One rabbi friend of mine in Nashville is under attack for supporting the building of a mosque in a Nashville neighborhood. Among her critics are those who argue that Islam is a threat to America, that mosques are fronts for terrorist agitation and activities, and that Islam isn’t really a religion but a way of life seeking to impose its values on every aspect of human life.
While I support my friend, I am intrigued by her critics, and not unsympathetic to their fears.
Are there dangerous clerics in Islam? Of course. And there are dangerous clergy in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism as well. Do some mosques foment hate and terror? Of course. And there are churches, synagogues, and temples in the US, Israel, India, Africa, and elsewhere that do so as well. The challenge is to root out these clerics and the institutions that support them, not to condemn all churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.
I would urge critics of religious radicalism in all its forms to attend local religious institutions and report on what is being taught by actual clergy in actual religious centers. If there is a mosque, church, synagogue, or temple plotting, preaching or excusing hatred, injustice, and oppression let’s expose them.
Is Islam a religion or a code of life? The two are not mutually exclusive. Judaism also speaks to all aspects of life: social, economic, legal, cultural, political, etc. It tells Jews what foods they can and cannot eat, what kinds of clothing they can and cannot wear, when and how to wage war and when and how to wage peace. There is an important difference, however. While Judaism seeks to impose its strictures on Jews alone, Islam seeks to make the whole world Muslim, just as Christianity used to and in some cases continues to seek to make the whole world Christian.
I too fear totalitarianism, religious and otherwise. I no more want to live under Sharia law than I do under Jewish law, Catholic law, or any system which holds that civil law should be derived from and shaped in accordance with the laws of the Bible, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, or any other scripture. When Muslims start imposing Islamic values on secular America I will fear them. At the moment, however, I am more fearful of conservative Christians imposing their biblical values on America weakening our study of science and medicine, restricting women’s reproductive rights, stepping on the civil rights of homosexuals, holding “national” prayer breakfasts that exclude any god but their own, etc.
Yes, Islam is a complete code of life. So is Judaism. So is Christianity. The only difference is that most American Jews and Christians ignore their respective faiths when those faiths interfere with their personal desires. Muslims just haven’t reached the point where the majority or even a sizable minority give lip service to Islam while living secular lives no longer controlled by it. For better or worse, the mall will trump the mosque just as it has the church and the synagogue.