The story of Islam is an illustration of how a common belief, however irrational, can forge fragmented aspirations of tribes together and so become a nationalistic political force.
In the case of Christianity an obscure figure in Jewish history became its representation of the ideal man. Six centuries later an Arab was chosen to be a religious leader. Prophet Muhammad captured the minds of his people and unleashed a power that set its mark on the history of the world.

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Subjects:
Integration problems
Psychology and the rise of idols
The craddle of Islam
Muhammad
On hearing voices
The Koran
Jihad, the holy war
The era of glory of the Islamic empire
Decline after institutionalization
The West takes the lead
Oil riches scandered
The blame culture
Aspects of Islamic society
Criticism suppressed
Fundamentalism
On losing faith - apostasy
Suppressed sexuality
Faith - a mixed blessing
Literature and links

Integration problems

The following observations are not meant to represent either a comprehensive view of Islam, or even a balanced one. It is a reflection on the why of its decline and its resistance to integration and enlightenment. Much in favour of the religion has been said. This is an attempt to fill the gap of what is not spoken of.

Muslims seem in general content with their religion - in fact consider it unique - Islam is a way of life. Why should outsiders bother and scrutinize the second largest belief in the world with more than 1 billion devoted followers?

Well, the answer seems obvious considering the impact of Islam on the outside world today. On one hand the threat to world peace from fundamentalistic extremist groups and on the other the lack of integration of Muslim immigrants in foreign countries. In the Netherlands 6 % of the population is Muslim. One Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, who criticized the Islam, was murdered and so was a cinematographer/columnist, Theo van Gogh.

Professor Bernard Lewis of Princetown University estimates that towards the end of this century the majority of the population of Europe will be Muslim. Their presence is now already felt in the big cities where in a few years' time nearly half of the population will consist of immigrants. It has led to more criminality, drug trade and social welfare claims. The increase of their numbers is mainly due to Maroccan and Turkish youth prefering to marry girls/boys in their home countries/villages and then return with the unprepared bride(groom), who can hardly integrate in the non-Muslim environment.
Whereas most foreign workers from Spain and Italy went back to their countries, Muslims prefered the benefits of the welfare society, created by unbelievers, which they lack in their homelands.

This has led to mutual recriminations as well as a fresh search for identity of each of the population groups. A closing of ranks is the result . An intensified identification with Islamic culture and a fresh religious zeal. Women insist on wearing veils far more than their counterparts in the Islamic world. (One wonders why the men do not prefer growing beards as in Afghanistan. But that time will come surely.)

Stricter clinging to Islamic sexual mores in an environment geared to erotic stimulation has resulted in feelings of frustration. It may well be one of the contributing factors to leanings towards fundamentalism. Unconscious drives cannot be suppressed!

Psychology and the rise of idols

Part of the problem in Islam is a psychological one: human beings have a herd instinct, a need to belong to a community in a certain peck-order. It is an ideal breeding ground for institutionalized religions. They provide a myth that influences and establishes a certain frame of mind for the whole population and so introduces a form of social control.
Believers are prepared to undergo humilation, suffering, and sacrifice to follow in their idol's lead. What they fear most is a scrutiny of their faith, for deep down in themselves they realize that it is built on quicksand. Moreover they know that the unbelievers or doubters awaits the big stick of a terrible punishment in the hereafter.

The Christ myth did so two thousand years ago. A myth around an unknown Jewish rabbi became a means to hold a continent in its clutches for nearly two millenniums .
It need not be religion: modern ideologies had the same effect. A communist regime held the population of Russia in its power by means of terror under the cloak of a high-flown view of an ideal society. Their idols being: Marx, Lenin and Stalin. People were brainwashed into believing their, in essence benevolent, civic theories, which in practice became the opposite.

Alas, Islam does not differ from other religions. It is an amalgam of existing beliefs. Transposed to one religious faith it released an enormous dormant power. Yet it could not avoid decline by institutionalization and stagnancy when the initial fervor wore off.

