Islam vs. the West, Round 1

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England's Guardian (yes) has a review of Richard Fletcher's The Cross and the Crescent: Christianity and Islam from Muhammad to the Reformation. In general, Karen Armstrong praises the book, which has obvious relevance to the current moment. She concludes her review:

While Muslims established fruitful relations with Mongols, Greeks and Hindus, they remained utterly uninterested in the west. The great 14th-century traveller Ibn Battutah journeyed all over the known world, but never visited Europe. His contemporary, Ibn Khaldun, a historian and faylasuf (philosopher), dismisses the rumour that philosophy and science were developing in western Christendom: "God knows best what goes on in those parts."

Why this indifference? It springs, I believe, not from an inherent flaw in "one-text" Islam, but from the kind of superiority that, until recently, caused western people to dismiss Islam with such patrician disdain. In the early 16th century, when Fletcher ends his account, the Ottoman empire was probably the most advanced state in the world, and had no way of knowing that Europe, which had for so long been a backward region, was about to develop a civilisation that was entirely without precedent in world history, and which would have a catastrophic effect on the Muslim world.

[Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily]

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  1. >>Why this indifference? It springs, I believe, not from an inherent flaw in “one-text” Islam, but from the kind of superiority that, until recently, caused western people to dismiss Islam with such patrician disdain.

  2. Your comments are exactly the sort of problem that screwed Islam in the late middle ages. Of course it was obvious that western Christendom was just a bunch of squabbling barbarian principalities. Just like now it is obvious that the Islamic world is just a backwards religious fanatics.

    The problem is that we are frequently blindsided by (what appear to be) rapid changes that surface which we never expect because it does not fit into our established model of how we view that competing civilization. One is more likely to be blindsided when one regards a competing civilization as “inherently flawed as it has NEVER been touched by the entirely Western concept of reason” because we willfully ignore the potential for sudden change.

  3. >> Of course it was obvious that western Christendom was just a bunch of squabbling barbarian principalities.

  4. I wonder why the anonymous poster thinks the “concept of reason” is “Western”?

    Furthermore, I see nothing “anti-American” in an analysis that is applied to various societies. Sounds to me like an explanation about human nature in general, not just about America. I.e., power frequently breeds over cockiness, and that’s something anyone with power should watch out for if they wanna stay powerful.

    I do concur with the anonymous poster that I don’t particularly like the repressiveness all too common in the Muslim region of the world. Still, while I’m no scholar on the subject, I tend to doubt this repressiveness is due to the religion of Islam per se.

    More importantly, unless we kill them ALL, they ain’t going away, and we’d best use our REASON to find a good way of dealing with them. Calling someone “inherently flawed” never won anyone over.

  5. >>I wonder why the anonymous poster thinks the “concept of reason” is “Western”?>Furthermore, I see nothing “anti-American” in an analysis that is applied to various societies.>Still, while I’m no scholar on the subject, I tend to doubt this repressiveness is due to the religion of Islam per se.>More importantly, unless we kill them ALL, they ain’t going away, and we’d best use our REASON to find a good way of dealing with them. Calling someone “inherently flawed” never won anyone over.

  6. Reason is inherent in Islam. Islam does not ask one to submit to God blindly, but to investigate the living world. The Christian world has a hard time understanding how reason and faith can be the same thing, but in Islam it is not difficult to understand this. In Islam only God is unknowable, the human world is knowable and indeed God invites man to know it. While there is no overt statement of Reason in Islam as one could argue there is in Christianity, a liminal space is opened up between the unknowable and all-seeing (God) and the knowable, mortal world in which we live. This is what empowered the scientists of the wealthy Islamic age to forge ahead in science, and what inspired the artists and poets of that age as well.

    While it is true that the Hellenic culture codified reason, only a fool could argue that they ‘invented’ reason. Reason dwells in all men and is a gift unique to man among God’s creations. Reason allows man to accept Islam, indeed the Quran says it is natural to doubt, to not have faith In fact it is reason itself which allows faith in Islam. With the knowledge that God is the greatest (the highest, the exalted, the unknowable, all-seeing creator, the most merciful, etc) one can allow oneself to submit to God. It takes reason and not blind faith to submit to God and it is not easy.

    While there is no doubt that there is a strong anti-reason current running through Muslims, there is nothing inherent in Islam that makes this so. The Arab world is in awful shape and has been in a long decline, but Islam itself is immutable and the anonymous’ poster can only be pitied for his conflation of Arabs and Islam. More careful study will reveal that reason and faith in Islam are one and the same, and that his problem is with the Arabs, not Islam.

