Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Islam as a Religion of Peace

I had lunch a couple weeks ago with a key leader in the Muslim community in northeastern Wisconsin. He's a friend I've known for years. His leadership resulted in the building of a mosque in our community, and I was pleased to be invited as a speaker at their dedication service several years ago, representing the LDS community. There were also leaders from other Christian religions and community groups present. That was a pleasant opportunity to meet local Muslims and learn more about their religion, a religion I respect in spite of disagreeing with some of its teachings.

Some voices in our nation have railed against the idea that Islam is a religion of peace and decried the "hands-off" treatment that the religion, unlike Christianity, seems to get in the mainstream press. But in the heart and mind of my friend, I have no doubt that Islam is a religion of peace. He is a loving, gentle, tolerant, and peace-loving man. I asked him if he leaned toward the Sunni or Shia side of the religion, and he told me that he rejected both of those movements, seeing them as political and not religious. He explained that in true Islam, the focus is on worship of the one true God, not of struggling for power over others. He recognized, though, that he is part of a minority among Muslims.

My experience with Muslims has been highly positive, for the most part. While on the Georgia Tech campus (Institute of Paper Science and Technology) before joining Kimberly-Clark, I was involved in research with two Muslim professors, one from Iran and one from Egypt. We discussed their faith a couple times, and I came away with profound respect for their attitudes, their reverent lifestyle, and their respect for their written scriptures. After moving to Wisconsin, I stayed with one of them on a brief trip back to Atlanta. That Muslim family, with a couple of teenagers, was as healthy and as happy of a family as you will find. That Muslim man treated his wife with kindness and respect, and the family was a family of love and peace, as well as humor, hospitality, faith, and an appreciation for good food.

For the highly educated Muslims I have known, Islam has struck me as a truly positive component of their lives.

On the other hand, religion can be used by monsters as a tool for power, for manipulation of the masses, and for horror. It has happened in Christianity, and it is happening in Islam. The abuse of a religion by the wicked should not condemn the religion per se.

However, given that there are some madmen in the Muslim community who are seeking to stir entire congregations into anger and who actively promote violence and terror, I think we must not be too shy in recognizing the potential of that religion, in its abused form, to be used as a weapon against us. For example, I am disturbed that the press has been so reluctant to mention the Muslim roots of some people who have committed acts of terror. Take the recent killings in Salt Lake. After five people were shot down by a man in downtown Salt Lake City, the press seemed reluctant to let people know that Sulejman Talovic, the 18-year-old Bosnian refugee, was Muslim. Yes, religion normally should not be a key factor in the reporting of criminal activity, though if a conservative Christian does anything, that's going to make headlines. But when there is a war on terror going in which religion is being used as the key tool to recruit terrorists, it seems like it's a relevant piece of information that we should know. Perhaps the press thinks that public will assume all Muslims are evil killers if they tells us about the small minority who are. But isn't their self-proclaimed job to report the news, not to filter it to ecnourage their own social agenda? Or is it just "all the news that fits"?

Those killings touched some of my family. One of the victims was a niece of a sister-in-law of mine. Others known by relatives of mine are experiencing terrible grief from these slayings. Was the murderer motivated or assisted by some Islamic faction in what he did? I don't think so, but it's a relevant question, not an unthinkable absurdity that the press must snuff out before it can be raised. Maybe religion played no role at all. (Maybe it was just another case of getting a little too deep into harmless rap music and fine video games. No problem there. Ooops - now that was politically incorrect! And I was just joking - don't shoot me!)

In the hands of good people, I have seen Islam as a religion of peace. But for some, it is not. We need to understand where and when there are problems and risks, and not close our eyes. (What we do need to close, though, is our borders, where I am shocked that foreign terrorists, if they want to, can simply walk across freely. What kind of war is this, where we go to the other side of the world to pound a nation not directly tied with the 9/11 event that launched our war on terror, while we leave our borders wide open and arrest border patrol agents who actually try to stop criminals?)

25 comments:

The Idahoan said...

Well said. I agree that at one time or another almost all religions have had their zealots who use it as an excuse to try to gain power and prestige. But those people generally do not speak for the religion as a whole and it is important that we remember that.

