Monolithic Islam

Town Hall And Mosque

The mosque near Town Hall.

Mohsin Hamid, author of How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, has a nice op-ed in the Guardian. Money quote for me was ‘Individuals are undeniably real. Groups, on the other hand, are assertions of opinion’. If you go buy news reports Muslims or Jews or Sri Lankans or any number of groups can appear monolithic and uniform. When you meet people, however, you find that they’re not. If you meet enough people you hopefully become aware of that tendency and judge people less by group identity in advance. Muslims, however, are quite publicly tarred with the same brush these days, and it really isn’t fair. Or accurate.

Islam is not a race, yet Islamophobia partakes of racist characteristics. Most Muslims do not “choose” Islam in the way that they choose to become doctors or lawyers, nor even in the way that they choose to become fans of Coldplay or Radiohead. Most Muslims, like people of any faith, are born into their religion. They then evolve their own relationship with it, their own, individual, view of life, their own micro-religion, so to speak.

There are more than a billion variations of lived belief among people who define themselves as Muslim – one for each human being, just as there are among those who describe themselves as Christian, or Buddhist, or Hindu. Islamophobia represents a refusal to acknowledge these variations, to acknowledge individual humanities, a desire to paint members of a perceived group with the same brush. In that sense, it is indeed like racism. It simultaneously credits Muslims with too much and too little agency: too much agency in choosing their religion, and too little in choosing what to make of it. (Hamid, Guardian)

In Sri Lanka groups like the BBS and even sensible people discuss Muslims like they’re one coherent thing and they’re not. It’s a bunch of individuals, which is basically the most complex group of objects you could imagine. Any group of a billion people is so diverse that it’s just foolish to make any generalizations about them. This is not to say that you can’t talk about Islam – both good and bad aspects of it, as practiced – but you always have to be aware that there are real people involved. This is easy for me cause I have many Muslim friends and I can’t think of these abstract arguments without literally seeing their faces. But it’s also something we should all try to do in general, when talking about large groups of people who are perhaps more different than they are the same.

I mean, we make group judgements naturally. Those heuristics (rough guesses) are how we’ve long survived. One of the benefits of civilization and education, however, is that we can question those assumptions in relative fight-or-flight safety and be aware and try to give a little and understand.

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2013-05-20 21:34:38

Yes there is diversity, but unfortunately the extremists and the fundamentalists among the Muslims seem to have a free reign. You can certainly make some generalizations when the ideology being followed is one and the same and is based on one single book, which is taken literally as the actual word of some supreme being.

2013-05-21 06:21:29

A Muslim is someone who follows Islam, yes? Islam teaches that all non-Muslims will burn in hell for eternity yes?

So if one were to say that Muslims believe that all non-Muslims will burn in hell for eternity, would that be wrong?

Dark Lord
2013-05-21 18:50:19

Why is it so hard to buy pork anywhere in Sri Lanka? Most sellers don’t sell pork at all, or sell it only to known customers from a hidden storage at the back of the store, which goes like “don’t tell anyone, we are doomed if THEY get to know”.

While Muslims, the community, not sure about the individuals, make a big deal about OTHERS eating pork, Hindu vegetarians probably make the least interference about others eating beef.

2013-05-26 20:24:53

What I think is the reverse is true. OTHERS are making a big deal about Muslims eating cattle.
It seems non-Muslims are intolerant to Muslims.
West is turning into a police state, especially if you are Muslim. In Britain, the far right has regular street marches against Muslims.
India, a country of 800 million Hindus who still perpetuate a caste system and who can be very intolerant of minorities in general, and Buddhists, who have fought Hindus in Sri Lanka and are now attacking Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka.
We can find enough examples of bad behavior if we go out and look for it.
But, There is an agenda to focus entirely upon Muslims and in this the media is playing a prominent role.

2013-05-22 15:34:12

Racial profiling is not racist if it works. Similarly, identifying groups among people is not wrong if it allows you to predict reality with reasonable accuracy. When you don’t know everything, you play the odds. For example, if I insult this person’s religion, am I more likely to get murdered if his religion is Islam, instead of some other religion???

There are Broadway shows that mock Mormonism. There aren’t many such shows that mock Islam. I’d imagine that those Broadway people are playing odds. It is not stereotyping if it works.

2013-05-23 07:27:51

Sharanga, “It’s not stereotyping if it works”? What balls. Effectiveness has nothing to do with whether an action is moral or not.

tastyjujubes, you asked “So if one were to say that Muslims believe that all non-Muslims will burn in hell for eternity, would that be wrong?” The simple and obvious answer to that is “yes”.

Indi, one of your best.

2013-05-26 17:42:28

TastyJujubes, you’re really clever at reading what the media wants you to read. Ever thought of looking beyond? You might learn a thing, or two.

2013-05-27 12:54:03

Jehan, that isn’t racial profiling; that is generalization, which is the basis for racism. If your statement instead was “Those believing all non-believers will burn in hell for eternity are more likely to be Muslims,” that would be racial profiling.

