Last week, I went with Tracie Harris, Beth Presswood, and Ben Weaver to an “Islam 101″ seminar at the North Austin Muslim Community Center. This is a recap of my experience and Tracie’s.
Imam Islam Mossaad did the main presentation. He seemed like a perfectly nice fellow, enthusiastic about his religion and eager to break down stereotypes. We all got a free paperback Quran at the door, as well as a fold-out pamphlet titled “Discover Islam: The Reader.” He opened with, believe it or not, a Muslim country music video.
I’d be the first to say enthusiastically that it’s charmingly effective. Several audience members homed in positively on one of the captions in the video, “Terrorists have hijacked my religion.” It set the tone that the Muslims would like to convey: we’re not with those bad Muslims over there, we’re Americans like you.
I think many atheists I know would object to that message, but I don’t. I think that there are a lot of different ways of approaching all religions, Islam included. As an atheist, I say that all religions embrace some number of ridiculous beliefs, and religious individuals must reconcile their actual values with some pretty awful teachings of the holy text that they claim to base their lives on (and don’t really). Ultimately the way you identify with your religion tends to be a reflection of the kind of person you are already, and you wind up picking and choosing whichever verses and meanings you would like a perfect book to say.
The first segment was about preconceptions, as they see it. In brief: Islam is always associated with 9/11 (not that Muslims didn’t perpetrate the act, but most Muslims aren’t terrorists, especially western Muslims). They showed a number of anti-Muslim propaganda signs and such; they challenged the idea that the religion is bad for women. I don’t think they did well with this last point; I’ll get back to it later.
They told us that there are 10-15,000 practicing Muslims in Austin, and they have had a significant presence in the form of places of worship since 1976. I asked about different denominations of Islam, and was told that this community center was primarily aimed at Sunni Muslims, but Shia are welcome and there is a Shia group located in northeast Austin. I looked it up and found that Sunni are generally regarded as the more moderate branch, so it made a lot of sense to me that it was a Sunni group performing outreach like this.
As we moved on to their beliefs, we learned that Muslims see themselves as following through in the tradition of the Jewish and Christian religions, and the Quran is a “third book” of the Bible. Moses and Jesus, while receiving Arabic names, are really just more Muslim prophets, alongside Mohammed, who is of course the best prophet. Much like Mormons, Muslims — at least these Muslims — say that they don’t see why there should be conflict, when their religion is simply a continuation of the old stories, just as the new testament is a continuation of the old.
At this point an audience member raised his hand and asked, if that was true, why are Muslims upset when people say things about the prophet Mohammed, and not when they say things about Jesus? Imam Islam countered that, in fact, he does feel upset when people say untrue things about Jesus.
This seemed a little disingenuous to me, especially in light of the fact that, a few minutes later, he mentioned that he doesn’t believe all of the Bible. He believes it was divinely inspired, but many things are lost in translation. For instance, Muslims, believe that Jesus wasn’t crucified. Now, since Jesus’ crucifixion is written to be a key event in the Christian religion, I’m pretty sure it’s obvious that Muslims can’t dismiss this as a trivial detail. Or as I wrote in my notes, “So much for people who believe that all religions are true.”
After concluding this section, part 2 was about Muslim Practices, and part 3, which took place after a lunch break, was about Muslim Beliefs. Unfortunately, neither of these was as interesting to me as the first or last parts. As an atheist, the most interesting topics to me are human experiences. What is it like to be a Muslim living in the west? What differentiates one sect of Islam from another? How are you treated? How do you feel about particular political issues that affect all of us? The specific areas of belief, like what angels do, and the specific types of rituals, like how many times you wash your hands, while still interesting, seem not as important since we are not Muslims.
There’s a bit of a balance to consider here, because I understand that these are obviously the most important topics to Muslims, since they are central to their faith and identity. However, there was really too much material to get through. Lunch wound up being cut shorter by 20 minutes from the schedule, and the final sections ran so long that they ran out of time and could not take general questions from the audience. This was pretty disappointing, and considering that we were there for six hours, it would have been nice to have about 45 minutes of precise detail trimmed. This would still leave plenty of interesting material.
We broke for lunch between “Practices” and “Beliefs.” I believe the food was prepared by the NAMCC kitchen staff, and it was delicious. A lot of characteristically eastern food served buffet style, including some chicken pieces, beef shawarma, beans, and okra in a tomato based sauce. No pork products, of course. There was also something much like baklava for dessert. Big cheers to Muslim chefs.
