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Learning Islam Vs. The Enlightenment And "being Offended"

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I'm from the west. I was brought up being taught the scientific method. Basically my schooling (and way of thinking) probably has its roots in the Enlightenment upon which many of the U.S.'s founding documents are based.

 

I've been trying to understand Islam for several months now - I've made a bit of progress.

 

One initial conclusion I've come to is that it's difficult to discuss Islam with many Muslims because many topics appear to be off limits or cause offense. One example would be the Danish cartoonist. 

 

Of course the notion of "off limits" topics is counter to logical discussion. I would be happy to hear that my conclusion is wrong, and that in fact there are no "off limit" topics.

 

So what's true? Perhaps I should ask "what's true in this forum?" Are there "off limits" topics?

 

 

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PropellerAds

It's best to let the mods speak for themselves but I don't consider any topic to be off limits. If you're too nervous to bring something to the board then you can always talk to me via PM.

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Thanks for the response! Ok, so let me ask you this, it seems to me that Muslims present themselves to the world as being very serious. For instance I'm not sure I've ever heard a joke about Muslims. Of course not all jokes are in good taste. In this country jokes about lawyers are quite common - some of these jokes are quite inoffensive and some could be considered quite offensive. In a similar way there are jokes about Jews, Buddhists, Christians and so on. 

 

I know jokes that strike me as "very safe". Jokes that I could tell to a Jew, about Jews, that I think would be well received. And so with Buddhists and Christians and so on. How about with Muslims? Is there such a thing as a Muslim joke that a non-Muslim could tell a Muslim and have the joke be well received?

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Thanks Saracen21stC,

 

I have read the rules - they seem reasonable. (In fact I read them before I started posting.)

 

The way that you learn about an idea that's new to you is to explore the boundaries. For example almost all current legal cases in the U.S. occur at the edges or boundaries. So what I'm trying to do here is discover the boundaries and edges. 

 

In other words, my intention isn't to offend anyone, but my intention IS to understand what Muslims might find offensive. To use another example, when a scientist puts forth a theory, that scientist knows that other scientists will attack the theory and attempt to disprove it. In cases like this there is no offense meant or taken. 

 

Put yet another way, part of learning about Islam is learning what you can (and perhaps cannot) talk to a Muslim about.

 

Does that make sense? 

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It seems to me that you if you want to avoid offending people then approaching the matter through generalizations like that is really not the way to do it. Imagine if you heard someone say things like "nonreligious people present themselves to the world as being very serious" and "what you can (and perhaps cannot) talk to unbelievers about". In fact talk of not being able to safely tell a joke about group X sounds suspiciously like the sort of thing you'd hear from right wing radio personalities about how awfully "politically correct" the world has become.

 

Ebert's First Law of Motion Pictures goes, "A film is not about what it is about but rather is about how it is about what it is about."

 

One might state the first law of human discourse as, "Offense is not about what you say so much as how you say what you say."

 

P.S. In case you're wondering, I'm not offended. But as you can see I could hardly help but notice.

Edited by IAmZamzam

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I know jokes that strike me as "very safe". Jokes that I could tell to a Jew, about Jews, that I think would be well received. And so with Buddhists and Christians and so on. How about with Muslims? Is there such a thing as a Muslim joke that a non-Muslim could tell a Muslim and have the joke be well received?

 

Muslims are not a homogeneous group. I have heard some jokes that could be called Muslim jokes made by my non-Muslim acquaintances and I have found them to be funny because they were not malicious or degrading, rather they were lighthearted and funny. This probably goes without saying, but if you do not know a person well, you may not want to break the ice by cracking up a Muslim joke. For example, I would not start telling people I do know Jew, Christian or Buddhist jokes. 

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Hi Guys,

 

I apologize if I offended anyone - my bad. Let me reiterate that I have a sincere desire to understand Islam and what it means to be a Muslim.

 

Earlier in this thread I was given a link to some forum rules. I might have miscounted, but I got to a total of 72 rules. Given the nature of the forum itself, and given a list of 72 rules, what I'm trying to do is figure out how have respectful discussions about "edge case" topics. So the example of "Muslim jokes" was meant as a "for instance". Of course I agree that in the real world, face to face, I wouldn't start a discussion with a stranger by telling religious jokes.

