to America until the immigration reforms of the 1860s. America now has a small and growing Muslim minority. Few Americans, however, have read the Koran and other Islamic religious texts and thus know very little about Islam. There are are number of terms used in connection with Islam, many of which are commonly used correctly. We thought it might be a good idea to present some of these terms. While some of the terms are commonly used incorrectly, there is also widespread disagreement as well on some of these terms. Here we want to dismiss common falacies as well as to adress some of the controversial terms used in connection with Islam. Her we welcome reader comments if you care to enter the discussion.

Mohammed (570?-632 AD)

Mohammed was born some time around 570 AD. He grew up in a trading community and was influenced by the many religious traditions of the Middle East. He came to see himself as God's final prophet. The Arabian Peninsula at the time was racked by warring tribes. Mohammed's familt belonged to the Fihr or Quarish/Koreish tribe. This was the dominant tribe in the southern Hijas (Hedjaz) around Mecca. Even before the advent of Islam, Mecca was the both the major religious and commercial center in the Arabian peninsula. The Fihr acquired considerable prestige from their role as gardians of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Kaaba even before Islam was an object of reverance among the Arab tribes who visited Mecca in annual pilgrimages leaving offerings and tributes. Mohammed married Khadija who was a wealthy widow. Mohammed had religious vissions which were set down in the Koran. He tried to convert his tribe in Mecca, but was rejected. Two exceptions were Ali, his son-in-law who married his daughter Fatima, and Abu Bakr. When the people in Mecca tried to kill him, he fled to Medina (622 AD), This is known as the Hegira. Islam bases its calendar on the Hegira. Safe in Medina, Mohammed created a theocraric state based on Islam. War with Mecca followed until Mohammed returned in triumph (630 AD). The prestige of the Fihr was important to Mohammed when he began his religious reform and political effort which led tp the conquest of the Arabian Pm=ninsula and the joining of the various tribes into a single Arab nation with a common religion and legal code a common sacred sanctuary. As an older man Mohammed acuired additional wives, including Ayesha.


Non-Muslim scholars would say that Mohammed founded Islam. A HBC reader tells us that this is not how a Muslim would describe Mohammed. A Pakistani reader tells us, "Any learned reader will immediately know that this is a wrong fact and might question the credibility of your website. For, if Muhammad indeed founded Islam, then he has to be the "first muslim" as well? Right? If so, then how come Muslims consider Adam and Noah and Solomon and David and Moses and Jesus--as MUSLIMS--as part of their faith and as clearly mentioned in Holy Quran?" This may seem like a minor point, but we believe is important and leads to a larger discussion about the nature of Islam.

Spread of Islam

One of the fascinating aspects of Islam is how the new religion of the Arab tribes sp rapidly became one of the major religios of the world and the dominant religiom from Noth Africa west to central Asia. The common concept iun the Wesr is that Islam was spread by the sword. This is an important element in the success of Islam, but it is hardly the only factor. There are a range of economic and social factors which contributed to the success of Islam. Thecweakness of Byzantine Christianity was a major factor. As was the after the conquest, the obvious economic advantages of converting. There were other factors involved. And these factors varied over time and in the different areas in which Islam became the domininant or principal religion. Another interesting question is the strength of Islam in the modern world.

The Religion

Islam is one of the great monothestic religions. Islam is normally divided into dogma, Faith (Iman), and practice (Din). The principal principles of Islam, its doctrine, law, and outlook, are related in the Koran, the “recited Tradition". The most important article of faith and basis of the religion is expressed in the Koran which teaches that "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet. These expressed the two principle tennants Islam: 1) tawheed (Allah's omnisipence) and 2) risallah (Muhammad’s prophethood). Islam's central message as expressed in the Koran is Allah’s absolute command as the god-head meaning the the impossibility of individual human free will. This is a princple similar to Calvin's predestination. Muhammad also promoted the “five pillars” of Islam: 1) recital of the basis of belief--the onness of Alah and belief in Mohammed as the final prophet (shahada), 2) daily prayer (salat), 3) self-purification through fasting (sayam), 4) almsgiving to the poor (zakat), the 5) pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). All of these elements are firmly based in the deeply rooted in pre-Islamic, pagan beliefs and practices in the Aabian Peninsula. Muhammad did concepualize one additional precept for the new religion and that was jihad--holy war. Mohammed insisted that a true Muslim had the obligation to engage in jihad. There is some disgreement among Muslims as to what is meany by jihad. There is no disagreement that jihad is a basic tennant of Islam.

