The Summer of Islam

burka

Don’t know much about history; don’t know much theology.

What I know about Islam isn’t from much direct contact.  I haven’t read the Koran and I don’t have Muslim friends, not because I’ve avoided them or refused to be with them; I simply haven’t had much opportunity. As a Jew, I can’t help but be concerned about what Islam means to those who seem to favor its more antagonistic precepts.

Those who are critics of organized religion are quick to point out that various faiths have had dark periods.  The stories of the Sanhedrin and particularly Caliphas don’t reflect well on some of the early Jewish hierarchy. Everyone knows about the Crusades and rampant corruption in the Catholic and Anglican churches for hundreds of years.  Even Buddhists, for whom non-violence is a central tenet, are not immune.

Today, however, it seems on the surface that most of the more serious ideology-driven violence is at the hands of radical Islamists. Major terror groups are numerous and in places such as Iraq and Syria, it seems that many Muslims are at war with each other as much as with people of different faiths.

I am not writing to get into a detailed theological or philosophical conversation about Islam and whether or not it is a “religion of peace.” It seems clear to me today, as it has been for others in the past, that how a religion is practiced is largely a matter of culture. Where people are prosperous and happy, there is usually peace. Where there is poverty and despair, it is replaced by anger and that sometimes leads to violence. In today’s society, that violence may be against those perceived to be evil in the eyes of the Almighty, especially if those people are living well.

With religious extremism, as in politics, it is often a vocal minority rather than the majority that drives the agenda.  It may very well be that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful but as Bridgette Gabriel pointed out during short historical lesson about the Nazis, Russians and Chinese, the peaceful majority is often irrelevant.  Well, I think we can at least be confident knowing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dr. Oz aren’t going to hurt anyone.

We can read and analyze the Koran and discuss what it says and it doesn’t say but ultimately, it’s about who we’ve become as human beings. Clearly there are things in the Old Testament that we consider barbaric today and don’t follow them literally. Today, most of us recognize that race, color, creed, sex and ethnicity are not grounds for discrimination and increasingly, not sexual preference either. The more advanced countries and particularly those that are democracies have clearly made more progress than others.

It’s difficult not to be thinking about what Islam means to the rest of the world during the middle of more conflict in Syria, Iraq and between Israel and the Palestinians as well. While not every critic of Israel is anti-Semitic (or for those who prefer the more politically correct “bigoted towards Jews”), it seems anyone who is bigoted against Jews is a staunch critic of Israel. It’s interesting to find today people who may not otherwise be racist or perhaps even give others a pass, as Hitler did for the Japanese and certain Arabs who cooperated in achieving the goals of the Third Reich…a major driver of the anti-Jewish sentiment in the Middle East percolating before WWII that has only increased since.

But other than my correspondence with anti-Jewish bigots and critics of Israel online, I don’t have much direct experience to speak of. There is one instance that stands out in my mind, however.

Several years ago when the kids were fairly young we went down to the San Antonio zoo. It was during the summer and it was hot…very hot. For a typical summer in South Texas most people know it’s not unusual to hit triple digits and when it’s sunny, well…it can be brutal.

So we were walking around the zoo in the heat I saw a Muslim couple and their baby. He was walking around in shorts and a button-down short sleeve shirt and sneakers, pretty similar to what I was wearing. She was covered from head to toe in a black burqa…with nothing but her eyes showing. In addition, she was the one pushing the stroller around. I didn’t think much about it at the time…I just kind of looked and her and thought, “wow…that sucks.” I felt my neck and the sweat soaking into the back of my T-shirt in the suffocating heat and shrugged my shoulders and we went on about our business.

It became one of those moments that sticks in your mind. Now, whenever I see a Muslim woman, very few of whom are wearing more than a hijab, I always remember the couple in San Antonio. I always feel compelled to stop a woman who looks friendly and say, “would you mind if I ask you a question?”

