A virulently anti-Islam movie trailer sparked widespread protests across the Arab world and may have caused the death of a U.S. ambassador. But the truth about Islam is anything but hateful, writes Olga M. Davidson.
September 13, 2012
1. Allah is not a name of a god. It is the Arabic word God, with a capital G, referring to the very same god that Christians and Jews worship. If you want to be very literal-minded it means “the god” because it is the definitive of the word “god” (ilah or ilāh), and if one adds the definitive article (al) it become Allah (Allāh, actually but let’s not quibble). In Farsi, God is called khodah—as in French, God is called Dieu, etc.
2. Mohammad isn’t a god. According to Islam, Mohammad is the final prophet, or messenger of God. He isn’t worshipped, since he isn’t God or an avatar of God. His example is emulated, but he is considered a real person, who eats, sleeps, loves, and so on. Islam has many prophets before Mohammad, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus and arguably Mary, because she spoke with God. Mohammad is just a man; progeny of human beings. In the Qur’ān it is clearly stated that God is neither begotten nor begets (lam yalid wa lam yūlad)
3. Speaking of Mary, mother of Jesus … she is considered to be among the finest of women and there is an entire surah, or chapter in the Qur’ān, entitled Maryam, the Arabic form of Mary. She is emulated because of her unwavering faith in God and her supreme spirituality. She becomes pregnant with Jesus, though a virgin, because God can do anything, but God is not considered to be the father.
4. Mohammad was not a womanizer. He married a widow, Khadijah, and was singularly devoted to her until she died. She left him with Fatima, their daughter. Upon her death, Mohammad did not want to remarry but was urged to do so by his followers. His subsequent marriages were primarily to form alliances with his nearest and dearest as well as with more remote followers. In the Sunni tradition, Aishah, daughter of Abu Bakr, was considered to be his favorite wife. She was married to him at a very early age and was consequently raised by him and was his only virgin bride. Her tender age was considered to be normal at the time, but marriages are not consummated until the bride has menstruated, just as in Game of Thrones. His other wives were either widows or divorcées. Mohammad wanted to form a tribe or ummah that was connected through faith, as opposed to blood ties. As this tribe grew, consolidating it through marriage ties was politically prudent. At the time, polygamy at was the norm in Arab tribal society and marrying widows and divorcées was a noble thing to do.
5. Women aren’t sold into marriage. Marriage and divorce in Islam have been greatly misunderstood. In Islam, marriage is a contract, not an oath. The groom has to give the bride a dowry to make the contract valid, and that dowry is for her and her alone to use as she wishes. Hence, her father or uncle or brother does not sell her. Unlike her Christian and Jewish sisters at the time, Muslim women could own property. As for divorce, it is not as simple as making a public declaration. Because marriage is a contract, dowry negotiations are taken very seriously; half the dowry is given at the marriage, while the second half has to be given if the bride asks for it or if the marriage is terminated through no fault of the bride. Furthermore, the groom needs to answer to the bride’s family of he wishes to terminate the contract. A bride can terminate the marriage if her husband is impotent or abusive; if he is an alcoholic or drug abuser; if he forces her to abandon her faith or act in a way that she deems as abandoning her faith; or if he disappears for over a year. Marriage as contract, not an oath, is are meant to be fluid, and if a couple is not happy in living together, they can part from each other, remarry and continue to live normal lives.
6. Mohammad was not illiterate. The word Qur’ān means recitation, coming from the root q-r-‘, which means primarily to recite or declaim and then to read. If Mohammad is said to be illiterate, that is to underscore the importance of the spoken word, not the written word. The angel Gabriel gave the command form of q-r-’, saying iqra’ , which means “recite!” in Arabic, when he transmitted the message of God as opposed to having something written on tablets. That is why memorizing the Qur’ān is so valued. Under Uthman, who was caliph from 644-656, the Qur’ān became a fixed text, as in it was written down as a finalized text and has not changed since. The style of the Qur’ān in Arabic is rhymed prose, so it is easier to memorize and is considered to be inimitable. The physical book as called a maṣḥaf (pronounced as maṣ-ḥaf), which means pages between two covers or a volume, but the value of those pages is in the recitation. When the Qur’ān became mass-produced, recitations of it were considered extremely reliable, to the great surprise of European editors.