  7. …Ahh, so the Inquisition was the natural expression of Christian Platonic Rationalism?

    The capacity for reason is a universal talent, as is the capacity for extremism, and the capacity for evolution. Islam is perfectly capable of mustering from within it’s own Reformation. It has begun already.

    Yes, it will take generations of patience to see a new societal mindset in traditional pockets, and so guarantee successful democracy, but give Muslims the benefit of some faith. Islam will flourish side-by-side with democracy and capitalism. Islam is inherently compatible.

  8. 1. The context of the discussion was not the “Christian World” but the West, which indeed is today a post-Christian civilization. Christianity provided one leg of the West, the Greeks the other.

    2. I never said they “invented reason” I said quite clearly that they discovered the CONCEPT of reason. Obviously you haven’t.

    3. My problem is not with the Arabs nor even with the Koran, but with Islam as an institution.

    4. The fact that you confuse Reason and Faith as being identical only proves my point. The West has had an ongoing intelletual battle of 2000 years involving the best minds over Reason versus Faith. Islam had a holy man and single book.

  9. Have any of you bothered to study Islamic/Near Eastern history? Islamic Societies had plenty of “Reason”. They had translated most of the texts of the classical Greeks, as well as the legacies of the Persian, Roman, and Greek civilizations. The difference is that the Islamic, like the Chinese, civilization saw itself as the pinnicle of the civilized world – which it was. The Europeans could look at the ruins of the Romans and see what they had lost, it was that sense of loss that caused the Rennaisance.

    The Islamic empires had good reason to look at the Europeans as barbarians – they were. I doubt they saw much difference between the Franks and Normans who where trying to capture Jerusalem and the Mongol and Turkomen who came in from Central Asia.

  10. >>..Ahh, so the Inquisition was the natural expression of Christian Platonic Rationalism?>The capacity for reason is a universal talent, as is the capacity for extremism, and the capacity for evolution. Islam is perfectly capable of mustering from within it’s own Reformation. It has begun already.>Yes, it will take generations of patience to see a new societal mindset in traditional pockets, and so guarantee successful democracy, but give Muslims the benefit of some faith. Islam will flourish side-by-side with democracy and capitalism. Islam is inherently compatible.

  11. >>Islamic Societies had plenty of “Reason”. They had translated most of the texts of the classical Greeks, as well as the legacies of the Persian, Roman, and Greek civilizations.> The difference is that the Islamic, like the Chinese, civilization saw itself as the pinnicle of the civilized world – which it was.>The Europeans could look at the ruins of the Romans and see what they had lost, it was that sense of loss that caused the Rennaisance.>The Islamic empires had good reason to look at the Europeans as barbarians – they were. I doubt they saw much difference between the Franks and Normans who where trying to capture Jerusalem and the Mongol and Turkomen who came in from Central Asia.

  12. Hey, Nameless, you don’t *have* a thesis. Rather, a pile of invective peppered with insult. I see no coherent logical thread, save anger.

    For starters, do some homework on Islam. It is hardly an “institution” in any meaningful sense: So your “problem” with it is … your own raw ignorance, perhaps?

    Hey Nick, this is fun!!

    Good post.

  13. >>Hey, Nameless, you don’t *have* a thesis. Rather, a pile of invective peppered with insult. I see no coherent logical thread, save anger..>For starters, do some homework on Islam. It is hardly an “institution” in any meaningful sense

  14. Faith is belief based on no reason, evidence or rational basis. It is this separation from reason that supposedly keeps it outside of rational inquiry. But if one insists on bringing faith and reason together as one, riddle me this. On what basis do you have faith that Muhammed did indeed transcribe the word of Allah as opposed to him having psychiatric/ego issues and making it all up?

  15. Well I would start by asking, have there been prophets in the past? I believe that reason dictates that there have indeed been prophets in the past, as there have been men who have been named prophets, and those around them believed that they spoke the word of God. The real question then becomes, what is God. Is it a man with a flowing robe and a beard who controls Earth? Islam says no. Islam says God is everything, and it seems to me that there is no other explanation for the work of prophets through the ages other than the idea that “God” spoke through them. This is an ancient wisdom which exists in all faiths, and is not incompatible with reason.

    Is it not reasonable to assume that there is some power that exists beyond human comprehension? The closer and closer science gets to any ‘answer’ there is always a space that exists. This leads me to believe that there is a power that lies beyond human comprehension.

    It is reasonable to assume that this power might flow through different people in different ways, and that certain people might be able to express this power, this force, this essential ‘goodness’ in ways that move other humans. We call these people (Jesus, Abraham, Muhammad) prophets, and we call the power that flows through them in a particularly amplified way “the word of God”. We have words, God does not.

