“I refuse to feel inferior to someone else. No one is superior over me, they only have skills more developed than mine. My skills could be developed to be equally good, given time and effort. They may be better than me given a specific task, but as a person they are not superior to me. So, I refuse to feel inferior to someone else.”
This was the short rant I espoused in a restaurant with a long-time friend, while discussing an old head-teacher that I found particularly demeaning during my high school years.
My friend, a man with morals and good intentions, with a big heart and a generous nature, was a Muslim. His wife wore a Hijab, he prayed five times a day and together they lived a fairly Islamic life, whilst still contributing to a multi-cultural society in a sort-of western way. We became friends during our teens, when school life thrust us together. I doubt as adults, we could have met and formed a friendship in the same way.
He was an enigma to me. Here was a man that I appreciated and respected for many facets of his personality, but lived his whole life willingly in a hierarchical system. The opposite from me. And so it was, in reaction to my “refuse to feel inferior” speech, that he looked at me puzzled, surprised and possibly a little offended.
He stumbled through his words, but the gist was something like “But you must accept there are the greater and there are the lesser in all areas” I also sensed that he thought I was a bit arrogant, assuming I was so special that no one was above me.
Here lied the misunderstanding between my way of thinking and his. Despite all his excellent qualities, his belief system was still heavily indoctrinated and influenced subconsciously by his religion; Islam.
Islam, like the other two Abrahamic religions (Christianity and Judaism) are very much dependant on submission to the hierarchical system.
Taking Islam as a specific example; women are inferior to men (men don’t have to cover themselves up so as not to ‘tempt’ women), men are inferior to Imams, Imams and all Muslims are inferior to Muhammed and Allah, and all non-Muslims are inferior to all Muslims. This full participation and unquestioning submission to their ‘place’ in this system results in all practicing Muslims believing they are all inferior to an obsessed-over prophet and an oppressive deity, and superior over every person who doesn’t subscribe to worshipping Allah and following the irrational rules laid out in the Qur’an.
Here was my friend, subconsciously believing he was better than me because I didn’t worship Allah and had committed these sins; I have a tattoo (covering the skin with permanent marks is sinful), I drink a glass of wine sometimes (alcohol is a sin), I play a bit of poker (gambling sends you to hell) and I do not agree with the idea of a monotheist who created the earth and human beings. Although I have no criminal record, do not use violence towards others, and treat people with respect and dignity, I will burn in hell for eternity because of these sins, apparently.
The big confusion in this conversation was that my friend assumed because I refused to feel inferior to another person, that I actually believed myself superior. Nothing could be further from the truth; I believe all humans to be equal, and that our differences are only the product of environmental, sociological and educational upbringings.
A religious sports star who points to God in Heaven after winning is not only putting himself in an inferior position ranked well under God, he has by that very gesture but himself above, ranked higher, superior to his opponent/fellow competitors. He is saying “I am better than the others, because God loves me more than them, because he made me win and made them lose”
A non-religious sports star wins the medal, scores the goal, or sets the new record, and knows the success was down to his/her hard work, dedication and persistence. They are not ‘superior’ than their competitors in any way apart from they have honed their skills further. They have not been picked to be special. They are not sitting higher up in the pyramid. And next year, their opponent could have worked harder, trained with more dedication, and win instead of them. There is no divide right to superiority other others, and they know this.
I looked at the surprised and dismissive look on my friends face and felt his reluctant judgement. I asked him straight out “Do you really believe that I am going to hell because I am not a Muslim”. After much mumbling, stumbling over his words, and hushed excuses, he did agree that the Qur’an states I am going to hell, and that he has no choice but to believe it.
I paused and then said “That is why I refuse to feel inferior”