(CNN) President Donald Trump’s speech Sunday will likely be met with skepticism and frustration in the Muslim world, according to experts in the Middle East who said his sudden shift in tone on Islam was unconvincing.
A self-proclaimed “angry brown man” rants about Islam.
Islam is whatever a practicing Muslim says it is for them. Period.
If you are a religious layman and your journalism diet consists of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, then your only interaction with Muslims is when an anchor is narrating coverage of a terrorist attack in Paris or London. Panic, brown bodies and explosions are the only thoughts a majority of Americans associate with Islam. As far as they are concerned, there is no difference between a “radical moose-lamb” terrorist and any other Muslim. Islam is Islam; Christianity is Christianity. Done deal. No-go zones in British cities and the oppression of women! “They” are incompatible with “us.” “They” hate democracy and are jealous of how wealthy and powerful “we” are. And that is that.
Unfortunately, this is not a fringe belief. Powerful people in Western governments hold these views. The religious and cultural illiteracy around the world and especially in halls of power is shocking. Politicians like Rep. Steve King, R-IA, President Donald Trump and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon view the world in black and white. Good and evil. Christianity and Islam.
Religions are first and foremost social and cultural phenomena. They are not top-down monolithic entities but are inseparable from class, race and gender. In Muslim majority countries, socioeconomic status and the urban-rural divide are far more predictive of social and cultural views than simply “being” a Muslim. Indeed, there exists no singular form of Islam, just as there exists no singular form of Christianity. The issue of the veil? Cosmopolitan or upper-middle class female Muslims often do not wear a hijab, and if they do, many choose to do so under their own volition.
There are many people today who argue Islam and Christianity are locked in a civilizational war, a view that has become a rationale for a number of the Trump administration’s policies.
This argument, however, is an inaccurate and simplistic assessment of the relationship between these two faiths. Quite distinct from the apocalyptic struggle many espouse, an examination of the foundations of the Islamic faith shows respect for Christianity.
Islam is part of the same Abrahamic tradition as Christianity. Key figures within the Bible — Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), Mary (Maryam), and Jesus (Isa) among others — are all respected prophets and figures within Islam. There is a chapter in the Quran about Mary and, within the Quran, Jesus is the only person who can perform miracles.
Within Islam, Christians and Jewish people are therefore treated as “People of the Book” whose rights and religious traditions were to be fully protected as monotheistic faiths with revelations understood to be earlier versions of the same revelation to the Prophet of Islam.
The protection that Christian communities were meant to receive under Islam was enshrined in a letter of protection from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai in the early seventh century. This letter promised the monks that, under Islamic rule, the Christian community, as a “people of the book”, shall have the freedom to practice their religion and be protected from any unlawful interference or molestation, whether in their communities or while traveling. Distinct from a war with Christianity, Prophet Muhammad further stated, “No one shall bear arms against [Christians], but, on the contrary, the [Muslims] shall wage war for them.”
The respect that Muslims have for Jesus in particular is demonstrated by the verses of Hafez, the most famous and beloved of Muslim poets from the 14th century. In one stanza, he writes, “I am a hole in a flute that the breath of Christ moves through/Listen to this music.”
A new book argues that conversations about Muslims in America and Europe are about more than rights and freedoms.
Controversies over Islam take somewhat different shapes in Europe and the United States. While France attempts to ban burkinis, or full-body bathing suits worn by some Muslim women, U.S. state legislatures attempt to ban the use of sharia law in American courts.
And yet, argues Nadia Marzouki in her new book, Islam: An American Religion, anti-Islam arguments in the West have become “surprisingly standardized.” It’s “no longer possible to discuss Islam’s place in Western societies without systematically invoking a series of normative oppositions: good/bad, moderate/radical, faith/law, West/Muslim, modernity/tradition, and so on,” she writes. “For a majority of Americans and Europeans, Islam remains an opaque object that one is unable to think of in any way other than as a problem, threat, or retrograde legal code.”
It’s not enough to understand this simply as Islamophobia, argues Marzouki, who is a research fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. She believes Islam has become a cipher in Western societies for the tough questions of secular, liberal democracies: how much to champion liberty over equality, for example, and whether legal rights should entitle Muslims to fully express their faith in public. As much as Europe and the U.S. have different histories and legal traditions, she claims, anti-Muslim groups in both places share their discomfort with these challenges.
Apparently, Pew Research projects that Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion by the year 2070. This projection is based mainly on birth rates – Muslim women have more children than other religious groups, at 3.1 per woman for Muslims versus 2.3 for others. In addition, the average age for Muslims is seven years younger – 23 – than other religious groups.
Naturally, many American Christians, especially conservative-evangelical types, are terrified. Many already hold persecution complexes, and this knowledge seems to vindicate their xenophobic fear that “they” are taking over (even though by the time Islam becomes the world’s largest religion, Muslims will still only make up about 2% of the US population).
Reactionary violence aside (and no matter what happens, reactionary Christians gonna react), this impending de-throning of Christianity as the world’s largest religion is the best thing to happen to Christianity since the Reformation. Finally, at long last, Christians will have to wake up.
No more can we rest on our laurels, assured that we’ve somehow “won” the game of religion. No longer can Christian spiritual arrogance and chauvinism stand when Christians are a minority.
It will no longer be enough that we have converted the most people, or hoarded the most wealth. Churches will no longer be able to fall back on the argumentum ad populum.
It appears that Steve Bannon believes Islamic values are antithetical to almost everything that’s American and even that Islam today is essentially violent. At the same time, college students in my Introduction to Religion are certainly aware of the slogan that “Islam is peace.” Therefore it cannot be associated with disagreement and certainly not violence in any way. (One might just as easily quip that Christianity centers on “Jesus, the Prince of Peace,” and with that, we can be done with the history of violence in the name of Christ.)
To my mind, worst of all is the idea that “my religion” isn’t violent—and when it is, it’s not my religion. (And conversely, “your religion” is always violent.) Even the great Christian thinker Blaise Pascal realized that this is a phony rejoinder (the “No a True Scotsman” defense) and commented scathingly,
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Pascal
(If this topic doesn’t seem important question, can I remind you that this week Trump signed a revised travel ban, targeting Muslim-majority nations?)
Actually, none of these actually describes us what Muslims and Christians are doing today, or have done throughout the years. At the center of this controversy over religious violence lurks the human tendency toward oversimplifications, especially what is one of the most difficult realities to figure out: human nature… especially when fueled by religious devotion.
SAN JOSE — With signs that read “Ask me anything” and “Meet a Muslim,” dozens of young Muslim men and boys in the Bay Area and beyond stood in public places Saturday in hopes of combating Islamophobia simply by talking with people.
The first “Meet a Muslim Day” was held in at least 50 cities and 120 locations nationwide. In the Bay Area, Muslims participated in San Jose, Antioch, Mountain View, San Francisco, Pleasanton, Berkeley and Pleasant Hill. The event was organized by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association USA, a Maryland-based group that works with an estimated 5,000 Muslim boys and men spread across 70 chapters nationwide.
It was something Iftikhar Khan had never done in his life. The 38-year-old San Jose resident brought his son, Rizwan, 10, and neighbor, Raees Qadir,14. The trio stood on Paseo de San Antonio near the Fairmont Hotel downtown.
“A large percentage of America has never met a Muslim before. And the perception of Muslims is that we’re violent and dangerous — and people are afraid of us,” Iftikhar Khan said. “It’s not surprising, to be honest, that people have that perception because there is a lot of violence in the world, and a lot of it is perpetuated by Muslims. But the vast, vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are peaceful. Our religion means peace. Literally, the word Islam means peace.”