Racial profiling is most obvious at airports. So when a Bundezgrenschutz officer at Frankfurt airport calls me aside for extra questioning, he isn’t thinking “All Asians are illegal immigrants,” which would be racist, but “Illegal immigrants are more likely to be Asians, so let’s check this one,” which is racial profiling.

2013-06-21 09:15:07

Yes, I understand that. Read my comment again. The first para was in reply to Sharanga’s point and the second was in reply to tastyjujubes’ question. The two are not related i.e. the second paragraph is not about racial profiling at all.

2013-05-27 13:20:47

I don’t buy meat often… but Keels, Cargills and Arpico seem to have a fairly consistent supply of pork (at least in Colombo). When ever I want to buy back bacon, for example… it’s available.

2013-05-27 14:53:20

Sorry, for some reason this failed to nest. Comment was @Dark Lord

2013-05-27 17:53:50

Why is it wrong? That is what Islam teaches.

According to Christianity everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus will burn in hell for eternity.

2013-06-21 09:20:33

Tastyjujubes, because there are many different types of Muslims with different interpretations of the religion and Qu’ran. There are many moderates who believe in a historical interpretation of the religion, just as there are Christians who believe every different things. If you think all Muslims and Christians what you claim they do, then I think you have only been exposed to fundamentalists on both sides.

2013-06-22 07:38:39

Jehan, how is it possible to have different interpretations of the Word of God? Did God purposely make his words open to interpretation? If so, why? Can you tell us more about the “many moderates who believe in a historical interpretation of the religion” especially with regards to the Muslim community?

The Bible and the Quran are pretty clear about what happens to non-believer; they will burn in hell for eternity. How can you be a Christian or a Muslim if you don’t believe in the word of God? The only way you can get around this is by willfully ignoring what the Bible or the Quran teaches (which many ‘Christians’ do anyway).

2013-06-23 17:36:30


//Jehan, how is it possible to have different interpretations of the Word of God?//

Unless Jehan is a Muslim, this a moronic question to ask him. How the hell he should know? Even if he is a Muslim this is still moronic because it’s irrelevant. He isn’t talking about what Muslims ought to be believing in order to keep their belief system consistent and non-contradictory. He’s only talking about what they actually do believe. You can argue about that. My point is, you’re a moron.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2013-06-23 19:43:45

Don’t reply to my comments, please. I don’t want to talk to twats.

2013-06-23 17:16:59


Whether stereotyping is moral or immoral, and whether identifying groups among people in order to better predict their behaviour are two separate questions. I didn’t say stereotyping is moral. I said what we sometimes do is not stereotyping if it works. Stereotyping is not supposed to work because stereotyping means oversimplification. It’ll never allow you to predict reality. On the other hand, simplification in order to make models of reality that allows you to better predict reality is something completely different from stereotyping. If you openly insult the prophet and don’t expect to get killed, you are nuts, and that’s a very sensible way to think about how Muslims, in general, behave.

2013-07-01 14:42:53

You’ve resorted to meaningless semantics to justify your unjustifiable point. I’ll rest my case.

2013-06-24 09:11:57


Ahh, the little jujubes is hurt. Yep, truth has that effect.

2013-06-25 10:32:55

Not hurt; I don’t want to be seen to be engaging in conversation with the dregs of society such as yourself.

2013-06-27 09:44:51


And not only hurt, but also without any kind of self control. If you don’t want to be seen to be engaging in conversation with me, obviously you should stop engaging in conversation with me. But you can’t, because you’re pathetic little wimp.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2013-07-01 14:51:44

I think perhaps the best way I can help you understand this is to point to different Christian leaders and ask you to do your own research. Just two examples: Bishop John Shelby Spong and Reverend Jerry Falwell. The first is a liberal non-theist; the second is a fundamentalist evangelical. There are many other people that lie in between on this spectrum, but they all call themselves Christian.

As far as Islamic leaders are concerned, I don’t know as much about leaders of that. But, I would point out that Sufism is a lot more chilled out than say Wahabism, and their leaders would reflect these diverse views. I know this from just observing Sri Lankan Wahabis and Sufis. Plus, I have Muslim friends who have very liberal interpretations of the Qu’ran.

It all comes down to how you define God.

2013-07-01 15:57:57

Jehan, the basis of Christianity is what is taught in the Bible. Without the Bible, Christianity collapses. And the Bible is very specific about the fate that awaits non-Christians. Basically, everyone else – ie Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, Taoists, Jains etc will burn in hell for eternity because the only way to God is through Jesus Christ (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”). If one doesn’t believe that, how is one a Christian? Did Jesus lie? And is the Bible also a load of trollop? And a “liberal non-theist” who is a Christian? Does that even make sense? I mean really.

Those Muslims who take a liberal interpretation of the Quran are a tiny, tiny minority. And many of them actually do not practice everything that Islam teaches. The problem is that both Islam and Christianity actually teach their followers to be intolerant of other faiths and religions, and that everyone else will burn in hell for eternity for not following the ‘real religion’ as revealed by God. Christians and Muslims have to actually willfully ignore many teachings in their holy books to actually fit into modern, civilized society.

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