The Muslim call to prayer occurred after lunch, so regular members of the congregation went ahead and got together on mats, knelt in the direction of Mecca, some prayers were sung over a loudspeaker. We were allowed/invited to watch the ritual. Women were separated into a different part of the building to do their prayers.
Islamic Practices and Beliefs
Here are some highlights of Muslim Practices from my notes.
The five pillars of Islam are:
- Testimony of belief (“There is no God but God”)
- Prayer (do certain prayers in particular ways at specific times of day)
- “Charity tax” (give a certain amount of your income to the poor, not to a specific church organization)
- Fasting and Ramadan
- Make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in your life.
The Imam told a weird joke about converting people by making them “repeat after you” and then tricking them into saying the testimony of belief in a language they don’t understand. Apparently this is very funny to Muslims. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
When you give charity, there are a ridiculous number of rules about which types of income you should “self tax” at what percent. As I wrote in my notes, “Suddenly this has turned into a personal finance seminar.” I got the impression that the charity tax is basically tithing under another name, but at least it doesn’t necessarily go directly to a religious institution.
“Fasting” for Mecca and other occasions does not mean that you don’t eat food for 30 days straight or anything. It means you don’t eat or drink (!) from dawn till dusk, and then you can eat all you want. Reportedly many Muslims actually gain weight during Ramadan from being so hungry.
Beth reasonably asked if you have to not drink even if it is dangerous, like if you work outdoors in the Texas sun all day. The Imam said no, some people take it as a personal challenge, but you are not strictly required to fast in any way that would put you in danger. It’s like the pirate code: Really more like guidelines.
Highlights of Muslim beliefs in my notes:
- Muslims believe in Allah, which they mention repeatedly is just their word for God, not the specific name of a god.
- Muslims believe in angels, which are made entirely of light, and are huge.
- The Bible is an inspired book, but kind of lost in translation. So Muslims “believe” what’s in the Bible, but they very much feel free to pick and choose what they consider canonical. (In other words, much like Christians! Har har.) The Quran, on the other hand, is perfect, as it went directly from God to an angel to Mohammed, who wrote it down and there have only been perfect translations since then.
- Messengers: Muslims believe in numerous prophets, most notably Mohammed, Moses (“Moosa”) and Jesus (“Issa”). Again, Jesus delivered God’s message but was never crucified or anything.
- One of the key difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims is that the Shia believe that these messengers are infallible, and the Sunni believe that they can have garbled or incorrect messages. Other than that, it seems to be mainly a power struggle between two groups who want to be viewed as more important than each other.
An audience member asked, if Jesus and Moses are both prophets, why are Muslims angered so much when Mohammed is insulted, but not Jesus? The response was twofold. First, we are offended if Jesus is “insulted,” although in this case, “insulting” Jesus includes misrepresenting his life, such as the false fact that he was the son of God, or crucified, etc. Second: well… they’re both prophets, but Mohammed is definitely the more important prophet.
Like Evangelical Christians, Muslims believe in a “last day” when the world will end and everyone will be judged. People who die before then just sort of wait around until it happens. During the judgment, people get some sort of lawyer characters, who speak for and against your status as having lived a good life. (Side note, it reminded me of the little known Albert Brooks comedy Defending Your Life. I always loved that movie.)
The bad people get sent to hell, of course. Hell is a place of fire, etc., with seven levels and seven gates. Each type of sinner gets an appropriate style of punishment; it’s very Dante-esque.
Paradise has 8 gates, and the poor go in first. I would say more about this, but as I mentioned earlier, the very extensive details of what Muslim believes are of little interest to me, and at this point my note-taking was flagging a bit.
The Imam circled back to the beginning and discussed some of the controversial modern issues again, trying to take on negative impressions that people have about modern Muslims. He acknowledged that many people like to cite various verses from the Quran indicating that you should fight and kill unbelievers. But, with the Quran being another Big Book of Multiple Choice, he went out of his way to 60:7-9, so I’m pasting them here:
Perhaps Allah will put, between you and those to whom you have been enemies among them, affection. And Allah is competent, and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
In other words: you only get to make enemies of those who make enemies of you first. Of course, in my opinion, that still leaves a whole lot of room for interpretation, and Muslims who are inclined toward violence will certainly find plenty of other passages to support those desires.