 

But my understanding was that this is a forum for people like me who want to learn. So I want to be respectful, but I also don't want to waste anyone's time.

 

So the "jokes" question was meant as a bit of an ice-breaker. Not about standard person to person social norms, but in the context of a web forum that has the stated intention of helping folks learn about these topics.

 

I'm open for suggestions, how should I go about discussing the boundaries?

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Thanks for the response! Ok, so let me ask you this, it seems to me that Muslims present themselves to the world as being very serious. For instance I'm not sure I've ever heard a joke about Muslims. Of course not all jokes are in good taste. In this country jokes about lawyers are quite common - some of these jokes are quite inoffensive and some could be considered quite offensive. In a similar way there are jokes about Jews, Buddhists, Christians and so on. 

 

I know jokes that strike me as "very safe". Jokes that I could tell to a Jew, about Jews, that I think would be well received. And so with Buddhists and Christians and so on. How about with Muslims? Is there such a thing as a Muslim joke that a non-Muslim could tell a Muslim and have the joke be well received?

I have a hard time imagining any reasonable person making jokes about a particular ethnic group to a member of that ethnic group.  The person hearing the joke may laugh, but inside they are probably thinking that the joke-teller is a bit of an a**.  For example, I have a jewish friend who tells jokes about jews, but I would feel uncomfortable telling her a joke about jews -- it would seem rather insensitive, I think.     

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I seem to be causing confusion here  :cry:

 

Let's drop the whole "joke" thing - I was just using that as an example. 

 

So here's a "real" topic that I'd like to understand more... how should I interpret what happened with the Danish cartoonist? Was that an exceptional situation or was that predictable? Would you say the response to those cartoons was appropriate or not?

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The only thin ice I think you're liable to tread on is the kind you create by freezing everything in place trying too hard not to tread on thin ice.

 

Just ask your questions. There are no boundaries to the blessings which the desire to learn brings upon us--if you know how to treat them.

Edited by IAmZamzam

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I seem to be causing confusion here  :cry:

 

Let's drop the whole "joke" thing - I was just using that as an example. 

 

So here's a "real" topic that I'd like to understand more... how should I interpret what happened with the Danish cartoonist? Was that an exceptional situation or was that predictable? Would you say the response to those cartoons was appropriate or not?

 

Welcome to the forum.

 

You have to see what Islamic Law and scholars say about responding to those who mock The Prophet(saw) and then match that with the actual response and you'll get your answer. I don't know what the scholars say so i can't give you the answer.

 

Muslims are just normal humans. But we don't take our religion lightly - or we shouldn't anyway. Besides, there are over a billion Muslims around the world so there is no one answer. Some might be more receptive to certain jokes some wont. But everyone will probably not find it funny if people mock The Prophet Muhammad(saw) or the Qur'an, etc. 

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Thanks to everyone for your responses. I'm still trying to figure out how to describe / couch / frame productive conversations, please bear with me  :rolleyes:

 

I should say a little bit more about me. I make my living authoring and editing non-fiction books. I'm very interested in improving the quality of teaching and communications in general. Up until recently I've been only a casual observer of how faith and religion impact our world, but recently I've become much more interested in this topic. 

 

From my perspective Islam gets mostly "bad press" in the US. I'm pretty sure that most of that bad press is unwarranted, but the reason I'm here is to learn "what's mostly true" about how Muslims think about the world. I understand there are over a billion Muslims, so there can be no "one size fits all" answers. On the other hand, it can't help but be beneficial if people in the west understood Islam better.

 

As it says under my icon, I'm a believer without religion. I don't hold any religious organization above concern or doubt. For example I feel that the Catholic faith has made many serious errors over the years.

 

Given all of that context, it seems to me that - potentially - a place to start a conversation would be to discuss the Danish cartoonist incident. 

 

I understand that mocking The Prophet Muhammad or any depiction of him goes against the teachings of Islam. I'm sure that Catholics aren't happy when someone tells a joke mocking Jesus. But from my perspective in the west, I've never heard of a situation where telling a bad Jesus joke or showing a disrespectful Jesus cartoon caused embassies around to world to be bombed.

