Many have already noted the irony of hardliners in the Islamic Republic of Iran arresting the youth who appear in this tribute to Pharrell William’s video “Happy.” It seems that happiness is not allowed in Iran, particularly for youth.
Maybe so, but what I also find ironic is the many in the West who claim to be Christian and who condemn Islam – as a whole – for being a cruel and violent religion. From time to time, we all see videos or screeds (in various internet forums or email) warning us of the evils of Islam. The thrust of these is that Islam, and usually every other religion that is not Christianity for that matter, are branded as evil. The authors of such missives usually emphasize that Islam is a threat to Christianity and/or to the United States, and that we must respond in kind. Usually, the rantings of one or more extremist Muslim clerics or out of context quotes from the Koran or various Muslim prophets are supplied as evidence that Islam is bent upon destroying anything that stands in the way of Islam’s domination of the world.
I have several responses to such drivel…
First, I’d hate to think that Muslims judge us by the bigotry behind the more strident voices in the Western media who condemn Islam, often in complete ignorance of the nature and history of the faith or what the majority of Muslims really believe. Examples of such include Franklin Graham, Bill Keller and Terry Jones. So, when I hear Islam being criticized using evidence from the mouths of men like Osama Bin Laden, or extracted from news reports of the anti-Christian (and anti-Western) violence of Boko Haram; I pause for a moment to consider that such people are considered to be just as extreme by most Muslims as most Christians (and Americans) feel men like Terry Jones are.
We need to always remember that the voices of extremists are not representative of the majority of those who practice the same faith they claim to have – any faith, not just Islam. The comments of Abu Waleed, for instance, are no more valid a measure of the nature of the faith of those who adhere to Islam than are the Koran burning antics of Terry Jones a valid representation of the faith of the majority of Christians.
Second: Yes, there are aspects of Islam I could do without: many of the practices and tenets of Islam, particularly those of more conservative Muslims, trouble my “Western” Christian mind. However, I could say the same thing about some aspects of every Christian tradition, including my own. In fact, if one pauses to consider the history of Western Christianity, that history is full of narratives of slavery, violence, genocide, oppression and colonial imperialism of the worst kinds – all justified (by those inflicting such injustice) through views of the Bible and Christianity that most now see as fatally flawed and self-serving.
In other words, it is a fallacy to think that any finite human being can have a comprehensive understanding of the nature and will of our infinite, omnipotent and omnipresent Creator. It is also a fallacy to think that one’s own religion is any “better” than that of another – and, once one begins to judge another’s faith as flawed, where do we stop? It might be easy to judge Islam as unbalanced and evil – but it is easy to find examples where those who condemn Islam are also on record as condemning as evil (or fatally corrupt) those Christians who’s beliefs that do not mirror their own. When one begins to judge others, its hard to stop, which is why Jesus said (in Matthew 7:1): “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” then goes on to emphasize this (in Matthew 7:3) by adding “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Third, as Abraham Lincoln once said: “My concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.” As I have meditated upon in the past, when we begin judging others, we are in fact violating the second commandment (or third, depending on how you count them), which is: “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” When we claim God’s favor over some thing (or judge another’s faith to be more flawed than our own), we are putting our own will, our own desires, ahead of God’s will. We are stating that God is undoubtedly on our side, rather than asking ourselves whether we are on God’s side. We are saying there is no reason to discern God’s will in this manner, nor any justification for revisiting the issue, because God has already made the decision in our favor. And, how can anyone question or challenge a decision made by God? So, our claims to God’s favor classifies what we’ve said as sacred and therefore above reproach.
The progressive political Activist Anne Lamott once wrote: “The opposite of faith is not doubt – it’s certainty.” When we claim that our faith is the ideal, then we are closing ourselves off from a deeper, growing relationship with our faith. Our faith becomes a static thing, no longer alive, no longer full of hope, but a dead thing that cannot grow, cannot celebrate, cannot change, and has no hope of joy.
I know many Muslims – young and old – who are interesting, dedicated, very moral and faithful people. The fruit of their devotion to their faith is usually good – a passion for justice and peace in the case of my friends Aziz Abu Sarah and Mazen Faraj, for instance. Or consider the young woman I have come to know through my chaplaincy work at a local homeless shelter – she and her family are refugees from war and violence in Northern Sudan. She hopes – one day – to be a Doctor; or another muslim woman from the same shelter – a single mom, fleeing spousal abuse, who has now found a home of her own and simply wants to be self-supporting and to raise her son (who is a great kid, by the way) to be a happy, caring, and faith-filled man. And then there’s my elder “brother” Ahmed, who has spent his entire life seeking to spur economic growth and to bring greater freedom and justice to the peoples of the Middle East and Africa.
Islam is not evil – even though there are some who use their particular spin on the Muslim faith to justify violence upon (and oppression of) others. Christians are no different, nor Hindus, nor Jews, nor those who practice any other religion for that matter.
In all of these cases it is not the faith that is flawed, but the people who claim that faith as their own, and then twist it to justify the oppression and silencing of competing faiths and points of view.
So, when I see Iranian Youth celebrating Pharrell William’s powerful and beautiful video, I rejoice – its a wonderful, wonderful thing. But, when I see these same youth persecuted for making themselves a part of Pharrell’s narrative of happiness (which Pharrell treasures, by the way), it makes me sad – and angry. Just as when I see politicians and other leaders in this country condemning and oppressing those whose faith or race or lifestyle or sexual orientation differs from their own, using their Christian Faith as the justification.
Be happy and rejoice when our brothers and sisters – of any faith – are happy, too. We are all members of the same choir, singing praises to that which created us – in many voices, with many faiths, and having skins of many colors. God created all of us as unique and distinct creatures for a reason – celebrate your uniqueness, and that of others – treasure it – because that is what makes us all happy.
Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)