I want to ask someone why this is OK…without getting into whether or not she can drive or any of that…without asking why they don’t feel that resisting temptation is incumbent on men rather than on women obscuring their natural appearance….without asking why a man of faith shouldn’t be strong enough to behave himself.  That would be a long philosophical discussion but my first inclination is simply to find out if they really think it’s a good idea for a woman to be walking around in 100+ degree heat completely covered by a black burqa. I mean, for all I know they could have some advanced hydration and cooling system ala Dune.

But I never have. I just keep thinking about it whenever I see someone.

Most people have a lot more questions or existing opinions about Islam and with everything going on in the Middle East it’s no wonder…but for many people there is nothing quite as real as what they have experienced first hand.

I frequently quote John Adams, who famously said, “Ideology is the science of idiots.”  I personally believe that it often trumps common sense.  The reality is that it probably supersedes a whole lot more.

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9 thoughts on “The Summer of Islam

    1. mrtapeguy Post author

      I appreciate your perspective Henry but I’m going to respectfully disagree.

      I point you to the unanswered theological questions I posed near the end. You seem to set up the burqa as representative of some qualities that are supposed to come from within, not be put in place by artificial barriers. Someone whose strength comes from God (or Allah) shouldn’t need to put his woman in a shroud that turns her into something she isn’t someone else might think she’s physically attractive, nor should we expect other men to shroud their wives because of our impure thoughts IMHO. That is not spirituality or strength and it certainly isn’t freedom. It’s about control far more than the things you mention.

      By the same token, I hardly support the overly sexualized version of Western culture and find the overt display by personalities such as Miley Cyrus repugnant.

      There’s a compromise in their somewhere.

      Reply
  1. holycrowy

    Muslim women wear the niqab for a variety of reasons but all these reasons ultimately go back to pleasing God. I chose to wear the niqab because it just made my life easier. I didn’t have to think about what to wear and all those things that most young women do think about. It also gave me a confidence boost, I went from barely speaking to being one of the most vocal students at my course at uni. A lot of people look at me an assume that my male family members have pushed my to wear it. I’m the only ‘conservative Muslim’ (I guess that’s what you’d call me) in my family. My dad dislikes any form of Islamic attire so it took a while to get him on board and the rest of my family have a more relaxed/casual approach to religion. I don’t wear it for modesty, I don’t believe you have to cover your face out of modesty, majority of Muslims would say the same. I believe your physical appearance is a small part of modesty but most of it is based on your behaviour. Besides in the Quran, men are told to “lower their gaze” before women’s role in modesty was discussed. So the niqab isn’t really about stopping men from being predatory. Islam has an individualistic approach, everyone is responsible for their own actions. Theologically there’s a whole load of opinion and as religion is a very subjective thing the reality is that no two muslim really believe the same thing. We just come to a consensus on the core basic principles but after that there is freedom for differences of opinions.

    Oh and we actually don’t feel that hot. All of our clothing is loose and often really light-weight. Our clothing is made with climate in mind. Plus because the dress is flowy, the clothing doesn’t stick and make you feel warmer and it helps to allow any breeze in. On the first few days I found it hot and then I just bought clothing made of lighter cotton type fabric. And not all women who wear the niqab wear black, in the part of London I live in most do not wear black.

    Reply
    1. mrtapeguy Post author

      Thanks for you comment – very insightful!

      Obviously, wearing one is much better if it’s your choice than somebody else’s.

      You might feel a LITTLE different in the 105 degree heat in San Antonio as opposed to London, though. : )

      Reply
  2. Angela Grant

    This is a very long article based on much unscientific speculation and the absence of appropriate and vetted data. Much of the metrics required to make your claims are not measured so it is almost impossible to extrapolate. In addition, there is selection bias inherent in how this data is collected. For example, if a system arrests only poor ppl, the data will imply that poor ppl are criminals but that is only because of selection bias.

    What we do know is the overwhelming majority of POC feel the effects of structural racism. And a significant number of whites agree. We cannot let incorrect interpretation of data to ignore the fire that we see is spreading. At some point you have to start with what the people are saying instead of attempting to dismiss their experiences as trivial or lies.

    Reply

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