Iran and Islam

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

This article was published on August 4 in the Middle East Online. It is reproduced below.

Iran and Islam

Watching the events in Iran over the past several weeks and months, I have been overwhelmed with a sense of shock and awe at the response of the government to the outcry of anger from the people, stemming from the disputed presidential elections on June 12 of this year. People have been jailed, tortured, and even killed as a result of a government crackdown. There have even been allegations of rape by some who have been imprisoned by the government. Just before I sat down to write this, a rally held at the grave of one of the protesters killed in Iran was broken up by the authorities with tear gas.

Seeing all this from afar, one could easily conclude – given Iran’s claims to be an “Islamic” republic – that democracy and Islam are like oil and water, simply incompatible.

Yet, the truth is quite the opposite. It was Islam, in fact, that first brought democracy to the Arabs – something which may come as a shock to many. Before the advent of Islam, before the life and ministry of the Prophet Muhammad, Arabia was comprised of various tribes that were frequently at war with one another. Barbarism and lawlessness abound. Each tribe was simply a dictatorship: There was one chief of the tribe, and his word was law, even if it was ill-conceived. The Prophet Muhammad changed all that.

Muhammad was the first Arab leader to consult his community about the affairs of government. He did this even though he was — or perhaps because he was — God’s direct representative on earth. It was never “his way or the highway.” In fact, he once accepted the consensus of the community, despite his own feelings about a matter, and the result almost led to his death on the battlefield. He left the decision to name his successor for the people to decide after his death. (This was also first for the Arabs.)

The recent actions of the “Islamic Republic of Iran” are hardly Islamic in nature.

• Islam enshrines the principles of freedom of thought, expression, and religion.

• Islam does not accept the brutality of the state against its people.

• Islam does not condone the unjust imprisonment of the people; their torture in custody; the wanton murder of innocent civilians.

• Islam does not turn a blind eye to the will of the people to justify the whims of the state.

Terrorist criminals who kill themselves and the innocent along with them — whether it be in a marketplace in Kabul, a towering building in New York, or a pizza parlor in Tel Aviv — are not Islamic. “Islamic fighters” who behead innocent people and shout “There is no God but God!” while doing so are not Islamic. Men who brutally murder their sisters, daughters, and wives in order to “uphold the family honor” are not Islamic. These are all barbarians, even if they cloak their barbarity in the robes of Islam. I am not fooled by them, and nor should anyone.

It is always a bit of an intellectual exercise to refrain from projecting upon the many the sins of the few, but it is of vital importance. It simply takes a little thought to see through the travesties of charlatans who abuse a faith. Just as it only takes a little thought and perception to notice that the vast majority of the faithful of the world’s religions are very similar in their beliefs, very similar in the way they live their lives, and in the values they share in their communities. And it seems that most non-believers, too, share values of decency, responsibility to others, and community.

It is why so many of us naturally feel solidarity with the protesters in Iran. If more of us recognized our commonality, then reconciliation and mutual understanding would overcome the forces in our own country, in Iran, and throughout our world that want to spread fear, division, and hatred. We must not let them win.


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