Middle East Resources

Toward a Proper Understanding of Islam

Bassam Michael Madany

The recent attack in Paris by Islamic jihadists followed by one perpetrated by a Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California, have brought the subject of Islam into the headlines once again. Shortly after the California murders one of the Republican presidential candidates suggested that Muslim immigration to the United States should be restricted or halted, at least for a time.   There was a flurry of denunciations from all sides of the political scene.

Throughout the history of immigration to the United States, various pieces of legislation have been passed by Congress that limited immigration.  Restriction was not on the basis of religion, but on the basis of national origin.  But in practical terms it was harder for certain religious groups to immigrate to America.

For example, in May 1921, the First Quota Act became law allowed immigration based on

 “3 percent of the number of foreign-born of such nationalities residing here when the 1910 census was taken... This law accomplished two things. (1) It reduced the total number of immigrants coming to this country... (2) It favored and stimulated the immigration of Protestant northwestern Europeans and excluded most of the Catholic southern and eastern Europeans."

Three years later on May 26, 1924, the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act Reduced Quotas for all nationalities.

The most drastic change in immigration law took place in 1965 and resulted in the gradual fading away of the United States being known as a “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” (WASP) country. The law is known as the “Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act” which Abolished Immigration Criteria Based on Nation of Origin and Race.” A pertinent part of the Act is as follows:

"In 1965, the United States passed the landmark Hart-Celler [Immigration and Nationality] Act abolishing nation-of-origin restrictions. Effective June 30, 1968, immigration and naturalization exclusion on the basis of race, sex, or nationality was prohibited. Under the Hart-Celler Act, new immigration criteria was based on kinship ties, refugee status, and 'needed skills.' Between 1820 and 1960, 34.5 million Europeans immigrated to the U.S., while only one million Asians—mostly Chinese and Japanese—immigrated. An unintended, unanticipated, and highly evident effect of Hart-Celler was the burgeoning of Asian immigration. Between 1870-1965, a total of 16,013 Indians immigrated to the United States. In the first decade following the passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, 96,735 Indians immigrated. For the most part, these new Indian immigrants entered under the needed skills preference of the 1965 law."[i]

To any casual observer the aim of the 1965 Act seems to have been a desire by egalitarian ruling elites to correct an imbalance in immigration policy that prior to 1965 favored northern European nations.  One could ask whether the government bureaucrats who administer immigration programs have gone overboard in an opposite direction, now favoring Middle Eastern regions.  Whatever one believes about that, there is no doubt that a growing number of these newer immigrants practice the Islamic faith which its adherents claim supersedes all other faiths and should be submitted to by all people on earth.  “Islam” after all means submission.  Such believers in general have a difficult time assimilating into secular cultures, like Western Europe and America, which separate church and state.  

Have any prominent political figures, of any party carefully considered what democratic societies need to understand about Islam and those that embrace it?  And what about those who indoctrinate students in our institutions of higher education that produce our future leaders?  The inroads that Muslim sympathizers have made in academia are stunning.  Scholars bend over backwards to promote and defend all things Islamic helped along by huge endowments from Muslim countries like Saudia Arabia to their institutions.  The information is readily available to all who would seek it.

Politicians can perhaps be forgiven for not having seriously studied Islam’s sacred texts: Qur’an, Hadith, and Sirat Muhammad (Life of the Prophet), or the history of the last 1400 years of world history. Americans tolerate all faiths, or none, and can make distinctions between private faith, or lack thereof, and living out their beliefs in a free society that has allowed for such freedoms in its very Constitution.  Islam does not fit very easily, if at all, into this precious freedom.  Proof of this is seen all over the world wherever Islamic believers interact with others.  Terror, slaughter and general mayhem are occurring wherever Islamists control regions and countries. Too often when Islam is being discussed by Western political leaders and some in the media, the general conclusion is usually that Islam is merely a religious faith like any other.   It is not, plain and simple.  Islam is inseparable from a believer’s total persona.  While that in itself is not a negative (Christians too in general believe their faith takes precedence over everything,) it becomes so when its practice entails forcing everyone else to submit to it or suffer the consequences.  The Christian faith teaches conversion by persuasion not force, as does Islam    

Recently, Dr. Mark Durie, an authority on Islam, referred to this topic in an article on his blog entitled “Love is not enough.”[ii] He was responding to an Australian media commentator, Waleed Aly, whose video he linked to (in footnote below) who claimed ISIS wanted to instill fear and instigate hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims.  He called for responding to such an ideology in a loving way. Durie has another perspective on that and ended his article with these cautionary words:

“Truth without love can cause endless heartache.  This is true. But love without truth can cause a naive blindness which meekly tolerates abuse and leads to suicidal submission. This is likely to be a very long war.  Relationships will be strained.  And yes, we will all need a lot of compassion.  But without truth to strengthen it, love alone will not save us.” 

