Islam is an old religion and culture that has thousands of years of history, every point being significant to someone it is hard to narrow down the most important points. But in all cultural history there are points that stand out, that give meaning to the way a people have chosen to tread. Sometimes this are positive events, that can be rejoiced. Sometimes they are savage and sad and show the true nature of humanity. It is within these times that a people are shaped and their future is laid out bare in front of them. There are two key events that I think are significant in the shaping of Islam and both come within the recent history of time allowing you to see the effects now and not have to read about them in a book.
The Revolution of Iran
Like most events that cause major changes in history, this one started with a focus on the economy. [i]Oil was a core source of income for Iran but the instability in oil consumption in the West meant that Iran economy was under threat and the overspend being authorised by the Government was only adding to the stagnant atmosphere of Iran’s buying power and on a day to day basis the living standards. It was in this time that the Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi regime was repressing the socio-political environment, the oppositional parties were heavily censored and then outlawed. These parties started to come together and join in their opposition of Shah’s regime. By January 1978 slanderous claims in the Ettela‘at, a newspaper published in Tehran, against Khomeini – a known professor of Philosophy. He had been exiled 12 years previously for openly speaking out against the Shah’s regime. A number of Madrassa students took this as the last straw and walked the streets in protest, they were joined by a vast number of Iranian youth, a demonstration that led to a tragic cyclical pattern of events, the protests ignited already seeded paranoia in Shah and this resulted in many killings by the Government to try and control the protests, this only served to fuel the anger of the protesters and so riots increased in violence and so on and so forth.
Suffering from cancer and weakened by his condition Shah took his family and fled from Iran and left a Regency Council to take control, but they were unable to function under the pressure, the temporary Prime Minister Bakhtiar left and went into hiding in France. This was the turning point for Iran and on 1st April 1979 Khomeini declared Iran to be an Islamic Republic. A new age had begun and it saw patrols on the street enforcing Islamic values including a dress code and expected behaviours. Those who were seen as enemies to the revolution were victims of impromptu justice, the violence in this age was often seen as worse than that under the Shah’s regime.
Khomeini’s policy was to reject all Westernised influence and instead was to focus on complete immersion in Islamic law and tradition. He also tried to move his regime out of Iran into the surrounding Muslim countries and authorised the holding of 66 hostages [ii]from the US embassy for over a year. Even after death he held the support of many and his tomb in Tehran has become a shrine to his ideologies.
The Effect of 9/11 on Islam
It is fair to say that the effect 9/11 had on Islam was varied and widespread no matter the message that was spread by the governments in power. It was George W. Bush who said:
“I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.”
But even after this address citizens of America targeted Muslims as branded them as terrorists. It was a time of fear and anger, a time when one’s emotions overran the intellectual capabilities to separate the two. One clear example of this unfounded hatred and misplaced suspicion was evident in the case of Mohammad Salman Hamdani. [iii]
Mohammad Salman Hamdani, known as Sal, came to America when he was just 13 months old. Determined to be as American as he could be, Sal became a police cadet having studied Science and was hoping to become a detective in the line of forensics, he also worked as a paramedic part time. It was this drive that led him to attend the crash site of the 9/11 attack that not only ended his young life but also saw the manifestation of the fear of Muslims. He was suspected to be part of the plot when he went missing and it wasn’t until six months after 9/11 that his body was discovered with his medical bag beside him that it was realised that he had in fact gone in to help and given his life in pursuit of that.
He was not the only Musilm targeted after 9/11 and now 15 years on there is still that uneducated bigotry that marks people for the actions of a few extremists. Islam has suffered greatly through their history, as have many religions and cultures, but as one of the few targeted groups for hate crimes it is difficult to reconcile a time when the many won’t be blamed for the actions of the few.
At his funeral Salman was mourned by 500 and was given full police honours for his heroic work. The mourners included the Mayor and the then Commissioner. He was an example to all in his life and also in his death.
Islam has had an interesting and at some points heart-breaking history, which clearly represents the struggles of all mankind in our pursuit of happiness.