Leaving Islam



The Two Faces of Islam?


By Ali Sina 

After the September attack in 2001 the interest in Islam suddenly skyrocketed. People gobbled articles and bookstores ran out of books about Islam. Yet a few years later the opinions are still divided as where to point the accusatory finger. Many people still ask; is really Islam responsible for all these terrorisms or is Islam hijacked by a small group of misguided extremists on the fringe.   

President Bush reiterated that Islam is a religion of peace. Some writers agree. Stephen Schwartz, in his book titled “The Two Faces of Islam” says that Islam is essentially a tolerant religion. He maintains that Islamic thought and culture have long fostered religious tolerance of Christians and Jews. Schwartz argues that the present friction between the Muslims and the Jews is only 100 years old. He blames the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on Wahabism, a puritan Islamic sect that controls the House of Saud.

Before analyzing Schwartz’s statement on Islam, it is important to remind the readers that Stephen Schwartz is actually a Muslim convert. His Islamic name is Suleyman Ahmad. He acknowledges that being a new convert; he does not know much about Islam and cannot comment on matters of doctrine. In a speech delivered to Bosnian Muslims, entitled “My Coming to Islam” He explained the reasons for embracing Islam and they are all subjective. He never gave a single logical proof that Islam is a true religion. The following is one of the reasons he gave for converting to Islam:

Regarding my Jewish background: I read in our generous Quran the beautiful, beautiful surah 28, about the life of Musa. I cry when I read the Quran's description of Musa's life, because although the account in Torah, in Jewish scripture, is very beautiful and moving -- it also makes me cry -- Quran has something extra: that when Musa had killed the Egyptian oppressor, and was then forgiven by Allah swt, that he said to Allah swt. "Oh my Lord! For that thou hast bestowed Thy Grace on me, never shall I be a help to those who sin!" That is, as Muslims, we must never aid oppressors; we are, as Muslims, the children of freedom.”

Another reason for his conversion is: “I went to masjid and felt, more than any other time in my life, that I was in the presence of God. I saw that Islam is the closest way to God's love.”

Naturally we can’t expect objectivity from a person who embraces a religion, of which he admittedly knows little, so subjectively, guided by his feelings. Is feeling a reliable guide? Don't the followers of all cults and irrational beliefs act on their feelings? 

To a certain degree Schwartz is right. Although he is wrong in saying Islam has two faces, it is true that not every Muslim is a terrorist. A group of Muslims are extremists while others are peaceful and moderate. However, these two groups are not separated from each other. The line of demarcation between them is blurred. Actually there is no such line dividing the extremists from the moderates. They are all Muslims. The difference is in degrees and the strength of their faith. The extremists and the terrorists are those with stronger faith and the moderates are those with weaker faith. So there are no two faces of Islam as Schwartz put it. Muslims come in all hues and shades. The stronger is their faith, the more extremists they become.

Instead of thinking of Muslims as two separate groups, moderates and extremists, think of them as one group gathered around a fire. Those who are farthest from the fire are the nominal Muslims. The nominal Muslims are the average Muslims whom we are most familiar with. They could be our coworkers, our business associates or our neighbors. They dress like us and live like us, their children play with our children and they are working hard to put food on the table, pay their mortgage and live a normal life. They believe in the five pillars of the Islamic faith, some perform prayers, and some don’t. They may fast during the month of Ramadan and if they can afford, they go to pilgrimage in Mecca at least once in their lifetime but most don’t, even when they can afford it.

As you move closer to the fire you find Muslims becoming more attached to Islam, they meticulously perform their religious obligations, they read the Quran, regularly, go to the mosque, pay zakat, eat only halal food, dress Islamicly, believe in conspiracy theories about the Jews running the world, hate America, have not read Noam Chomsky but recommend his books, see the world divided in Muslim/kafir dichotomy, rationalize suicide bombings as legitimate fight against “oppression”, etc.

As you approach closer, you find the fanatics who are consumed by their zealotry and become terrorists and Jihadis. These people are all Muslims. The only difference between them is in degree of their adherence to Islam. There is no guarantee that a moderate nominal Muslim will remain moderate always. He can become attracted to the fire of zealotry and become a terrorist overnight. All it takes for nominal Muslims to become terrorists, is that they face a crisis. And if they are young, there is a chance that they become extremists and even terrorists. As long as Muslims look at Islam as the ultimate source of guidance, there is a risk that anyone of them become a terrorist in a heartbeat. 

Stephen Schwartz is not a youth and hence the chances of him becoming a terrorist are low. But when one is so enamored with Islam and the “beautiful, beautiful” Quran, how can he refuse Muhammad’s call when he says:  

“O ye who believe! take not for protectors your fathers and your brothers if they love infidelity above Faith: if any of you do so, they do wrong.”  9:23,  

O you who believe! Verily, the Mushrikûn (unbeleivers) are Najasun (impure).  9:28

Schwartz is a new believer but as his faith in Islam grows, his hatred of the non-Muslims and especially the Jews will increase and he will start hating his own people with the same intensity that other Muslims do. How can he read the following "beautiful, beautiful" verse and not hate the Jews? 

"Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans" 5:82

Even now he is completely in denial of the Muslim atrocities against the Jews and Christians. I wonder whether Mr. Schwartz who is such as great crier, cried or laughed when he read in the "generous" Quran that Allah transformed his ancestors into apes and swine? 2.65 5.60 7.166 

Schwartz wants to blame it all on Wahhabism as if Wahhabism is a splinter of Islam that has gone awry; something like the cult of David Koresh in Christianity. But that is not the case at all. While it is true that Wahhabism is responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is not true that non-Wahhabi Islam is tolerant. For instance, the Hezbullah brand of Islam that came to power in Iran in 1979 and now is also active in Lebanon, has nothing to do with Wahhabism. In fact, these two sects are antagonistic toward each other. However, the Hezbollahis are no less virulent than the Wahhabis.  On its Dec 4, 2002 edition, the Washington Times reported: “The leader of the Lebanese Muslim group Hezbollah is urging a global suicide bombing campaign.”


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