Believe it or not, there was a time when Islam was the most progressive force for civilization in the western (and, I believe, eastern) world. The culture that flourished in the few generations after Mohammed, pbuh, gave the human race vast gifts.
For one thing, those people invented algebra. You may have hated it in junior high, but you have to admit, finding X has created everything from water-treatment plants to iPhones. And astronomy was a big thing with the early Islamic world. Betelguese, Vega, Rigel, Antares, every star you ever heard of on “Star Trek” has an Arabic-derived name.
Much of what we know about the ancients stems from Islamic preservation of learning. Aristotle, for example, was a big deal in the Middle Ages largely because Islamic scholars introduced him to barbaric places like France.
Socially, there were parts of Europe under Islam (Spain 10th century) where Christians and Jews, while not treated as equal citizens (for instance, they had to pay an extra tax called “Jizyah”), they were tolerated within society. Under “Christian” rulers, tolerance at that time was largely unknown.
Now, the image of Islam is far removed from the relative enlightenment of Cordoba. One Muslim scholar in South Africa is trying to alter that. Taj Hargey’s “Open Mosque” in Cape Town has painted on its exterior wall “All Welcome.” He seems to mean it.
At his mosque, women can lead prayers, and they needn’t sit separate from the men, at the back. “This idea of female invisibility is an innovation that came after Muhammad, unfortunately it has become entrenched,” Hargey said.
And if Allah made you gay, Hargey’s mosque is open to you as it is for your straight siblings in the Faith — except for the marriage part, sorry.
“We have a theological mafia that controls the Muslim community — bamboozles them, brainwashes them, indoctrinates them — and that they follow without question. And it’s this type of unquestioning mind-set that leads to the growth of extremism, radicalism and fanaticism,” he said to Anita Powell at Voice of America.
“We do not want South Africa to become another Iraq, another Syria, another Saudi Arabia, another Pakistan,” Hargey said. “We detest those manifestations of Islam because they are contrary to the Quran. It is this toxic theology that is the gateway to violence and militancy later. So we need to neutralize this pernicious poison coming from the clergy.”
Needless to say, there are some less-tolerant Muslim leaders who view his approach as “heresy.” When the mosque opened last week, 10 protesters turned up (all men in religious garb — do they shop where Westboro Baptists do?). One of them told the press, “Is this what we want in Cape Town? No, no. If I fall dead right now, what is going to happen to my children? They are going to enter a mosque like this? Not while I am alive, maybe when I am dead yes.” Those terms are acceptable to me. He’d best get after seeking Paradise.
And just where does Hargey get off opening a mosque? He stated for the BBC, “I have a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from Oxford University, unlike my opponents who went to some donkey college in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.”
Unfortunately, the donkey college crowd seems to have intimidated local authorities. The city council has shut the mosque down for violating city bylaws regarding parking spaces. Apparently, you need one parking spot per 10 worshippers. Funny, though, I just checked on Google about the parking-to-worshipper ratio at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, and I think that needs to close, too.
Or the council could grow a pair.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.