Islam in the West

As an atheist and independent thinker I find the notion of organised religion quite alien and I make no apology for saying that I believe the world would be a better place without it. I have a piece on TheMaverickMan where I appear to stick up for religion but that is more about how aetheists won't succeed in dismissing religion by logic because they don't understand that religion is a matter of faith and not a matter of fact. Organised religion seems to be an inevitable facet of human society so we need to accommodate it as best we can rather than attemping to wish it away. And I don't entirely dismiss the value of religious groups, such as The Salvation Army, who do great good in the world.

The question for our time is how Islam can be accommodated within Western Liberal democracies like Britain. In the light of recent terrorist attacks it would appear that certain branches of Islam at least can not find a comfortable spiritual home in countries like Britain.

A problem for all societies is the phenomenon of the testosterone-fueled Angry Young Man. Most young men who have aggressive, tribalistic tendencies tend to grow out of them and it does not have to be a major problem. But if a platform presents itself for them to appoint themselves leaders of a tribe then this only serves to encourage the Angry Young Man and turn them into a Dangerously Angry Young Man. For instance, in the 1970s they may have become a football hooligan; today, men from certain backgrounds are gravitating towards Islamic Extremism.

Can we ever hope to eridicate this menance? Sadly, it took a tragedy of the death of many innocent football fans against crash barriers designed to stop pitch invasions to prompt society to finally eradicate the football hooligan menace. This issue has largely gone away. Can we eliminate Islamic terrorism?

I believe it can be done, over many years and a generational struggle, by Islam in the West undergoing a reformation. The problem with Islam in the West today (and elsewhere) is that is has become too tribal, and this only encourages young men to lapse onto it and turn it into their obession. That the majority of its followers are from an immigrant background and are not white inevitably creates an immediate sense of being set apart from wider society. And too many muslims (I know this from personal experience) seem to conflate aspects of their ethinic background with their religion so that they think eating certain foods, dressing a certain way and being subject to an arranged marriage, and so on, are fundamental requirements of being a 'good muslim' when they are merely cultural practices that have nothing to do with the religion (many British hindus practice arranged marriages as well). The 'window dressing' elements of it seem to be given too much importance instead of the underlying values and this turns the religion into a tribe or cult rather than a spritual mantra.

It therefore combines to create a religion with an ethnic, racial and cultural underpinning that strenghtens the idea of Islam as a tribe set against everyone else. Though moderate muslims are not to blame for terrorism they have unwittingly created a community that acts like a funnel to sponteneously generate a steady flow of dangerously radicalised young men who see it as a tribe to fight for.

The solution to the causes of Islamic terrorism over the long-term, then, is to 'de-tribalise' Islam. Taking a cursory look at the Koran shows how this can be done.

Religious fundamentalists read a religous text literally, whereas religous moderates interpret the text in light of the contemporary world. Moderates care more about what a text means rather than what it literally says.

And this must surely be the way to grind down the tribalistic nature of Islam in the West. To illustrate my point, take some well known doctrines from the Koran:-

It says that women can only travel when accompanied by a man that they are related to. Saudi Arabia takes this literally. But the question that should be asked instead is why does it say this? It is, in fact, concerned with the safety of women and that they would be vulnerable if travelling alone. In the Middle East 1500 years ago (or in Britain, for that matter) anyone, man or woman, but especially woman, would have been risking their lives venturing out alone when there were few laws or laws that were likely to ever be enforced. So, for the time and place when the Koran was written this kind of makes sense. The word of god, if you like, was being interpreted by Mohammed in the light of the realities of the society in which he was living. Were he doing the same today he would receive the same original message from god but he would interpret the message differently because our society is different. The underlying message from god (if you insist) would be the same but a person today would render the words differently from someone living 1500 years ago. In other words, because women are generally safe to travel alone today there is no need for a man to accompany them. So, a society with laws and a police force to protect women and which regards abuse against women as socially unacceptable is upholding the values and spirit of the Koran.

Simiarly, the edict in the Koran that women should inherit half the value that men receive would appear to indicate a rather misogynistic attitude. But Sharia courts that pass down these measures to their participants don't seem to have ever questionned why the Koran states this rule. In the Middle East at the time women were effectively domestic slaves and men largely controlled family finances. Women would typically inherit nothing. The fact that the Koran advocates giving women half what men get is, when seen in the light of the society in which it was written, a very 'progressive' move indeed. He was clearly sticking up for women and pushed the boat out for women as far as he could get away with at the time. Therefore, as a 'progressive', he was clearly an advocate for female equality. So the idea of literally interpreting the Koran based on a society of 1500 years ago is nonsense. Western ideas of equal rights for women is clearly something he would have approved of.

I have written a piece on Islamic Finance on the MM where I state my belief that a standard loan issued at a competitive and affordable rate is perfectly conducive to the principle of Islam even though interest is being charged - it is the principle of the rich money lender ripping off the borrower that the Koran is seeking to end.

My message is simple: Britain, and other Western Liberal democracies are very much societies in keeping with the fundamental values of the Koran. Britain is a more Islamic country in spirit and practice than any of the so-called muslim countries in the middle east and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia is NOT a muslim country at all given the way it treats women and merely going to a mosque and praying as required can't make up for that.

The only difficulty is that muslims regard their scriptures are the literal and immutable word of god, and it is therefore not open to interpretation. But that is only an interpretation in its own right and it is quite possible to believe that god chose a man to hear his words and in a way that made sense to someone at that time and place. This change will require a new strand of thinking within Islam; without which it is simply not compatible with the West.