February 25, 2008

The Adhan at Harvard
Lima, Peru

A good friend of mine wrote me a rather disturbing e-mail today:

I'm angered. It's Islam Awareness Week at Harvard. Personally, I think it's absurd to have an "awareness week" for a religion that has 1.3 billion adherents, but that's not what angers me. What angers me is that the adhan, or call to prayer, just rang across Harvard Yard on a speaker from the steps of Widener Library! The adhan, if you weren't aware, tells you to go pray, and, in a spirit that I find inimical to Harvard's rich diversity, declares that there are no other lords except God and that Mohammad is God's prophet. I resent being told to pray, I resent being preached at, and I resent the religious infiltration, Islamic or otherwise, of the public space. I can tolerate this offensive speech and behavior in Damascus, but not in Cambridge.

I couldn't agree more. Have the silly awareness campaign, but don't force feed that horrendously foul audio to the faculty and students—what misery.

What other religions get an awareness week there at Harvard?

Comments:

The United States

Katie

February 28th, 2008

Does not Christianity get "awareness" there every day with the ringing of church bells on campus?

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

February 28th, 2008

Bells are generally non-denominational for me… The chime of a bell is used to tell time the world over. One even use to tell me when recess was up, twenty-something years ago.

…Compare that, to this:

The following is the Arabic transliteration and the English translation of what you hear:

Allahu Akbar
Allah is Great
(said four times)

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God (Allah).
(said two times)

Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
(said two times)

Hayya 'ala-s-Salah
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)

Hayya 'ala-l-Falah
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)

Allahu Akbar
Allah is Great
[said two times]

La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God (Allah)

For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:

As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)

The United States

Katie

February 28th, 2008

As you know, I totally agree that religion should be removed from supposedly secular campuses. But its only fair if the presence of all religions cease to be. For you, the ringing of church bells may not be intrusive, but perhaps for a Muslim student they are. And damn, you typed out that lengthy response in record time!

The United States

Aaron Williams

February 28th, 2008

Katie,

Like others, you draw an inappropriate parallel between bells and the adhan. Bells, though connected to a church, don't contain a message; they merely chime the hour. Whatever religious symbolism they once had has expired with previous generations. A more appropriate analogy would be a Southern Baptist standing on the steps with a bullhorn exhorting students to go pray and declaring, repeatedly, that Jesus is the Lord our Savior and it is only through Christ that we attain salvation. I expect, and I hope you agree with me, that if that was to occur on Harvard Yard the reaction would be different. Americans have learned to challenge Christianity in the public sphere, but we remain queasy about challenging other faiths. Do so and you lend themselves to the unfair charge of being "racist".

Another point to consider is this: On a campus that prides itself on its diversity and liberal spirit, is it appropriate for a Muslim, or for someone of a different religion, to declare, on a public broadcast system, that his is the only (real) god. What about the sensitivities of Buddhist or Hindu students? What about atheists who resent their Harvard experience being (forcibly) infused with theology. What if I, in the spirit of "diversity", used a speaker to declare that Mohammad was a delusional charlatan, a slaughterer of Jews,a polygamist, and pedophile? Is that appropriate?

Religion is alive at Harvard - and that's fine. There are church services, Friday Muslim prayers, and Sabbath services. The DIFFERENCE is that no group, aside from the Muslims, FORCES me to be a bystander to their intolerant (see translation of the adhan) religious expression. No other group makes public declarations of their religious superiority.

I hope that makes my position clearer.

The United States

Ben

February 28th, 2008

It should be said, also, that Harvard is a private university. And it is a private university founded with the purpose of spreading christianity. It has chapels and church bells on campus because that is what it was created for. I don't know of much aside from the architecture on campus, and the presence of church bells that is explicitly christian. However, if I were a christian, and I sought the best education possible by enrolling at a private islamic school (not likely, but I am just saying) I would not object to the adhan. If I am a muslim student going to an anciently christian, private university, I can't take offense at christian symbols.

In this case, what is going on is offensive to both christians and non-christians. Why? Because when you move beyond the statement "this is what I believe" to the statement "this is what IS TRUE" and, its corollary, "this is therefore what YOU SHOULD DO" you move from personal religious exercise to making an argument, to making a claim of superiority.