Comprehensive Way of Life

The word Islam is also used to describe the civilization and countries in which the Islamic religion dominates. While Islam is a major religion, it is much more than just a religion as the modern Western world has come to understand the concept. Islam is a life style with a comprehensive social, political and legal system--what the Germans call a Weltanschauung. The difference between Islam and 21st century life styles appears to basr that Islam is not only based 0n 7th century precepts but many Muslims seem unwilling to adjust those precepts to the modern world. And as many observers note, in Islam there has been no Renaissance or Reformation. We commonly note Catholics identifying themselves as Catholics but openly saying that they disagree doctines of the faith as enunciated by the Pope and clergy. This may occur with Muslims in the West, but as far as we can tell this concept is alien to Muslims in Islamic countries.

The Holy Koran

The Koran is a holy book which Islam maintains was delivered to the prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel. Mohammed thus conveyed the Koran to mankind which is why he is often referred to as the Messenger. Muslims do not believe that the Koran was written by Mohammed , but rather a copy of the book that existed in heaven since the beginning of time. The Koran to most Muslims is timeless. This of course means that no pasage of the Koran can be questioned. Of course some Christians view the Bible in the same way, although now a relatively small minority. In the West historians and even religious scholars are able to argue that the Bible has to be seen in historical terms through the evolution of the Jewish people and early Christians. Scholars are even free to maintain that the Bible is a great work of literature and Jesus a great moral teacher, but not divine. This is not possible in Islamic countries. There are incidents of teachers being attacked and killed, sometimes by their own students for expousing such view. The Koran is of course central to the Islamic faith. Thus a knowledge of the Koran is essential to understand Islam. We have only begun to study the Koran. One tooic we have persued is slavery.


Ramadan is the most important celebration of the year to all Muslims. It commemorates the first relevation of the holy Koran. Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month of the year throughout the Islmic world. The Mulim calandar is lunar, thus Ramadan over time occurs during different seasons. Moslems strictly fast during the day light hours. We note the Guirgian celebration in Kuwait.


Islam for several centuries while Christian Europe fell into the dark ages and intolerance prevailed, Islam developed a rich often tolerant society which developed science, mathematics, literture, and art. When the Christains attempted to win back the Holy Lands in the 11th century with the Crusades, they encountered a sworld which was in many ways more advancedc and sophisticated than Christain Europe.

Islamic Sects

All major religions have developed differences of opinion concerning the doctrine and religious interpretation. Several competing Islamic sects developed after the death of Mohammed. The two most important Islamic traditions are the Sunnis and Shites. This division emerged soon after the death of Mohammed. Sunni distrust of Shiites is based historically on the trachery of Ibn Alqami who was a minister to the final Abbasid caliph. Alqami conspired with the Mongol leade Hulaguwho destroyed the Abbasid caliphiate--seen by many as the golden age of Islam. Religious disputes can lead to repression and even war as was the case of Christianity, especially during the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Unlike disputes within other importan treliguions, the disputes between Sunnis and Shites have not yet resulted in a spirit of toleration. Many Sunnis especially the radicalized groups like Al Qaeda hate the Shiites as much if not more than Jews and Americans. Sunni Islam in most countries is dominate in the Middle East. Shiites on the other hand dominate Iran and are a majority in Iraq. They are also important in the Gulf states and a 75 majority in Baharain although the country is cotrolled by Shiites. Shiites are an important minority (10-15 percent) in Saudi Arabia and as Shiites are concentrating in the eastern oilproducing areas, some Saudis see them as a security threat. (Shiites in Saudi Arabia do not have basic religious freedom. Ironically it is only in America and other Western countries that Muslims enjoy true religius freedom and the right to practice their religion freely and without fear.) AlQaeda is trying to use the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites to destablised American efforts to create a democratic regime in Iraq.

Faith and Reason

Islam underwent the same debate between faith and reason that occured in the Christain west. At a time that Christian Europe was mired in dogmatic faith and the learning of the classical era had largely disappeared, there was a flowering of a learning and culture in Islam. Islamic scholars made great advances in mathematics, astronomy, geography, archetecture, and other disciplines. To a large extent these advances were based on translations of classical Greek and Roman texts. Just as Islamic learning was about to move beyond the classics a crisis appeared in the Islamic world. Scholars persued both rational thought and reference to the sacred texts to defend Islam. The two approaches, however, collided and it became increasinly evident that scholars would have to chose one or the other. This was the same crisis that occurred in the European Renaissance. Islam chose the path of faith. The great Islamic scholar al-Ghazali (1058-1111) was the leading theologian which confirmed this choice. Al-Ghazali distrusted rationalistic reason and argued against it ro support Islam. The result was a anti-intelectual outlook best seen in Sufi mysticism which had a profound imapct on spreading the faith. Al-Ghazali's classic work, The Destruction of Philosophy was perhaps the most significant Islamic text after the Koran. It was followed by Ibn Rushd's Distructin of the Distruction which questioned some of Al-Ghazali's domatism. Sultan Mohammed II settled the argument permanently. He ordered Hodja Zada's ( -1487) to resolve the debate in Al-Ghazali's favor. He did so with The Destruction of the Distruction of the Distruction. The result was the destruction of Islamic science. Thus just as the Renaissance was leading Europe in to the modern world, Islam decided to perpetually end any real persuit of modern science. The results continued to this day. Since the time of Al-Ghazali there have been no notable Islamic scientists or important scientific discoveries from the Islamic world. The congregational rote reciting of the Koran and other savred texts in the Islamic madrasas contrast starkly with the energetic thought provking debate of the medieval European universities. One scholar writes, "The existence of hundreds of madrasas, sometimes liberally endowed and well staffed, mrely fastened the dead hand of authority more securely upon Moslem minds." [McNeil, p. 504] One ironic aspect of the modern world situation is that while Islamic fundamentalists catigate the West, it is Western science and medicine that saves millions of lives annually throughout the Islamic world.


