As the Muslim World embarks on Ramadan, I take this time to pause and reflect. For me, Ramadan is not only about not drinking or eating during daylight hours. I believe it is a time to learn and grow, personally and as a community. If we are not willing to look at ourselves from within, self-destruction is inevitable.
I often equate the Muslim World as it is currently to the Dark Ages in Europe. Reactionary, literal, and conservative. We allow religious scholars in our community to scare us into conformity with the looming threat of hell. Let’s take a look at many of the religious scholars of the day. They’re patriarchal and dominating of women, making arbitrary rules as they go. For example, in my mother’s time, no one said anything about a woman wearing nail polish. Someone actually sat down and decided that religiously this should not be done. Based on what? Nail polish didn’t even exist when Islam was founded. Some man chose to fixate on some picayune detail and decreed that women should not be allowed to wear nail polish. In a world where human beings willfully enact oppression and destruction on other human beings, our divine, omnipotent creator is actually taking the time to concern himself with a woman wearing nail polish. Not only will he frown upon her doing that, he will not accept her prayer when she offers it because this bit of varnish makes her impure in some way. Or so some would have us believe. Another more serious example is the decree that a woman has to produce four witnesses to prove rape. That’s for adultery. Shaming a woman after a trauma is inflicted upon her is not Islam. It’s men protecting other men.
Ironically, the Muslim World experienced its enlightenment when the Western World experienced its Dark Ages. During the Golden Age of Islam, the caliph would have his astrology chart done. Now, you can barely jest about your horoscope. Our Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Aisha was a renowned scholar and warrior. He made no distinction between the education of men and women. He enjoined all his followers to seek knowledge. Now in certain parts of the world, education for girls is commodity. How can any community progress if half of its members are stifled and kept ignorant?
This gender inequality is not surprising because our community has never really been unified. As soon as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) died, the schism between Sunnis and Shiites occurred. We couldn’t even agree on who our next leader would be or how that leader was chosen. Today in parts of the Middle East, these groups kill each other. Religious groups that have surfaced are persecuted where they are found. When schisms occurred in the Catholic Church, violence ensued. However, as people gained knowledge the violence became less prevalent. I have never heard of the various Jewish sects killing each other in modern times. Because of the unity or peaceful coexistence of most of the Judeo-Christian world, these communities have flourished.
However, the Muslim World is in a precarious state. Republican nominee Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country. Did he alienate himself with that statement? No, he went up in the polls. This shows that a lot of fear and ignorance exists in regard to Muslims, a fear that we can help dispel by being active in our communities. So many times, I see and hear people express disdain for American people and the values of American culture. The sooner we see ourselves as part of American culture and recognize the value in it, the quicker we can allay the fears of the rest of the world. The progressives among us have to step forward and show the world our diversity. The sooner we become more a part of this culture and teach through our example, we can show the value in our culture.
Before we can start that process, we have to be able to coexist with each other. The conservatives and the moderates have to stop judging each other and being leery in each other’s presence. No one has the right to judge anyone’s Muslimness. Yet, we do it to each other all the time. Conservative vs. progressive. Hijabi vs. Non-hijabi. Convert vs. Muslim-born. (I refuse to say “revert” because that term further separates us from the rest of the world just by the inherent superiority in it). If we don’t accept each other for whatever level of the spectrum we are on, we will continue to be a community divided.
One of the best examples among us regarding evolution of beliefs is the recently crossed, Muhammad Ali. He started as a follower of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. As he studied with different leaders, he became a Sunni. Throughout his life, he was a practicing Muslim. He raised his children, and some of them practice and some don’t. Regardless, he continued on his own path that eventually became more spiritual. Along the way, he managed to become one of the most beloved figures throughout the world.
As a community, we must be introspective. We must let go of our rigidity. We must recognize that Islam has diverse faces, and they should be embraced, not resisted. Muhammad Ali said, “A man who views the world at 50 the same way he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” If we don’t evolve as a community, we will have a hand in our own obliteration.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…