Probably none of its believers experienced it as such. Generation after generation of brainwashing and lack of contact with the West made them convinced that theirs was an unique way of life. Uplifting words from the Koran and the powerful spiritual leaders, the ulama, satisfied their spiritual needs and made them acquiescent to their backward way of living, wanting welfare, and class distinction. Such is the case even today amongst Muslims living in the West unable to adapt themselves to the capitalistic Western world, which tantalizes them so much.

It is signifant that the Islam has all the characteristics of a cult: a closed system, group conformity, idealisation of the leader and scapegoating.


The craddle of the Islam

The religious practices of the Arabs before Muhammad were characterized by idolatry, veneration of trees, stones, and wells. Mecca's holy stone, the Ka'ba, was controled by Muhammad's Quraysh tribe. Sacrifice of children to deities took place. Circumcision was practised and meant to replace human sacrifice to the gods. Arabs were obliged to pray three times a day towards Mecca where in the Ka'ba 350 images of gods, amongst them Allah, were installed. Three times a year was a fast, the longest being for thirty days. (Note the similarities with Islam!).

Yet the Arabs in the seventh century were surrounded by a cosmopolitan world far more advanced in their outlook on life. The phenomenon of an independent systematical religious organisation had developed outside their borders in Christianity and Manichesm: the so-called Dn. Islam developed at a time of great transition from the matriarchal nomad culture into a patriarchal urban society.

Organisation, scripture, morality and language played a main part in this fresh concept of institutionalized religion. Faith and relationship to one God stood out in such religious community of believers. Also the concept of personal conduct subject to a divine judgement had evolved.

Islamic scholarship does not want to accept that this novel concept of organized religion, that had developed outside Arabia's borders, stood model for Islam. For Muslims it is quite intolerable to consider the notion that a religion becomes more and more sophisticated as a result of the development of man's mind, specifically its lingual capacity, instead of being the ultimate inalterable truth of God.

In Muhammad's time Arabia was strong and flourishing. It had become a refuge for Christians, who had become victims of persecution for heresy, and Jews who had fled from the destruction of Jerusalem. They had grown very powerful in their new environment. Several tribes and rulers embraced their religion, which made Muhammed at first show great regard to them, adopting many of their opinions, doctrines, and customs in the hope to interest them in his own revelations. Early 7th century all Egyptians were Christians. The organised Christian religion had an appeal to the Arabs: a simple myth had become the base for the Byzantine and the later Roman empire. This is what had been failing the polytheist disunited Arab tribes so far.

In the absence of a strong national government Arabs had to turn to their tribe for security. A man's life was dependent on the system of honour and custom of their tribesman. Most of them also accepted protgs, such as slaves, freedmen, craftsmen, and itinerant traders, who often came from outside Arabia.

By the end of the fifth century a highly developed form of oral poetry became popular. It was recited by story-tellers, the rw's. The object of their poetry was the glorification of bedoun life. The ability to get the better of people of other tribes by taking their camels, abducting their women, killing their men, or slitting the noses of their defenceless slaves was highly prized. Violence permeated tribal society. Yet they were only raiders, and never staged a major conquest until the jihad provided them with a proper excuse to stage war against other nations.

The Arabs before Muhammad had already accepted and worshipped a supreme god called 'Allah'. He was one of the Meccan deities and god of the moon, who was married to the sun goddess, frequently attested to in pre-Islamic poetry. In Islam he became a benevolant merciful God, but only for those who believed in him, preferably male.

The word Islam also already existed. It meant originally : defiance of death, heroism, to die in battle. In Islam it was given the meaning of submission.

Muhammad

Muhammad at the besiege of Bano-Nadir
Muhammad at the besiege of Bano-Nadir
The Christ myth could develop because anything could be attributed to the nebulous, docetic Jesus figure as there is no reliable historical record of his life. In this vacuum pious followers could make up an exemplary life of their idol using Jewish and pagan stories of godmen and prophets. As historical records, which could contradict their hagiography, were destroyed for safety's sake, no limits were posed on their fantasy.

