This is a response to a rather backhanded compliment to Islam that recently passed through my email, presented as an expression of tolerance focused on Iran. Sometimes tolerance can be misleading because it focuses on the presumed negative rather than the experience of that which is ‘other’. So, there is no room for a positive experience to develop.
Christians and Jews live in peace in Iran. Gay people who keep their relationships private are not persecuted. Sex change operations for transgender people are covered by government health insurance. It’s not a perfect situation, but the cops there don’t shoot people of color (or anyone else) on traffic stops either. People living in remote villages in Iran that have been ‘socially isolated’, and there were a lot more of them when the Shah left the country than there are now, might still consider stoning a woman or other forms of honor killing. However, the government of the Republic of Iran has an elected parliament that makes the laws (has had it since the early part of the 20th century) and does not support this behavior. Iran is only a little ahead of the US in it’s use of capital punishment, and their preferred method is hanging, which is hardly more awful than smoking people in an electric chair or the use of some barbaric chemical concoction that may not provide a timely and peaceful release of the spirit.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is at the top of the list (proportionally) for executions, which are conducted as beheadings in the town square by a masked executioner with a fancy sword. Women there are not allowed to drive, and they can’t work, travel or even receive medical attention without the signature of a male relative. The Saudi Clan are America’s best friends, and the only way the current barbaric government has stayed in power for a century is through U.S. support and patronage.
For at least a millennium, the lands of Islam were more tolerant of other religions than Christianity was. While Christians were burning followers of the old earth religions, feminists and anyone else who challenged the system at the stake, persecuting Jews and sending ‘Crusaders’ south to destroy the advanced Muslim society in the Middle East, North Africa and India, Muslim societies were tolerant of other religions, Hinduism as well as Christianity and Judaism providing an equitable society where often the artisans and members of the government bureaucracy were culturally an religiously diverse. All kinds of dimensions of human behavior were tolerated as long as they remained private. That has been the case even as the Islamic empires were overrun by the barbaric hordes from Europe, and later, America.
Islam was created as a religion of peace. Mohammed’s vision was based on the idea that if different people’s all believed there is only one God, that no matter what that God is called or how a people visualize that God, it must be the same God. And he’s right, it’s what we logicians call a tautology, a logically perfect statement.
People from different religions gathered each year for a huge festive bazaar every year in Mohammed;s home town of Mecca. Icons for each of the gods worshiped by different societies were stored in a place called the Kabah so that people could worship together there. Mohammed destroyed all the icons. He said that they were divisive because people were attached to the different faces of the one God instead of the one God, which has no humanly discernible form.
Mohammed said that we could not only worship the one God together, but actually have a clearer knowledge of God if we stopped putting the icons between God and ourselves. ‘Allah’ is simply the Arabic word for ‘God’. At the time, using it wasn’t a big problem because most of those attending spoke Arabic. To this day, Mohammed’s words are shared in Arabic so the meaning won’t be distorted,
So if a barbarian horde of Muslims has arisen, it is not based on the teachings of Mohammed. In the same light, the barbaric practices of the medieval Catholic church, fascist Germany, or the American superpower are not based on the teachings of Jesus. The one problem I see with Mohammed’s and Jesus’ teachings along with those of other great religious teachers is that we humans aren’t necessarily able to hear them consistently. The human race has to evolve if we are to live in peace, and most of us have some work to do to find our way to an open minded and open hearted place where we can practice whatever religion we choose without judging our neighbors for doing the same.