Most discourse on Islam today revolves around politics, but Omid Safi is trying to bring love back into the conversation.
Safi spoke Tuesday from the Hall of Philosophy, delivering his Interfaith Lecture, “Love and Justice in a World of Suffering: An American Muslim Perspective Towards Healing and Liberation.” He said the Muslim voice of love is drowned out by the extremist Muslim voice of hatred, and now it’s time to rebalance the scales.
“At a time where the quickest way to get a microphone in front of you and to have your action broadcast all over the news is to go behead somebody, how did we get like this?” Safi asked. “The most hideous acts of violence immediately find a receptive audience, but love and tenderness and beauty have become all but invisible. Whose bright idea was this?”
Safi instead said the media should tell stories of compassion, tenderness and humanity, not violence. However, the media instead stray in the opposite direction.
“To see people that have made the spectacle of violence into something that is distributed with horrific efficiency leaves me speechless,” Safi said.
While love is typically understood as an emotion, Safi instead said love is not an emotion but evidence of the divine. Citing recent high-profile issues of social justice, he said love has been forgotten in recent times.
“This country — the richest country in the history of humanity — is not doing so well,” Safi said. “The pain and the suffering that you see in Ferguson and in Baltimore and in Staten Island, this is [indicative] of what is to come until we rapidly transform our ways.”
While he didn’t offer specific political solutions to social issues, he did say there is a drastic over-usage of resources in defense spending. He said politicians say there is no money for things like child care, elderly care, decent public housing, universal healthcare or environmental care, yet we still spend billions on the military.
“This is not a Republican thing, this is not a Democrat thing. This is an American catastrophe,” Safi said. “The reason we don’t have money to take care of our most vulnerable is that it’s going to do that over there [the Middle East], which, by the way, makes people over there hate us.”
Tying in the concept of art, Safi said, in times of low morality, it is artists or politicians who are supposed to get society back on track by starting a dialogue. Using the Quran as an example, Safi pointed out that God never spoke to the people until the people rallied and petitioned God to speak to them. He said artists have sold out and are no longer asking society the hard questions they used to.
“Whether you’re talking about art, religion or politics everything is up for sale,” Safi said. “And, sometimes, it feels like everybody is up for sale.”
In closing, Safi said our challenge going forward is to remain hopeful about the state of the human condition — specifically referring to Muslims — without forgetting the suffering and wrongdoings of the past.
Lastly, he challenged those in attendance to consider how and whom they will love. He urged them to love everyone, empathize with others’ suffering, and use their own personal experiences with suffering to connect to the human condition everywhere.