Much of the achievements of Islam were possible because of the major precepts of the Koran. One of those precepts was tolerance for other civilizations and religions, especially People of the Book. One of the notable features of socities throughout history that have developed vibrant civilizations and scientific advances are those socities that have tolerated diversity and promoted tolerance. This is because these are societies that are most receptive to news ideas and innovation. This element of toleration appears to have declined in modern Islam. Islam is accepted and allowed to operate along with other religions in modern Western States, amd Muslims have full civil rights. The proprtion of Muslims in several Western countries has grown substantialy in recent years. The same is not the case in many Islamic states or states where Islam is a majority religion. A variety of restrictions are put on other religions and attacks on Christians, Jew, Zoroastrians, and others take place. The non-Islamic populations in many modern Islamic countries has fallen shaply because of repressive measures. Strangely this has taken place at the same time that many Muslims see they and their religion underattack.

International Appeal

Islam in the Medieval Era was a major fprce for unification. One historian writes that Islam was "the single force that did most to unify Eurasia before modern times". [Cook] This was in part because Islam was not as influenced by national and racial differences that affected Christianity and other unifying concepots. There was a unifying message associated with Islam which even survived the transition to non-Arab and non-Middle Eastern peoples.

Muslim Countries

One way of assessing Islam is to study the policies and programs persued in Muslim countries. Here we are talking about modern countries, although historic Islamic societies is another interesting subject. There are several different types of Muslim countries. They include regimes which profess to be Islamic meaning to govern basic on the Koran and other Islamic religious texts. We have referred to these governments as Islamic regimes. A Pakistani reader takes issue with the term "Islamic regime". There are also secular states with majority Muslim populations that have a law code which which may be influenced but not based on the Koran. In these states individuals theoretically are equal before the law regardless of their religion. Many Muslim countries fall in between these two different poles.

The Bedouin

The term Bedouin evolved from the Arabic term "badawi" meaning "desert-dweller". It is a term that has been generally applied first the Arabian nomadic pastoralists, but has come to be used to describe the nomadic peoples living in the desert belt extending from the Arabian Peninsula, Negev, and Sinai through the North African Sahara to the Atlantic Ocean. The Bedouin are divided into two main groups which is reflected in their Arabic dialects. There are eastern and western Bedouin, divided roughly along the Egyptian-Libyan border. The Bedouin are more of a people defined by life style than ethnicity. The Bedouin of Arabia are of Semetic origins. Other Bedouins have more varied origins. The Bedouin are known for a nomadic life style, but their movement is primarily seasonal, and based on the availability of water and grazing conditins. When there is some precipitation they may move deeper into the desert, but during more arid periods move back to areas where water is more available. Given the desert environment, the Bedouin are particularly known for herding camels, but also heard other livestock like sheep, goats and cattle. There are also known for their Handicraft work. The Musli outburst allowed the Arabian Bedouins to move out of the Arabian Peninsula, brining Islam and the Arabic language with them. First they moved to Syria and Egypt (7th century). Gradually the Bedouin moved west, but primarily into North Africa rather than sub-Saharan Africa. The Bedouin population is declining. The nomadic life style was limited by modern national boundaries and the desire of people for a more affluent, sedentary life style.


The name "harem" derives from the Arabic word "forbidden" or "sacred". The harem was the portion of the family dwelling divided off for the female members of the family or household. This wiuld include the wives, concubines, girls, younger boys, female relatives, and female servants. Normally only one wife was involved and she would run the harem, subject to her husband's approval. There could theoretically be more than one wife. The Koran permits a man to have up to four wives, at the time a rather progressive edict. The costs involved, however, limited such mutiple marriages and the assocaited domestic complications, to only the richest and most powerful individuals. There were of course some especially lavish harems, such as those maintained by the famed sultans of Baghdad and Turkey. These harems required vast expenditures to maintain and were run with complex rules and rituals. A corps of eunuchs was established to guard these royal harems. The harem system declined in the 19th century. European morals and social values were becoming increasingly important in the Middle East, especually Turkey. The Turkish sultan's harem was in the Tokapi Palace. Monogamy had become increasingly common by the turn of the 20th century and harems had largely disappered, although most Islamic familes still carefully restricted the movements and activities of female household members. The Turkish Government in 1926 banned polygamy and the harem.

