Nothing Short of Astounding …

On pg. 101 of the book I’m currently reading, Orientalism, Edward Said (pronounced Sa’îd) states:

In Scott’s novel The Talisman (1825), Sir Kenneth (of the Crouching Leopard) battles a single Saracen to a standoff somewhere in the Palestinian desert; as the Crusader and his opponent, who is Saladin in disguise, later engage in conversation, the Christian discovers his Muslim antagonist to be not so bad a fellow after all. Yet he remarks:

I well thought … that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so may valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange is it to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.

For indeed the Saracen does boast of tracing his race’s line back to Eblis, the Muslim Lucifer. But what is truly curious is not the feeble historicism by which Scott makes the scene “medieval,” letting Christian attack Muslim theologically in a way nineteenth-century Europeans would not (they would, though); rather, it is the airy condescension of damning a whole people “generally” while mitigating the offense with a cool “I don’t mean you in particular.”

… it is nothing short of astounding how some people’s attitudes and mentalities are so skewed and distorted. Taking part in a discussion on a Catholic messageboard, I rightly commented on an observation I made regarding a particular member’s hositity towards Islam saying:

You think you know Islam better and can present it more accurately than the Muslims on this board and thus impose yourself as an authority over and above even what we Muslims say—or even what we Muslims convey from the scholars of Islam themselves. You are the one people who are ignorant about Islam must refer to since you are the “honest” and “truth-loving” Christian who has “studied” Islam and knows what it’s really all about, whereas we Muslims are “liars”, followers of the “imposter” Muhammad and his “Satanic revelation”, “deceptively” trying to hide the “blemishes” of Islam from other non-Muslims on this site in order to dupe them.

This mindset I describe above is the basic driving force behind this entity known as Orientalism. As Said quotes Marx at the beginning of his book, “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” And this is the mindset of so many Westerners who write about Islam and Muslims. His reply? Well, further reinforcing this observation of mine, he states:

You have no idea what you are talking about. I didn’t impose myself as an authority on anything. I present evidence of what I believe is true and am open to correction. Mostly, if not always, my accusations are true and Muslims are unable to refute my evidence and what I said. I refute what I believe is wrong. I expose what I think is deceit. There is nothing wrong with that.

I then commented:

You claim that you are open to correction, yet when a Muslim tells you your understanding of his religion is wrong and quotes the scholars of his religion and the source books where the teachings of his religion are found, you reject what he says. Why? Because of what I mentioned earlier. You are the (self-imposed) authority of Islamic teachings. You know what’s correct Islamic belief and the Muslim doesn’t. You are not open to correction. You are here to propagate your misinformation concerning Islam, to impose your understanding as right and the Muslims’ understanding as wrong. You are here to attack, vilify, degrade and debase Islam and Muslims. You are the authority of correct Islamic beliefs, the Muslims are just spreading lies to mislead others into thinking that Islam is not the way you say it is.

His reply? Now check this one out, for indeed, it is nothing short of astounding—if not down right ridiculous (emphasis and bold mine). Again, further adding to the certainty of my observation, he states:

There are many Muslims in my life who are close to me and who I love very much. I haven’t “attacked, vilified, degraded, and debased” any Muslims so don’t falsely accuse me of things. I haven’t attacked Islam either. I am stating the truth about Islam. How is stating the truth about Islam “attacking, vilifying, degrading, and debasing” Islam? If someone says something false about Islam I will correct it.

I am here to defend christianity, but if I see something false about Islam (Muhammad never hit any of his wives, Islam is a peaceful religion etc) I will correct it. Sometimes I might want to discuss an Islamic topic. Sometimes I might want to reveal something about Islam that I think is important for my fellow Christians to know.

Don’t forget, this is a Christian forum.

