There are valid points one can argue over in the debate over U.S. acceptance of Syrian refugees – Do we have the resources? Is it our responsibility? These are worthy conversations. Unfortunately, Gerald Antos (letter) chooses instead to trot out the tired old fallacies of hasty generalization and guilt by association to paint the members of an entire religion with one very narrow-minded brush.
The extremists of Islam are in the minority – loud, scary, and violent, yes, but still the minority. To suggest that the outliers speak for the vast whole of Islam is akin to pointing to members of the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church as indicative of Christian belief and practice in this country. In both cases, these are extremists in the minority of larger and more varied traditions, and to observe the practices of everyday members in the majority of both faith traditions is to quickly give lie to the appeal to fear and hatred made by the bigots of the world.
The Quran does have some troublingly violent passages. But, it also contains passages promoting peace and understanding. Contradictory? Of course. But then, so is the Bible. In both cases, it depends on how a religion’s adherents read, interpret, and put those texts into practice. Islamic extremists have adopted a violent interpretation of their scripture.
Mr. Antos quotes the Egyptian Islamic scholar Sayyid Qutb to make his point. While it’s true that Qutb is the favorite scholar of Muslim extremists, he has been roundly rejected by many other Muslims. The faculty of Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious in the Sunni Muslim world, added Qutb’s name to its list of heretics after his death fifty years ago. The vast majority of the Muslim world (somewhere in the neighborhood of 93% according to Gallup and Pew research) rejects extremism and the violence it brings to the world. Many Muslims are victims of this violence – a fact which has led us to this current refugee crisis.
What is it we fear from Muslims in our midst, exactly? I hear continued fretting over the arrival of sharia law on our shores, but even this is not the monolithic threat we think it is. There are at least eight different schools of thought on sharia law in Islam. None agree on its sources, interpretations, or application.
In most countries where there is a majority Muslim population, sharia law applies only to an individual’s daily religious life, if it has any recognition in formal legal systems at all (for example, in Turkey sharia law has been rejected time and again as a basis for civil law, as the Turkish people find it incompatible with their democratic, secular principles).
Mr. Antos points to a quote from an American Muslim claiming Muslims are “above the law of the land.” However Mustafaa Carroll (not CAIR executive Nihad Awad) says in the same speech that sharia law obligates Muslims to follow the laws of the land in which they reside. The context of the whole speech suggests that Mr. Carroll was implying the opposite of what those who pick out the scare quotes might imply.
Regardless of the context of either cherry-picked quote, however, it is fallacious on its face to quote the words of two men out of billions as anything near representative of the attitudes and practices of an entire people. How likely would it be in this country, given the variety of denominations spread among the 247 million Christians here, that any one person could make the statement “All Christians want X” and be accepted as speaking for the entire faith tradition?
How much less likely, then, that either of the two men Mr. Antos quotes are speaking with any authority about the wants of a religion with six times as many people spread over most of the countries of the world? Islam is a 1,400-year-old religion with a diverse distribution of sects and practices. It is impossible that 1.6 billion Muslims around the world are marching in lock-step, as hell-bent on the destruction of our way of life as has been claimed.
American citizens should do themselves the favor of broadening their understanding of a major world religion before coming to hasty conclusions. If the old saw is true that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then we Americans could do (and have done) great damage to the world with just how little we understand about Islam. I highly recommend Stephen Prothero’s book Religious Literacy as a good starting text for understanding most world religions outside the scope of our own experiences.
Editor’s note: Rev. Cullinan is the pastor of the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos. His opinions are solely his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Unitarian Church.