Out of all of Friday’s images of protest marches and battles with Egyptian security forces, the one which struck me more than any other is this one by Scott Nelson in The New York Times, January 28, 2011 (image 18 of 21).
As security vehicles burned in the background,
protesters prayed in Cairo on Friday evening.
There is something happening here to which we non-Islamic Westerners need to pay silent, respectful attention.
I’m not referring to the violence. I am referring to something about Islam which Reza Aslan makes very clear in No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.
The truest Islam is found in moments like the one pictured here, when the communitas stops whatever it is doing—even in peril of its life, as is the case with these young men—and kneels, centering down into whatever measure of the Divine Presence each member has become able to recognize and share.
There’s something more going on here than political violence, something truer which arises from beneath the frustration and anger of the people. At its core, Aslan writes, the current struggle in the Islamic world is a struggle between people for whom religion is the pulse of the sacred in their daily lives, on the one hand, and governments and institutions for whom religion is a weapon of control, on the other.
It is very difficult for us to credit that the fearfulness of this struggle arises out of a longing for peace, but that is what these people are asking for, that is what they are kneeling for.
And so it is.
Note: For communitas, see this passage from Weeds (Part II): “Religions may produce belief systems, yet ‘they are not at their core intelligible, and they are saturated with paradox’ (36). Unlike the Roman civitas, a society ruled by law and structured by clear lines of authority, a religion is a communitas stretching across time and space, a ‘spontaneous gathering of persons who identify themselves and one another as members of a unified body.” Unified, Carse writes, by “the desire…to get to the bottom of the very mystery that brings them together’ (84).”