How many different worlds could be conjured up in yours by the word Muslim… or Mancunian? So very many. But if we know what a muslim is…or we know Manchester why would we enquire further, why would we really look at the basis for our knowledge and question its validity ?
I used to live near Manchester and in other countries the mention of Manchester would often elicit a response along the lines of ‘Ah…I know Manchester! Manchester United — Ryan Giggs!!’. In this way a complex and dynamic city is equated with a footballers name.
Currently there is an excellent series on the radio about Manchester by Jeanette Winterson and called Manchester – alchemical city ( you can listen to this on radio4 i-player). It speaks of Manchester’s multiple faces – social political economic geographic and demographic – which change through time, dependent upon many different causes and conditions.
Naturally this is Ms Winterson’s perspective, with its particular biases. As listeners, although our ears may hear everything she says, we find ourselves paying particular attention to aspects which interest us and giving less attention to others (dependant upon our own particular biases). But whether expansive or limited our opinions about Manchester are unlikely to do harm.
However when we view people of other faiths, or groups, from a biased or ill-informed perspective this does harm. To think ‘they are all the same’ and say ‘I know what they are’ is both a violence and untrue.
Unfortunately when people hear the same thing repeatedly, whether they are saying it to themselves or someone else is saying it, eventually it ‘rings true’ for them and they believe it. ‘It must be true – I have heard it so many times!… everybody says, everybody knows that…surely you know that too…it says it in the paper! But what ‘it’ says in the paper is affected by many factors including the editor’s bias or prejudice. Activities perpetrated against others on the basis of such beliefs are committed in ignorance…an ignoring of our shared and linked existence, our common ground, and an ignoring of the consequences and ramifications of such actions over time.
Early coverage on the radio referring to investigations into religious practice in Birmingham schools mentioned a poster of a ‘warlike god Ram’ on a wall in one of the classrooms. I wonder whether a poster of King Richard ‘the Lionheart’ or St George and the dragon would have caused similar qualms? The person being interviewed seemed unaware that Ram is actually a Hindu deity who is seen as embodying chivalry and virtue. It would be nice to think that he has read the Koran but perhaps this is unlikely.
The understanding of any religion is complex, the translations and interpretations of texts and the manner in which the beliefs are practised is variable — one size does not fit all.
Excerpts from a book by Moshin Hamid called Discontent and it civilisations (also available on radio 4 i-Player) give a delightful glimpse into the life of an acclaimed Pakistani author, his views and experiences of living in Pakistan the U.S. and the U.K., and also into the rise of Islamophobia.
The practice of the dharma can lead to an appreciation of the way in which we create a simulacrum of a world of absolutes and certainties out of that which is inherently labile and impermanent. Investigating the nature of the self, the mind, and thoughts is far from ‘navel-gazing’. It is through this meditation that we can gently come to see what we are up to and find a different, more healthy, way of relating both to ourselves and to the rest of the world.
To study the self is to forget the self – to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.