PEOPLE & THINGS: Islamic nonsense
In all fairness to the Muslims here the title of this article is prompted more by the poor communication of the objectives of their recent housing development as the fundamentals of their challenge speaks more about our own prejudices than theirs.
The basic message we get from their most recent acquisition is a desire to establish an Islamic enclave (at worst) or (at best) an Islamic sanctuary where Muslims can live and establish a worship centre.
This simple desire is at the root of their residential development and the subtext is also important since they claim that repeated attempts to obtain permission to construct a Mosque closer to an area where many of them now live has been denied.
The ability to live close to their worship centre is perhaps more important for them than the majority of Christians here since their “communion of saints” tends to be more frequent than that of Christians. Overtime Christianity has evolved into an “al la carte” religion and as such “we” might journey to a far flung worship centre three times a year (Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter) and still consider ourselves practising Christians.
Muslims here have, however, not yet strayed too far from their traditional dictates and as such most will engage in a private prayer ritual five times a day and attend their mosque at least once a week, which becomes challenging if this mosque is located some distance away from their homes.
This observance tempts non-Christians into an unfortunate discussion about the reasons why Muslims need to be so “strict” since many of their rituals and practices appear strange, time-consuming and outmoded. Such concerns range from Islamic dress to their obsession with facial hair and the way in which they treat “their” women.
While I appreciate these concerns, I am privileged to be sufficiently distant from all faiths to understand the extent to which these assertions can often border on Islamophobia. Certainly, Muslims are strange, but to be fair, they are no stranger than Christians, Hindus and Jews.
The difference is that since most of us are Christians, we have forgotten how odd it is that we are called to meet frequently and drink the “blood” of a man who allegedly died 2 000 years ago. We therefore accept our own habits no matter how strange, but refuse to understand why other faiths need to behave similarly.
This double standard is nowhere more evident than in respect of the Islamic call to worship which is often said to be a nuisance, while church bells that summon believers are celebrated as one of the hallmarks of a sophisticated civilisation.
I am therefore inclined to think that we have nothing to fear from this Islamic development since they appear not to be breaking any laws. As I understand it, if I so desired there is nothing to stop me from purchasing a lot there and the fact that I am not partial to any religion would be irrelevant so long as I had the requisite funds.
The proposition is an interesting one since I would find myself in the midst of Muslims who go about their daily business as I go about mine. My situation would be little different to what presently exists where I live among Christians whose beliefs have as little impact on me as mine do on them.
The one potential annoyance I foresee is the Islamic call to prayer which is normally by way of an amplified version of Allahu Akbar voiced by the muezzin.
This is, however, likely to be no more a nuisance than the oral incantations of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which is a few doors down from me and I can take comfort in the fact that the local Islamic body has already promised that it will not amply their “call to prayer”.
If then one were to prefer to opt to live among Christians, as opposed to Muslims, it is a reflection of latent bigotry born of the type of Islamophobia which has sadly grown in popularity.
In the final analysis, this issue says more about “us Christians” than it does about “those Muslims”. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and that Muslims are unable to find places to worship in peace speaks to latent intolerance.
Barbados and its Government need to embrace religious diversity and appreciate the extent to which this enhances our culture. Such diversity is not about politically correct speeches, but should be matched by policy which facilitates the infrastructure that supports diverse religious enterprise.
One footnote to all this is the role that the Islamic community plays in constructing its own negative perception. These are Barbadians who live among us, but have developed a strong subculture which is not helped by the fact that many of them are of East Indian origin.
There is a sporadic outreach from select members of the community but sadly this is more the exception than the rule. Moreover that community often comes across as selfish since it speaks to its own issues, but reserves comment on broader societal issues, forgetting that it is the same bigotry that Christians display towards gays and lesbians that will be unleashed on Muslims when the time comes.
Sadly, Muslims here and elsewhere seem not to understand the interconnectedness of our world today.
Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).