Saturday, December 13, 2008

Muslims for Sanity

Those of us here in the atheist blogosphere, like my friend the Spanish Inquisitor, often find the Islamic world to be a veritable gold mine of stories that make us sigh and roll our eyes, such as the recent fatwas in Malaysia against yoga classes and women dressing like "tomboys".

But as batshit crazy as these edicts seem to us, it is easy for us to forget that it is the many moderate Muslims who are the ones who actually have to live under these religious rulings. I recently read a humorous take on the impact these fatwas have on Muslim women in Indonesia by a Julia Suryakusuma in the English language Indonesian daily The Jakarta Post. Below are some excerpts, but I recommend reading the entire column, which you can read here.

Yesterday morning I woke up early as usual and got ready for my early morning meditational yoga. It's something I've been doing since 1981, clearing my mind and reinvigorating myself for the day ahead. It's like getting your cell phone recharged, as simple as that. But then I remembered reading that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) is thinking of issuing a fatwa declaring yoga haram (forbidden), inspired by the Malaysian National Fatwa Council which has declared yoga haram because it "goes against the teachings of Islam".

So, okay, I thought, I'd best skip my meditation. I donned shorts, T-shirt and sneakers and stepped out of the house for my morning walk instead. Then I remembered I was wearing a bra. Another fatwa, yikes!

The growing conservatism among hardline Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of the world suggests some Muslim leaders want to halt modernity, even turn it back. And if they can't make the world get in line with their regressive fantasies, then they want to destroy it. They share this with their more extreme terrorist brothers (and a few suicidal sisters), as we have seen again and again in recent years, most recently in Mumbai.

It starts with a few ridiculous fatwas. Do we want it to end in more mindless, tragic massacres? Surely it is past time for all Indonesians who believe Islam can be a religion of the modern world to start saying no to this nonsense while it is still a laughing matter.

And while I have an entire series of posts bashing Islamic fundamentalism (with an emphasis on mental) in Malaysia, that southeast Asian country is not without its own voices of sanity. One such organization, which I believe I have mentioned in a previous post, is Sisters in Islam.

Sisters in Islam "is a group of Muslim women committed to promoting the rights of women within the framework of Islam." They have, among other things, publicly condemned the fatwas banning yoga and "tomboys," and they can reliably be counted on to speak out against the forces of misogyny and intolerance in Malaysia.

As we say here in America, "You go, girls!"


Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the fundamentalist movement (all of stripes) is powered by a fear and resentment of modernity. Such a movement is doomed to eventually fail simply because the next generations, which lack that motivation, will not be able to sustain the effort. It is an self-defeating program, though it can cause a lot of harm while it exists.

Anonymous said...

I would like to hope that is the case, but as long as poverty exists, it is easy to indoctrinate young men to loathe modernity, particularly, when modernity is equated with wealth and affluence.

Tommykey said...

Hi Brian.

Like Rezwan writes (welcome Rezwan), it is partly a matter of poverty. Add to that corrupt and/or ineffective secular governments that fail to provide basic social services, and it creates a vacuum for the fundamentalists to fill.

When you combine that with the perception that Islam is under attack in the Palestinian territories, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places, it provides a channel for frustrated young Muslims who are looking for meaning in their lives.

Like you, I believe it will eventually burn itself out, though we in the West need to find a way to help ease the transition.

tina FCD said...

I wonder sometimes how it must feel to be a woman in those countries when you don't agree with all that craziness, I would...well... go crazy.

Tommykey said...

Hi Tina!

My friend from Indonesia, who is ethnically Chinese and Catholic, has been attending an educational program up in New Hampshire for the past year, is so not looking forward to going back home next month.

The last time there was an economic crisis there about 10 years ago, there were pogroms against the Chinese minority in Jakarta, and she does not want to find herself in that situation again.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Bras? They issued a fatwa against bras? Seriously? Those dirty old mullahs! They must like to see their women jiggling loosely behind those burqas. What next? Islamic wet T-shirt contests?

You know, when you mention this fear of modernity, the image that popped into my head was Ronald Reagan. Now there was a ideologue who tried to take us back in time, in his own way.