The Affirm Ministry at McDougall United invited me to offer a presentation on Nov. 4. While I shared with them the values that I derive from Islam, I emphasized that given there are 1.6 billion Muslims—each with a unique connection with the sacred—I could only speak for myself. In essence, I emphasized the diversity of Islam.
It is important to safeguard diversity of thought, for it ensures that extreme positions are drowned out by multiple perspectives. For instance, when ultra-conservative Muslims claim that music is prohibited in Islam, many Muslims point out this isn’t so. They are able to do so based on their own Islamic teachings, which are substantiated by a wide array of Muslim thinkers, academics, and jurists.
There are, however, people both on the right and the left side of the political spectrum who seek to destroy this diversity of thought. Enveloped by what they think is right, they project their own radical perspectives and aggressively shut down conversation that goes against their worldview.
On one hand, there are those who espouse a theologically exclusive worldview. They argue that there is not a shred of evidence on the legitimacy of same-sex unions in Islam. Upholding binaries, they claim that you can either be gay or Muslim.
On the other hand, there are those who uphold gender and LGBTQ2S+ equality in civil rights but who quell any internal critique of Islam through charges of ‘respectability politics.’ Upholding religious symbolism as a marker of identity, they downplay how classical texts are wielded to impact vulnerable ex-Muslims and religious minorities in Muslim countries.
Both the fundamentalist patriarchs and the radical change-makers share a common element of closing the debate in favour of their respective world views. Both cling onto a jargon shaped respectively by classical juristic manuals and the theories on social justice. Both adhere to their cause with a fanatic zeal.
Islam for them is less about perfecting husn khalq (excellent conduct) and more about ideological posturing. This is evident in the aggressive manner in which they humiliate and shut down those with a differing worldview. In doing so they aim to minimize dissent and manufacture consent through the threats of social rebuke and ostracism.
Muslim writer and activist Iyad el-Baghdadi explains such radicalization through the narratives of oppression and supremacism. This suggests that while people perceive themselves as perpetually oppressed by the other, they also claim to have the sole correct path—in exclusion to others.
Such a way of thinking seeks to police freedom of thought and expression of alternate worldviews. Muslim writer and activist Amanda Quraishi, affectionately known as Q, points out that any political movement that forces conformity and employs punitive social attitudes as a deterrent to others is not a movement, but rather a cult.
She argues that many, whether on the left or the right, who claim to seek justice may actually be seeking revenge for the hurts and wounds they have left unaddressed and which allow them to rationalize their own victimhood.
President of Muslims for Progressive Values in Columbus, Ohio, Frank Parmir—much like Q—warns us that any ideology that cannot be set aside for compassion and mercy is a precursor of fascism.
Emphasizing ideology, unbridled self-righteousness and projecting perpetual victimhood are dangerous paths for they eventually allow the oppressed to become oppressors. The moral policing of the right and the social rebukes of the left are a manifestation of this phenomena.
One solution out of this radicalized state of minds is to uphold proper diversity of thought so as to place competing narratives on a level playing field.
Another solution is to emphasize compassion, one that is actively practiced by church-going seniors like Antje Espinado-Virseda and Juan Espinado-Virseda, the couple made up of a septuagenarian and an octogenarian, who were offering food and lifting chairs at McDougall even as many others had left the church. They continue to tirelessly work without any expectation of reward or flashy newspaper promotions.
Finally, it is important to nurture gratitude in contrast to perpetual complaint. My friend who sells African food for a living had a high profile work portfolio before he had to leave Eritrea. When I asked him of the challenges he faced there and in Canada upon arrival, he simply expressed gratitude. On Canada, he said, “I love it.”
In essence, if we are to avoid the pitfalls of radical narratives, we will have to create a level playing field for competing narratives and emphasize values we can all agree on—compassion and gratitude.
— Junaid Jahangir
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