And close the borders. That should be the biggest no brainer in the world, but apparently our politicians don't think so. How silly is it to have a war where we send all our forces overseas into a foreign land while leaving our borders wide open, practically asking for an invasion without any way of preventing it?

danithew said...

the press seemed reluctant to let people know that Sulejman Talovic, the 18-year-old Bosnian refugee, was Muslim. Yes, religion normally should not be a key factor in the reporting of criminal activity, though if a conservative Christian does anything, that's going to make headlines. But when there is a war on terror going in which religion is being used as the key tool to recruit terrorists, it seems like it's a relevant piece of information that we should know.

Yes, I'd like to know how much this person's (interpretation of his) religion had to do with his act.

Ranbato said...

From all that I have seen (living in the SL valley) he was just a messed up kid; possibly as a result of early experiences in Bosnia.
According to the DeseretNews: Those who knew him recall a lanky teenager who wanted to be accepted, while keeping his feelings to himself. He had few friends and talked mostly about "normal school stuff."
"I think he was just lonely," said Enes Kadic, who went to school with Talovic in the seventh grade."

and
Police said they are still investigating the shooting spree and trying to learn a motive.
"We're making progress," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said Friday. "I feel we're getting somewhere, but I have no answers to give out right now."
Burbank told the Deseret Morning News that investigators have found nothing that shows violent video games were a motive. The chief said police have also not "found anything that has religious or political motivation" or shows Talovic's ethnicity was a factor. The Bosnian refugee is Muslim.
Kadic is not convinced that violent video games and movies are solely to blame, although they may have been a factor.
"I think someone pushed him to do it, and he just went for it. He probably just said, 'Screw it. My life's not worth it.' He was just pushed to do it," he said.

Ranbato said...

Sorry, I wanted to add one more quote from the Salt Lake Tribune in an article about the shooter's family and other families who have undergone similar trials.

[T]he Talovic family has not received a single threat or unkind word, the father, Suljo Talovic, says. Rather, strangers have covered his stoop with flowers and balloons, messages of sorrow and offers of friendship. More than $1,000 has been donated to help with funeral expenses; the family intends to bury Sulejman in Bosnia where he was born.
"I am surprised," Talovic told The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday, speaking through an interpreter. "I would have thought when something like this happened that people would be the opposite - that they would be aggressive. But every single person is supportive."

Anonymous said...

My mother used to be a teacher of English as a second language (ESL) to many Bosnians. While many of them were nice, they had come from a horrible situation. It was basically a 1st world country like ours, ripped to pieces overnight, full of violence and bloodshed. Some of my mom's students really needed psychiactric help, but their parents who had been successful business owners had lost everything in the war and their father was a truck driver. I'm very sorry for your loss, Jeff. Violence is truly horrible.

D. Sirmize said...

From all that I have seen (living in the SL valley) he was just a messed up kid; possibly as a result of early experiences in Bosnia.

I agree. But what steams me the most about this incident (other than the killings), is that the Utah media and law enforcement had "ruled out" his unnamed religion as a factor. Sounds like PC CYA rather than responsible investigation.

My blog post on this was referenced by several pundits the week of the shootings. If interested, it can be found at

http://www.utahadventurevideos.com/blog/archives/2007/02/15/utah-media-blinded-by-political-correctness-paints-salt-lake-mall-shooter-as-victim/

D. Sirmize said...

Sorry, my previous comments should have read:

what steams me the most about this incident (other than the killings), is that the Utah media and law enforcement had "ruled out" his unnamed religion as a factor before the investigation had even begun.

Doug Forbes said...

I think every Indian I have ever known has been a software engineer. I realize, of course, that my personal experience of life is not a complete picture of the world. All Indians are not software engineers. I remind myself of this whenever I hear someone advocating political policy based on personal experience.

Shadow Spawn said...

I agree that the majority of muslims in the world are probably peace loving, religiously responsible people. That said however, If there is such a majority, they appear to be a silent majority.

The good decent muslims are allowing their religion to be hijacked by radical extremists.

