The Two Taboos: Religion and Politics

Posted in Belief, Dialogue at 10:24 am by Haider

Before leaving London (UK), I organised a small da’wa group, with the aim of telling others what Islam is about, and to come up with ways on how best to approach people. We would meet up every Sunday in an Islamic centre off Edgware Road in the morning, have a mini-lesson on what topics we could raise, what beliefs we have come across and what strategies we can implement, then go down to Speakers’ Corner to speak with people there, and to tell them more about Islam.

I felt the need to organize this project because of the negative experiences I have had with Muslims in Speakers’ Corner. Most of them are confrontational, obnoxious and extremely stupid. And having realised that commonsense was not very common, I thought that I should participate in the discussions, to at least show people that there are Muslims with different ideas and a different approach to the ones that frequent Speakers’ Corner..

Overall, my experience in Speakers’ Corner was a positive one, and I learnt many things throughout my involvement in the project. The greatest weakness in the approach of the Muslims is that they seek to teach, but not to learn. They want to speak, but not to listen. This not only prevents them from benefiting from the people they speak to, but it develops the same attitude in them. When others struggle to get their message across to Muslims, they either give up and walk away, or begin talking and no one would be listening..

Anyways, Speakers’ Corner isn’t the topic of this post, but what I learnt from one of the people there is. He said that the reason why people talk a lot about the weather was because they think it’s rude (i.e. wrong, i.e. a taboo) to talk about religion or politics. The weather doesn’t cause confrontations and people tend to agree on what the weather is like (if the sun is out, I doubt anyone would disagree). Religion and politics, on the other hand (both of them on the same hand… I only have two hands!), usually cause friction and tension, which many people do not think is appropriate to start or take part in..

I have also heard that one of the “rules” in Toastmasters (or at least one of their clubs in Kuwait) is that presentations cannot be about religion or politics..

I strongly disagree with this opinion. The problem is not solely the fault of the topics, but the way in which these topics are approached. I say “solely” because many people base their political or religious opinions on their emotions, whereas they use their senses to determine what the weather is like. And since you usually can’t hold a peaceful discussion when two people hold opposing views, but don’t know why they hold these views, the topics themselves are regarded as off-limits..

Rather than discourage discussion, we should encourage understanding. We do not need to accept other people’s opinions if we disagree with them, nor feel compelled to change them, especially if we cannot offer valid reasons for why they should. We should be aware of other people’s beliefs, and learn to listen to what they have to say, before expecting them to hear what we have to say..

There is an important lesson in this, for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Many, many non-Muslims adopted the taboo-attitude, and thought that they should let Muslims believe what they wanted to believe, without seeking to understand what Islam was about. But when “Islam” was being accused of promoting terrorism, and posing a threat to the West, they began to realise the power of ideology, and what actions it can incite. By this time, their understanding of Islam was light-years behind, which left them vulnerable to the pseudo-experts on Islam, who offered their own understanding of the religion, and affirmed that it was behind the terrorist acts..

Muslims who thought that they can live peacefully in the West without raising the issue of what Islam is about were light-years behind in their ability to express their beliefs, especially to a Western audience. Their failure to defend their religion and to help others gain the correct understanding of Islam perpetuated the problem. Now, to cover up their failures, they only seek to silence the critics of Islam, rather than to present reasoned arguments to change people’s impressions of their religion..

To promote understanding and tolerance, we must promote dialogue rather than prohibit it. As Imam Ali (peace be on him) said: “people fear what they are ignorant of.


  1. Seth said,

    March 19, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Great post. I wish I had found your blog in high school. I have always held the same views in regard to religion (meaning we ought to discuss rather than ignore our differences), but anytime I attempted to discuss Islam I was met with either charges of bigotry by my “liberal” teachers or fed half-truths by my “conservative” teachers. The sad fact is that neither understood it, and I took World Religions for two years to try to find someone who did.

  2. Haider said,

    March 19, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Liberals that gun down criticisms can be very irritating. Rather than throw accusations, they should invest in understanding why the criticism is there to begin with, and to offer an explanation in return.

    I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

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