Why don't Americans understand Islam?

Religion and society

Wilfried Röhrich

To person

Dr. phil., born 1936; Professor emeritus; 1973-2001 Professor of Political Science at the University of Kiel and 1979-2001 Director of the Institute for Political Science there. Schlossgarten 12, 24103 Kiel.
Email: [email protected]

The world religions have acquired a power reminiscent of the history of the Crusades and the Islamic Jihad wars. This can be seen in the politicization of the respective religion, especially in the form of religious fanatical terrorism.


The world's religions have acquired a power reminiscent of the history of the Crusades and the Islamic Jihad Wars. This can be seen above all if one takes due account of the politicization of the respective religion and thus religious fundamentalism. Whether it is the religions of the historical revelation of God or the religions of the everlasting world law: The power emanating from the religions is reflected in the religious conflicts of world politics. This applies to Judaism, Christianity and Islam as well as to Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, whose religious moral teaching is an essential driving force in the Far East.

The power of religions is particularly evident in the form of that religiously fanatical terrorism that came to fruition in the Islamist challenge of Western civilization through the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, and that has been coming to light ever since. Islam was and is significant here as a political ideology, even though Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism, is based on religion. Islamists want to de-westernize the world and reorganize it as the global rule of Islam. Islamism is based on a politicization of Islam, and Islamist terrorism aims at a jihad war against the western world.

The problematic catchphrases of the Crusade and the Jihad in their historical and warlike significance have been revitalized: first with the terrorist attacks that Osama bin Laden described as the Jihad war against the West, then by President George W. Bush, the avowed "born again Christian" "that called for a crusade against terrorism, and finally, since the Iraq war, since Muslim voices have been heard calling for a bellicose jihad against the United States.

The two largest religions - Islam and Christianity: here American Christianity - have taken deep roots in their countries. This explains their power, which extends to fundamentalism and Islamist terrorism. The practice of both religions is fundamental: there the Islamic places of prayer and teaching, the mosques, from whose minarets the muezzin calls to prayer five times a day; here the United States, which is a distinctly Christian country: over a third of all citizens can be classified as strictly religious. Going to church every Sunday is compulsory. Cabinet meetings in the White House always begin with a brief prayer. And every dollar bill reads: "In God We Trust."

Understanding the power of religions is proving to be quite a difficult endeavor that relies on the observer and the subject. [1] Judaism and - to a limited extent - Islam can be adequately grasped due to their relative proximity to Christianity, while Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism are difficult to understand from a Western perspective. The systems of thought and values ​​that differ from the Western tradition make it difficult to understand Eastern beliefs. In addition, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, but also Judaism and especially Islam, are alien to the Christian consciousness that shaped the modern age: that European epoch around 1500, which was characterized by the Renaissance, Humanism and ultimately by the Reformation is. In modern times, a threefold definition of the individual emerged: the autonomy of the individual, the technical-industrial world orientation (aesthetic subjectivism) and private appropriation (possessive individualism). [2] This explosive combination of sometimes contradicting objectives has shaped the modern world.

In contrast to the Christian consciousness and the pluralism of values ​​in Western culture, the individual is of little importance in the Islamic self-image. In Islam, the umma, the Islamic community, sees itself as the nucleus of the united Muslims. Unlike Christianity, Islam is not an ecclesiastical, but an organic religious system that encompasses all areas of life and provides the Islamic Sharia law for this purpose. For the vast majority of Islamic fundamentalists, Sharia forms the basis of the political systems in the Islamic world.