In recent years, there has been a turn in some countries towards criminalizing basic religious practices of Islam. The ban on minarets in Switzerland passed in 2009. A huge court battle in Tennessee trying to forbid a new Islamic center. And currently, the ugly debate about a new Islamic cemetery in Texas. In all three, vague connections to extremism were made, though general ignorance was the real core. In the Texas case, there was a bogus concern that Islamic burial practices would be toxic to the surroundings- despite that Jews and Muslims bury their dead sans embalming, which gives them very little long-term danger to the environment.
How government and society should deal with extremism and terrorism is an open question for debate. What shouldn’t be up for debate, but is in many countries, is the right of people to practice their religion peacefully. If you forbid minarets, or building mosques, or burying your dead, you’re making a decision that Islam is not covered under freedom of religion. You can indeed regulate something into oblivion.
With the Texas case, I just see people fighting amongst themselves instead of standing together against genuine threats. If one day you wake up to a totalitarian state, it’ll probably not be because of a couple dozen Muslims in your town. It’ll be because the institutions of power swooped in while you were distracted.
Vice writer Gavin Haynes has a new feature out about Open Mosque, an eclectic liberal mosque in Cape Town. I think he oversells the idea that Open Mosque is unprecedented in its views (the Alevi of Turkey are millions strong, largely secular, left-wing, and gender-equal). Otherwise, I found it interesting. The idea that Islam needs a Reformation like the one Luther kicked off in the 16th century has gained much currency recently with the rise of ISIS and their so-called ‘caliphate’. This is problematic- early Protestants were extreme theocrats (anyone living in Calvin’s Geneva would let you know that), the two religions are dissimilar in a lot of key areas, and since the Reformation global industry, culture, and politics has emerged that create complications. But taking the idea of the Reformation as a potential good, let’s go on.
Haynes gives an idea as to what a Martin Luther figure would look like- TV news tends to skimp on the details of how a Reformation would work, besides moderate Muslims creating new institutions that end the reign of hard-liners. Taj Hargey has a key thing in common with Luther- going back to the core text and using it as the moral guide to society. This is a lesson that all religious people can use- going back to scripture, what does it say, and what kind of society does it put forward? What is the gap between scripture and modern day religious authority? I don’t think Open Mosque will change the face of world history like Luther managed to, but it is offering a genuine alternative. What I worry is that violence against him and his congregation will prevent the spread of new ideas.
I’m beginning a series of five meditations, each starting with a quote from a figure of a certain world faith.
I’ll start with Benedictine Catholicism, which was ever-present in my high school. The quote used I heard perhaps a hundred times in my time there.
“Always we begin again.” – Saint Benedict
Every beginning is an end. A person ceases to conduct matters one way and pursues another avenue. Life on Earth springs forth from that which has died before. It is important at these junctures- beginning and end, young and old, naive and experienced, foolish and wise- to figure out how the previous period had been a success, and also how it had been a failure. Since one begins a beginning, so to speak, with a clean slate, it is best not to sully it with the mistakes of the past. The future need not be a repeat of that which came before- but only if the reflection in the present moment is deep, honest, and the person engaging with their self truly seeks change- if they wish to have a dynamic self tied to growth, rather than a static self tied to entropy.
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