Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thanking Out Loud About Da'wa

When I described Tariq Ramadan as being a "missionary", a reader protested that not all Muslims engage in Da'wa. He was right, of course. Many of your Muslim friends, neighbors, and coworkers not only do not encourage you to embrace Islam, they would be dismayed if you did so.

I lived in Jeddah for a few years in the 1990's, and one of my lasting memories was meeting Americans there who had converted to Islam in the States and moved to Saudi Arabia. Some of them really went whole hog. It's quite unforgettable to see a tall, lanky American wearing his gleaming white thobe and red head-cover gutrah, walking down the street trailed by three submissive black-tent clad wives and six young children. His wives weren't Saudi; no self-respecting Saudi father would give his daughter to an American convert eaking out a living teaching English at the local college and living in a small school-provided apartment. Neither were they American; rare is the American woman who will allow her husband to "yuzawij alayha", as the Arabic goes, and take another wife. They were unfortunate girls from countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines who had come to Saudi Arabia as maids and nannies, and to whom becoming even the third wife of an American Muslim was a step up.

Even more amazing than seeing these families was hearing the reactions of Saudis to them. Were they impressed that Americans were so devoted to the Prophet that they would move to his birthplace and follow his example even in their marital lives? Not at all. "Those guys are idiots," more than one Saudi said to me, "They leave America and come out here to be like us?!"

Hmmm...I sense a theory coming on. Perhaps some of us know Mormons who dedicate two years of their lives knocking on doors to persuade people to join their church, and then spend the next twenty years never even mentioning their religion. Is it possible that people who live within a religious system that discourages (to put it mildly) questioning its leaders and its Scriptures harbor secret doubts about their faith that they are afraid to even openly express? And is it possible that these inner fears, of which they might not even be aware, are what prevent them from honestly desiring that others would join that same system?


observant observer said...

it's really hilarious
I bet you're right!

Quotable Quotes: said...

Thanks, Seraphime. I wanted to throw in a bit of humor, although unfortunately it's all true. The kind of thing that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Matt said...

So Saudi insanity is typical of the Muslim lifestyle? Hardly!

In reality, there is considerable push-back against the Saudi lifestyle among Muslims worldwide, and this reaction is strongest in the Middle East itself. Saudi Arabia can go to a place like the southern Phillipines and buy credibility with new mosques and work visas... but Middle Eastern nations have their own rooted Islamic histories and feel much freer to call out Saudi BS.

Now, in your entertaining anecdote, do you think your Saudi friends more objected to this Yankee wannabe's Islam or his pathetic aping of a retrograde lifestyle which is the object of much Muslim ridicule?

When I said that not all Muslims were missionary-minded, what I meant was this: many Muslims come from places where religion is seen as an integral part of a person's inherited identity, which should not be changed. They are happy with their Islam, and they think Christians, Sabi'is, and Jews should be similarly happy with their religions. They do not have a positive view of conversion in any direction.

This attitude conflicts with the Western individualist ideal, for sure-- but it also undercuts any caricature of a monolithic, menacing Islam.