Monday, April 27, 2009

Religious "Passing"

A few weeks back, we were discussing if religion could become the basis of discrimination between people rather than race. Mahmood Mamdani represents this idea in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim. He explains the happenings behind the September 11th attacks that occurred because of multiple political reasons, but really, the reason behind the discrimination was religious rather than racial; as we have begun to associate Islamic people with terrorism.
I personally do not understand how it is possible for religion to become the main source of conflict between people. There are people of different races within a religion, so the boundaries of discrimination would be a blurred. Discriminating on basis of religion would be very difficult because it would cause one to discriminate against a lot of different people, not just one particular race.
As a result of many different people being of one religion, we will be forced to ask the question, what if the concept of “passing,” as seen in racial passing, became a part of religion as well? In other words, what if people began to pass as a certain religion for safety or advantage that a certain religion had, similarly to what people do when trying to racially pass as something else? For example, there is a huge controversy between Hindus and Muslims in India; most Muslims and Hindus are of the same race so religion is the basis of discrimination. It would be very simple for either religion to pass as being the other for the sake of safety. Also, during the Holocaust, it could have been possible for certain Jewish people to act as if they were against their true religion for protection against the Nazis in order to keep their families safe. However, in these cases, one criteria to prove that one person was not the religion they claim they are is to simply analyze a person’s last name, which usually indicates a person’s religion.
Religious passing would be a very complicated because religion is such a broad form of discrimination. As I said earlier, two people of a different races can be part of one religion, so passing would be easier because there are not rigid boundaries for religion. However, in order to pass through religion, one has to have those rigid boundaries to help he or she pass as a different religion. As race has certain set “criteria” or standards that people can go through and break to pass as a certain race, religion is not an innate quality but a quality that can easily be changed. You may have a certain last name that ties you with a religion, but anyone is able to convert to other religions. Religion is your set of beliefs that can change over time; therefore, conversion is a form of helping a person transition from the beliefs of one religion to those of another religion. Hence, converting eliminates the possibility of passing in a religious sense.

So I ask you this question:

If religion takes over race as the basis of discrimination, can religious passing become an aspect of religion?


  1. People use race as an identifying marker for religion because it is easy and convenient and something we must accept that we do (even if instinctual or conditioned). People associate turbans with Muslims who follow the ideals toward jihad. We are using race to discriminate against religion, but I would contest that it would not lead to religious passing; mostly because the point of most religions is to proclaim your ground and where you stand and try to convert others. If you are trying to pass, this would probably be difficult (though we wouldn't have as many holy wars perhaps?) Just the words of one fellow.

  2. Oddly enough, I don't believe Judaism actively seeks out converts. If anyone knows more about this attribute of Judaism, let me know. I might have been misinformed on that.

    I'd also add that in most religious innate traits or hereditary features don't matter, instead a person's belief system is what matters. However, there is nothing about religion that rules out hereditary or innate features. And actually there are already some kinds of hierarchical religious sets up based more or less on just that. For instance, the Imams in Shia Islam where the Imams direct descent from Mohammed and Ali gives them spiritual authority.

  3. After reading "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" I do not think that discrimination based on religion is too far off. It has occured many times throughout history and we still see it today. I think that its hard to compare race with religion because race unlike religion is something that people know about you immediately. Religion is something that you can choose not to mention for as long as you so choose. I think that this is where the relgious passing comes in. If a Muslim is in a group of people who are prejudice towards his or her religion he or she can choose not to reveal it. However, if a black man or woman is in a group of people who are prejudice towards his or her race, there is very little he or she can do to prevent that

  4. I think the very basis of discrimination is finding distinctions between people and identifying an "Other", whom we are different than. So it seems believable that religious discrimination could follow racism, and just be a new form of prejudice and discrimination. But I believe that this encompasses so many other factors besides just religion. For example, when a lot of Americans talk about Muslims, it's not so much about their religion as it is a generalization, an assumption that because someone is from the Middle East they must be muslim and speak Arabic.
    Having said that, I believe it is more difficult to discriminate against a religion because unlike race, nationality, or gender, it is not something that I am born being a part of. Sure, if my mother is a christian and I went to church every Sunday growing up, most people would say that I'm a christian, but if I wake up tomorrow and decide that I want to convert to a different religion, how are people going to treat me then? How do you discriminate against beliefs? Doesn't it seem like it would be difficult to have faith be the very factor that people are prejudiced against?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.