24 May 2013

Far from Mecca

It is my considered opinion that most Americans really just don't understand Islam. And why should they? In terms of sheer numbers, Islam isn't a major religious or cultural force in the United States. Lack of contact with Muslims and mixed messages about Islam in the media contribute to most people having a vague and confused notion regarding the religion and cultural force that permeates much of the rest of the world.

For my part, I certainly am no scholar on the topic, but I spent the majority of my childhood in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, and so I think I have an understanding of Muslims and Islam, experiential rather than book-learned, that most Americans do not. I woke early in the morning hearing the musical call to prayer emanating from the mesjid (mosque) in town. I accepted without question that Muslims had their holy day on Friday, just as Americans do not question having Saturday and Sunday as their weekend. I always knew when shops would be closed or have shortened hours due to Idul Fitri and Ramadan, and it didn't seem strange to me. Halal meat, prayer rugs, hajis... all these things made sense to me on a subliminal level because they were part of the culture. And by the same token, I knew simply by living in an Islam-permeated society that the beliefs and practices of Islam were very different from, and usually opposed to, Christianity. There was no "all religions are basically the same" nonsense.

If anyone had asked 10-year-old me whether Islam should be best described as the "religion of peace and tolerance", I would have snorted and rolled my eyes and proclaimed that a question too stupid to be borne. It is well known that even in largely moderate Indonesia, people who convert to Christianity from Islam are often targeted for murder by family members. I knew that even at age 10. But at the same time, aside from their killing of those deemed apostate, I wouldn't have necessarily characterized Islam as a religion of violent murderous extremism toward outsiders, because that hadn't been my observation or experience. Indonesia has plenty of groups practicing extreme fundamentalist Islam, but in the 1980s, there was little of that in my far east corner of the country, Irian Jaya in New Guinea.

Basically, I would have said that in general, Islam is a religion of laziness, hypocrisy, and treating females badly.


Debbie said...

Good blogging, Deb, keep 'em coming! And you are right, most of us know very little about this subject.

Sapience said...

In other words, the average "Muslim" where you grew up isn't much different than the average "Christian" in America?

(I'm really not sure how much snark there is in that sentence is directed at Christian Americans...)

Kiti said...

Ding ding ding, we have a winner! When I posted this, I thought to myself, "I wonder how long it will be until someone posts a comment implicitly or explicitly comparing "Friday Muslims" with "Sunday Christians". Answer: Two hours and twenty-seven minutes, by my calculation.

But to answer the question put forth, yes and no. Yes, there are probably similarities in the sort of laziness with which nominal adherents to both religions approach their practice thereof. However, by my observation, there is more blatant widespread hypocrisy in Islam, and they definitely treat their women much more terribly. For example, I once heard a story of a man in Jakarta who prostituted his daughters in order to raise money for his jalan haji (pilgrimage to Mecca), and while I've never seen the claim substantiated as anything more than hearsay, I didn't have any trouble believing it would happen, and it raises little ire in that culture, whereas in the US, it would be deemed a horrifying thing; in the tale I heard, the man was never charged by the authorities and remained a respected member of the community. What a lot of Americans don't understand is that Islam is a part of culture, in terms of civil religion, in a way that Christianity hasn't been for a long time in the US, and even then Christianity's role was only due to widespread practice of the citizens rather than an official practice of the government. By contrast, Islam and syariah very narrowly escaped being made the official state religion and law of Indonesia in 1945, and instead Indonesia is simply officially monotheistic (the first tenet of the Pancasila, the five foundational philosophical principles of the Indonesian government). The idea of separation of church and state does not exist much in Indonesia, and it exists not at all in nations where Islam is the state religion.

kat said...

mistreatment of women is a global problem---not just a Muslim one---in the neighboring Bhuddist country of Thailand---daughters are routinely sold by their parents to the Japanese Yakuza (mafia) so theu can buy a house or other luxuries, in Cambodia gangs of men routinely rape women "for entertainment" In the U.S., pregnant women are more likely to die from violence by their intimates (boyfriend/husband) than complications from pregnancy---34% of all U.S. female murders are by intimates (boyfriend, husband, ex) In India, daughters-in-law are often severly burned and/or killed by their mother-in-law..........etc
All of these statistics (and more) are on the net---look them up.

Human problems are global problems and race, religion, nationality, or any other label---does not matter.

Kiti said...

Kat - I certainly did not imply that such problems are limited to Muslims and I am certainly not ignorant of these terrible situations. I was simply discussing observations specific to my experiences as a child in a Muslim-majority country.