Well, I had my lunch with a Muslim yesterday (I’ve decided to leave his name out of this post). And I must say that, despite getting on famously in conversation, there are enormous ideological gaps between the two of us. I came away with the following observations:
- Contemporary Islam is a very rigorous, insular, and particularist path through life. As such, it is an orientation toward God and the Ummah (the community of believers) that functions, by its very nature, as pushback against secular and Western cultural trends.
- There’s just not a lot of wiggle room for the Islamic agenda and the secular agenda to meet. For a liberal secularist like me, talking to a Muslim is like Barack Obama talking to John Boehner: we can have a round of golf, and we can perceive one another’s humanity across the ideological gulf that separates us, but we can’t really split too many differences between us.
- I heard a hilarious campaign slogan for the Republican Party recently: “Repeal the 20th Century: Vote Republican.” That, too, seems apt for Islam. Gay equality? Women’s rights? Evolution? No, no, no. Islam is, in a number of ways, conservatism on steroids. But at least, insofar as I know, American Muslims aren’t hell-bent on repealing the New Deal!
- Muslim women are always going to be in a position of submission and inferiority in relation to males within any seriously practicing Islamic community. It’s just the way it is. If I don’t like it as a secular person, there’s not much I can do about it. The issue is going to evolve in the direction of women’s equality via a hard struggle on the part of women within the Muslim community itself. Outsiders are largely irrelevant to how that will play out. And if you bring the subject up as an outsider, the guys are likely to dig in.
Am I discouraged? Not completely. In fact, I’m hoping to have a larger discussion with some Muslims (perhaps for a YouTube posting) over the next month. And I’m also planning to have lunch in October with Kamal al Katib (a local imam that I know). So, I’m trying. I continue to think the conversation is valuable. And nothing I say above should be taken as suggesting that Muslims and non-Muslims really can’t live together well and peacefully in a community. So long as religious affiliation is strictly voluntary, as it is throughout America, obviously they can. The question I have is whether we can bring up the tense questions surrounding contemporary religion in one another’s presence, and arrive at some degree of mutual sympathy, or at least calm, about one another.
It would be nice to bring a Muslim woman into a conversation for YouTube posting. But I’m told that if a Muslim woman attends, she’s likely to simply defer to the Muslim males in the room, saying little or nothing. That’s depressing and wrong. And it’s one reason why I’m still trying to keep the conversation going. There’s a lot to talk about.