    So, I do not think it is unreasonable to say that yes, the Quran is the word of God. Your conception of faith is the Western conception which holds that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. In Islam faith and reason are the same thing. I believe that as science progresses (thanks to the wonderful advances that have been made by Western scientists) people will begin to see how true this is. No matter what we discover, there is always something more. Submitting to the ‘something more’ is the essence of Islam.

  16. As for the Muslim reformation, it will not happen, and cannot happen. Islam is a way of life and not an institution (dictionary definitions notwithstanding). However the Arab and Central Asian world needs major change, which will come (as the Christian reformation did) with the economic empowerment of the lower classes. No change in Islam as an institution is necessary for this to occur, as was necessary in the Church hierarchy at the time of Martin Luther, or in the Church establishment at the time of the Peasant Revolt.

    The institutions that have been created by man around Islam, or ‘using’ Islam, such as corrupt nations, Mosques, and people, need serious change. But this change will come through the economy, not through some shake-up of the Islamic vales, which are simple, undogmatic, and universal.

  17. Sean,
    Never argue with a True Believer.

    Muslim clearly doesn’t understand the Western concept of Reason, that which is entirely different from that of Faith — which entirely proves my point.

    Instead of confronting this issue, Muslim instead gives misdirection and a sermon, of course with the standard pitch of an economic hand-out.

    This of course says it all:

    “As for the Muslim reformation, it will not happen, and cannot happen.”

    I can thank Muslim (unless it is a troll) for giving more evidence for my thesis: Islam is indeed inherently flawed as it has NEVER been touched by the entirely Western concept of REASON.

  18. Anon,
    You considder a belief system who’s centeral tennents include; Virgin birth, Reserection, assorted parlor tricks (water/wine, loafs n fish)to be ‘touched by REASON’
    he he that’s a good one
    “reason was ‘discovered’ by Plato”! hee
    “Christanity has been inoculated against fundamentalism”!! oh my side is aching
    “the Inquisition was a MINOR SETBACK for reason” AHhh HA HA HA HA Stop PLEASE you are KILLING ME ha ha ha ha

  19. Anon,

    Thanks for the answers (as if you need any prodding!), but I’m still confused. Is your claim of Islam’s resistance to Reason as an ideal based on empirical observation purely or on how you judge Islam’s underlying philosophy to be different from Christianity’s (and therefore Western Civ’s)? You seem to shift from one to the other. If it’s the philosophy, I would think the Muslim poster’s argument makes sense as a rebuttal. I think he specifically said that God granted humans the means to learn about the world, and the golden age of Islam would seem to back this. So big deal if the Muslim poster thinks reason must be subserviant to God, wouldn’t devout Christians think that too? (And even if you think they’re irrelevant now, you seem to agree that they weren’t always.)

    If you’re making a purely empirical observation, I would think you’re painting with a rather broad brush. Even if Islam plays a much larger role in Islamic society than Christianity plays in today’s Western society, is Islam really the only influence? Or will globalization eventually bring the changes you seem to think are impossible? Many of us see radical Islam as a desperate response to the inevitable.

    In light of your opinions on Islam, I might take it that despite your advocacy of an Iraqi invasion, you must not have a very rosy vision of its aftermath. Looks like you think it’s worth it just to make ’em all quake. Hmm, well I’d rather not argue about the wisdom of that right now. Suffice to say that I agree that when they take up the sword we must respond in kind. But I’d rather not use the sword against an entire civilization for the actions of a few (however many others *might* be secretly or not so secretly cheering them on).

  20. Part of the problem with the West vs Islam historical argument is that people seem to talk about different tiem periods. Islamic civilization reached it height when Vikings were a major military force, and the French were still Franks trying to figure out the whole civilization thing. Comparing the Islamic world 1000 to Europe in 1500 doesn’t really accomplish much. Islam reached great heights, then stagnated for a vaiety of reasons, from political to environmental.

  21. Anonymous, your ravings seem based on a very ‘unreaonable’ hatred of a construct which does not exist in reality but in your own mind. If you are truly interested in Islamic culture in history (and not just interested in desctruction) you might like to read about the Mutazilites. If you know your Western History (and I suspect you do not) you can compare them with the Scholastics.

    The primary difference between Hellenistic reason and Islamic belief, is that the Muslim believes in reason under God, while Hellenistic reason beleives that absolutely everything can be understood by man. In Islam, God is well beyond human comprehension and cannot be understood by man– however his world can be understood and the Muslim is encouraged to do so, encouraged to make choices for himself and explore the world. Where you get the idea that there has been no Islamic philosophers is beyond me! As I say above, your ideas seem to be based on a very shallow understanding perhaps formed by half a dozen news programs and not any serious study.

