January 28, 2011

Good Muslims – Bad Conversations

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:45 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I have a friend who fears Muslims.  If I speak of Dr. Baharami, or Dr. Ansari, if we talk about the woman who started Muncie’s AWAKEN or  Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core, she admits readily and happily that a Muslim can be a force for good.  But any moment the conversation drifts into groups, even the local Islamic Center, just as readily and with great certainty, she insists that Muslims are bad.  Even a “good” Muslim, like the doctor we know, if she thinks of him fighting the Soviets as a young man, or thinks of his wife segregated with other women in that center, she begins to speak of the underlying hatred, oppression and violence of Islam.

One of my roles, as I see it, is to help generate thoughtful and informed conversation in the midst of a sea of sound-bites and shallow reactionary “talk.” But the currents of pop culture, like the currents of the ocean, are terribly powerful.

One of the blogs I am happy to subscribe to is ‘Sightings’ from the Martin Marty Center.  On January 27, 2011, Omid Safi posted an essay on this subject, “Good Sufi, Bad Muslims.”  He speaks clearly of the American pop cultural tendency to lump Muslims into two groups, either the violent type and their supporters, or  the non-political and “spiritual” Sufi type.

“There are many versions of this game, but the basic contour stays the same: The assertion that the general masses of Muslims are evil, terrorist-supporters, anti-western, patriarchal, misogynist, undemocratic, and anti-Semitic; and that these masses are set off and defined against either the solitary, lone Muslim good woman or man. The “Good Muslim” is often an individual, or a small circle, because to admit that the larger group of Muslims could be on the right side of the human-rights divide is to have the house of cards of the Muslim demonization game collapse on itself.”

Professor Safi, goes on to invoke the Islamic ideal of prophets and of prophetic speaking truth to power, both ideals that are central to Unitarian Universalist culture and theology as well.  He ends with these words: “If our public discourse about religion and politics is to evolve to a more subtle, and accurate, space, it must get to the point where religious voices that speak from the depths and heights of all spiritual traditions can do more than simply acquiesce in the face of the Empire. They can, and should, speak for the weak, and give voice to the voiceless.”

I hope that we all become agents of good conversation about the needs of the weak, that we affirm those who nurture justice in giving voice to the socially voiceless.

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