One of the charming scenes from the tales of knights in armor is one in which two knights have been fighting, doing their best to maim or kill each other and then pause and chat for a bit.  Sometimes one remarks, “Our quarrel is not great,” which generally leads to an end of the fight and perhaps to them then becoming friends and making common cause of some issue. 

Between Islam and Christianity it would be a good thing to make better friends.  There are some basic agreements.  Both religions worship the same God.  Both accept Jesus as a legitimate embodiment of that God.  From a theological standpoint there would seem to be little problem with simply saying Islam is another Christian denomination.  Islam does not accept the idea that there was a crucifixion of Jesus.  That is important in some ways, but within living memory at least one Christian head of a major denomination was willing so say that Jesus did not embody God any more than everybody does.  He simply taught about God and taught about how people should deal with each other.  He was not without people who opposed him, but generally most people did not consider him an apostate.  If that great a difference can be accepted as Christian, then there is no reason I see not to include Islam. 

The relationship between religion and government might seem sticky.  Modern Islamic fundamentalists would be happy to have Sharia, traditional Islamic law, be taken as official legal code in many countries.  Although church and state are theoretically independent in the United States, there have been Christian countries where there has been an official connection between church and state.  In fact, in such instances the relationship was even closer than it would be under Sharia.  Islam is not an organization.  There is no pope or bishop to dictate just what the belief system is.  Christian denominations generally have a specific organization.  Again, our quarrel is not great.

But there is one sticking point that is hard to avoid.  There is the question of how women are to be treated.  Certainly Christian denominations have not always espoused total equality.  But at least at present there is nothing like as great a difference between how men and women are understood in the Christian dominated West and how they are understood in Islamic parts of the world.  I for one would be very unhappy if anybody tried to impose the rules of traditional Sharia on the women of my own community. 

But how has Sharia served the communities where it has been the general rule?  For one thing, Muslim societies seem to be unusually durable.  The Egyptian regimes that broke the three century barrier were often Muslim.  And the Ottoman Turks, if you do not make a break as I do when the method of recruiting Janissaries changed, passed that anniversary as well.  Secluding women and assuring children gave them extra staying power, just as you would expect.

 I had a friend once who spent time in Saudi Arabia.  She questioned young Saudi women about which culture they liked better, the free American environment or the restrictive Saudi one.  The answer she reported to me was overwhelming.  America was just fine to visit.  The freedom was fun.  But there was no love among Americans.  So in terms of how happy it makes people, there are arguments on both sides. 

Economically it appears that Sharia has not served its people well.  A few years ago someone reported that the entire annual gross economic product of the Muslim world, some billion people at the time, was less than that of Spain with a population now of 43 million.  And that includes revenues from oil.  The reason for this relative lack of prosperity is not clear to me.  I understand that women are less likely to have jobs and contribute to the economy in Islamic countries.  Laws against usury are interpreted as laws against charging interest at all.  Modern economies depend on the investment of capital, which depends on interest.  We are just now in a major crisis affecting the world economy, so the question of how properly to manage investments and interest has not found a good answer in the West either.  Another element is that there are a lot more babies in the Islamic world than in Spain.  Babies don’t have jobs, but they must be included when you are adding up the population, so a low birth rate means a higher per capita income even if everything else is the same.  Nobody ever said babies were cheap.

Islam promotes a high birth rate.  The reason now seems clear.  Women are secluded, young women have a restricted social pool from which to draw a mate and the result is a higher fertility.  Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your point of view.  I think most would agree that a birth rate that is too high is not a good thing but that no babies at all is worse.

There is another implication to the high birth rate beyond the ability of the world to support people and the lowered average income resulting from a high birth rate.  My understanding is, and I am no expert, that like Presbyterians, Muslims believe in predestination.  You get as many babies as God wants you to have.  Of course that opinion cannot be disproved, and before you hiss “superstition” kindly reflect that in the West the common belief is that the bigger the gene pool the better.  That can be disproved and believing that is superstition.  Sorry. 

The implication of a high birth rate in Islamic countries, a low one in the West and the idea that God doles out the babies produces one inescapable conclusion.  Eventually, if nothing changes, Islam will replace Christianity.  That is clear, but it is not important.  Birth rates are falling the world over.  Muslims are just a little behind the West.  A couple generations after they see the West collapse, they will collapse themselves.  We are all in this together. 

But looking at the short term, it looks like Islam is winning.  Soldiers in a winning army are willing to make terrible sacrifices.  There are Muslims that make such sacrifices.  The result is a great deal of tragedy.  If the West could just fix their fertility problem, it would then become clear that the West was here to stay and I suspect much bloodshed would be averted. 

The next question is where the Islamic rule of secluding women came from.  I have read both the Bible and the Koran (an English translation of the Quran or Qur’an).  I think reading them both is a first step in trying to have any understanding of what is going on in the world.  The Koran does not dictate that women should be secluded.  The Bible dictates that women should be secluded for a period of time after childbirth, but not at other times.  If Mohammed did not introduce the seclusion of women, and if it has been consistently taught since his time, then it must have already been the practice in the part of the world where Islam arose. 

Heroditus, the first Western historian lived in the 5th century BC, and Mohammed lived in the sixth and 7th centuries AD.  So Heroditus was closer to that time than we are.  For over 2,000 years his book, The Histories, was the only “complete history” until publication of Oberon’s Mazed World in the 20th century.  In between, history concerned itself with economics, politics and war.  Heroditus took an interest in everything that concerned the people he was reporting.  If there was a group of people who were secluding their women, it was exactly the kind of thing he would have addressed with relish.  But he makes no mention of anything of the sort.  In fact he said that every country he knew of had temple prostitution except Egypt and Greece.  And there is a medical papyrus that points out bluntly how to diagnose a venereal disease acquired from an Egyptian priestess. 

If there was a country where women were being secluded, we certainly ought to know about it.  Like the later Muslim societies, that country should have endured a long time and accomplished great things.  Well there was such seclusion going on, and it was going on in the only place were Heroditus would not have reported it.  It was going on right there in Greece.  Plato, in the voice of Socrates, rails against it.  It was not a good thing by modern standards, but it had an effect that was manifested in ways that still amaze us. 

I suppose I might stop at this point.  I have already risked offending people, and I do not mean to.  This next point might succeed in offending you where everything else has failed.  If so, forgive me.  It’s only a speculation. 

So how did the Greek custom of secluding women get from Greece and get adopted in the Middle East.  It must have been Alexander.  We generally praise Alexander for having spread Greek culture and customs over a wide area.  If you ask people in that area you may find them less enthusiastic.  They already had customs and culture, which were largely demolished at the point of Greek spears.  It would be ironic if their treatment of women, one point at which a lot of Europeans have a serious quarrel with them, were actually a European custom that was forced upon them.

Don’t look at me.  I’m Scotch Irish.  (Don’t confuse that with Scottish; the Scots wouldn’t like it.)  Intellectually I regard women as equals, but instinctively I regard them neither as equals nor as inferiors.  I worship them.  Somehow the whole thing about gods and tribes and the glory of war and emotionally packed symbols and heroism and pomp and circumstance never quite got into my blood.  That’s all Indo-European fluff.  Give me a little dirt and a stick to scratch in it to raise a little food and I will be content.  Add enough books and I shall be happy. 

As for the treatment of women, both sides have a bit to be embarrassed about, the Christian world for having forced the seclusion of women on the Middle East in pre-Christian times, and them for accepting it. 

Our quarrel is not great.

The function that tells how many visitors seems not to be working today.  This is research, not advice.  Linton Herbert.

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