Following the crumpling of the World Trade Towers, the creation of the gaping hole in the Pentagon, and the digging football-field sized crater in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, thousands of Americans ran to their history books to discover Islam for the first time. The problem was that they skipped over the period most important to understanding Islam--the last 100 or so years.
I attended a speech by author Guy Sorman (pronounced "Gee sor-MON") at BYU today. It was one of the most important presentations I have ever attended. As I told him at the end of the hour, "It is so refreshing to get a non-American perspective of Islamic history," to which he replied, "Yes, Americans don't have a very good understanding of these things."
Here are some of the things that I learned.
- Because Islam was founded by businessman and his businesswoman wife, it is intended to celebrate wealth and success. West richer than Islam because we developed abstract economic mechanism such as titles and shares. In Islam companies almost exclusively family based. Only in the19th century did the Muslim world begin notice economic gap with west; the transformation to keep pace with the West started in Turkey and Egypt.
- The Arab Spring is seen by people all over the Middle East as a gigantic source of hope. Western governments "played with the devil" by supporting dictators that the people hated. Egypt is not making much improvement yet not because the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, but rather because the military is still in control of so much of society and the economy. However, the people now feel free to talk. The Muslim Brotherhood has gradually evolved to having a very free-market style agenda and is well respected.
- Many in the Middle East still yearn for their own version of the American Dream, and thus they can't figure out why America has supported dictators that kept their dreams from them. True to form, unfortunately, Bashar al Assad was considered as a positive reformer by the Barack Obama administration until just about a year ago.
- The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is both a political party and a charitable organization that is well respected in various Middle Eastern countries. The MB is nothing like the Taliban or al Qaeda, which derive their power from oppressing the people. The MB is powerful because it provides services that the people want.
- Ironically, complaints of blasphemy regarding the recently produced video that was very critical of Islam were primarily made by people from emerging democracies that are or had been saddled with American-supported dictators, where there had BEEN NO free speech for decades. In predominantly Muslim countries that enjoy freedom, the offensive video was all but ignored.
- In recent years, Sorman has studied Islam and visited every Muslim country. Much more diverse than even he could imagine before he went. Arabs comprise only 20% of all Muslims.
- The Koran has many contradictions because it was revealed to Muhammad during different periods, each having their own pressures and social conflicts. For example, the word "jihad" is mentioned twice in Koran, each time having a completely different meaning than the other. Both means of jihad (essentially "fighting in war" and "struggle with self") are valid.
- Islam is so diverse because their is no religious hierarchy except in a few places like Iran. Sufi Muslims like to sing and drink. Some worship saints, but this is banned by Saudi Arabia. Every Muslim is supposed to have a direct relationship with god.
- Charging of interest is not only prohibited by Islam but was also by early Christians. A more trusted way of lending money, in use today, ensures that the lender gets a share of the profits in lieu of interest.
- A study of the Koran will not reveal a good explanation of why a few Muslims are violent. Instead, we must look to the 20th century for an understanding of Muslim problems, which are based primarily on violence associated with Western colonization of Middle Eastern countries/areas.
- Islam traditionally taught that men and women are equal and should have equal access to employment, education, etc. Islam did not initially require that women wear veils. Up until the 1960's Middle Eastern societies were very free, but then came decolonialization, or extricating the Arab and Persian world from something they should never have been mired in in the first place. Ironically, the freedom associated with capitalism and democracy was rejected in the Middle East precisely because of negative reaction to Middle Eastern relation to colonialism. Colonization is why overall Muslims are perhaps the poorest group of people on earth. At the forefront of decolonialization were the various militaries of the countries that gained their independence, which is why in so many of these countries the military still dominates today. In many Muslim countries (primarily those in the East that were either not or only minimally colonized) societies are moving much more quickly toward democracy and free enterprise.
- The things we perceive as problems with Islam are actually based on culture instead of the Muslim religion. The biggest of these is that Eastern cultures are more likely to see rights as community based instead of being guaranteed to the individual.