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I'm Going to Start Writing About Islam

Updated on March 21, 2019

"There has been an attack on a mosque in..."

It is a story that has become all to familiar. On Friday the 15th of March 2019, at midday, a gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was the country's deadliest attack in modern history, taking the lives of fifty people, and injuring another fifty. At the time of writing, several of the injured victims are in critical condition, and the death toll may rise still further. As if this was not enough, a certain politician immediately committed the most egregious acts of victim blaming I have ever seen. He blamed the victims for what he called the rising level of violence in the country. It did not matter much that the gunman was not a Muslim, but a white, extremist Australian.


In the aftermath of such an horrific event, one is bound to wonder; "why?". Why would someone do such a thing? Why does this keep happening? Why Muslims? It is this last question that I most want an answer to. Hate crimes against Muslims is a rising threat world wide, from China to Germany to Canada. It seems, ironically, not to discriminate. It happens in countries like India - where Muslims, Hindus and Christians have lived side by side for centuries - and in countries like Italy, that have experienced a recent sudden influx of Muslims. To understand why this happens, and to prevent it, one must know the religion to which these people belong. That is my goal with this coming article series; to do my small part in increasing the understanding of Islam, and to show that it is neither violent nor simplistic nor uniform, but a many-faceted belief system with all kinds of followers.

The opposite of understanding

I am a student at the Middle Eastern program at the university of Oslo, and meet misconceptions about Islam every day; in the news, in literature and from people I talk to. It must then be mentioned that I am not myself a Muslim. I will not be writing from an insiders view, but from an anthropological perspective. This means that the religions tenets will not be presented as truths, but as beliefs that a portion of the worlds population holds. At the core of all bias there is a grain of truth, but it will not help us understand how actual Muslims in the real world think and behave. Before going further, one more point must be stressed: not everything Muslims say and do are based in Islam, in the same way that not everything a Christian does is based in Christianity. A Muslim is no more or less than an individual, and freely chooses whether ant to which degree to act on their beliefs. To think anything else is nothing short of racism. I will thus kick off this series with correcting two, seemingly common, misguided beliefs about the religion: that Islam is a single uniform religion, and that it is inherently violent.

Is Islam a violent religion?

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"Islam is uniform"

When people in the news media talk about Islam, there seems to be a tendency to see it as immutable and solid, as something that never changes, and that everyone agrees about. This is, to put it mildly, far from the truth. Wars have been fought over religious differences within Islam, and continues to shape the modern political landscape of the Middle East. As an example, on can look at the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both of these are majority Muslim countries by a wide margin, yet they use religious differences to legitimize hostile actions. Iran confesses to the twelve-school of Shia Islam, whilst the Saudis follow the Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. I will not go into detail here - that might follow in a later article - but suffice it to say that this conflict stretches far back in time, and that a swift reconciliation is unlikely.

"Islam is a violent religion"

Jihad is a word that is thrown around rather casually these days. When I typed it just now it was even recognized by my spell checker. Still, when I see it used, even in otherwise professional news papers, the writer does not seem to know what it really means. It might be best translated as "striving (in the path of God)", and may entail both violence, and silent contemplation. In modern times, governments have even tried to declare economic jihad, in order to quickly industrialize their countries, though this has rarely been successful. This subject alone probably deserves its own article, but for now, just keep in mind that jihad does not have to be violent, or even visible to outsiders.

Thank for reading this article, and feel free to leave a comment. I would also be happy to hear if there is anything you want me to write about in my next article!

© 2019 Emil Askvik


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