The death, anguish, and destruction caused by the recent upsurge (measured in decades) in savage violence in the name of Islam has caused us to evaluate what was once not considered a threat in the United States. The Pew Foundation recently predicted that the percentage of Muslims in the U.S. will reach 2.1% by 2050. This level is equivalent to the percentage in present-day Spain. In the hot spots of Islamic terrorism in Europe–France, Germany, and Belgium–the Muslim populations are currently at 7.5%, 5.9%, and 5.8% respectively. This future estimate could change dramatically with the push to increase Muslim immigration into the United States. This growth, spurred on by the larger fertility rate of Muslims, the suspected below-replacement rate of the present majority, and a lack of a discussion of the importance of assimilation of immigrants, may indicate a possible dramatic social conflict brewing.
The big questions for our future well-being and peaceful relations are: will the violent version of Islam eventually dominate? And is there only one legitimate version of Islam?
“A Perverted Interpretation of Islam”
Our government is as dedicated to declaring that Islam is a religion of peace as it is to declaring other social values derived from the mind of our current president and his political party. We have experienced many examples of the power of a political party and its leader declaring opinion and dictating actions that roll “down hill” to the lower levels of government, from an entire department, the IRS, that punishes political opponents, to an individual employee. I have heard an FBI agent leading the pledge of allegiance during a press conference on TV omitting the phrase “under God”. We are currently experiencing an attempt to restrict Christianity to the confines of the walls of a church building. This gradualism, which defies our own Constitution, has the aim of eventually purging Christianity from America. The same forces insist on propagating the favored theological view in all levels of our government that “Islam is a Religion of Peace.”
In a recent speech to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, President Barack Obama declared “…the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims embrace Islam as a source of peace; it is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims propagate a perverted interpretation of Islam. This is the truth.”
With the obvious disparity in the worldwide actions of people declaring themselves to be Muslim, why is our government taking sides in a theological argument? The Sunni and Shia split of Islam in the 7th century resulted today in an overwhelming Sunni population of almost 90% among Muslims. Our relations with Sunni-dominated countries for oil imports, and the diplomatically peaceful relations we have had with them, means that the government, to be honest, should qualify its statement on Islam to say, Our current Sunni friends claim a religion of peace. Any statement about Muslim internal religious matters has the appearance of a political motive.
The first task of government is the protection of its citizens, not interpreting theological positions to its citizens. The only judgement necessary to protect us is to interpret actions and aggressive statements as threats. To judge the underlying ideology as peaceful or not is unnecessary. It is also not a competence that a non-theocratic government has. I have no problem with saying that Islam has peaceful followers and that the majority in the United States have not presented themselves as a terrorist or ideological threat. Except for some mosques, that has been true.
Why Not Declare Islam Peaceful?
The rise in use of the phrase separation of church and state, derived from a private letter by Thomas Jefferson, not U.S. law, has left us in social chaos regarding religion. We are going out of our way to suppress religious expression in public, notably government schools. We are also using government to relieve a seemingly friendly faction of Islam of the responsibility to argue its own case for peace. This is nothing more than simple-minded favoritism. A form of protectionism that has helped U.S. Muslims to stay in the shadows and not speak out against violence done in the name of their religion.
As long as our government keeps telling us and the world that “Islam is a religion of peace,” the actual members of that religion will never do more than make the same declaration in their defense. Our current Secretary of State, John Kerry, appears to want us to ignore the whole question when he said, “Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it (terrorism) quite as much. People wouldn’t know what’s going on.”
Ignorance could be called a peaceful state of being, until a bomb explodes in a crowded place where you happen to be at an unfortunate time. Ignoring a future danger like the use of a nuclear weapon, or a repeat of the World Trade Center attacks, could also put a person in a peaceful ignorant state. This call to sedate our senses is more reminiscent of the influences during Kerry’s young adult years during the great social rebellion of the 1960s and 70s than a considered responsible adult opinion.
Is It a Religion of Peace?
I take no stand here on whether Islam is or is not a religion of peace.
The usual approach to this question is to try and answer it using the Quran as a source. As Catholics we understand that theological doctrine has been developed over centuries from the living tradition of the Apostles and their successors, and Scriptures written just after Christ was crucified. Our theologians study Greek, Latin, Aramaic, and Hebrew in order to understand the meaning of texts written two thousand years ago and preserved for us to study.
Islamic scholars also study their writings and traditions. The Quran and the Hadith (purported sayings and stories of Muhammad) come to us in Arabic and are considered to only be accurate in Arabic. Although attempting to re-establish a Caliphate in the form of ISIS, they currently have no central authority equivalent to our Catholic Church to be able to solve questions that arise. Rome’s authority is based on the temporal church as a gift of Jesus Christ to us and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Who Do You Believe?
You could go to various sources of Islamic teaching on the internet. One is called Just Ask Islam. Their greatest claim of authenticity is that they answer questions with “…dedicated Muslim scholars and volunteers….” You could also go to Jihad Watch and get analysis and news about Islam from Robert Spencer, a prolific writer and anti-Islamic activist.
Is it true that Muslims are not required to be truthful with non-Muslims? It it true that forced conversion is acceptable? Is it true that their goal is to install Islamic law and replace secular government? Is it true that Western secular life is incompatible with Islamic teaching, and thus that assimilation is not possible? Does peace in secular countries mean the same as in Islam?
You see the problem, I am sure. But, do you see the answer to understanding this religion better?
What Must Happen?
Putting aside the progression towards Existentialist thinking, we in the West have been taught ideally to use reason and argument to solve problems and arrive at the truth. The goal of education is to teach facts and also teach how to reason properly. We understand law as an adversarial system. Argument is believed to be a valuable tool used to uncover the ultimate truth of a situation. This approach to understanding Islam as a whole is necessary to break the current situation where we are told what to think by governments and religious factions.
Muslims must argue among themselves in order to reveal to the rest of us what is the actual truth of Islam. Is it a religion of peace as we in the West understand peace, or is it a religion of conquest by any means? Is it even possible to derive a universal statement about Islam?
More Questions Than Answers
Until the members of this religion start defending themselves among each other, we can assume nothing about their motives and ambitions as related to the founding doctrines declared by Muhammad, and the violence practiced by him. Will a larger Muslim population in the U.S. bring the problems of the Sunni/Shia split, and the resulting animosities and violence here?
We can insist on answers, or we can sublimely sedate ourselves into the preferred docile condition our leaders desire.