Posted on September 20th, 2012 | Filed under Challenges, Community, Featured, Interfaith, Intra-Faith, Leadership, Learning, News, Philosophy, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Theology
Tagged with 9/11, Eboo Patel, Extremism, Islam, Jesus Christ, justice, love, Muslim, Qur'an, Rick Perry, sarah palin, Service, Sikh, Terrorism, unity, World Peace
Islam is a religion unlike any other, says Redditor TomatosauceTheMessia. Reflecting on the problem of "Freedom of Religion" this forumite says, "We have many different religions, and many different cultures here in Belgium. None of them posed a big problem, but Islam really is an exception." What does Tomatosauce mean?
In Belgium, like many other countries in Europe, there has been an increase in the Muslim population. This rise has created cultural distinctions which have, for better or worse, caused conflict. Tomatosauce says, "most religions and most cultures are compatible with Belgian culture and law, and just fit in. Islam however, is not just a religion as how we here define 'religion.' Islam is a whole package. Islam contains a political system, economic system, justice, education, culture and religion."
Without discounting the very real feelings Tomatosauce and many others around the world are having, let's talk about this problem for a minute.
In America, especially since 9/11, there has been a marked increase in hostility towards non-Christian religions. Well, this is not to say it is new, but it is to say it is more apparent. Where the idea of the "Freedom of Religion" has more or less been taken for granted as a matter of fact, lately it seems to be a freedom to be non-Christian so long as you fit in our traditional Christian context. Just ask Rick Perry.
It goes without saying, not all Muslims fit the package described here. There are many Muslims in Europe and America, and of course all around the world, who are more or less secular. By this I do not mean non-religious, I mean they are able to engage in public discourse without their religion's supremacy being the central motivation to their concept of the common good. This does not mean they do not have religious morals or even a religiously-motivated philosophical structure which informs their politics, but that they recognize the plurality of individual opinions and, by varying degree, respect and appreciate this.
This is not the case with all Muslims, however. As you probably know, in the last week and a half there has been a major increase in violent protest in the Middle-East (including, or specifically, North Africa). It has resulted in many deaths, including the death of Americans. Obviously, this is a no-no. You do not kill a Roman under the Pax. We saw rebellions against American embassies in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya as well as against British and German embassies in Sudan. All supposedly motivated by the creation of a movie which criticizes Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.
This caricature of the problem seems entirely misleading. The protests surely cannot be from this alone, as hostility in Muslim-dominated countries against Western culture is not new. But then you have to ask, why?
I do not want to paint a picture of the entire political-cultural situation in the Middle-East because I am not nearly informed enough to do this. But surely much of it comes from our occupation of their countries, our meddling in their politics, our treatment of Islam by our media, and our apparent distrust of their religion as being genuine or valid. This is not what Tomatosauce is doing, however. In fact, I found this article to be a refreshing take on the problem that steers clear of the blaming "Muslim Extremism" rhetoric and also the more-forgiving notion that the problem is greatly overstated and that it's merely a small minority so we should not bother calling a spade a spade.
There is a cultural shift happening all around the world and Islam is a big part of it. The problem exists. In many ways, Islamic culture is incompatible with liberal Western culture. That is not to say many Muslims have not found a happy medium, as I said earlier, but when two objects collide there is always damage. Greater tolerance of homosexuality, our theory on women's rights, and of course our separation of Church and State are in fact major problems for many Muslim people.
In history this has not always been the case, as many countries, including Iran, have been more aligned with these things in times-past. Look at England, where the common convert to Islam is a 27 year-old white female. Our way is not necessarily better, it is just different.
I had the opportunity to have dinner with Muslim interfaith activist Eboo Patel last week while he was here at Union Theological Seminary and I appreciate his approach to this problem. It is not only about dialogue, per se. It is about bridging the gap of multiple faith traditions through one common goal: service.
He told us of experiences where they would work with many people who had divergent views and simply never dealt with this because, well, it did not exactly matter. They had houses to build. That is not to say it is an unimportant aspect of his work, because it is. It is central, in fact. But it is important to recognize not all difference can just be settled fair and square, especially not in an immediate way.
Moving from this, what do we do? Here at State of Formation I would wager most of us know Islam is not a problem in the way it is often presented to us. Many Muslims are model citizens both in Europe and in America. We know that as Prince Charles says, "extremism is, by definition, the exception."
But we also know that there is an apparent rise in extremism, and extremist tendencies. Not only in Europe and the Middle-East, but here in America as well. And, more importantly, not only in Islam, but also in Christianity and other ideological forms.
The Sword of Cleavage is separating us even further than any force uniting us. Or so it seems.
When our "best television series" of 2011, Homeland, is about a Muslim infiltrating our government, and many more conservative voices call President Barack Obama a Manchurian Candidate and secret-Muslim, what are we to do? How can we move past the sort of fear-mongering which causes us to act irrationally?
I strongly suspect Homeland's tagline "It Hits Home" is not all that far off from the truth. One of last week's "attacks" was a threat to college institutions around the country, causing evacuations. But interestingly, it is not only Muslims I am concerned about. Radical Christian extremists, like in the case of the Sikh Temple shooting recently, are probably going to increase too. Do not be surprised if, once again, it hits home.
Tomatosauce's survey of Islam in Belgian culture is an interesting one. Because it assumes that Belgium, like America, is actually secular. That we actually allow for a true Freedom of Religion. But the truth is we don't.
Ask yourself, when is the last President we had who isn't a Christian? Ask yourself, who is the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives? Tomatosauce is pointing out that Islam, as it is being practiced, is incompatible with their culture. And maybe it is! But that does not mean that "Islam" is necessarily the problem.
The thing that interests me most of all is that it seems Christianity in America is making some of the same ideological shifts that Islam is in Europe and the Middle-East. It is moving towards "extremism" in the sense that it is opposed to the shifts occurring and is, in a death-throw, trying to cling on to their God and their Sword (or guns, if you will).
I would say that Islam is not exactly an exception. The version of Islam Tomatosauce is talking about is as true as the extremist Christianity which is on the rise in America. It is real. People who are absolutely sure their way is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no God but God and our Prophet is its Prophet! Or something to that effect...
So, what do we do? What is the answer? I like Patel on this. Let's stop competing and start cooperating. Let's integrate as best as we can and recognize that differences are what they are. As Tomatosauce said, "Islam is a whole package. Islam contains a political system, economic system, justice, education, culture and religion," but let's not forget that so is Christianity. Every one of those categories is just as developed and implemented in Christianity. Let's serve the World together.
Afterall, what would Jesus do? "Thou shalt Love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart, and with all thy Soul, and with all thy Mind" And remember the Qur'an when it says, "do not argue with the People of the Book except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them and say, 'we believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is One; and we are in submission to Him.'"
So Love thy Neighbor as Thyself. And even if these tendencies are indeed on the rise, Remember, Remember the Eleventh of September. Where there was once the Two Towers, there will be only One.
Image via Wikimedia Commons