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Book review: "Inside Muslim Minds" by Riaz Hassan - a major study for understanding and modernity

by Open-Publishing - Tuesday 19 January 2010

Wars and conflicts Religions-Beliefs

Islam has 1.6 billion adherents and about 50 countries have a Muslim majority (see “List of countries by Muslim population”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o... ). It is accordingly important for both non-Muslims and Muslims to understand the attitudes of Muslims around the world as assessed by expert scholars.

"Inside Muslim Minds” by Riaz Hassan (Melbourne University Press, 2008) is a very important book written by an eminent and highly-honored Australian academic, Professor Riaz Hassan of the Department of Sociology, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia. This is a very important book that deals in a scientific fashion with the actual attitudes of the people of the Muslim World who constitute about 20% of Humanity. Everyone should read and every library should carry this important book. This is a “must read” for anyone commenting on Islam, Muslims and the horrendous, continuing Western occupation and devastation of the Muslim World.

Professor Riaz Hassan has published extensively on Muslim societies in an academic career of more than 40 years. He is the author of “Faithlines: Muslim Conceptions of Islam and Society”, and co-editor of “The Cambridge Handbook of Social Sciences in Australia” and “Local and Global: Social Transformation in Southeast Asia”. He has been awarded the very high Australian honor of AM (Member of the Order of Australia) (see: http://www.riazhassan.com/ ). I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Professor Riaz Hassan at a function for dear mutual friends.

At the outset I must declare my personal intellectual and sociological position that necessarily colours my review. I am an anti-racist, universalist, humanitarian, agnostic scientist – I personally cannot accept any religions, including the historicist Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and particularly religious fundamentalism (Jewish, Christian or Muslim), although I concede that religion can help people cope with life. I have a large number of Muslim friends ranging from the more secular to the deeply religious

Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University in “The God Delusion” argues that the behaviour pattern of belief in the religion of one’s elders probably evolved through Darwinian Natural Selection (thus the child who disobeys the elders’ injunction not to go out side the cave for fear of the Bogeyman has a greatly decreased probability of survival to reproductive age).

As a scientist “observer” I have more sympathy with shamanic religions (that are deeply rooted in biological realities), monotheistic but non-historicist Zoroastrianism (that pre-dates the Abrahamic religions and is uncomplicated by beliefs in asserted historical events), multi-theistic, pantheonic religions such as Hinduism (where a multiplicity of gods and goddesses can be role models for all kinds of people from teenage girls to middle-aged CEOs) and essentially a-theistic religions such as Buddhism variants (that provide very effective protocols for achieving inner peace).

My prejudices thus declared, I must reiterate my enthusiasm as a humanitarian scientist for “Inside Muslim Minds” by Muslim scholar Professor Riaz Hassan. The book reports the results of scientific surveying of Muslim attitudes by an eminent academic sociologist and is evidently prompted by the personal need to “Know Thyself” (attributed to Socrates and others) and the humane need to “Understand the Other”.

Indeed Walter Davis in his excellent book “Death’s Dream Kingdom. The American psyche since 9-11” also argues that we need to understand ourselves (through often painful introspection) and to also empathize with and taken on board the concerns of the Other. Unfortunately Bush America has turned its face on “Know Thyself” and “Understand the Other” and the real-life cartoon of the American racist religious right Republican (R4) Bush-ites illustrates this cogently. Thus the R4 Bush are “saved”, have all the answers and accordingly reject introspection; further, the “non-saved” Other is a threat to this belief system and must be met with implacable hatred and violence.

“Inside Muslim Minds” derives from a major research endeavour that used data gathered from more than six thousand Muslim respondents from Southeast, South and Central Asia and the Middle East to shed light on contemporary attitudes in a range of Muslim societies to issues such as religious commitment, religiosity, science, the status of women, the community of Muslim believers (ummah), the concept of jihad and its alleged links to terrorism, Islamic philanthropy (zakat), attitudes towards blasphemy, civil society and Muslim perceptions of other cultures and nations.

