Tolerance for Islam?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

My social mojo centers around a tolerant life style. I like to surround myself with people who are balanced in their beliefs, have an open mind for other perspectives and appreciate equal opportunities and rights for different economic statuses, religions, races and sexual preferences. While I am idealistic, I remain pragmatic because life isn't perfect and there will always be extremes that inch into the cracks of a fair social foundation.

Currently I'm reading a book that is challenging my thoughts on tolerance and acceptance when it comes to certain religions. Nomad, From Islam to America, A Personal Journey is an excellent read by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is specific in her views on Islam and they aren't favorable. Ayaan was raised in a traditional Muslim family in Somali and Saudi Arabia. She was regularly beaten by her mother, grandmother and brother (which she explains is the norm in the culture because the Quran encourages the beating of women as discipline - "As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them." 4:34) and when she got her period, she was taken out of school so she would not "shame" her family by being a sexual distraction to men.

While none of this is shocking to me, she went on to discuss the sexual mutilation of women (so sex is too painful for them and there is no temptation to sin) which I was also aware of. She says this happens in the United States and that all Muslims believe the Quran is the direct word of the Prophet Muhammad and must be followed to the letter. She claims that in most cases, women are not allowed to choose who to marry, who to have sex with, what to wear, whether to work or to walk down the street.

Ayaan presents a different perspective of the "peaceful" religion. She says there is no such thing as a "moderate" Muslim because there is constantly a inner struggle to follow the word to the letter and the doctrine that is taught to all in the religion is the same and very powerful.

I was surprised (forgive my ignorance) to hear about the teaching she received from religious leaders, professors and family members about the "evils" of Judaism. Page 198 of "Nomad," "I listened to one teacher after another talk about how the Jews had declared war on Islam. I learned that the Prophet Muhammad, the holiest of all holy men, in whose footsteps we Muslims all aspired to follow, had warned of the treacherous and evil ways of the Jews. They had betrayed him and tried to kill him, for wherever there is a Jew he plots and plans to destroy Islam. He smiles at the Muslim, but deep inside he hates him. He extends his hand to the Muslim in pretended peace, all the while enticing him toward a trap of debt, debauchery and sin. I swallowed all this propaganda as the whole truth and nothing but the truth." That sheds light on the crisis in Palestine. It will likely never change as radical Islam grows and more Jews return to their "home" land.

What changed for Ayaan? How did she get out of the Muslim culture? Her father arranged a marriage for her to a distant cousin she had never met. Before the wedding, Ayaan fled Saadi Arabia where her family was living and received asylum in Holland.

From that point onward, Ayaan has risked her life to educate others on what she calls the grave injustices to women in the Muslim culture. She has spoken at colleges and received so many death threats from Muslims in the US and the world that she now has to have 24 hour bodyguards and carefully plan all public appearances. She has contact with her mother again but it is a strained relationship. Her mother begs her to turn back to Islam and constantly berates Ayaan and explains the hell she will burn in if she does not.

Christianity and Islam are similar in the presentation of doctrine. I also remember spending hours and hours listening to teachers talk about the infallible word of God, the Bible. We were to believe every word was spoken from God's mouth to the men he chose to write it down. Women are to be submissive to their husbands and never leaders in the church. The Bible studies I attended centered on how to be a good wife and a good mother, always remaining sexually pure until marriage. Purity was a concept drummed into our heads at church from a young age throughout even college. Even as a young journalist, while volunteering as a children's helper at my Southern Baptist Church, a pastor told me I would "make an excellent pastor's wife." What else was there to aspire to for a good Christian woman?

We also learned that Christianity is the only way to be close to God and go to heaven. Other religions were horribly wrong and there was an implication that Christians, of course, are better than unbelievers. That is still taught in churches today. I mention Christianity in this context because religions (to me) all seem to follow a certain pattern: A book is written by man that is inspired by God/Allah/Higher Power. It contains lists of things to do and not do and then social groups form around them. Usually the religion holds men to be in power above women.

The point of the book, "Nomad" is to ask Westerners to stop tolerating Islam as a peaceful religion. The author claims it is based on violence. Page 201, "Islam is not just a belief; it is a way of life, a violet way of life. Islam is imbued with violence, and it encourages violence. Muslim children all over the world are taught the way I was; taught with violence, taught to perpetrate violence, taught to wish for violence against the infidel, the Jew, the American Satan."

The chapter of the book that spoke to me the most was "School and Sexuality" which pertains to Muslim women. Page 164 has an interesting conclusion. "When well-meaning Westerners, eager to promote respect for minority religions and cultures, ignore practices like forced marriage and confinement (women are expected to stay home, hidden) ...they deny countless Muslim girls their right to wrest their freedom from their parents' culture. They fail to live up to the ideals and values of our democratic society, and they harm the very same vulnerable minority whom they seek to protect."

So what should we do? Ayaan says she is lucky to be a part of a group of people who have opened their minds to education and have learned to drop prejudices that were ingrained in them. She said, "In school and in university it was hard sometimes when I learned things that were contrary to the teachings of Islam. I was always aware of a nagging sense of guilt and sin." (I also experienced that when I graduated from my Southern Baptist college and got out in the real world.)

The book has given me another look at Islam and rather than have a negative view of it, my take-away is this:  I choose to live a life that does not support social norms, cultures or religions which prohibit people from having equal rights. There are extreme people in politics, gangs, clubs and sports. There always will be. Perhaps we shouldn't tolerate violence and as a society let's encourage education and a safe place for different perspectives and ideas.


Annie said...

Excellent post. I agree with most everything you said. My personal belief is that religion was created by man in means of control and power over humans and economy. The Bible is full of contradictions, and I find that most "men of God" try to indoctrine fear in their followers so they will not stray. I think this also depends on where one grew up. Thanks for sharing.

LizP said...

I have trouble with books like that where they present such an extreme view.

I really admire the fact that you read such diverse subject matter!

Denae said...

Hello, ladies. I listened to a radio interview with the author and thought she had such interesting view points that I would give her book a chance. She is extreme in her view but I learned quite a bit just reading Quran verses and feel she has some valid points. Thank you so much for reading my post!