That is what is being objected to. For good reason.

The United States

Rick

February 29th, 2008

Horrendously foul audio? For someone who traipses around the world you're remarkably culturally insensitive. But then again, you do complain a lot while you perpetuate the ugly American stereotype. So I'm not surprised.

That said, it's just for one week, and it's just to increase awareness of what happens every day in other countries. I'm sure (unlike you) up to 1.3 billion people find the Adhan soothing.

Try laying off the religious commentary in the future. Your hate is the ugliest thing here.

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

February 29th, 2008

@Rick: (phew!) That's a relief… I was beginning to think the site design was the ugliest thing here.

…and I'm sure that (just like me) the rest of the population doesn't like being woken up at dawn by three mosques within a block of each other, all pumping out the Adhan at ear-bleeding levels.

I'm no fan of a tout with a megaphone, regardless if they're clergy or vendors. Noise pollution, the whole lot.

Canada

mike.d

February 29th, 2008

As much as you I'm sure, I hate being preached at and would find hearing the words of the Adhan quite disturbing. So I most certainly agree on this point. But that the 10x more often that we're forced to accept Christianity (often more subtly b/c it's the accepted way around here) is never mentioned whether it be in schools, the television, or any time our leaders make a speech, is a very worrying trend in North America I feel.

And I think it's unfair not to translate the arabic word Allah into God in the English form. It makes their god seem very alien and foreign when in fact its the same god we hear about day in and day out in our society. Allah isn't the name of a god, it's the word god in a different language.

Anyway, your site is key; I'm going to central america in the fall. Tips like the false outgoing plane ticket are appreciated. And I also plan on sneaking into Machu Picchu

The United States

Aaron Williams

March 1st, 2008

Mike.d,

Allah, properly translated, should be rendered as "The God". This distinguishes "The God" from the other deities of the Arabian pagan pantheon.

Rick,

There is a fine line between creating "awareness" and offending other people's religious beliefs. Those who want to heart the adhan should be allowed to hear it in a location outside the public sphere, those who don't want to hear it should be spared the indignity. That said, creating "awareness" is a poor argument for doing anything that is inherently offensive. The moral equivalent might be burning stacks of tires in Harvard Yard (for only a week!) to create awareness for global warming.

The United States

Ben

March 2nd, 2008

Rick, whose hate? Did anyone use that word other than you? I did a search of the page, and found just you, and disclaimer at the bottom when you made your comment. Going a bit outside the bounds of reading literally, I think.

I don't appreciate being told that what I believe is wrong. I don't like christians or harikrishnas or hindus or janes or anybody telling me what to do with my eternal soul, or that I have one for that matter. People of those religions don't like it when someone from another religion tells them they are wrong as well, and I can assure you that if folks made a big deal of calling out that the christian god was the only one, folks would be pissed to. I'd agree with them also.

The point is not to prevent the practice of religion. It is to respect everyone's private practice. That's not hateful, as you suggest in a very ad hominem matter. It is in fact deeply respectful of personal rights and beliefs.

Canada

mike.d

March 3rd, 2008

AW,
In the Arabian pagan pantheon, yes, Allah (meaning 'the god') would refer to the highest deity. But Islam, of course, does not believe in the Arab pagan pantheon and is obviously monotheistic. In Islam, there would be no need to distinguish the one and only God from what the pagan Arabs believe(d) in. What the pagan Arabs called Allah is not the same god that Muslims worship; just the same word. And, at any rate, God (with a capital 'g') and 'the god' (in reference to the god we're talking about) mean the same thing. In English, a Christian says 'God' not 'the god' so the translation of Allah from Arabic to English when talking about Islam should be 'God' as well. Anyway, the exact translation wasn't even the original point of my first post, a point I'm sure we agree on.

Ben, well put. It was a nice, intelligent conversation here for a moment until a certain someone…

The United States

Rick

March 3rd, 2008

Mike, I fail to see the indignity in hearing the adhan. This is a great and secular nation where people are exposed to different faiths every day. I also fail to see the similarity between burning tires and hearing a call to prayer. You're effectively railing against any and all displays of faith in the public sphere, which is ridiculous. Ever read the Constitution?

