A former Muslim wisely observed, “Islam is not just a religion. It is a lifestyle imposed by force.: We in the western world need to comprehend some of the differences of daily life and conduct among those who were brought up as Muslims.
Instructions for Muslim social patterns are not set forth in the special “revelation” of the Koran. Most of what Muslim children are taught concerning how they should live is in attempted imitation of the lifestyle of the prophet Mohammed. His life preferences and decisions are considered a model for all Muslims. Written records of his actions and sayings were gathered two centuries after his death in the Hadith, and through the centuries those patterns have been interpreted and declared binding by recognized local religious leaders. The summation of teachings is called Sharia or Sharia law.
As a religious teacher, Mohammed had little success, assembling only 120 followers by the time he was 40. Only after Allah supposedly directed that previous revelations of the Koran, promoting peaceful coexistence with others, were no longer to be followed and that Christians, Jews, and all infidels (non-Muslims) could be killed in jihad (holy war) and that booty could be taken (Sura 9:29) was there real growth in the number of his followers. It appears to us in western culture that their life-model or social model is seriously flawed.
Concepts and patterns of desert tribal life have persisted generation after generation as a result of intensive teaching and strict enforcement. According to Muslim worldview, humankind is divided into two distinct groups, Muslims and infidels. Infidels consist of two kinds, those living apart from Islam and those willing to live among Muslims, usually thought of and treated by Muslims as subordinates or, at times, as slaves.
But there is a more important social division: male and female. Islamic culture is strongly male-dominated. The husband or father forms and controls the family unit. He is permitted to have up to four wives, who must be in subjection to him (Sura 4:3, 34). A man may divorce a wife without reason. He may have concubines, and he may freely visit prostitutes. A woman who has had sexual relations is not fit to be a wife.
Women must keep themselves covered except in the presence of their own families because women possess an attraction men can hardly resist. Women are seen as a major cause of evil. They have less intelligence than men, and a woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man (Hadith 1:301). Few women will attain paradise: “The Prophet said… ‘I stood at the gate of the Fire and found that the majority of the people entering it were women’ ” (Hadith 8:555).
Desert tribal concepts divide earth’s territory into two realms, the Abode of Allah, where the people have submitted to Allah, and the Abode of War, where people are still resisting the will of Allah. Smaller communities of Muslims living in an infidel nation are judged to be distinct from that nation, pockets of the Abode of Allah. Twenty square blocks of Detroit, thus, may be considered under the rule of Islamic law, and the government of the United States (based on separation of church and state) should not endeavor to enforce American regulations there. Colonies in Europe, particularly in France, Germany, and England, expect to be allowed to govern their own people according to Islamic patterns, that Muslims should not be subject to national (infidel) governments. So far, only the Netherlands has refused them such self rule. Some Muslims brag of intending to take over European nations through population growth and clever political activity.
A news release from Mogadishu, Somalia, is typical: Islamic militants who want to govern Somalia by the Koran urged foreign Muslims to join their war. “We have a right to call our brothers and sisters to help us in this holy war,” said Sheik Yussuf Indahaadde, national security chairman for the Council of Islamic Courts, which controls much of southern Somalia. Small sectors endeavor to take over entire nations. Those countries under Muslim control are considered entirely within the Abode of Islam.
It is considered the duty of all Muslims to preserve the Abode of Islam from contamination and, if possible, to enlarge it at the expense of the Abode of war where the infidel still rules. Wherever Muslims once lived, even centuries ago, is still considered by many to be “their” land; historically that claim reaches into much of Spain and into Eastern Europe to Vienna. Western attempts in the Crusades and recent establishment of a Jewish state in what they consider to be “their” lands are viewed by many as a noose around the neck of Islam and a basis for calls of jihad (holy war).
A Muslim community (umma) is responsible to discipline and educate people to deal with human weakness, to encourage and enforce sacramental activities, called “good works.” Islam believes that man, by his own efforts, can improve himself; and people of an umma oppose deviation from Sharia law.
The head of an Islamic community is the imam (plural ulama) or mullah, the recognized religious leader who functions as the autocratic voice of God for the people of his area. He usually has greater control than a civil leader. He is the one who can declare a jihad. His teachings of doctrine and life fall into certain “denominational” patterns: Sunni, Shiites, Kurds, and others. It is as these sects forcefully endeavor to control countries that internal wars occur in various Muslim counties.
In Iraq, there has been much greater militant activity of Sunnis against Shiites and Shiites against Sunnis than against U.S. forces. In other countries, one group or the other is in control, and the opposition has learned to submit, at least for a while. Elements from these sectarian communities are using murder and assassination as the means by which to further their political goals.
The Shiite ruler of Iran publicly scorned other nations and the United Nations, saying, “We are guided by what the Hidden Imam tells us, not by what you dictate in your resolutions.” He boasted that the Hidden Imam (an Islamic messiah) gave him the presidency to provoke a “clash of civilizations” in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, will take on the “infidel” West, using hundreds of millions of Muslim ghazis, or holy raiders, keen to become martyrs. The leading opponent in this epic battle is the United States.
Many Muslims consider that democracy is a western intrusion into the infrastructure of Islam. Some were surprised that such a large percentage of Iraqis participated in voting in a democratic election there. The increasing opposition to the democratic government in Iraq may be more religious persuasion to maintain ancient desert tribal patterns than opposition to individuals who hold office. Religious teachings and teachers prevail much more in the Islamic infrastructure than most Americans realize. Politics, as in all of life in Islam, is the outworking of religious teaching. Personal life, family life, community life, national life, even life in a foreign country must all conform to the ancient desert mold.
Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. Since the death of his wife a year ago, at the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it.