Muslims must be viewed beyond security concerns

By 
  • October 8, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - If Christians and Muslims are going to talk, Christians are going to have to unlearn what they think they know about Muslims, particularly Muslim women, according to a Wilfred Laurier University professor of religion and culture.

From the images of protesting women in burkas to the idea Western armies can liberate women in Afghanistan, cliches and gross simplifications are overwhelming conversation, Meena Sharify-Funk told about three dozen students along with church and mosque representatives at the annual dinner of the National Muslim Christian Liason Committee held in the University of Toronto’s Multifaith Centre Oct. 1.

“Nine-eleven reinforced a tendency of the West to view the Muslim world through the lens of security,” said the professor.

If Muslim culture and religion is seen first and foremost as a threat to Western values of liberal democracy and progress, real dialogue can’t begin, she said.

“There are dangers in this approach. We get images of the good Muslim and the bad Muslim. The religious becomes too politicized, negating any sense of sacredness,” she said.

In her study of international networks of Muslim women, Sharify-Funk found Muslim women reject the idea of wars waged for women’s rights and must struggle against the perception in Muslim countries that anybody who campaigns for women’s rights or human rights is un-Islamic or a tool of a Western, secular agenda.

For students who attended the discussions on Christian-Muslim dialogue, Sharify-Funk’s observations show how inter-religious dialogue is far more than an academic exercise.

“It’s a relevant topic. People are dying because of it,” said University of Toronto student Mark Harris. “The liberation of women has been politicized and used as justification to sustain the war in Afghanistan. Now we’re doing it to liberate women.”

The dialogue maintained by the National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee represents one chance for changing the basis of the relationship between the West and the Islamic world, said fourth-year University of Toronto physics student Ali Shaikh.

“People should come together and talk about difficult things,” he said. “That way at least the issues can be brought up. If it remains hidden within the hearts of people then no one can know. That can lead to resentment, fear, intolerance, hatred.”

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