FYI -- this business of covering women isn't meant as oppression. On the contrary, Fundamentalist Muslims believe in djinns, spirit beings -- akin to JudeoChristian's Fallen Angels -- who are believed often to take an interest in human women and make off with them. Women are advised to hide their beauty to protect themselves from the djinns. Before we single out these people for their "oppression" of women, this belief in spirit beings lusting after women is so deeply entrenched even in our own Bible that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul goes on at some length about advising women to cover their heads. He even explicitly references the Fallen Angels in 1 Corinthians 11:10 -- "For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels."
Sorry to go on at some length here, but in some press commentaries I've heard, the attacks don't seem to be so much on Islam or Fundamentalist Islam, but rather on Fundamentalism overall. (I'm sure the left wing commentator I heard on PBS a couple of days ago would have been just as happy denoucning Fundamentalist Christians as he was denoucing Fundamentalist Muslims...) Mark W.
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One school of thought says it's the Americans' fault: American imperialism and the export of American social and sexual mores are to blame. The other school of thought holds that Islam, by its very nature, is in permanent competition with other civilizations. This is the theory expounded by the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, who coined the term "Islam's bloody borders" -- a reference to the fact that wherever Islam rubs up against other civilizations -- Jewish, Christian, Hindu -- wars seem to break out.
Whenever I meet a Muslim fundamentalist, I ask them the same stupid-sounding question: Which is more important to Islam, greater jihad or lesser jihad? The answer, usually accompanied by an indulgent look, is usually something like, "They don't call it 'greater jihad' for nothing." The struggle against the external oppressor waxes and wanes, but the fight to suppress the evil inclinations within is perpetual.
But in my conversations with Haq, and with mullahs across Pakistan and Afghanistan, I kept getting a different answer. "They are of equal importance," Haq said. "Jihad against the oppressor of Muslims is an absolute duty. Islam is a religion that defends itself." Jihad against the devil without has assumed a place of permanent, even overriding importance in the way these mullahs look at the world. This was surprising to me, because not even the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ever answered the question this way.
When I asked Samiul Haq to explain why he placed so much emphasis on lesser jihad, he said: "Islam is a religion of limits. There are four pillars of Islam. Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, you must make once, only if you have the means. There is a limit to how much charity you must give. In prayer, we only pray five times a day. And fasting, we fast for only one month, Ramadan. But for jihad, there are no limits. Jihad must be fought without limits. There is no compromise in jihad."