Professor Hassan provides succinct summaries of the historical background of Islam and Muslim societies, from the founding of Islam, through the glories of Medieval Islam and post-Medieval Muslim Empires to the colonial and post-colonial eras. He provides detailed explanations of current Islamic movements (notably of the salafabism, that combines elements of the fundamentalist wahabism and the salafism that sought to politically transform Muslim societies in the face of Western aggression and hegemony.

Importantly, this book has numerous Tables that summarize the findings of expertly-conducted surveys into Muslim attitudes in a range of Muslim countries, specifically Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. You will be variously very surprised and indeed alarmed by some of the findings, including some that are at first sight apparently counter-intuitive, as briefly summarized below in my Chapter-by-Chapter summary of “Inside Muslim Minds”.

The Introduction provides a concise summary of the major issues to be explored in the book such as the nature and structure of Muslim piety; meanings of jihad; public roles of Islam; attitudes towards blasphemy; veiling, patriarchy and gender issues in Muslim consciousness; challenges of globalization; Muslim philanthropy (zakat); Islam and civil society; and mutual suspicions (Islam and the west). The Introduction provides a quick summary of Islam in the 7 major Muslim countries to be surveyed (Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia). A very useful companion book to read to flesh out wider political dimensions would be “The Clash of Fundamentalisms. Crusades, Jihads and Modernity” by Pakistani-UK socialist writer Tariq Ali.

Chapter 1, “Exploring Islamic consciousness”, has some shocking stories of applications of the hudood (Islamic jurisprudence) laws in Pakistan and similar sharia law atrocities elsewhere e.g. horrendous “blaming the victim” abuse of female Pakistani rape victims; beheading of Syrian Abd al-Karim al-Naqshabandi in Saudi Arabia for wearing an amulet inscribed with Qur’anic verses; the Shari’ah flogging of gamblers in Indonesia; the deadly persecution of Dr Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid in Egypt and of Dr Younus Shaikh in Pakistan; the deaths of 14 grils in Saudi Arabia, prevented from fleeing their burning school by Saudi religious police because they were not “properly” covered. (As I told the author in person, I had to put the book down at this point because I was so angry).

Table 1.1 demonstrates Strong to Very Strong acceptance in all 7 “test” countries for the primacy of the Qur’an as the repository of all the essential religious and moral truths for all humanity for all time. However there was Strong to Very Strong support in Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan and Globally for male supremacy (Iranians and Turks disagreed; the Kazakhs weren’t asked but no doubt would have also disagreed).

Chapter 2, “Patterns of religious commitment”, commences with the statement that “Religion provides the means to create a morally coherent and meaningful life” and goes on to explore the wide variations in expression of Muslim piety. In relation to doubt-free belief in the existence of Allah, 6 countries scored 85-97% affirmative, while Kazakhstan (Communist for 70 years) scored 31% (Table 2.1). Similarly, 6 countries scored 71-95% for “There is life after death” but post-Communist Kazakhstan scored only 13% (Table 2.3). There was a big range in the performance of salat (daily prayers), zakat (alms giving) and reading of the Holy Qur’an.
Disturbingly, 52-61% of respondents in 6 countries believed that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution “could not possibly be true” (Kazakhs only 14%). Even more disturbingly, “the Darwin question was not used in the Iranian survey because of concerns about religious sensitivities” (p92). Of major concern, the estimated “religious commitment” in these countries (as determined from a multiplicity of such questions) was inversely related to the UN Human Development Index (p102).

Chapter 3, “Jihad and conflict resolution in Muslim societies”, deals with the Muslim phenomenon of most concern to Westerners subjected to a barrage of anti-Arab anti-Semitic and Islamophobic, racist Zionist and Bush-ite “terror hysteria” propaganda. “Jihad” has a variety of connotations ranging from spiritual struggle to armed struggle against Western invaders. This chapter outlined the history of “jihad” in these various forms.

Figure 3.1 reveals that 24-86% of respondents in Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco and Jordan (in increasing order of approval) approved Palestinian suicide bombing against Israelis as “justified” and 31-70% approved suicide bombing against Americans and Westerners in Occupied Iraq as justifiable. [However, by way of comparison, it s reported that in January 2009 Israelis overwhelmingly support the current Apartheid Israeli Gaza Massacre in which 1,200 inmates of the Gaza Concentration Camp have been killed in reprisal for ZERO Israeli deaths from Gaza rockets in the preceding year].

