Religion and the Re-classification of Islam

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Air travel is not what it used to be. In the 1980s and 1990s, you could accompany your relatives or friends to the terminal, sit and talk with them at the gate while waiting for boarding, give your kisses and hugs, and leisurely head back for home. Teenagers and some “20-somethings” will have no such memories. Now it’s the baleful experience of security lines, searches, removing stuff for the metal detectors, and full body pat-downs for people who – like me – have metal implants.

Some of us may also have anxieties about pilots who want to become suicidal “martyrs” by crashing the plane, like the nineteen Islamists who hijacked planes on 9/11, or the pilot of Egypt Air Flight 804 in May 2016, or, perhaps, the pilot of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March 2014 – not to mention potential “shoe-bombers” or “underwear-bombers” who might be missed by TSA searches.

And thanks to Islamic zeal, such security is now a routine experience, every day, at over 41,000 airports around the world – unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

In addition to hearing about the latest atrocities, often with shouts of Allahu Akbar in Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Cologne, San Bernardino, Orlando, New York, London, Sydney, Ottawa, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Boston, Garland, San Bernardino, etc., we receive plenteous warnings about possible attacks at major sporting events, parades, celebrations, or even malls and other “soft targets.” You may even receive notices that these are “on the radar” of would-be terrorists.

The world has changed. Those who follow the news are surrounded by signs of a great “religious” resurgence – involving 30,770 attacks around the world since 9/11, including 21,242 murders just in 2016. These incidents are often muted, however, by news media that don’t want to give the impression that these changes have something to do with Islam, which is, after all, a religion.

Mosques are being built everywhere. Saudi Arabia has funded the building of thousands of mosques throughout the world and has supplied massive funding for the more than 2000 mosques in America. Christian churches are forbidden in Saudi Arabia – and are being destroyed in Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria and elsewhere, where their existence was previously allowed.

And we learn of the unusual “cultural” proclivities of Islam – execution of apostates and homosexuals, ideological and legal relegation of females to inferior status, female genital mutilation, divorce without appeal, rape without defense, honor killings, stoning for adultery, etc.

But it is a religion, isn’t it? Maybe the only religion with violence approved throughout its scriptures over a hundred times, but nevertheless a religion subject to all the rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution, right?

We need to pause to consider what is meant by a “religion.”

A religion is not merely an ethical system, although it’s expected to conform to the basic tenets of natural law – e.g. recognition of others’ rights to life and property, parental obligations to progeny, right to seek the truth and engage in rational pursuits. A religion goes beyond moral requirements to seek personal spiritual perfection and to create a more harmonious and peaceful moral order, as is exemplified in Christianity emphasizing perfect love of God and even love of enemies.

We find these characteristics also in pre-Christian “natural religions.” Buddhism, even though partly agnostic about God, advocates striving for Satori (Enlightenment), and is oriented towards social peace and compassion, sometimes through meditation centers. Hinduism grants it highest honors to saints who strive for unity with the highest god, or Brahman, attaining Samahi, Yoga (“Union”).

In Islam, we see some elements of these aspects in the Sufis and the Baha’is. Most Muslims, however, consider these heretical sects definitely outside the mainstream.

But even if a religion does not go much beyond ethical tenets, may we not expect and demand that it not advocate actions clearly contrary to the natural law – murder, lying, adultery, stealing?

The natural law is natural. We might presume that most Muslims adhere to the natural law, and if pushed to serious infractions, would resist. But there are special problems encountered by Muslims, as I mentioned in a previous column.

For the Qur’an contradicts common moral standards, and the “prophet” Muhammad is revered by Muslims as the “perfect man” to be imitated and loved. (We are talking here about a warlord with a harem, including a child bride and slave girls, and involved in multiple massacres, deceits, fierce hatreds, and revengeful actions.)

A “religion”? Islam would be more accurately classified as a political/religious cult – “political” because there is no distinction between “church and state,” no possibility of voluntary subjection to any non-Islamic political power, and in fact an eschatological goal of extinguishing all other states and religions.

Aside from this political emphasis, it is similar to other cults – the Branch Davidians, Peoples’ Temple, Heaven’s Gate, Unification Church, etc. The common characteristics include exclusion of non-believers, dire punishments for weak believers or those who leave, but also close fellowship and quasi-familial commitment from those who stay and are faithful.

The difference with other cults, of course, is that Islam is present worldwide.

If the government recognizes some “religion” as being a cult, and if some danger to civic order is presented, the cult will not be protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, the government may intervene, as in the 19th century when the U.S. government threatened to invade Utah unless Mormons gave up their polygamous practices, the 1978 attempted investigation of the Jonestown cult by Congressman Leo Ryan, or more recently in Waco, Texas, where ATF and FBI attempts to counter threats from the Branch Davidians ended in a tragedy.

Short of such interventions, political prudence would at least indicate that reciprocity regarding churches in the Middle East should be a major element of foreign policy: no more mosques until Christians are free to build churches, wear crosses, in majority Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Easy enough to say, but would any Western leader have the courage to demand it?

Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.