A good friend of mine who was on recent a “class field trip” with me to visit an Islamic center here in Boston wrote a blog posting of her thoughts regarding that experience, particularly her feelings of anger and violation because of how women are treated differently than men in this particular congregation, and in the Islamic faith as a whole. I understand, sympathize and agree with her thoughts, So, I guess I’m stuck on how we should respond on both an individual basis, and as a class, to what she says…
My own guiding principle is that no matter what the accepted conventions of the society at large are, one’s first goal must be to do that which is true to one’s own values; though you can’t push this too far without becoming arrogant and self-righteous. In this case, we were students of faith visiting the place of worship of another great religion, a faith that is admirable in most respects and which has made magnificent and beautiful contributions to the world in which we live; a faith which is vital, living and provides a great deal of value, purpose and comfort to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So, balance is needed. As human beings, we must respect the “otherness” of others, but we must also sometimes stand up for what we know within ourselves is right when the social conventions of others create injustice or oppression – and we must be willing to accept the costs of doing so.
I don’t think guidelines can easily be predetermined along the continuum of endorsement vs. acceptance vs resistance vs protest. What to do is a multidimensional and intensely personal decision in many cases, as it was for my friend (and others) here. But, on the whole, I think it is better to be true to one’s “internal compass”, especially when one has taken the time to discern, think through and systematize one’s values (as I and others are learning to do at ANTS). Protesting the wearing of head scarves and other measures that (in American eyes) demean or oppress the status of women is often warranted, but was this a time to do so, when we were guests, guests trying to learn more about an often misunderstood and unjustly vilified faith? I think that is a very, very hard question to answer.
I believe, that as a community of faith, the trials of one affect us all. In that light, I apologize to my friend – there is no reason why I couldn’t have worn a head scarf myself while there, other than I didn’t think of doing so at the time. But then I need to ask myself, was this the proper time and place for me to be in solidarity with others in an act of protest? — Leaving us right back where we started. In the end, I think she made the right choice: if we had been known to this congregation, respectful protest and seeking of a mutually acceptable resolution would have been seen in a much different light then if we’d simply swooped in on this, the first time they met us, and done something that would have been seen as an unreasoning condemnation or lack of toleration for beliefs that are important to this community as part of their identity as a people of faith.
Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).