There are probably many bloggers as well as prognosticators of all kinds who are willing to admit when they are wrong, but perhaps not as many who hope they are wrong. That's how I felt today when I read Karen Armstrong's article about her trip to the United Arab Emirates to promote compassion and the Golden Rule, as well as press releases from Sharjah about her speeches there. I wish her mission success, but I have my doubts.
I believe in the Golden Rule, the simple but all-encompassing principle of treating other people the way you want them to treat you. Like many Americans, I don't always practice it well, but it is my goal. I try to tip waiters and waitresses well, not because I am wealthy or they are attractive, but because that's how I would want to be treated if I were a restaurant server or bartender.
I would argue that Western Civilization is built upon a Judeo-Christian foundation, and the Golden Rule finds its origin in the principles of those two religions (comment: But what about Buddhism? you might ask. I'm sorry; a young man who abandons his young wife and new-born son to go find himself under the Bodhi tree doesn't have a lot to say to me). The last of Moses' Ten Commandments was to not look with envy or desire upon anything that belongs to your neighbor. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus stated that the entire Hebrew Scriptures could be summarized in the command to treat others as you would like them to treat you. Many of his stories, such as the businessman who went out of his way to help a beaten and robbed Samaritan, illustrated the same principle. The Apostle Paul repeated the same idea when he said in Acts 20:35 that "it is better to give than to receive".
I haven't heard the speeches Karen Armstrong gave at the Sharjah American University, and hope they will become available online so I can do so, but I can anticipate her line of argument. People are happier and life works better when we practice the Golden Rule. All major religions include it as part of their core values. We just need to begin to work harder to incorporate it into our daily lives. And I would imagine she found a few Bukhari or Sahih Muslim Hadiths as well as Ayahs from the Quran to prove her point.
But here's my problem. The Golden Rule does not exist in Islam (comment: I am not saying no Muslims practice it, I am saying it is not a part of Islam as envisoned and practiced by Muhammad). If you gave someone totally unfamiliar with Christianity a copy of the Gospel of Mark and asked her to read it, she would probably agree after finishing that Jesus did treat other people the way he wanted them to treat him. Let her carefully read the life of Muhammad (from its earliest sources, not 20th century apologists), and it would be impossible to reach the same conclusion. Treat other Muslims the way you would like them to treat you? Possibly. Treat everybody that way? It's not there.
How did Muhammad practice the Golden Rule when he robbed an innocent nine-year-old child of her innocence and forced her into a sexual relationship with a man six times her age? How did he practice it when he began to raid the caravans returning from Syria to Mecca with the goods the Quraysh needed to survive for the next year? How was he practicing the Golden Rule when he expelled and beheaded thousands of Jews in Medina, tribes who had lived there for hundreds of years, simply because they refused to accept him as the Prophet he claimed to be? How was cutting off the hand of the woman from the Makhzumiya tribe (Bukhari Vol 8 Book 81 Nr 779) who had a habit of "borrowing things and then not returning them" practicing the Golden Rule? I'll stop here, but the list could go on.
Like an adolescent teenager playing air guitar and imagining himself Mick Jagger, I took a moment to imagine myself standing in front of the students in Sharjah to give a lecture about the Golden Rule. I would present it as a great and enduring principle. As an American, I would admit that my country at times strayed far from its practice, but it was a compass we could return to because it was at the heart of our faith. I would give them a brief trajectory of the life of their Prophet, noting some of the things that I mentioned above. In conclusion, I would ask them to consider whether taking the Golden Rule seriously in their lives would move them towards or away from Muhammad.
The students probably wouldn't feel as good about themselves as they did after Karen's lecture, and might be a lot more angry, but hopefully I would have given them something to think about. Hopefully as well, I'd make it safely to the airport (just kidding!). I'm not sure, however, that I'd be invited back.