The decent muslims have got to stand up more against these thugs who are using their honorable religion to murder and opress. If they do not stand up and fight to take back their religion they may find themselves in a very difficult situation in the future. The Japanese Americans of WW II ominously come to mind.

I realize that various muslim groups here in the States have publicly condemmed the terrorist activities, and we have muslims serving in our military in the Middle East. But, that is not enough. The innocent good muslims of the World have got to unite and take back their god.

Casual Jeff said...

idahoan: Did you know that Idaho is for you?

shadow spawn: What do you want them to do?

Keep in mind that some people would call us a "silent majority" regarding polygamy. Yeah, most of us are morally opposed to it...but are we doing anything to prevent it? Or do we just sit there and cringe when we see crazy "mormon" polygamist groups on TV and hope they go away?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if the mosque Sulejman Talovic attended was a Wahabbi-ist (sp?) mosque that preached hatred or jihad?

Other muslims who have gone on rampages in the US in the past few years were documented as attending such mosques and listening to violence-inspiring sermons.

Shadow Spawn said...

Casual Jeff:

I for one would like to see more outrage from the general Muslim community when atrocities occur. For example: Look at the outrage we got to see when some Dutch newspaper prints a silly cartoon about Mohammed. The streets around the world became literal killing grounds over a cartoon.

Well, where's THAT kind of response when a mosque full of muslim women and children gets blown to bits? Why don't the muslims take to the streets waving flags in protest when something like that happens. Oh, but print a cartoon, and then see the righteous indignation of the world muslim community. Never mind that innocent muslims are being blown to pieces every day by those who share their faith.

It frustrates me to no end,and I can't help but look on the general muslim population of the world with some skeptisism when they claim to be a religion of peace, but then react to a cartoon like they did, but remain silent while people commit outright murder in the name of their "peacfull" religion.

Casual Mormon said...

Ok, I understand what you mean. Still, I'm trying to put myself in their shoes. If a bunch of crazy mormons started blowing up everything in sight, what would I do?

I guess I could protest...but I don't know. I'm not really sure what that would accomplish. I'd probably just do nothing and then get defensive whenever someone brings up the subject of religion.

The Idahoan said...

idahoan: Did you know that Idaho is for you?

huh? whatever do you mean?

And polygamy to me is another one of those instances where the few who are crooked and corrupt and jerks give the rest of the world the impression that all polygamist people are the same. While I don't practice it myself, I have no problem if consenting adults want to participate in a polygamous relationship. My problem with it comes from those who exploit children or use it as a means to gain power and control of the masses.

I have known many different people who live many different lifestyles and marriages, including polygamists, polyamourists and even swingers in open marriages, all right there is utah. The common factor in all of them was that they were all consenting honest adults who talked to each other and were honest with each other about their feelings and desires. Some of them had the best and strongest marriages I have ever seen.

So I guess my point is not to be too quick to judge. There can be a million good people in a particular group and the one you will remember is the one bad one out of the bunch. Thank the media for that...

Casual Mormon said...

I saw a political billboard in Idaho one time that told me that Idaho was for Idahoans. I thought it was a remarkable piece of information, and your user name reminded me of it.

Nice blog, by the way!

Anonymous said...

Just curious Jeff, have you actually read the Koran? I would assume you had, seeing as your always others to read the Book of Mormon. The Koran has more than 50 times as many followers, but nowhere near as much respect for Western values.

Schuyler said...

In the name of political correctness Western society has buried its head in the sand regarding the aims of radical Islam hoping that if it is ignored, it will just go away. News documentaries suggest 5-15% of Muslims fall into this radical camp—That’s 75 to 225 million individuals! Mainstream schools teach that Jews are come from the sexual union of monkeys and pigs and hence must be destroyed. Christians and Hindus rate only slightly higher as slaves who can become second rate citizens only if they are converted.

I taught and baptized a Swede who went to Iran to study Islam for two years. After becoming dissolution with it, he returned to Sweden and accepted the gospel. He read the Book of Mormon, stopped smoking and drinking coffee all in less than one week. He had been searching for the truth and finally found it.