In studying ancient scriptures one must realize that adhering faithfully to the facts was not considered an ethical command at the time. If it were to glorify a revered person any story might be attributed to him/her by an unnamed author. Hagiography was the rule. James Thomas remarks: It would be impossible to point to any epoch so loaded with literary fraud as the first centuries of our era. (p. 384).

Quite a different approach to the Christian faith has developed since as a result of biblical exegesis, stylometric and other research into its source material.
Not so with Islam. The orthodox ulama have always resisted objective research into Islamic origins. In Saudi-Arabia archaelogical finds are being covered with concrete so as to prevent any study of them.

Supposedly there is more information about Muhammad than about Jesus, but research into independent sources has shown that the accepted claims to historical fact are completely untrustworthy.

Who was the icon of Islamic faith then according to tradition? For this we have to rely on the sunnah (sunna an-nab) - early Muslim records of the sayings and doings of the prophet; the Sira(srat an-nab), a biography by Ibn Ishq (704-767), and the collections of accounts of the Prophet's words and deeds: the hadiths. The six most reliable collections have been given the name of Sahih Sittah, the six authentic and trustworthy collections. They were collected by imam al-Bukhari (810-870) and are considered to be inspired.
Yet it is surmised that qusss = pious storytellers, have embroidered the life of Muhammad with all sorts of ancient traditional pagan tales.

From the abovementioned Islamic records we are informed that :

Non-Muslim sources

In Islamic scriptures, Mecca is depicted as a wealthy trading center, a natural crossroad for caravans of goods of prosperous merchants, not only from Yemen in the south to Syria and the Roman empire in the north, but also for east-west trade. It is surprising that in sixth century' reports of those countries no mention is made at all of traders in the city of Mecca, nor of the Quraysh, be it in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Aramaic, Coptic, or other texts composed outside Arabia before their conquests. The only place name which conceivably could be related to the name 'Mecca' is Moka, a town in Arabia Petraea in present-day Jordan. Only Muhammad himself is known to have been a trader but not in Mecca but in Yathrib (later Medina).

There are a number of other sources that point at Jerusalem being the original centre of devotion: a tenth-century Coptic bishop in Egypt, states that the qibla (=direction of prayer) in the first mosque at Kufa (in Iraq) was westward, instead of south-southwest as would be the case if presentday Mecca were its focus. A recent archaeological discovery that an ancient mosque under the Great Mosque of Wasit was not oriented toward Mecca adds weight to the speculation that the Muslim movement started in northern, not southern, Arabia, and that the story of Mohammed's movement from Mecca to Medina and back might be a myth to deprecate the influence of Judaism and Christianity in order to glorify Arab nationalism.

The canonical text of the Koran was not fixed for nearly two centuries. After the Arab conquests it is speculated that there arose a need to hold the empire together and legitimize its rule. In a process that involved a massive backreading of history, using Jewish and (apocryphal) Christian writings and oral tradition. In fact according to some scholars a large part of the credit for the Islamic myth should go to the fertile imagination of Arab storytellers. As a founder an Arab trader Muhammad was put forward. His supposed life and revelations became model for moral conduct.

It is hoped that deciphering the hundreds of thousands of papyri found in Egypt in the 19th century, dating from the early years of Islam, will throw more light on that dark period of time. The first conclusions are that there is hardly any papyrus from the first century hinting at an Islamic religion as we know it today.


Digression: on hearing voices

The basic scripture of the Muslims, the Koran is said to have been received by the Prophet by inspiration, or voices, either by God or archangel Gabriel.
In this respect it might be useful to dwell on the subject of inspired communications, although this is of course anathema with Muslims.

Hearing voices is quite a common problem. Psychiatric treatment is available, specially for those who hear commanding voices. The nature of this phenomenon is not completely understood in spite of their being many sufficient theories. One of them is by psychologist Julian Jaynes who has speculated that in the early development of lingual capacity the frontal lobes of the brain were not yet working well in unison. The intimations of the right lobe were not recognized by the left and taken as coming from an outside source. This being the case the unrecognized voices and intimations had a commanding influence as they were projected on unseen figures. People assumed that they originated from those. These communicators were believed to be deities or other divinely inspired entities. Worldly objects as trees, wells, statues served as target for projection and as such were endowed with power.