Peace being the only way for decent folk, a somewhat more positive finding is from Table 3.2 that reports that while in 6 of the standard 7 test countries only 33-64% felt that war was justified after other ways of settlement had failed, and only 11% of Kazakhs agreed.

On page 128, Professor Hassan gets to the heart of “violent jihad”, which has been found by other scholars to be only coincidentally religious and primarily a secular response to horrendous Western crimes against Muslim countries (e.g. see Professor Robert Pape’s “Dying to Win”). However his estimates of the carnage, where stated, in the European-devastated Muslim victim countries specified are greatly under-stated as indicated below (with my estimates in parentheses).

i. Occupied Palestine (post-1967 excess deaths 0.3 million; post-invasion under -5 infant deaths 0.2 million; 7 million refugees).

ii. Occupied Afghanistan (post-invasion violent and non-violent excess deaths 4.5 million, under-5 infant deaths 2.4 million; excess deaths since US-backed overthrow of the secular government in 1978, 10.6 million; 3-4 million refugees).

iii. Occupied Iraq (2003-2010 post-invasion violent and non-violent excess deaths 2.5 million, post-invasion under-5 infant deaths 0.6 million; 1990-2003 Sanctions and War excess deaths 1.9 million, under-5 infant deaths 1.2 million; refugees 5-6 million).

iv. Bosnia (0.2 million dead), Chechnya (0.1 million dead) and Kashmir (0.1 million dead), these figures including non-Muslims as well as Muslims.

Professor Hassan’s under-estimates (e.g. of “0.1 million” post-invasion Iraqi deaths versus the 2.5 million current 2010 reality) are understandable given the almost comprehensive Western media, academic and politician ignoring of the true dimensions of the Palestinian, the Iraqi and the Afghan Genocide and indeed of other genocidal Western atrocities.

Thus “Denial, History betrayed” by Tony Taylor, an otherwise excellent book on holocaust denial, nevertheless completely ignores major 20th century and ongoing 21st century holocausts and genocides due to Anglo-American imperialism e.g. the 6-7 million Indians deliberately starved to death by Churchill in the man-made 1943-1945 Bengali Holocaust, the WW2 Bengal Famine in British-ruled India and the 9-11 million excess deaths associated so far with the Bush wars, 1990-2009.

Chapter 4, “Political order and religious institutions”, reports the interesting finding that integration of religion into the state (as in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) can damage respect for religious institutions. In short, the Ruled perceive that the Ruler is responsible for the misfortunes of the Ruled and judge theocratic Rulers accordingly. Thus respect for religious institutions was very high in Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia but much lower in post-Communist Kazakhstan, secular Turkey, theocratic Iran and heavily religiously-influenced Pakistan. Professor Hassan concludes “There is, of course, the logical possibility of a Muslim society that is characterized by high levels of trust in and esteem for the state and in which there is also a high level of trust in religious institutions. However, as far as we know, there are no contemporary examples of such a situation.”

Chapter 5, “Expressions of religiosity and blasphemy”, produces a shocking result (Table 5.1 ) in relation to “not believing in Allah”. Thus the proposition “the book [asserting this] should be removed from the library” got 37-93% support from Muslims in countries ranging upwards from Turkey, Iran, Australia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Egypt as compared to 19% (Kazakhstan) and 4% for Australian Christians. Yet the proposition “he/she [the unbeliever] should not be allowed to hold public office” yielded 43 -85% % from Turkey (lowest) to Egypt (highest), 18% (Kazakhstan) and an astonishing 30% for Australian Christians. One shudders to think how Americans would have voted on these and related issues. It is not just Muslims who need to address Modernity.

Chapter 6, “Veiling, patriarchy and honour killing”, delivers shockingly misogynous survey results in Table 6.6. Thus in response to the proposition “if men are not in charge of women, women will lose sight of all human values and the family will disintegrate”(a somewhat doubly loaded question) yielded the following affirmative support: 29% (Turkey), 36% (Kazakhstan), 49% (Iran), 62% (global), 65% (Pakistan), 72% (Indonesia), 75% (Malaysia) and 86% (Egypt).

