Two Muslim brothers mercilessly placed a bomb at a marathon finish line in Boston recently, killing innocent bystanders. The victims included an eight year old child, who was waiting at the finish line to greet his father participating in the marathon. The Muslim terrorists were educated American citizens who had lived in the USA for several years. The mother of these terrorists reportedly discussed jihad with her sons and thus paved the path for their self-destruction. At the same time, she also denied that anyone had died and claimed that red paint was sprayed on the scene of bombing to falsely implicate her sons. This mother’s behavior follows a recognizable pattern whereby Muslims on the one hand support jihad and on the other attempt to exonerate Islam by blaming the victims whenever terrorists strike. She did not display the ability to critically examine the teachings of Islam to determine whether they are dangerous and destructive. In this regard, she represents an overwhelming majority of Muslims.
Why are Muslims unable to examine Islamic teachings rationally?
In Why I am Not a Muslim, Ibn Warraq points out that Islam is a totalitarian religion that penetrates and controls every aspect of a Muslim’s life. The infallibility of consensus (arrived at by the early Muslim jurists), called ‘ijma,’ is a foundation of Islamic Sharia. A Muslim is expected to unquestioningly submit to the quranic injunctions. Blasphemy toward Allah and the prophet Muhammad and apostasy are punishable by death (Quran 4:89). As a result, a Muslim is discouraged from examining Islamic teachings rationally. On the other hand, an unquestioning submission is rewarded. Islamic teachings bestow a sense of entitlement in the minds of Muslims with the promise that Allah would never let the kafir (infidel) triumph over the Muslim (Quran 4:141). A Muslim, by his submission to the mandate of Islam, attains force and power (Quran 63:8).
The totalitarian nature of Islam is best expressed through the advocacy of jihad. A Muslim cannot shirk his duty of participating in jihad. One attains the greatest glory and heavenly rewards by dying while taking part in jihad. Allah will instill terror in the heart of the kafir. Muslims fulfill an important religious duty by killing the infidel (Quran 2:256, 4:74-76, 8:12, 15-16, 39-42, 9:5-6, 39).
The researches of the psychologist Bob Altemeyer shed light on a phenomenon called authoritarianism, which is characterized by submission to authorities. Totalitarian religious belief is the most lasting form of authoritarianism. An authoritarian follower such as a religious Muslim submits to religious authorities (Muhammad and the mullahs) and teachings (the Quran, Hadiths and the Sharia). Since these authorities and teachings portray infidels negatively, and advocate jihad, Muslims unquestioningly internalize such portrayals. Altemeyer shows that a belief that one’s religious teachings are fundamentally correct, essential and inerrant results in bigotry in the minds of the believers toward non-believers. As a result, authoritarian Muslim followers can be easily manipulated into justifying jihad because it is directed at infidels.
Authoritarianism, claims of quranic infallibility, demands for unquestioning submission to the teachings of Islam and the bestowing of a sense of entitlement in the minds of Muslims warp the Muslim worldview. Having been conditioned from childhood to accept Islam as divine revelation, they cannot bring themselves to examine it rationally. A kafir, in the warped worldview of a Muslim, is harming society. Setting off a bomb to kill such an infidel is seen (though not publicly admitted) as a fulfillment of religious duty. It never occurs to a Muslim that Islamic teachings could be depraved.
I would argue that a instead of vilifying a Muslim one should understand that a Muslim is first and foremost a victim of Islam.
This inference is supported by the fact that Muslims, by their adherence to Islam, harm not only the kafir but their own children as well. The cruel practice of clitoridectomy and infibulations testifies to this. In The Caged Virgin – an Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out that this horrible custom is followed by the Muslims residing in thirty countries. A female child’s clitoris and the outer and inner labia are cut away with a sharp object such as a fragment of glass, a razor blade, or a potato knife. The inside of the walls of the vagina of the girl child are also scraped. Then the girl’s legs are bound together so that the walls of the vagina can grow together. This is followed by infibulations, i.e., stitching up the labia majora.
What is the origin of this terrible practice?