Messages received by prophets, and similar revered historical figures belong to this category. Nowadays such communications are routine in spiritistic circles. Alas, hardly any scholar of Islam has made a study of this subject, nowadays called channeling.
The profoundness of injunctions so received continue to amaze people:

Just to give a few examples.
Page of Koran 14th century
Page of Koran 14th century

The Koran

According to the Islamic religion, however, the revelations of the Koran came straight from heaven and were not of any earthly source. The Koran (or Qu'ran) is the 'uncreated' word of Allah. Yet Western scholarship shows that Islam is based on the customs and fables of pre-Islamic Arabia, Judaism and other religious traditions and concepts. It is written in the Quraysh dialect (Hadith vol. 6, no. 507) of Muhammad's tribe.


In this respect the following observations by scholars:


Jihad, the Holy War

Allah's messenger was asked, "What is the best deed?" He replied through archangel Gabriel To believe in Allah and his Apostle. The questioner then asked, What is the next? He replied, To participate in Jihad in Allah's cause. (Hadith vol. 1, no. 25).

The Koran and Hadiths time and again praise participation in a holy war.

There were several forms of Jihad:

Sura 5:33 records what is done to infidels who resist Islam:
"Their punishment is...execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from the opposite sides, or exile from the land."


The era of glory of the Islamic empire

After the death of Muhammad there was much strive about the management and control of the legacy. Four caliphs (=successors) consolidated the Islamic empire. Although considered a flourishing era it was marked by constant civil wars: three of the four caliphs were assassinated.

In the beginning of the ninth century AD the abovementioned rationalist movement of the Mu'tazilites sprung up. They opposed the idea that the Koran descended uncreated from heaven. This movement became the official state ideology. Caliph al-Ma'mun (786-833 AD) showed a great interest in Greek culture. An Arabic literary culture developed that flourished until the 16th century. A school for astronomy was founded in Baghdad - algebra invented by al_Khwarizmi. Circulation of blood, already described by 13th century Syrian physician Ibn-al-Nafis, was rediscovered only centuries later.
A separation of religion and state was respected.

Abu Nuwas (762 -813 AD) became known as one of the most radical poets praising the blessings of wine and homosexual love. He discredited the poor Arab desert and nomadic origins.

In the ninth century Baghdad had grown to a 'city of wisdom' with a population of more than one million people, surpassing all the great cities in the West. In it began a 'Golden age of Islamic science'. Alas, ultimately the caliphs lost their power to the ulama.

Yet at its peak the Muslim empire had hardly any equal and surpassed that of erstwhile Rome in power, expanse and splendour. Muslim armies conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and finally Spain and Portugal before invading France, Sicily and Italy. Counter attacks, such as the Crusades, failed.

In the East Tatars of the Golden Horde had conquered Russia between 1237 and 1240. When the Tatar Khan and his people were converted to Islam in 1252 Russia and much of Eastern Europe fell also under Muslim rule. The Ottoman Turks conguered Anatolia, the ancient Christian city of Constantinople and the Balkan peninsula. Their Northern empire now reached as far as Vienna.

Thus in the 16th century the Ottoman empire, which now also included Iran, had only one remaining enemy: Persia.

The Islamic world was also foremost in commerce. The trade in goods from Asia flourished. So did the import of slaves from Europe and Africa. Its civilisation now surpassed all that had been accomplished in the arts, sciences and philosophy. Muslim philosophers had islamatised Greek philosophical traditions. Aristotle can still not be studied without reference to Ibn Sn (Avicenna,d.1037) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes,d.1198).

Yet, the origin of these breakthroughs came from contact with civilisations of a higher developed culture than Arabia. The Islamic orthodoxy opposed vehemently such foreign influences.
Hunain ibn Ishaq (809-873) the most important translator of Greek philosophy into Arabic was a Christian. Ar-Razi, the famous phycisian of the Middle Ages, denied the prophethood of Muhammad.


