Why I Don’t Love Islam, But I Love Muslims (and you should too)
By David Metcalfe
March 6, 2019
It is terribly unfortunate to see any group of people be hated, mistreated, and misrepresented. It is an injustice to the people, to good morality, and to the pursuit of truth. There are few groups I have seen in modern times that fall victim to this more than Muslims. The media frequently casts them as though they are militant and anti-American, and even associates them with terrorism.
When considering what to think of, and how to act toward, a certain group of people, it is imperative to seek to understand and relate to them. It is not enough to hear secondary sources from people who do not belong to the group in question. The people in Nazi Germany surely would not have had the same hatred for the Jews if they had simply ignored the secondary sources and gone to the primary sources: building relationships, sharing experiences and interacting first hand with Jewish people. And in their larger research, consulted historical and cultural ideas outside of biased, Nazi literature.
Growing up in rural Alberta, the only Muslims that ever came to our house were the ones on TV. I was six when 9/11 happened, and probably 90% of the stories on Muslims that popped up on the news were about Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or, in my later teens, ISIS. In social studies class, we learned about honor killings and people being stoned for adultery and failing to believe the “proper doctrines” of Islam. And more terrifying than that, we learned that they were moving here in huge numbers!
But is this really an accurate characterization of Islam and the Muslim people?
Consider first the way that any religious group can be characterized horribly if certain aspects are chosen, at the ignorance of all else. The Soviet Union was an atheistic state. Religion was discouraged in all forms in the public, and sometimes private, sphere. Would it be right for us to say that atheism is responsible for the Ukrainian famine and the Great Purge? And then, to go on and say that atheists support starving people and murdering anyone who disagrees with them?
During the Middle Ages, Europe was dominated by the Catholic Church. The Pope carried considerable political power, to the point where the church’s doctrines were enforced on the Kings to a large extent. Heresy was, in many cases, a crime punishable by death. In modern times, numerous Catholic priests have been accused, and found guilty of, committing sexual assault against children. Would it be right for us to say that Christianity promotes murdering heretics and raping children? And then, to go on and say that Christians are murderers and rapists?
But we know better than to characterize large groups of people based on the actions of a few, right? Well, based on the way Muslims are portrayed in the media and thought of by millions of Americans, it seems that we don’t understand that concept very well. In seeking to understand Islam and the Muslim people in a more humane, accurate way, I began seeking primary sources.
I have to admit I was scared to go to a mosque for the first time. But my gut prejudice was ingrained from years of negative secondary sources, and terribly irrational. My mind and heart knew my gut was wrong, and I needed to meet these people and really gain an understanding of them.
A dark skinned man in a long robe greeted me at the door, and told me to take my shoes off. It was Ramadan, and people were preparing large amounts of food for the evening meal (you only get to eat once a day during Ramadan, apparently). It was only men there, so I asked where the women were. They were upstairs; the mosque is gender segregated. The men talked about hockey, told jokes and stories, and were excited to talk to me and, I suppose, find out why a random white guy showed up to the mosque.
I especially enjoyed chatting with one man, in his mid thirties, who was a scholar in Islamic jurisprudence. He had extensive secular education from well respected American universities, and incorporated his knowledge of political theory, sociology, and other things into his understanding of Islam. I went for coffee with him, then again, and then again. We’ve gone for coffee so many times now, we have a specific table at a specific Starbucks that has essentially become “ours”.
Every Sunday afternoon, I go to the “Chapters” on Whyte Avenue. I love perusing the books and sitting down for a couple hours to read one (and occasionally, purchase one). I noticed a strange looking book, “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us”, by Hanif Abdurraquib. It was a series of sociology essays on his experiences and research in various topics, mostly related to the meaning and power of music in American culture. The writing was of excellent quality, and I enjoyed his thoughtful analysis and entertaining anecdotes. When I looked him up online, I was quite surprised to find out he was Muslim. But he was left-wing!? He supported human rights and critical reasoning!? “What kind of Muslim is this?” I thought.
Another Sunday afternoon, I noticed a book called, “American Islamophobia”, by Khaled A. Beydoun. He was a law professor at the University of Detroit, which intrigued me, because I love reading and listening to law professors. He was also a devout Muslim. He supported the constitution of the United States, believed in democracy, and was, in my opinion, too humble for how intelligent he was. He shared a lot of his personal experiences, and the experiences of others, of facing animosity, discrimination, and even straight up hatred and violence just for being Muslim in America.
But how can I reconcile the fact that certain groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS identify as Muslim, when so do one of my good friends, Hanif Abdurraquib, and Khaled A. Beydoun?
That’s the first lesson: it’s complicated, and blanket statements aren’t going to suffice.
When assessing the pros and cons of the Islamic view, it requires multiple perspectives. Being that I am somewhat of an expert on human rights, you better believe I am concerned that the majority of the Muslim world does not accept the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, stating that it’s “incompatible with sharia” (Brems, 2001). But at the same time, I would not be so ignorant as to say that Islam has no conception of human rights at all, simply because they do not accept the Western model. Instead, they made the “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights In Islam”, which shares many similarities with the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, but also some differences. Those differences are troubling to me, as they fail to guarantee women’s equality, religious freedom, and the prevention of cruel and unusual punishment.
It should also be recognized that the only Muslims who support and practice terrorism are the extremist groups. There is no national government, or Islamic school of thought, in existence that supports groups like Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS in any capacity. The vast majority of Muslims are completely against those practices, and top scholars do not find any evidence in scripture for the radical practices of those groups.
What I mean to say is that our approach to understanding and assessing Islam should not be black and white. There are some things that might be considered good, and others that might be considered bad. Our assessment should not be from a place of fear or self-superiority, but from a place of objectivity in light of the available evidence.
I don’t believe we all need, or even should, love Islam. It is, in my view, a flawed religion that needs some serious re-thinking on human rights and modern political and economic ideas. But I would never judge anyone negatively because I see them wearing a burka, walking into a mosque, or praying during their coffee break at work. In fact, quite the opposite; I would be excited to hear their story, their thoughts on life and what their relationship with God means to them, and possibly, in the process, make a new friend.
The religion of Islam and how it plays out in modern life is complicated, and cannot be answered by blanket statements. It should be studied more, and criticized when there is proper reason and evidence to do so. But loving others is not complicated at all. It simply requires an open mind that looks to understand rather than judge, a heart that spreads kindness and good will, and a soul that feels the interconnectedness we all share with one another as fellow humans sharing life together, and looking to find joy and meaning in it.
Reference: Brems, E. (2001). Human Rights: Universality and Diversity. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.