Islam is flexible

Published 7:14 am Monday, July 12, 2010

Driving through Istanbul on Thursdays (Islam Sabbath) I was surprised to see the usual crowds of shoppers and business people we had seen every other day. Then the small number of people on the streets Sunday morning puzzled me. Why is it business-as-usual on Thursday but a day of rest on the Christian Sunday? My guide explained Islam is fully flexible and most customs practiced by Muslims are entirely optional. I respect it as reasonable and fair that Islam allows its adherents honest individual choice.

Another thought startled me. Why, then, are Muslims in America and other western countries making all these demands of tolerance for extensive religious requirements? We should make respectful and reasonable accommodations for individualistic Muslim preferences, but we need to get over obsequious compliance with every demand made by unreasonable Muslims.

My friend and other Turkish Muslims with whom I talked point out that although the Koran is the scriptures of Islam, there is utterly no authority of interpretation. Muslims can interpret and apply the Koran anyway they wish. They do so from the relaxed manner I saw everywhere in Turkey to the seriousness I saw in Jordan and Egypt to the extremes practiced in Iran and Afghanistan.

Muslims are not required to pray five times daily or go to a mosque at any time. They receive respect for doing so, but those who choose never to do so are not disrespected, much less stoned for infidelity. I recognize, then, a good deal of hypocrisy in self-righteous political demands of Muslim activists in this country.

Sunday is observed in Turkey (as I found it to be in most other non-Christian countries, e.g., China) simply as a day off work or school, and they like to do it on the same day as the rest of the world.

As we drove through the more religiously and culturally conservative section of Istanbul, we saw more women more fully clothed in traditional garb. But we also saw a disparity. There were blocks of stores selling wedding gowns most revealing of flesh. Some are more risqué than anything I have ever seen in America. While waiting for our bus in front of one such, I took pictures of window mannequins designed to show as much of a woman’s body as socially possible.

We also noticed many billboards of questionable propriety. These are not worse than American, but not what one would expect from the Muslim claim of modesty for women. I also noticed “sex shops.”

There is no mosque membership, people simply attend the nearest mosque or whichever they wish for whatever reason. Or none. The imam is neither a pastor nor a priest, but a teacher and prayer leader. He has no religious authority over anyone. Contrary to what I’ve heard in our country, one is not excommunicated from the mosque because his workplace hasn’t installed a separate wash basin to use before prayer.

Then there is raki (made from distilled raison juice and then distilled again), a very strong drink of which Turks everywhere are proud. They tried to get me to try it, but my line of acculturation was already drawn.. They triumphantly call it “lion’s milk.” Turks are more proud of their raki than the mosques.

Even Iranian Muslims aren’t necessarily as radical as claimed. In Ankara, closer to Iran, we saw them on vacation carrying on with raki et al just as the Turks do.

So, just why do we make all these cultural and political compromises for Muslims? Political correctness.

The political energy of American Muslims would be more productive in crusading for religious freedom in Islamic countries. Muslims in America have full freedom to practice Islam anyway they wish, because what they wish is their individual choice. I respect a Muslim who is wholesomely and reasonably so. I wish for them also to be genuine Americans, who do not use their religious freedom to restrict the freedom of others.