Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan Debate: Is Islam a Religion of Peace? (New-york) |
Tariq Ramadan Dawkins and his camp asserted that religion is more dangerous than His approach was aggressive, crass and dogmatic. Tariq Ramadan, a star of Europe's Muslim intelligentsia, confronts accusations . Islam, Christianity and Atheism all have had disciples whose. Join famous atheist and prolific author Christopher Hitchens and the accomplished and controversial Date & Time: Tue, Oct 5, , pm.
January 4,6: God ," NovemberKaren Armstrong discovers that Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and I have mistaken "fundamentalism" for the totality of religion. But do Richard and Christopher really hold religion responsible for "all human cruelty"?
Conspicuous by His absence - Telegraph
That is a surprise. They will discover that Hassan al-Banna and Tariq Ramadan are paragons of meliorism and wisdom, while we are ignorant bigots who know nothing of theology of coursepolitics Christopher, are you listening? Might it have had something to do with the actual history and teachings of Islam? And how could we have been so foolish as to connect the apparently inexhaustible supply of martyrs in the Muslim world to the Islamic doctrine of martyrdom?
In my own defense, let me say that I do get spooked whenever Western Muslims advocate the murder of apostates as 36 percent of Muslim young adults do in Britain. But I now know that these freedom-loving people just "want to see God reflected more clearly in public life. Come on out, dear. Karen says the coast is clear. Armstrong assures us that because religion has existed for millennia, it is here to stay.
Of course, the same could be said about a preoccupation with witchcraft, which has also been a cultural universal. The belief in the curative powers of human flesh is still widespread in Africa, as it used to be in the West.
This is now good for a laugh. But in Kenya elderly men and women are still burned alive for casting malicious spells. In Angola, unlucky boys and girls have been blinded, injected with battery acid, and killed outright in an effort to purge them of demons.
In Tanzania, there is a growing criminal trade in the body parts of albino human beings — as it is widely believed that their flesh has magical properties. I hope that Armstrong will soon apply her capacious understanding of human nature to these phenomena.
Irrational atheists unwilling to recognise the beneficial role of religion
Then we will learn that though witchcraft has occasionally been entangled with political injustice, an "inadequate understanding" of demonology and sympathetic magic was really to blame. I sincerely hope that my "new atheist" colleagues are not so naive as to imagine that actual belief in magic might be the issue here. After all, it would be absurd to criticize witchcraft as unscientific, as this would ignore the primordial division between mythos and logos.
Let me see if I have this straight: Belief in demons, the evil eye, and the medicinal value of a cannibal feast are perversions of the real witchcraft — -which is drenched with meaning, intrinsically wholesome, integral to our humanity, and here to stay. During the summer months, when the heat in the plains became unbearable, we would flee to the Himalayan foothills, to Nathiagali, then a tiny, isolated hill resort perched on a ridge in a thick pine forest and overlooked by the peaks.
Here, in a relaxed atmosphere with almost no social restrictions, I met Pashtun boys and girls from the frontier towns of Peshawar and Mardan, and children from Lahore whom I rarely saw during the winter became summer friends. I acquired a taste for freedom. We had favourite hiding places: We also explored the many burned houses.
How were they burned? I would ask the locals. Back would come the casual reply. Our fathers and uncles burned them. Their home is India. The only reply was a shrug. It was strange to think that Hindus and Sikhs had been here, had been killed in the villages in the valleys below. The same was true in Afghanistan itself till the mujahedin and the Taliban arrived. One of my favourite spots in Nathiagali lay between two giant oaks.
From here one could watch the sun set on Nanga Parbat. The snow covering the peak would turn orange, then crimson, bathing the entire valley in its light. Here we would breathe the air from China, gaze in the direction of Kashmir and marvel at the moon. Given all this, why would one need a multi-layered heaven, let alone the seventh layer that belonged to us alone — the Islamic paradise? One day, to my horror, my mother informed me that a mullah from a neighbouring mountain village had been hired to make sure I completed my study of the Koran.
She had pre-empted all my objections. He would explain what each verse meant. My summer was about to be wrecked.
I moaned, groaned, protested, pleaded and tantrumed. My friends were sympathetic, but powerless: Mullahs, especially the rural variety, were objects of ridicule, widely regarded as dishonest, hypocritical and lazy.
It was generally believed that they had grown beards and chosen this path not out of spiritual fervour, but in order to earn a crust.
Unless attached to a mosque, they depended on voluntary contributions, tuition fees and free meals. The jokes about them mostly concerned their sexual appetites; in particular, a penchant for boys below a certain age. The fictional mullah of the storytellers and puppet-shows who travelled from village to village was a greedy and lustful arch-villain; he used religion to pursue his desires and ambitions. He humiliated and cheated the poor peasants, while toadying to landlords and potentates.
