Thursday, February 21, 2008

brief comment on Islam

The Death of Musa, 14th-century Iranian manuscript

I'm very busy, as usual, but I wanted to bring everyone's attention to a good Speaking of Faith program called "Reflections of a British Muslim Extremist." It's an interview with Ed Husain, who, as the program notes state,
was seduced, at the age of 16, by revolutionary Islamist ideals that flourished at the heart of educated British culture. Yet he later shrank back from radicalism after coming close to a murder and watching people he loved become suicide bombers. He dug deeper into Islamic spirituality, and now offers a fresh and daring perspective on the way forward.
Husain's insights are very instructive. One of the points he made touched on something that I have been thinking about for awhile, which is the huge resource for change that is American Islam:

Ms. Tippett: Tell me what you discovered that really did change your life at this later point, as an adult, what you discovered in Islam.

Mr. Husain: Much of this goes back, I must say, to American Muslim influences in that you've got fascinating scholars such as Imam Hamza Yusuf Hanson from California who I was exposed to here in Britain in the late 1990s. In him and in others, I saw Muslims who were Westerners, who were American, who were English-speaking, who were intelligent and deeply erudite and connected to a sense of prophetic Islam, connecting themselves right back to the prophet Mohammed. And they embodied that persona of compassion, of justice, of love, of humanity, and it was really getting more and more sort of involved and close to people like Imam Hanson and others here in Britain that helped me intellectually come to terms with Islam, away from Islamism, the political ideology, and more importantly, discover a spiritual tradition that sits comfortably with other spiritual traditions and looking at human beings as just that, as fellow human beings, and it's not our duty to judge others and ultimately it's them and their relationship with God. It's having that inner sense of relationship with God that manifests in your actions on the outside that I personally found worked for me. I'm not suggesting this is a panacea for everyone, but it's something that worked for me, and it very much set at home with my parents and my family and friends.

Ms. Tippett: I wonder if you have a sense of why the North American Muslim experience is so different from the experience you had as a British Muslim?

Mr. Husain: My impression is that it's the fact that you have a very strong national identity that people who, as you say, fresh off the boat can come and sign up to something in America.

Ms. Tippett: And the fact that identity is more porous somehow?

Mr. Husain: Yeah, it's there. It's palpable. The American Muslims are deeply patriotic and deeply proud of being American and being Muslim. Here, we don't have that. You'd be hard pressed to find Muslims in the north of England saying that they're British Muslims. It just doesn't happen.

Ms. Tippett: So there's a different kind of foundation that new generations of North American Muslims are building on, um-hum.

Mr. Husain: Well, exactly, yes, and you see that. I mean, take, for example, the large conferences you have in America among American Muslims. I think one of the motions that was passed was that the Jewish synagogues in America were twin with Muslim mosques. Phenomenal.

Ms. Tippett: Right. The Islamic Society of North America.

Mr. Husain: Yes, exactly. ISNA conference. That's a fascinating example from which not just Europeans, but also Arab Muslims can learn in terms of maintaining positive ties between different faiths. Try suggesting something like that to the British Muslim Council here. Almost impossible. Only after six years of kicking and screaming have they decided to attend Holocaust Memorial Day. I mean, that's what we're up against. It's a good marrying up of English anti-Semitism, which is very much hush-hush, which is still out there, and then that's married up with that being very vocal from among certain sections of the Muslim community.
The creativity that a number of American Muslim have shown in reconciling an authentic approach to their religion with their American and Western identity could be a huge force for smoothing out the confrontation between the West and the Islamic world. Unfortunately, there seem to be too many people in the US that enjoy having a clearly-defined enemy so much that they refuse to let go of their misinformed prejudices. So a religion of one billion people with 1,500 years of history, two major divisions and countless numbers of schools is distilled into one simplistic formula that, to its detractors, is corrupt and violent by nature. Uninformed bigots
never tire of informing us about the danger of Islam. American Islamic groups such as CAIR are regularly demonized. Here at Columbia, the McCarthyite troglodyte David Horowitz held an event called "Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week" (imagine an event critical of the Israeli right wing called "Judeo-Fascist Awareness Week"? How well would that fly? Or an event aimed to raise awareness of how many Christians are fascist, except, of course, "the good ones"). Charlatans and lunatics command thousands of dollars in speaking fees and appear on CNN and (of course) FOX as "terrorism experts."

Of course, I don't underestimate the danger of Islamist terrorism nor do I consider that cultural differences between Muslim countries and the West are easily bridged. Still, when it is time to decide what Islam is, perhaps we should listen to the Muslims. Not Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the ones who aren't shouting so much, people like Ed Husain. The bigots will say that he doesn't represent real Islam, which is presumptuous --of course, non-Catholics have told me I'm not a good Catholic because I don't agree 100% with the pope on every issue. Putting one billion people in the same basket seems both foolish and dangerous to me.


crystal said...

Thanks for posting this. I got a glimpse of Islam not wedded to political problems of that particular geographical region but a spirituality that can flourish anywhere and without a terrorist agenda.

I read something by JD Crossan once about how religion and politics go together. He sees religion (christianity) that is just personal as kind of gnostic, and he thinks that religion should inform politics .... link

crystal said...

Forgot to say, this reminds me of how dim a view the Vatican often has of US Catholics :-)

jackjoe FRANK said...

Excellent!!! But probably one of the bigots that comment with you will insist it be pulled. Jack

jackjoe FRANK said...

In reference to your discussion about the "Oscars" on another blog. Unfortuneately some bloggers block or erase anything they might disagree with.

"Unfortuneately the enjoyment and inspirations of the arts is not as universal as it could be. Much of the blame lies not with those who deny themselves exposure to the arts, but with two attitudes, often found in one person, among those who supposedly know the arts. The snob and the connoisseur do much to create an attitude that repels many. The snob, to show his superiority, sees what many find rewarding and ridicules it as inferior. Thus, for example,Puccini to the snob, is a mere writer of tunes with no real depth. This sets the snob apart from the rest of us and does great harm to the neophyte who, beginning his journey into the realm of opera, is told that his enjoymnet of Puccini marks him as inferior.
Just as dangerous is the connoisseur who makes his usually arcane judgments solely on his own taste, feeling no need to give reasons for his judgments. The connoissuer's appeal is to his own infallible, refined taste and to question his judgment is to show one's ignorance"

John Haynes. "A Note On Artistic Standards." 2001

cowboyangel said...


Excellent post. I've been hoping for a long time that American Muslims would be heard more both in our country and abroad. You see articles now and then by Zogby - sometimes trying to explain why his polls sucked - but not much more.

Do you know how Juan Cole fits into all of this? He's known as a political analyst, and his articles and appearances on TV are always tied to the war, but his personal web site actually has a lot on Religious Studies and Spirituality.

I've also been waiting to hear more from American Jews, most of whom aren't the right-wing branch involved in the Bush-Cheney Administration that gets most of the attention in the press.

Jewish synagogues in America were twin with Muslim mosques. Phenomenal.

That's wonderful.