Mali is a Muslim country by a majority of about 95%. Living here for the past 1.5 years means that I get to understand Islam in a way that I would have never experienced if not for taking the leap and moving abroad. I’ve learned that there are five main streams of Islam. From what I can gather it’s similar to the different between being Anglican, Baptist, or Pentecostal – fundamentally people believe in similar things but, add there own flare of understanding to it all.
Most of my friends subscribe to a beautiful type of religious understanding that basically says no one can judge you except for Allah and your decisions are between you and him; that what really matters is what’s in your heart and only Allah can know that.
Like in Christianity (and any other world religion for that matter), Muslim Malians have some religious leaders (called Imams) who use religion to propagate a message of love, tolerance, and acceptance. There are also Imams who twist the words to support archaic ideologies and a message of inequality, retribution, and hate of the “other.” Making things mor complicated is that the Koran that is widely available is written in Arabic – a language that very few Malians can read (though many can understand it). Only about 33% of Malians can read at all (43% of men and 24% of women), let alone the minority population who can read Arabic. This means that Koranic understanding cannot be challenged or re-interpreted as people have to rely on their Imams.
Having only one vehicle to understand religion wouldn’t be a problem if humans were always honest, respectable, and honourable. But we all know that we fall short of that goal all the time. And so do Imams, they fall short of the standard of shepherding their flock to better understandings and explain their personal views and biases as fact. So many times I have heard Imams talking about how subordinate women need to be and how if they aren’t the Koran says you can beat them. Or how to even discuss homosexuality is so dirty that you can be banned from a mosque. And then there are extremist groups who are taking a message that was, at best, written to inspire and help people, and turning it to justify their violent actions and hatred for other groups.
Imams are respected without question in their communities. Their circle of influence is wide and highly regarded. If we could somehow harness their influence to promote human rights, equality, and general respect for one another, we could help to abolish things like ISIS, violence against women, and improve social security systems.
I am not the one to do it – and it would take a very wise and powerful set of individuals to achieve it, but I really do think we could change the world if we had the support and buy in of the worlds’ Imams. If we could work with these leaders and harness their power for the good of all, we really could change the world. Or at least that’s how it seems to me right now. Call me crazy but I want to believe in a better tomorrow where hate crimes against kind Muslims around the world are a thing of the past. Where women are not being made smaller with the privilege, intimidation, and violence of males. I want to believe that extremist groups can dissolve because people have a sense of belonging to a global community and that their opinions matter. Call me naive or crazy but that’s the world I want t be a part of and the world I am trying in my own right to create.