God Bless was bearded, a staunch believer in the primacy of Islam, and said his prayers and fasted regularly.
He was, however, deeply hostile to the mullahs, whom he regarded as pilferers, perverts and parasites. He smiled as the mullah, a man of medium height in his late fifties, exchanged greetings with me. We took our seats round a garden table placed to catch the warming sun.
The afternoon chorus was in full flow. The air smelled of sun-roasted pine needles and wild strawberries. When the mullah began to speak I noticed he was nearly toothless. The rhymed verse at once lost its magic. The few false teeth he had wobbled. I began to wonder if it would happen, and then it did: He smiled, picked them up and put them back in his mouth. At first, I managed to restrain myself, but then I heard a suppressed giggle from the veranda and made the mistake of turning round.
God Bless, who had stationed himself behind a large rhododendron to eavesdrop on the lesson, was choking with silent laughter. I excused myself and rushed indoors. The following week, God Bless dared me to ask the mullah a question before the lesson began.
The mullah asked me to leave: A few minutes later he, too, left, never to return. Later that day he was sent an envelope full of money to compensate him for my insolence. My religious studies ended there. My only duty was to substitute for my father once a year and accompany the male servants to Eid prayers at the mosque, a painless enough task.
Some years later, when I came to Britain to study, the first group of people I met were hard-core rationalists. I joined on the spot and was immediately roped into becoming the Humanist rep at my college. Some time afterwards when I asked how he had known I was of Muslim origin rather than a Hindu or a Zoroastrian, he replied that his chant only affected Muslims and Catholics.
Hindus, Sikhs and Protestants ignored him completely. My knowledge of Islamic history remained slender and, as the years progressed, Pakistan regressed. Islamic studies were made compulsory in the s, but children were given only a tiny sprinkling of history on a foundation of fairytales and mythology.
My interest in Islam lay dormant till the Third Oil War in The war was accompanied in the West by a wave of crude anti-Arab propaganda. The level of ignorance displayed by most pundits and politicians distressed me, and I began to ask myself questions which, until then, had seemed barely relevant. Why had Islam not undergone a Reformation? Why had the Ottoman Empire not been touched by the Enlightenment?
I began to study Islamic history, and later travelled to the regions where it had been made, especially those in which its clashes with Christendom had taken place. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all began as versions of what we would today describe as political movements.
They were credible belief-systems which aimed to make it easier to resist imperial oppression, to unite a disparate people, or both. If we look at early Islam in this light, it becomes apparent that its Prophet was a visionary political leader and its triumphs a vindication of his action programme.
Whether or not the comparison is apt, Russell had grasped that the first two decades of Islam had a distinctly Jacobin feel. Sections of the Koran have the vigour of a political manifesto, and at times the tone in which it addresses its Jewish and Christian rivals is as factional as that of any left-wing organisation. The speed with which it took off was phenomenal. Academic discussion as to whether the new religion was born in the Hijaz or Jerusalem or elsewhere is essentially of archaeological interest.
Whatever its precise origins, Islam replaced two great empires and soon reached the Atlantic coast. At its height three Muslim empires dominated large parts of the globe: A good place for a historian of Islam to start would be AD, or Year 8 of the new Muslim calendar, though that had yet to come into being.
Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan Debate: Is Islam a Religion of Peace? (New-york)
For eight years Muhammad had tolerated the uneasy coexistence of the pagan male god Allah and his three daughters: Al-Uzza the morning star, Venus was the favourite goddess of the Quraysh, the tribe to which Muhammad belonged, but Manat was the most popular in the region as a whole, and was idolised by three key Meccan tribes that Muhammad had been desperately trying to win over to his new monotheistic religion.
By Year 8, however, three important military victories had been won against rival pagan and Jewish forces. The Battle of Badr had seen Muhammad triumph against the Meccan tribes despite the smallness of his army. The tribes had been impressed by the muscularity of the new religion, and Muhammad must have deemed further ideological compromise unnecessary.
No greetings were exchanged. Their demeanour indicated that they had not come to honour Manat or to leave a token offering. The keeper called out: Only then did his 20 companions join him. Together they hacked away until they had destroyed the statue. The sanctuaries of al-Lat and al-Uzza were dealt with in similar fashion, probably on the same day.
