Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Looking at Islam from the West

In an effort to understand Muslims better I recently read two books.  One concentrated on interpretation and the other on practice.  All religions are subject to interpretation with varying degrees of credibility and all religions are used variously in practice.  Although most people do not worry about all the interpretations, ideas do have impact

"If the Oceans were Ink" was written as an effort to better understand a non western religion that is impacting our lives in ways that frighten many people.  We forget that there are many interpretations of Christianity and that people have died over their allegiances.  An old saying is that the devil can quote scripture.  When it comes to foreign religions the West has its own set of interpretations and often they miss the point.

Carla Power has an interesting background with a father who liked to take his family to far away places such as Cairo, Kabul, Teheran, Delhi so he could teach and they could learn different cultures.  She considers herself a feminist and was able to leverage her background into a journalism career.  She befriended Sheikh Mohammed Nadwi, an Islamic scholar with a unique background.  Grew up as a Muslim in India and was sent to Oxford where he became respected.  Although many of his views would be considered enlightened he took his basic philosophy from the actual Quran, more than subsequent Islamic supplements.

Carla had written for western publications, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and others explaining some practicalities of Muslims.  She decided she needed a more academic understanding and committed herself to studying the Quran with Sheikh Mohammed Nadwi.  A good choice.  Neither a radical or a liberal, but fairly conservative.

The author asked Sheikh about the Salman Rushdie fatwa authorizing his execution or assassination.  The Sheik suggested the best course would have been to ignore it.  He also seemed more "liberal" regarding women issues, although well aware of the cultural traditions and lived with them when forced to.

A recurring theme is the Shiek feels that most Muslims and Christians are more concerned with externalities that they identify with rather than the real inner spirit of their religion.

The most basic criticism of Muslims is the way they treat women.  Yet it is not based on the Quran which treats them equally claiming they come from the same source.  Mohammed never beat any woman.  Contrast with the Biblical explanation of creation where women are created from man after all the beasts have been created.

The book covers the events in Egypt up until about mid 2014.

"Headscarves and Hymens Why the Middle East needs a Sexual Revolution" by Mona  Eltahawy.  An activist, born a Muslim she has a very personal view on Muslim behaviour.  She thinks the problems are cultural.  Interpretation can be manipulated to support a wide range of behaviour.  She details sexual harassment and other forms of inequality.  I think most civilizations have passed through a male dominance filter and to some degree we Westerners, the self-righteous still have that filter, but feel superior when we view others with less equality.  Mona disparages liberal thinkers that have tolerated sexist behaviour in foreigners.

Sharia law, except in Saudi Arabia is not enforced when it comes to amputations. However many restrictions on women's freedom are enforced.  Women are kept subservient and dependent.   When Iraq invaded Kuwait, many fled by driving to Saudi Arabia which helped lead to Saudi women protesting not being able to drive legally.

What draws people to different conclusions is culture.  Some is our historical background, our nurturing and some is human nature.  Some of us like to dominate, some of us feel comfortable with the status quo and some are protective.  Mona confesses her own perspective on sex and feels that men have used religion to deny its pleasures justifying their abuses as protection.  Genital mutilations are not confined to African Muslims, but are practised in other locations and with other religions.

Just think, every litre of gas you buy helps reinforce misogyny and a few other things like climate change, pollution and despotism.  Doesn't matter that the oil source might not be Saudi Arabia, it all keeps the price up.  Unfortunately we are addicted, but making efforts to free ourselves--Let this be still more motivation.

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