"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Keep Islam Healthy and Strong

Last week when I went to the library I got 8 books and one of them was Inside Islam which is a collection of essays by more than a dozen people - Muslims and nonMuslims - discussing "the faith, the people, and the conflicts of the world's fastest-growing religion."  While the book was published in 2002 some of the chapters are from earlier works because one author mentions the Soviet Union if that tells you anything!  I especially enjoyed the chapter about Islam in Afghanistan. I am not sure why, but I find myself fascinated over and over again by this country and the variety of souls living there.

"The Conflicts" section has excerpts from a Karen Armstrong book and a Bernard Lewis article. I found both of these rather fascinating as Armstrong discussed Muslims and the West and Lewis, The Roots of Muslim Rage.  It's like by reading their words I can see my people, my culture, my faith through Muslims' eyes.  Of course Armstrong and Lewis aren't Muslims so I'm not positive that they have accurately represented the situation, but I like to think these historians know of what they write. Several things were interesting, but for now I wanted to share this.  Read them and let me know your initial reaction to these words. Do you agree? Disagree?  See any contradictions or things that may be problematic? 

First this:

"It is better for the West that Muslims should be religious," Qaradawi argues, "hold to their religion, and try to be moral."  He raises an important point.  Many Western people are also becoming uncomfortable about the absence of spirituality in their lives. They do not necessarily want to return to premodern religious lifestyles or to conventionally institutional faith. But there is a growing appreciation that, at its best, religion has helped human beings to cultivate decent values. Islam kept the notions of social justice, equality, tolerance, and practical compassion in the forefront of the Muslim conscience for centuries. Muslims did not always live up to these ideals and frequently found difficulty in incarnating them in their social and political institutions.  But the struggle to achieve this was for centuries the mainspring of Islamic spirituality.  Western people must become aware that it is in their interests too that Islam remains healthy and strong. The West has not been wholly responsible for the extreme forms of Islam, which have cultivated a violence that violates the most sacred canons of religion. But the West has certainly contributed to this development and, to assuage the fear and despair that lie at the root of all fundamentalist vision, should cultivate a more accurate appreciation of Islam in the third Christian millennium.   (pg. 190, Karen Armstrong)

And then this:

There is something in the religious culture of Islam which inspired, in even the humblest peasant or peddler, a dignity and a courtesy toward others never exceeded and rarely equalled in other civilizations. And yet, in moments of upheaval and disruption, when the deeper passions are stirred, this dignity and courtesy toward others can give way to an explosive mixture of rage and hatred which impels even the government of an ancient and civilized country -- even the spokesman of a great spiritual and ethical religion -- to espouse kidnapping and assassination, and try to find, in the life of their Prophet, approval and indeed precedent for such actions.  (pg. 208, Bernard Lewis)

The Karen Armstrong bit I understood to the degree that ideally religions make us do right.  They inspire us to live moral lives, to be compassionate, to help the weak, to be kind and all that.  However, I think many people in the United States do not want Islam to be "healthy and strong."  This is why you often hear a "whew!" sigh of relief when you find a liberal Muslim as opposed to a conservative one.  Whereas we may be fine being conservative in our own faith, we certainly don't want Muslims to be the same.  This is because we often feel taking Islam seriously and literally means they hate us and try to take over the world imposing their ideas and way of life upon us.  Is this messed up?  Is this too much stereotyping and taking what television shows and movies have shown us "true Islam" is and, therefore, it's making us fearful? Ohhhhh, real Muslims shout "Allahu akbar!" and then blow things up!  So says the media quite often.

What do you think about the West being responsible somewhat for the development of fundamentalism?  In what ways can you see this being true?  How can Westerners "cultivate a more accurate appreciation of Islam"?

What most stuck out to you from this post?  Anything you want to address? Please feel free to share your thoughts!


Nikki said...

I find that with my own parents, they wanted me to be a very conservative, Bible following Christian who 'lived' the faith: praying, attending church, following commandments, etc. etc.

As a Muslim, they discourage me from practicing my faith. They constantly gripe about zabiha meat (why don't you just eat normal food?) and hijab. I know they look down on/perhaps even fear the ritual prayers, and discourage me from reading the Qur'an, listening to lectures, attending mosques and/or religious events... basically, they think that if I'm a nonpracticing (or poor excuse of a) Muslim, that I'll somehow be...a better Christian?

I don't get it, and if they took the time to think, hopefully they'd realize their hypocrisy as well. They think I don't have God but they're the ones pushing me away from God by pushing me away from Islam. God IS in Islam, and it would be in their and my best interest to encourage me to worship God in whatever way works for ME.

Suroor said...

