By behaving badly, I don’t mean Muslims not praying or transgressing personal morality. I mean things that violate someone else’s humanity and dignity. You know, things like genocide, terrorism, enslavement, child abuse, and violence against women. How do Muslims come to terms with the atrocities committed by other Muslims?
Should their actions cause a crisis of faith? Should we reflect upon our core beliefs to understand why the trans-Saharan slave trade occurred, why genocide is going on in Darfur, why there is still the enslavement of blacks in Mauritania, why female genital mutilation is praticed in many parts of the Muslim world inluding Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and in some parts of the Levant and Iraq? Or should we Muslims try to defend our faith and seek the core spiritual truths. Do we explain that these actions were due to cultural practices, even though the perpetrators may sincerely believe that they are doing some actions in the name of the faith? How do we come to terms with the fact that religious ideology is used to justify all sorts of brutality?
My understanding of these issues have been shaped by my training as a Western scholar. But there is the part of me whose identity is tied up with the cultural religious complex called Islam. Although I try not to let my faith blind me from seeing historical realities, my identity shapes how I understand those realities. I have read several articles that make broad generalizations in their critiques of Muslim/African encounters and Arab/African encounters. Often Arab and Muslim are depicted as synonomous. Right now, Arabs are the only ethnic group that it seems generally okay to say vehemently racist things abou them. Many Arabs are Muslim, but clearly not all Muslims are Arabs. In fact the majority of Muslims come from Indonesia. Few people have bad things to say about Indonesians. But I digress.
I am in a society that is largely hostile to both my race and my religious beliefs and practices. Our communities tend to circle their wagons and in this defensive position we are less likely to be introspective or reform driven. Instead, any criticism from outsiders is taken as an attempt invalidate our beliefs and identity. But this does not mean that we should focus on defending our beliefs and cultural practices against important critiques. The truth of the matter is that Muslim women are still not able to secure the rights accorded them in the Shariah. There is a huge difference between High Culture, popular culture. Doctrine and ideology does not determine the actions of individuals. Instead, a full range of overlapping and conflicting interests can drive why individuals and groups choose to do certain things. What I think is important is to expose how individuals manipulate the naivete of their followers. It is important to look at the political economy of any movement. It is essential to look at the material motivations, as well as consider whether or not spiritual beliefs were sincere. And just because someone is sincere in their beliefs, that does not mean that they are not misguided. This is why it is important to move beyond the Us/Them mentality. The Us/Them mentality is really the thing that allows us to behave badly against other human beings. Anyways, that’s my thoughts for now. This meditation will continue…