March 17, 2007
Islam and islam
Brian McLaren, in his book, carefully pointed out his personal interpretation of the difference between “Evangelism” and evangelism. (note the small and big capital letters) Likewise, I’d like to draw this parallel to a whole load of other words and tags which have been grossly misunderstood – to the extent that the new misunderstood version of the word gives shape and identity to the word itself.
Words like Christianity (synonymous today with proselytisation), secularism (synonymous in Malaysia today with worldly profanity), and Islam (synonymous with terrorism and radical extremist conservatism).
Can we create new terminologies to represent any or all of these in their truest, original form? Why is this necessary, you ask?
Because when we are engaging in discourse and discussion, it is always necessary to first define the terms we argue about. In a debate, this is what proponents and opponents do at the beginning. It is because disagreements abound on the very terms we use.
A Muslim just means someone who is subject to the will of God. Who can doubt that, based on this definition, this includes everyone? (except hardcore atheists of course – I haven’t forgotten about you and you and you) So Islam is, in its original contextual meaning, being subject to the will of God, and searching for the best path in that direction.
What it has become is a different animal altogether. So when asked whether I support an Islamic state, I have to give varied answers depending on my conversationalist’s understanding of Islam.
Just like how I shudder to be identified as a “Christian” if it means giving the impression of me forcing people to convert through fear, or the horrific things Christians have done in the world today like run hate-campaigns against gays, use religion to support Republican foreign policy in Iraq – and prefer to be identified as ‘christian’ in nature – following the footsteps of peace loving Jesus… I think all of us need to rethink labels and generalisations we have given to perfectly innocent terms like Islam.
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