Male Circumcision: Islamophobes are now ranting against male circumcision, attacking Islam by association, although it was practiced by Jews long before Muslims. Circumcision rate among Israeli Jews is close to 100 per cent and it is a far more ritualistic requirement for them than it is among Muslims. Circumcision has no mention in the Quran. It is practiced in many African communities, particularly the Xhosa and Ndebele tribes of South Africa.
Until recently, there was a growing trend in the West to have children circumcised soon after birth for its medical benefits. It is prevalent in USA, common in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea, rare in Europe and extremely rare in Latin America. Not all circumcised men are Muslims nor are all Muslim men circumcised.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): It has nothing to do with Islam whatsoever. It is not practiced in the “birthplace” of Islam, namely, Saudi Arabia, nor in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Iran or Syria. It is very common in Muslim Egypt and Christian Ethiopia but unknown among South Asian and Southeast Asian Muslims, who together constitute over half of the world’s Muslims.
The Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, the highest religious authority in Egypt, has condemned FGM. In Mauritania, 34 Islamic scholars signed a fatwa in January 2010 against it.
On the other hand, FGM is not totally unknown to Europeans. Gynaecologists in 19th-century Europe and US would remove the clitoris to treat insanity and masturbation. Isaac Baker Brown (1812–1873), an English gynaecologist who was president of the Medical Society of London in 1865, believed that the “unnatural irritation” of the clitoris caused epilepsy, hysteria and mania.
Vaccination: It is not only some Muslims, mainly in Pakistan’s tribal belt and in northern Nigeria, who are skeptical of the benefits of vaccination. According to a newspaper report of 15 July in the Nederlands Dagblad (ND), many parents in Holland’s “bible belt” are refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated on religious grounds, saying it is “against the will of God”. But almost all Muslims, perhaps 99 per cent, have no issue with vaccination.
The fact that the CIA very irresponsibly, unethically and needlessly exploited a vaccination program in Pakistan to track Osama bin Laden, caused immense long-term damage to the program in Pakistan and elsewhere. It should be added that many people in the West also oppose vaccination on spurious medical grounds.
Slavery and slaves: At a time when slavery was common, the Quran (9:60) specified that Zakat (compulsory alms-giving), one of the five pillars of Islam, was to be used for freeing slaves and bonded labourers. The strong Quranic injunction against usury was directed towards preventing indebtedness leading to servitude and bonded labour.
Freeing slaves was considered a noble act in early Islam, personally encouraged by Prophet Muhammad himself. Many early converts to Islam were the poor and former slaves. It is worth recalling that slavery was practiced in most countries until only a century or two ago. In the US it was abolished in 1863, in many African countries only a few decades ago.
Apostasy: The Quran leaves the punishment of apostates to God. However, the leading Muslim jurists of more than a thousand years ago prescribed the death penalty to apostates. Many Muslim scholars have justified it by equating apostasy with treason, which attracts the extreme punishment in all countries at all times. Whatever the theory, there is not a single Muslim country whose constitution or penal code prescribes any punishment whatsoever for apostates. The number of Muslims who have been the victim of extra-judicial killing for apostasy is very few.
Ritual animal slaughter: Muslims are not the only people who engage in ritual animal slaughter, nor is their method of slaughter the most inhumane. Half a million buffaloes, goats, ducks, roosters and pigeons are ritually slaughtered in Nepal during the “Gadhimai” festival held once every five years in Nepal. Animistic and tribal societies literally batter animals to death. In many societies, both tribal and modern, some animals and fish are often cut open, roasted or barbecued while fully alive, either for food or their body parts to be used in traditional medicine.
Fact is stronger than fiction. Truth prevails, even though rumour and misinformation travel a lot faster than truth. Muslims are not the first religious or ethnic community to be at the receiving end of a scurrilous campaign of vilification. Jews, gypsies and many other communities, particularly religious and ethnic minorities, have experienced it in the past, some continue to do so in the present.
I suppose no one represents anyone but themselves. Who represents Islam? Muslims do. Who represents Muslims? They themselves. What impression do they leave on those from other religions or cultures who they interact with? It varies from country to country, region to region. But, generally speaking, not bad at all.
In fact, Muslims are known for their kindness, warmth, compassion and generosity, regarded as gentle, caring, friendly human beings. Even those non-Muslims who routinely denounce Islam have nothing bad to say about the Muslims they know, whether devout or secular.
The vicious cycle of Jihadist terror and the Western Anti-Jihadist terror in the name of the “war on terror” needs to be broken before long. Both feed on each other, breed hatred and take lives.
There is much that is wrong with Muslims today and I have often written about these issues on these pages. But they love their religion and they are in their rights to do so. The more it is attacked the more defensive and fundamentalist they are likely to become.
It will also help to remember that the West has evolved over centuries and changed significantly only in the last half century or so. Left to themselves, Muslims will go through the same process of evolution as Christians have gone through. The relentless progress of science and science education has changed the West, not atheist literature or attacks on Christianity.
By Razi Azmi