"If Allah had willed, He could have made all of you humans a single people. But, He decided to let you choose your own path after showing you the Truth, and thus test yourselves. Outdo one another in actions that serve humanity and thus grow your "Self". To Allah is your final Destination, of all of you." Qur'an, 5:48The hard right of authoritarian Islam and the hard right of anti Muslim bigotry are unnatural bedfellows, yet are as one in their desire to paint Islam as monolithic. These two heads of the same monster are conjoined in a delusion that Islam's 1.6 billion adherents throughout all cultures and societies have no diversity of thought, opinion, or desire. It is a monster that attacks those considered Muslim. It is the same monster that attacks those considered not Muslim enough.
It is for this reason that I do not welcome Dr Ali Selim's recent contribution to the debate on Irish schooling, where he obliquely claims that diversity in Irish society can be enhanced if diversity within Irish Muslim society is eradicated.
He estimates 65,000 Muslims in Ireland, presumably a figure that includes all 49,204 self described Muslims from our 2011 census. Selim uses his self appointed position as their spokesperson to present them as monolithic on many matters. Let us examine some of his claims:
"[Islam] forbids pre- and extramarital sexual relations, whereas RSE perceives sexual relations outside wedlock as part of normal practices."I am of course shocked to learn that an authoritarian religious apologist frowns on relationship and sexuality education, and uses their faith and self constructed platform to oppose same. That said a favouring of marriage as an environment in which to raise children can hardly be considered the unique preserve of the Muslim faith, and I'm aquiver with anticipation for Selim's paper showing Christians do not share this position. Perhaps he will soon be calling for the introduction of Catholic values to some of Ireland's schools? It is hardly incoherent to favour waiting till marriage yet also wish to equip one's children with an understanding of relationships, human sexuality, self respect and respect for one's partner and it's baffling how Selim can pretend no Irish Muslim holds this view.
"[Irish schools should] employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. They should also not be visible to men while at play."To take Selim seriously we must assume there are tens of thousands of Muslims in Ireland who would be aghast at the thought of their daughters playing anywhere outside an enclosed, women only pod. I offer as my rebuttal your local playground. Agreeing with Selim means assuming that the entirety of the Irish Muslim population is more conservative than Saudi Arabia, a nation aptly described as the world's largest women's prison yet still one capable of fielding female Muslim athletes. Or perhaps Selim is unaware that the Olympics included male spectators? There are people who make such assumptions about Muslims in Ireland. I do not warm to them.
"If music is performed using non-tuneable percussion instruments such as drums, most Muslims will have no problem."Earlier this year I spent an enjoyable week in Istanbul. One of the highlights was meeting an old friend and hearing her band, an exciting mix of Irish and Turkish talent encompassing several faith positions. You can imagine the shock experienced by Turkey's 98% Muslim position at the simultaneous sound of piano and double bass when the linked track was recorded. I'm sure you all recall the resultant newspaper coverage of this incident and the resulting frosty relationship between Dublin and Ankara.
Sarcasm, of course. Istanbul pulsates with the music that offends Selim, including instruments that owe their origins to Islamic trading routes. One can only assume that the arrival lounge of Dublin airport presents some theological significance and prompts all arriving Muslims to undergo a profound change of position on the matter of pluckable instruments. Should we really remove the fiddle, the tin whistle and the accordion from Irish schools in the name of beliefs Irish Muslims don't even hold? Will that really foster an environment where we value our fellow Irish citizens of the Muslim faith?
"Physical contact between members of the opposite sex who can be legally married is forbidden in Islam."This goes some way to explaining why my female Muslim doctor examines me using her powers of telekenesis, and gave me my recent vaccinations via a blowpipe from twenty paces, blindfold, lest the sight of my naked shoulder remove forever her chance to enter the gardens of paradise. Selim's statement is untrue, and I do not warm to those who invent such tales to paint Irish Muslims as a group incapable or unwilling to participate in daily life in this country. It's a widely thought among Muslims that Mohammed himself used female medics during times of battle, a strategy doubtless earning Selim's opprobrium. He could argue that some Muslims in some cultures avoid unnecessary physical contact with members of the opposite sex, but this is a much weaker point, and presenting it as normative is to reduce the diversity within Islam to a right wing stereotype.
I know Muslims who eat fries and run bars. I know Muslims who avoid food colourings because they contain trace amounts of alcohol. I know Muslim musicians. I know Muslims who married atheists. I know Muslims who married Muslims. I know Muslims who are considered heretics for their beliefs. The Irish Muslim community is a rich tapestry with representatives from many countries, cultures and faith traditions and I reject Selim's attempt to usurp their voice to further his own conservative agenda. Our nation has already experience of conservative Catholics who claim without justification to be the authoritative voice of their coreligionists. We should view Selim's attempt in a similar vein.