The “relatively” good news (compared to the deliberate, remorseless, passive mass murder of about 1,000 Occupied Iraqi and Occupied Afghan under-5 year old infants by the war criminal US Alliance countries every day) is given in Table 6.8 “Estimates of honour killings in different countries” in “annual honour killings”: Egypt (52), Germany (Turks; 45), Iraq (unknown; this evil obscenity re-emerged under US occupation), Jordan (20-30), Lebanon (25-35), Pakistan (1,000-2,000), Occupied Palestinian Territory (20), Turkey (43), UK (18) and Yemen (400). To put this evil pathology into perspective, in Australia (population 21 million) there is an epidemic in which each year tens of thousands of women are bashed by their husbands, about 70 women are killed in domestic altercations and about 20 violently abused husbands are murdered by their abused wives.

Professor Hassan concludes: “Over the centuries, skewed interpretations of the sacred texts have developed a conceptionalization of human sexuality in Muslim societies that stipulates that women are not only sexual beings but also the embodiment of sexuality. Women [according to this skewed view] need to be controlled and curtailed because they are sexually provocative and capable of casting lures towards men … the sociological implications of the argument presented here is that, as attitudes towards human sexuality change, attitudes towards veiling, the seclusion of women, patriarchy and honour killing will also undergo transformation”. One fervently hopes so.

Chapter 7, “Globalization and the Islamic ummah” commences with the statistic that “Islam is the world’s second largest religion, having an estimated 1.3 billion followers who constitute 20 per cent of the world’s population. Of these about a billion live in forty-five Muslim majority countries; the remaining 300 million live as minorities in 149 countries”. This chapter, and indeed the rest of the book, reveals the great variety of attitudes in the Muslim ummah (community of believers) around the world. Professor Hassan concludes: “In the light of points made above, the Islamic ummah of the future will gain strength not as a unified and unitary community, but as a differentiated one consisting of separate ummah that represent different Islamic regions”.

Chapter 8, “Philanthropy and social justice”, reveals that alms-giving (zakat) is variously 0.01-0.04% of GDP in wahabi Saudi Arabia as compared to 0.35% in more pluralistic Pakistan. Professor Hassan concludes: “The ultimate symbolism of zakat giving is “doing good” by fulfilling the divinely ordained commitment to the ummah. It goes beyond the pleasure or usefulness of accumulating wealth. What is gained by giving is the creation of an ideal ummah, a fellowship of shared faith and the belief that doing good matters”. As a humanitarian, agnostic Humanist I totally agree.

Chapter 9, “Islam and civil society”, commences by stating that “Civil society has become a powerful slogan for political reform and democracy in modern times”. Table 9.1 reveals the heartening statistics that 83% of all humanity, 87% of Muslims and 86% of Western Christians support democratic values ( heartening because it belies Bush-ite-racist Zionist propaganda otherwise) – and this notwithstanding (or possibly because of) limited democracy in much of the Muslim world (major exceptions being democratic Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and India).

Professor Hassan’s conclusion is that “The core idea of civil society – institutional pluralism, which prevents central institutions from establishing a monopoly over power and truth in society – is finding increased support among cross-sections of Muslim populations.” Would that were so in the Western Murdochracies where nations of prosperous sheep are brain-washed by lying, racist, oligopoly Mainstream media into voting for either of typically 2 near-identical neo-con Establishment parties.

Chapter 10, “Mutual suspicions”, neatly summarizes the dominant view in the Western Murdochracies: “In many Western debates, Islam is seen as a monolithic religion often equated with fundamentalism and characterized by ideas of aggression, brutality, fanaticism, irrationality, medieval backwardness and misogyny” However 59-94% of respondents in the 7 test Muslim countries were optimistic about increasing Islamic influence in the world (Table 10.1). Muslims certainly perceived the hostility of the West to Muslims (hard not to notice!) - thus 52-94% of respondents in 6 countries from Egypt to Malaysia (ascending order) perceive the USA as anti-Islamic with only 15% of Kazakh Muslims having this perception.

