First, thanks for the considerate and thoughtful reply.
Secong let me clarify that I am not a Christian, Jew nor Muslim, though I have studied Christianity and Islam at some depth, though Judaism only a little.
I don't claim to be a scholar, but I have enough knowledge of the reigions to know when someone is blowing smoke up my ass, as CTS is with his letter. (which I found incredibly condescending at best, and obviously not written to Muslims but to westerners continually trying to convince themselves that Islam is just like Christianity only with Hijabs)
I agree with you on the class issue. Unfortunately the lower classes are about 95% of the Muslim population. This is a real similarity between Christians and Muslims...the lower the level of education and income, the more fundamentalist (traditionalist) you are likely to be.
I think it is especially true with Islam, whether talking the Sunna, the Koran or the Hadith, that the tendency towards fundamentalism is more inherant in the religion because the texts themselves are fairly clear on a great host of issues, though less so with others (and the Hijab/burqa is a perfect example of this vagueness).
An intellectual approach, informed by modern history and an understanding of modern historical methods would OF COURSE lead one to put a great many of the teachings of a religion into the context of the time and place and culture in which they were originally stated, even IF (as in the case of the Prophet) they were explicitly said to be for all time.
This is the case with most mainline Protestant churches as well as the Catholic Church. They are responding not because they are so enlightened, but simply because the faithful themselves will no longer put up with a fire and brimstone "do what the holy man says or else" kind of approach.
However go to South America, and you will find a VERY much more conservative Catholic church than you are likley to see in Europe or the US.
It seems a truism to me that ignorance, which comes from cultural isolation lack of education, breeds more traditionalist interpretations and approaches to religion.
But the changes to Christianity have already been made. For Catholics in rural Mexico to moderate their veiws greatly is not such a stretch. It's already been done elsewhere, and the changes themselves were not as fundamental as some might think. (Martin Luther turned Catholic and Papal AUTHORITY on its head a lot more than he did any central Christian tenets).
But how are you going to "moderate" 95% of the muslims in the world..particularly the Arab and arab-dominated world?
We will be waiting a long time indeed for that to happen...it took the Christians some 2 hundred years of bloody inter-religious wars to calm themselves down enough to get to the enlightenment. -And I would submit the battle was less difficult than the one Islam faces, from a strictly scriptural viewpoint.
I've heard from other sources about a "civil war within islam," or a "reform movement within Islam," but it seems a great deal more like the empty wishes of a few fairly powerless intellectual elites...people who were never the problem in the first place...than any real serious movement towards reform. Maybe Im wrong, God knows would like to be, but I don't see it.
And Finally, as to "Golden Age," I too tire of it being touted.
As I see it, Islam was in the 8th and 9th centuries an incredibly enlightened, tolerant force full of civilizing influences FOR THE TIME.
In other words, compared to the European Christians, who were mired in the barbarism of what we rightly refer to as the DARK AGES, Islam was great stuff.
Unfortunately, what happened to the West, never happened to the middle east. We got the plague, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightentment..you got the Mongols and the Ottomans.
In other words the seminal things that brought about the very gradual rise of the west simply never occurred in the culture or religion of the arab world..a wold whcih with the fall of the Ottoman empire has come to dominate Islam as much as it ever did.
What was passed along as it certainly was, was passed on to intellectual elites, not to the poeple at large. The Ottomans kept the arab world in poverty and subjugation, far more than the Europeans could have hoped to do. and following the fall of the Ottomans, the entire region has tried to cope with nationalism and pan-arabism and salaffism without ever having had the chance to go through the several hundred years of cultural development that the west went through to achieve it's ascendancy in the first place.
Long way to get there but how the hell do you fix a situation like that? I have simply no good Ideas. I wish I did, but I don't.
A ressurgent Islam scares hell out of most westerners because of the face of Islam today and for the forseeable future. It's an ugly face, it embraces things which are anathema to the very core of our enlightenment ideals. It seems frighteningly inflexible, militantly expansionist nd politically very frightening if it should ever gain great power. Why is everyone so freaked out over Iran getting nukes? It's the religion and its place in that government, not the skin color.
So yuo have a frightened west, reaching out to quash Islam, which reacts with more violence and understandable pride in itself and its past, which provokes yet more western reaction.....
I do not see a peaceful solution to this within my lifetime, nor probably within my children's.
People brning embassies are I think, largely the ignorant masses being maniuplated by traditionalst religious leaders and political opportunists. The Muslims demanding apologies from the Danish government and wishing to enact Blasphemy laws are the very "moderates" everyone is trying to convince themselves are in the majority.
What to do? I don't know. But having an honest discussion of the facs, unclouded by wishful thinking about religion woul be at the least a start.
***Never attribute to malice that which can be easily attributed to incompetence. -HB Owen***
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