Muslims

My wife was recently offered a car pool with by a Muslim woman. Her daughter attends the same school as ours. his was an educated, middle class, the model of a modern moderate Muslim. Not a stereotyped extremist in any shape or form.

She began asking questions about my wife’s religion, given that she has Muslim ancestry. It seems her intention was to make da’wah, Islamic proselytising, to enjoin my wife to worship the One True God in regular prayer, to act with the knowledge that all things derive from that one Allah’s will.

She asked some questions of my wife. Unfortunately, my wife answered the interrogation truthfully – thought not intentionally provocatively, I believe.

The Muslim woman became so full of anger that she expelled my wife from her car, half way along the journey.

Whenever my family deal with Muslims, even no matter how sophisticated: we get the same response. The hate response. I’m sure the woman felt bad about her actions later – it was very strange behaviour from one school mum to another – not the way mums relate to each other at this school. If they feel aggressive to each other, they are subtle about it.

But, consistently, instinctively, they respond to us, smelling foreign blood. And can’t help the hate reaction.

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13 thoughts on “Muslims

    1. Hi Matthew, of course not. I guess you’re the exceptional Muslim that proves the rule? But this happened yesterday, worthy of note (we haven’t spoken to Muslims for a while now).

      If it’s not a personal question, do you spend much time with the local ummah? Assume you’re UK based, like we are.

      1. I’m sure I’m not exceptional. I do spend some time with the Ummah in various localities. Generally I find that discretion is the better part of valour. It is fairly obvious where the doctrinal fault lines lie and I tend not to cross them, except in exceptional circumstances or to make a specific point. General Muslim orthodoxy should come as no surprise, and Sufis, Qalandars etc make daring, unorthodox statements at our own peril. The example of Hallaj is instructive. Your trajectory is interesting — bold and brilliant like a meteor streaking across the sky, you inevitably burn up as you enter the atmosphere and come crashing to the ground — like Icarus.

        1. Yes, it was an Icarus like experiment. But that’s kind of the point: prior to meeting the ummah, I’ve never had the obligation to hide who I am or censor my voice.

          I spent a year in a (very mainstream) Therevada Buddhist temple, saying the same kind of dodgy stuff, just being me, indiscreet … And I didn’t get hatred (at least not to my face). I’m indiscrete about my views on the trinity and mary to my Catholic friends – but I lost my Muslim friends when I started saying the same, basic, dinner party stuff.

          My wife often says things like “I think religious texts are metaphoric” to other people, atheists and Christians – and she never gets kicked out of their cars.

          As far as a house goes, I (now) appreciate it’s someone else’s house and as a guest I should have been more sensitive and discrete. But they all acted (and I wanted to believe) it was my house also, so I guess I behaved as I would to non-Muslims (acted myself).

          It’s probably a bit like being gay in a society that would never countenance it (but allows it behind closed doors). But was I an Alan Turing as Icarus? stupid and naive, because he couldn’t go anywhere else that would accept him … These days, he could have just migrated to Sydney or San Fran, some other house where he could have been himself ….

          1. Dinner parties are obviously bida đŸ™‚ . Regarding your statement that ‘religious texts are metaphoric’, I think most Muslims would be comfortable with the idea that there are many levels of interpretation of the Quran, and that some of these are metaphorical or esoteric (Batin). However, they would not accept the assertion that the Qur’an is purely metaphoric. They would assert the truth of its apparent or exterior meaning (Zahir).

            I also spent a few years in a Buddhist community, but it was Mahayana/Vajrayana rather than Theravada. Called the ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ (NKT) it seeks to preserve the teachings and practices of the great Tibetan scholar/saint Tsongkhapa. Therefore, although making many allowances for Western liberalism, its project is basically conservative, and as a student my prime responsibility was to accept and take on the teachings as they had been handed down through generations, rather than express myself. This approach is obviously a culture shock for those of us who have been through the liberal education system whose emphasis is different. However, there is a humility to to this approach, and in many ways I found it spiritually beneficial.