Modern Fundamentalism

Today many of these basic precepts of Islam are questioned by Fundamentalist Islamic scholars. One of the principal features of fundamentalist regims is intolerance to diversity. Not only do fundamentalists reject toleration of other religious faiths, but they are intolerant of other Muslims who differ from their narrow sectarian traditon. This was the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Revolutionary Iran. This extends to more than just religion as the Pastuns who dominated the Taliban brutally supressed other ethnic groups in the country.


Westerners think of the Fascists (Italian Fascists and German NAZIs) and the Communists as the two basic type of totalitarianism. One of course might also add the Japanese militarists. Sme authors have suggested that modern Islamicists are also totalitarians. [Amis] Here Amis does not mean Islam, but the fanatical Islamicists who he sees as perverting a great world faith and creating a radical, bloodthirsy modern addition to the list of totalitarians. And of course even before the out break of modern Islamic fundamentalism there was the Bath which appears to as a kind of perverted amalgum of NAZIs, Communits, and Islam. Here ii is all to easy to misuse these terms and simply label an opponent as a NAZI. (Despite the higher body count of Totalitarian Communists, the term NAZI seems to be the most awful term that one can use in besmering an opponent.) Thus to consider whether the Islamicists are totalitarians, one must define precisely what totalitarianism is and see if the Islamicists truly qualify. There are differences among totalitarians, thus there is not precise list of characteristics, although the NAZIs and Communists do share many common elements. There certainly do seem to be common elements which Islamicists do share with Soviet Communists and German NAZIs. There is a kind of national grevience that their nation or religiou community have been victimized. There is a kind of self-pittying romanticm. Another common factor is a vicious ant-Semitism. We note a rejection of liberal society and individual rights. Here there are two approaches. One is to define democracy itself as decadent. The other is to create a fiction of a more democratic society. And finally there is a rejection of reason itself.


An important subject is the impact of education on Islam. This is a very large topic and will take some time to address. A range of issues need to be addressed. One issue is what the Koran and and other Islamic texts say about education and learning. And then what actually occurs in Muslim societies. We want to consider both historical periods and modern day education. Here we need to condider both Muslim countries and other countries with Muslim minorities. We need to consider both Islamic schools, the madrasses, and the impact of Islam on secular education. Another important topic is gender, especially the education of girls. Another issue clothing and religious symbols in secular schools. Many of the issues touch upon free sppech issues, another toic of importance when studying Islam.


A medressa is an Islamic school with historic traditions back to a time when Islamic socitiy had the most advamnced education system in the world and Islamic scholars were making important advances in mathematics, medicine, and science. The medressa focused on religious education. Islamic qari were trained in the recitation of the QUR'AN at Islamic Medressa such as Al Azhar. A student who studies Islam formally at a medressa is called a talib. (This is the derivation for the Afghanistan Taliban. Much of Afghanistan's Taliban leadership were educated in Pakistani medressas when while living there as refugees from the Soviet occupation.) Most Middle Eastern states founded secular public schools upon becoming independent in the 20th century. Many of these countries have failed economically. Many students emerging from the state schools have had difficulty finding jobs. In addition, except in the oil rich states, public education is poorly funded. Many for a range of economic, political, and religious reasons have turned to Islamic medressa. There are thousands of the schools teaching millions of students throughout the Middle East and other countries with Islamic populations. Many are financed through charities funneling money from Saudia Arabia and oil rich states. These charities do not assist public education in poor Islamic states, only the medressas. There are an estimated 30,000 medressas in Pakistan alone. Children wjho canot aford to attend public schools are oftem enrolled in the medressas. These schools vary widely in funding, facilities, and teacher competence. Many are dominated by fundamentalits with ecxtrme views, in many case a hatred of the West and other religions. Some even promote viloate actions like suicide bombing. Many promotethe messages of jihad, or holy war and drill into the boys the idea that Islam is under attack by America and the West. Absurd reports at many medressas such that Jews were behind the World Trade Center attacks are presented as factual and accepted by the pupils. The medressas are only for boys and the curriculum is very narrowly based: the Koran, the sayings of Muhammad and Islamic Shari'a law. As Government funds are not involved, the governments in most countries, especially Pakistan, have little control over them. Many are boarding estanblishments where the boys spend long hours in prayer and memorizing the Koran. There are normally no TV or radio and the boys can not go to movies. There is also no contact with girls. The only women the boys ee are femal relative on rare holiday, normally during the holy month of Ramadan. It is not only other religions the boys are trained to hate, but also other forms of Islam. Attacks on Shi'ites in Pakistan are believed to have originated in anti-Shi'ite teaching at these schools.

