Components Islam is defined by four main components: the Koran, the Sharia and Hadith writings, and the traditional behaviors and beliefs of Islamic societies.
The Koran is the main scriptural text of Islam; it is believed to be the revelations of the Muslim god, Allah, to the prophet Muhammad.
The Sharia writings deal with laws, politics, economics, and personal behaviors expected of Muslims.
The Hadith writings are believed to be the collected deeds and sayings of Muhammad. They serve as examples of the behaviors and beliefs defining what it is to be a Muslim.
The fourth component of Islam consists of any other beliefs and behaviors that have become traditional in Islamic societies, guided by the goals and attitudes inherent in the formal written components.
The four components, taken together, constitute the “culture” of Islam. It is a false dichotomy to separate the “culture” from the religion. These four components, taken together, can be considered “orthodox” or “fundamentalist” Islam. This is what I mean when I use the word “Islam”, although I often use the phrase “orthodox Islam” for emphasis.
Characteristics The writings of Islam are considered perfect in their present form. They are thus subject only to the narrowest interpretation, and this only by a very few privileged experts. Islam is thus opposed to theology and philosophy, in particular, and to intellectualism in general.
Islam is also not subject to revision, even in light of contrary evidence and experience. It is thus opposed to science, in particular, and to modernism in general.
Muslims are expected to follow the prescriptions and proscriptions of Islam in detail, unquestioningly, throughout their lives. In this respect, Islam is totalitarian. It is in no way democratic, and, even though it is meant to apply equally to everyone, there is a hierarchy of privilege.
Islam is intolerant of all other religions and of Atheism. It prescribes the subjugation of people who practice other religions, or none. In particular, Islam is pointedly anti-Jewish and anti-Christian. It is especially harsh with apostates.
Islam treats females as inferior to males, with restricted rights, restricted physical and social mobility, and restricted status and privileges. It is anti-feminist.
Islam gives reasons, authorizations, and excuses for various physically and emotionally violent behaviors. Many of these behaviors, though acceptable to Muslims, are considered extreme by outsiders. This tempts outsiders to characterize persons who indulge in such behaviors as “Islamic extremists”, whereas in fact they are simply orthodox.
In spite of the belief that Islam is believed to be complete, perfect, and unchangeable, there are several sects (Sunni, Shi’a, and others), and these sects are at odds, often violently, with one another.
Consequences Because Islam is anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-modernism, antagonistic toward all other religions, and anti-feminist, and because it accommodates behaviors unacceptable to Western culture, it is distinctly anti-Western, a fact emphasized by many orthodox Muslims themselves.
As long as orthodox Islam defines itself as perfect, unchanging, and unchangeable, it is not amenable to Western-style enlightenment. There was, in its history, a brief “golden age” or enlightenment brought on, ironically, by contact with ancient Greek and Roman (that is, Western) teachings, but this ended a thousand years ago, when orthodoxy regained its grip.
From the viewpoint of orthodox Islam, there is no such thing as “moderate” Islam; either a person accepts the entire package or that person is a heretic, and can be punished for heresy.
There are, of course, many Muslims who have moderate views and behaviors, acquired through contact with other moderates or other cultures, but depending on the place and the time, they can have difficulty expressing this moderation. To urge moderation is heretical.
Enlightenment, or simply reform, will happen–if at all–from the inside. Until then we can expect the continual clash of Islam with Western culture.