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.