One of my friends is a conservative Muslim. We met volunteering for the same organization and hit it off right from the start; in fact, as unlikely friends we would be, I’d say we get along better than any other two people in this organization. Sure, some topics are probably no use for us to enter, but we share a work ethic and many common values and, together, have accomplished much beyond those communities that’d claim us. She is, in fact, my bad cop.
This friend wears full dress, even in July. I’ve never seen her hair, and she never shakes the hand of a man, even a gay one :-). In fact I have to watch myself that I don’t inadvertently, say, tap her on the shoulder when I want to get her attention. Often we’re fed by the organization for which we volunteer, but even if, say, ham is adjacent to an acceptable sandwich on a deli plate, she’d not touch it; she’ll go hungry all day. I hate to watch her do that, but that’s what she gives up for her faith.
Now, I’ve read the Koran a couple times. I’ve found it to be an amazing work, particularly considering its purported origins, and I could certainly say I found and felt the glinting strands of inspiration, truth, and morality running through it, as I do in every religious text I’ve read. But I’m not a Muslim, and, as any non-Muslim would, I think for good reason. While she feels she has had some personal, confirming experience with her God, and, while I’d take her word on most things, I don’t believe it here. Not near that she is dishonest--no way--she’s amongst the most honest, intelligent, and dependable people I know. I’m sure she feels something; I’m near sure everyone who makes such sacrifices does. I also personally know how you can cause yourself to feel something, and how easy it is to motivate oneself and inadvertently color one’s memory when the stakes are as high as eternity and fate has placed you in any tradition of faith.
I, in my tradition, have had many a ham sandwich and I have zero moral qualms for that fact. I’d even say placing such sacrifices into the realm of morality is morally wrong. It weakens the entire body of ethics, and it gets me upset to think of the ulterior reasons some manipulate people’s hope to do good with what, to me, are rules there to support a human organization, not morality or God. To play with such can be useful for leaders, but it can do a lot of unintended harm. In fact, I’d wager falsely calling something or some group evil has caused far more human tragedy than falsely calling something good.
Humans do naturally develop a deep and important sense of fairness (ask any 5-year-old ;-)). It’s vital to our everyday life as a social species, and most feel it deeply. We can even image the areas of our brain that work out such morality. And it motivates; following rules and exercising self control can, ironically, feel good, as it plays off this sense of morality, even if the sacrifice isn’t based in moral reasoning.
Leaders and organizations, secular and religious, use these tools in the morality kit all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with right or wrong, consciously or not. They build group unity and identity, separate people culturally from the influence of those not in the organization, increase group numbers (typically with sex laws), and make members feel good about being a member for abstaining from even false evils, particularly with the idea of pleasing God and/or receiving reward. To me, it’s for such reasons some organizations mix stuff like “don’t wear linen with wool” in with “don’t murder.”
Here, though and gratefully, with my Muslim friend we’re talking about ham, headscarves, and handshakes. While she sacrifices more for her faith than most (you should see her by the end of Ramadan!), she’s not hurting anyone and it’s none of my business. It’s simply far from liberation to tear the headscarf from someone choosing to wear it and free to leave it off; it’s nearer assault.
Furthermore, my ham-philia and homosexuality somehow aren’t an issue for her; nor has it gotten in the way of our friendship. I don’t know if such was an issue before our friendship or if she harbors some “hate the sin” reasoning and I don’t care to, but she’ll support equal rights for my family, if not call it supernaturally equal. The consequences of what, to her, are serious commandments about her behavior, sex, food, and dress, straight from God, delivered by His prophet, are just not that pressing for her neighbors… As long as she doesn’t try to pass some sort of Defense of Meat Act (DOMA) to put her religious belief about ideal meals into her neighbor’s kitchen.
I certainly do feel and should say that I find her guiding moral here wrong, in my own life, and eroding to morality on whole. But hey, she thinks I eat abominably; I’ll call it even. In considering her life, though, I have to look at it a bit differently. I can’t keep how I regard those few ethics of hers that concern me in mind when I love so much else about her. Her sincerity, strong testimony, and, of course, friendship make those rules important and serious to me too. I’ll tell her if I saw a slice of ham near her sandwich. I’d even take that bullet and eat it for her :-).
End of part 1 of 3. I’ll work my way to a point, eventually.