The International Writers Magazine: Comment
Saleem Ayoub Quna
Privately, many Moslems in the Moslem world would tell you that they prefer not to hear the loud calling for prayers transmitted through local minarets five times a day, especially the one for the dusk prayer.
This is the maximum they can do to protest the "inconvenience". Courtesy, fear of criticism and moral retribution from non-confidents dictate silence. Some of those practice their religion; some are more comfortable being secular. There is nevertheless, a huge yet recognized and tolerated gap between practice and theory in most Moslem communities in this regard. Many physical appearances such as the increasing number of mosques and number of women with traditional attire or veil belie the actual mentality and social tendency on the ground. One should look closer at the daily pattern of life in Moslem communities to find out that it is not much different from the daily pattern of life in any other county around the world.
For those who think that the world's boundaries end at the outskirts of their local village or town, suffice to remind them of the globalization trend that is sweeping every corner on earth, which is becoming smaller and smaller, by the day and the hour. Religious practice aside, every other aspect of life is being copied from society to another. From computers, to mobiles, satellites, global warming, to swine flu, Aids and what have you. We all on this earth face the same challenges.
Some people observe Fasting during Ramadan as the fifth ordinance of Islam, but during the rest of the year, they drink alcohol and commit other prohibited acts by Islam. But all when they die are buried as good obedient Moslems, because its only God, they believe, who can judge who was a good Moslem and who was not. All marriages must be conducted according to Shari'a, the Moslem Law, even for committed atheists and communists. There is no such thing called "civil marriage" in the Moslem world. In other words, often professional men of religion on earth, try to draw stricter lines between obedient and non-obedient individual Moslems. But God accepts them all, when they return to him, with their sins or merits. Sounds like happy conclusion to a life's struggle with faith.
With this general background in mind, the current media row over adding a minaret to an already licensed mosque in Switzerland cannot evade scrutiny and attention in many part of the Moslem world. On the contrary, this incident provides good ammunition for fundamentalists and extremists on both sides. They could flex their muscles and settle some symbolic pending accounts.
For me, it is another showcase of how religion can turn into a disruptive rather than constructive tool in the hands of some small groups that seize a golden opportunity, in such occurrences, for prominence and recognition.
So the question now is: Does the majority of people in both camps, Europe and the Moslem countries and the rest of the world, need more of such controversial topics?
We all know that internal conflicts and divergence of opinion have always marred all kinds of communities in the world since the dawn of history. This did not and does not exclude followers of Islam, Christianity or any other faith. History is full of disputes that turned ugly and bloody between Protestants, Catholics and others in Europe for many long centuries. Their internal disputes at times were literally transferred to the heart of the Middle East during the Crusade epoch in the early Middle Ages. Each Church, every War Lord and denomination in Europe, then, sought to establish their own fiefdom and domain in the Holy Land. Moslems also had their fair share of inner fighting and conflict, some of which have left their traits up to this date. If for those believers, religion is God's craft, creating disputes and controversy is the specialty of mankind.
I for one have difficulty understanding the Swiss voting on the minaret. First, I find this position awkward and exaggerated, especially coming from a multi-ethnical and genuine democratic country. Switzerland can take pride in its historical neutrality in world thorny affaires. This kind of minaret-phobia defies common sense, democracy, secularism and the basic right of humans in their beliefs.
I would like to remind Swiss people and others that, Christianity birth place is here in the feared Middle East. Jesus Christ birthplace and burial sites are among the most sacred and respected locations by both Christians and Moslems alike. The site where John the Baptist, baptized Jesus lies tens of kilometers from the two above mentioned locations. All these places have existed here for the last 2009 years and will remain cherished and revered for ever. In one of Amman's specific residential areas, there are five churches within less than one square km, while there is only one mosque in the same area, which is populated by a majority of Moslems.
This is what I call tolerance and co-existence between followers of different faiths. Then if you want to look into archeology, there are hundreds of finds indicating remains of churches from the Byzantine era when Roman' domain reached this far. These sites are researched, documented and preserved, rather than put to vote for oblivion and neglect.
The majority of Moslems and Christians around the world have no problem what so ever with each other. Those who create problems and erect hatred and seed mistrust belong to very small groups on both sides. Besides, those Moslems who build mosques in Europe and Switzerland in particular, represent a small fully integrated minority. They are not militants or armed. They work there to make a descent living for themselves and their children. Their leaders are out in the open and recognized by the local authorities and the population.
Should I be apologetic if I sound like defending those people living in Europe and Switzerland against moral intimidation and religious persecution? I am not defending them. I am defending the principle of freedom of belief and choice as outlined in the UN charter on basic human rights. I am lamenting the absence of the spirit of tolerance by small groups.
An act of violence, like stabbing a tourist by a frustrated and socially self-isolated young man in a Middle Eastern country can happen. But it is not an organized crime or orchestrated campaign. It is an act that is immediately condemned by everyone including the family members of the assailant. Such a thing is rarer in Europe. We all heard about the stabbing to death of an Egyptian pregnant woman in Germany. The assailant got what he deserved. But to fight the freedom of choice and belief as it is happening now in Switzerland through a seemingly democratic way is far more serious approach that demises the principle of tolerance and co-existence as the two major ethical and spiritual pillars of real Christianity and Islam.
© Saleem Ayoub Quna December 10th 2009
Saleem is a free-lance journalist and media specialist focusing on travel, cultural and social issues. He has already published two books in English:" My Neighborhood" a cultural guide to Jabal Lweibdeh in 2006, and" Downtown Amman; A Social Tapestry" in 2009. Contact the writer at: b2beinitiatiev at yahoo.com
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