Is Islam Stuck in the Stone Age?

Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Thoughts | 6 comments

Further to the concerns I raised about the theocratic troubles being faced by non-Muslims in The Maldives, a story surface this past week about the beheading of a so-called “witch” in the northern Saudi state of Jawf. The reasons cited for the death penalty and subsequent execution of the woman were that she was practising witchcraft and sorcery, but according to Saudi law, these are not crimes for which a death sentence should be served.

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia an Australian Muslim man has been charged with blasphemy and has been sentenced to 500 lashes and a year in jail. He was taking part in the religious pilgrimage to The Hajj, where he was arrested while praying. The exact manner of his so-called “blasphemy” is unclear, but it is likely it is because he is of a different denomination of Islam to most around him and whatever it was he was doing was against the local idea of what Islam means. SMH reports “The 45-year-old father of five was arrested in the city of Medina on November 14 while making the Hajj pilgrimage and accused of insulting companions of the prophet Mohammed.”

Witches and blasphemy. Lashings and beheadings. Saudi Arabia is seen as one of the jewels in the crown of the Islamic empire, and yet it seems that it is in the grips of a stone age hysteria about the sanctity of its religion. Firstly these crimes themselves are dubious in nature (how does one go about proving someone is a witch, or justify that a person was praying incorrectly?) Secondly, the punishments dealt are of the kinds not seen in the western world for centuries (I mean beheading? Lashings? Come on, seriously?) And thirdly, don’t the punishments seem disproportionately large compared to the “crimes” committed? With so may stories like this it seems that it is actually fair to call some parts of Islamic society the least tolerant and most backward society on earth today. Islamic rule can mean a society where honour killing is the answer for the rape of ones daughter at the hands of another man (sometimes the lucky girl will get off the charge if she chooses to marry the rapist), where adulterous women are routinely stoned to death, where people of different faiths, or no faith at all are executed, where female genitals are mutilated at the hands of their male family members, and where simply being a woman is crime enough to imprison you for life behind a heavy cloth veil. And to think that once upon a time the people of Islam helped to drag Europe up from the dark ages. If it weren’t for Islam, The Renaissance may have never happened. (To be fair, if it weren’t for Christianity The Dark Ages may have never happened either.)

This is the same religion that was once practised by masters at agriculture, mathematics and champions of higher education. Once upon a time knowledge and piety could exist side by side, but not so today. Now, and this is true of both Islam and Christianity, knowledge is seen as the enemy of religion. Rightly so, for the more you learn the more you think, and the more you think, the less room for god there is on the universe. A naturalistic universe is the ultimate understanding of learning.

Admittedly these are probably isolated incidents, as “only” 76 people have been put to death in Saudi Arabia this year. Only 76? But how many more have been bashed, stoned, murdered, lynched, set alight or mutilated in the name of Islam? How many in the name of the so-called “honour” of men? It’s a sad state of affairs if you are so unfortunate to have been born a female in an Islamic sharia society you will be subjected to the whim of a political and religious system that does what it likes to you, and backs it up by claiming that these “justices” are the will of almighty Allah!

Given this, is it any wonder that many balk at the idea of criticising Islam? It’s terrifying to even think what it must be like living in one of these societies. I’m sure that my words here are enough to label me as an apostate, and had I enough of a following would probably have a fatwa placed on my head for suggesting that Islam is, in some cases, barbarous.

If we were to place religion aside for a moment and look at the actual crimes, the punishments and the nature of these punishments, from a purely humanist standpoint, there is no way in my mind that these could be called the result of “good” judgement on the part of the arbitrators. Any government that sanctions the defense of the interpretations of a religion as more important than the people that live in the country has the whole situation ass-backward. This is why I think it’s important to talk about Islamic states. They are not above criticism (no religion is) and should be held accountable for their actions.

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