News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Who Should Muslims Blame for Their Malaise?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Who Should Muslims Blame for Their Malaise?

The notion that Muslims worldwide are looking for someone or something to blame for their problems is perhaps a dangerous over-simplification. I don't think it's too much to imagine that many if not most Muslims rely on their innate talents and common-sense to get through life, like many people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. I can imagine that most--faced with the complexities of the modern world--also try to answer numerous questions with the same quizzicalness that inhabitants of a modern, post-secular world do.

So why ask the question about what Muslims have to blame for their malaise? This question is directed mostly at answering why some Muslims resort to terrorism or support the terrorist mentality. At a deeper, more empathetic level, it attempts to answer questions asked by those in the Arab world who are not faring well in the neo-liberal world economy. To answer this question might go some way in addressing the sources of discontent, to use a cliche. ...

My own answer to a question like this is perhaps confined by my experiences as an American who has befitted from the freedoms--economic and political--that living in this country affords. At the same time, no doubt, my views are limited by that very experience. While I have dealt with hardships, some worse, some not as worse, as others, I have striven to expand the boundaries of that experiential prison as much as possible.

I have lived on the streets--by choice and by circumstances. I have dealt with fallout from family issues--again, some worse than, some not as bad as, what I know of others' lives. Through various religious, behavioral, aesthetic, and intellectual experiments I have tried to both flee from, struggle with, and resolve my relationship to the past, personal and communal.

In this way, I have tried to see the world as others might see it. Indeed, I have done so sometimes I think to the point where I think that I have completely lost myself, if that's possible without going insane. Or perhaps that insanity is the edge over which we must indeed go and at which many simply refuse to either draw near or acknowledge.

I am not saying that this is the answer to the questions asked by those who face hunger, poverty, want and so on every day. The questions they face are much more material, much more urgent. The types of questions that I have faced are actually a luxury afforded by my environment.

Having described my anxieties about my ability to truly understand others in their own existential circumstances, however, does not leave me weaker, as some who lampoon and parody such a view as pathetically liberal. Indeed, I think such anxieties make whatever it is that's me stronger in a way.

Without trying to push this on anyone or even identifying myself with the author, I have found that Paul's words on weakness in 1&2 Corinthians somewhat resonant. Of course, my own experiences are simply pale shadows of anything the Apostle experienced but it does show something I have found to be worth striving for in some way.

Paul writes:

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. (2 Cor. 9-11)
Be that as it may, it is this weakness, these anxieties and questions that bring me to the boundary where I and others disappear but remain, perhaps transformed; where weakness turns to strength that seeks meaning not in power but in something above power; where loss and pain are seen as gifts.

I imagine that some will see this little confessional posting as an attempt to oppose one religion to another. Not at all. If anything, I hope that it will show that those questions that make us human are not confined to one religion versus another. I don't think this means, either, that all religions are one and indistinct.

Perhaps it does show that there's some level respect for the unknowability of the Transcendent that all such differences--while important for knowing who and what I am or you are--ultimately mean more when they are seen through that transcendent without wishing to profane it by knowing what it expects other than the demand to love others as they are through it.

According to Haroon Siddiqui:
He who wrongs a Jew or a Christian will have me as his accuser on the Day of Judgment. — Prophet Muhammad
Muslims do not have much to be proud of in the contemporary world. So they take comfort in their burgeoning numbers. At the turn of the millennium in 2000, there were many learned papers projecting the rise in Muslim population. But if Muslims have not achieved much at 1.3 billion, they are not likely to at 1.5 billion, either.

To escape the present, many Muslims hark back to their glorious past: how Islam was a reform movement; how Muslims led the world in knowledge, in astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, philosophy and physics; and how the Islamic empires were successful primarily because, with some egregious exceptions, they nurtured the local cultures and respected the religions of their non-Muslim majority populations. This is why Egypt and Syria remained non-Muslim under Muslim rule for 300 years and 600 years, respectively, and India always remained majority Hindu.

As true as all that history is, it is not very helpful today unless Muslims learn something from it — to value human life; accept each other's religious differences; respect other faiths; return to their historic culture of academic excellence, scientific inquiry and economic self-reliance; and learn to live with differences of opinion and the periodic rancorous debates that mark democracies.

It may be unfair to berate ordinary Muslims, given that too many are struggling to survive, that nearly half live under authoritarian regimes where they can speak up only on pain of being incarcerated, tortured or killed, and that they are helpless spectators to the sufferings of fellow Muslims in an unjust world order. Yet Muslims have no choice but to confront their challenges, for Allah never changes a people's state unless they change what's in themselves (13:11).

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