Sharia Law

The term Sharia simply means Islamic law. Sharia is derived from the Koran and other Islamic holy works and precendents. Some Muslims view Sharia as the body of Islamic law established in the past, especially before the 19th century. How a time time can be set on law has no basic in the Koran and seems difficult to justify intelectually. As a result, other Islamic scholars view Sharia as a changing body without any set chronological limits. The essential difference between Sharia and Western secular law is that the separation of church and state in the West. Sharia developed in the Medieval caliphate where as it was a theocracy there was no destinction between religion and state, the Caliphate was an Islamic state. Sharia regulates both public and private relations and merges government, law and religion. Goverments in the West have stopped attempting to dictate religion to its citizens and thus have developed secular law. This is not the case in the Islamic world where other religions to various degrees are supressed. With the rise of Fundamentalism in the Islamic world there has come increasing pressure for the implementation of Sharia. This presents problems for non-Muslim people. And because sime Muslims believe that Sharia is now a fixed body of law based on Islamic works before the 19th centuy, the penalties are in some cases draconian if not barbaric. Quran 5:38 for example percribes a punishment of cutting off a thief's hand.


A German reader writes, "Really I don't think Iraq will become democratic. The underlying reason is Islamism. It is so much amonolithic religion like orthodox jews or even Baptists that I feel we are living something like Crusaders against Saladin. A Holy war. For Michael Lind, Bush convictions are close to Islamist "weltanchaung". That is why it is obsolete to think that religious expression is no longer an aspect of democracy. The fact is that Western civilization has evolved within the context of powerful religious devotion and struggle since the Middle Ages and more evidently at the Renaissance. A kind of 'thesis' and 'antithesis'." We are not sure that we entirely agree with this, but our reader raises an important question--is Islam compatable with democracy. The answer to this question has profounfd consequences for the 21st century. The fact that the only two Arab countries to conduct democratic elections in 2004 are occupied countries (Iraq and Palestine) does speak volumes.

Religious Freedom

One of the essential human rights enshirned in the United Nations Charter is freedom of religion, some times referred to fredom conconcious. It is true that there was some religious toleration in medieval Islam, at least compared to the lack of toleration in Christian Europe. The situation in modern states where Muslims are a majority is a verey different matter. Not only have Jews been persecuted but also Christians and other religions. A substantial nymber of arabs in America are Christian Arabs who emmigrated because of the lack of religious toleration in their countries. The hear of the lack of toleration is that Mohamed taught and it is enshrined in the Kiran that Muslims who convert to other religions should be killed. Such a step is impossible in theocratic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it is putting one's life in danger in any of the majority Muslim states of the Middle East and North Africa. In many countries, it is a serious violation of the law to attempt to convert Muslims.


Religious discussion in the Islamic world has increased in intensity in recet years. Discussions can be settled by men with guns. Dissent in the Islamic world can be a very dangerous matter. This includes adherents of the two major Islamic traditions: Shites and Sunnis. In several countries in the Islamic world minorities are the subject of terror attacks just as are other religions including Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Zoroastrians. This is in sharp contrast to the tollerant traditions of historic Islam. Writers especially writers addressing religion are also the subject of intimidation and attacks. Clerics in Iran have issued fatawas or licenses to kill. The best known author so attacked is Salman Rushdie, primarily because of his novel Satanic Verses. More recently a young Canadian authoress, Irshad Manji, has created a sensation in the Islamic world because of her non-fiction book, The Touble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change. She has addressed many issues dealing with women, but her book is not limited to women's issues.

Islam and Economic Development

Some authors maintain that poverty in the Islamic world is a root cause of the violence in these countries and suggest that economic development is the solution. Fundamentalist demand a more pure form of Islam. In fact it may be Islam that is a fundamental imefiment to economic development. One noted leader explains the stark state of affairs in the Islamic world. "Muslims are probably the poorest, most uneducated, most poweless, and most disunited people in the world." [Musharraf] The question has to be asked why has the Islamic world fared so poorly in the post-World War II world. Islam is the dominant religion in an arc streaching from Indonesia west through central Asia to the Middle East and northern Africa. This area includes countries with many different peoples and widely varying natural resources. None of these countries with the possible exception of Turkey have failed to develop modern vibrant economies. Some of the countries are oil producing countries which have high living standards, but almost entirely financed by oil. Many of these countries have wasted vast sums on military expenditures. In none of these countries have even the vast influx of oil income succeeded in creating a state producing goods and services that are a hallmark of a modern economy. Nor have they succeeded in establishing an educational system producing men and women capable of making important contributions to the modern world. Nobel prizes have not been awarded to the Islamic world. The question has to be asked why. Colonialism is long past. The countries have been indeplendent since the 1950s-60s. Limited resoureces is a problem in some countries, but many of the countries have important natural resolurces. Not only has the Islamic world failed to develop modern economies, but the standard of living in many of these countries have actually declined in recent years. Limited invest capital impairs the economies of some countries, but others have access to investment capital. The one element shared by ols Muslim counties is Islam. Some argue that educatioin in these countries places great emphasis on religious instruction leaving inadequate time for calculus, trignometry and other advanced sunjects, putting Muslim students ad a disadvantage. Another problem is that limiting the education of girls and the vocational opportunities places a severe drag on the economies of Islamic states. Cultural convrentions can also impair economic activity. For example if a child in Saudi Arabia gets sick, the father has to take off work to take the child to the doctor because women are not allowed to drive.

