I read an article some months back and wrote this then. For some reason (I dont remember now), I did not post it. Hence doing it now.
I was reading this article “Muslims from abroad are thriving in catholic colleges” from the New York Times which, for some reason, stayed in my mind for long. The article is about how Christian colleges in the USA are turning out to be more attractive to Muslim students. And the extent to which some colleges go to accommodate religions are surprising. But it actually should not be news. After all, it is a Christian college and so they already believe that religion is inseparable from any aspect of life and so they can easily empathise with similar importance that others give to their religion. But somehow there were many aspects of the article that made me extremely uncomfortable.
“I like the fact that there’s faith, even if it’s not my faith, and I feel my faith is respected,” said Maha Haroon, a pre-med undergraduate at Creighton University in Omaha, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in the United States. “I don’t have to leave my faith at home when I come to school.”
Has carrying your faith to school become a good thing now? And this:
Muslim students here cite the accommodations Dayton has made, like setting aside spaces for them to pray — a small room for daily use, and two larger ones for Fridays — and installing an ablution room for the traditional preprayer washing of hands and feet.
The university also helps students arrange celebrations of major religious holidays, and it contracts with a halal meat supplier for special events.
Manal Alsharekh, a Saudi Arabian graduate student in engineering at Dayton, said, “I was in another university before that did not respect us so much.”
Wait, what? Is giving in to your every little fantasy, what you call respect? Why do you stop there then? Why don’t you ask for more respect saying they need to build a mosque in the college playground? Their sense of entitlement amazes me. Do they also want every student including non-muslims, the staff etc., also fast with then during the month of Ramzan? You might think I am exaggerating, but imagine a college that actually does that. Then, I am sure there will be somebody who will move from Dayton to that college and say “Dayton did not respect us so much”.
Being an Indian, I have been brought up with the idea that Secularism is accepting and embracing all religions. Thus if having a symbol of an om or a cross or a crescent at an event is considered communal, but having all three makes it secular. Looking back, should not that have made the event three times more communal? Only recently have I learnt that Secularism, in the west, means keeping religion out of public life. And that I think is a more sensible definition.
The problem with the Indian definition of secularism is that it will lead to public institutions yielding to every silly fantasy that could be held by any citizen on the planet. If I seriously believe Sachin Tendulkar is god and get a sizeable following to believe the same, then the Indian definition of secularism does not know how to handle this. Should they start having a photo of Sachin Tendulkar too whenever they have an om, a cross and a crescent. How far can this go? Do they declare his birthday as Tendulkar Jayanthi. Naturally, the best way out of this is to say, if you like Tendulkar, keep it at home. If you believe in Allah, pray to him at home. Nobody is stopping you, or will stop you, or will be allowed to stop you. But you cannot others to share your passion, or to make special concessions to suit your personal interest.
I realise that private colleges can do what they want and nobody from outside can dictate what they do (I have no clue about the US education system and so cant say if Dayton is funded by tax payers’ money). But this kind of bending over backwards, only adds to the idea that religion is some special fantasy (very different from someone devoted to Harry Potter) deserving something extra wherever they go. That should not be done.