A seventh-century prophet could not become the true spiritual leader of a tribal community without exercising political leadership and, in the Peninsula, mastering the basics of horsemanship, sword-play and military strategy. Muhammad had understood the need to delay the final breach with polytheism until he and his companions were less isolated. However, once the decision to declare a strict monotheism was taken, no concessions were granted. The Christian Church had been forced into a permanent compromise with its pagan forebears, allowing its new followers to worship a woman who had conceived a child by God.
The oneness of a patriarchal Allah appeared the most attractive option, essential not only to demonstrate the weakness of Christianity, but also to break definitively with the dominant cultural practices of the Peninsula Arabs, with their polyandry and their matrilinear past.
Muhammad himself had been the third and youngest husband of his first wife, Khadija, who died three years before the birth of the Islamic calendar. For the pre-Islamic tribes, the past was the preserve of poets, who also served as historians, blending myth and fact in odes designed to heighten tribal feeling. The future was considered irrelevant, the present all-important.
Muhammad fully understood this world. He belonged to the Quraysh, a tribe that prided itself on its genealogy and claimed descent from Ishmael. He travelled a great deal in the region, coming into contact with Christians, Jews, Magians and pagans of every stripe.
He would have had dealings with two important neighbours: Byzantine Christians and the fire-worshipping Zoroastrians of Persia. He envisioned a tribal confederation united by common goals and loyal to a single faith which, of necessity, had to be new and universal. Islam was the cement he used to unite the Arab tribes; commerce was to be the only noble occupation. This meant that the new religion was both nomadic and urban.
Peasants who worked the land were regarded as servile and inferior. The injunction to pray five times a day, for example, played an important part in inculcating military discipline, but was difficult to manage outside the towns. What was wanted was a community of believers in urban areas, who would meet after prayers and exchange information.
Unsurprisingly, peasants found it impossible to do their work and fulfil the strict conditions demanded by the new faith. They were the last social group to accept Islam, and some of the earliest deviations from orthodoxy matured in the Muslim countryside. The military successes of the first Muslim armies were remarkable. The speed of their advance startled the Mediterranean world, and the contrast with early Christianity could not have been more pronounced.
Impressed by these successes, whole tribes embraced the new religion. Mosques began to appear in the desert, and the army expanded. Its swift triumphs were seen as a sign that Allah was both omnipotent and on the side of the Believers. These victories were no doubt possible only because the Persian and Byzantine Empires had been engaged for almost a hundred years in a war that had enfeebled both sides, alienated their populations and created an opening for the new conquerors. All three now fell to the might and fervour of a unified tribal force.
Much more important was the active sympathy which a sizeable minority of the local people demonstrated for the invaders. A majority remained passive, waiting to see which side would prevail, but they were no longer prepared to fight for or help the old empires. The fervour of the unified tribes, on the other hand, cannot be explained simply by the appeal of the new religion or promises of untold pleasures in Paradise. The tens of thousands who flocked to fight under Khalid ibn al-Walid wanted the comforts of this world.
Like other Muslim leaders of the period, he was modestly dressed; he was also dusty from the journey, and his beard was untrimmed. The chronicles record that he turned to a servant and said in Greek: The strategic victories against the Byzantines and the Persians had been so easily achieved that the Believers were now filled with a sense of their own destiny.
After all, they were, in their own eyes, the people whose leader was the final Prophet, the last ever to receive the message of God. When German tribes took Rome in the fifth century, they insisted on certain social privileges but they succumbed to a superior culture and, with time, accepted Christianity.
The Arabs who conquered Persia preserved their monopoly of power by excluding non-Arabs from military service and temporarily restricting intermarriage, but although willing to learn from the civilisations they had overpowered, they were never tempted to abandon their language, their identity or their new faith. The development of medicine, a discipline in which Muslims later excelled, provides an interesting example of the way knowledge travelled, was adapted and matured in the course of the first millennium.
Two centuries before Islam, the city of Gondeshapur in south-western Persia became a refuge for dissident intellectuals and freethinkers facing repression in their own cities. The Nestorians of Edessa fled here in after their school was closed. When, forty years later, the Emperor Justinian decreed that the school of Neoplatonic philosophers in Athens be closed, its students and teachers, too, made the long trek to Gondeshapur.
News of this city of learning spread to neighbouring civilisations. Scholars from India and, according to some, even China arrived to take part in discussions with Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Christians and Syrians. The discussions ranged over a wide variety of subjects, but it was the philosophy of medicine that attracted the largest numbers.
Theoretical instruction in medicine was supplemented by practice in a bimaristan hospitalmaking the citizens of Gondeshapur the most cared for in the world. The first Arab who earned the title of physician, Harith bin Kalada, was later admitted to the Court of the Persian ruler Chosroes Anushirwan and a conversation between the two men was recorded by scribes.
