On Profiling Muslims
by John Byorth
Celebrating Augustine 08(28)2006

John responded to the following e-mail with the article that follows.

Subject: MUSLIM

“Please read the following carefully and pass it on if you care to. Is there more than a thread of truth below? You decide for yourself!

Interesting article….. Can A Muslim Become A Good American Citizen? Can a good Muslim be a good American? I sent that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. The following is his reply:

Theologically – no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia. Religiously – no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Koran, 2:256) Scripturally – no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran). Geographically – no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day. Socially – no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews. Politically – no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan.

Domestically – no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34). Intellectually – no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt. Philosophically – no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic. Spiritually – no. Because when we declare, “one nation under God,” the Christian’s God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called Love in The Quran’s 99 excellent names.

Therefore after much study and deliberation….perhaps we should be more suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. At the very least, we should be more aware of what a Muslim is, and what a Muslim believes. They obviously cannot be both “good Muslims ” and good Americans.

Call this what you wish….it’s still the truth.

If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future.

Pass it on Fellow Americans if you care to. The religious war of Islam is bigger than we know or understand.

John’s Response:

“It is with heavy eyes and skepticism that I read the original email message above as it alludes to the condemnation of an entire religion’s capability to conform to the ideal of a “good American citizen.” This sort of immediacy in a such a complex topic is short-sighted and intellectually vacant. It reminds me of the anti-German and anti-Japanese sentiments here in the United States during WWII–not all Germans were Nazis, not all Japanese supported the Emperor. Perhaps my shirttail relatives, the Blindauers and Schneiders, have some memory of this sort of discrimination in their pasts.

Critical thought and consideration are healthy qualities in arriving at a well conceived opinion, and to that end, the original email can contribute to a breadth of literature. But taken alone, it is an abysmal representation of the matter. It is my gut feeling that few of you who received the email have the time or inclination to pursue further study of Islamic culture and its reconciliation with American ideals to balance it with. If you do, I apologize for the assumption and would invite meaningful discourse on the subject as I am vested in the topic. But knowing, for example, that my own siblings are chin deep in their careers, marriages, elementary school and church activities, their own graduate studies, yard work, and rare moments of recreation that it is not likely. So let me share some insight from my own experiences and research.

To categorize “ALL MUSLIMS” as one in the same is a damaging generalization to understanding a multifarious religion in the same way speaking of all Christians as one united “people” convolutes an understanding of that western religion. As we all know, there are a multitude of divisions within Christianity with diverging views, beliefs, dogmas and sub-cultures: Eastern Orthodox v. Roman Catholic v. Protestant, and then a family tree of sects beyond these. The Muslim community is similar, broken between two major sects who have not agreed since the death of Mohammed in 632 on much of anything. Nearly immediately there were divisions, identifiable today by the two major sects: Sunni and Shi’ites. The hatred between them is prolific, as voracious as the Catholic/Protestant wars in the 16th century, and easily seen in the oppositional relationships pervasive throughout Iraq’s current civil war, etc. Superimposed on these divisions are ethnic tribes. Arabs v. Persians. Turk v. Kurd. Pashto v. Tajik. Uzbek v. Turkmen; whose animosities go back so far in time that most of our Anglo-Saxon relatives were still going Viking. Today, retribution for ancient family and tribal skirmishes trump even religious unity. These two facts alone, sects and ethnicity, make the statement “ALL MUSLIM” incredibly ignorant. Muslims living in America come from more countries alone than make up the whole of European-American backgrounds, and have a diversity of beliefs and cultures that further negate any sort of Muslim generalization.

Theologically, Muslims see Islam as the succession of previous monotheistic religions-Judaism and Christianity. Their Allah is the Allah of Abraham, the ancestor of all three of these major monotheistic religions. This was not lost on Mohammed. In the early years after his revelations, his first order of business was not to divide and conquer the world, but to unify it and its tribes, Arabian and otherwise. In order to do so, he offered considerable tolerance toward non-Muslims. In fact, the Quran commanded Muslims to protect “people of the book,” Jews and Christians who possessed a revealed scripture. Remember that it was the angel Gabriel who revealed God’s word to Mohammed, the same angel who revealed to Mary of her blessing. Unfortunately, whomever authored the email below sites the Koran Sura II verse 256. It is completely way off in their usage of it. Here is what that passage says taken from my Quran bought on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan: “God! There is no God but He; the Living, the Eternal; Nor slumber seizeth Him, nor sleep; His, whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth! Who is he that can intercede with Him but by His own permission? He knoweth what hath been before them and what shall be after them; yet nought of His knowledge shall they grasp, save what He willeth. His throne reacheth over the heavens and the earth, and the upholding of both burdeneth Him not; and He is High, the Great!”

