I have been reading a viewpoint on the interpretation and practice of Islam and the struggle by one courageous woman to get the ‘moderate’ Muslims to be truly moderate and outspoken in their condemnation of the herd mentality of the mainstream. It’s titled ‘Allah, Liberty and Love‘, by Canadian activist, Irshad Manji.
The author riles against the political correctness and the fear of making waves with radical ideas and the absence of the spirit of debate, criticism and questioning of the interpretations of Islam that are being handed down by the mosques all over. Interesting read though I find it a bit strident.
To the best of my knowledge, there really is no such thing as moderate Islam. Moderate Muslims, yes, but moderate Islam? I doubt if, within Islam, there are two branches or doctrines, one ‘moderate’ and the other, for a better word, ‘mainstream’. I am of course, as Spunkybong always does, writing this without any expert knowledge. Just throwing thoughts around.
I am doing this because I am concerned. My wife is a Muslim, secular in thought, moderate in her views and fully engaged in her life here in the West. The light by which folk here see Muslims in general therefore, matters to me. I see that light getting increasingly polarized. It fills me with concern.
At the same time, I am a lazy guy and hate to read up on anything concerning religion, being an agnostic myself. My blog therefore gives me the ideal opportunity to air my viewpoint without any serious research. Besides, with a context like this, concerning a religion like Islam, there has been a vast amount of serious research published but never one that has been written on an impulse, with very little contemplation, by a novice who is himself a doubter.
Please, do not take this as anything but an intellectually challenged look. If I offend your sensibilities anywhere on this post, I apologize in advance.
I knew this Muslim couple back in India. Well informed and learned they both were. I enjoyed spending time with them. They’d laugh just as heartily at the same jokes as anyone else, watch the same movies, read the same kind of stuff, go on picnics together and in short be just like the rest of our circle of friends. While the husband was more of a ‘nominal’ Muslim, not performing all the daily rituals like namaz, the wife was pretty devout and never failed to perform her daily namaz on time.
One day I asked my friend’s wife to suggest a book that I could read about Islam as a lay man. It was just curiosity, nothing else. With eagerness, she removed a paperback from the book case and handed it to me, saying that I would find it simple to understand and absorb, like an ‘Islam for dummies’ kind of book.
When I opened the paperback to read that evening, the first thing that caught my eye was the foreword. It was by a supposedly renowned Indian Islamic scholar, an academic in theological studies in the Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi.
The foreword of a book usually speaks glowingly of the book itself and its message and of its author. In this case however, there was no mention of the book or its author. Instead, it was a blistering attack of other religions, especially Hinduism. It was a sort of comparison like the ones you see on a Honda website showing a tabulated comparison between the Civic, the Corolla and the Altima, sans the checkmarks against each feature.
The venom in the tone of the foreword was something I wasn’t ready for. Derisively, it laid out in great detail all the ‘pagan’ rituals that we Hindus perform, worshiping mere clay idols and engaging in meaningless week-long puja fests. The naked scorn just threw me back. I decided then, not to mention this to them. I must confess I didn’t have any enthusiasm left, to read the book after that. However, I let the book be with me for a week so it would look like I had read it all and then one day, I quietly returned it with thanks.
I was certain that her lending me the book with such a foreword was not intentional. Maybe she hadn’t read the foreword, we usually skip it, don’t we? I am sure she wouldn’t have lent the book to me if she had realized that the foreword would be so insulting to any non-Muslim.
Fact is, she didn’t have the capacity to even realize it. While I was handing her back the book, I casually asked if she had read the foreword and she replied yes, of course she had. She went on to extol the virtues of this scholar guy who had written the foreword. She had no ill will. What the foreword had said just happened to be the truth as far she was concerned and she probably did not even understand why anyone would be offended by it.
The book however gave me something….pride. It made me proud to be an Indian, to be born in a country that allows such publications as an expression of the freedom of speech.
