Misunderstandings

As soon as I arrived in Lome, the capital of Togo, West Africa, I asked my contact a number of questions to clarify local customs. At my first two speaking engagements, which included people from 19 nations and a live radio audience of about two million listeners, I apologised in advance for my lack of knowledge of the detail of local culture and hoped they would be generous in their forgiveness and acceptance of me—in spite of my blundering ignorance. In such matters I try to be a fast learner. Even so I still make mistakes.

I like softly whistling tunes to myself. Then someone told me I shouldn’t do that. Local non-Christians believe whistling disturbs the spirits of the ancestors. It’s also thought the practice calls snakes. The only people permitted to whistle are herdsmen guiding their cattle. The poor snakes must be riven with anxiety syndrome. On the one hand they are being called to come. On the other they risk being trampled to death by cattle.

I stopped whistling. But not every foreigner tries to be culturally contextualized. The way in which outsiders know they are welcome to a home, a meeting or any gathering in Togo is upon arrival someone will immediately come forward and offer to carry whatever may be in their hands. When this gesture of welcome was extended to a European visitor he got angry. “Don’t touch my luggage. It’s mine,” was his response. He thought someone wanted to steal his luggage.

As an American couple passed by the wife paused to say “Hello”. The husband immediately called to his wife, “Come on now. Don’t waste time. We are leaving immediately.” Enquiry revealed that although the couple had been in the country for many years the husband had developed relationships with virtually no one. He had a reputation for never having time. Africans sometimes jest, “You foreigners have watches. But we Africans have time.”

Regardless of ranking in society or just pressures of work, Togolese always pause and courteously greet the other person. Outside of our own cultural contexts we are all prone to fall into the pit of misinterpretation of others’ words and deeds. Failure to investigate and study carefully what’s happening around us can have deadly effects. One such instance is seen in the West’s failure to understand Islam.

Behaviour which falls outside our secularized, humanistic, scientific worldview we label as exceptional or radical and refuse to admit it could be more general. Hence western governments speak of radicalisation and deradicalisation of their Muslim citizens. Early causes attributed to the radicalization process were claimed to be poverty, social disadvantage etc. This theory was firmly held until those responsible for violence in Western countries or the Middle East were revealed to be often well-educated, middle class citizens. Few opinion makers thought to examine the basic teachings of Islam itself.

In the Quran Surah 9:123 Allah instructs, “Fight those of the disbelievers who are near you.” Surah 9:14-15 adds, “Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy (or heal) the breasts of believing people…and remove the rage of their hearts.”

The Arabic used in these surahs is said to mean “to fight to kill.” So there is a simple timeless command—to kill non-believers.

And why not?

It’s very gradually being understood by non-Muslims that one of the few ways of obtaining certainty of entrance to Paradise for a Muslim is to die as a martyr while on Jihad. This serves as a very persuasive recruiting device for the militarily inclined. What is equally powerful but less well known outside of the Muslim community is the teaching of one of the greatly revered authoritative sources of Islam’s prophet Mohammad.

In the collection of Traditions (Hadith), Sahih Muslim chapter 789 paragraph 4661 Mohammad reportedly said, “A disbeliever and a believer who killed him will never be gathered together in Hell.” The inference is that the disbeliever obviously ends up in Hell while the believer (of Islam) is assured of residence in Paradise. Therefore the therapy to calm a troubled Muslim may be to murder a disbeliever.

Obviously not every Muslim who seeks an assured place in Paradise resorts to a Jihad or therapy that advocates killing an unbeliever.

The concepts referred to above so jar on non-Muslim minds that the only way they can reconcile realities of what is happening in the Middle East and in violence in countless other locations, is to declare such behaviours as non-Islamic, radicalism, Islamism, Salafism or by other names.

We have much to learn. To understand a little more, snatch a copy of my latest publication, Islam Rising available here, while the special introductory offer is still available.

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