I had an interesting conversation recently with an acquaintance on Facebook about a picture I had “shared” on my wall. The picture was this one, depicting a group of male Muslim Olympic athletes gathered for a congregational prayer.
The picture was making the rounds on Facebook, and had generated thousands of “likes” and “shares.” (whatever that signifies!). The overwhelming majority of those who had posted were talking about how beautiful and touching they found it that Olympic athletes gathered from around the world were still finding time to pray, and to pray together. In a word, it was like finding a few hundred Muslim Tim Tebow Olympians.
Yet there was a dissenting voice. There was an acquaintance who found the picture, and the athletes, an imposition of a certain kind of piety on her own type of being Muslim.
It was a strong reminder that for all the times that we use the term secular and secularism, there are competing definitions that have important consequences. One set of definitions look at the presence (or intrusion) of religion in the public arena. Another set of definitions look at the enforcement (or curtailing) of religion by state entities.
From my own perspective, I have no issue with religion in the public arena, religion of any variety. It’s not so much about less religion or more religion, it’s about what kind of religion.
Here is another image of a Muslim athlete celebrating in the Olympics, this time an Egyptian who defeated the world champion along the way. Egyptian Abouelkassem’s prayer of gratitude after his victory was the front page story on the leading Egyptian newspaper Ahram.
The images are from Egyptian paper Ahram.