Before the tragic attack on the World Trade Center, I had a grudging respect for the Muslim faithful. They seemed the most spiritual and religiously conservative group on the planet, untouched by the Western immorality and atheism. There was the accusation that was only because of the lack of educational opportunities, but even those who went to Western and U.S. schools went back home without losing religious convictions. There was something about Islam that a person who had their own strong faith convictions had to admire.
When the infamous 9-11 attack happened, there was hope that citizens of the United States could learn something about themselves out of the deadly chaos. Perhaps the Christian nation as a whole would re-evaluate the moral direction it had taken. They would take notice of Muslims and look within to question how they had lost their spiritual way. Certainly they could contrast the strength of conviction and moral cohesion of such a large group of people and come away determined to change. For one brief week it seemed possible.
That illusion was quickly shattered. It didn’t take very long for people to continue going about their business like always. Each generation seeming more intent than the next to rid themselves of religious and moral guidance. Meanwhile, the extremist Islamist leaders ended up sharing the anti-Christian, anti-Israel, and anti-United States stances of Western liberals. That wasn’t a surprise, but how they played off each other was. They ended up doing the your enemy is my enemy dance. The terrorists came off not as moral crusaders, but political despots eager for attention with the blood of the dead. Still, the question stands how Muslims remain faithful stalwarts in such large numbers while Christianity, and Mormonism included, continues to stumble.
Not knowing enough about either Islam or the Muslim culture, I can only speculate why the faith is so powerful to individuals. This means admitting some of the views are based on stereotypes. By examining this I hope to reflect on what might re-energize Christianity and particularly Mormonism. There is a realization that most of what makes Islam so strong is negative and should not be duplicated.
Violence seems to be the key to growth and strength. From the start Islam, despite the political correct media “religion of peace” label, has used the sword to take control. Arguably the battles of Medina and Mecca were defensive against hostile neighbors in a land drenched in tribal feuds. The concept of conversion by conquest caught on quickly and the history of Islam’s rise is one war after another. The first generations might have been reluctantly bowing for survival, but the others since never sought to break from the faith. Instead, they contributed.
Power both corrupts and unites. Christianity in an official capacity had its own grip on nations as theocratic powers, but that time is long gone. This is contrasted by Islam that with Egypt only has had a marginal democratic country. The rest of are theocratic Kingdoms based on the precepts of the religion first. There is no room for competing ideologies or beliefs. To teach other than Islam in Middle Eastern countries is illegal and dangerous. What is amazing is that even when uprising there is almost no anti-Islam component to the unrest. In fact, more than likely those who lead the rebellions are more fundamentalist than who they are fighting.
Lack of education doesn’t matter. The notion by atheists in Western countries is that those with the least education will be manipulated by the unscrupulous. The more education a person gets is directly related to the least religious the person becomes. Studies have shown this to be the case with Christianity, but not with Islam. The most surprising realization was that Muslim terrorists came to the United States to get college educations. Instead of turning against the religion they had grown up in, they became more determined and fanatical. There is no doubt educational standards for a large majority of Muslims is sub-par or non-existent, but going to a secular school doesn’t seem to have an effect on their beliefs.
The culture is strict and unforgiving. It would be impossible for a Western liberal to become Muslim. Religion invades every part of Muslim life from prayers five times a day to women having to wear some kind of burqa. There is no marriage outside the faith for women and men might, but quickly assert themselves. To leave the faith can lead to more than shunning or ridicule. For some it can be a death sentence. Privately there might be a large wave of hypocrisy, but publicly even living in Western countries there is no sign of deviance from the religious expectations.
They are a people truly apart. Mormons might like to consider themselves a peculiar people, but Muslims live by that stance. More than any other religion they live on the edges of the societies they don’t control. It is a self-isolation built around a self-importance that rivals any Jewish or Christian sense of specialness. In some ways it harkens back to the start of Islam. Communities gather together for strength and control, keeping outsiders at arms length. They expand from the center of influence without any missionary work. Growth might be commerce and family ties rather than violence, but the outcome is the same.
What to make of it all I still don’t know. Islam is a religion without the theological, moral, or societal conflicts present in Western societies. The question of a generation drifting into atheism or alternate spirituality isn’t even a concern. Liberalism and moral relativity hasn’t touched the highly conservative Muslim population. Moderate Islam with the same meaning as Christian moderates doesn’t exist outside of mythological media creations. How the faith and convictions of such a large religion continues to thrive while others fight to hang on is a mystery. If Mormons or other Christians can find and use the answers then perhaps it can be used for an advantage. The problem is what is found might not be desirable.