The Curse of the Default

During the long weekend, I attended an Islamic conference titled “Is Islamic Thought Dying?” The topic intrigued me since it sounded like I would be intellectually stimulated and learn quite a few things. In order to ensure that all registrants were serious and interested in the conference, everyone had to write an essay about whether or not he or she believes that Islamic thought is dying. In addition, the program organizers mentioned a particular book – Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World – on their site, saying that the lectures will touch on what is said in that book.

Turns out the entire conference was meant to be a critique on that book. While interesting, it wasn’t what I (or anyone else for that matter) signed up for.

However, one of the scholars, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, went off topic in his speeches. While he touched on the various types of thought discussed in the book, he delivered his own take on it instead of delivering, in his words, “a book report.”

After going through horizontal versus vertical thinking and the use of tradition plus reason he got to talking about the “Curse of Default.”

Dr. Umar (a former Puritan from Nebraska who converted in the 70s and then studied Islam abroad. He’s got a cool story about how he was introduced to Islam.) related an incident that took place soon after 9/11:

At a college campus lecture, a group of professors defended Islam and Muslims against the atrocities of 9/11. However, a group of Muslims shouted them down.

At the mosque after prayers later that week, one lady went up to the men that had been shouting at the lecture, who were actually the leaders of that mosque, and asked what was wrong with them. “We don’t need help from kafirs, ” one man responded. A kafir literally means a ‘disbeliever’ but it’s not a very nice word. It’s not something you call someone lightly, basically. Unfortunately, this particular group is the way they are because they fail to apply reason with the tradition, creating a version of Islam that most of us don’t agree with.

And that, Dr. Umar said, was the tragedy because it was this group (for the life of me, I can’t remember the name) that had their literature distributed across campus. Out of the other Muslim groups, they were the ones that were the most articulate. People were becoming familiar with their particular type of ‘strict’ Islam and either adhering to it or reacting negatively to it. This would be what people equate with Islam. Hence the ‘curse of the default.’

Dr. Umar stressed that we all need to do whatever it is we are good at to promote Islam, not as a hate-filled religion that some are perfectly content portraying it as, but to utilize our strengths to ensure Islam is not equated with intolerance and injustice. Otherwise if we don’t do anything soon, then when the word ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ is uttered, a mental image similar to the scene from that college lecture will be conjured up. As Muslims in America, we can’t afford to have that image. We need to be the ones who make up the default.

He gave everyone a lot to think about. It was the best lecture of the weekend.

*I feel like I have to give some sort of disclaimer that I’m not trying to convert anyone or anything like that. As this is my blog, I will write something religious minded once in a while just because it’s a big part of who I am :)

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