Sunday, August 29, 2010

I allowed myself to get embroiled in a blog conversation with someone whose objective was only to inflame, ridicule, provoke, and insult. See:
I bent over backwards to accommodate A’idah’s points, give weight to her accusations, and maintain objectivity at the same time. In the end, I had to extricate myself, and I’ve been agitated for two days.

Why? What sort of emotional complex gets activated, not only in me but in many people, when religion is on the table?  This question seems more important than the conversation we’d had in the first place. The topic was Islam, of course. What other topic, these days, inflames to the extent that Islam inflames?

Islam is the third largest monotheistic religion in the world. It’s been around for centuries. Something is right with it. The best way to address troublesome issues regarding Islam and the West is to admit that something, indeed, is right with it. That “rightness” underlies all else, and needs to be acknowledged before any of us– Muslim or non-Muslim– will be able to purge Islam and cultures of the deviations have taken hold and drawn us all under the rubble.

A’idah and I were at cross purposes, and I knew it from the start, but why did I yield to the bait? The answer lies not with the conversation, but  with me. It goes all the way back to my conversion to Islam in 1987. No, it goes back further, to my rejection of certain aspects of Christianity. No, it goes back further than that, even. Maybe it goes all the way back to birth, when my cozy world spit me out into cold, noisy air and assaulted me with tactile irritations, blinding brightness and speed-of-light motion that induced a most terrifying vertigo, followed by prodding and rubbing and the shock of my own first breaths.

Then I heard my mother’s voice.

Religion is a response to birth trauma?

Does that sound far-fetched, or atheistic?

Even as a believer in Allah, I can accommodate the idea that religion could be a response to birth trauma.

Well, be that as it may, I remain agitated, angry even, at how Islam has been kicked and slugged and stabbed and blasted by people who take pleasure in the attack, who do not ask the hard questions, do not even pretend to dig into the substance of the matter, but condemn with sweeping verbosity, and polish their skills at sarcastic dialogue with bitter, lip-licking delight.

Submission Part One

Thursday, August 19, 2010
Submission Part One

As I read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel, I want to know more about her as a person. I want to know why she became apostate rather than reformist. I want to know why she thinks in terms of an either/or dichotomy, why she condemns Islam outright, why she cannot hold even a shred of it without compromising her agenda for rejection.

She reminds me of the Christian who said to me, twenty years ago, “Either Jesus is the son of God, or he is an imposter.”

Well… what can one say to that? No, and no?

I looked for the film Ayaan Hirsi Ali made with Theo van Gogh before he was murdered. They called it Submission Part One. She wrote it, he filmed it, and I finally watched it on You Tube. I won’t even post the link; I’d  be embarrassed. The film is nothing but a perverse, adolescent gimmick, the kind of thing Ayaan, herself, might well become ashamed of, as she grows in wisdom and experience.

It’s disgusting, and actually serves to promote the abuse of women. In its blatant expression of cruelty, it goes beyond the outer limits of good taste, and ventures into a sadistic passion that a sick Muslim might indulge. It is the film for which Theo van Gogh was murdered.

After seeing the film, I watched several interviews of her, in which she staunchly maintained that Islam was backward and cruel, and could not be established in a democratic society without compromising purity.

The woman speaks clearly, softly, almost eloquently, yet her smooth skin and charming smile come from a place of youth. Her naïve pronouncements should inspire indulgence rather than death threats.

I happen to agree with her on certain points, but her tactics offend me, not only as a Muslim but as an intellectual.  On the one hand, she recommends open-mindedness and education, yet in the next breath condemns Islam– a major world religion that has guided millions upon millions of people over centuries.

She’s fallen over the edge, as adolescent rebels are prone to do. Technically, she is no longer an adolescent, but she behaves as one.  She’s wallowed in her defiance.  She’s given no wiggle-room to anyone. She’s in-your-face, and her message strikes a note of recognition in Muslims who hear it.

We know who we are. We simply don’t know what to do about it yet, but we’re not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

She Makes Us Face the Elephant in the Room

August 19, 2010

I’m reading the book Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When I first heard of this book, I ignored it, simply because I am tired of seeing sensational, dramatic stories about poor, abused Middle-Eastern women under the oppression of terrible Islam.

Now I am reading it so that I can discuss it with a group of other women who are reading it.

I was prepared to dislike this book and its author, but instead, I find myself admiring her courage, intelligence and maturity. Unfortunately, she has become an atheist, but given her particular circumstances, I’d have become an atheist, too.

She approaches Islam not from a spiritual or theoretical position, but from the grit of everyday life in a culture festering in ignorance. She was raised in Somalia. There, the justification of sadistic cruelty was based upon an elaboration of so-called divine principles not yet subjected to the light of science or reason.

Many Muslims, myself included, will turn away from problematic verses in the Qur’an, but this author points to them, jumps up and down, and makes everyone look at the elephant in the room. For that, I do not like her. She makes me realize that I’m guilty, along with many modern Muslims, of denial, and rejection of parts of the Qur’an.

I won’t cite the particular verses– we all know they’re there– the ones about polygyny, wife-beating, killing Jews, etc.

I used to think it was OK to ignore these verses. I ignored lots of verses in the New Testament when I was Christian. How else does one deal with unacceptable verses about which one can do nothing? Can one apply the twelve-step recommendation to, “Take what you need and leave the rest.”?

Before 9/11, I did just that, and so did every other Muslim I ever met. After 9/11, denial became problematic, and there’s no end of it in sight.

This book makes me realize that denial (along with its sister, rationalization) is root of the problem of Islam with the rest of the world, and yes, one can say that denial could be the root of problems in all religious disputes. Denial is just a more accurate way of saying “interpretation”. One can interpret certain verses, but others can interpret them differently, and when the verses address issues such as beating and killing, we’ve got big problems that aren’t going to be swept under the rug.

Now I Understand?

When I was growing up Christian, I was taught that I was so lucky! Those poor souls in Africa, who’d never heard of Jesus, were doomed.

Some Muslims claim that all children are born into a state of Islam –submission to Allah. Parents then infuse other religions into them. When they grow up and discover their real religion –Islam –they “revert” to the original state. This is why some converts call themselves reverts.

To the extent that all of us had no control over our births, and little more control over our deaths, we are indeed born into a state of submission.

What would happen if a child were to be brought up without any system of religious thought? I don’t mean atheism– that has its own peculiarities. What if a parent were to teach a child that God (Allah, G-d, Yahweh, Buddha, etc.) is up there, and that, “Surely, we are from God, and to God we shall return.”?

What if the family lived in a multi-cultural, free society where each resident practiced a different religion and all residents acknowledged the paths of all others as legitimate?

This question used to engage me because every person in my family practices a different religion– that’s six of them! How can I believe that only one of them will enter Heaven (ME! Me! me?), and the others are doomed? I prefer to think that Allah sits above it all, and that He permits various religions because he permits various approaches to Him, and that all systems have flaws as well as profound wisdom.

I know, I know, the Qur’an says that no religion other than Islam will be accepted, but Christianity says the same thing. Are the two equal? Hardly! Just ask a Muslim– then ask a Christian. Sometimes I wish I could become indifferent to religion. Someday I might develop that capability, but for now I still ponder the nature of divine reality, and I wonder whether we’ll all get to Heaven in the end and say to each other, “Oh! Now I understand!”