Understanding Islam and Charlie Hebdo

As I studied Islam over the past two years, trying to understand the dichotomy between my personal experience with peaceful, thoughtful Muslims and the brutal, hateful violence pursued by radical Islamist terrorists, I learned why silent acquiescence to radical Islam will not lead to peace. Much of what I now know is shocking to those who think of religious figures from a Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or many other perspectives.

Here’s a few critical points worth contemplating as, through the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, we again live the violent tragedy imposed by those who believe we must live by their rules rather than the principles of freedom used in founding the United States:

  • Muhammad was a national ruler as well as a preacher. Most key religious figures, including Jesus Christ, did not attempt to rule an empire on earth. Christ and others guided followers to behaviors that would earn them a place in eternity. Muhammad sought to and did create a nation ruled by his views, and encouraged its continuous expansion.
  • Muhammad used violence to achieve his territorial objectives. Whether it was leading attacks on Mecca, approving the beheading of hundreds of Jews at Medina, or many other battles described in the Quran and Hadith, violence was part of the life of Muhammad. The Quran can be read as advocating violence or peace, depending on the desires of the interpreter.
  • Lying in the name of Islam is not a sin. Concepts known as taqiyya and kitman allow Muslims to lie to non-believers, particularly when lying advances the cause of Islam. It is even permissible in many branches of Islam for Muslims to deny their own belief in Muhammad and Allah to avoid persecution. Lie detectors track physical changes created when people engage in behavior they know to be wrong. Those changes won’t be found in those who believe their lying is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
  • Death is salvation. Many young Muslims are able to be convinced through interpretations of the Quran and Hadith that death in the name of Islam is a guaranteed pass to salvation. In The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East, author Robert Fisk details the exalted pride of children preparing to ride motorbikes through mine fields during the Iran-Iraq war when Shia Muslims in Iran battled the predominantly Sunni Muslims of Iraq. For many raised in radical Islam, attacks on infidels are a thrilling opportunity, not a source of fear. (As an aside, Shia, Sunni and other branches of Islam often see each other as infidels.)

There’s much more to explore to understand the world as it is, rather than the world as we might hope. I’ll leave you with a quote from murdered Charlie Hebdo editor in chief Stéphane Charbonnier: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

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