ISLAM AND CULTURE

Donald Sensing has an interesting follow-up post on Islam and the status of women. He notes two major points:

One of the difficulties in writing about “what the Muslims believe” is that there is bound to be a a fair amount of diversity of thought in a religion that claims a billion or so adherents. Unlike Catholicism, which has about the same number of adherents, there is no hierarchical structure in Islam and no body to set official, binding doctrine. (Shiite Islam has something of such a structure, but its branch is a minority.)

Of course there is a lot that all Muslims believe, of whatever stripe: that Mohammed was the “seal of the prophets,” for example, that the Quran is the actual, literal word of Allah, and that every Muslim is obligated to live out the “Five Pillars of Islam” – strict monotheism and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad; daily prayers; giving of alms; fasting, especially during Ramadan; a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once.

But the second point causes a lot of confusion in the West:

In particular, I am increasingly learning that a very large part of what we have tended to think of as “Islamic” has been less religious and much more cultural. Until quite recently, in historical terms, Islam and Arab were almost identical.

This is much like the bugaboo of communism from the Cold War days. We had the tendency to view all Communists, whether Soviet, Chinese East European, Cuban, Korea, or Vietnamese as a monolith; part of a Red Menace. Only in hindsight did most of us realize that, in reality, Communism took on the cultural identity of the nation that adopted it. So, Soviet Communism was a hell of a lot like Tsarist Russian, Chinese Communism was similar to “Asian despotism,” etc. The Green Menace of Islam is really Arab nationalism.

FILED UNDER: Religion
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.