The Trouble with Islam ... Today
I just read an amazing book on the religion of Islam that reminded me of the state of religion here in Jamaica.
The book is called The Trouble with Islam Today and the author is Irshad Manji -- her website is http://www.muslim-refusenik.com/
Basically, according to Irshad, the trouble with Islam is that it has been captured by fundamentalists who are convinced that their interpretation is the only correct one, and furthermore that it should not be questioned. She connects this development with the Islamic terrorism that we see today in the world.
She has received numerous death-threats, in her personal attempt to bring a spirit of iftjihad back to Islam -- honest and open debate on the basic belief of the religion. If nothing else, she has balls -- AND she is a 39 year-old lesbian, which I suspect does not help her message much.
How does this relate to Jamaica?
Well, like many people in Third World countries, we Jamaicans have embraced religions that also insist on a similar kind of fundamentalism, and insistence that their way is the only way. From the largest Christian denominations: Church of God and Seventh Day Adventism to Rastafarianism to Jehovah's Witnesses, the link that connects each of our major religions is that their unique interpretation is True, and anyone who strays too far from the espoused dogma is Condemned.
I can relate, because as a Baptist teenager, I also had my fundamentalism. Baptised at 12, I grew up to spread the gospel by helping classmates and friends pray to accept Jesus as their personal saviour, as I had done. I also participated in door-to-door evangelism a couple of times, bringing the souls of lost strangers "to The Lord" by helping them to complete a simple 5 step process outlined in a small blue booklet that I carried around.
When I went away to university at age 18, to upstate New York (Cornell,) I went looking for a church home and I discovered I did not fit into any of the kinds of Baptist denominations that they had locally. I did not know American Baptist from Southern Baptist from National Baptist to Independent Baptist.
After visiting a few Black, white, liberal, conservative, small and large churches I discovered that the religion I found security in did not exist outside Jamaica. I was a "Jamaican Baptist" -- and that label had no meaning outside my island.
The more I realized that the set of beliefs I held were small, and startlingly local, it was the beginning of some very tough questions about what the heck I had believed in the first place.
The more questions I asked, the more ridiculous the answers seemed. There were American answers and Jamaican answers. Black and white. Rich and poor. Modern and Old-time.
I had to think for myself, and that in essence was what brought me to the end of my belief that I had the right answer, and my reluctance to trust those who believed that they did.
Today, I am not even convinced that I am asking the right questions, and I am convinced that as early as tomorrow I could not only have new questions, but new answers.
So, I have come to characterize my belief-free religion as a series of improving approximations -- something only an engineer could dream up, I guess. In other words, at any given time I have in mind soem approximations of truth, which at any time can be improved by new approximations, brought about by new questions. Uncertainty is the standard operating state, and inquiry is the only constant activity.
Not too different from what Irshad writes and talks about, in fact.
P.S. I get asked sometimes here in Jamaica: "Are you a Christian?" The only truthful reply I can muster is "It depends on your definition." That's where things get interesting, because most people have not defined for themselves clear criteria for judgement.
Plus, isn't there something in the Bible about judging?
P.P.S. To be perfectly honest, if someone asks me if I am a Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist or Martian my reply is the same... "It depends on your definition."