Over the last few months, the rancor against Islam has been mounting among certain religious folks. Rumors are passed around as truth, false accusations are flying and emails are being sent to and fro with horrific messages of hate and intolerance. The very ideals that these people hold up to those of Islamic faith.
As an average, 'Christian' member of this country, I know very little about Islam other than a few vague ideas. I had, up until today been trying to ignore most of this storm around me. This evening, however, a friend sent me an email about former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, and his views on multiculturalism in Australia. His basic premise is that Australia belongs to Australians, and if someone doesn't like the rules there, then they shouldn't try to immigrate in the first place. If everyone bows to the most vocal/intolerant group of citizens, everyone will either become that group, or all group identities will be lost. ( Link to article in the Sydney Morning Herald ) The email concluded with the hope that Americans reading it would "grow a backbone" and subscribe to the same policies.
Although I understand his view, and see merit in his goal, I can not agree that it is Right, or that we in America should subscribe to such an ideal.
First, regardless of the past, there is no one religion with an overwhelming majority in this country. General Christianity accounts for 75% of the population, Secularism 13% and then Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and a bunch of other minority religions making up the other 2%. Some seem to think that this means that they, as Christians, have the Right to impose their personal religious beliefs on everyone else in the country as they are "the majority". But, if you break down this broad category, you find that of the total population there are 25% Catholics, 16% Baptists, 7% Methodists, 3% Presbyterians, 2% Pentecostals and 2% Episcopalians/Anglicans, 1% Latter-day Saint and the other 21% being made up of small Protestant denominations.
Following the logic pronounced earlier, since Catholics are the largest denomination, they should be able to dictate the way the rest of society is run. As a whole, Protestantism is larger than Catholicism in the United States, but, just as there are huge differences between Catholics and Protestants, so there are between the various Protestant denominations.
If you were to impose a religious observance to the governing of this country, an you were to choose Protestantism as that religion, which denomination would you choose? The Baptists? The Methodists? These groups are separate because they believe different things, they are different. Just as we have (or should have) the right to be equal, to all have the same opportunities, we should also have the right to be different, to be separate. The difference: it's our choice.
Back to the reason I'm writing this post. Why is there such a backlash against Islam? Fear. Fear of another attack in America (those only happen in other countries), fear of something that's different, fear that has been cultivated since the crusades.
After receiving this email, I decided to take a look at Sharia Law, the moral and legal code that governs all religious Muslims. There is more than one interpretation and execution of these laws, but they were first put into place when Islam was a young religion. After reading through these laws, I was amazed. For its time, it was hugely liberating, forward thinking and just. Today we can see it's flaws, but it was much closer to liberty of thought, liberty of action (within bounds) and liberty of belief than almost any European law at that time, or even centuries afterward. Even today, with a few exceptions, it is a fair and just legal system.
If you read the Qur'an, you will find it to be full of kindness, honesty and admonishments to fulfill your potential as a human being. There are also parts that are less benevolent, or even sinister. But, the same can be said about Judaism, and Christianity, there are parts of their scripture I could never adhere to, and neither do they, although all three groups will tell you that their religious book is completely true and written by God.
In the medieval period, the Islamic world was light-years ahead of Europe in terms of science, society, justice, hygiene, arts, and pretty much everything else. People tend to think of them as barbarians, but their heritage is greater than our own, and we could do better to remember that.
Instead of spreading fear of a religion or a whole group of people, we should be trying to root out what is actually evil: the idea that one group is better than another, the idea that one pattern of government is the best for everyone, the idea that everyone is the same or should be, the idea that government should interfere with matters of belief and on and on and on.
These evil ideas don't just live in the hearts of Muslim Extremists, but in the hearts of my friend who sent me that email, millions of Christians in this country who are preaching against Islam because they can, or are trying to force their brand of Christianity onto the rest of us, whether Christian or not. They say, prayer in school is good! but only their variety of prayer, if every schoolchild was required to even be present at a school-wide pagan ritual for peace, there would be an outcry. And why? for the same reason there is an outcry (although smaller) against any other religious ceremony being forced on young children.
Personally, I think all children should be presented with all religions at a young age to foster tolerance and understanding, but that is also frowned upon by the religious in this country (afraid that their children will be indoctrinated and fall away... that brings up the question, what's so bad about the other religions that you wouldn't want your child practicing it? Maybe that's where tolerance needs to start - a whole generation of children who leave their religion for another - breaking up the immovable force that is parental disapproval).
Finally, if every country had a "state religion" whether enforced or not - but one that was considered de-facto, where could anyone go and be guaranteed religious freedom? I wish every country had tolerance for those with beliefs not their own, for those small groups of people who suffer because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
John Howard might think that his country was founded on the ideals of Christianity. But, the people who founded that continent had a very different idea of the universe, and now these are some of the very people that he is wishing to exclude with his (and their) government.