As can be plainly seen, this passage has nothing to do with discrimination of other religions, but affirming Islam’s monotheistic foundation, which, by the way, reiterates our own first Commandment. Sura 259, however, makes some nod towards those who do not believe in God, which excludes, obviously, Jews and Christians, but includes the pagan gods popular in the 7th century Arabian desert.

Indeed, Sura II verse 59 reads: “Verily, they who believe (Muslims), and they who follow the Jewish religion, and the Christians, and the Sabeites–whoever of these believeth in God and the last day, and doeth that which is right, shall have their reward with their Lord: fear shall not come upon them, neither shall they be grieved.”

Religiously, Islam is by nature understanding and tolerant. However, it is the beliefs of but a few radical religious teachers that abnegates tolerance. Doesn’t it seem suspect that ALL MUSLIMS would miss this teaching and subscribe to the teachings of the most radical?

Scripturally, there is no doubt that Muslims ignore the Pentateuch (Torah) and the New Testament as the final word of God. However, by the reasoning of the author, Muslim allegiance to the Five Pillars of Islam precludes their ability to conform to the same natural laws of mankind that have trickled down into our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I might suggest that while there is some dogmatic absolutes, the fact is that the Five Pillars are hardly different from our own Christian teachings in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, and hence, their differences are interpretative by nature. If you practice the Five Pillars, with the exception of the Haj or pilgrammage to Mecca, it is parallel to practicing the Ten Commandments and fulfilling Jesus’ teachings. Both are amenable to living under the Constitution of the United States and by the guarantees of the Bill of Rights.

I’m not sure how the significance of Mecca in prayer detracts from one’s ability to be a good American, and am interested in the author’s ideas. I do know Jews pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as do some Christians, and Catholics also have Rome, which is much more of a political entity than Mecca. Indeed, should we hold Roman Catholics to the same standard as Muslims? While we don’t point toward Rome to pray, many hold allegiance to the Papacy and his directives on abortion, homosexuality, and fornication. The significance for Mecca is much different than that. Previous to Mohammed’s revelations, Mecca was the trade center of Arabia and a significant place of worship at the Ka’ba shrine for animist cults. When Mohammed’s new Muslim army defeated the Quraysh tribal army outside Mecca, he knew of the cultural significance of the Ka’ba shrine to locals (which he was one), and maintained it out of strategic need for smooth conversion of these people. Today, Muslims point that direction because it signifies submittal to Allah. We do the same as we kneel before the cross.

Perhaps the greatest cleavage in Islam today is the rectification of church and state. For Muslims in America, however, this cleavage is not as prominent because of the existing separation between the two. In developing Muslim countries, ie. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc., the tensions are self-evident and being worked out, although again, complicated by tribal divisions and variations in tribal law. In America, however, one should consider the fact that many Muslim-Americans (one figure is 13 million Americans) immigrated here because of their desire to live freely from strict interpretations of Shari’at (religious social laws) and Purdah (laws governing women) Laws, and made considerable sacrifices to realize this dream. One article of a mullah in Brooklyn was striking to me in this way. I believe it was the New York Times, and if you do a search of nytimes.com around March 3 (I think the 5th, if memory serves me) I’m sure you will find it. The mullah is young, in his 40s, and spoke of the problems he faces rectifying Islamic law and American culture. His prerogative was that Muslim-Americans struggled with fidelity in their relationships, divorce and behavior (drugs, alcohol, pre-marital sex). His feeling was that it was the degradation of adherence to Islamic social norms because of an immersion in a much more liberal American culture. The thing is, I think that many of us would agree these things are the rot for all who strive to lead a moral life, and at that, one that makes us good American citizens.

Domestically, there is another cleavage between more modern Muslims and those who subscribe to traditional interpretations of the Quran. In much of the Islamic world, this translates into a cultural difference between urban and rural people. The norm in urban centers IS NOT polygamy. This is a tribal characteristic. Urban Palestinians, Lebanese, Afghans, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc. do not have multiple wives, perhaps because they understand that it is hard enough to please one woman much less four (ha!). Seriously, urban dwellers look down on such archaic interpretations of polygamy.

Sura IV Verse 34 does not prescribe four wives or beating and scourging and all the rest. It reads: “And whoever shall do this maliciously and wrongfully, We will in the end cast him (emphasis added) into the Fire; for this is easy with God.”

