It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, “what’s the difference between a Moslem/Muhammadan and a Klingon?”
It’s not really.
While in the popular imagination, I’m sure there is a great deal of similarity between the warlike, aggressive, territorial patriarchal Klingon culture and how Muslims are perceived, there really is more difference.
Take for example the great warrior phrase associated with Klingons, “today is a good to die.”
If you listen to one of the Sabri Brothers’ Qawwali albums, you’d know that Muslims actually believe “today is a good day to cry.” At least that’s how I’d translate the line “roona achcha lagta hai [رونا اچّها لگتا ەے]”. (And you thought the font test I did last week was a result of my crack habit! ;)).
The key line is actually:
يادِِِ نبى ميں ەر دم رونا اچّها لگتا ەے
yaad-e nabi mei(n) har dam ronaa acchaa lagtaa hai
while remembering the Prophet, it seems appropriate to cry with every breath
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is an incredibly important figure in the Muslim tradition; for many, he is the ideal role model, whose every act is one of emulation. If you look at the Rushdie Affair, you see that much of the outrage was not so much about blasphemy as it was about denigrating the Prophet. I don’t want to spend this post talking about the role of the Prophet in Islam, but about the beauty that Muslims have produced.
In this particular post, I really want to look at literature, more so than architecture, or paintings. One of the things I’m most amazed at is how the cultural aspect of Islamic societies are overlooked. To me, nothing speaks more to the human experience than art inspired by religion to express one’s relation to the Divine. Art is supposed to be transcendent, and to me, religiously inspired art reminds us of our basic humanity.
The beginning of Jalaluddin Rumi’s Masnavi perhaps provides the best example of reminding us of our humanity:
بشنو از نى چون حكايت ميكند
از جدائيها شكايت ميكند
beshno az nay con hekaayat mekonad
az judaa’ihaa shekaayat mekonad
listen to the reed as it tells a tale
as it complains of separation
I would think that any religious person would be able to relate to the notion of being separated from the Divine. Isn’t prayer simply acknowledging the fact that we apart from the Beloved?
One of the things I find most frustrating about discourse concerning Islam in the US, both from Muslims and non-Muslims, is the absence of the human dimension. Islam, like any other faith, is based on the individuals relationship to God – the great unknown, unknowable, indescribably majesty that is the Divine. Like any faith, it has its scriptures and strictures, but it is also composed of people, struggling to understand themselves, their world, their faith. We often hear of the violent and destructive ways that understanding takes, and divorce it from the faith. But we don’t celebrate the beautiful and claim it for the faith.
Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising has a track on it called “World’s Apart,” which includes qawwali music on it. He seems to be able to find the beauty in Islam, even when dealing with the tragedy of 9/11.
Before The Boss, Eddie Veder of Pearl Jam worked with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on the Dead Man Walking soundtrack and score to create a sublime feeling for the movie. Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty, the movie itself dealt with many of the complexities of death in the human experience. To me, that was the greatest strength of the duet, the idea that being human in the face of God is a great equalizer, and that struggle is a common one.
I don’t fully buy into the argument that all paths lead to the same place, because I’m not a big fan of the idea of one world religion, or in salad bowl religion, but I do think that in front of the Divine our human conceptions of self become somewhat meaningless. It is that idea, that we are struggling with ourselves and the Nameless, that marks our commonality, our human experience.
So listen for the cry of the reed. Dance like an atom from the sun of knowledge. Let each brush stroke be an act of devotion. And remember, the difference between a Moslem and Klingon is that Moslems are real.