Friday, October 17, 2008

in which some concerns are expressed

Why is it that, when discussion of religion and people's attitudes towards it arises, when bringing up the aspects of religion that people disagree with, Islam is predominantly used as an example and/or analogy?

Circumcision, the abstinence of eating pork or consuming alcohol, chopping off hands... what's next? Do Muslims necessarily practice female genital mutilation, honor killing, the promotion of suicide bombing, all that jazz? Are Muslims to blame for democratic society's discontent with the idea of "faith"? Is Islam deservedly the scapegoat? In recent memory, especially in European democracies, there have been a number of new faith-based legislation in favor of respecting Muslim rights. Is this the straw breaking the (and forgive me for using the term) camel's back?

I find myself facing a very imposing brick wall when attempting discourse with those who abjectly reject faith in general. The usual things said are "I pity those with faith", "those with faith are indoctrinated completely, and hence cannot think for themselves rationally", or in specific cases ,"the faith itself promotes violence against the individual and/or the masses." There was a reason why I left a certain popular website promoting debate on all issues. In the end the most popular threads ended up being those based on religion, especially Islam.

What is the average person expected to say when he or she is posed with whether they believe that Islam is an organization of evil (I think at the time I last checked, it was about a 50/50 split in agreement)? Of course people are entitled to their opinion; I am not writing this post to appear didactic or confrontational, I respect everybody's opinion on any issue. Moreover, they don't even have to vote on whether they agree or disagree; it's up to them to pick a bench. The problem occurs when both sides start making antagonistic or absolute statements like "it is a fact" or "it is even stated in the Qur'an that bloodshed is prescribed."

Really? In what context?

Look, I get it. To a lot of people, religion in general is an outdated, anachronistic way of life. And that's fine. Nobody is out to get you or convert you. What I find to be uneven is the platform in which people are entitled to defend their beliefs or lack thereof. You don't have to say "I pity those with faith." That's just patronizing and belittling those who do have faith. Of course people would express at least minor chagrin at statements like those. There are plenty of academicians, researchers, politicians and other public figures who practice some religion or other. To generalize those with faith as "immature", "blind", "irrational" or anything in that vein is unfair to those who are not. After all it is their life choice.

In the end, it is the inalienable right for an individual to decide for himself or herself if religion(s) are their way of life. Furthermore I do not believe that there are, at least to my knowledge, any direct third party harms posed to those who choose not to have faith, by those who do (at least in most modern societies). Even if there are harms, the law exists to remove such harms in the first place. Everybody's rights are respected under law, religious or no.

Maybe it's just because I am a practicing Muslim in a predominantly Muslim country that I am even writing this post in the first place. But on a platform in which all views can be expressed I feel obligated to say something. Is it in my defense? Am I expressing my own insecurities in my faith by writing this? I don't think so. I am comfortable in my own skin with who I am and what I believe in. Do I look down on negative practices that my faith already forbids? Of course.

I never said I was for honor killings or female genital mutilation. Nor do I believe that suicide bombing is justified; the very nature of my faith is humanity and peace; if it is inhumane and against our basic instinct or conscience why should we practice it in the first place? Is Islam a misogynistic religion? God I hope not. We could go all day discussing the nature of the hijjab and if it is a symbol of female subjugation. Let's just put it this way; establishing that wearing the hijjab is recommended but not forced upon women, why are there Muslim women who still choose to wear it? OK, I realize by asking that question, we can go back to a response like, "because they're blinded by faith", or something like that, right? I guess the best thing you can do is ask a woman who is wearing one, why she does it.

Furthermore I do not feel that even if I were to live in a more secular environment that I would impede on anyone else's rights. I wouldn't just walk into a non-Muslim friend's house and suddenly practice my five daily prayers in his living room, would I? That's just rude. I grew up in the States, as a Muslim, and have never felt any different from anyone else. Evil, masochistic and warlike? Really? This is the kind of thinking that leads to easy categorization of anyone of faith. Oh! Fundamental Christians! Orthodox Jews! By that standard, anyone is fair game to generalization.

Sigh. This stream of consciousness shit is giving me a headache. In the end what is required in any society is that others' rights are respected. Of course if a practice goes against the social contract or public peace it should be stopped and criminalized! That's a truism in and of itself. Yes, there are practices that can be done in private, that goes without saying; religion isn't about exhibitionism, it's a personal matter. What a lot of people fail to realize is that religions prescribe moderation and mutual respect onto their believers as well. They, too are expected to respect other people's lifestyles. Love thy neighbor, right? A true believer wouldn't be a true believer unless he wished happiness and peace on his fellow man, irrespective of that person's world view.

Being judgmental on either side is a poison.

My friend Fareez once asked a question of me and my debate friends: What does it mean to have understanding between sides? Is it enough to acknowledge that one paradigm other than yours exists? It's more than that. It involves gaining knowledge and acceptance and ultimately finding something both sides can agree on.

For me, it's humanity.

I'm done. Whew. I need to sleep.

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