So last week, what with the entire planet imploding over the disgustingly offensive ‘movie’ some half-brained inchworm made about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), I put the question to you guys as to whether or not it was actually possible to have a civil and conducive conversation about religion and politics in today’s crazy ol’ world.
As someone who identifies as both a feminist and a Muslim (and a pretty devout one when it actually comes down to it), I’ve got a good number of friends who follow a variety of religions or don’t follow any religion at all. So, to me, it seems pretty important to figure out a way that I can talk to both my Muslim and non-Muslim friends about the stuff that matters most to them. Some of which, undoubtedly, has to do with religion and politics.
So, after a week-long process of fielding people’s reactions to religious and political discussions, as well as some personal soul searching, I’ve come up with a couple of ways that can (hopefully) help make the religion and politics conversation go down a lot smoother for all of us.
- Know when its appropriate – Look, Ms. Manners made those rules for a reason. And that reason is to avoid making an inappropriate buffoon out of yourself. People need to realize that, sometimes, God and politics just need to stay out of the mix. For example, in many countries, its actually illegal to discuss someone’s religion or political leanings in a job interview. Because, in that situation, it is wildly inappropriate and out of place. As a rule of thumb, you should always know where you stand with the person you’re having this kind of touchy conversation with. If you don’t then its probably just better for you to cut your losses and avoid any possibly inappropriate drama altogether.
- Remember: You are NOT an expert – Whenever someone tries to sell me on the idea that they’re some religion and politics expert, I always try to suppress the growing urge to laugh in their face. NO ONE IS AN EXPERT ON ALL RELIGION AND ALL POLITICS. No one. Just because you read a few Wikipedia articles or a few book excerpts does not make you an expert. Honestly, the best way to go into any religious or political discussion is with an oblivious attitude. Because when you go into it with that kind of attitude you actually end up listening to the other person. Which, you know, helps.
- Get specific – Don’t go into the subject with just a bunch of general questions. That can easily lead to misunderstandings, crossed signals and, eventually, a shouting match. Keep your questions specific or make sure that the person questioning you specifies what it is that they are curious about. That way, the person getting questioned doesn’t get flustered and confused and the person asking actually learns something.
- Be curious, not judgmental – Be careful with the way you word your questions and statements. It should sound like its coming from a place of curiosity and interest, not criticism and judgment. I mean, as a Muslim and a feminist, I have zero issue with discussing how I feel about my religion and my political leanings. Really. I am more than happy to answer people’s questions and to talk to them about why I believe what I believe. But if you start shutting me down with insults, or start implying that I’m somehow illogical or hypocritical (“HAH! You can’t be a Muslim AND a feminist!”) then, uhm, all that conversation is going to produce for you is a swift kick in the shins.
- Find something in common – When I was growing up one of the scariest realizations I had about religion was the fact that, in the eyes of someone who doesn’t believe in it, any religion can actually sound totally and wildly crazy. Knowing this made me immediately shut down pretty much every possible conversation I could have about religion because I always thought, “they probably think I’m insane!” We all need to get past this and focus instead on trying to find a shred of similarity between the opposing points of view. That usually makes it a whole lot easier to empathize with the other side and stop judging them.
- Know when to back off – Look, no matter what you do, sometimes the situation will just inevitably begin to spiral out of control. In some cases people will always assume the defensive position when it comes to any kind of religious or political discussion. And, really, if you find yourself trying to convince someone that they’re wrong as opposed to simply listening to them, then you need to back off and check yourself. Odds are, when it comes to something as deeply meaningful to someone as religion or politics, you’re never really going to convince them that they’re wrong anyway. So basically, if the conversation starts to get more hostile and less fun, its just time to cut the cord on that sucker.
All my love!