Saturday, 10 January 2015

Fifty shades of grey?

In the wake of the murders in Paris of Charlie Hebdo staff and those at a Kosher supermarket, along with French Police killed in the line of duty, there has yet again been an outpouring of utter bulls*t as those ignorant of the background and issues reveal their prejudices. 

State Representative John Bennet (Tulsa, Oklahoma), yet again confused Islam with Muslims and he used both terms in a very general sense.

Islam is what Muslims practice, and perhaps the diagram below may help? 

  • In this inverted pyramid, there is an increasing level of interpretation in higher layers. That interpretation changes over time, as do the norms of any society. There are obviously feedback links between Personal and Societal interpretations. 
  • Over centuries there has been general movement to more peaceful interpretations but a small number of fundamentalists want to drag it back to the past, by creating division both between and within societies, polarising groups, delaying or reversing any integration.
  • The Shariah, is the scholarly interpretation of Qur'an Hadith and Sunnah, providing legislation of what is allowed and penalties for disobedience. 
  • The Sunnah, is the things the prophet is said to have done, providing an example for believers.
  • The Hadith are a collection of thousands of reported non-Quranic sayings of the prophet Mohammad and his close companions.
  • The Qur'an is believed to be the word of Allah / God, revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gibreel (Gabriel).
So where is Islam in this? It's hard to put your finger on it. Islam is what Muslims practice - and this is obviously their own personal interpretation, which can vary widely.

As an aside, I mentioned that there are feedback links between personal interpretations and societal interpretations, simply because society is composed of individuals. However, (and this is more contentious) looking back over hundreds of years, it is evident that there has been feedback between all layers of this diagram. The Sunnah is derived from the Hadith, or those same sources. And there is no question that the Hadith were manufactured by various parties to suit political purposes and then filtered and culled based on their 'reliability'. There is also evidence that the Quran has changed over time - even the Hadith comment on this.

What we can clearly infer from this confusion, is that Islam means different things to different people in different times and places. Fifty shades of grey? No, about 1.6 billion shades of grey. And of course each individual believes their personal interpretation to be the correct one. These views can be generalised, grouped or categorised in a crude fashion, but this oversimplifies matters.

Meanwhile Boko Haram in North Eastern Nigeria, in the same week, have clocked up a death toll many, many times that of the Paris killings and no-one seems to bat an eyelid. No messages of support from the US or condolences from world leaders. Around the world in the same period there will have been countless other Islamist attacks and there are websites that track these

Sometimes the attacks are simply seen as revenge or part of a local feud, but these attacks are all essentially ultimately intended to destabilise the local situation, creating division between and within communities, with the intention of bringing about changes whereby an Islamist or Islamic governance can be implemented. But, whose version of Islam....?

However, to finish up, lets get this in perspective. The vast majority of Muslims (and especially those in Western nations) do not wish to force their views upon  other by violent means. Jonathan Blundell distributed a nice Venn diagram to show the context. Thanks John.

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