Sunday, July 29, 2012

Are Muslims willing to learn from Jews and gays?

JC Penny put two daddies in its Father’s Day catalogue this year, and Oreo supported equal rights by posting a picture of rainbow cookies on Facebook. Famous brands such as American Apparel, Levi’s, Starbucks, Target and Disney World have done similar things.

Supporting these causes has led to negative responses from conservative groups, such as the American Family Association (AFA) and One Million Moms, which demand the neutrality of corporations in these so-called wars of culture.

Besides them, liberal celebrities in the US are actively involved in endorsing equal rights. The most recent is well-known news anchor Anderson Cooper, whose coming out made the headlines in American major media.

The US presidential race, which is now underway, not only focuses on economic issues like the recovery, but also on social issues such as birth control, contraception, abortion and gay marriage. Candidates are exploiting the issues to win votes from minorities.

Although criticisms against President Obama’s support for gay marriage are deemed only as a tool to distract voters’ focus on economic recovery — and the companies seek benefits from publicity and product selling by jumping in on sensitive issues — this cultural war seemingly means that the conflict not only pits elites against each other but also individuals who believe in diversity and that everybody has the right to love anyone.

As consumers, individuals are the ones who should have power to decide what products or policies they are into.

Exercising critical consumer skills is essential to supporting causes that might affect larger communities in general.

Both the conservatives and progressives believe what is the best interest of their groups and they have ability to diffuse such thoughts.

The dialogue between members of society emerges as a public discourse in which anyone either wants to follow it or not. This war is not only about the current schools of thought, but it also shows that individualism matters.

Bringing the phenomena to Indonesia, cynical folks might grossly respond with old school arguments such as Westernization and disagreement with religious values. The world has changed and now it is not easy to put a clear border between Western and Eastern values.

It seems they have meshed as the modern state of information technology rapidly grows. National and cultural identity still play their roles, although every individual is unique and cannot be generalized.

Jewish and gay people in Miami, New York and Massachusetts actively spread their influences to policy makers to produce laws that support their interests.

Not only that, but they also communicate their values through the media with the position, power and influence they have so that the general public and government can execute policies that favor their interests. Definitely, this is something that Muslims can learn.

Every group and ethnicity has its own pride, including Muslims. However, this pride is somewhat misleading in most Muslims. Not many of them are willing to look at what Jewish people have been doing to increase their prominence in the world because the Koran says they are our enemies and will always be.

Many will see nothing positive in what gay men are doing to leverage their equal rights movement, as these individual are considered as sinful groups that do not deserve a place in heaven.

There is a very popular hadith that tells Muslims to study in China. At the time this was told, Muhammad was introducing Muslims to another civilization besides Islam. Unfortunately, this wisdom was narrowed by some Muslims down to a geographical point only.

The spirit behind it might be relevant to date by widening the values to learn from anyone and anywhere. In other words, this hadith can be used to encourage Muslims to be open-minded and avoid being chauvinistic.

The Islamic purification movement encourages Muslims to practice the religion as it was originally taught by Muhammad.

However, this idea mainly relates to tedious ritual aspects and is far away from the essence of Islam as a value or way of life.

People are told how to say prayers five times a day without being aware of why they have to do that or whether they need to, and most importantly how Islam is a rahmatan lil alamin (blessing for the universe)

Ramadhan arrives and some hardliners loudly proclaim that all nightlife must be shut down and restaurants must not open during the day over the month to respect those who are fasting.

If those who are fasting are meant to do these rituals since they believe it is good for them, then why do they need to act like this to secure it? Only those who are fasting because of peer pressure, and are not doing it out of genuine faith, may need that conservative action.

Simply put, if you believe that fasting is a way to serve God then you do not need the help of external parties.

Such a radical approach degrades Islam as a peaceful religion and attaches a negative stigma to it. Not every Muslim lives in the Islamic world, they are widely spread across the globe and some live in

They are struggling to be accepted in their communities but still have to deal with these negative stigmas created by the hardliners are part of majorities in other areas.

Islam teaches empathy to live within any kind of society, but this teaching has been reduced by some schools of thought that instead choose to promote violence. They politicize the religion and manipulate their people through negative indoctrination.

The dien is meant to accept dissimilarities and be compatible with democracy, but those groups get it confused with something else.

Living within diversity is about accepting other perspectives. It does not necessarily mean agreeing.

It also relates to balancing majority and minority points of view. If you are part of a majority, it may not be a bad thing to put yourself in the shoes of the minority. You might find it teaches you how to be open-minded and practice your faith

So, if Jews and gays — two groups that most Muslims dislike — can elegantly leverage their interests, are Muslims willing to learn a lesson from them?

Abdul Rohman, Tallahassee, Florida  faculty member of the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) in Yogyakarta and USAID scholar at Florida State University.

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