    As for Saddam Hussein, it seems odd to me that you believe that one secular country overthrowing another secular leader would cause Muslims to care in any way. Rather it will be the deaths of innocents that will be the tragedy, for everyone not just Muslims. Whether this is caused by Saddam Hussein or George Bush is debatable, both are contributing. But anyway that’s not exactly the topic.

  22. Interesting debate on this very same topic…

    http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=6431

  23. Muslim:
    1. Ad Hominem will not help your aguments. And I don’t hate Islam or Muslims, I am simply making an arguement that is a one-dimentional inferior belief system that is dangerous to Western Civilzation.

    2. Again you fail to understand that Western civizilation is not entirely based on Hellenistic Reason, but also on Chrisitian Faith. You continue to swing at shadows that do not exist, as the institutions of West have roots in both. Hence the pluralism of the West that Islam seeks to destroy.

    3. I don’t think destroying Hussein is aimed at the average Muslim. It is aimed at other regimes, secular or not. The message is simple: Comply on the War on Terror or be replaced. It is simply one front in larger War.

    Neither Plato or Jesus has called for your destruction. We would rather leave you in peace. But if you continue to follow the Sword in the Koran and seek submission of the entire world to the all-embracing Sharia — then the West will be forced to destroy political Islam either now or in a nuclear confrontation.

  24. The above comments remind this Brit of why I was glad to be baptised into the Church of England, since it meant I did not have to actually believe in the literal version of the faith. Hence, in my wooly-minded English way, I was perfectly positioned to be convinced of rational counter-arguments.

    America’s Founders were acutely aware of the need to establish, right from the start, religious pluralism. I don’t see why, in theory and in practice, the same liberalism that requires a distinction between church and state cannot apply in muslim nations as well. Call me an optimist.

  25. >>You considder a belief system who’s centeral tennents include; Virgin birth, Reserection, assorted parlor tricks (water/wine, loafs n fish)to be ‘touched by REASON’>”reason was ‘discovered’ by Plato”! hee

  26. This website has been around since Plato? Bitchin!

    Seriously, Anon, you need to go accomplish something yourself, instead of resting on the laurels of your civilization. For instance, you could get a Ph. D in religion or history, so someone might care about your racism/prejudice masquerading as scholarship.

    and fyi, those Titans of reason you refer to had emminently reasonable discussions about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. I would ask if you understand what “Reason” means, but you’d probably quote a dictionary definition again.

  27. >>Seriously, Anon, you need to go accomplish something yourself, instead of resting on the laurels of your civilization.> For instance, you could get a Ph. D in religion or history, so someone might care about your racism/prejudice masquerading as scholarship>nd fyi, those Titans of reason you refer to had emminently reasonable discussions about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

  28. Okay Mr. Anon, you make some good points, although I don’t know enough about the subject matter to necessarily know if I’d agree or not. But here’s a few issues I’d like you to address.

    Regarding inventing and using Reason. I didn’t invent the computer yet I still use it. And of course people whose culture didn’t invent it use it as well. For what you’re saying to make any sense, the point must not be so much that someone in Western Civ “invented” the concept of reason (I’d say that saying that he originally “defined” it makes more sense to me), but that somehow Western Civ, despite centuries in which it *was* a Christian civilization (I *think* you would agree with that?), was somehow *open* to the concept of reason as opposed to faith, whereas Islam is totally not. This would seem to imply that the Christian theologists were somehow aware that there was this thing called Reason which contradicted their notion of faith? On the surface that seems unlikely to me. If what you’re saying is that they recognized that reason can coexist with faith and be consistent with faith, how is that materially different from what the Muslim poster is saying? Since the Muslim poster says that God allows for reason, why can’t reason and faith coexist in the Muslim world the same way it did in the Christian world till reason started to eventually become predominant? (This would assume they’re just a little behind.) What in Christianity allowed for reason and what in Islam respectively rules it out?

    Also, are you saying that a democracy in an Islamic country is impossible? Isn’t that contradicted by Turkey? Not a paradise of western liberties, but still a demmocracy. Iran has democratic institutions and there are pressures among the populace to make them more meaningful.

    And, what do you mean by Political Islam? I know radical Islam calls for the destruction of the West, and it has some support in the Islamic mainstream, but who is this Political Islam exactly? My understanding is that Islam officially tolerates other religions although it sees them as inherently inferior. But being inferior doesn’t mean you have to be killed. Who are you talking about who advocates total destruction of the West who somehow represents all of Political Islam?

