We hear a bit about the community's history from the local imam, and there's another man invited who knows a lot about the movement and how they've integrated into the Norwegian community. He asks us if we have any questions, and our group fires off with a few complicated ones. It reminds me of how there are a number of different groups with approaches to peace, culture and good governance, and it can be hard to find common ground when we get into the details of what we believe.
A lot of the questions, our group being mostly made up of liberal humanists, about gender and queer issues. How are women treated? Do they get to assume positions of leadership? Are there instances of homophobia in the community, and how do people treat some of the more 'outdated' (according to some contemporary points of view) verses in the Koran?
The man answering questions smiles in a way that implies effort and that this isn't the first time issues like this comes up. He's a proponent of complementarianism (which say that men and women are equal but different and can occupy different roles), and he doesn't get into the theology of marriage outright but says that tolerance and non-violence are important tenents of the community.
We mostly left it at that, and it provides an interesting dilemma.
There are those who say we need to look at our similarities more than our differences, and they might encourage us to stop and embrace the parts of the Ahmadiyya tradition that jive well with the agenda at PRIO.
Then there are others who say that we need to get down into the nitty-gritty of what makes us different and why. From there, some people go into defense-mode and start defending their values in the face of values that might be mutually exclusive with theres. Or they can admit the differences and, in the name of a pragmatic pluralism, say that there's room enough for all of us in this country/community/whatever.
I think about certain modern movements, ones associated with the mid-to-far left, that push right now for an intersectional ideal on justice to prevail and might be impatient with perspectives not compatible with its own. Its opponents call it 'cancel culture' (and that's a debate for another day), and its supporters say it's about defending marginialized populations who are under threat.
And it's this idea of threat that might be key - if you feel like there's more danger out there, you might be less willing to tolerate things that might go unnoticed in less threatening times. We are all for peace until we feel like things are too dangerous not to go on the offensive. That's when you start talking about things like the security dilemma
, just war
or the like.
Many of us have really different ideas of where that line is, and we can feel a bit of that tension in the air today in the mosque. For some, complementarianism is seen as a danger to women and needs to be fought as part of the patriarchy. For others, a marginalized Muslim denomination should be protected (from more hardline Muslims as well as Islamophobic movements elsewhere) and so common ground should be found where it can.
But there's no answer, and it's complicated, and so we back down from those issues because we don't have the time, space or maybe even the energy for that kind of conversation. Maybe a smaller group would have been better, or a one-on-one conversation.
In any case, we say we're grateful to have had an window into their lives and philosophy. We happily eat their samosas. We pose for a photo op in front of the Mosque and quickly get back to campus.