I didn't understand the second excerpt. How does the writer transition from the courtesy of Muslims to their explosive nature? I'm confused...

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I didn't understand the point of the second excerpt either.

I think the problem is that in the West there is a tendency to assume that "our way is the only right way", that we are more "developed" and "civilized" than other people/cultures/religions. This frameset probably dates back to the Colonial Times, but that doesn't make it any more excusable. It is the idea that "my faith is better than your faith" and, if you do things our way you'll be more "civilized". (Most) have come to see it as being okay to practice different kinds of Christianity, or even to not be religious, but to see someone deeply care about a faith that you do not understand is seen as very scary and very frightening. I think, at the end of the day, what we don't know an don't understand scares us. We need to keep an open mind for new ideas, perceptions and ways of doing things, and accept that just because we do things a certain way or believe certain things doesn't mean everyone else have to as well. To recognize that fanaticism exist within ALL religions, and that devout people exist within all religions too.

Susanne said...

Nikki, yes, I see your point of view, but I also think I understand your parents. No doubt they are not as open-minded as you about what is acceptable to God. So they care for your soul and all that and think only by returning to Jesus will you be saved. So as annoying as it is for you, I can see that it's their love for you coloring their behavior. I'm not saying they are right...just trying to understand why they act as they do. I'm sorry it's so frustrating for you! I appreciate your point of view on this topic! Thank you!

Susanne said...

Suroor, I *think* he was saying that Islam gives dignity to people and maybe he was being complimentary of how Muslims act at times. But to borrow (and tweak) a phrase "Hell hath no fury like a Muslim disrespected." Of course that goes for people of *any* religion or not, but since the book is about Islam...

That's the way I took it anyway. Since the whole book is excerpts, it leaves a lot of the story out. I just noted these because I found them thought-provoking. I'm sure others would find totally different things to note.

Susanne said...

Becky, thanks for your thoughts.

I think this is very true:

"I think, at the end of the day, what we don't know an don't understand scares us."

That's why I often encourage "my people" to actually talk to people unlike them.

observant observer said...

Hi Susan, long time I haven't been able to give comment on here. Well...work and work (and for sure fun too heheheee) took my time.

I just want to share something that I think was relevant to the conversation here, since I live in a majority Muslim society. I actually do not have any objection of Muslims being obedient and practicing Islamic teaching, it's just that I can see how impractical and how limiting the practice often can be. Just some examples of my daily interaction with them, I have a friend who veils full to obey the teaching, but she was unable to see that dogs can be nice pets. The lick of the dog makes it impossible for her to keep the pet since she has to wash in sand seven times to purify her again (I didn't laugh at her explanation for sure). She said she was happy that her friend's dog died because that dog scared away people.

Another problem, she is actually prohibited to travel with male friends, but then she also claimed she cannot survive traveling alone or with just girl friends. So she was looking for a guy whom she considers doesn't have enough "male" quality to attract her to accompany her and her girl friends to travel.....(i just keep laughing to myself about this).
She also runs away and gets bumpy if any man find her hair exposed (you know when you have to stay away from home for holidays or work etc etc). I keep saying to myself what a joke this is all about, I'm sorry but that's what i feel.

She even advised me to marry my cousin of which I (not knowing that its permissible in Islam) screamed: "what?? We are blood relatives!!". This is very odd teaching I supposed, knowing how blood relatives intermarriage can bring the bad genes to appear.

But besides seeing the oddity of these practice, I also see those things serve the mental superiority of one self, seeing one self to be more obedient, more holy and more deserving perhaps than other. It also reflects some sort of division among people, as if enjoying music is a sin, so those who don't enjoy or stay away from it are filthy. But most of my Muslims friends cannot help enjoying music, even the songs of "filthy" musician like Gaga and her contemporaries. Recently one of my Malaysian friends were lamenting because it's been officially announced by the Muslims ullema, that line dancing is prohibited.....whattttt? people go line dancing because they think it's more decent than going dancing with partners, and now this is also prohibited?? Gossssshhh!!

If the practice of religion brings more fraternity and equality, I can consider that as something to be endorsed.
I am sorry to anyone I offended by my comment, but those things are real and I can't help voiced it out, at least this media is save. I never voiced it out in front of my Muslims friend, knowing how sensitive they are.

Susanne said...

Observant, glad to read your comment now that you've taken a short break from your work and fun to write one! :-)

It's interesting to me to hear how someone in a minority position within a country feels. I read several blogs from Muslims in America who talk about things that are different for them so it's good to also hear the reverse from someone like you. I appreciate your taking time to share some things you've heard and noticed from your Muslim friends and acquaintances that strikes you as odd. :)

Hope you are doing well!