There were a lot of ways that the presentation as a whole had been successful as community outreach, but in my opinion, the biggest place they fell down was when they turned to address the notion that Islam has a problem with women. The Imam’s explanation was: Yes, Islam does have different roles prepared for men and women, but that’s actually okay, because men and women are different. It’s just scientific, he said. Frankly, this is the same type of tedious mansplaining that you hear from lots of sexists from all cultures, including — sad to say — a fair number of atheists.
A guy in the back spoke up to support him. I don’t know whether it was another guest, like us, or a fellow Muslim who was sitting in the audience. This guy said, “Yeah, I read a study just last month where they demonstrated that men and women have very different brain patterns. Men are better at point-and-click interfaces, for example, and women are better at other things.” The Imam accepted this as good science, and thanked him for his back up. The rest of the room was mostly silent.
At that point I raised my hand and said “To that last point… other scientific studies have also shown that there are significant differences between the brain patterns of liberals and conservatives. But we don’t socially assign people roles based on their political associations. We let them choose for themselves.” That comment got a smattering of applause and support, and some later compliments after the presentation. The Imam kind of lamely deflected it, but did also acknowledge that it was a fair point, to his credit.
I’m glad I went. It isn’t something I would choose to do often, but I think it’s important for people of different backgrounds to do their best to understand one another’s perspective and not fear them blindly. I did this in the same spirit that I would go to a Christian church service in different denominations, or a Jewish temple ceremony. I encourage everyone to step outside the boundaries of their experience once in a while, and listen to people whom they disagree with.
Needless to say, this does not mean that I would pull any punches if more Muslims were to call the show and start arguing for “proof” of the miracles of Islam, or explaining to me the importance of believing in these giant angels of light. But I think that the more people acknowledge that were all just humans muddling around trying to make sense of the universe in one way or another, and the more we communicate instead of blowing each other up, the better off we’ll all be.
And they make a damn good lunch.
- They handed out 3×5 cards for people to write out questions if they were too shy to ask in person. While I personally felt comfortable asking my questions, this was a nice touch for shy participants.
- They began with a prayer. On the one hand, everyone attending knew it was a religious seminar. On the other hand, some people affiliated with other religions could have been uncomfortable with the prayer opening. I wasn’t put off by it, but if the goal is public outreach, it could put off some people who have different religious affiliations.
A Land Called Paradise
My notes begin with a video they showed early on called “A Land Called Paradise.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbcmPe0z3Sc) The video asked Muslims to submit text cards briefly describing who they are. The vast majority were clearly intended to let people know they’re human beings, like everyone else. I recall one about alcohol that was a bit preachy, and then a few that had what I would call dehumanizing messages, such as one man who held up a card saying “I’m human,” immediately followed by his next card saying “I’m sorry.” Or “Islam tells me to help the poor and less fortunate,” which raises the question of whether they mean to imply that charity is divinely commanded and not inspired by innate human empathy? “I am not ashamed of my virginity,” while more subtle, cannot be divorced from the reality that the Abrahamic religions denigrate normal human sexual impulses for everyone and promote virginity as a superior human sexual model for everyone. Taking the message in isolation, nobody should feel ashamed for sexual behavior that isn’t coercive or harmful—be they a virgin or someone with countless partners. But promoting any model, that is not innately human, as superior for all humanity, is the meaning of dehumanizing: “to deprive of human qualities.” Religion is not the only ideology that denigrates inherent human attributes. But it’s certainly among the most pervasive and globally authoritative. Part of the problem of some religious models is their insistence on a one-size-fits-all for everyone, regardless of who they are as individuals or their unique life circumstances.
Dealing with Insult and Denigration
I appreciated the Imam’s occasional humor in this area. He described how someone had vandalized a mosque with the message “There is no Allah, there is only god.” Since “Allah” means “god,” the message is nonsensical. The Imam noted that if you’re going to vandalize a mosque—at least do it in a way that is coherent.
The Imam showed a propaganda piece negatively associating Islam with the Third Reich. Apparently it’s not just atheists who are subject to being unjustifiably tied to the Holocaust.
At this point a few questions came up:
- What is their view of secular government?
- Why isn’t this seminar more preachy?