 

So how should a person in the west understand this situation? What perspectives can you share to increase understanding?

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^^

I think as Saracen stated, ppl react different ways.

The Quran informs Muhammad that messengers before him were also mocked:

 

And indeed (many) Messengers were mocked before you (6:10)

The Prophet Muhammad was even insulted and abused personally- but he would never react on a personal level.

In fact, we know of a well known hadeeth where a woman used to throw rubbish/dirt at him so often that when it did not happen for a while he asked about her!!

Today some Muslims do not understand how to react and go in to over drive- allowing their emotions to take control.

One has to look at how the Messenger and his companions were and try to emulate that- although not easy.

 

From an Islamic perspective, the Prophet is the dearest person to a Muslim- or should be. We love him and he is the one who brought Islam to the people and guidance to us- he is a mercy to mankind as described by Allah Himself.

When your read about him ( a good seerah) you love him more as you get to see how he was and what he did. When you learn about him, and look beyond the anti Muslim brigade who peddle lies and filth to tarnish his name, you see how we need a person like Muhammad in the 21st century.

Edited by The Doc

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But from my perspective in the west, I’ve never heard of a situation where telling a bad Jesus joke or showing a disrespectful Jesus cartoon caused embassies around to world to be bombed.

 

You’ve never heard of that situation? Publish sacrilegious cartoons anywhere on earth and if nothing else you’ll be in danger of receiving death threats or getting beaten severely by disgruntled locals (or if you’re really lucky just suffering vandalism or something). Until just a couple of centuries ago at the very latest you’d be awfully lucky in most countries not to at least get yourself thrown into prison or something if you pulled a stunt like that about the leading figure of the local religion. I suppose the inevitable (and very telling) response here is, “Yes, but that was centuries ago: why are things like this the case only in Islamic countries now?” First off I really don’t think that’s true (for example we seem to have had quite a few threads here about places in Buddhist countries where there’s a general atmosphere of terror—and Buddhists are supposed to be pacifists!) but in any case the notion relies on this attitude of buried chronological snobbery that the human race is constantly progressing out of the muck whence we arose towards incrementally more and more ethical attitudes as the ages go by. Which sounds awfully nice and optimistic, but all it really amounts to in effect is, “The further you go back in history the more you find ancient people being primitive, evil, ignorant savages.” I dare you to go up to any cultural anthropologist and propose this theory of progression to them. They just might rap you on the knuckles for being so bold—for being so ignorant and primitive as a modern person.

 

These dangers are, again, universal, but it may be true that there is some tiny degree to which they unfortunately come in waves. The victim becomes the victimizer. “Identifying with the aggressor” is the fancy (and probably misleading) terminology psychologists use for the phenomenon. “Battle not with monsters lest you become a monster” is how Nietzsche put it. I would say that Christianity already had its turn with the Crusades and things like that but who am I kidding? The Christian Right is still kicking and victimizing people left and right as we speak. In fact it’s contributing to a lot of the motivation behind the victimizing which is resulting in this very backlash. But again it is only a small grain of truth I’m speaking of. In actual fact the whole Islamic terrorism and Islamic “lethal overreaction to cartoons and etc.” thing gets grossly, grossly exaggerated by the Islamophobic media. Info here.

If you want to know how to go about studying the religion, my best advice to you is to not lose focus. Study the religion. The actual doctrines themselves. Don’t focus on the people, on the social aspects of anything. There is no one (other than the prophets, who themselves often have misinformation spread about them by evangelists and other Islamophobic types) worthy of representing it. Just look at Islam itself, not at Muslims. That is what you said you wanted to do, isn’t it?

 

If I come across as oversensitive here then I urge you again not to think that it's because you've failed at not offending me. I'm perhaps a little more preachy and opinionated than I'd like to admit to myself but I think I'm still capable of recognizing when someone is genuinely being hateful and when his only significant mistakes are being overcautious and having the wrong approach in mind.

Edited by IAmZamzam

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I understand that mocking The Prophet Muhammad or any depiction of him goes against the teachings of Islam. I'm sure that Catholics aren't happy when someone tells a joke mocking Jesus. But from my perspective in the west, I've never heard of a situation where telling a bad Jesus joke or showing a disrespectful Jesus cartoon caused embassies around to world to be bombed.