It did not originate with Islam. It is known to be an older tribal practice. The Quran has no reference to it. However, in one of the Hadiths, Muhammad supports a limited form of female genital mutilation. It has been used to justify the mutilation of millions of Muslim girls and to deny them sexual pleasure. The practice is of misogynistic origins. A woman’s sexuality was feared and had to be suppressed. Islam requires a woman to be submissive to her husband and guard her chastity for him. A man can beat a rebellious wife (Quran 4:34). A woman is very much a commodity. A woman has to veil herself so as to appear undesirable to all but her husband (Quran 33:32-33, 53, 59).
Islam never respected a woman’s sexual needs or independence. She should be ready to submit to her husband’s sexual desires anytime and anywhere. If her husband is satisfied with her, she will go to paradise, or else to hell. Islam teaches that women’s ways are capricious and that they should be prevented from learning to read and write. It is better for a woman not to leave her home at all because a woman who goes out might meet another man and get attracted to him. Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, declared, “The entire woman is an evil and what is worse is that it is a necessary evil” and “Even the most virtuous among women is of easy virtue and the most corrupt are whores. Old age does not spare them of their vices.”
This misogynistic attitude resulted in the dehumanizing of Muslim women. Even a peripheral scriptural support for mutilating her genitals was readily accepted because it was consonant with the rest of the Islamic teachings calling for the suppression of her sexual urges. Tragically, since Muslims are authoritarian followers of a totalitarian religious ideology, they rarely rely upon reason to examine whether obeying their religious teachings denies their own daughters the pleasures of normal sex.
So, jihad, oppression of Muslim women and the hostility toward the kafir are all the products of the warped Islamic worldview. These outcomes will not change so long as the Muslims continue to remain authoritarian followers. Only when they begin to examine Islam rationally can one reasonably expect changes to follow. However, that would not be easy either. Researches in cognitive sciences show that persuasability declines beyond the age of eight. Since a Muslim child is well indoctrinated by parents before that age, it is hard to wean the child away from Islam later on. In other words, a vast majority among the present generation of Muslims is unlikely to examine Islam critically.
However, everything is not lost. New researches in cognitive sciences give us cause for hope. Will Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, as well a 2011 Harvard study, demonstrate that teaching children to think critically (vis-à-vis intuitively) increases the likelihood that they will abandon their belief in god. Scientific research informs us that parenting has little or no influence in determining the religiosity of the individual in the long term. Any influence of parents largely disappears during a person’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. However, the influence of the environment, known as the non-shared memeplex, often ensures that the religious belief acquired before the age of eight is sustained. In the case of Islam, the non-shared memeplex is made up of congregations, peer groups, madrassas and social conformance rules. This non-shared memeplex preserves a believer’s Islamic beliefs, prevents a critical examination of those beliefs and ensures that the believer remains an authoritarian follower.
If we are serious about ending jihad and other depravations that result from Islamic teachings, we should focus on ushering in critical thinking on a societal level. We must ensure that the non-shared memeplex compels a child to examine Islam critically. This would facilitate the next generation of Muslims to abandon Islam. We must rely upon unfettered free speech to achieve this end. In the long run, free speech will facilitate critical thinking to pervade the non-shared memeplex and weaken Islam. This is the only realistic approach to prevent jihadi strikes and the oppression of Muslim women in the future. It is not a simple solution but a complex problem cannot be solved by simplistic advocacies.
Warraq, Ibn: Why I am Not a Muslim, pp. 163, 166, 176, 217-218, 298-299
Altemeyer, Bob: The Authoritarian Specter, p. 100
Altemeyer, Bob: Why Do Religious Fundamentalists Tend to be Prejudiced?
The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2003, 13, 1, pp. 17–28
Ali, Ayaan Hirsi: The Caged Virgin – an Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, pp. 15-16
Petty, Richard and Cacioppo, John: Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches, pp. 72-80
How Critical Thinkers Lose Their Faith in God, Scientific American, July 2012, pp. 26-27
Koenig, L. B., McGue, M., Kruger, R. F., Bouchard, T. J.: Genetic and Environmental Influences on Religiousness – Findings for Retrospective and Current Religiousness Ratings, Journal of Personality, 73, pp. 471-488
Vance, T., Maes, H., Kendler, K. S.: Genetic and Environmental Influences on Multiple Dimensions of Religiosity – A Twin Study, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 198, pp. 755-761