The inspiration for the first question had more to do with wondering about what it means to be a Muslim in a majority Muslim nation versus a majority non-Muslim nation. I never asked the Imam question #1, but I did get a chance to talk to a member who was very supportive of secular, religiously neutral government. If we’d had more time, I’d have liked to have delved into that more deeply, to see if that translated to things such as gay marriage rights. In other words, would he view those rights as being justified under secular government? Or would he use secular justifications (inspired by religious propaganda) to prop up withholding marriage rights to gays, and see that as a secular issue rather than religious imposition? I’m not going to assume. The seminar went from 10:30 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m., and I wasn’t willing to hang around longer. I didn’t ask, so I didn’t find out. And I don’t really know what that person’s response would have been.
For question #2, I just couldn’t help but think in terms of Christian seminars and how much more proselytizing they tend to be. They did assert during the seminar that they believe Islam is for the entire world, not just Arabs—so it seems they have reason to proselytize. But this seminar consisted of mainly pure information about Islam according to their interpretation of the Quran. There wasn’t even, for example, a sign-up sheet for walk-ins (although attendees were encouraged to register online). But it would be rare for a Christian presentation not to ask for contact information for walk-ins. I was curious, but didn’t see the question as a show stopper, so I let that one slide as well.
They recommended a few films, “Legacy of a Prophet,” and “The Message” with Anthony Quinn.
Things I Learned
- They use masculine pronouns to describe god, but don’t subscribe a gender to god. The Imam said that in Arabic there is no gender neutral language, and seemed to think that placing too much gender assignment on god was anthropomorphizing. They don’t assign god a “father” role, as we see in Christianity.
- Their faith seems to be mainly based on internal experience—although they still appealed to something along the lines of Watchmaker later in the presentation.
- They lack central authority, which was presented as a double-edged sword, providing some freedom of interpretation, but at the same time lending itself to divisiveness and in-fighting, when groups believe they have opposing, right views.
- They have a pretty well constructed tithing model, with percentages tied to different categories of financial contributions.
- During the seminar god was said to be all loving, the creator of all things (including human nature, which includes both good and evil), and to know all ultimate outcomes. So, Allah is a prime candidate for Problem of Evil. There was also an attempt to describe how Allah orchestrates everything in the environment, yet we all still somehow have free will. I didn’t delve into it, because I can visit that particular rabbit hole with any Christian. I really didn’t see the potential for a better outcome if I entered it with a Muslim. I will say he told a particularly disturbing tale about a woman who locked a cat in a cage and starved it to death. This, apparently, upset Allah to the point he sent the woman to hell fire. So, god intervenes in human affairs (produces flagrant miracles), is all loving, cared about this cat’s suffering, but allowed this woman to kill it in a drawn-out and torturous way. I don’t see how letting the cat escape the cage would have imposed on her free will in any way. So, I’m baffled as to how to explain the dead cat and the almighty god who cared enough to torture someone forever, but not enough to loosen a latch or weaken a bar?
- God is described as completely just, but also the most merciful. As Matt has pointed out, mercy requires a suspension of justice, and so the two are incompatible.
- The most unexpected section for me was the section on angels. Literal angels. Huge, impossible-to-miss, angels. Lots and lots of glorious, intimidating angels. Angels as big as the sky, with hundreds of wings, angels. I’m not sure how we don’t see these things around very often (or in my case, at all). But somehow they’re here, they’re real, they’re impressive, but rarely seen. Oh, and they die.
- Satan was a djinn—literally, a genie. At this point, I was wondering if this literal view of angels and genies was exclusive in Islam. I was mildly curious if there might be some sects that have a more metaphorical perspective on these beings. But it wasn’t pressing, and there was a load of material to get through, so I decided to live with my curiosity for the time being.
- They have their own iteration of The Golden Rule.
- They have a canonical view of certain books outside the Quran.
- There are a lot of prophets, but only some were given “books.”
- Islam is intended for everyone, not just Arabs, but that message to all mankind was supplied by someone who spoke Arabic, and transcribed into Arabic, and it’s often said that it can’t be well translated. This seems an inefficient way to express something to all of humanity. But there it is.
- They accept miracles at face value and without question. One such miracle is that Jesus was able to speak as a newly born infant, and defended his mother, from the cradle, against allegations she was unchaste. Nothing about the Imam’s account of these miracles seemed to phase him. He told these stories and offered them up at fact, in the same way you and I might note “it’s raining outside” as a fact.
