Callers to my radio show www.ksfo.com frequently ask me why Muslims are so quick to kill. Before anyone knew that the name of the pistol-packing shooter at Seattle’s Jewish Federation building on July 28th was Naveed Afzal Haq, it was not hard to guess that he was a son of the desert.
If one hears that someone slit the throat of an airline stewardess while screaming “god is great” it is not too challenging for most people to make a guess at which god the murderer had in mind.
It is not only infidels getting killed by Muslims. There is no shortage of instances of Muslims killing Muslims. It is not only killing but general brutality.
Cutting off the hand of a fellow who stole a loaf of bread is not routine in London or Boston. If one hears of someone sentenced to death for adultery, it is a fair guess that it didn’t happen in a district court in Wichita, Kansas. If an execution is carried out by beheading before an enthusiastic audience, it is a fair guess that it took place under Moslem law, Sharia.
So what is going on?
Could this help us understand?
Abraham had two sons, Yishmael and Isaac. (In Hebrew, Yishmael is spelled, like all Hebrew words, without vowels. Yi-SH-M-L . In Hebrew there is only one letter for the sounds SH and S. Thus, we have Abraham’s first son’s name easily becoming Yi-S-M-L. Then with the passage of time and journeys through cultural time/space, the M & L metastasize into Yi-S-L-M, or pronounced correctly, ISLM or Islam.)
Abraham worked on synthesizing the two characteristics of human social interaction–justice and mercy, or if you wish, rigid discipline and compassionate tenderness.
Obviously things work best when both are applied in a unified fashion. For instance, one reason that children do best when raised by both a mother and a father is because in general, most women tend intuitively toward the compassionate tenderness side of things while most men tend toward the tough and rigid discipline side of things. (That is why one long standing tradition in American families is the mom saying to her rambunctious brood, “Just wait till your father gets home!”)
Jacob later inherits from his dad, Isaac, a fastidious emphasis on blending the two into Jewish culture. Thus Judaism is disciplined and rigorous about the many rules surrounding kosher food, (not even a milligram of cheese on an otherwise kosher burger) and the exact time when Sabbath begins (18 minutes before sunset on Friday, not 17 minutes) yet also merciful and compassionate in all matters like the treatment of women in general, and widows and divorcees in particular, treatment of animals (don’t allow a mother bird to observe you taking an egg from the nest) and many other examples.
Could it be that Christianity took away from Abraham slightly more emphasis on love, mercy, and compassion while Islam took away from Abraham, through Yishmael, a lot more emphasis on judgment and rigid discipline? Thus many of the rules that inflexibly circumscribe Jewish life do not exist in Christianity. Similarly, one might be able to observe, many of the gentle allowances for human nature found in Judaism have vanished in Islam.
Ancient Jewish Wisdom records how Yishmael taunted his half-brother, Isaac, saying “You just couldn’t take the pain!” He explained that he, Yishmael was circumcised when he was 13 years-old, and he lay there and took it. However, Isaac was circumcised when he was but 8 days old–too young to protest. So emphatic is tradition about Yishmael’s courage about allowing an operation upon his most delicate organ, that he is given great credit for this. Furthermore, it is my belief that this deeply embedded cultural locus lies at the heart of that strange and ubiquitous feature of Islamic architecture, the minaret–surely a phallic symbol.
That ability to take pain, as well as enduring the pain of inflicting pain could be an enduring legacy of Yishmael’s embrace of half of the Abrahamitic equation. Uncompromisingly harsh application of justice is an unmistakable characteristic of Islam. It is perhaps not an accident that the geography of Islam, the deserts and dunes of Arabia and Afghanistan, is a harsh and desolate place. (think: Lawrence of Arabia, the 1962 film starring Peter O’ Toole with its overwhelming impressions of the harshness of the desert.)
Nothing could be more different from the green fields of England and western Europe where Christianity shaped the culture.
One could perhaps suggest that Israel, with its orange groves and tree-lined streets best represents the blend.
In these meanderings, I am not excusing Haq or any homicide bomber, I merely suggest that there may be more spiritual consistency than meets the eye.