Islam and Peace

Muslims stress that their religion is one of peace. An Islamic scholar writes, "Islam aims to build a peaceful society at all cost. It is because higher human objectives cannot be achieved in the absence of peaceful circumstances. The spiritual as well as moral progress of the individual is possible only in peaceful atmosphere. Hence the atmosphere of peace is essential for the building of good society. Academic research too is possible only in peaceful circumstances. The task of the propagation of truth too can be performed only in peaceful atmosphere." And there are certainly many passages of the Koran that promote peace aas well as the work of noted Islamic scholars. Islam, according to an Islamic scholar, "aims at making all individuals peace-loving to the ultimate extent". And a common greeting is, ‘Assalam-o-Alaikum’ meaning peace be upon you. Inspeking with Muslim readers, tghere is a nelief that Islam is a religion of peace, because it says so in the Koran. The Koran like the Boble, however, has many contradictory passages. While there indeed are passages promoting peace in the Koran, there are also passages promoting war. According to Islamic scholars there is only one kind of war permitted by Islam and that is a defensive war. Historically war, however, has been waged by Muslim countries that were not defensive wars and indeed the spread of Islam has been to a substantial degree by the sword. And in our modern world there have been unspeakable horrors committed by Muslims in the name of Islam which are difficult to understand when so many Muslims are convinced that Islam is a religion of peace.

War on Islam

Islamic Fundamentalists are achieving considerable success in promoting the idea that America and the West are waging a war on Islam. Algesira and other media outlets give great attention to the deaths of Muslims especially when Israel or America is involved. Actually America has acted to protect Muslims on many occassions. In addition by a tremebous order of magnitude most Muslims in the modern world have been killed by other Muslims. Rarely do Arab media outlets give attention to these killings even when thousands of Muslims are killed including women and children. We do not fully understand why the fiction of a war against Islam has such resonance in the Arab world or why large-scale attrocities against Muslims are largely ignored when committed by other Muslims.

Martardom and Jihad

Many in the West find the most difficukt to grasp aspect of Islam is the importance of martardom and jihad. we have noted some authors insisting that these terms are misunderstood in the West. This may be true, but it is also true that there seem to be many in the Islamic world who take both martadom anf jihad very seriously and in literal terms. Some moderate Islamic spokesmen maintain that these terms are embraced by only a fringe element of fundamentalists. Again this may br true, but Islam is a major religion and even a small portion constitutes a potentially substantial number of individuals. Another concern is the extent to which more moderate Muslims are willing to tolerate the excesses of those persuing martardom and jihad. All to often we find that Muslims may criticise horrific incident like Beslan or the killing of Iraqi children accepting candy from american trrops with a range of political justifications. The failure of mainstream Islam to repudiate attrocities in the name of martadom and jihad is a very dangerous development. Major issues of concern in the West and among Muslims are resolvable. There is no great anthipathy in the West toward Islam. In fact Muslim communities in the west usually find a greater degree of religious and political freedom than in most Islamic countries. The commitment to martardom anf jihad, however, may well be a deal breaker in the West with efforts to reach accomodation. [Harris]

Health Issues

We have noted reports concerning Islam and health issues. Some of these reports from Africa are especially troubling. One is female genital mutilation, sometimes called femal circucscion. This is an operation performed on young girls entering punerty. Large numbers of Islamic girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are subjected to this operation. It is normaly performed under ofimitive conditions by individuals with little or no medical training. This is a long established tradition in Africa, although we are unsure about its origibs or foundation in Islamic teachings. Another health issue has developed only recently. Islamic clerics and Islamic politicans in Kano state (northern Nigeria) are boycotting a World Health Organization (WHO) campaign to stamp out polio in Africa. Islamic clerics are preaching that the polio vaccine is a U.S. plot to streralize Muslims. WHO officials are concerned that the outbreak of the disease in northern Nigeria will spread to neighboring countries where the disease has been eradicated. [World in Brief]