When Mormons go off the deep end, they often take up polygamy; when Muslims go off the deep end they blow up non-believers. If the day comes that mainstream Muslims and their clerics publicly denounce these terrorist attacks in both their mosques and in the media, then will I believe Islam is a religion of peace.

Russell said...

I heartily disagree with the last comment. Schuyler has discussed ONE case where a SWEDE became disillusioned with Islam. Furthermore, simply saying "News reports say..." won't cut it. How in the world would they do such a survey of nearly 1 billion people? Poll them?

"Excuse me, sir. Are you an extremist suicide bomber?"

Schuyler said...

I've seen countless reports where family members of a suicide bomber praised their action and consider them as a martyr. Contrast this to the actions of the parents whose 18 year old son that went on a shooting spree killing 5 innocent people last week in SLC. They were horrified and couldn't apologize enough to the community. When the mainstream muslim community marches in the streets condeming these suicide attacks, then I'll consider they are against this kind of violence.

I brought up the story about this Swede because it is a first hand account. As for the percentage of 'radical muslims', I have to rely on media reports. From what I have heard, those who have volunteers to become sucide bombers freely anwer the question you posed above.

Mormanity said...

I've read portions but not all of the Koran. Yes, I've read the parts that don't show a lot of tolerance for those of other faiths. Fortunately, it was not quite as disturbing as some parts of the Old Testament.

Schuyler said...

Fortuately, I'm not aware of any mainstream relgions quoting the Old Testament as jusification for killing non-believers.

In general, I would expect leaders from any particular faith to publically denounce these improper and sometimes deadly practices espoused by members of a few splinter groups. Not doing so sends a message to the general public that these actions are sanctioned.

When Pres. Monson visited Eastern bloc nations before the fall of the iron curtain, he consistently preached to the saints to honor, obey and sustain the law. I think one of the real concerns is where do these people's loyalties lie? Will they uphold the constituation of the United States or do they chose an pick?

Shadow Spawn said...

Ye shall know them by their fruits.

too bad that for the world of Islam the last century their fruits have been intolerance, sexism, bigotry, terror, murder, kidnapping, bombing, hijacking, war, and general bloodshed.

I'm not saying that their religion preaches all this. I realize it's a small group doing all this, but the sad fact is the mainstream muslims, in their silence have allowed this small group to paint in the minds of the world what Islam is all about; Killing.

As tolerant as you might try to be. I think we all like to think ourselves as tolerant, rational people. But, the next time you get on a plane to go somewhere, and you see three or four young arab / muslim looking men board your plane, I challenge you to somehow NOT feel a bit uneasy. And you know what everyone else in that plane would be thinking too. It's too bad it's gotten to this point for the Muslim community.

AND if the radicals are such a small little percentage then why is the mainstream so terrified to speak out? And why have we lost over 3,000 soldiers now in Iraq? I think it takes a big number to do that.

Jan Sobieski said...

I believe in your faith in your Muslim friend. I share your view when it comes to nearly all of the Muslims I have gotten to know America. Just keep an eye on the speakers who come to his mosque. There are many Muslims in Wisconsin who will seek to change the views of your friend to conform more closely to what is written in the Quran and Hadith. If they are unable change his views, they will seek to change the views of his children.

nathanielmacrae said...

When Pope Benedict, in remarks on Islam and terrorism, cited an obscure Middle Ages text of a conversation between an earlier Pope and a Muslim Emissary, which characterized Islam as inherently prone to use violence to spread the faith, rather than peace, piety, and good works.

In response to the Pope's remarks, the muslim world rioted in protest, paroxysms of violence, including the firebombing of two churches in the West Bank, proved both that the Pope was right, and Islam hasn't changed significantly since the Middle Ages.

James Waterton, over at Samizdata, commented, "Isn't it hilarious? Muslims are outraged that the Pope would link Islam with violence, and react - with violence. Magnificent."

Sorry, but I thought this was hilarious!

Nathaniel

Anonymous said...

Islam is not a religion of peace. It is an idealogy trying to blow everyone else up into pieces.

But seriously if you believe that it is peaceful you have not read the Koran or studied its history.

It would be like saying Mormonism is a religion of gender and racial equality.