Sunday, November 13, 2005

Lunch buffet

The other day myself and some fellow graduate students decided to enjoy a local Indian lunch buffet together. It was myself; a guy from Singapore; a female Pakistani; a female from India; and our professor.

On the drive to the restaurant the dude from Singapore began shouting “Jihad!” in a joking manner. What exactly he was joking about I do not know, but he thought it was funny. The Pakistani girl, who is a Muslim, seemed uncomfortable. The Indian girl chimed in and asked what “jihad” meant.

I wanted to break the tension, and so to answer the question I told a story about how Yasser Arafat was caught screaming about having a Jihad to destroy Israel, but in Arabic. When the western press caught wind of the vitriolic speech, Arafat’s apologists claimed that jihad had two meanings, and that Arafat was referring to a peaceful inner struggle. In other words, jihad, they said, meant struggling or striving for something. I told my international friends that afterwards my brother/roommate and I would go on “cleaning jihads” and clean the hell out our flat. I was only trying to illustrate the point that jihad has two meanings.

The Pakistani girl disagreed. She said that jihad only had one meaning, which was to spread Islam. She said it had nothing to do with conflict. This is patently untrue, but I didn’t have the heart to dispute it with her. She’s such a sweet girl, and as much as I have serious criticisms of Islam, I also realize that many Muslims must feel that they and their faith are being constantly criticized.

And they should be criticized! There is a lot to criticize. So what is my point? I guess my point is that it’s really easy to go toe-to-toe with a frothing at the mouth fanatic, but it’s a bit harder when it’s a friend whom you like.

The story also illustrates another phenomenon I’ve noticed among Muslims: anything that is embarrassing regarding their faith is simply denied as being a part of their faith. After the horrible bombings in Jordan, I’ve heard a number of Jordanians simply deny that Zarqawi and al-Qaeda are Muslims. But that’s not good enough because Zarqawi et. al. are Muslims, and they act according to their interpretation of Islam. Simply denying the Islamic credentials of Muslims who do things you do not like is not enough. Doing so is merely a way of avoiding the very real issue of Islamic fundamentalism.

Okay, time to watch Rome on HBO!


Blogger airforcewife said...

I have to admit that I do the denial of religion thing, too, though. For instance, the Westboro Church. I adamantly insist they are NOT real Christians.

However, I think it becomes a bit of a different thing when (1) it is not an "offshoot" bearing the name of the religion (like LDS, or Jehovah's Witnesses), and (2) a huge number of people within the religion agree with the supposed beliefs that are "not of that religion". If I'm making any sense here.

The girl from Indonesia may truly believe that is what jihad means, though. It has been my experience that such misunderstandings are commonly taught in many religious studies.

1:59 PM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

She is Pakistani... but maybe that is what she had been taught. Nevertheless, it s patently false. I suspect a whole lot of Muslims aren't even aware of some of the things their faith promotes, or maybe they don't make the connection between certain Koranic verses or hadiths, and the resultant actions that some Muslims take regarding such passages.

12:16 PM  

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