            The NKT didn’t work out for me long-term and eventually I embraced Islam, but as I had already bought into the traditional / conservative religious approach I don’t feel constrained like you. ‘Being yourself’ is not seen as a categorical blessing by these traditions, who see their principal purpose as taming the self. Submitting the ego to a greater authority is important. The supreme authority is God, but the authority of the prophets and saints should also be recognised. This does not mean, by the way, that religion should be authoritarian.

            1. Thanks for the discussion, Mathew.

              There are some key implications to your comment there that I’d like to reflect on …

              First there’s the question of submitting the ego to saints/teachers/prophets, and their esoteric/exoteric systems of revelation. I’m certain this is important in Sufism. It seems that you’ve tried one such system, didn’t completely work for you, but Islam does. I guess you’d accept that Muhammed, Moses, the Tibetan saints, Guru Nanyak, the Bahullah and Joseph Smith are such prophets. They each brought a system that provides a complete path to God, with inner and outer aspects integrated – but I guess you’d say (ecumenically) that one system works for some people, another works for someone else. I’m assuming you wouldn’t want to force all Sikh, Tibetan or Mormon mystics to convert to Sufism – because both sides are submitting their egos to a trusted Prophetic authority and through their particular religious door, to God’s house. Many doors, one house: access via submission of ego to the key and lock of that door’s prophet (Joseph Smith or Muhammed, it doesn’t matter).

              Second, you are saying submission of the ego to God and God’s authority is important to you. I believe that this is true for Sufis in general, and to the wider religion of Islam as well.

              I’ve no problem with these two priorities being important for Muslim.

              But that’s the point for me: I don’t think I ever was a Muslim, even when I thought I was. Because submission of the ego was never important to me – I used to believe (incorrectly) it wasn’t important in Islam. And, in particular, I thought “Muhammed/Prophecy” was the name of a particular psychic entity, a bit like how evangelical Christians talk about really meeting Jesus, like a ghost. The point for me wasn’t to submit to his authority, it was to conjure up that entity, John Dee style, and “encounter” it. No submission of ego necessary.

              Furthermore, for me, I believed “Allah” was a “similar” kind of personal entity, basically like a human being, that could be found/summoned up, in the form of a woman, essentially a flesh and blood woman goddess, that just appears in our 3 dimensions as a book, the “Quran”, and also in the form of the Cubes that Abraham set up in the days of the ancient religion.

              Again, no submission of ego required – this interaction with “Allah” was basically a personal kind of love, exactly like the kind of love one has for another human being.

              I’m no defending my beliefs as Islamic -I now am convinced they are not Islamic, it was mistaken identification – but for a time I genuinely believed they were.

              I think from an “real” Islamic perspective my views are more a kind of pagan shirk/goddess worship – and from a “real” Sufi perspective, my belief system is more like a negative kind of magic, involving selfishness and egoism.

              Anyhow, nice there are some Muslims I can explain this difference to, without them blowing up. Even if they are the ones that keep silent at the back of the mosque!

  1. I’m sorry to hear that!!

    Being Muslim, dressed in Muslim attire, I get the same attitude from “my people” when I discuss matters that make them feel uncomfortable. It often feels like I am slapping them when the stereotypical image does not fit the non-stereotypical words that come out of my mouth.

    I was removed from the mailing list of a mosque which held Islamic events, after I’ve only offered my honest opinions on a lecture they held earlier in the most respectable manner. (mind you, he’s the one who asked us for our opinions, which I’ve gladly expressed, only to get this?)..

    After that incident, I stopped going, he later on addressed the topic I brought up and ridiculed it (so my friend tells me).

    when I watched this video by TheraminTrees, it simply summarized why people tend to behave this way towards contradicting ideas. (at 10:21) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syNVg8V4EQU#t=10m21s

    To keep the illusion going, everyone must believe the same thing, otherwise, it causes cognitive dissonance, and people who are no longer able to hold those contradicting stances will often fall out of faith.. so in a way, your wife probably made her own beliefs threatened.

    I haven’t read all ur posts, but my understanding is that you were a convert to Islam at one point but no longer are.. is that correct?

