Some thoughts on Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis and hijab

Thought I'd share this naughty but deeply inspired and profound quip
from progressive evangelical pastor Tony Campolo, whose wonderful book Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles The Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid To Face I'm reading at the moment.

According to a profile on him in Christianity Today:

"I
have three things I'd like to say today," he famously began many
speeches in the 1980s. "First, while you were sleeping last night,
30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
Second, most of you don't give a sā€”. What's worse is that you're more
upset with the fact that I said sā€” than the fact that 30,000 kids died
last night."

Let us count the ways similarly myopic priorities are found in the Muslim (and indeed any religious) community, as well.

Thanks to my having just happened to re-read my old post, "Salafis, Kalam, complexity, and hijab" after I noticed an incoming link to it, the first thing that pops to mind is tha old favorite, hijab
The only time some Muslims pay attention to the needs and rights of
their sisters  is when hijab is at stake. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind.

Then there's the paradox in some cases of Islamic dress sometimes making
women less visible and in a sense comfortable in the community due to
imported cultural hang-ups that don't make sense in a society where
Muslims are a minority.

Things have improved dramatically in recent years, but take the way how in some more conservative MSAs, young men
sometimes reward Muslimahs for bucking the tide of American culture and
dressing modestly (no small feat in most nudist colonies…sorry…college
campuses) by completely ignoring them–to the extent of not even making
eye contact with women who are dressed conservatively and cover their hair–in the name of modesty
while interacting freely and warmly (reluctantly, of course–this is strictly for the sake of Dawah) with far less modestly dressed non-Muslim women on campus is well known.

I don't think it's conscious in most cases, but in some people's eyes,
hijab signals to them that culturally inappropriate foreign norms may
safely be imposed on community socializing to the exclusion of women.
With a non-hijabi, they'd probably feel less entitled to assume those
mores and treat them more respectfully (in many cases, this eye-aversion thing is not a mark of respect, but a conspicuous display for onlookers and/or a reminder of the other person's inferior place in the pecking order–people don't avert their gaze from equals).

Which is a really tragic when one's only source of solidarity and spiritual support is
that same community, as is often the case on isolated campuses. For many Muslims
in this country–especially those living outside major
metropoles–one's local mosque or MSA is for all practical purposes the
Ummah, at least until they move. If that particular institution is cold
and unwelcoming to women–as my mother, a Danish convert to Islam,
found the main mosques in Boston to be in the 1970s–because of imported
cultural hangups, then you have an extremely serious problem.

Imagine a church whose members wave warmly to passersby and encourage them to come in, but then
ignore 50% of new members once they enter the building. It's perverse
and incredibly self-defeating, but what's new. 

For the record, this pessimistic picture is thankfully outdated as regards many communities today. (I remember when a
decade ago earnest, long-bearded uncles busted an informal and very chaste Muslim singles events
at ISNA as if they'd uncovered an orgy; now, such things are
widely supported at the highest levels.) Organizations and leaders
have grown and evolved dramatically on many previous hot button issues in recent years.

But values that once reigned supreme in many places can't disappear
overnight, so you can be sure these attitudes are still out there and
in need of scrutiny.

Anyway, went on a bit more than intended on that.

I recommend Campolo's book
(which includes a chapter refuting the claim that
Christians should consider Islam evil and many other valuable insights).

And Jim Wallis' The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America,
for that matter. I found that quite enlightening and heartening, too.
Wallis argues that a systemic shift is underway among evangelicals away
from the cold, hardline ideologues of the Christian Right.

Let's hope he's right and that this changing of the guard happens
before these "Left Behind" types reduce the planet to a smoking heap in the name
of the Prince of Peace.

Scorn is really poured on people like Campolo and Wallis by movement evangelicals for, among other things, daring to show respect for Islam.

Take this post listing "scandalous" statements along these lines.  [I submitted a comment commenting on how the Christian Right's methods in critiquing people like Campolo remind me of the kneejerk literalism of old school Wahhabism, btw.]

I find it fascinating how the quotes presented in the link above–most of which are from a modern Christian perspective to be debatable but at the same time quite defensible–are presented a self-evident proof that require no analysis or context to be properly grasped. (Perhaps that's because to engage in analysis would show how tenuous these assumptions really are? Another parallel with Wahhabism!)

P.S. Here's the comment I left (which to the guy's credit was not deleted), which of course rejects Muslim exclusivism no less. With the possible exception of the guy who invented Speedos, I don't do eternal hell. Don't think it's in the Quran or Hadith. (And a minority of scholars has always agreed.)

