Seeing what you want to see

Karen Armstrong tells us all, not for the first time, how swell Islam is.

First, she tells us the problem. It’s that “western people” think Islam is “a violent and intolerant faith” but this is all wrong. Couldn’t be more wrong. Very very wrong. It’s the hajj what does it, you see. Religion is like ice skating, you learn it by doing it, so the hajj teaches people to do all the good things.

The ancient rituals of the hajj, which Arabs performed for centuries before Islam, have helped pilgrims to form habits of heart and mind that – pace the western stereotype – are non-violent and inclusive.

Which is why everywhere we look, or nearly everywhere, that’s what Islam is like – non-violent and inclusive. That’s what it’s like in the very home of the hajj itself, Saudi Arabia. Women; servants from Indonesia; women; infidels; women – they’re all totally included and kindly handled. That’s what it’s like in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Sudan, in Afghanistan.



  1. Riptide says

    I doubt Armstrong’s blinkered view of Islam could get a more delicious deconstruction than you and Mr. Stangroom deliver in “Does God Hate Women?” But the one paragraph here is an excellent compression of those pages.

    If any readers haven’t yet secured a copy of DGHW, please do so. It’s well worth it.

  2. says

    That’s what it’s like in the very home of the hajj itself, Saudi Arabia.

    There’s a painful irony in Armstrong’s insistence that an exhibition sponsored by the Saudi royal family shows that notions of religious intolerance are bunk. She’s not just illogical, though – she’s a poor historian. “Ever since the Crusades“, apparently, “Western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith“. I’m not about to defend the motives of the Crusade-era Christians but I suspect the conquest of Syria and other escapades had something to do with it. As I said at m’ ‘umble blog, she rails against “prejudices” of critics of Islam but she’s a great example of the fact that one can hold positive prejudices that are no less unreasonable or dangerous.

    There is evidence – apparently – that performing the Hajj makes pilgrims more benevolent towards their fellow human beings. As the examples you mention suggest, however, it’s clearly not enough for many of ’em.

  3. says

    Armstrong isn’t a historian at all. In The Case for God she took her “history” from popularizations, uncritically paraphrased and vaguely cited. It was a desperately shoddy performance. She’s not a historian but an apologist.

  4. 'Tis Himself, OM. says

    Saddam Hussein and Obama bin Laden had both completed the hajj as young men. It didn’t seem to stick.

  5. peterh says

    It took the violent and intolerant crusades to teach us Islam is violent and intolerant? My irony meter just vaporized.

  6. Fin says

    You know there’s a phrase that the Saudis use to describe pilgrims on the Hajj, which my formerly Islamic Ethiopian friend informed me of: “tarsh al bahr”. What this phrase means is “vomit from the sea”. Inclusive? I think not.

  7. platyhelminthe says

    This article is EVIL. I would go that far. Calculated propoganda built on a foundation of outright, quite staggeringly unbelievable lies. She doesn’t even have the excuse. weak as it would be, of being a Muslim (not that any Muslims would perpetrate such an egregious misrepresentation of their holy book).

    What a wholly contemptible human being.

  8. says

    Bad ‘Tis. Bad. 😛

    While Armstrong is these days insufferable, one of her books did help me look critically at religion when I needed it most. I doubt she’d be proud of helping to turn out Gnu Atheists, though.

  9. F says

    The ever-spurious apologist shit just slays me. As if there aren’t better ways of addressing real problems when they exist, rather than inventing or repeating propaganda.

  10. says

    I’m a little confused. Why is Armstrong so very invested in defending Islam? You and Stangroom listed multiple books she’s written dealing with Islam in “Does God Hate Women?”, but I’m still not clear why she tries so hard.

  11. says

    Last week, a diabetic man with heart disease returned home from the hajj after being incarcerated in Saudi Arabia and having 75 lashes for apparently making a pronounciation error while worshipping. I call BS on Armstrong. Well, we knew that already.

  12. San Ban says

    Can’t we just point and laugh at Armstrong, the pilgrims she defends and the whole religious edifice?

  13. says

    Equating religion with “belief” is a modern western aberration. Like swimming or driving, religious knowledge is practically acquired. You learn only by doing.

    By doing what, exactly? Following commands like “kill the infidels whereever you find them”? That sort of thing?

    It sounds an awful lot like a No True Muslim kind of argument.

  14. says

    I almost forgot the line I find the most irritating…

    …western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith – even though when this prejudice took root Islam had a better record of tolerance than Christianity. Recent terrorist atrocities have seemed to confirm this received idea.

    This kind of, er – terrorcentrism is really weird. It’s as if the malignance in the Islamic could be reduced to Al Qaeda. I’m not sure it’s Osama bin Laden who’s threatening Aasia Bibi. And Ayman Zawahiri, as bad as he is, has posed no threat to Yousef Nadarkhani. 9/11, and the subsequent attacks, might have exposed the West to the notion of Islamic fanaticism but thousands of blasphemers, apostates and transgressors could – if they’re still alive – remind us that considering terrorism alone is a little blinkered.

    The closest Western parallel is all the people whose sole admission of the Bush administration’s crimes was a few vague mumblings about Guantanamo. The result – if not, perhaps, the intention – is to praise with faint criticism.

  15. moleatthecounter says

    Her tediously erroneous ramblings are thoroughly dismantled and dissected however in some excellent below the line CIF comments. Rarely will we see a more deserving nut so pleasingly crushed underfoot!

  16. Vicki says

    If I bought her hypothesis—that someone can become Muslim only by going on the hajj—I would have to conclude that most people who say they are Muslim aren’t. Many Muslims can’t afford the trip (airfare, time off from work, etc.) and even if they could, the Saudi government has quotas for how many pilgrims can go. A country is allotted 1 slot for every thousand Muslims who live there. Simple math shows that this will prevent more than 90% of all Muslims from making the hajj.

  17. Jimmy Lewisham says

    Surround yourself with people with the same narrow tunnel vision, and you will convince yourself you are right. Or perhaps Ignorance is Bliss

    Media’s primary kernel is to describe the abnormal and not the normal and to literally make a mountain out of a molehill. It will describe the 1 in a million case, and without exposure to the 999999 in a million, that 1 case will appear the norm.

    If I never met a Westerner and just focussed on the News about Western Serial Murderers, Paediophiles and Psychopaths, I may have an unreflective view of the norm, which may satify my pre-conceived prejudices.

    Forming a view of 1.3 billions Chinese based on 10 I have met and interacted with socially is far from representative, but better then being an indoctrinated slave of the Agenda driven Media.

    Don’t be an armchair general, get out more and meet and ask real normal people.


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