Almost once a week, a taxi driver or student or co-worker asks me to convert to Islam. Which Islam will I be accepting? The peaceful one my neighbors practice or is it the one where an Afghan police officer killed 2 NATO soldiers because a staff member burnt a Quran? Or the one where a writer in Saudi is sentenced to be beheaded because he tweeted that he had some issues with the Muslim prophet Mohammed? If I convert, will I be identified with the kindness I receive from my Muslim friends or practicing the religion where a man in Iran is being executed by the state because he chose Christianity?
The answer by the taxi driver is always that those violent people are not true Muslims. So, why do these acts of anger get clothed in the excuse that Islam is being offended? The way I see it is that though it may be 2012, some Muslims are behaving or being manipulated just like many Christians were in the 16th century.
During this Reformation time period, you didn’t even have to burn a Holy Book to be killed. All it took was any expression of disagreement with the religious establishment. For example, in the 1500's, the government and church were inextricably linked. A person’s citizenship was predicated on whether or not they had been baptized as a baby in the church. When others tried to nuance this by doing adult baptisms or infant baptisms outside the church, it was not tolerated and these ‘unbelievers’ were destroyed.
Thousands and thousands of people were burned, drowned and tortured to death for any creative thought concerning their own faith because it was a threat to the establishment. We look back at these moments in utter shame, as many Muslims do now at the situations in Iran, Saudi and Afghanistan. So what changed in the 16th Century? The biggest transformation was that the people took the power to read and understand our Holy Book away from the select few who were being paid by the government, and gave it to the masses. No longer could the government tell the people what God was saying.
When I look at the incidents of today, almost all have political undertones. It seems so obvious how multitudes of people can be led to do anything the government wants as long as the state-run media give it a religious label. They harness the people’s anger and use it for their own political purposes. I think that the Afghani’s would not have rioted over a poor choice by a NATO staff member or the pastor Terry Jones in America who wanted to burn a Quran if they hadn’t been agitated by their government.
It is okay to be angry. Life can be difficult and frustrating but to vent our anger using holy excuses or offenses is not fair to religion. Take your religion back from those manipulating it. If someone draws a cartoon of your Prophet, sit down with that person and explain why Mohammad is so important to you rather than threatening him or her. If someone carelessly burns an old Quran, what’s a Godly reaction? How about you buy a new one and read it with them, rather than violence.
Instead of asking me to convert, ask me to join you when you’re fixing your neighbor's fence or feeding the homeless in your area. That’s what I can relate to and want to celebrate. That’s pure and unsullied religion that I can embrace.
By Brett Weer
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Bawaba's editorial policy.
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