Salman Rushdie hid for decades for his take on something the Satan is supposed to have persuaded Prophet Mohammed to add into an edict from God. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, just a speculative effort, one of many on the subject, from various other sources. To an uninformed guy like me it certainly didn’t seem earth shattering. There was no scorn, no derogatory reference, no flippancy and certainly no venom in Rushdie’s words.
In comparison to what befell Rushdie after the publication of his book, this gentleman, this so-called ‘Islamic scholar’ who wrote that offensive and inflammatory foreword, still enjoys the status of a respected academic inside India.
Yesterday I was listening to an interview with a high ranking Republican Senator in the US. He was speaking of the need to engage with the ‘moderate sections’ of the Islamic community in the US, to try and better understand them and their needs. I wondered at what he meant by ‘moderate sections’. Did he mean regular Muslim guys who go to nightclubs, have girlfriends, smoke pot and drink, just hang out, watch porn, go hiking and camping, text and catch the internet, do facebook and twitter, work when it’s time to go to work, get married, settle down, have kids, watch baseball? Is that what he meant by moderate Muslims? And trust me, there are many Muslims who do all of the above all the time.
To me, they are ‘nominal’ Muslims, who are Muslims but don’t practice their faith religiously and perhaps know little about their religion. Just as I am a nominal Hindu and there are nominal Christians or nominal Jews or nominal Buddhists, people who go about their lives, keeping their religious beliefs in the background and only practice them on festive occasions or religious ceremonies. I have Catholic friends here who haven’t seen the inside of a church in ten years.
Are the ‘nominals’ sinners? I’m no expert but I certainly don’t think so. They can be good engaging members of their block associations. They will rush to help if they see you in trouble. They’ll babysit your kid if you have to rush off to some emergency. When you have too many guests, they’ll send you food, pillows and blankets. They will help raise funds if you cannot pay your hospital bills.
A ‘moderate’ Muslim is a devout Muslim who practices his faith, who happens to let his conscience interpret his faith and allow it to have liberal attitudes toward other cultures. He will be one who tolerates and even shows interest in the ways of others, while he continues to follow his own religion faithfully. He is not likely to subscribe to all the chopping off of hands and feet and stoning to death, etc, etc that the Shariah dictates. He realizes that even a religion needs to adapt to the changing times. But he is timid and does not want to rock the boat, does not want to offend the local mullahs, the scholars and the ideologues. He shuts his eyes and looks the other way when a Boston Marathon happens. He is only human.
Then there’s a ‘mainstream’ Muslim. He goes by the book. He may not turn out to be a terrorist but he will not condemn. He might not himself perform an honor killing but he’s likely to feel that the girl deserved it. In everything that he does, he will take refuge in his interpretation of the holy texts. And it is a given that, if one chooses to see them that way, all holy texts are filled with gore, regardless of which religion it is.
Lastly, there is the militant strain. A militant Jew killed Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzak Rabin. A militant Hindu killed Mahatma Gandhi. A militant Muslim shot Pope John Paul II. Militant Christians launched no less than eight crusades against Muslims between the 11th and the 13th centuries, fruitless acts of aggression that killed millions. Hindu Militants destroyed the ancient Babri Masjid in India in the recent past. Some of the Catholic Popes in the middle ages were nothing but murderous thugs who started inquisitions where they tortured hapless innocents. A militant Muslim doesn’t exactly stick out like a sore thumb in this list, does he? And all of them killed, thinking they were doing God’s work.
Killing in the name of religion has been a solidly integral part of human history. All this violence in the name of religion couldn’t possibly have been sanctioned by God, could it? It could only have been created, nurtured and sanctioned by the other side. In case it is not already too late, there can be only one way to deal with this grouping called militancy. It has to be wiped out. Ruthlessly. There is no longer any time for introspection and analysis.
Religion has to stop occupying the center stage. All religions, every single one of them.
Trust me, God would want it that way.