Yesterday, I posed the question, can Islam evolve to meet the challenges of the modern world. I might have framed the question differently. What I meant of course was, can Islam evolve sufficiently for it to co-exist peacefully and on a basis of equality with other religions? Can it ever accept a non-Islamic entity in the Middle East, an area long dominated by Islam (spread, for the most part, by the sword)?
I am most pessimistic of such a miraculous change ever coming about – at least in the foreseeable future. Here is a religion which boasts of its peacefulness and tolerance, but which, while paying lip service to the idea that the Jews are the people of the book, while even (admittedly) granting them refuge from Christian persecution during the Middle Ages, made them live as second class citizens. The word of a Jew had no validity against the word of a Muslim, and while European countries notoriously forced Jews to wear yellow patches on their clothing as a badge of shame, under Islamic rule, Jews (and other "non-Believers") were forced to wear distinctive clothing, which differed from country to country. In some Islamic lands, Jews were forced to wear a badge, just as in Europe (see: A History of Jewish Clothing by Alfred Rubens).
In Christian countries, one is allowed to criticise the dominant religion, in Islam, the penalty for such criticism is death. Witness the unbridled threats of Muslims living in Europe over the Danish cartoons of Muhammed, calling for death to those who dare to "mock" Islam. (If anyone wants proof – see the attached photos.) Witness the furore when Salman Rushdie published his book The Satanic Verses. These people settle in non-Islamic countries (why? to enjoy the rights granted them in the democratic west which they don’t enjoy in their own countries? and then to abuse those rights?) but they do not assimilate and accept the liberal values of the countries which gave them shelter. If it were merely a question of continuing to live according to their own customs, in so far as these don’t transgress the laws of their adopted countries, that would be one thing. But they demand that their adopted countries change to accommodate them, and that they abandon their liberal values in favour of the narrow-minded fanaticism of a religion trapped in the Middle Ages.
In England, a young woman from a Muslim family was recently murdered on the street in broad daylight in a "family honour" killing. Her brother and cousin were convicted – but not a few voices from the Muslim community were raised in their defence. Not because it was claimed by their defenders that they did not kill the girl, but because, so said their defenders, their actions were justified! And it wasn’t hard to find non-Muslim apologists either, who claimed that the courts should take account of "the different cultural values" of the community to which the accused belonged.
A propos so-called honour killings, I was talking to an Arab taxi driver a few weeks ago who also held by the view that this is not murder and who claimed that the Koran permits such killings. I don’t know if this is true, but even if it is not, the fact remains that many devout Muslims seem to think it is true. If it is not true, it behoves Muslim religious leaders to speak out against it.
At a certain period in time, Christianity too was spread by the sword. The Islamic world hasn’t forgotten that period. In their mind, they are still fighting the Crusades. In other words – they are living in the past. Stuck in the Middle Ages themselves, they have convinced themselves that the West is even now conducting a Crusade against Islam. The opposite is, in fact, true. It is Islam that has declared war on the West. Unfortunately, the West – and Europe in particular – does not yet realise this. Or perhaps, does not want to realise this.
Does all this mean that Islam is incapable of evolution? I would like to believe that the answer is no. After all, like Christianity (which has evolved), Islam is a daughter religion of Judaism. In fact, theologically, Islam is much closer to Judaism than is Christianity. There are, no doubt, many fine things in Islam. (How could there not be, when so much of it was taken from Judaism?) But it took Christianity almost 2000 years to learn to respect other religions. Islam, chronologically as well as mentally, is still in the Middle Ages. Can we afford to wait another 600 years for Islam to grow up and mellow? The fanatical Islamic regime in Iran is looking to develop nuclear weapons and they have made it clear that they would use them. If they do, the question would become purely academic. There would be no-one left to care. As things are now, Islam and the West are on a collision course. To the question I posed at the start of this article, I have no answer. I can only pray – God help us all.