So, after I likened his assertion that having Muslim friends somehow refutes my observations concerning his attacks on Islam and Muslims to someone calling blacks “n****rs” then saying he’s not really racist cause he has many black friends he tried to further justify his actions—again further strengthening my observations—uttering the following absurdities:

Your claim of me “portraying their way of life, their beliefs, their religion in a light contrary to how it really is” is false and misleading. Firstly, I am not “portraying their way of life, their beliefs, their religion in a light contrary to how it really is” since the way I portray Islam is truly how Islam is. Secondly, I am not saying all Muslims act like this, so my friends might not do these things that I say Islam teaches because they are not very strict Muslims who follow their religion perfectly. So I am not attacking all Muslims and how all Muslims live, but I am pointing out that Islam treats women badly, at least that is what I believe. I am allowed to state what I believe. Also, just because people may do something I believe is wrong, doesn’t mean I don’t or can’t love them

Another member commented on my analogy saying, “It’s is called ‘attacking the messenger’. How can someone portray a belief and quoting the verses from your books and you said that he/she attacked you? People’s way of thinking is different.”—truly amazing, I tell you.

Back to the initial quote from Orientalism I quoted above … it’s nothing short of astounding how some people’s minds work. They don’t consider attacking someone through criticism of their religion is considered a personal attack. To them, there’s this false separation between a person and his religion, his entire way of life, his beliefs. To attack someone theologically, to attack a person’s beliefs, his faith, his religion, is to attack the person’s very being, his core. And I find it amazing just how vividly Said describes and depicts what I see before my eyes, of the underlying attitudes, prejudices, and misconceptions many non-Muslim Westerners have towards anything Islamic—and here I make the distinciton between Muslim and non-Muslim Westerner because I too am a Westerner having been born and raised here in the West as a Christian; I too once held many of the same false assumptions and prejudices towards Muslims and Islam as many of the Christians in the West currently have.

We Muslims have a lot of work to do—not only in propagating our religion to non-Muslims here in the West, but also to our brothers and sisters raised here in the West upon these ideals and concepts.

About Rasheed Gonzales
My name is Rasheed Gonzales. I’m a Muslim convert of Filipino descent. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, I was guided to Islam through one of my younger brothers and a couple of friends, all of whom had converted to Islam sometime before me (may Allah reward them greatly). I am married with four children (and the praise is Allah’s) and also a volunteer for the Qur'an & Sunnah Society of Canada, based in Toronto.

4 Responses to Nothing Short of Astounding …

  1. Umar says:

    Assalamu Alaikum WR WB,

    Beautiful post brother Rasheed, Masha’Allah. Truly, that is the mentality of these haters of Islam, that whatever they say is the truth, nothing but the truth, thus potraying themselves as you pointed out as an authority. And in reality, this is the mindset of most of the Christian ,Atheist, Jews and Hindus who engage in dialogue, and any Muslim who is active in taking part in discussions with them would notice that.

    Anyways keep up the good work,

    Jazakallah Khair.

  2. Pingback: The “Experts” are at it Again … « Rasheed Gonzales

  3. Amos says:

    “… it’s nothing short of astounding how some people’s minds work. They don’t consider attacking someone through criticism of their religion is considered a personal attack. To them, there’s this false separation between a person and his religion, his entire way of life, his beliefs. To attack someone theologically, to attack a person’s beliefs, his faith, his religion, is to attack the person’s very being, his core.”

    Well, yes, you are right. But speaking personally, if you attack my beliefs, my very core, it doesn’t bother me and certainly can’t harm me if I am secure in those beliefs. It’s pointless my proselytising or defending them, or attacking yours. However, it may not be pointless defending myself against the consequences of your beliefs if they include actions on your part that threaten my way of life, or my physical well-being.

    I am not suggesting that you are a Muslim terrorist, but there are such people and they are indeed carrying out actions against others, as often Muslim as not, who disagree with them. Again, I am not suggesting that Muslim terrorists can rightly claim their actions are justified by a proper understanding of Islam, but they nonetheless make the claim that that is so, and they quote the Koran to back it up.

    Actions speak so very much louder than words. One can make a similar point about Western democratic nations who invade Muslim countries, of course. One could say that they are betraying the essence of democracy every bit as much as Muslim terrorists are betraying the essence of Islam.