Islamic Dress Code

Islam transcends culture and language. It is a common misconception amongst muslims and non-muslims alike to associate a particular dress-code for Islam as generally found in Christian, Jewish, and Hindu faiths. There are no altar boys in Islam, or priests, or rabbis, or nuns i.e. there are no religious hierarchies and subsequently no "religious dress-codes" in particular. Most Muslims living in Islamic countries tend to confuse their national dress as Islamic dress. We must also understand that Muslims have "Sunday Church" every day of the week five times a day, which is more appropriately called as Salat or Prayer in Islam. There are again no particular dress-codes while performing these obligatory five-times a day Salat. Because of the timings of the school the students need only to perform the Zuhr Salat in school and they do so in the same uniform they are wearing. However those students who are above the age of 7 and are wearing shorts that do not cover fully their knees cannot perform their prayers. It is for this reason that most schools tend to prefer trousers over shorts as their prescribed school uniform for the students. No specific clothing is required for worship at all as long as it follows the following mentioned guidelines, are clean, and pleasing to the eye.

Islam and the Modern World

A Pakisani reader poses an interesting question. He suggests that since the 7th century when Gabriel delivered the Holy Koran to Mohammed that humans and human society have not changed measurably except for technological innovation. There surely are inate human characterics that are biological and genetic. These as our reader suggests do not change. Tere are, however, beliefs, customs, lifestyles, and values, it semms to us that have changed. These changes, as a result, of the Renaissance, Reformation, and other developments have changed substantially in the West, but to a much lesser extent in the Islamic world. The question becomes just what are these changes.

Criticism of Islam

Some Muslim readers believe that HBC is overly critical of Islam. A Pakistani reader writes, "Of what i have understood of all your comments is this: the western civilization is better than islamic civilization in all its aspects, be it the outlook on life, liberty of action, freedom of expression, deliverance of human rights, adherance to moral and ethical code, being tolerant, in promoting equality of genders etc. Of what I have learnt over the 24 years of my life is to stop beating around the bush and getting to the point. Sometimes I try to summarize and categorize my own thoughts that it feels like squeezing a dead lemon, buts thats me. I feel, we are only touching upon irrelevant matters such as whether democracy is acceptable in Islam or not, and likewise, which has no tangible value in the discussion of Islam really. The implementation of Democracy itself differs chalk and cheese between western countries like America and Switzerland. So let us not waste our time on these petty issues."

Western Media

HBC was somewhhat starteled when we began to discuss the issues on this page. Almost uniformily the readers complained that Islam is treated unfairly in the Western media, even slandered. Upon closer examination we find these comments from people who do not read Western newspapers or listen to Western television. The comments seem to come from what they are told by their local media and newspapwers. We would be glad to list examples of biased Western reporting. We invite readers to provide us examples. We do not see any such bias. Our asessment is that the mainstream media (newspapers like the New York Times or Washington Post or the principsl networks ANC, CBS, and NBC as well as PBS) go iut of their way to be 'fair' to Muslims which often involves reporting that leaves out important facts, especially the reporting on terror plots and attacks. For example when two men were arrested in New York and charged with planning to dress up as Hasitic Jews and attacks Jewish sites (May 2011), the mainstream media commonly described them as North Africans rathher than Muslims. This kind of essentially dishonesrt journalism is part of a larger tendency of liberal journalists to take up the politics of victimization. We thought it would be aood idea to collect reports on Muslim actions that are either not reporterd by the mainstream media or buried with small articles on the back pages.

The Nature of Evil

HBC has attempted to persue the consideration of the various world religions from a historical and sociological perspective and not a theological perspective. We have attempted to describe the basic theology of each religion, but not to evaluate the relative merits of each religious theology. Scholars have written lengthy theological studies and HBC sees no real need to repeat that academic inquiry here. We have, however, questions aspects of Islam more critically than other religions. And Muslim readweers have questioned this. And thus it is perhaps intelectually honest to explain our intelectual baggage from which the pages on Islam have been created. A Muslim reader has requested this and as part of our discussion the question arose as to just evil is. We are posting this discussion here. HBC readers are welcomed to paricipate in this discussion.

Is Islam Different?

The terrible attrocities committed by Muslims in the name of Islam against innocent civilians of all faiths (including fellow Muslims) in today's world have apauled and mystified Westerners. Why do we not see adherents of other religions commiting these terrible acts? They lead us to the question, is Islam different than the other major world religions? Here were are not just talking about extremists not matter how mumerous. We are talking about the basic nature of the religion, the fundamentals held by the vast majority of Muslims around the world. Muslims who come to Europe and America demand equal rights to practce their faith. And in the West there are in most countries guarantees of religious rights. We wonder if Muslims in the West promote equal rights only because they are in a minority? Notably in majority Muslim countries such guarantees often do not exist. There has over time been a degree of toleration, but levels of toleration hae in large measure deteriorated. And even where tolerated, there are signifcant limiitations on religions other than Islam. In Muslim countries is not only a crime to attempt convert a Muslim to another religion, it is a crime for a Muslim himself to convert. An important consideration here is what do Muslims teach their children about other religions.