7. You can’t be a Muslim if you don’t want to be. Contrary to the misnomer, “Islam or the Sword!”, the Qur’ān is quite clear about not forcing anyone to convert. Conversion must be done through the heart. It is simple because one just has to pronounce, with sincere intention, the shahida: lā ilāh ilā allāh wa muhammad rasūlu’llāh ( “there is no god but God and Mohammad is his messenger”) three times in front of credible witnesses. Hence one comes to Islam from pure intention as opposed to being schooled by a priest, minister or rabbi.
8. You are unlikely to meet 72 virgins in heaven. The Qur’ān says nothing about 72 virgins waiting for you in heaven. Heaven is described, among other things, as the opposite of the harsh desert, hence it is verdant with the river or body of water, Kawthar, and filled with hūr al ayn, which means “ones with eyes that are very dark around the pupil”—a sign of true beauty. The concept of 72 virgins comes from outside of the Qur’ān.
9. Non-Muslims are not infidels. Christians and Jews—also Zoroastrians, for that matter—are considered to be ahl al kitāb or “people of the book,” because they are monotheists, and Islam is strictly monotheistic. References to infidels in the Qur’ān usually have to do with the Quraishi of Mecca, Mohammad’s own tribe, because they tried to kill him and destroy his following. Same would go for any Christian or Jewish tribe with the same intent.
Olga Merck Davidson earned her Ph.D. in 1983 from Princeton University in Near Eastern Studies. She is on the faculty of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations, Boston University, where she has served as Research Fellow since 2009. From 1992 to 1997, she was Chair of the Concentration in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. Since 1999, she has been Chair of the Board, Ilex Foundation.She is the author of two books: Poet and Hero in the Persian Book of Kings (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1994; 2nd ed. Mazda Press: Los Angeles, CA, 2006) and Comparative Literature and Classical Persian Poetry, Bibliotheca Iranica: Intellectual Traditions Series (Mazda Press: Los Angeles, CA, 2000), both of which have been translated into Persian and distributed in Iran.
Copyright © 2012 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC.
[Image: Indian Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Shahi Jama Masjid Mosque in the Walled City of Ahmedabad on August 20, 2012. (© Sam Panthaky, AFP/Getty Images)]
THIS IS REALLY COOL AND EASY TO READ
thank you for catering to my ignorance and making me less so <3
never judge a religion by its lunatic fringe.
Most marriages during the time this was written were contracts. I find it strange that anyone could call Mohammed a womanizer when Abraham had like, ninety wives.
This is really great information and I learned a lot of new things. Thank you!
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- "Sure, Hitler did terrible things, but you have to admit he was a brilliant man!" I have to do no such thing. He was a shiftless, self-absorbed layabout who found pontificating and rabble-rousing easier than doing actual work. Like many essentially worthless human beings, he did have a great deal of skill in manipulation, which enabled him to draw people in and use them, but I don’t call that genius.
- "The Nazis eliminated unemployment!" Any improvements the Nazis made in the German economy were short-term and unsustainable. Unemployment was eliminated in a manner of speaking — by running up ridiculous amounts of debt, cutting wages by 25%, and interning or declaring ineligible a sizable portion of the work force. Rationing began in 1937, two years before the invasion of Poland — a healthy peacetime economy does not have rationing. Their economic model relied on taking over other countries and stealing their resources — it was the only hope they had of making up the deficit.
- "The Nazis were brutally efficient!" Nothing the Nazis did was even remotely efficient. Hitler’s idea of governing was to put businesses and state departments in direct competition with each other for his personal favor. This resulted in massive corruption, bureaucratic bottlenecks, and an untold waste of time and resources. The economy wasn’t put on a full wartime footing until 1942 because no one was able or willing to do so.
- "Okay, maybe Hitler wasn’t that smart, but he was still a military genius!" Germany’s military successes during the first half of the war can best be explained by their choice of opponents — most countries were hopelessly overwhelmed, while France not-so-secretly wanted to be Germany’s girlfriend — and by the skill of the senior officers who came up through the old imperial system. When faced with opponents who actually had their shit together (and in the case of Soviet Russia that’s being charitable) Hitler’s vaunted strategic abilities were shown for their true worth — little to none.