Decline and the rise of Western civilisation

Islamic superiority kept pace with what was happening in Europe for many centuries. Yet before the Renaissance the Europeans had already made significant progress, surpassing scientifically, technologically and culturally some achievements of the Islamic world without that they were aware of it.

Strategically the Ottoman empire suffered set-backs: Spain and Portugal were lost to Christendom in the 15th century. In 1699 the empire's army was defeated by a 'Holy League' of Christian countries and compelled to sign the treaty of Carlowitz.

In the field of science Muslims also lost their edge. Religious orthodoxy caused the last observatory built by Taqi al-Din in Galata being destroyed on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti. None other were built since until recently.

The Islamic world had hardly any idea of what was going on in the West. Renaissance, Reformation, or the scientific revolution went by unnoticed. Until the 18th century, with the exception of one treatise on syphilis, no Western books had been translated into any of the languages the Muslims could read. In Europe on the other hand in the 16th and 17th centuries chairs in Arabic had been established at European universities. Studies by Orientalists on Arab countries now became available . Typical for the Islamic attitude: there were no Occidentalists in the Orient until a comparatively recent date.


Westernisation / Occidentalism

In the 18th century a limited number of Western experts began visiting the Ottoman empire. In return the Ottomans sent special envoys for specific purposes to Europe. Many of them were non-Muslim: Jews or Greeks, as Muslims did not speak Western languages. In foreign countries they were accompanied by dragomans, interpreters/guides. French culture commanded greatest respect. Patriotism and nationalism in France or England were greatly admired and recognized as being a binding force.
Western techniques were introduced and adopted in Muslim countries under the pretext that they had to learn to fight the non-believers more effectively. Yet the battles of their updated armies brought nothing but humiliating defeats.
Meanwhile European governments opened consulates and embassies in Islamic nations, whereas these countries had none in the West.

The revenues of typical Arab exports of coffee and sugar cane dwindled by the end of the eighteenth century. They were even supplanted by imports of coffee from Dutch Java or Latin America, and sugar from the West Indies.

In contrast to the great changes in Western countries Islamic societies lagged behind stultified. In spite of Islam being an egalitarian religion, elites and aristocracies emerged. Hardly any social reform was introduced. The distinction between classes had only grown. So did inequality in distribution of wealth.

In Christianity a re-evaluating of its roots, scriptures and traditions had taken place. In the course of time, under ecclectic pressure, backward untenable notions had been relegated to the background.

In Islam such enlightenment had not taken place. It had no answer to the colonial ambitions of Western countries in the nineteenth century. Some form of westernization of customs took place. Lack of information. Muslims hardly ever read non-religious books.
Hoca Ishak Efendi
( d.1834), a Greek Jew converted to Islam, became a pioneer in the translation of Western literature into Turkish. Another device of of modernization, the printing press, made local and foreign literature more readily available. Yet the number of Western books translated into an Arab language has been very poor. From the ninth century onward no more translations became available than yearly in Spain! In 2004 only 330 translations of foreign books were published for 22 Muslim countries inhabited by 300 million people!
Yet, newspapers and the telegraph bring news of outside events. Steamships, railways and paved roads accelerated the spread of information. Nowadays, of course, there is the powerful medium of television and internet, albeit under censorship.

New laws have been enacted, based on those of Europe - commercial, civil, criminal and even constitutional. Secular lawyers opened offices next to the ulama, the jurists of the shari'a. Students at colleges and universities were taught by a new style teachers. In the areas they ruled, the French and British colonial powers created constitutional and parliamentary regimes: British style constitional monarchies and French-style republics. Following French law slavery was abolished. Only family law remained based on the shari'a. The moon and sun calenders were replaced.

However, attempts to reinterpret the outdated Koran came into conflict with the ulama, whose approval was also needed to push through political decisions.
An Arab version of socialism failed disastrously and was abandoned, although a high level of state involvement in economy remained.

Difference in economic approaches can be seen in their distinctive forms of gaining profit. In Arab countries maximum profit is generated by attainment of a position of power which may be exploited by means of corruption, exerting bribes. Islamic Indonesia is an example of one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
In Western capitalism, however, profit is generated in the market and out of manufacture of products.