Professor Hassan concludes that Muslims perceive anti-Islamic attitudes of major Western countries in sharp contrast to Western perceptions of Islam being linked to “aggression, violence, irrationality, fanaticism and backwardness”.

Professor Hassan very diplomatically concludes “Whether or not Muslim views about Islam and the West are exaggerated [they are informed and realistic in my view], the findings provide a glimpse of a social reality that requires the attention of all those interested in promoting a better understanding between the Muslim world and other religions and cultures, for the purpose of fostering a harmonious future for humanity in the twenty-first century”. Peace and amity is the only way.

The final Epilogue summarizes the major findings of the book. Professor Hassan concludes by noting that a “sense of humiliation is major underlying cause of Islamic militancy and terrorism. Feelings of humiliation are reinforced by the economic power and absolute technological superiority of the West vis-à-vis Muslim countries and the privileged treatment accorded to Israel by the USA in its foreign policy … jihad is ultimately a this-worldly political action and, therefore, amenable to resolution through negotiation with all parties being accepted as equal citizens of a globalizing world”.

Unfortunately mainstream media and politicians have created a fantasy world for Western citizens that utterly ignores the horrendous realities of invasion, occupation and devastation of US- or US surrogate-occupied Muslim countries including (West to East) Somalia, Occupied Palestine, Syria, post-occupation but devastated Lebanon, Occupied Iraq, Occupied Afghanistan, US robot-bombed NW Pakistan and acutely US- and Israeli-threatened Iran that is a world leader in the fight against opiate drugs from the US-restoration of the Taliban-destroyed Afghan opium industry that kills about 0.1 million people annually.

There is an ongoing Muslim Holocaust that is simply ignored by the West and only briefly alluded to in “Inside Muslim Minds”. Thus post-1950 avoidable deaths (excess deaths, deaths that did not have to happen) total 1.3 billion (the World), 1.2 billion (the non-European World) and 0.6 billion (the Muslim World), these estimates being consonant with estimates of post-1950 under-5 year old infant deaths totalling 0.88 billion (the World), 0.85 billion (the non-European World) and 0.4 billion (the Muslim World).

As of January 2010, 22 million people die avoidably each year on a Spaceship Earth (roughly half of them Muslims) with a racist, anti-Arab anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, genocidal, pro-Zionist and Zionist-dominated US at the helm. Yet this ongoing Muslim Holocaust is utterly ignored in the racist, lying, Zionist-dominated Western Murdochracies (for details see “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalavoidablemortality.blo....

However man-made global warming (the major climate criminal culprits being Zionist-backed US and its Australian lackeys) threatens an even greater atrocity of Climate Genocide that, according to Professor James Lovelock FRS will leave only 500 million (mostly European) survivors by the end of the century. Estimates of only circa 0.5 billion survivors (from top UK climate scientists Dr James Lovelock and Professor Kevin Anderson) point to 10 billion avoidable deaths this century due to unaddressed global warming, this including 6 billion infants, 3 billion Muslims in a near-terminal, 21st century Muslim Holocaust , 2 billion Indians, 1.3 billion non-Arab Africans, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis): http://sites.google.com/site/climat... .

It is time for this racist, holocaust-ignoring lying to be exposed and the principal perpetrators – the genocidal Bush-ite and racist Zionist (RZ) warmongers, imperialists, colonizers, climate criminal polluters and mass murderers - to be exposed and side-lined from public life just as the Nazis, neo-Nazis and KKK have been removed from US public life.

Indeed outstanding Jewish American investor, philanthropist, Holocaust survivor George Soros has advocated the "de-Nazification" of Bush America.

“Inside Muslim Minds” by Professor Riaz Hassan is major contribution to understanding Muslims today and accordingly for promoting Muslim-West understanding and amity. This book can be criticized for inadvertently understating the sheer magnitude and horror of the Muslim Holocaust by being written and published in 2008 in a US Alliance country, Australia, that utterly ignores the magnitude of this continuing atrocity and the looming Climate Genocide that will utterly devastate the Muslim World. However this courageous and carefully researched book represents a major step towards Western-Muslim understanding and the reasoned, humane, egalitarian and informed accommodation of the Muslim world with modernity.