When it comes to religion, I am not a believer nor am I a student of theology. I am but a mere observer, much more inclined to fact than faith. I don’t have a high regard for any religion but there are things about most that I appreciate.
Buddhism, for example, has a laid-back vibe that can be appealing, Judaism has a certain intellectual aspect that engenders respect, and Christianity—well, Christianity’s great strength is its music. Hymns, gospel, Christmas carols—no other religion can compete. If I were inclined to such folly I could be converted by “Amazing Grace” alone.
And there are teachings of Christ that I find to be of a particularly high moral order, such as “turning the other cheek.” Well beyond my moral capacity but worthy of inspiration for what one should aspire to.
My least favourite religion would be Islam. I find little to admire about it and, more importantly, its harsh nature conflicts with my very idea of morality. Why harsh? Well, what other religion’s holy book orders thieves’ hands to be cut off or the death penalty for apostasy. And then there’s its behaviour in countries around the Islamic world.
Start with Saudi Arabia, a quasi-theocracy. Quite aside from being a dictatorship, it is the height of intolerance. It doesn’t allow the construction of any house of worship except a mosque. Believers in other religions must worship in private. To become a citizen, you must convert to Islam, and if you decide to leave the religion … well, that can be unpleasant.
And then there’s Iran, much in the news lately for the way it harasses its women. This is a country led by mullahs, by moral leaders, but morality isn’t what springs to mind. For example, it is thought to execute more people per capita than any other country. The crimes which bring the death penalty make up a long paragraph in Wikipedia. Not, shall we say, a forgiving regime.
Afghanistan, run by Muslims zealots, is something else again. All societies have oppressed their women from time to time, but I can think of nowhere else in history that has carried this to the degree of cruelty imposed on the women of this benighted place. They are, for all intents and purposes sentenced to life imprisonment. A woman can’t even take her child to the park for some fresh air.
Egypt, the most populous country in the Middle East, has intense government restrictions combined with a public that is particularly intolerant of religious pluralism. According to a Pew Research survey, 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims say converting from Islam should be punishable by death. Not that the sentiment is insignificant elsewhere. Among 37 Islamic countries where the question was asked, a median of 28 percent shared that opinion. Our way or …
Even Islamic extremists tend to the most extreme. No other group of zealots is as sadistic as the Islamic State with its beheadings, immolation, mass rape and enslavement of women, and relentless terror. Many Muslims insist that the group is not Islam but of course it is. They derive their inspiration from the Qur’an and claim their whole purpose is to establish an Islamic state, a caliphate.
There is no other religion about which I could draw up such a list of brutality. Unless I went back to the Middle Ages. It took Christendom centuries to liberate itself from its mid-life crisis, an effort that isn’t entirely done yet. Much of Islam seems to be stuck in a Middle Ages of its own.
None of this reflects on Canadian Muslims, of course. They are as committed as the rest of us to human rights, freedom and democracy. They must not be tarred with the manifold sins of their brothers elsewhere.
Nonetheless even tolerant people who readily accept Muslims may be apprehensive about the faith, as we have seen in this country. To answer my own question then: is the fear justified? No, of course not, but the religion has a very dark side and a measure of apprehension is not misplaced.