This was brought home to me over the weekend while reading two English-language articles which both came out of the Muslim world. The first is from a letter by a female Muslim on this Malaysian news site. In it, the author irately notes the following:
A great misconception of Islam lies in the fact that it is nothing more than a theological reflection confined to the realm of personal worshiping. Far from truth, the very essence of Islam as taught by Prophet Muhammad SAW dictates that Islam encompasses all spheres of life, from etiquette to commerce to good governance of a country.
A little later on, the author refers to a recent controversy in the country, in which the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) was heavily criticised for raiding a church and arresting Christians who were allegedly seeking to preach the Gospel to Muslims. She passionately writes:
The more recent issue concerning Jais and Hassan Ali further underlined the effort to reduce Islam to merely ritual worship devoid of its 'syumul'/holistic concept. The fashionably 'human rights' and 'moral policing' terms quickly make their way to the fore condemning the authority, when Islam has outlined its principle clearly that apostasy is one of the biggest sin and any conduct that leads to this effect should be arrested immediately.
This rule has been held dearly for more than 1,400 years ago despite the effort to force Islam to embrace the stance opted by other religions in apostasy matters...
For the author, "The distorted view that prevails is that in order for Muslims to fit in the multicultural society, he/she should remove their identity as much as possible, leaving behind the Islamic says [sic] in their day to day business, and only proceed with their five prayers in the mosques, wedding ceremonies and Raya celebration. For good Muslims, the tenets of their religion are embraced as a whole and not selectively chosen."
To sum up:
The multiracial components of Malaysian society have lived together in harmony for many years and they must accept the fact that for Muslims, Islam is not simply a theological scripture confined within the space of the mosque. It translates into their everyday life.
And to put it more succinctly, here is the first line from another recent article in the Pakistan Observer:
Islam offers a complete code of life in every aspect of human existence.
With this context in mind (and there are reams of further examples from Muslim writers, scholars and websites - not bigoted infidels - that I could adduce), it should become clearer why Islam does pose a not-intangible threat to Wetern societies: As it creeps further and further into our lives and neighbourhoods, it brings with it adherents who have a ready-made programme for societal governance = sharia law. This programme includes numerous rigourously codified strictures that are fundamentally in opposition to values and constructs upon which Western society was built. These laws violate human rights (e.g. denying freedom of speech when it comes to criticism of Islam, sanctioning death for those who leave the faith, confining women to household slaves and sex objects and condoning marital violence against them) and uproot cherised Western institutions (e.g. legal systems, education, etc).
Sharia is not a gimmicky "plug-in" for Islam that was invented by a few crazies. It is the very essence of Islam itself - without it, very little is left. One of its primary sources, the hadith, is full to bursting with Muhammad's wisdom and commandments on all manner of personal and societal issues, many of which govern the daily lives of almost every Muslim to this day. The five pillars of Islam are themselves a key component of sharia, and are legislated over meticulously, to the extent that many ordinary Muslims are confused and simply have no idea when they are supposed to pray, for how long, and what circumstances validate or invalidate their prayers, and must seek advice from a resident clerical "expert".
Once, while watching the Islam Channel on Sky, I saw an episode of its "Islam Q & A" programme, in which an imam takes viewers' calls and questions live on air. One particular woman had just come back from visiting family in Africa, and had brought back with her some souvenir figures of animals such as giraffes and zebras. She had called because she wanted to know if it was permissible for her as a Muslim to keep these figures in her home. The cleric answered that having models of animals in her home could be construed as idolatry and that she should get rid of them immediately.
What kind of "religion" makes it a sin to keep a toy giraffe in your living room? And more than that, what kind of "spiritual experience" makes a woman feel that it is necessary to contact a complete stranger and ask him if she is allowed to do so?
Need I remind you that this specific example does not come from some deeply tribal part of Africa or the Middle East - it comes from Muslim communities right here in the UK.
That is why non-Muslims in the West need to stop projecting their own understanding of what a religion is onto Islam, when its very nature is more complicated, and more political, than they give it credit for. When an ideology is political in nature, and when it demands forceful imposition of its rules on those currently outside of its influence by way of jihad, it must necessarily be seen as a problematic and potentially dangerous invading force, and dealt with accordingly.
To close this essay, I leave you with the words of Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi, one of the foremost Islamic thinkers of the twentieth century. His view of Islam as a complete way of life is not an "extremist" position, but one that has been read, digested and understood by millions of Muslims around the world. We ignore this fact at our own peril.
Maududi believed that “Islam is a revolutionary ideology and programme which seeks to alter the social order of the whole world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals.” Specifically, “Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme”. Maududi taught that “Islam is not merely a religious creed or compound name for a few forms of worship, but a comprehensive system which envisages to annihilate all tyrannical and evil systems in the world and enforces its own programme of reform which it deems best for the well-being of mankind.” Muslims must wage jihad against unbelievers, the purpose of which “is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of State rule.”