- After we die, there is a divine quiz administered by two angels. You’ll be asked who your god is, what religion you subscribed to, and what you thought about the prophet that covered your particular lifetime. I guess for us, that’s Mohammed? I was a bit iffy on the whole judgment thing. Some behaviors seem to get you a one-way ticket to hell, but at the same time, nobody is allowed to say this, because it’s up to Allah to mete that out to those who deserve it, and not for humans to judge. I got an impression that some discovery here might butt up against a conflict of doctrine and practice, but I let that slide for time’s sake as well. I was simply less curious about their particular doctrinal inconsistencies than their impact on society in reality.
- The Imam acknowledged hell fire is, partly, intended to instill the fear of god into human beings.
- Once the final judgments have been made, the punishments are very “eye for an eye” style. So your finite crimes in this life are going to be what you suffer for eternity in the next. Crimes can range from real harm—such as killing people—to thoughts, such as doubting a prophet.
- Their view of “jihad” is more the liberal “internal struggle” perspective. With regard to violence, the Imam holds that the Quran only allows violent response if you are threatened, not violent aggression.
- He explained a concept called “tuqyah.” This is necessary lying. Apparently some people attempt to use this to claim that Muslims can’t be trusted, but the way the Imam described it, it made far more sense to me than the Christian perspective martyrdom. It’s simply lying to avoid persecution. I, personally, don’t understand why Christians attach merit to being honest, even if it means you’re going to be abused. You can be forgiven by god, and god should be understanding of situations where people are under duress and coercion. I value truth, but if someone asks me if I have Jews hiding in my attic in WWII Germany, I think it’s more moral to lie. In some situations, deception can be the more moral course.
- When the Imam covered fasting, he didn’t try and promote it as a health model (as I’ve heard some do). The Imam held strictly to the idea that it’s predominantly, if not purely, a mental exercise. And, happily, there are medical exceptions. Thanks to Beth for asking about that.
The First Pillar and My First Question
The First Pillar is about testimony of faith. I asked the Imam if this testimony is recited by rote by children, or if it’s used as the moment of adopting adherence to Islam as a conscious, reasoned choice? According to the Imam, children raised in Muslim homes would recite this, but there would be a time as they neared adulthood when it would become something they would have to say with meaning. He even noted that in the West, particularly, Muslim children are more challenged by culture, peers, and competing ideologies, so that their adopting of Islam is more considered, but also, therefore, more meaningful. He referred to this as “a free will choice.”
When it came to Hajj—or the ceremonial pilgrimage to Mecca—I was disheartened to see the amount of resource and energy put into this event. I wondered what could be accomplished if all this resource and energy and human momentum, were put into real service toward humanity and global improvement—rather than walking in circles around a sacred structure. But when it comes to misdirecting human resources, Islam certainly cannot be uniquely blamed.
One woman, describing her Hajj experience, featured in a segment of a program called “Inside Islam,” was overwhelmed by emotion. She described how she broke down in tears of awe and joy. I wondered if this “spiritual/religious experience,” of being overcome with emotion, would convince any Christians that Islam is the true religion, since they seem to often present such testimonies as compelling evidence for their own faith?
I was disturbed, but not surprised, to hear the Imam declare that absolute allegiance and obedience is owed to Allah—beyond duty to self, family, or humanity. Again, hardly a criticism that I could uniquely level at Islam.
My Second Question
Founded up on my first question, my next question hinged partly on a story the Imam told about Abraham. Abraham was having dinner with someone, and presented them with his belief in god. The person at dinner rejected that belief, and Abraham became bitter and left the dinner. As Abraham walked out, god explained He had provided for this other man all his life, and that Abraham should respect that. God clarified with Abraham that the man was rejecting Him, not Abraham. And god instructed Abraham to not be inhospitable to people who are hospitable to him. In other words, the issue was between god and the stranger, and Abraham should judge the other person based on his own relationship with him, not on how the stranger views god. The lesson the Imam took away was that Muslims should be kindly disposed toward people who are kindly disposed toward them, even if they are not Muslim and even if they reject god.
I asked if I understood correctly that after we die, god sorts it all out.
The Imam confirmed I did.
I asked if I understood correctly that the Imam believed that a Muslim is obligated to be kind toward those who are kind in return, even if those people reject god and Islam. I further clarified that I understood him to be saying that acceptance of Islam had to be a “free will choice,” in order to be meaningful.
The Imam confirmed this was his interpretation of the Quran, and his position.