Islam and Fascism

Some authors have suggested that there are many basically Fascist tenants inherent in Islam. This is probably most obvious with Islamic fundamentalists which some commentators refer to Islamofascism. But others see major tenants of the Koran supportive of basic Fascist ideology. The mainstream media in America and Europe has while often hightly critiical of Christianity, been very reluctant to criticise Islam. [Berman] Rather we are often likely to see boiler piece politically correct journalism pointing out how Muslims are non-violent law abiding citizens and that Islam is a modern, albeit strict religion. We happen to believe this. But we also believe that basic tenants of Islam create a situatiion where honest, non-violent Muslims are willing to tolerate or even feel sypathy toward Islamic fundamentalists willing to use violence and terror. Thus it is a useful academic exercise to abandon P.C. thought and assess the relationship between Islam and Fascism. This is particular important because some spokes men for Islam like Tariq Ramadan, am Islamic phiosopher at Oxford (Hassan al-Banna's grandson) clain that the Grand Mufti and his grandfather had no connection with Fascism, but that the World War II alliances were just making common cause with the colonial powers. So lets look at some of the major characteristics of Fascism and assess Muslim societies. We invite readers to add their thoughts and insights to our discussion.

Islam and America

Primarily because of American support for Israel, America in the eyes of many Arabs and other Muslims has been precieved as hostile. American support for Arab government which are mostly undemocratic has also angered many Arabs. The Fundamentalists charge that America is an evil society that has launched a war on Islam. Fundamentalits widen their appeal now charge that America has launched a war on Islam itself. This of course has not stopped large numbers of Muslims from emograting to the United states to pursue the american dreeam. In fact America has consistently acted to prevent starvation and mass murder of Islamic people as well as making major contributions to Muslim countries suffering natural disasters. Some of these countrie are oil rich and others are impoverished countries of no real ecomnomic importance. The countries or people include: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Darfur, Indonesia, Kosovo, Kurds, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries nd peoples, . America has often been accused of making war for oil. In fact in all of these countries, only Kuwait has important oil resources. And in Kuwait only Sadam seized the oil fields. After liberation, control of the oil fields immeiately returned to Kuwati control. There are Islamic scholars who dispute the Fundamentalits. Some even maintain that America is more Islamic (just and tolerant) than fundamntalist states like the Taliaban in Afghanistan. In addition to specifuc efforts to assist Muslim people and countries, American technology and medical sxience has saved millions of people around the world including countless Muslims.


The question that most concerns us when we read about Islam is the pronensity for violence in the Muslim world. Muslims insist that Islam is a religion of peace and point to the number of times the word "peace" appears in the Koran. Often ignored are the extensive discussion of "Jihad" and justification of violence in the Koran. Here coming from the liberal Western tradition, we began our assessment of Islam with the basic belief that the violence in the Muslim world resulted from an extrene or even perverted interpretations of Islam. Reading the Koran has caused extreme disconfort because as discussed in the link above, verse after verse include justifications for violence, especially against non-Muslims. No where in the Koran do we see sentiments like "turn the other cheek". One observer writes, "Islamism and moderate Islam are one in the same; there is no difference. While it is true that many Muslims do not commit violence in the USA, the information provided by the former Muslims I work with is that the vast majority of Muslims would sympathize with the terrorists' goals. The simplest analogy is that most Americans support our troops with only a minority of Americans actually serving in the military." [Davies] Public opinion polls taken among Muslims do show a surprising level of sympathy for jihadists and acts of terrorism. Here there is a glimmer of hope. Public opinion polls do show that support for terrorism among Muslims is declining. A factor here that although the concept of Jihad in the Koran is war against non-believers meaning primarily non-Muslims, it is fellow Muslims who have been the primary targets of the Muslims. For the Jihadists not only are offended by non-Muslims, they also are offended by Muslims who do not share their doctrinal beliefs.


Amis, Martin. The Second Plane (Knopf, 2008), 211p. After the the Islamicist attacks in London (2006), Amis made some clearly biggoted comments about British Muslims. He has not repeated them here is this more reasoned assessment.

Berman, Paul. The Flight of the Intelectuals.

Cook, Michael. A Brief History of the Human Race (Norton, 2003), 385p.

Davies, Keith. Executive Director Walid Shoebat Foundation. "Open letter to Charles Krauthammer" March 9, 2010.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith (2004).

McNeil, William H. The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1991), 828p.

Musharraf. "A plea for enlightened moderation" The Washington Post June 1, 2004, p. A23.

"World in brief," The Washington Post February 23, 2004, p. A18.


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Created: February 16, 2003
Last updated: 5:21 AM 4/30/2016