Working in a university has its advantages, and Friday night was one of them. Public lectures on relevant topics, by those with suitable qualifications. UCC had me excited with this one. And so too were many of the university staff, with most in attendance being from the related fields of study within UCC (those lecturers chatting behind me were lecturers in middle eastern art history, and history of gender studies). But sadly I was left walking out of the majestic Aula Maxima into the darkness, even more confused than I had been before. Where did it all go wrong?
The UCC president (Dr Murphy) opened on a fascinating note by telling us of the huge changes in Irish society and in UCC. in 1990 there was only 4% of Ireland who were non-native (not born in Ireland). By about 2011 there was 12-14% non-native living within the shores. Nods were taken from the professor who specialised in Irish migration. You couldn’t say anything wrong here, given those specialists attending. Or could you?
What followed was two fairly unrelated speeches from high profile speakers, both women who came from a Muslim background. One, Tasmina, who is MP for Ochil and South Perthshire seemed keener to tell us about her achievements in life and her passions as an SNP politician. And much as a woman who had achieved so much was fascinating to listen to, I did wonder whether I’d come to listen to an inspiring SNP politician (the inspiring part need not be linked to the SNP part) or someone speaking on the topic in hand. Brief reference was made to how SNP policy endorsed more open borders than others would.
Following on was Dr Samia Bano, from SOAS London who started by trying to tell us that she would be very academic (I’m not sure why she thought this would be a problem), and then proceeded to speak on a range of issues, some of which tried to separate Islamic culture from religion, some which tried to persuade us that we could contextualise and re-interpret the Qu’ran, and some which tried to persuade us of the forward leaning nature of many of the Muslims within Islamic communities in the UK.
But I couldn’t help but think what the Islamic Society (or the local mosque for that matter) would have thought about such attempts to separate culture and religion, to re-interpret the Qu’ran (or even reinterpret a copy of the translation of the Qu’ran, as I’m not sure what levels of Arabic were actually read by either panellist), or to persuade us that the Islam could be up-to-date with the latest gender theories and feminist issues. Or to even what extent they’d want to do that. For the religion that completely bows to the theories of the day, and whatever direction the wind is blowing, ultimately gives up its right to objective truth.
Liberal academics may try and persuade us that Islam says one thing or another. But in reality, the only questions on people’s lips were:
- what is the essence of Islam (if there is one)?
- how can change be brought about?
And if one thing were fairly obvious, it was that the panellists were trying to make the Qu’ran say what they wanted to hear. And that because of that, change will only occur in the outer echelons of liberal or nominal Islamic communities.
To know what is actually believed in Islam, or to bring about change, I would suggest one may need to be side-by-side at the heart of such communities. And so I find myself in a local mosque again tomorrow, as well as reading some academic works. The disconnect is huge.
The main point I took away from the evening? How much travel is impacting Irish society, both in immigration and otherwise. Thanks Dr Murphy!