I then asked, “Is this same obligation of hospitality and respect for the free will choice of the individual who rejects Islam, still extended to individuals if they are children in Muslim homes?”
He seemed to not expect that last part of the question. But he began to answer by explaining that the rules are somewhat different for a Muslim who rejects Islam. I interrupted the Imam and clarified that I was reaching back to the original question of the First Pillar—that the testimonial is not meaningful to a child too young to understand (a point upon which we had agreed). I then explained I was talking about a child who is coming of age, and for the first time in any meaningful or reasonable sense, examining the claims of Islam, and finding himself/herself to not be in agreement. So, this child is not a practicing adherent, but a person, like me, who is, for the first time, considering these ideas—and rejecting them.
To his credit, the Imam put some thought into this before responding. He took his time. And ultimately he expressed that he believed the same kindness and hospitality would still be owed to that child. He added a very honest, but telling, statement, that if he were called upon to counsel a family in this situation, he would advise the parents “to not go nuts.”
Please don’t misunderstand me here. The reason I asked this question was because of my experience responding to young Christians (and even some others, such as a young Sikh boy that always comes to mind) who tell us how scared they are to talk to their families about their disbelief. Those outcomes range from benign to horrendous. I’m not suggesting that the Muslims at the Austin mosque are alone in their need “to not go nuts.” It’s pervasive in many religious homes to dramatically show your children what disappointments they are if they don’t subscribe to the religious framework in which they were raised. I asked because my experience with other religions has led me to understand this as a common reaction. And I simply wondered what the Imam would think of it after the lesson about Abraham.
The Imam also noted he would want to counsel the child as well. I know from experience that the children in these situations don’t really want that—they want acceptance and not further pressure to conform. However, I also am mindful the Imam would think the child could be in danger of hell fire and that his counsel is a helping. That being said, a religious leader willing to be assertive with a family to insist they continue to love, accept, and behave kindly toward their doubting child in this situation is a lot better than many young atheists get in Christian churches. Often the entire church, including the leader, shamelessly shun or recommend “tough love” policies with these families, that result in nothing positive. These kids can’t be coerced into belief, and the “free will” aspect of it, the understanding that coercing it renders it meaningless, is a valuable reality for people who have relationships with these children to keep in mind.
So while the Imam’s indirect assessment of a family’s potential reaction was not surprising, his response about his own views—while he was visibly digging deep to consider the situation—was mature and reasonable. Again, I would hope every child who has to confront their family would have a religious leader available to field the negative angry, punitive backlash they are likely to encounter in some homes. Whether this Imam’s attitude is common or not, I can’t say. But it’s not a bad attitude.
In the women in Islam section I asked what they would do at the Mosque with an Intersexed child or a Trans child. The community in Austin is small, so it was likely more hypothetical to them than practical. But the answer for the Trans child was clear—whatever genitals that child presents with will determine the gender role in which they’re raised.
For the intersexed child, the Imam suggested they would seek professional input as to what would be best for the child. And by “best for the child”—I don’t mean they’d accept the child as intersexed, but that they would ultimately be seeking to assign the child a male or female gender role, and seeking professional input as to where to pigeon-hole that child. And, yes, the Imam was clear on this point. I don’t think they have a plan for accepting an intersexed child as “intersexed.” I think they have an idea that the child has to be either male or female, and that we have to make that determination, or else we have no means of raising the child. So the child would be expected to conform, somehow, into the existing framework—the fact that this child exists as intersexed would not be, to them, evidence that the framework may need to adopt some flexibility with regard to rigid gender assignments.
In this section of the presentation, I think Russell was the star with his comment about brains. But I’m sure he’ll talk more about that, so I’ll leave him to it. Suffice to say he had people come up to him afterward to say “thanks.”
In summary, they seemed like a decent group of human beings—which I expected. I don’t have any more issues or concerns about them than I do the Christian communities in our town. In fact, I have more concerns about the Christian communities in our town, because currently they’re the ones pushing for religiously biased legislation, school curricula, and plugging their god into political party platforms unapologetically. There are at least half a dozen large church complexes in walking distance from my house, and this one mosque, a 30-minute drive away. When the churches host a public open house, it’s a hard sell to push for converts. But I this “Islam 101” presentation at the mosque was sterile and informational. This may be a function of being a religious minority in Austin (something we have in common), but that aspect of the seminar made it feel more like a lecture about Islam than a sales pitch to save my soul. And I appreciated that.