A Secular Muslim

By lex, on August 23rd, 2010

Secular: Of or relating to the doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations.

Muslim: A believer in or follower of Islam

I would have thought that the words “Secular Muslim” were oxymoronic in conjunction. One may speak of secular Jews, since Jewishness is both a faith and an ethnic identity, but we speak of “lapsed Catholics”, not secular ones. If one is an “anti-Semite,” one has a non-specific aversion to Jews, but whether that is based on religion, culture or ethnicity is unknowable. Therefore, to be a generic anti-Semite is to be a racist.

Some have claimed that Islamaphobia is similar to anti-Semitism, and ergo a form of racism. However, Islam is not a race but a set of learned beliefs and inherited attitudes. After all, most Arabs are Muslims, but most Muslims are not Arabs.  So when one is an Islamophobe, one “fears” Islam. This does not necessarily mean that one is afraid of a the dusky hued denizens of parts east, but rather to the things that they believe to be true, and the consequential actions flowing from those beliefs. Chief of which is that the will of God as revealed by his prophet is complete, perfect and inalterable. Which there’s the rub, the world having moved on in 14 centuries.

To claim submission to the word of God as revealed by Mohammad and simultaneously hold that one rejects that religion and faith seems to stretch the English language to its breaking point. Which is why this NPR opinion piece from Reza Aslan struck such a strange chord with me:

No matter what your feelings are about the proposed community center, there can be little doubt that Islamophobia is on the rise in America.

A Washington Post poll released last year found that nearly half of Americans — 48 percent — have an unfavorable view of Islam. That’s nine points higher than in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks. A new national survey by the Pew Research Center found that 30 percent of those who disapprove of President Obama’s job performance believe he is Muslim.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, most Americans had no fully formed opinions about the Islamic faith. It was something that chiefly concerned Israelis, Indians, Thais and others. Not us.  The number of people who have in the interim formed unfavorable opinions about one of the world’s three, great monotheistic faiths have been greatly more exposed to the fruits of that particular tree than they had been previously. Mr. Aslan may find that education unfortunate, but it is what it is.

So, is Islamophobia a natural and reasonable reaction to the awareness of a sere, messianic vision fundamentally at odds with the Western Enlightenment and notions of personal liberty? Or is it an over-blown reaction to the barbarous acts of what may be, after all no more than one or two percent of a population numbering over one billion people? I.e., somewhere between a million and two million souls.

Mr. Aslan evidently feels that latter is true, and that this is somehow our problem to solve, since European Islamophobia “has made much of Europe inhospitable to its Muslim citizens is now threatening to seize the U.S.”

Let us put aside for the now the issue of cause and effect with respect to Europe’s supposed intolerance, that continent being far closer to and historically far better acquainted with the East than we are here on our island.

Let us focus instead on Mr. Aslan’s self-description in his closing paragraphs – which by the way, sounded more menacing on the air than perhaps they read on the page:

I am a liberal, progressive, secularized American Muslim. But when I see that bigotry against my faith — my very identity — has become so commonplace in America that it is shaping into a wedge issue for the midterm elections, I can barely control my anger.

I can’t imagine how the next generation of American Muslim youth will react to such provocations. I pray that we never find out.

Mr. Aslan’s liberal, progressive secularity – perhaps even his “Americanness” – has apparently been subordinated to his Muslim identity. None of those things, not his politics, not his secularism, and not his nationality are as important to him as a tribal identity whose foundations he claims to reject. And in his essay against Islamophobic intolerance of a “cultural center” hard upon the site of the worst US domestic disaster in history, he ends with a veiled prediction of “reactions” to “provocations,” while wondering what all the fuss is about.

If this is what it means to be a liberal, progressive, secularized American Muslim then I rather prefer the blind, unreasoning hatred of Sayyid Qutb.

With the Qutbists, at least, one knows precisely where one stands.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Politics

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