Ben, perhaps in fourth grade they taught (or are currently teaching) you what the words "I hate X" mean, but for grown ups that sentiment can be expressed in a myriad of subtle ways. I was referring to Craig's persistent negativity regarding Islam and Muslims. But good going, Nancy Drew!

I strongly disagree with both of you and the fact that you were having an intelligent conversation. But please, carry on.

The United States

Aaron Williams

March 3rd, 2008

Mike,

You're point is a valid one, and of course Allah is normally translated as God. I make the distinction only to make us question they orthodoxy we're taught. In the Qur'an, Mohammad recognizes the existence of other deities in the pagan pantheon (in the so-called Satanic Verses that Muslims have spent great energy apologizing for and trying to abrogate), so it's legitimate, I think, to ask if Allah is really distinct from "al-ilh". In the beginning, I don't think it was, after all, they can't both be called for same thing for reasons of coincidence. Personally, I don't believe in God (or gods), so theologically for me the argument is a silly one since neither term, God or god, has any value. I disagree with you on one of your points. I think Americans (I can't speak for Canadians) have gotten pretty adept at challenging Christianity in the public sphere (although not nearly to the degree I'd like to see), but collectively we are still uncomfortable challenging other faiths. I think I wrote this earlier. But yeah, we appear to be on the same page.

Rick,

For reasons I'm unsure of, you are unable to see the indignity in being forced to hear someone tell you to go pray calling your religion false as you walk to class. If a member of the Ayran Nation used the same forum to tell students that his was the master race (substituting White for Muslim), and that Hitler was the Messiah (substituting Hitler for Mohammad) would you then see the indignity? In the American context, religion, is basically a socially-sanctioned prejudice. Why should a belief in the supernatural protect the Muslim but not the Skinhead?

The burning tires analogy was given to make apparent the idea that things that are offensive (and the adhan offends me) shouldn't be sanctioned for the sake of "awareness." I'm not rallying against every display of faith in pubic, merely those that give me commands and insult other people's beliefs. Yes, I have read the Constitution. I also took an oath to uphold and defend it.

Rick, you criticize Craig's negativity towards Muslims as hate. Does that mean you consider the adhan, which negates the validity of other religions and, by implication, criticizes them, to be hate speech? Should we tolerate it if it is?

The United States

Rick

March 4th, 2008

Aaron - it's commonly understood that 'a belief in the supernatural' lends validity to ideologies, particularly in the study of religion. It is, after all, a study of the unknown and unknowable that leads many to seek solace in religion. The Aryan nation analogy is offensive and does not apply - are you confusing the superman with the supernatural?

The bone of contention here is not the Adhan itself, but your extreme interpretation of it. The Adhan is singular in purpose - it is simply a call to prayer and a reminder of God. It is a structural part of a religion that accepts the teachings of both Judaism and Christianity and promotes secularism.

I find your thought process particularly abhorrent because it is shockingly similar to that of the fanatics and fundamentalists who take religion out of context and use select projections to fuel their biased agendas.

The United States

Aaron Williams

March 5th, 2008

Rick,

You didn't meet my arguments. Nor did you counter them. You just kind of talked past them, said that they're inappropriate, and offered arguments that weren't part of the controversy. You also failed to answer my questions. Telling me how you FIND my arguments and reasoning isn't a successful refutation. Engage my points and offer rejoinders that disprove my ideas if you want to challenge them.

How is my interpretation of the adhad extreme? In Arabic or English, I simply let the words speak for themselves. My interpretation is indeed a literal one, but that is not to say that it is extreme or fanatical. The adhan is merely a call to prayer and a reminder of God if one hears it passively and ignores the profundity of its content.

As for your red herrings: The Qur'an accepts SOME of the teachings of Judaism and Christianity. It also says that God condemned Christians and Jews as apes and pigs, but, yeah, whatever.

If you would, please explain your comment on Islam promoting secularism.

The United States

Ben

March 5th, 2008

Rick: you said islam "promotes secularism."

It might be a bit unfair to focus on one comment, but c'mon. A past history of tolerance dating ONLY from the middle ages is not an appropriate gauge of anything.

I understand you are against extremism. Aaron's comments here are fueled by direct experience with extremism, and that is islamic extremism. There is no major expression of islam in any state that does not endorse extremism, except, and only perhaps, in Turkey. We are concerned about extremism, not expressions of it. You, I believe, don't grasp that, and criticize those with whom you'd agree, in the interest of seeming, or being, open-minded.