As a Muslim, I have to say that your theological criticisms remind me of the doctrinaire smugness of Wahhabis.

I say the same thing to you that I say to closed minded Muslims who assume that only Muslims are saved: Why are you so miserly with God's mercy, and where do you get off assuming that your narrow debatable interpretations are the only conceivable conclusions on such complex issues?

It's fascinating how ferociously many Christian bloggers on the right react to his olive branch to Islam. Apparently, hatred of Islam is truly an article of a faith for a lot of you.

This doesn't have to be a zero sum game, you know. One can believe in the truth and perfection of one religion (as I do Islam) without assuming that it necessarily entails the complete exclusion of all other belief systems and that, therefore, adherents of other faiths are abandoned by God. (The Quran, incidentally, constantly and conspicuously couples faith with good deeds and explicitly says that all will be rewarded for their actions, good as well as bad, in the next life. It doesn't say only Muslims will be rewarded.)

Also, seems to me that your assumption that God is so curtailed by time, space & the vagaries of circumstance that He could never save a person who didn't say the "magic words" is both impious and ironic given your criticisms of Catholicism for its emphasis on Works.

Aren't you reducing faith to works here? Do you believe faith in God/Christ is some kind of vending machine, or do really believe that God works in mysterious ways that sometimes are beyond our understanding?

I for one don't think you're going to Hell. In my view, you're quite mistaken about Christ's divinity–he was a prophet, you know :-) –but that doesn't mean you're lost in and of itself.

Such a more nuanced position to truth is admittedly hard for some people to understand, but then so's Quantum Mechanics. Complexity doesn't disqualify truth.

Maybe you should cut Campolo some more slack and stop playing the Pharisee. He might understand something about Christ's message that you have yet to grasp fully.

In any case, he's a lot less likely to unleash World War III than the guys you seem to be holding up as standard bearers of Christian orthodoxy.

Peace.


PPS  For the record, when I referred to "closed minded Muslims who assume that only Muslims are saved," I was referring to Muslims who parallel these Islamophobes, ie Muslims who go beyond honest acknowledgments of doctrinal differences and sink into demonizing  non-Muslims.

I certainly think that to believe that God damns all non-believers is ultimately a closed-minded (and in the case of Islam unwarranted) conclusion, but it doesn't follow that a person who subscribes to that position for one reason or another is closed minded, especially if they are unaware of competing interpretations.

End of legal disclaimer.

  • otowi

    As a hijab wearing woman living in a place with very few muslims, I can relate very much to this piece. I feel I am often treated more respectfully and inclusively by my non-muslim coworkers and family than by the muslim community – many seem to act as if I am alien or invisible or they fear me or some combination of these.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com svend

    Salaams, Otowi
    I’m sorry to hear that, but sadly not at all surprised. It’s a serious problem of which a lot of people remain utterly oblivious. And it doesn’t just affect “bad” liberal women.
    To some extent, this is a familiar pattern among recent immigrant communities, but there are obviously (pseudo-)doctrinal underpinnings as well that make it unique to us.

  • dawood

    My wife has remarked similarly – she works as a manager in a large national bank chain here in Sydney and has remarked that her colleagues often “don’t see” that she is anything different to them. A number even remarking that they “forgot” she was even wearing a scarf – it was not a barrier to communication and teamwork etc. at all, just a part of who she is as a person.
    Yet when she came with me recently for the juma`a at my Uni musalla, she was amazed at how she was treated (being out of the Uni scene for a few years now and all that).
    For me I find it disgusting how the sisters are treated some times, especially because it is them who are literally out there in the “front line” of any prejudice or islamophobia anyways. Most of the guys wear their baggy pants or 3/4 pants, fitted t-shirts and what have you just like everyone else but those young women who choose to wear hijab have nowhere to “hide”. Many of the guys don’t even “look” Muslim apart from perhaps an ethnic affinity and in some cases not even that – my British background and manner is completely unassuming (even though I have somewhat of a beard), yet if I had a cap or turban on and wore a thawb I am sure it would be quite different.
    Hopefully either within this generation or in the next this attitude will change.

