Wednesday, September 19, 2007

There are no experts on Islam

These are thoughts I’ve had for some time, but were recently jumpstarted by a discussion of the compatibility of Islam and UU on CRAPonSundays . In the course of this discussion, Will says, “In the years since, I’ve tried to learn more about Islam, but to be honest, I’m no expert.” Of course not, Will- there are no experts.

This sounds silly at first blush- there are millions of experts on Islam; we see them everywhere. Even if you limit it to only Imams who speak the language of the Prophet and were raised in that culture, there are many, ready to talk on any subject. Modesty? Here’s an expert saying that many women went topless back in the day- what the Prophet meant was “Put your shirt on.” No, here’s an expert saying scarf and veil are needed... now here’s one saying she has to wear a full Hazmat suit, complete with respirator. Women’s rights? Here’s an expert saying that Islam has full equality between the sexes... but this one says their rights are equal, but different, like she can’t be an Imam... and this one says that they do not have rights, but protections. War? This one says that he’s seeking Conscientious Objector status, as Islam is a religion of peace... that one is declaring Holy War.

If there’s one thing I learned in the pointless forest, it’s that a point in every direction is the same as no point at all. There is no Islamic scholar so well renowned that there isn’t some other equally qualified scholar willing to call him a silver plated idiot. There’s no “Pope” of Islam, no central authority to get the definitive answers from. There’s no agreement on anything but the Five Pillars. No, wait, don’t the Shi’a have eight? So if by “expert”, you mean someone who knows what Muslims believe, then no, there are no experts on Islam.

So what, one might ask- UUs don’t agree on anything, either. But then, UUs don’t claim to believe anything as a creedal test of membership. UUs don’t demand that non-UUs dress and act as if they were. UUs don’t call for the arrest of cartoonists for blasphemy, as the government of Bangladesh just did , let alone calling for their death, as some Imams have. UUs don’t strap bombs to their bellies and blow up teenagers in pizza parlors. And yes, some Imams say that those who call for violence are not “real” Muslims- but who’s to say? There are no experts. How are we to know?


Robin Edgar said...

"UUs don’t call for the arrest of cartoonists for blasphemy"

Well, as you well know Joel, Montreal Unitarians U*U souls (almost certainly with the approval of, if not at the behest of, the UUA) DO call for the arrest of protesters for allegedly disturbing the order and solemnity of their alleged religious services. That seems close enough to me. . .

Will said...

"Of course not, Will- there are no experts."

Or is it that *anyone* who so self-proclaims can be an expert? It's a curious mix--democracy on the one hand and on the other a power structure decentralized to the point that there is no accountability.

Will said...

This article reminded me of you post, Joel.
Eboo Patel: OnFaith on