By Patricia Sauthoff
In the early 700s, approximately 100 years after Muhammad first heard the voice of God as he meditated in the Arabian Peninsula, Islam came to Spain. Since that time much of Europe has spent untold amount of money fighting Islamic rulers and the residual fear of all things Muslim has spread to the United States.
That fear revolves around one single idea: conquest. In the last 22 years of Muhammad’s life, he went from a preacher to a small band of followers to the ruler of the Arabian Peninsula. From there, after the Prophet’s death, Islam continued to spread and, to this day, has not ceased to influence the world far-and-wide.
From 711 to 1492, a year engrained in the minds of every American schooled child, Muslim rulers controlled Spain. For two hundred years, from the 11th to 13th centuries, European Christian armies fought Crusades in the Holy Land, In the early 1200s the Mongolian rulers began to accept the religion as their own, with three of the four khanates embracing Islam. The end of that century, in 1299, saw the beginning of the Ottoman Empire, which would last until the end of World War I and, in the 1500s, which stretched north almost to Vienna. Also during the 16th century, the Mughal Empire rose in India, where it lasted until the introduction on the British Empire in the 19th century.
For European descended Americans, there has been no enemy as consistent as Muslims throughout history. Current American propaganda often uses vague terms to describe the men behind the 9/11 attacks, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath government, Iranian leadership, and tribal communities opposed to U.S. action in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though these groups share a religion, they are often politically and nearly always ethnically, different from one another. Taliban and al-Qaeda are often used interchangeably, though the former is an AfPak political party and the latter a loosely organized, multinational and stateless army.
So, what is so frightening about Islam itself? Nothing really. It’s a misunderstood religion, thought by many to be Eastern but having closer ties to Judaism and Christianity than to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism or the rest. Even Sikhism is more closely related to Hindu philosophy than to Muslim beliefs.
It seems that often Islam becomes a scapegoat because it is, and has been, thought of as bad for so long by Northern Europeans and Americans. One can easily look at an Islamic country and blame anything he or she wants on the religion without looking at the remainder of the culture around it. Perhaps poverty, lack of resources and a different history affects a culture as much as its religion.
The argument of “fundamentalism” is interesting, as the word originated as a term to describe an exclusively Christian movement. And it is this movement today, in America, that most fears and rejects Islam. What both religions share, beyond religious links that go all the way back to Abraham, is a belief that scripture is the word of God. Because of this view Biblical or Quranic law is divine and cannot be argued against. This is where the confusion comes in. By this definition, all Islam would be labeled fundamentalist because it is part of the doctrine that the Qur’an was revealed by Allah to Muhammad and those revelations include many guidelines for behavior. That doesn’t mean, however, that Islam universally requires those Quranic laws to be governmental law.
What’s fascinating about the current American debate is that the very people who use Christian morality as their platform, when opposing gay marriage or abortion for example, are the ones most concerned that Muslims will try to impose their religious beliefs upon the country. The fear that is spreading is familiar to many liberal Americans, who have feared the Christian imposition on their private lives for years. Now those who believe in a certain religious moral code for all now understand that threat for themselves.
The belief that the moral code is divine is so deep-seeded the assumption becomes that all religious and political beliefs are thought to be from God, therefore making those in opposition of the greatest danger.
There are, of course, Muslims who do believe that divine law should rule all aspects of government and life, but those, like the Christians who believe similarly of their dogma, not the majority. To assume the other is the evil mirror image of oneself is to transfer what one most fears about himself onto the world and to spread that fear beyond the rational.