The Future of Secularism: Chapter 2

ON STEALING FROM ALLEGORIES OF THE MUSLIM GOLDEN AGE: HOW TO CHOOSE NAMES FOR A STORY


Salman, Absal and I were hanging out in the Academy’s Library one afternoon. Absal, who had been my best friend since (and because) he took me off the island, asked me: “Hayy, do you think we live in the best of all possible worlds?”

I wasn’t sure. I thought over it quickly, but deeply(1).

My girlfriend broke up with me a few weeks ago. I had some money, but never enough. It seemed like no one else had enough money, either. My country was falling apart. There had been no progress for my people in centuries. My co-religionists were oppressed everywhere. I just read news of a bombing in Libya off the internet. There was a civil war in the countries neighboring us. I nearly died on an island, forever alone... My parents abandoned me.... but hey, I made it out, didn’t I? – thanks to Absal. My parents turned out to be pretty wealthy, once they took me back in, that is. So why worry about the past if the present isn’t too bad? “Yeah,” I replied, more sure of myself. “I think we do live in the best of all possible worlds.”

Just then, Abdullah walked by: “Salam (2) guys, have you heard? We have to take a class on Islamic Law starting today. That’s why we have to meet in the auditorium later.”

Absal laughed. “Just great. The best possible class we could take, too.”  I wanted to ask him if he was making veiled references to Leibniz, but I decided I was sick of philosophy.

We did indeed, it turns out, have to start a class on Islamic Law (which would focus on its development and what it was like a thousand years ago, as opposed to what was being done in countries like Iran during the present-day).

About a week later, we were forced to gather in the Library (it felt like a plenum in there because every student was present [and pissed]) (3), but this time we were gathered for another reason: we had to do research for our Islamic law class.

 


“This is sad,” Salman sighed. “Who cares about Islamic Law?”

“Islamists?” I suggested.

“Yeah,” Salman replied, sad that his attempt at being dismissive had failed. “But Islamic government will get us what? A bunch of stupid fundo-freaks... with control over everything; and the whole world will shun us. Is that the best of all possible worlds?”

Absal and I concurred. “Those damn Islamists keep making the government give in to all these concessions. I don’t understand why they don’t just accept the democratic system.”

Nobody, of course, was going to point out that our country was not at all a democracy. There was an illusion of elections, but the government was not accountable to anyone, positions were not fairly distributed (or achieved, or anything)... ours was your classic, corrupt third-world nation. But during a school conversation, for the sake of our discussion, we imagined our country to be on the cutting edge of Western European political thought.

“You know what sucks the most?” I asked.

They asked what so of course I replied: “Even though we’re at a secular school, there’s already a couple of Islamists here. I hear a couple of them are from the Party. Those are the dangerous ones: the smart ones. At least they sound like they make sense.”

“Shut up man -- we shouldn’t even be talking about this.” Professor Murat, a stocky, bearded fellow, came by our table. We returned his salam and groaned as he asked, “Are you boys ready to pray in jama’at?”(4)

Here was another upside to taking the class: We’d have to pray with the professor. Who prays at the Academy? It’s a secular college; rich parents send their kids here to escape reality. People like Professor Murat represented reality. Praying with him was not a good way to escape reality.

I figured if I was going to pray, I might as well do my wudu first. After all I only prayed twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays (since that’s when class met). Plus I had tickets to the huge soccer match tonight (it was Wednesday night, the start of the weekend and all), so I thought I may as well give nominal recognition to Allah.

“No Professor Murat first I gotta do wudu.”

Absal and Salman gave me stares, but their glares didn’t stop me from walking to the bathroom. The Prof smiled and walked himself to the prayer area. Salman mumbled: “The bastard just wants an A.”

___________

1. Is that possible, you ask? Well don't ask too many questions. That's what led a certain people before us astray.

2. Salam (or Salam 'alaykum) - peace (be upon you). This is the proper greeting by which one Muslim addresses another, regardless of whether or not s/he is Arab. The appropriate response is Ve Salam, or Ve Salamu 'Alaykum. There are slight differences in pronunciation as a result of regional variations.

3. Often times, it seems like the Muslim world, with its phenomenal population growth rate and high population density, is a plenum.

4. Muslims pray five times a day, at specific times of the day. Fajr is before sunrise, Zuhr is at about noon, 'Asr is mid-afternoon, Maghreb is sunset, and 'Isha is at night. The prayer can be done individually, or in congregation (jama'at) -generally, congregational prayer is preferable. Friday is the Muslim day of congregation, the Juma' day, when Muslims gather for a sermon at a mosque followed by a shortened prayer. The sermon is called a khutba, and the one who delivers it is called the khateeb. The prayer, in Arabic, is known as Salat, though in the Turkish, Persian and Indian languages, it is also called namaz. Before prayers, Muslims perform a ritual ablution, known as wudu. This washing of the hands, face, hair and feet represents Islam's balance of outer and inner cleanliness, rejecting attempts to make only one of the two important. Many people who are familiar with the Muslim world have also heard the adhan, which is the call to prayer, a powerful Arabic call that erupts from loudspeakers, minarets and mosques throughout the world to mark the beginning of congregational prayer.

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