    1. I’m not sure whether I actually converted … I sort of thought I did, at least I believed I was a Muslim, but I brought a lot of spiritual baggage with me into the Mosque … I have some Muslim ancestors but was raised in a family that mixed theosophy with mahabharata, buddhism with scientific rationalism.

      I took to writing this blog to present my reading of the Qur’an, a reading that ended up being a restatement of who I am (rather than what Muhammed/Allah intended or Muslims accept) … At first people thought I was a novelty and were keen on what I was saying. Then at some point, I could see I’d wandered into the wrong crowd, a bit too deeply.

      If you read the blog from end to end (not that I’d advice it), you’ll see the “up” into Islam gradually into the “come down” when I realised the spiritual implications of my not belonging to Islam.

  2. so you’re the type of person the imam warned us about :p

    I did at once attempt to read as much of your posts as possible (now that i’ve checked, 41 archive pages is not feasible!). but i do delight in finding individuals like yourself who have a non-conventional understandings of the religion.. though i do wonder about why when some of us drift away from the traditional version of a religion, why we still have some strings attached to that which we drifted from..

    given that you have this mix of religions you grew up, why is it quran and islam that you are dedicating this blog for?

    1. I guess, technically speaking, the blog has swapped from being about Islam (a reading of the Quran) to being a dissection of my body’s former relationship to the garment of Islam (a reading of the old me misreading the Quran).

      I sort of hope I’ll come out of this activity with something useful. It’s a bit like a divorce: you spend a few years in self analysis, getting over it, working out why you weren’t compatible.

      As a separate activity, I’ve continued to add some Kabbalic readings of Torah and the Tao, some Tarot and a chapter of the Bagavadgita … But really the last year and a half have been mostly about the great divorce.

      1. nice description of gradual transformation and the metaphor of the divorce. I personally hid some of the old posts i wrote and switched blogs to relieve old readers the shock of the change.. not that i had many anyway, but i rather not deal with any external drama more than the internal turmoil taking place..

        that aside, i hope you have a peaceful journey đŸ™‚

  3. Carrying on our comments thread, I distinguish between prophets and saints in the normal Sufi way. I consider Muhammad (saw) and Moses to be prophets. I also see the Buddha as a prophet. I don’t believe there were prophets after Muhammad (saw), but there were saints. Within Buddhism, I believe that Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Atisha, Milarepa and Tsongkhapa etc are all examples of saints. They didn’t create a new religion, but they reformed, invigorated and demonstrated Buddhism. In Islam, Rabia, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Junayd etc did the same. I am happy to believe that Guru Nanak was a saint. I don’t know much about the others.

    Within Buddhism and Islam submission of the ego is important because, without it, there are only paths to suffering. This is why the Buddha said “you must know suffering” as his first noble truth. Unless we are aware of our suffering predicament we will have no motivation to subdue the ego. Without at least the motivation to protect ourselves from the suffering of ‘unfortunate migrations’ we cannot do spiritual practice. We can still do magic or metaphysics, but they are just posh paths to suffering. Hence the Buddha’s parable of the arrow . . .

    1. Yes, I understand the Sufi/Buddhist view point about “posh paths to suffering”.

      I have presented in these pages a different/alternative reading of what “you”, “suffering” and “know” are. At some point a while ago (I realised) my reading meant I can’t be a Buddhist (because it was untrue to the interpretation you imply, which I now accept as the true meaning of Buddhism, though I gave the re-reading a go). Then I realised a bit late, for pretty much the same reasons (but with a WAY more aggressive/hateful audience), it meant I can’t be a Muslim either (again, because it was untrue to the interpretation you give, which I do accept as the true meaning of Islam).

      I have met some (Western) Sufis who suggested there are Prophets after Muhammed, just that he has the final say as the seal. Which would place Bahaism, Mormonism and Seikhism as potentially equivalent in value (as doors into God’s house) to Islam or Judaism … Maybe that Muhammed’s door is just the final say on all doors, or is a meta-door, etc.

      Of course I understand that’s already veering from the popular view that the only door is Islam, after the date that Muhammed arrived/or his teachings become available to a potential convert … full stop.

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