The verse is in relation to the 33 verse: “O believers! Devour not each other’s substance in mutual frivolities; unless there be a trafficking among you by your own consent: and commit not suicide: of a truth God is merciful to you.”

As you can see, the verse calls for the eternal damnation for anyone meets wrongdoing with wrongdoing or complicity. Note that it is this verse that damns suicide, hence suicide bombings. This is a seriously held belief among Afghan Muslims. The verse that talks of four wives is as follows: Sura IV Verse 3: “And if ye are apprehensive that ye shall not deal fairly with orphans, then, of other women who seem good in your eyes, marry but two, or three, or four; and if ye still fear that ye shall not act equitably, then one only; or the slaves whom ye have acquired: this will make justice on your part easier. Give women their dowry freely; but if of themselves they give up aught thereof to you, then enjoy it as convenient, and profitable:”

The verse does NOT command Muslims to marry four women, but only as many as a man can support equitably. This is common among many tribal cultures. Granted that was a long time ago for many cultures, and it is a bit weird for us monogamists of modern day. But consider that there are sects of LDS in Utah that still grasp at some straws to legitimize their bigamy. I don’t think this makes them bad Americans, just bad husbands.

Intellectually and philosophically, much of the Islamic world is diametrically opposed to western thought and culture, as the author writes, but not all. For one, we arrived at our Constitution through an evolutionary tract that included 1000 years of darkness, ie, the Dark Ages. We had to rebirth those classical ideas of ancient Greece and Rome through the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, the Reformation, and finally the Enlightenment, which gave birth to a multitude of social ideas; communism, socialism, liberalism, republicanism and transcendentalism among them. But we had to work at it, and it took revolution, the hapless deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents and not so innocents. So it is perhaps an unnecessary judgment to say that much of the Islamic world is living in its own Dark Ages-it is evident. The Ayatollah of Iran recently said as much in his defense of scientific progress for nuclear energy-his point was that Persia was once the leader of the world in science, literature, architecture, etc., and had a responsibility to return to that greatness. Now, as much as that scares the hell out of me, it does point to the backward nature of Islamic countries at this point in time. However, I wonder if this is the choice of the oppressed masses or the queer authoritarian and dictatorial Islamic regimes, like the Taliban, that have made this decision. I’d guess not. The aegis of totalitarian regimes is not to allow choice, so even our own “intellectual” ability as modern Americans to quantify universal Islamic belief in democracy is replete with holes.

Democracy requires an educated public, John Dewey once argued when the US government was wavering on free public education. The inability for Muslim people to adhere to democratic principles is not the Quran, but ignorance. You see this in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq at this very moment. They are struggling with democracy not because of their religion, but, in the case of Afghanistan, because of the “brain drain” that has occurred after thirty years of regime changes, war and oppression. All the smart people have left and are in the United States, in Virginia, the Bay Area, and in Germany, etc., leading productive, democratic lives. Give these people left behind opportunity and their potential to become good American citizens is endless (of course, some have no chance so long as they adhere to strict 7th century interpretations of the Quran). For perspective, forget not that two of the greatest philosophers in the history of mankind were Rumi and Hafiz, and were from Central Asia and under considerable Islamic influence. Only through education and opportunity can people of oppressive Islamic countries realize such greatness as the freedoms of America, and rise to our standard of a good citizen.

The author of the email below is correct in pointing out one possible interpretation of incompatibilities between the secular/Judeo-Christian West and Islamic East, but there is so much more to it than what I read below. To me, this email suggests that ALL MUSLIMS are fundamentalists and radical, and implies a certain discrimination that seems to be based on ignorance and misunderstanding-the very traits that demarcate Islamists from moderate Muslims. There are a great many good Muslim-American citizens, I’ve met some, and to ignore their accomplishments of overcoming despots, narrow minded mullahs, and oppression only to come to the United States to realize religious freedom, growth and opportunity-pursuit of the American Dream-only serves to perpetuate this horrible division among people who believe in the same God; none of which I imagine Jesus would condone, but I am not authorized to make judgments on His behalf.

I urge anyone who has read the email below not to succumb to unbridled suspicion of Muslims, nor to judge their ability to be “good American citizens.” Instead, learn more about their religion, culture and communities, and reach out to them. Strengthen ties with them, because they are our first line of defense against radicals, not our supposed Intelligence. Indeed, it was a Muslim who tipped the Royal Police off to the planned airline bombings in London a few weeks ago. That person is an ally, a quintessential citizen, and someone I’d like to shake hands with and thank.”

—John Byorth