- "Nazi science was phenomenal!" Please stop learning things from History Channel specials about “Hitler’s UFOs.” The Nazis sucked as bad at science as they did at everything else, in large part because they outright rejected a lot of theoretical advances as “Jewish science” and drove some of their greatest minds out of the country (who promptly came to the US). There’s a reason we developed the atom bomb first, and it’s because we had all their best scientists and they were left with the time-servers and jackboot-lickers.
- "But if they hadn’t invaded Russia they would’ve won the war!" Anyone who offers this as a counterfactual has completely failed to understand what Nazism was about, and it bugs the shit out of me. This wasn’t some accidental miscalculation. It was actually the entire point of National Socialism, the entire point of the whole war — carving out “living space” in the East. Was it a stupid thing to do? Sure! But here’s the thing you need to understand about the Nazis: hatred always won out over practical considerations. They hated Russians, they hated Communism, they wanted to destroy Russia’s Jews, and they weren’t about to let silly things like “reality” or “good sense” get in the way of their glorious destiny. It’s the same thing as rejecting good science because it was developed by Jewish people. They didn’t give a shit about objective reality; all they cared about was the glory of the German race and the destruction of all others. If you don’t understand this, you will never understand Nazi Germany, and you will continue to swallow lies like the ones listed above.
tl;dr: Nazi Germany was a huge fucking mess from beginning to end and anyone who says otherwise is totally ignorant and very likely a Nazi apologist.
comradechrisman asked: Hello, which university are you at again? Might see if I can get the Sheffield Strikes Back group to put out a solidarity statement with the occupation, they've done so for Sussex and Birmingham's when the bailiffs came.
King’s College London.
Although, ULU (University of London Union) I think is the best title - mainly because I’m not sure how ‘on board’ with the protests the King’s Union was. But that’s what London is like, there’s so many Universities.
Link them to this post if possible.
[Photo: Nailsworth Secondary Modern School, 1954] [x]
Education in the 1960s: Britain Moving from the Tri-Partide system to the Two-Tier System.
In the 50s, the most distinctive feature of British education was the 11+ examinations - a hotly debated mechanism - that decided whether a child would be going to a elite grammar school or a standard ‘secondary modern’. The old system was introduced in the 1944 Educational Act (known as the Butler Act) and was often declared unfair and inefficient at an essential level.
The early 1960s looked to offer a more ‘comprehensive' education, much alike the social mood of the time, education was to be modern and progressive, and thus likely to bring about better economic performance as well as equality. Some local authorities experimented with a three tier system, setting up a three tier system with a middle school for 9-13 year olds, that avoided the trappings of the 11+.
On this changing of social opinion, Edward Boyle (Educational Secretary, 1962-1964) was ready to consider new initiatives to distant British education from the 11+.
From here, county-by-county, at varying dates, the 11+ system slowly disappeared which meant that by the early 2000s, most British countries had moved on.
Many have argued that the main reason for this change came from social mobility and a wish to take on ‘the establishment’. Many argued that the 11+ method made the class system more prominent and stemmed social mobility. Labour, in the 60s, took up this cause and headed for educational reform.
The new system was not without criticism however, and even today there are those who argue to reintroduce the grammar school system. On the whole, however, the British public reject the old system.
[Photo: “British school boys commonly work the traditional peaked cap through the 1950s. By the 1980s they were being worn at only a few prep schools.” Source: [x] ]
Abortion was not just legal—it was a safe, condoned, and practiced procedure in colonial America and common enough to appear in the legal and medical records of the period. Official abortion laws did not appear on the books in the United States until 1821, and abortion before quickening did not become illegal until the 1860s. If a woman living in New England in the 17th or 18th centuries wanted an abortion, no legal, social, or religious force would have stopped her.
Reminder that records of contraception and abortion exist all the way back to 1550 BCE in ancient Egypt!
This was a really fascinating read. Until the early 19th century, abortion was legal until “quickening,” or when the pregnant person first felt the baby kick - anywhere from 14 to 26 weeks into the pregnancy. Society only began to condemn it when people decided white, middle- to upperclass women weren’t having enough children soon enough in their lives, and when male doctors started taking over traditionally female health care fields, like midwifery.
Yep, shockingly enough, it’s never, ever been about the life of the fetus - only about misogyny, racism, and classism (ableism, too, though the article doesn’t discuss it).