    I suppose my point is that the nub of the problem between pro- and anti- camps in relation to any issue is that in either case, they *identify* one way or the other with a view slanted in accord with their beliefs. In my opinion, we all share one supreme thing in common; we are all human beings, and all equally fallible. Even if we consider our “scripture” (religious or secular) to be impeccable, and indeed, even if it is actually so, our conditioned beliefs influence how we interpret it, or whose interpretation (scholars, experts or whatever) we choose to accept.

    There is no such thing as “the word of God”. Interposed between the Word (or whatever source we deem impeccable) and the understanding of the beholder is his conditioning, which predisposes him to interpret in a certain way.

    However, since he is fallible, he may be incorrect in his understanding, however many others might agree with him, and however authoritative he might consider them to be. It is because of this that one should be very circumspect about acting on a belief whose logical outcome would be to harm others in any way, but particularly irrevocably, as in killing them. Once done, it is done, and if it is based on incorrect interpretation, it is an irreversible injustice, and only God, as they say, can make the final judgement about that.

    Can any mere mortal be sure that *any* interpretation of *any* scripture is absolutely correct? If not, then the most humane approach would seem to be to refrain from doing any avoidable harm to others. The fact that the interpretations (even orthodox ones) of a number of religions does in fact lead to such harm is what convinces me that these interpretations are anti-human, and ultimately, anti-God. People who accept such interpretations are in effect setting themselves up *as* God, which is the last word in polytheism.

    If you think by that that I am saying most orthodox Muslims (or some Christians who focus on OT teachings, for that matter) are quite possiby polytheists, well yes, I suppose I am. In fact, only one religion comes immediately to mind where there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of this kind of polytheism – Jainism, which has an unsurpassed reverence for all forms of life, but particularly human. I’m not myself a Jain, but of all the world’s religions, it seems to me to be the most humane. Certainly, if we were all orthodox Jains, all possibility of man’s inhumanity to man would disappear.

    Salaam aleikum

    Amos

  4. Hello Amos, wa ‘alaikum salâm.

    Thank you for leaving your comment, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I had a couple of comments of my own, however, to a few of the things you mentioned.

    But speaking personally, if you attack my beliefs, my very core, it doesn’t bother me and certainly can’t harm me if I am secure in those beliefs.

    I agree. However, this wasn’t the point of this particular blog entry.

    It’s pointless my proselytising or defending them, or attacking yours.

    Not if the aim is to arrive at the truth; and there is an ultimate truth. I don’t subscribe to this idea that all opinions are equal and valid, and view such slogans (as one of my good friend calls them) to be hogwash.

    In my opinion, we all share one supreme thing in common; we are all human beings, and all equally fallible. Even if we consider our “scripture” (religious or secular) to be impeccable, and indeed, even if it is actually so, our conditioned beliefs influence how we interpret it, or whose interpretation (scholars, experts or whatever) we choose to accept.

    While yes, all human beings are equally fallible, some of us obviously make more mistakes than others. Not all human beings were created equally; some are more intelligent than others, some more athletic, some more compassionate, etc. Fallibility does not prevent us from pointing out others’ mistakes, or even from correcting them if possible.

    I am not suggesting that you are a Muslim terrorist, but there are such people and they are indeed carrying out actions against others, as often Muslim as not, who disagree with them. Again, I am not suggesting that Muslim terrorists can rightly claim their actions are justified by a proper understanding of Islam, but they nonetheless make the claim that that is so, and they quote the Koran to back it up.

    What are you suggesting then?

    There is no such thing as “the word of God”.

    That’s your opinion, which you’re entitled to. But it’s something that we obviously disagree on.

    Can any mere mortal be sure that *any* interpretation of *any* scripture is absolutely correct?

    Yes, I absolutely 100% believe that there are those who can.

    People who accept such interpretations are in effect setting themselves up *as* God, which is the last word in polytheism.

    I’m sorry, but that’s absolute hogwash.

    Certainly, if we were all orthodox Jains, all possibility of man’s inhumanity to man would disappear.

    That’s probably because because man himself would disappear. I for one, cannot fathom walking around with a broom sweeping the ground in front of me for fear of inadvertently killing an insect, let alone the rest of mankind doing such.

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