 

So how should a person in the west understand this situation? What perspectives can you share to increase understanding?

 

I bet that in certain areas were you to insult Jesus, peace be upon him, you would draw fire from some Christians. But generally speaking the reason why Catholics and other Christians do not demonstrate the same type of reaction is because they believe in freedom of speech and that it also entails insulting their religious figure as well. Thus, they are okay with Jesus (pbuh) getting mocked. Muslims do no share this belief. In addition, Jesus-jokes are so common nowadays. Christians have been basically pounded into submission and have gotten desensitized over the years.

 

To understand why embassies have gotten attacked, you need to take into account certain factors. First, Muslims love the Prophet of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon. Second, many Muslims come from areas where insulting your parent can get you in a fight, i.e. "What you said about my momma?!". Third, there is a lot of ignorance going in the Muslim world. A Muslim youth who does not even pray, does not know that Islam is a scholarly religion, does not know about Islamic laws, may very well think that attacking an embassy or destroying property or hurting innocent people is a viable option in order to defend Islam. Muslims are a very large group. Putting up pictures of the Prophet (pbuh) will get somebody provoked and he will commit crimes in order to defend his or his religion's honor. 

 

The right response from an Islamic perspective is for the Muslim world's rulers to handle this situation. Peaceful protests would be considered ok. However, attacking embassies is not ok. It is sinful.

 

I hope that helps somewhat.

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I appreciate every reply! Let me follow up on some of these responses:

 

 

Study the religion. The actual doctrines themselves. Don’t focus on the people, on the social aspects of anything.

 

This is a great point. I have downloaded several translations of the Quran(sp?) that were recommended to me. Is there an English translation that is well accepted? One thing I've been told is that some Muslims believe it's not possible to understand Islam by studying a translation. Is that true?

 

As far as "going back through history", my perspective is that that can lead to endless "chicken and egg" questions with no resolution. I'd say that it's pretty well documented that throughout history, lots of people from every religion have done bad things. Perhaps one could argue that more bad stuff has been done in the name of religion X than in the name of religion Y, but if I follow you, I agree that that kind of discussion seldom bears fruit.

 

Having been raised in the west, the beliefs of Catholics is more well known to me. As an example of a current event, it troubles me greatly that the leader of the Catholic church has said - in effect - that "while AIDs is bad, condoms are worse". I think it's most useful to stick to relatively modern events like that.

 

Next quote:

 

 

Muslims are a very large group. Putting up pictures of the Prophet (pbuh) will get somebody provoked and he will commit crimes in order to defend his or his religion's honor. 

 

This is an interesting point indeed! It leads me back to the original title of the thread that includes "The Enlightenment". This quote leads me to believe that - at least in some cases - logic, reason and honest debate will be treated as less important than a violent defense of one's religion. Is that a common set of priorities would you say, or is it more unusual?

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This quote leads me to believe that - at least in some cases - logic, reason and honest debate will be treated as less important than a violent defense of one's religion. Is that a common set of priorities would you say, or is it more unusual?

 

Well in the case of the Danish cartoons, I would say that a violent defense was unusual. There are over a billion Muslims yet only a tiny fraction committed crimes. Considering that Muslims are such a large group, the number of people who committed violent crimes, like attacking embassies and killing innocent people, is really, really minuscule. That's at least my take on the matter. 

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Having been raised in the west, the beliefs of Catholics is more well known to me. As an example of a current event, it troubles me greatly that the leader of the Catholic church has said - in effect - that "while AIDs is bad, condoms are worse". I think it's most useful to stick to relatively modern events like that.

The Pope drops Catholic ban on condoms in historic shift

 

The Pope has signalled a historic shift in the position of the Roman Catholic Church by saying condoms can be morally justified.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/the-pope/8148944/The-Pope-drops-Catholic-ban-on-condoms-in-historic-shift.html

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Ok, to follow up... I think it's fair to say that in the last decade or two, almost every day an act of violent crime is committed somewhere in the world in the name of Islam. Still, you point is a good one. It's still more than fair to say that those committers of violence represent a minuscule percentage of the Muslim population. Of course the trouble is, they get an awful lot of press! for the sake of discussion can we name this violent minority? What should we call them?

