The big Islam problem
I found this explanation by Ali Sina (an apostate Shi’ite Muslim) very interesting:
Just like other Muslims, I used to believe that to learn about anything one has to go to the source. Now you may think that the source of Islam is the Qur’an and the hadith. That might be so in theory. But in practice few Muslims read these books to understand them. Muslims get their information about Islam by reading the books written by scholars of Islam. These are apologetic books that deceitfully try to portray Islam in the best light, showing that Muhammad was a holy man and the Qur’an is a “scientific book.” Therefore, I felt no need to look elsewhere in order to find the truth, as I was convinced that I had already found it.
This is important for understanding the mystery of why the Koran inspires ISIS to behave the way they do, but most Muslims think (or at least claim to think) that ISIS doesn’t represent their religion.
I’d even go further than Ali Sina and presume that most Muslims don’t read much about their religion at all. I am reminded of my mother’s approach to Judaism (a religion a lot more similar to Islam than most people realize, but fortunately without the crazy jihad stuff and beheadings). She still keeps a sort-of kosher house, refusing to mix meat and dairy and refusing to buy any meat that wasn’t sold at a kosher butcher. Yet she has never read any Jewish books at all. She couldn’t tell you where in the Torah or the Tanakh or the Talmud any of these laws come from. She’s just following a bunch of instructions (very rigid and harsh instructions that take all the fun out of life) passed down from her parents and occasionally reinforced by an Orthodox rabbi. People are very eager to unquestioningly believe what they are taught as children.
I was forced to attend an orthodox Hebrew school before I was 13 (because my parents were too cheap to send me to a more expensive Reform Hebrew school), and all we did was memorize prayers, taught how to pronounce Hebrew and learn some very basic Hebrew language skills, and we were taught what laws we were supposed to follow and that it was sinful not to follow them. But never once did we ever read the Torah or the Tanakh or the Talmud (except for my individualized Bar Mitzvah lesson in which I was made to memorize a short passage from the Torah, in Hebrew, and was never even given an English translation of what I was memorizing).
As far as why the Islam practiced by most Muslims is less violent than the Islam taught in the Koran and the hadith is one of practicality. Most religions come to serve the ends of the elites and help to maintain the current social order. That’s why Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. It wouldn’t benefit the elites in Muslim society (which would have been the elites of the Ottoman Empire) to have the lesser people running around committing jihad and enforcing the harsh penalties of the Koran whenever they saw fit. Elites want an orderly society. Thus the religion was changed for practical reasons.
But at the same time, all Muslims are taught that the Koran is the literal word of Allah (there is absolutely nothing in Islam like Reform Judaism which believes that the Torah is only the inspired word of God), and that Mohammed was the most perfect follower of Islam and that all Muslims should live their lives according to example set by Mohammed. Despite this, most Muslims lack the curiosity or the intellectual capacity to read the Koran and hadith for themselves. Similarly, most Christians in the United States don’t know that much about what’s in the Bible, especially not Catholics for whom direct reading of the Bible is not even encouraged.
I believe that Islam is currently undergoing something like a Protestant Reformation. As you know from history, Martin Luther rejected the idea that the corrupt Catholic Church should tell people how they should practice Christianity. He said people should read the Bible and practice Christianity based directly on the source. ISIS has a similar viewpoint as Martin Luther.
Now that this Pandora’s Box has been opened, there is no closing it. The Catholic Church was not able to shut down Protestantism, and there is even less of an organized Islamic power structure that can shut down direct interpretation of the Koran.
This means that Islam is very very dangerous. You have more than a billion people worldwide, and millions in the United States, who believe that the Koran is the literal word of Allah and that they should live their lives according to example set by Mohammed. More and more will discover the true meaning of the Koran and the hadith and become “radicalized” (to use the current euphemism). There is no way to stop this from happening and be politically correct about it. We must face up to the fact that ISIS is practicing an Islam that is truer to the meaning of the Koran and the hadith than most Muslims.