Ie thank Dr. Mark A. Gabriel for this article discussing an issue considerate and intelligent Westerners are or should be asking themselves as should truly contemplative Muslims located in the West, the MIddle East and elsewhere. You can read more about Dr. Gabriel and his insightful critique of Islam today, past and future, at his website.
ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS CULTURE
People in the West are very curious about the differences between Muslims. They see that some Muslims join radical groups and attack innocent people while others live quiet lives as business owners in the West. They find it hard to imagine that their nice Muslim neighbors or coworkers believe all the teachings of the Quran and support Muhammad’s practice of holy war.
There are between 6 million and 8 million Muslims living in the United States. Most of these are immigrants from Middle Eastern countries. The next largest group is black American converts. The smallest group is white American converts. Outside of the United States, there are 1.2 billion more Muslims. From my observations and experience, both in the United States and in other countries, Muslims can be divided into three main groups.
Ordinary Muslims practice some of the teachings of Islam, but they don’t want to do anything difficult, like participate in jihad. They are more interested in having nice lives, providing for their children and running their businesses. They are Muslims because of their culture and tradition rather than because of strong religious beliefs.
Most of the Muslims in the United States are ordinary Muslims. Some even send their children to Christian schools. Even in the Middle East there are more ordinary Muslims than committed Muslims. It would take time and motivation to turn ordinary Muslims into committed Muslims.
From the point of view of a committed Muslim, this group should be referred to as secular Muslims because they are not submitting wholly to Islam.
Committed Muslims are making great efforts to live according to Islam. They are praying five times a day (which can take 2 ½ hours per day), giving alms and fasting all food and water during daylight hours of the month of Ramadan. A committed Muslim may not be in a radical group like Hamas, but he could choose to cross that line at any time that he feels his religion or people are threatened.
A subset of committed Muslims is the orthodox Muslims. Not only do orthodox Muslims want to follow the requirements of Islam, but they also want to do it in the same way as Muhammad did in the seventh century. They spend much time reading the Quran and Islamic books. Following the Quran and hadith, they may put severe restrictions on women. In Islamic countries, orthodox Muslims may choose to grow out their beards, but in the West they may not look different from other Muslims.
This is the first sect in Islam that tried to transfer the meaning of jihad from spreading Islam with the sword to a spiritual struggle to fight evil within oneself. Sufism started six centuries after Muhammad’s death. Only 2 to 3 percent of Muslims worldwide are Sufites. Orthodox Muslims and fanatic Muslims reject them and do not consider them to be true Muslims.
These are committed Muslims who put their words into action. They are the types of people who join militant groups such as Hamas or work with al-Qaeda. They are ready to practice jihad (to kill or be killed in the name of Islam).
How to Tell the Difference
After the September 11 attacks, you could identify the different types of Muslims according to their reactions. The ordinary Muslims were pretty quiet. In the United States, they were even hanging American flags on their houses and showing support for the United States.
The committed Muslims were demonstrating in the streets in support of al-Qaeda. Their imams were praising the bravery of Osama bin Laden and his network.
The fanatic Muslims were taking their joy a step beyond talk. They were planning new attacks, such as the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in February 2002. A year and a half after September 11, they were able to orchestrate major new bombings against Western targets overseas (including bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May 2003).
What Do These Categories Mean?
These categories mean that not all Muslims have the same level of knowledge and commitment. Some ordinary Muslims do not even know about many things that are in the Quran and Islamic history about Muhammad.
Committed and fanatic Muslims often have a very clear understanding of the teachings of Islam. They use the Quran and the example of Muhammad and the early Muslims as a blueprint for their attitudes and actions today.