An African muslim once told me that islam* is the same everywhere. Not sure how our relatively genial conversation ended up there, but I was suggesting that there are probably different practices and interpretations of the faith from Madagascar to Indonesia. Not so much, he said. Islam is the same everywhere.
That work site had dozens, maybe hundreds of muslims on it. Someone suggested the human resources lady was posting about jobs at her mosque. In my time working there, I met muslims from America, Fiji, Serbia, Turkey, Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia, and probably a few other African countries I didn’t gather the names of. Plus an agnostic Yazidi and another agnostic from Iraq, who were friends with the Iraqi muslims.
Some of them were very serious about praying at certain times, some only used the issue to try and get more cigarettes in, some never bothered with prayer during a work day at all. Of the women few wore hijab every day, most only did so occasionally. Some drank beer, some abstained, some were semi-functional alcoholics, some were crazy on drugs, clubbing, and hooking up. Some were in favor of gay and trans rights, at least one crappy fucker one expressed disdain for gay people ranging from mockery to extremely violent talk.
One young lady believed antisemitic conspiracy theories, another said she was being ridiculous. Some said any religion is good (meaning only abrahamic), as long as you were into god. The guy I mentioned at the top told me christianity and islam are our different culture’s versions of the same thing, something like practicing the religion of your birth was about respecting your culture. As an atheist, I was a space alien to any except the Iraqis – because their nation’s government used to be officially secular – and the Americans.
I heard one young lady saying, “Islam means doing what god tells you to do,” advocating the kind of grody dogmatism we tend to imagine is true of all muslims. I’ve heard it said the word means “submission” and maybe that’s true? Certainly consistent with the first paragraph of the wikipedia page. But unless all these wild tatted and pierced muslim youths were expecting to be able to atone before the booze did them in, I imagine their interpretation of “doing what your told” / islam was slightly different from hers. And I’ve heard the exact same sentiment from a banal moderate christian in my life, that anyone who she disagrees with isn’t doing what the bible says. The “No True Scotsman” fallacy is a common refrain from her, combined with an insistence that her ugly pentecostal church is all about doing what the bible says.
Some of the muslims studied religious literature during slow times at the job, some were more interested in watching cheesy internet videos or kung fu movies on their phones. I suspect all were sunni, but don’t know for sure. And one was from an obscure Indian sect of islam I’d never heard of and can no longer recall. Something about perfection and a number? I feel like it originated in the 19th century. Whatever.
The point is, islam wasn’t even the same everywhere in the neighborhood of that job, which suggests to me it might not be the same everywhere in the world as a whole. Muslims there ranged from devout, peaceful conservatives (who were no doubt shitty on many issues) to easy-going citizens of the world. The hulking violent asswipe was an outlier, and no worse culturally than the whitebread ex-marines in the same work place. They were probably more homophobic and conservative on average than the rest of us, but the worst people of any extraction were equally horrible. The only time I recall hearing something explicitly transphobic at the place was from a southern baptist.
I was working in Seattle. The muslims here – immigrant and otherwise – may be more liberal than in Europe and elsewhere. I can’t speak to that. But given my experience with them, the rampant violence against them in my country, and the way our mainstream media overrepresents islamophobic viewpoints in the interest of “balance,” and given the tone of our atheist community which led to one of ours proudly murdering innocent muslim people in their home, I think it would be really fucked up to not treat muslims with at least the same humanity I accord christians. Given the words of the most visible people in white Western atheism, I’d be morally delinquent to not rise to the defense of muslims in this very islamophobic nation.
They’re wrong, but they’re not all the same, they’re not all believing the same things in the same way, and in the USA you have much much more to fear from christians. You’d have to be ignorant, an outrageous liar, or a bigot to say otherwise.
As a culturally christian white man(-like person) in the USA, I really shouldn’t be trusted with saying anything critical of muslims here, unless they’re actively being a shit like the aforementioned homophobe. For that I refer you to the incomparable Heina Dadabhoy of The Orbit.
*Reminder: I’m refusing to capitalize religions on this blog.