Long beards, prayer mats and screaming fanatics? Surprise. surprise, it’s actually a religion of peace and love.
Have prayer mat, will travel
Islam claims a billion followers and is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. It’s a close cousin of Christianity but has no central church as such, acknowledging no real authority except God. An exception would be the Ayatollahs of Iran who claim direct lineage from Muhammad, the founding prophet but this probably amounts more to political leverage than anything else.
Since the US War on Terror began (more like a war of terror for all those on the receiving end) the focus on Islam in the world has grown immensely, both in academic efforts to understand the religion, and the attempts of the media to demonize it. As the second largest religion in the world, Islam represents a genuine challenge to the way of life exported by the West and today we see one of the most significant culture clashes the planet has ever witnessed.
Islam respects old traditions and ways of life and a mark of this is how Islamic regimes such as that of the Taliban tried to drag society back towards the stone age, banning recorded music, modern films and reintroducing penal codes that went out with the discovery of the wheel. Death by stoning is hardly a modern solution to the issue of adultery, after all.
The problem is that with the technology and culture of today’s world, all the old boundaries are crumbling and the only way you can keep MTV out is to build ever thicker stone walls around your culture. The times are a’changing but a little too fast for the tastes of much of the Muslim world and the backlash is the Islamic fundamentalism which has crippled countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria and Algeria.
With few real efforts being made to integrate traditions and beliefs, the world seems to be heading towards a sharp divide and violent confrontations. Whilst most Muslims have little urge to get political, faced with the economic, cultural and military imperialism of the USA, many are becoming increasingly marginalised and radical as a response. They would be unlikely to choose the veil and death by stoning if their medical factories weren’t bombed (as in Sudan), their leaders deposed and replaced with puppets (as in Iran) or their countries invaded (as in Iraq).
There is much in Islam that is beautiful, even if it’s only the lunatic fringe in beards who often wield the power and the headlines, and the Islamic tradition has produced some of the world’s greatest art, poetry and architecture in history.