Arab attempts to catch up with the Industrial Revolution failed for lack of investment. As a result there was no job creation and increased productivity. Fifteen procent of the population is jobless.
Exports and income became stagnated. Even recently, according to a World Bank estimate, the total exports of Arab countries, other than fossil fuels, are less than Finland, a country with five million inhabitants.
Wealthy Middle Easterners lack entrepreneural spirit, or faith in their own people and prefer to invest in non-Arab industrialised states. Works of construction have to be contracted with Western, or Far Eastern companies.

The quest for prosperity through development brought in some Muslim countries only impoverishment and corrupt economies in recurring need of external aid. Traditional autocracies were replaced by tyrannies, or new-style dictatorships, modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination. A striking example is Iran, where in 1979 Khomeini fundamentalism came into power. In name a republic, but in reality an totalitarian theocracy.

The average income of an Arab is as low as US$ 2000 p.a., even if the huge oil income is taken into account. And it is going down: in 1980 no less than 20%!

According to the Arab Human Development report of 2003 the nine leading Arab economies had 370 patents registered in the USA between 1980 and 1999. In the same period of time South Korea alone had 16.328 patents registered! In Arab countries hardly anyone uses the Google search engine! Unacceptable web-pages are being blocked in Saudi-Arabia. Work is now being transfered by Western companies to India and many other cheap labour nations, but not to Arab countries!

When asked for the reason of Western success the answer is always religious: Muslims are being punished by God for having abandoned the true path. The question why God favours the infidels is never asked.

Oil riches scandered

Islamic Mediterranean countries are not blessed with optimal agricultural conditions. Natural poverty changed when oil was discovered. But it were not the Arabs who explored and exploited these oil riches. The infidels from the West had to take the initiative again, leaving the Arabs whistling for it. Instead of wisely exploiting the resulting huge income Arab countries dissipated much of their new wealth in luxury, instead of being of long-term benefit to society as a whole. Saudi-Arabia counts 7000 princes many of whom squander its wealth. Arab students, instead of enriching their culture, flee the stifling conditions in their homeland, prefering the liberties of life in Western society.

Others, like Osama Bin Laden, used their wealth to incite terrorism, abusing the name of their revered religion in the eyes of the world.

Another part of oil income was being channeled to build 1500 mosques and 2000 Muslim schools on five continents. According to apostate follower of Wahhabism, Mansour Nogeidan, these mosques are hotbeds for terrorism, their school system outdated.

Some hardly convincing explanations for the deplorable state of Islamic society have been advanced:

Who is to blame? The blame culture.

The Koran (22:38-42) says: God will defend those who have believed, God does not love the false, the infidel. Nevertheless the inexplicable occurred that the latter came into power.

Non-believers by their own efforts fared far better. The Japanese, when defeated by the Americans in the nineteenth century, were so clever to master western technology and used it to beat their opponents both military as well as commercially and so grew to one of the most advanced nations in the world. Trade in cities as Hong Kong, Singapore and former British colony Aden is booming.

For a long time the Mongol invaders were blamed for the decline of Islamic civilisation. When this excuse wore out the Turks who had occupied them became the next target. Turks could blame their adversary, the Persians, in turn. In modern times Jews, Christians, and Americans are held responsible. In the glory time of the empire, under the dhimma rule, non-Muslim monotheist inhabitants were given protection. Such in sharp contrast to the persecutions that often haunted them in Christians countries. Nowadays the dhimma rule is largely forgotten and minorities persecuted.

Denial is another popular strategy: a first reaction to the 9-11 terrorist attack was to lay the blame on other enemies of the USA, American extremists like McVeigh of the Oklahoma massacre, and finally on the Israelis, of all people.

So the question remains: 'What has Islam done to the Muslims?', or, 'What have the Muslims done to Islam'? Why was America not discovered by Arabs? (Little about the United States was known in Arab countries until the twentieth century. Influenced by Nazi and Communist anti-American propaganda it became an arch enemy, particularly for its support of Israel.)

Other aspects of the Islam