  • aNobody

    assalaamualaykum Sidi,
    I thought you might might find these articles ‘of interest’ :
    A Letter to Abd al-Matin On the Universal Validity of Religions …
    http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/nuh/amat.htm
    and
    A Letter to Christians in the Ukraine
    http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/nuh/xtians.htm

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Salaams, Dawood
    Great to hear from you, saddening thought the tale may be.
    You’re so right about women being on the front line. And taking fire one *both* fronts, by judgmental pseudo traditionalist Muslims for whom anything but burlap sack is immodest (but rarely bugging men whose dress fails such stringent standards) and by secularists who see modest dress (especially hijab) as a mark of subjugation.
    One hopes that the next generation evolves past these doublestandards, and I think that’s happening in many cases. At the same time, one sometimes sees Western~born Muslims being “more Catholic than the Pope” on such matters to shore up their traditionalist credentials (preaching about women’s dress is an easy way for men to score points as defending Islamic values).
    So it might be a mixed bag. insha’Allah, your prediction will pan out.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Salaams, “Nobody”, and thanks for the informative links. With all due respect, I’ve seen and grappled with many of these arguments before and found them inadequate, at least as a complete expression of the truth. My problem isn’t with the notion that Islam is the final, purest revelation (which incidentally disposes of the standard charge that such beliefs amount to moral relativism), but rather with the categorical denial of the possibility of Allah having mercy on non~Muslims (and we won’t even get into what exactly that means, and how conventional usage of the term squares with the Quran’s message) is profoundly problematic in my view. Not just because I object to it on moral grounds~~I do, and I believe that reaction is part of my God given fitra, just as idolatry is contrary to one’s fitra~~but also because I think the Quran and Sunnah are full of evidence, obvious as well as subtle, of this higher truth, which many people inevitably find threatening.
    Incidentally, not so long ago, many traditional scholars were making equally categorical declarations about the alleged impermissiblity of democracy and popular sovereignty. Sovereignty was Allah’s only, they declared, and the ijma allowed for no debate, yet here we are today, with it suddenly being *difficult* to find bona fide critics of democracy.
    Also, it’s interesting that Sh. Nuh ends his letter to Br. Abdal Matin with “I remain your brother.” If, as Sh. Nuh says, holding this belief after the advent of Islam makes one a kafir, and if a Muslim persists in this “error” after receiving such nasiha (as do many, myself included) doesn’t that make us, nauzoobillah, kafirs?
    perhaps i’m wrong, but it seems to me that there is a contradiction there.
    Allahu alim.

  • aNobody

    waalaykumassalaam Sidi,
    >> My problem isn’t with the notion that Islam is the final, purest revelation
    >> (which incidentally disposes of the standard charge that such beliefs amount
    >> to moral relativism), but rather with the categorical denial of the possibility
    >> of Allah having mercy on non~Muslims
    From my understanding of the text(s), especially the second addressed
    to the Christians of the Ukraine, this denial is conditional and not categorical
    as enumerated by the two possibilities found at the end of the second article.
    >> (and we won’t even get into what exactly that means, and how
    >> conventional usage of the term squares with the Quran’s message) is
    >> profoundly problematic in my view. Not just because I object to it on moral
    >> grounds~~I do, and I believe that reaction is part of my God given fitra, just
    >> as idolatry is contrary to one’s fitra~~but also because I think the Quran and
    >> Sunnah are full of evidence, obvious as well as subtle, of this higher truth,
    >> which many people inevitably find threatening.
    Suppose that God did ( or did not ) choose to send one to Hell, with what authority
    could anyone raise a moral objection ?
    >> Also, it’s interesting that Sh. Nuh ends his letter to Br. Abdal Matin with “I
    >> remain your brother.” If, as Sh. Nuh says, holding this belief after the advent of
    >> Islam makes one a kafir, and if a Muslim persists in this “error” after receiving
    >> such nasiha (as do many, myself included) doesn’t that make us, nauzoobillah,
    >> kafirs? perhaps i’m wrong, but it seems to me that there is a contradiction there
    My impression was that the questioner does not hold these particular beliefs,
    but was only asking about those who do.
    I am no one to comment on your second question. I do hope you’ll ask someone
    upright with more to say than me. May Allah guide us both to the Truth.
    and Allah knows best
    was-salaams

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com svend

    Salaams and thanks for clarifying.
    To answer your question as simply as possible, IMO for *anybody* to be sent to hell eternally belies fundamental divine attributes of justice and mercy, given the infinity of the punishment compared against the finitude of the offense (i.e., committing a sin–even the gravest of them–for a finite period of time). I see it as self-evident a deal-breaker as, say, God, God forbid :) , lieing to us, or having a son (no offense to Christians out there). If God were capricious or unjust, all this would be pointless.
    Incidentally, I was not trying to critique Sh. Nuh (not that I am even in a position to do so epistemologically; but we all must have opinions based on what we believe we know), so much as share my perspective on the underlying issues involved.


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