Civil wars in the Middle East and Africa and terrorist activities by Muslims against those they deem “the infidel” all over the world where they have power, money and weapons, and now more often in Western countries, stem from the particular view peculiar to Islam that there is no separation of “Church and State”, “Religion and Governance”. Muslim-majority countries stipulate in their constitutions that the sovereign, whether king or president, must be a Muslim.

Books have been written on this subject, but Western leaders for the most part pay no heed to what they are saying.  One historian who did is Efraim Karsh in his book “Islamic Imperialism: A History” published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006

Writing in his Introduction, Professor Karsh contrasts Christianity with Islam,

 “The worlds of Christianity and Islam, however, have developed differently in one fundamental respect. The Christian faith won over an existing empire in an extremely slow and painful process and its universalism was originally conceived in spiritual terms that made a clear distinction between God and Caesar. By the time it was embraced by the Byzantine emperors as a tool for buttressing their imperial claims, three centuries after its foundation, Christianity had in place a countervailing ecclesiastical institution with an abiding authority over the wills and actions of all believers. The birth of Islam, by contrast, was inextricably linked with the creation of a world empire and its universalism was inherently imperialist. It did not distinguish between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad, who derived his authority directly from Allah and acted at one and the same time as head of the state and head of the church. This allowed the prophet to cloak his political ambitions with a religious aura and to channel Islam’s energies into ‘its instruments of aggressive expansion, there [being] no internal organism of equal force to counterbalance it.’” P. 5

In his Epilogue, Professor Karsh, noted:

“Political cooperation, however, has not meant accepting Western doctrines or values, as the events of September, 11, 2001, amply demonstrate. Contrary to widespread assumptions, these attacks, and for that matter Arab and Muslim anti-Americanism, have little to do with US international behavior or its Middle Eastern policy. America’s position as the pre-eminent world power blocks Arab and Islamic imperialist aspirations. As such, it is a natural target for aggression. Osama bin Laden and other Islamists’s war is not against America per se, but is rather the most recent manifestation of the millenarian jihad for a universal Islamic empire (or umma.) This is a vision by no means confined to an extremist fringe of Islam, as illustrated by the overwhelming support for the 9/11 attack throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds.”  P. 228

Before the 1950s, Muslims lived in exclusively Islamic countries. As of the middle of the 20th century, millions of Muslims have settled in Western Europe and North America. This is a completely new phenomenon. By now, Muslims have achieved a high degree of visibility in their adopted Western contexts, and have begun to demand rights for themselves that their native lands would never allow to Westerners.  A look at Saudi Arabia’s persecution of Christians is one obvious example.  Western ruling authorities more often than not bow to the demands of the Muslims in their societies at the same time they are treating their own citizens with disdain, if not worse.  Witness “hate speech” accusations, and law suits against Christians wearing crosses, intimidation when political correct speech codes are breached.  And even starting to look favorably upon Sharia law possibly being enforced in Muslim communities. 

To write and speak honestly about the topic of Islam isn’t easy. It goes against the spirit of multiculturalism and pluralism that pervade our modern Western civilization. We believe in freedom of religion, and the U.S. Constitution guarantees this freedom to citizens and residents alike. This is a cornerstone of our way of life. But what if a specific religion, in this case Islam, asserts that faith and politics are inseparable? Will there be eventual conflict between the true believers in Sharia with our Constitution? This reality needs to be discussed openly, without fear of being called Islamophobic?[iii]

The rise in 2014 of the Islamic Caliphate Movement, Da’esh (known also as ISIS/ISIL) has not improved Western leaders’ understanding of the sources of its ideology, namely the sacred texts of Islam. In fact, the present-day resumption of an active Jihad is far more dangerous than the 70 year-attempt of the USSR to conquer the world for Marxism. To ignore this subject is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand, and to invite more terror attacks in the future. During the Cold War, President Raegan didn’t hesitate to call the Soviet Union “an Evil Empire.” Why does our President find it so difficult to even use the term “Islamic terror”? As former New York City mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani wrote in the Wall Street Journal, on 10 December, 2015, “Call Islamic Terrorism by Its Name: Why ignoring the religious beliefs behind the threat is foolish—and dangerous.”


[i] http://immigration.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000023

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[ii] Friday, November 20, 2015

Love alone is not enough”


Mark Durie is the pastor of an Anglican church, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Founder of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness.