In recent weeks Facebook has been filled with anti-Muslim diatribes. They all share the conviction that there is only one form of Islam in the world, that it aims at the imposition of islamic law on all people, and is not afraid to resort to violence to achieve this objective. Anyone who is a committed Muslim is seen to share this conviction, and if they appear not to it is simply a clever ruse to get under the guard of non-Muslims.
We should name this for what it is: ill-informed bigotry. Bigotry thrives on the attribution of negative qualities to all people who share a particular culture, faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or the like.
The reality is that there are variations of belief about mosque and state within Islam. At one end of the spectrum are Islamic fundamentalist extremists such as those using horrific violence to carve out a so-called Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. At the other end of the spectrum are Islamic liberals who interpret their sacred writings to teach that wars of aggression are against the will of God, and promote liberal values such as gender equality, freedom of religion and democracy. Inbetween are a range of approaches.
What I fear is not religious but political fundamentalism. I grew up a religious fundamentalist. I was convinced I possessed the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and that everyone should embrace it. I argued for many screwy things. But i was never a political fundamentalist. I never argued that those who rejected my version of Christianity should be forced to follow its tenets anyway. Many people I know remain Christian fundamentalists yet I know very few that are political fundamentalists. So it’s quite possible to be a religious fundamentalist but politically liberal.
I am quite comfortable living in a society that includes religious fundamentalists, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any other religion. What I will resist is political fundamentalism.
At the moment in some parts of the world Islamic religious fundamentalism is fused with a religiously justified political fundamentalism. This is a potent and dangerous mix. But to assume it is a necessary mix is a mistake.
I welcome my Muslim brothers and sisters, including those who are religious fundamentalists, religious moderates, and religious liberals. As we share life together, debate the perspectives of our faiths, bring our different cultural backgrounds together, and join hands as members of common communities our lives and our nation will be enriched, for it is in appreciating our differences that we discover our commonalities, better understand ourselves, learn to love one another, and grow into our humanity.