 

Once named, the question becomes, how does the west come to know about the majority?

 

Let me give you another example that gets a lot of press. In recent years in the UK, Muslims have made some progress inserting Sharia into the UK's legal system. It would appear that this initiative has a much broader base in the Muslim population than does the - yet unnamed - violent minority. Is this a fair assessment? In other words, how prevalent is the desire to spread Sharia?

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In other words, how prevalent is the desire to spread Sharia?

 

Honestly speaking I don't have any statistics at hand so I don't know. A lot of Muslims want to have Shariah, me and a lot of people on this board. However, I am a realist and I think that groups in the UK that want to introduce Shariah there are naive, idealistic and their work is quite futile considering that no Muslim country is fully ruled by Islamic Law. It does not make sense to try to establish Shariah in the UK when countries where the majority is Muslim and most, or at the very least a lot of Muslims, want to have Shariah Law. Moreover, I don't think Muslims should act as fifth-columns.

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Brother Younes, be careful how you put things. It sounded as though you were saying that disbelief in freedom of speech were a doctrine of Islam.

 

I have downloaded several translations of the Quran(sp?) that were recommended to me.

 

There is by definition no correct way to transliterate anything. “Quran” is fine.

 

Is there an English translation that is well accepted?

 

I’ve heard good things about Haleem but I know little about classical Arabic myself.

 

One thing I've been told is that some Muslims believe it’s not possible to understand Islam by studying a translation. Is that true?

 

It is true to an extent when it comes to anything written in another language, especially when it comes to ancient works and languages as unrelated as English and Arabic. However, people have a way of exaggerating.

 

I’d say that it's pretty well documented that throughout history, lots of people from every religion have done bad things. Perhaps one could argue that more bad stuff has been done in the name of religion X than in the name of religion Y, but if I follow you, I agree that that kind of discussion seldom bears fruit.

 

Let me add that when people do argue that, and bring up all the bad stuff that’s been done in the name of religion X, which religion always happens to be X? The religion that it’s the flavor of the month to pick on at the moment, because everybody is against it. Usually for political reasons (say, having to do with immigration or warfare?).

 

For the sake of discussion can we name this violent minority? What should we call them?
 

I can’t answer that for you because I’m sure this board has some sort of policy when it comes to swearing.

 

How does the west come to know about the majority?

 

Uh oh. Be prepared to be bombarded  mercilessly with ridiculous conspiracy theories about Zionists so much that you’ll be up all night weeping. Before it starts, though, let me tell you the very plain and simple real truth in just a few words: Fox News and its ilk. Heavy bias. Rich ultraconservative Christian executives. Fearmongering media that knows an opportunity when it sees it and seizes on the public’s preexisting prejudices. Money money money. Everything is ratings. That sum it up?

Edited by IAmZamzam

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I appreciate the reference to the fifth column.

 

As for Fox news, I couldn't agree with you more. If I haven't made it clear, I'm not coming in with any secret agenda to put forth any religion. I don't support Catholics, or the Jewish faith. I don't support Hindus or Buddhists, or Mormons, or Protestants or Evangelicals or most anyone else I've left out by accident. But I do feel that in the west not much is known of Islam which is odd, especially given how huge the religion is.

 

I will be bold however and say that I think the separation of religion and state is one of the best governing principles yet devised. Therefore understanding prevalent attitudes towards spreading Sharia seems a fair question.

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I don't know much about that myself, not being British, only that it sounds suspiciously very much like the kind of thing you'd hear on Fox News. "They're trying to force their religion onto us!" is the typical straw man argument of anyone who has witnessed the slightest amount of protest from someone who has argued for the freedom to practice their religion--and indeed roughly equivalent situations seem to have occurred here as well. That is the way of history: oppressors always feel oppressed. Persecutors always believe that they're the ones who are being persecuted. The one with his foot on the other person's throat, more often than not, has it there only because he's convinced that it's the only way to keep his foot off his own. I'm not 100% certain as to why but in the end it probably just boils down to bigoted ultraconservative idiot types being primarily motivated by fear deep down.

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ZamZam - 

 

I don't think we should conflate the *separation of religion and state* with *practicing religion*. Those two ideas are not the same thing at all.

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