The West Has Islam Dangerously Wrong

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Author, Juan Cole Photo credit: Scott C. Soderberg

In January of 2017, one week after he was sworn into office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. Approximately eighteen months later, the United States Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold a revised version of Trump's Muslim ban—a decision that Omar Jadwat of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project has lambasted as one of the worst in our nation's history, on par with the Korematsu v. United States during World War II.

If nothing else, Trump's political ascent has served as a potent reminder of Islamophobia's pervasiveness throughout 21st century American society. How then do we dismantle these harmful stereotypes, which threaten Muslim communities both at home and broad? For Juan Cole, author of the riveting new history "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires," the answer would appear to be a greater understanding of the religion's founder and formation.

"One of the features of the Qur’an, which I think is too little appreciated, is that it’s a counterargument," he tells Robert Scheer. "It’s an argument for tolerance, at least of the monotheistic religions, of Christianity and Judaism... So I think it’s an extremely ecumenical book, the Qur’an, and the Prophet’s preaching of it. And that is something that’s been lost, not only in Western conceptions of the religion, but often among some believers as well.”

In the latest installment of "Scheer Intelligence," Cole explores some of the dangers of letting hatred and bias go unchallenged. "They just did a poll in Germany where they found 44 percent of Germans think that Islam should not be practiced in Germany," he notes. "Any time you single out a group of people as different from others, and as posing a unique kind of danger to society, that leads in very bad directions. And we have seen over and over again in modern history the directions that it can lead.”

Cole also deconstructs one of the more harmful misconceptions about Islam, namely that it's inherently hostile to Judaism. "The Qur’an is remarkably pro-Jewish," he observes. "It talks about Jews, frankly, as God’s chosen people; it defends synagogues from attack. And towards the end of the book, it says that Muslims may intermarry with Jews and Christians, and may have communal meals with them. So you know sociologists define ethnicity as having to do with who you will marry and who you won’t; people with a particular ethnicity only marry in to that ethnicity. But the Qur’an is creating kind of an ethnicity of Abrahamians, of people who follow the one God, and [that] includes Jews."

Finally, the University of Michigan history professor argues that despite the violence from which the Qu'ran and early Islam emerged, the faith offers a distinctly harmonious vision of the world. Cole concludes: "I would argue that what Muhammad wished for was to expand that zone of peace that he conceived in Mecca to encompass the whole world."



Joshua Scheer