The United States

Ben

March 5th, 2008

Rick, as an aside, I missed the fourth grade comment. I don't know who you are, and I don't pretend to. I am not issuing ad hominem attacks. Here is who I am: I graduated from college at 20. I attended Oxford. I taught at Harvard. You can consider yourself intellectually superior and talk down to me all you want, but I can assure you, your confidence is hollow. Give yourself another, substantiated, ground to stand on. It will be firmer territory if it is not the ground of superior intelligence.

The United States

Rick

March 5th, 2008

Now we're getting somewhere.

Aaron - the 'apes and pigs' statement is a well known fallacy. I hope you researched it before bandying it about like that. Perhaps the reason you find the Adhan so objectionable is because you are processing something that is foreign to you literally. A more pertinent approach would be to see the Adhan as Muslims see it - a call to prayer. Not as a command and not as a critique of other religions.

Regarding secularism, how else would you explain the Mughal empire in India? The largely Hindu population of India was governed for many years by Muslim rulers. After the British had their way, Muslims and Hindus are coexisting again. And Hindus are still the majority in India.

Ben - I'm assuming you taught some arcane subject at Harvard because you are ridiculously misinformed about the current state of affairs in the Muslim world.

The United States

Aaron Williams

March 6th, 2008

Rick,

I find the adhan objectionable AT HARVARD for reasons already mentioned - not because it is "foreign" to me. Why should the Muslim lens be the only legitimate one for understanding the adhan, especially when it is broadcast primarily to a non-Muslim audience? In other words, why should I think like a Muslim, or why shouldn't a Muslim think like me? The adhan is many things to different people. For some, it's a call to prayer. For non-Muslims against public expressions of religious superiority and who are conscious of its content, it is something else. For Christians who were conquered by Muslim armies, the adhan must have been a bitter reminder of their subjugation and occupation. For a psychologist, it might be understood as a device for indoctrinating people through group activity and repetition. My point is that there are many ways to understand the adhan, and the Muslim point of view, in this context, is not and should not be the only or even the dominant one.

Secularism, or the lack of it, in Islam was never part of the controversy, so I'm not sure why you keep bringing it up. Is it a red herring? Are you apologizing just to be PC? Regardless of your motivation, I'll counter your point: The governance of the Mughal Empire is a poor argument for Islamic secularism. The Empire divided its people along religious lines and taxed them accordingly. This is NOT secular. The high office was reserved exclusively for Muslims. This it NOT secular. Some Emperors like Akbar were quite tolerant of religious pluralism, others, like Aurangzeb, were not. In any case, the argument cannot be made that the Mughal Empire was secular since the government identified with and patronized Islam. Choosing India as an area to showcase Islamic secularism and tolerance is a bad idea considering the country's history (Islamic invasions, the wiping out of Buddhist populations, partition, etc.)

As for your other point: In the Qur'an, God condemns Jews, Christians and pagans that "ridicule" the call to prayer as apes and pigs. This can be found in Q 5:58-60.

The United States

Rick

March 7th, 2008

Aaron,

My point about your interpretation of the Adhan was that you are objecting to it because of your approach to it. Rather than try to understand it, you choose to dislike it, and that's your prerogative. My argument is simple: during Islam Awareness week, the intention is for an objective person to view the Adhan with a 'Muslim lens'.

I provided an example of Secularism because you asked for one and I stand behind the Mughal empire. Now, this goes back to perception, but for its time, the Mughal empire was a remarkable example of secularism. Since then, the value and importance of religion as a social and individual identifier has decreased remarkably, and that is evident in today's definition of secularism. Secularism is defined by its time and not particularly by how it was started. Is the USA not secular because the nation was founded by Christian men on native American soil? You also mentioned partition, which had less to do with Islam and more to do with the British empire's desire to fracture India before retreating.

The Quran does refer to Jews and Christians in 5:59, but only as people of the book. It does not refer to them as apes and swine. As I said, that is a fallacy.

I get that you're well read. I get it. I also get that you refuse to take things in context, so never the twain shall meet.

