Saturday, July 16, 2005

In search of normative Islam

Dr. Mohammed T. Al-Rashid writes in Arab News that when it comes to London, he'd "rather it spoke one language and had one nationality"--English and British, specifically (whew!). Still, it seems the baby is destined for the gutter along with the bathwater. I'm not a fan of multiculturalism, but neither do I like the idea that if we can't play nice, the party's over and everyone goes home. To quote a certain angel-dust-smoking, arrest-resisting American: "Please, we can get along here." Well, we should be able to get along, except that some of us are insane. As much as I like Al-Rashid's call for Muslims to "clean house," he undermines his own argument by repeating the increasingly worn-out line that Islam is basically benign.

Islam, in its normative form, will live side by side with other faiths and nationalities. But some Muslims, as is seen today, are not ready for cohabitation. Sure enough, the majority of Muslims, and I am one of them, would say that they can do so, but unless we as Muslims clean our house, the issue is rather academic.

A "normative form" is one that is evidently typical, and necessarily more common than any other form. Where does Al-Rashid get the idea that Islam typically coexists peacefully with other faiths? (Nationalities is another matter. Though Islamists harbor nationalistic prejudices like the rest of us, the ideal of world-encompassing Islam is necessarily a "big-tent" affair.) More Muslims live in Indonesia than in any other nation, and there we see churches firebombed and non-Muslims expected to adapt to Muslim codes of dress and behavior. Then we have Iran, where a military officer is on trial for converting to Christianity without informing his superiors (see my earlier post on this case). Saudi Arabia, where possession of a Bible will get you arrested and saying mass can get you tortured. Muslims in the south of Thailand have taken to beheading Buddhists to demonstrate their eagerness to live side by side with other faiths. The Taliban refused to live side by side with statues of Buddha, so actual Buddhists were clearly out of the question. And as Al-Rashid mentioned in his essay, the Egyptian envoy to Iraq was killed last week by jihadis who accused him of refusing to regard Christians as kafir, unbelievers to be shunned. (Oddly, the envoy knew his Koran better than his captors, since it suggests with typical inconsistency that Christians and Jews, as "People of the Book," may not qualify as kafir.)

A big part of the problem is that Muslims around the world today waste their time picking over mental garbage like the question of who is kafir and who is not, instead of pursuing modernity, prosperity, and peace. The enormous popularity of internet fatwa services demonstrates how the umma cannot shake this habit. On-line imams now field questions from young Muslims around the world curious if they can befriend Christians (the answer is no, unless it is to convert them to Islam), if they are permitted to initiate greetings with non-Muslims (the answer is no), or if committing a crime against an infidel is the same as doing so against a Muslim (the answer is no). I'm sorry, Dr. Al-Rashid, but your vision of normative Islam hardly even describes British Islam, and it's way off base with regard to Islam around the globe.


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