Harsh Words and Limited Perspectives: Stereotyping Muslims
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
In August 2012, my brother wrote to ask me what I know about Jim Murk and his book Islam Rising.
I was not familiar with the book, so I took a look. Initially, from the description and the various reviews, it appeared to be one of the popular movement of fear-alarmist views that portray all of Islam in the perspective of the minority violent Islamists who get much attention in the news.
In reading sections from the book, I learned that the author asserts that the Qur'an was written by Satan and he cites passages that conflict with biblical passages. He does include a lot of good historical detail about Muhammad and his times and influences.
Murk ties some passages in the Qur'an to current radical Islam. One good contribution is his explanation about the Mahdi and his revelation that some consider Osama bin Laden to be the Mahdi. (The book was written in 2006, before bin Laden's death. I guess his identity as the Mahdi was disproven when bin Laden was killed. But his death cannot be verified, since the US military disposed of the body without third-party identification.)
Murk, however, provides a one-sided view, like many current commentators on Islam. He focuses on the negative and paints Islam as a whole as a violent religion.
The violent extremist Islamist movement has been rejected and disavowed by Muslim leaders all over the world. It is something like taking the centuries of religious violence in Ireland and the crusades and portraying all of Christianity in that light.
Fairness of Interpretation
I see that he positions his conclusions about the Quran and Muslims in general in terms of the war and conflict passages of the Quran. I have always found it puzzling that supposed Christians who take this approach seem amazingly able to ignore similar passages in the Old Testament.
They usually make no attempt to account for that from the perspective of an outsider who sees this as a fearful and negative view of God, the Christian religion and the Bible.
No Muslim or Muslim leader I have personally known has an Islamist belief or attitude. (Islamist=violent radical view, contrasted with standard Muslim beliefs and practices.) It is true there are different views among Muslims on the balance of passivity and force in defense, just as there are among responsible Christians.
There has been significant outcry from the leaders from various Muslim nations around the world against the "Islamist" terrorism taking place. These Muslim rejections of violence and support for the western peoples attacked by terrorists does not get the attention given by western media to more violent and radical voices.
Living in other countries, we hear these comments by Muslim leaders condemning Muslim terrorism. But sadly, American residents rarely get to hear these Muslim statements condemning the violence of "Islamists."
Murk is not some jumped-up, wild-eyed populist paranoiac like so many anti-Muslims of recent years. He is an academic of some standing. He is an active Christian and takes the stance of a radical apologist for his version of Christianity.
But his conclusions seem one-sided and his approach to the topic is fundamentalist, like the views of the radical Muslims he opposes. He prefers simplistic, clear-cut and ideological perspectives.
Reactionary hysteria takes no time to understand who is who in the varied and disparate universe of Islam and paints "Muslims" and "Islam" with the radical stereotype. It is only a minority opinion that proposes that violence is a general preference or mandate upon societies that do not follow Islam, if they are otherwise peaceful.
It is helpful to see that historically, these terrorist movements initially targeted governments in the "Muslim world," but in recent years -- after the invasions of Iraq, when western "Christian" powers had troops on the soil of Saudi Arabia, considered sacred by Islamists -- more attention and strategy was directed toward western powers and societies.
Most Westerners who have heard the term "jihad" won't even know the real meaning of the term, due to its common misuse by Western media and radical elements. "Jihad" was historically interpreted in terms of defense.
Most declared jihads historically have been against Muslims. The general military sweep in the early decades when the Arabs moved out to conquer wider areas is usually seen as an Arab military campaign, related to Islam, not a violent spread of Islam.
This military sweep in the 600s and 700s was similar to all the later European adventures into the other parts of the world from the 1400s to the late 1800s. This European colonial period is sometimes seen by some Muslim nations as Christian aggression, instead of the Imperialism of European military powers, who were somewhat culturally Christian.
Currently, too many Westerners make the same mistake of confusing state or terrorist imperialism with religious conviction of anyone and everyone considered Muslim.
The Internal Jihad
In Islam the term “jihad” applies first to the Greater Jihad (meaning “effort”) of controlling your personal passions and temptations and pursuing holiness and service. In Swahili (which has about 40-50% Arabic terms) we used forms of this word for effort, motivation and commitment. Amejitahidi = he really applied himself, he really tried hard, he really put out effort.
The word jitihada, a noun from this verb jitahidi, is the word used by Christians for a Gospel campaign or "revival." Various forms of the word present various aspects of this concept. This is the central meaning of the word "jihad."
Ramadan is an important time, ideally, of refocusing on the meaning of life and renewing one’s commitment. We found this to be a serious observance for most of our Muslim friends. I take the month of Ramadan as a special focus to pray for my Muslim friends and Muslims around the world.
I pray that this time of reflection and rededication will
lead them to become closer to God,
lead to a deeper understanding of the personal relationship and
enable them to respond to the dreams and visions many report during that time.
Many Muslims report that Isa (Jesus) appears to them during this time of spiritual focus and renewal.
A Prayer for Ramadan
Islam: Life and Values
Related on the Internet:
Islam Rising by Jim Murk
Initially written in answer to an email query 22 August 2012
Incorporates comments from a separate email exchange 20 June 2013
Developed September 2012 and July 2013
Article prepared for OJTR 13 July 2013
Last edited 31 January 2014
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2013 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.