It is a religious organisation and of different complexions in different countries. However, exactly like the history of Christianity, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, Islam anywhere today is nothing like it was when its original founder Muhammad was alive, preached and led the movement. As to textual sources, the Qur’an today has become a heavily annotated edition of the original over the centuries just as the original texts of the Bible, Buddhavacana and Sutras have been.
One thing for sure is that Islam today — besides existing in many different varieties — is nothing like it was. The original Islamic faith, springing forth from Muhammad’s Qur’aysh tribe not only had to defend itself against persecution from other Arab tribes in Saudi Arabia but also from massive occupation waves from Roman and Persian armies which, in fighting each other, swept backwards and forwards over the whole of the Middle East for more than a century.
They were dangerous and chaotic times and other religious faiths besides Islam, such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism had a hard time surviving. More often than not in Muhammad’s time they helped one another when persecuted by more powerful forces. Because all these sects were monotheistic, Muhammad saw no reason to treat them as enemies. He preached reconciliation. Muslims frequently allied themselves with Jews or with Christians when they needed help and, in turn helped them when necessary.
Islam, as practised by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, exists by causing shock and fear, hating even fellow Muslims such as Shias, never mind Christians or Jews, and is a very different movement from the way Muhammad originally framed it. The jihadis of Iraq and Syria are treated with contempt by the vast majority of Muslims — that is, those larger populations who live in India and Indonesia. Al-Baghdadi’s assumption of Caliph-hood is laughed at by leading Muslim theologians elsewhere in the Middle East.
I’m prompted to write this blog because I’ve been reminded of Christopher Caldwell’s book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, which created a great stir when published (2009). According to the New York Times, Caldwell’s argument is that “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture [meaning Europe] meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by doctrines [meaning al-Baghdadi’s version of Islam] it is the former that changes to suit the latter.”
I disagree. It’s true that Europe, in the throes of great economic and cultural adjustments as we leave the industrial age and enter a period of increasing automation and high cognitive skills (for those who are educated sufficiently), is politically confused. But it’s still stronger than the ad hoc, anti-scientific terrorists who are so easily promoting fear among the impressionable. An organisation that can only exist by means of fear is vulnerable to reactive anger at any time. Just like most of the Caliphs of old, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, will not have a long reign. His closest allies, the Sunnis, will probably be the first worms to turn.
What the EU needs to be worried about is not Islam itself, nor even the small number of unstable, impressionable youngsters within them — even though they’re dangerous in the interim — but the sheer volume of immigration that has now been encouraged by Angela Merkel. Hundreds of thousands more would-be immigrants are now moving in one way or another along a line more than a thousand miles long through Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and onwards and there’ll be hundreds of thousands more starting out until the EU seals its borders. In the coming years, European countries will have enough on its plate with a lack of decently-paid jobs for its own people, never mind millions more immigrants.