    You said earlier that you don’t want to kill all Muslims (whew!), but you wan’t to destroy it as a political force. Other than invading to Iraq to depose Hussein, how do you propose to do this? And aren’t “they” already nuclear armed via Pakistan?

    Feel free to contact me off-list if you prefer.

  29. 1. RE: Reason. I am discussing Reason as an ideal, not as a facility. Yes Muslims may use reason. But do they hold it as an ideal? I think they do not.

    And yes many Christian theologists were open to Reason (e.g. Thomism) just as many Western philosophers also are willing to admit that Reason has its limitations. You really hit what I am saying on the head with…

    >>Western Civ, despite centuries in which it *was* a Christian civilization (I *think* you would agree with that?), was somehow *open* to the concept of reason as opposed to faith, whereas Islam is totally not>Since the Muslim poster says that God allows for reason, why can’t reason and faith coexist in the Muslim world the same way it did in the Christian world till reason started to eventually become predominant? (This would assume they’re just a little behind.)>Also, are you saying that a democracy in an Islamic country is impossible? Isn’t that contradicted by Turkey?>Who are you talking about who advocates total destruction of the West who somehow represents all of Political Islam>You said earlier that you don’t want to kill all Muslims (whew!), but you wan’t to destroy it as a political force. Other than invading to Iraq to depose Hussein, how do you propose to do this?>And aren’t “they” already nuclear armed via Pakistan?

  30. I wanna get a shoutout ta the Muslim. Yo yo, muslim, jus drop that shit wit annonymous, ya too good,i woulda kilt that cracka by now, im too hood, he b sayin, “mirra mirra, on the wall, whos the greatst civlization of em all,” it wasnt, franks a muslims, chrstians a gauls, itbe the G Unit mufuckin soldias yall.

  31. I also wanna get a shout out to my G Unit, holla back, Pablo yo bitch lexi suckin my dick right now son, boy with color, Roro, keep it gangsta n word, Walta, the ghettois mufucka out their, Also wanna say Brice, us a faggit wiggr. Finly, fuck the police, aint no bitch name nina gon knock our hustle. I’m out, 50 cent aka Edawg, aka jamie sky, Also wanna holla at Lil Wyte, Peace. 😉

  32. Yo, guess whos back? Yeah bitches, its 50, and i jus wantd to say, branson is gay

  33. Im bord, i bin freestylin, and lemme tell u sumshit, my boy, d-baby, dickson, whateva, that boys lyrrics is rough rugged and raw, spittin’ rhymes and bullets, u no. I know u wan hear sum shit, so me and my boy Q was rappin bout this fatass shamoo of a bitch name crissy, ugly as a mufucka, an stupid too. So sum dumass whos screen name wuz “hamburgerhelper”, don even fuckn ask, jus anotha pussy ass sof heartd faggit defendn peepl that aint got no frends. im too high to rmemba the res, an my grls here, so im a go fuck that hoe and ill catch yall tmorra, peace

  34. Yall no who tha fuck this is, only reason im postn so much shits dat the popo’s caught me wit my knife at school. So im suspendd, i ‘on care tho, cuz im a thug, and lemme tel u sumn. U aint gon survive at my school ‘f u aint got protection. We 2 ghetto down therr, G Unit catch yo lil wyte kids wit anything we wan’, we’ll rob his littl punkass, jus like we did t’ Ja. Fuckn pussy, an’ he still got beef wit me an my favorit white boy Walta, shiiiiit, when u say my name in yo songs betta watch whatchu say, cuz i don play, u could get hit an carried away,don even try t’ shoot back wit a bulletproof, car vest and hat, wit my knife an’ my gat, kill mo peepl than US did in Iraq. Iv shoot mo pussies down on they ass than Shaq gets boards off the glass, So nex time u insult my G Unit clique, ima cut off yo dick an leav yo face bleedn aftr i let off a clip.

  35. Yoooooooooooooooooooo, im back, bored as fuck, in a coupl a days i wont be herr no mo, im back in school, benji won be ther no mo cuz he dun got hisself expelt, no mo suckin schreibers dick, u no he cryin bout that. Me an akman gon b back, tha 2 PIMPS of the grade, firs we thuggin, then we fuggn them bitches, anyway, ima pop off ‘n smoke me sum bud, peace

  36. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  37. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  38. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  39. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  40. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  41. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  42. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  43. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  44. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

  45. you tell ?em fiddy cent!!!! If anyone?s gonna save the West…it?s the gangsta rappers. They got the braun and the brains..takin? their rhymes to the Middle East and poppin? caps in them freaks…

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