According to this the physician advised the ruler to avoid over-eating and undiluted wine, to drink plenty of water every day, to avoid sex while drunk and to have baths after meals. He is reputed to have pioneered enemas to deal with constipation. Medical dynasties were well established in the city by the time of the Muslim conquest in Treatises and documents began to flow. Ibn Sina and al-Razi, the two great Muslim philosopher-physicians of Islam, were well aware that the basis of their medical knowledge derived from a small town in Persia.
A new Islamic civilisation emerged, in which the arts, literature and philosophy of Persia became part of a common heritage. This was an important element in the defeat by the Abbasids, the cosmopolitan Persian faction within Islam, of the narrow nationalism of the Arab Umayyads in Rahman had to deal with the Jewish and Christian cultures he found there, and his city came to rival Baghdad as a cosmopolitan centre.
A base was established and consolidated in the Tunisian city of al-Qayrawan, and Carthage became a Muslim city. Musa bin Nusayr, the Arab governor of Ifriqiya present-day Libya, Tunisia and most of Algeriaestablished the first contact with continental Europe. Once again, the Muslim armies profited from the unpopul-arity of the ruling Visigoths. In July, Tarik defeated King Roderic, and the local population flocked to join the army that had rid them of an oppressive ruler.
As it became clear that Tarik was determined to take the whole peninsula, an envious Musa bin Nusayr left Morocco with 10, men to join his victorious subordinate in Toledo. Together, the two armies marched north and took Zaragoza.
The two Muslim leaders planned to cross the Pyrenees and march to Paris. Rather than obtain permission from the Caliph in Damascus, however, they had merely informed him of their progress.
Angered by their cavalier attitude to authority, the Commander of the Faithful dispatched messengers to summon the conquerors of Spain to the capital; they never saw Europe again.
Others carried on the struggle, but the impetus was lost. A century later, the Arabs took Sicily, but could only threaten the mainland. Palermo became a city of a hundred mosques; Rome remained sacrosanct. Its closest rival lay in distant Mesopotamia, where a caliph from another dynasty presided over Baghdad.
Both cities were renowned for their schools and libraries, musicians and poets, physicians and astronomers, mullahs and heretics, and also for their taverns and dancing girls. There, Islamic hegemony was not forcibly imposed; there had been genuine debates between the three religions, producing a synthesis from which native Islam benefited greatly.
The architects who built it in the eighth century understood that it was to represent a culture opposed to the Christian one which chose to occupy space with graven images.
A mosque is intended as a void: The philosopher-poet Ibn Hazm would sit amid the sacred columns and chastise those Believers who refused to demonstrate the truth of ideas through argument. They would shout back that the use of the dialectic was forbidden. It would be hundreds of years before this culture was obliterated.
The fall of Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in al-Andalus, in marked the completion of that process: At the beginning of the 11th century, the Islamic world stretched from Central Asia to the Atlantic coast, though its political unity had been disrupted soon after the victory of the Abbasids. Three centres of power emerged: Soon after the death of the Prophet, Islam had divided into two major factions, the Sunni majority and a Shia minority. The Fatimid caliphs belonged to the Shia tradition, which claimed descent from the fourth Caliph, Ali, and his wife Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet.
The Fatimid caliphs had ruled parts of North Africa and lived in Tunisia till a Fatimid expeditionary force under the command of the legendary Slav General Jawhar captured Egypt, and Jahwar established a dynasty complete with caliph and built a new city — Cairo. Each of these regions had different traditions, and each had its own material interests and needs, which determined its policy of alliances and coexistence with the non-Islamic world. Religion had played a major part in building the new empire, but its rapid growth had created the conditions for its own dismemberment.
Baghdad, the most powerful of the three caliphates, lacked the military strength and the bureaucracy needed to administer such a large empire. Sectarian schisms, notably a thirty-year war between the Sunni and Shia factions, had also played their part.
Key rulers, politicians and military leaders in both camps had died in the years immediately preceding the First Crusade. The notion of a monolithic and all-powerful Islamic civilisation had ceased to have any purchase by the beginning of the 11th century, and probably earlier. Inafter a forty-day siege, the Crusaders took Jerusalem. The killing lasted two whole days, at the end of which most of the Muslim population — men, women and children — had been killed.
Jews had fought with Muslims to defend the city, but the entry of the Crusaders created panic. In remembrance of tradition, the Elders instructed the Jewish population to gather in the synagogue and to offer up a collective prayer. The Crusaders surrounded the building, set fire to it and made sure that every single Jew burned to death.