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What are we afraid of?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 14:50 UK time, Friday, 9 November 2012

Kids are afraid of darkness because it can't contain their imaginations.

The same phenomenon happens in our social lives, when we look at the things which are unfamiliar to us.

One example is the perception of Islam by an average person in the West: Islam appears to him or her as darkness does to a kid - a frightening monolith.

A boy reading the Koran

It is not easy for one person to represent a religion as huge and diverse as Islam

In fact this isn't just the perception of normal people - even at universities or on television channels you often see a so-called Muslim writer or expert, whose task is to present the whole of Islam to a challenging public.

I myself have been in this situation many times, talking on behalf of the whole of Islam (more than a billion people of different ages, genders, races, ethnicities) - trying to encapsulate all those people from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Tatarstan to Nigeria.

You could never imagine a Christian writer who would dare to present the whole of Christianity to any audience, but it often happens to Muslims.

When one sees Islam on the inside it's as diverse as any human creed or deed: dozens of schools, hundreds of branches, thousands of views and interpretations, millions of local rituals and traditions...

Let's take the most topical news of the week - the US Presidential elections. Some of the Muslims of Central Asia I've been in touch with argue that Barack Obama suits them much better than Mitt Romney, because as they argue "he has got a touch of Muslim blood".

Others say that he had a chance to mend the relationship between the US and the Islamic world, but not only did he miss the chance, he worsened the whole relationship.

A third group would argue that usually Republicans are much stricter with local autocrats and therefore if Romney had come to power the US would pay more attention to human rights in Central Asia.

There is also a view that neither of them would or will help the cause of ordinary people in Central Asia, that the US President will always act for the benefit of America first and foremost, and the interests of Americans have nothing in common with the interests of local people.

As you see, there is a variety of views on this single issue.

A Sufi parable comes to my mind.

A lover knocked at the door of his beloved.
"Who is it?" she replied.
The lover replied, "It is I."
"Go away. This house will not hold you and I."
The rejected lover retreated into the wilderness. For a long time he prayed and meditated on the beloved's words. Finally he returned and knocked at the door again.
"Who is it?" she said again.
The lover replied, "It is you."
Immediately, the door opened.

So until we learn to see the other, the darkness in front of us will be always frightening.

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