A Justice Site
CSUDH - Habermas - UWP - Archives
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: April 11, 2005
Latest Update: April 25, 2005
Issues in Contemporary Islam
Sorry, I just realized that I must have stopped right in the middle of this piece to start filing with Arnold. I've got a headache, so I won't be long at this, but I'd like to recapture what I had in mind. One of the big differences I see between Christianity and Islam is the difference in acceptability of obeying authority. Americans, and as it turns out, Europeans, are basically secularists. We believe in hard work and individual achievement. And those beliefs are translated into the history of our religious values. Our forefathers came to America to escape religious persecution. They weren't terribly accepting of other religions. Each colony, with the exception of Pennsylvania, was fairly dogmatic in its demands of what was correct in a religious sense. But since most of our forefathers, at least those who were "free" and had a say in the matter, came from Europe which was largely Christian, our country also was largely Christian, and intolerant of non-Christians.
Think of the Moors of Spain who were driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella. They were "infidels." Allah didn't count in fifteenth century Christian (in this case, Catholic) belief. Reformeers had a hard time, too. Remember the witch hunts of colonial times when women tried to broach the art of healing and were deemed "witches" for their efforts. Accusations that those who so accused them were "hypocrites" was more likely to get them a "stake" than a hearing in good faith.
These contexts of persecution, refusals to hear in good faith what the Other says or believes, have gone on for centuries and continue to go on today. The Moors were frocibly driven from Spain. Arabs and Persians are regarded with fear and suspicion today by those who do not take the time or make the effort to hear them in good faith. Karen Armstrong, in Battle for God, explains one fundamental issue of difference between Christianity and Islam: Islam embraces the Golden Age of the past, the context in which Islam once knew great power and beauty. That embrace of the past, and the attempt to recreate that great past, tends to create a hierarchical society in which the great rulers of the past ruled with wisdom and justice for all people, leads Islam to resist the modern demands of the West which seeks ever growing markets and innovation and growth toward an always bigger and better future. We mustn't forget this differing perspective on where "all things good and true and beautiful" are to be found: the distant past or the perhaps even equally distant future.
To the extent that we revere the past, obedience to the "way of the past" holds greater value than an individual understanding of a "truth" which may never trickle through to the masses, uniting them into one great nation-state or community. To the extent that we see individuals as capable, in addition to obedience within tolerable limits, of discovering "truths" not accepted in the dominant discourse before, we are more likely to value obedience less than the progress, if such is possible since the enlightenment, towards greater understanding of "what is out there in our world" and "what might be out there in all of creation." To the extent that we value obedience less, we are also dismayed by the arrogance of "knowingness," of any human assuring us that he/she "knows" the answer to the major social issues that we face today. None of those issues presently offers us the capability of objective scientific explanation, not even the issue of whether the earth is round or flat, and one would think we could have figured that out; it isn't even a social construct.
The site I offered at the start of this piece will give you some idea of the issues as presented today. The one that seems most overwhelming to me this semester is the role of woman in Islam. The Death of a Princess was recently presented on PBS, reminding us that woman, in Islam, must obey, or die, in some contexts, even in modern times. Even though I had meant to write on this, the whole panoply of ceremonies that followed the death of Pope John Paul II brought this ever more insistently to the forefront, and sickened me at the thought of trying to pull a brief summary together for you. The role of woman and gender, of sexuality in an ever more complex social world, of obedience versus a search for one's personal understanding and relationship to one's God or to no God, of morality in an increasingly secular world, and of our commitment to the elite or to the masses of people all burst forth.
The average Muslim, like the average Christian, is very likely to be able to accept the Other's ways of living. It's not the average human, struggling in a fast track world to make ends meet, to find a few moments of leisure, and to celebrate such life as we are blessed with, who make the decisions that determine the wars and fight the battles of present day issues in religion and in politics and economics. It is the outliers. Those who, for whatever reasons, aggressively take on these issues as though they were the only ones that matter in the whole array of issues as humans learn to live with other humans.
Now, please follow these thoughts through to next week's My world and welcome to it. jeanne