Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Qur'an's Victimhood Complex

Many non-Muslims who are unsure what to make of Islam put off reading the Qur'an for themselves because it is often seen as sleep-incucingly dull, repetitive and self-contradictory, as well as providing no real internal context or narrative structure within its pages.

However, reading the Qur'an does have at least one advantage for the curious unbeliever: it provides valuable insight into the way Muslims think.

A concrete example is the victimhood complex that is fomented in the Muslim community. Muslims - even "moderate" ones - often tend to think that everyone in the world is against them, that there is some kind of grand conspiracy against Islam. This has a long pedigree in Islamic history, but it was demonstrated most recently when 800 Muslims tried to storm the BBC Manchester studios to protest what they saw as biased reporting by the Beeb - in favour of Israel. This despite the fact that in the wake of the recent flotilla flare-up, the BBC repeatedly broadcast footage of Israeli commandos being attacked by "humanitarians" with clubs, while continuing to insist that Israel only "claimed" they were attacked.

Muslims' fear of non-Muslim conspiracies against them is great, and this is epitomised in their liberal use of the word "Islamophobia" - an alleged unreasoning hatred of Islam and Muslims that was once described by the influential Organisation of the Islamic Conference as "the worst form of terrorism" - even worse than suicide bombing in crowded marketplaces, apparently. Every time a Muslim commits yet another act of unspeakable religious violence in the heart of the West, Muslims cower in fear of a "backlash" from intolerant Western Islamophobes looking for an excuse to persecute Muslims - but this backlash has still never materialised, except in the form of extremely rare, and often fabricated, cases.

Playing the victim obviously has its strategic advantages from a political point of view: the more Muslims make out that they are victims who deserve governmental protection, the more they can convince authorities that any speech they don't like - even speech which is true - should be criminalised, meaning that reasonable criticism of Islam and its violent, supremacist doctrines gradually becomes taboo even for defense agencies, who need accurate understanding of them more than anyone else.

But it should also not surprise the astute reader of the Qur'an that this outlook on life - "They're all out to get us because they're just full of hate" - is foreshadowed in the Muslim holy book itself. The basic assumption repeated countless times in the Qur'an (and subsequently by Muslim spokesmen today) is that Islam is self-evidently true, and that anyone who rejects it must therefore be motivated by hatred, greed or spite. Here is a small flavour:

2:105 - Neither those who disbelieve among the people of the Scripture nor the idolaters love that there should be sent down unto you any good thing from your Lord. But Allah chooseth for His mercy whom He will, and Allah is of Infinite Bounty.

2:109 - Many of the people of the Scripture long to make you disbelievers after your belief, through envy on their own account, after the truth hath become manifest unto them. Forgive and be indulgent (toward them) until Allah give command. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things.

3:118, 120 - O ye who believe! Take not for intimates others than your own folk, who would spare no pains to ruin you; they love to hamper you. Hatred is revealed by (the utterance of) their mouths, but that which their breasts hide is greater. We have made plain for you the revelations if ye will understand...If a lucky chance befall you, it is evil unto them, and if disaster strike you they rejoice thereat. But if ye persevere and keep from evil their guile will never harm you. Lo! Allah is Surrounding what they do.

The renowned Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir (d.1373) says that in verses like these, "Allah described the deep enmity that the disbelieving polytheists and People of the Scripture, whom Allah warned against imitating, have against the believers, so that Muslims should sever all friendship with them."

A more modern authority, Muhammad Shafi (d.1976), the former Mufti of Pakistan, wrote of the third passage reproduced above:

[T]he text warns Muslims that they [infidels] are always on the look out for opportunities to hoodwink and hurt them [Muslims] materially and spiritually. They are always plotting to harm them in this worldly life as well as to take them away from the enjoined pursuits of their Faith...the in-depth teaching is that no non-Muslim can ever be the real friend and well-wisher of Muslims.

Islam Q & A, a mainstream Muslim website providing scholarly opinions and legal rulings for lay Muslims, quotes a number of Qur'an verses to make the same points, i.e.:

The enmity of the kuffaar – the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), mushrikeen (polytheists) and hypocrites – towards the believers will last until the [Last] Hour begins....

Because Islam rules the believers with justice, and gives each person his rights, and they do not want this to happen – for this reason they strive to wage war against this religion and to refute the truth with falsehood....

Those who disbelieve spend of their wealth in order to prevent others from following the path of Allaah, at all times and in all places, and (they strive to) spread corruption, provoke wars and kill the believers....

Allaah has told us how strong the enmity of the kuffaar is towards the Muslims....

No matter what the kuffaar do, their enmity will not end. Even though they may speak words of friendship, their hearts are filled with hatred towards Islam and its people....

And so on.

These sentiments obviously foment hostility towards non-Muslims, and foster an "Us Vs. Them" attitude in Muslim societies which does not bode well for "inter-faith dialogue" or any positive interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Furthermore, they encourage cultural stagnation in the Muslim world, since Muslims are prevented by their own religion from accepting any responsibility for their own lot - whenever anything bad happens to them, it is always the infidels' fault. Even Muslims who have never read a word of the Qur'an can be imbibed with these attitudes, as they are passed down through the generations and become part of the local and general culture.

It is clear in so many ways that if there is a Clash of Civilisations happening right now, it has been generated not by the West, which has a long and proud tradition of tolerance and universalism, but by attitudes and assumptions derived from the Qur'an. If you ever find yourself wanting to know how Muslims think, and why Muslim groups and societies have such strange priorities, just read their book. It's all in there.

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