Driving Past the Mosque

In Bangkok!  Some thoughts from yesterday’s journey from Samarinda, Indonesia. I was prompted to post this because I read this article this morning, which articulately expresses most of my views on the whole awful film fiasco.

In the taxi from Samarinda to Balikpapan yesterday morning, I passed a large and gorgeous mosque (not the one pictured).  Illuminated by the copper-toned morning sunlight, a lively crowd buzzed and bustled in front of the mosque grounds: a large, sweatsuit-clad group moving in synchrony through various aerobics exercises; eager consumers clustering around food carts; families milling around.

Sunset soccer game near the mosque in Muara Kaman Ulu, on the Mahakam River

I thought, “I wish that more people in the US could see this.”  The recent mess of unreasoned violence sparked by a hideously stupid film is reinforcing the widespread view (held even by some of my family and friends) that Islam is a religion of violence and irrational outrage.  But these people in front of the mosque weren’t burning flags or chanting “Death to America” or throwing stones.  They were focused on calisthenics and good food and enjoying a beautiful morning.  Like many people of many other faiths and cultures would also be doing on a weekend morning.

I wish more people in America could get to know the lovely people – mostly Muslim – who I came to know during my time in the country.  I wish they could see the very many positive things that stem from people’s faith in that religion.  I wish they could understand that people can embrace Islam as a religion and not be anti-American fanatics (and then, I wish that they would see why it wouldn’t matter if Barack Obama were Muslim, as so many still seem to mistakenly believe). (Side note: I’d prefer if he weren’t religious at all.  But that’s a different issue…)

Though my time in Indonesia was not extensive (a total of 2.5 months over 2 years), I enjoyed learning more about a religion that I hadn’t previously known anything about.  It’s fascinating. And I never felt any judgment for holding non-Islamic, nebulously Buddhist-agnostic-animistic beliefs; the only somewhat uncomfortable moment came when I was chatting with the wife of the village head (essentially, our host) and she asked me if I’d ever marry a Muslim man.  And that was mainly uncomfortable because I lacked sufficient Bahasa Indonesia skills to explain why I’d prefer someone who wasn’t religious.  I guess being woken up by the 4:30 am call to prayer most mornings was also a bit uncomfortable…

In fact, in terms of religion and spiritual beliefs, I felt far more comfortable in Indonesia than I did in the very-Christian Philippines, where I grew weary of people’s earnest efforts to convert me.

Yes, many laws and cultural norms in Indonesia reflect conservative values that stem from religion (e.g., the “anti-pornography” bill, which uses a rather wide definition of “pornography”), and I’m sure that I would have found them oppressive had I spent more time in the country.  And yes, there are fundamenalists who support oppression and unreasoned violence.

But, in the US, there are also laws and cultural norms shaped by Puritanical beliefs, not to mention the slew of ultra-conservative policies that the right is trying to impose upon a “free” and “secular” nation.  And I am just as afraid of fundamentalist Christians as I am of fundamentalist Muslims.

Perhaps this is one reason I love Thailand so much… I am absolutely not afraid of “fundamentalist Buddhists”.

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