Abdur Raheem Green is a British convert to Islam who does a great deal of speaking on his religion. Here is one entitled “How I came to Islam” (90-min). I think conversion videos, like ghosts, can be another touchstone to distinguish certain types of atheists from others: some atheists will can feel empathy for well presented faith conversions and some certainly won’t. Which one are you?
I found Green’s talk touching, funny and inspiring — I could feel his zealous sincerity. But with only a little searching, the not so pretty side of his Islam is easy to find. Apparently Green admitted that back in the 90s he said that Muslims and Westerners cannot live peaceably together and that dying while fighting jihad is one of the surest ways to Paradise and Allah’s good pleasure. Though he now swears off his former radical views. Those supposedly rejected views was why in 2005 he was banned from speaking in Australia. But has he given up his fundamentalism? Here he vehemently preaches hell and brimstone to put to shame a Christian fundamentalist. And here he speaks against Sufism (5-min) where he sounds all too much like an Evangelical Christian belittling Pentecostals. Ah the in-fighting in Islam is as complicated as that within Christianity.
My experience with Islam is limited. I lived in Pakistan with a Muslim (Shiite) family for a season studying language (Urdu) and religion (Islam). During that time, I would occasionally visit mosques (masjids) with my favorites being Sufis shrines where I participated in some swaying prayers. Prior to living in Pakistan, I had an American Urdu professor who was a Muslim convert and he would tell me stories of why he loved Islam. Later I other nationalities of Muslims during a few weeks in Java and in China where minority Muslims were in one of my favorite parts of Chengdu. I have also read a few books on Islam and love some Irani films.
Books critical on Islam abound. But in understanding any faith, it is important to seek both critical and sympathetic material. As far as readings, I really enjoyed reading Karen Armstrong’s “Muhammed: a biography of the Prophet“. After reading it, I remembered saying to myself, “Wow, I can feel how a Muslim could love his faith”. I can easily feel my self flux between empathy and antipathy depending on the material.
The main point in this post is not to discuss the pros-and-cons of Islam. I am talking about religious empathy. I am trying to point out that I don’t think every mind is built for religious empathy though mine certainly is. Religious empathy is absent in many atheists and I think this may be a temperament issue that causes people to talk past each other. I was amazed watching empathy rise in me as I watched Green’s video, given all my other knowledge. And though another part of my mind is built to see through the self-deceptive and dangerous aspects of religion, I am still OK holding both of these apparently contrary feelings (empathy & antipathy) simultaneously.
So, before arguing on religion with an atheist, ask them if they have ever felt religious empathy (not sympathy). Likewise, before arguing with an exclusivist religious person, it may be useful to see if they can feel empathy with a faith expression of someone their faith tells them is bound for hell.
Question to readers: So, what does the religious sympathy touchstone reveal about you?
See: my other posts on Islam here.