The United States

Aaron Williams

March 7th, 2008

Rick,

I understand the adhan. I've made that very clear in my last comment by mentioning how it can be understood differently in different contexts. Regardless of what the week is designated as, I cannot (and I doubt anyone can) change how they view this phenomenon. The best one can do is acknowledge that x means such and such for group y. But y has to acknowledge x will still be understood by different people differently, and they should be sensitive to that.

Furthermore, I don't "choose" to dislike the adhan. I dislike it in this context for reasons of principle, not choice. Think: Can a person choose to like something that conflicts with his tastes and reasoning? Is liking ketchup a choice, or a matter of taste? Is believing in God a choice, or the outcome of reasoning (or indoctrination)?

I DID NOT ask you for an example of secularism in an Islamic context. I DID ask you to explain your comment on Islam promoting secularism. Why? Because secularism was never part of the controversy. I wanted to know why you brought it into the debate. I'm convinced it was a red herring.

"Time" is not the arbiter of the definition of secularism - the dictionary is. Secularism is defined as "indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations". I showed you how this does not apply to the Mughal Empire. If you want to say that religion wasn't of immense importance for the Mughals, than say just that. Do not apply a word that has a clear, agreed upon definition to a case where it doesn't fit. Indeed, words can have semantic shifts, and I will concede my point that the Mughal Empire wasn't secular by the definition of its time if you can offer a 19th century (I'm being generous with the time period) definition that defines secularism differently.

If you were speaking of Europe when you wrote that the importance of religion as a social and individual identifier is decreasing, you're right. If you were referring to South Asia (which seems to be the case), the Middle East, or America, you're wrong - religion as a social and individual identifier is actually INCREASING in these regions.

The U.S. is relatively secular because of the establishment clause. I say relatively because religiously-grounded "morality" is a fixture of the country's legal system (e.g., anti-sodomy laws, many drug laws, etc.).

Partition had everything to do with religion. On the cusp of independence, there was tremendous violence between India's Muslim and Hindu communities. A modus vivendi looked impossible, so Jinnah and his coterie decided to break away from India. The British allowed this, as it seemed like the most peaceable solution. The partition was not a sinister a British design.

I mentioned Q 5:58-60, not just 5:59. The last verse reads: "Say, Shall l tell you who deserves a worse punishment from God than [the one you wish upon] us? Those God distanced from Himself, was angry with, and condemned as APES and PIGS, and those who worship idols: they are worse in rank and have strayed further from the right path." The direct object of the verb condemned are Jews, Christians, and pagans who ridiculed the call to prayer.

Finally, I do subscribe to cultural relativity; I do not, however, subscribe to moral relativity. Be careful not to confuse the two.

I must say, Rick, that you have been a most unworthy interlocutor. Your arguments are rife with ad hominems and red herrings and reveal a sophomoric knowledge of history. When you have offered rejoinders, they have been weak. You have obfuscated the debate and have attempted to steer the controversy towards grounds on which you are confident, only to have your arguments cut down. I will not continue this debate.

The United States

Boyd

February 25th, 2009

Im sorry that the Adhan (call to pray) to God (Allah) offends YOU!
But, then again, you have lost sight of the fact that Jesus was A Jewish Rabbi.
Turn to follow the preaching of Paul, the Pauline Chuch and now called the Christian Church or Christianity?
I would please me to find someone with enough brains to understand that anything that a Christian, Jew or a Muslim can or would do to come closer to God, would be in the interest of all.
There is something in the nature of the human being that would be better served by creating a problem(s), than as Jesus said, drawing people together.
Someone else must have saw this when they approved it to happen.
Don't worry, next week you will have something else to cry about!

The United States

Tyde

March 31st, 2009

If we are going to raise awareness, then which religion is lowest on the totem pole. Is there a Shinto, Baha'i, Juche, Cao Dai, or Wicca week? If so bring them on lets get aware. Is it only the top 4 major religions only, then we better get on with Hindu, Buddist, and Christian weeks. I searched for these and couldn't find them. Guess it was something that we as Americans (secular or religious) should take as an offence. Discrimination is discrimination, period.

I would not like the "awareness" of just one religious, political, or idealogical view pushed on me. If it is awareness, then let there be awareness of all major and I would hope some of the minor groups. Choosing one to be aware of is propaganda.

Tyde

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