When we are children we have an intuitive common-sense view of the Sun’s orbit around the earth. Based on our personal experience of the Sun’s journey, this is a reasonable conclusion to reach based on limited knowledge and experience; it is a conclusion that was reached by millions of people well into the 17th century, many of them very clever.
We can call this the naïve view of the Sun's orbit.
Today, many in the West form an intuitive common-sense view of Islam based on their personal experience of Muslims as neighbors, colleagues, or fellow citizens. They reach conclusions which are reasonable based on their limited knowledge and experience; it is a conclusion reached by millions of people today, many of them very clever. We can call this the naïve view of Islam (which may actually be shared by many Muslims).
Whilst failing to make any serious study of the subject of Islam, or deliberately avoiding it, they arrive at the conclusion that Islam is much the same as any other religious belief system. If they are generally positive about religion this conclusion will be broadly positive; if they are generally negative about religion, it will be broadly negative but only in the same terms as every other belief system.
I would argue that we can discern two major differences of orientation to the understanding of Islam. The first is the naïve view, the second the systemic.
The naïve view has the following characteristics:
- It focuses on individuals and judges the whole of Islam by the behavior of a few individuals.
- It focuses on Muslims living nearby who are experienced directly and judges Islam in terms of their behavior.
- It does not see any characteristics arising from Muslims in the aggregate.
- It sees a plurality of attitudes rather than a coherent body of beliefs and believers.
- It sees Islam in terms of other more familiar religions such as Christianity and Judaism
- It is blind to the difference in behavior when Muslims are in a minority compared to when they are in a majority. (Because of this and (1) and (2) above, it reaches a conclusion about Islam based on a few individuals from the least threatening manifestation of Islam).
- It is present rather than historically oriented.
- Views Islam as whatever individual Muslims think it is.
- Sees Islam as reformable and capable of change towards non-Muslim norms.
- It is cognitively ego-centric, which is to say it attempts to understand Islam in terms of the non-Muslim observer who is ignorant of Islamic concepts.
The systemic view has the following characteristics:
- It looks upon Islam as an immutable system of laws and beliefs.
- It sees Islam as a self-organizing system which uses and is formed of individual Muslims in the same way that an organism is composed of cells and various sub-systems yet behaves in a manner that goes far beyond the activity of its components. In this view, Islam as a system has goals that go beyond those of its members.
- It looks at the behavior of Islam as-a-whole over the duration of its existence; at how that behavior is typical, predictable, and arises from the interaction of immutable laws and beliefs with historical circumstances .
- The immutable laws and beliefs inform the system in a similar way to how genetic code informs an organism or software informs a computer system; this information determines the system’s behavior and forms its identity.
- It looks at Islam in its totality; both near and far; both then and now; both as a collection of individuals and a coherent system which organizes those individuals.
- The systemic view is highly cognizant of Islam’s “rule of numbers” as Raymond Ibrahim has called it: that the greater the proportion of Muslims in a society, the greater the likelihood that they will persecute and conflict with non-Muslims. This arises from the attitudes towards out-group members that are engendered by the immutable laws and beliefs.
- The systemic view is also highly cognizant of the differences between Muslim behavior as a minority and as a majority. This view is reinforced by knowledge of Muhammad’s own behavior when he was weak compared to when he was strong; and it is reinforced by knowledge of the changes to the message and temper of the Koran when Muhammad’s situation changed from one of vulnerability to strength.
- The systemic view is also aware that although we may talk of “immutable laws”, this does not mean the same rules apply everywhere and in all circumstances in the way that Christianity suggests love and forgiveness should be principles applied in all situations. Islam includes the rule that rules can alter depending on circumstances so that what was forbidden in one circumstance can become obligatory in another. It all depends on what is most advantageous for Islam as a totality. This apparent pluralism can easily mislead those who hold the naïve view of Islam into thinking that Muslims can pick and choose, that Islam is whatever individual Muslims think it is.
- Islam is therefore capable of change but not towards non-Muslim norms; only in pursuit of systemic Islamic goals; the ultimate goal being total control of everyone. The rules are immutable but they are also conditional. This conditional immutability gives Islam formidable flexibility in pursuit of system goals.
- From the systemic perspective, the differences between Muslims are simply aspects of the system which serve the ends of the system as a whole; they serve to confuse non-Muslims and camouflage the underlying jihad-oriented reality.
In my opinion the naive view is mistaken. It is similar to the view that the Sun goes round the Earth. We have to get people to make a paradigm shift in their thinking which is similar to the paradigm shift that occurred in our view of the sun’s orbit. When I was a child I thought as a child...
To understand that the Sun does not go round the Earth what did we need to know?
- That not everything in the universe orbits the Earth; in fact, only the Moon does.
- That in our Solar System the planets orbit the Sun.
- That our Earth rotates on its axis which creates the illusion that the Sun orbits the Earth.
In other words, we had to understand that we exist within a planetary system and that the Sun only appears to go round the Earth.
My observation is this: we have to have an understanding of the system as a whole in order to overcome the natural illusion of the Sun orbiting the Earth.
It’s the same with Islam: we have to have an understanding of the origins, the theology, the history, and the conditional, circumstantial character; situational programming; adaptive unfolding; in short, we have to understand the systemic nature of it. I would go further and say that it is impossible to understand what's going on in relation to Islam without this systemic perspective.
I tried to make this point in Refusing Galileo’s Telescope but it suffers from being rather a lengthy essay.
As a starting point with someone who has the naïve view of Islam we can ask them how they understood the Sun’s orbit as a child: Did you think the Sun went round the Earth?