Brussels – All over the globe, the Muslim community finds itself caught in the middle of strenuous societal debates. With Islamophobia on the rise in the West and extremism in the name of Islam growing in the East –evidenced by sectarian violence in countries like Egypt, Syria and Pakistan – the debate is often presented as a clash between Western values and Islamic fundamentalism. Few people are aware however, how much internal debate is going on within the Muslim community itself. Old ideas are challenged, new groups are forming and all sorts of evolutions take place that do not fit the crude dichotomies of “secular versus religious” or “democracy versus Islam” that politics and the media so often adhere to when discussing current events.
For someone with a background in anthropology and theology, this intrigues. I therefore decided to look up some of the most influential spiritual leaders and artists from the Muslim world and dialogue with them about these momentous changes on the crossroads of religion, culture and society. I wanted to learn more about new ideas which are bubbling up in Muslim societies and I hoped to find some novel insights that could show a way out of the present day discourse of dichotomy.
I gathered all these talks on a website and called the project Halal Monk. It seemed like the proper name for these interreligious conversations and my journey through Islam as a Christian.