Islam, My Cousin

For some, religion and families are so intertwined there’s no separating them.  I have a number of relatives who describe themselves as “born again” who insist on hosting family reunions in church basements.  I have the damndest time finding a cocktail there, so I don’t go.  I have too many bad memories of being forced to attend Sunday School in church basements where I was beat over the intellect by ‘teachers’ who had barely graduated from high school, nonetheless they were telling me how to interpret the Bible.

On this anniversary of September 11, a few Bible stories come to mind.  Right after the whole “creation” story there’s Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain is the greedy brother who is envious of Abel so he kills him and takes his stuff.  And the game is afoot.  Fast forward to Abraham.  Everyone thinks (including Abraham and his wife) his wife is too old to have kids so he shtups the black maid to assure progeny.  Why?  Well, because he can, is my thought.  And from that point on the family feud ensues.  Abraham and his wife eventually have a son and he becomes the father of Judaism, which eventually gives birth to Jesus and Christianity.  Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, eventually produces Mohammed, and then Islam.

I consider Judaism and Islam my religious relatives.  Islam is the younger half-sibling of Christianity.  All three of these traditions claim one God and earthly heritage in Abraham.  So why can’t we all just get along already?  That takes us back to Cain and Abel.  There’s always someone envious trying to knock someone good over the head.  It is as much a part of the human condition as is, I hope, compassion.

At work, I have a friend who has the nickname Swig.  His Muslim name is Ayyub, which he tells me can be translated to Job.  I am pleased to say he calls me “Cuz,” as in Cousin.  (I have his permission to mention him, and I thank him for getting me thinking about this cousin thing.)

This week I have been honoring the anniversary of September 11th by getting to know my Islam cousin better; not Swig/Ayyub, but my religious cousin, the faith and history of Islam.  My University of Pennsylvania professors would want me to make clear that this study has been not been exhaustive.  So noted.  In particular, I have enjoyed the way that two Western academics have been explaining things to me: Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History, and Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.  I have read parts of the Koran (the word a translation of “Quran,” the version I have is translated by N.J. Dawood).  There is no way I can do it justice on my first readings, so I will rely on Armstrong and Smith.

To start, Islam is the religion and practitioners are Muslims. (I always found that confusing.)  Islam grew up in the dessert when polytheism was the standard.  There weren’t enough resources for everyone so it was just good business, and survival, to raid your neighbors and take their stuff.  Mohammed changed all that.  He insisted on justice and worked politically to facilitate peaceful relations with neighboring tribes and clans, including – by the way – Jewish tribes.  (Anti-Semitism is a Christian invention.)

Foreign Policy magazine listed Islam as the fastest growing religion in the world at 1.84 percent, with Christianity trailing at 1.38 percent (“The List: The World’s Fastest Growing Religions,” 5/14/2007).  Is Cain envious of Abel’s success?  Smith translates the word Islam as, ‘the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God,’ (p.222).  How can you hate that?

Muhammad (the name given to more male children than any other in the world – Smith p.224) was never a god or even “divine figure” (Armstrong p. 24).  Muhammad believed God spoke to him, just as Abraham before him and Saint Paul after Jesus.  But there is a significant difference in how Muslims view the Koran from how Christians view their Bible.  The Bible tells stories about God and has some quotes from God the Father and Jesus, however, the Koran is all actual quotes right from God.  That makes burning the Koran more like taking a Bible, stacking on the Eucharist, or communion host for you Protestants – then lighting the fire on Christmas Eve, because Saturday the 11th is the last day of Ramadan.  Even Cain didn’t go that far.

I’m relieved to say that there is a Facebook page rallying opposition to the (now formerly) scheduled burning of the Koran by the not-so-Christian clergyman in Florida.  At the time of this writing more than 39,000 Facebook people gave this page a thumbs-up.

So I honor September 11th by getting to know my religion cousin, Islam, a little better.  The most respectful response to the innocent who died is to refuse to become like the hate-mongers who killed them.  I won’t even curse that crazy Florida guy.  (Believe me, I want to.  Even though he retracted his appalling threat, I am convinced he actually enjoyed his notoriety.)  This week, and especially the 11th, I will celebrate tolerance, including tolerance for the beliefs of my born-again cousins, which I admit is very difficult for me.

I beg the indulgence of my Muslim “cousins” and close with this quote from “The Exordium” of their very holy scriptures, with as much respect as possible from an outsider:

“…Guide us to the straight path,

The path of those whom You have favored,

Not of those who have incurred Your wrath,

Nor of those who have gone astray.”

Peace to you, friends and cousins alike. –J.B. Good

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  • Cheryl Nolan  On September 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I think proclaiming that the only true religion is yours is the ultimate in arrogance.

  • allthingsreligious  On September 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for weighing in. Obviously (I hope) I couldn’t agree more. Fortunately, lots of others agree with you, too. Thanks for reading and commenting. -J.B.

    • Cheryl Nolan  On September 11, 2010 at 12:50 am

      I am not a religious person for the very reason that I find it completely divisive. Although I am spiritual. I do believe in karma which is a Buddist concept however I believe Buddism is more of a philosophy of life rather than a religion. I don’t have the statistics but I believe that more people have been killed (murdered) in the name of religion than for any other reason.

      • allthingsreligious  On September 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

        Oh the killing issue…it depends how you define religion. I believe that when people take religion into politics, it is a perversion of religion, no matter what religion that is. Whether it is the Christians on military Crusades to kill non-Christians in the Middle Ages, or radical Muslims engaging in terroristic acts…that is about power, not religion.
        Thank you so much for reading and thanks for your intersting comments.

  • Mary Kay  On September 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    I very much agree that tolerance is the key to acceptance, but I would like to add that exposure and education about religions are important When I was growing up, my best friend was Jewish and I spent most of my friday nights at her house for dinner and then at Friday evening services at the temple. I am grateful for those Friday nights, they taught me a lot.

    Thank you for this post…it taught me some things I didn’t know.

    • allthingsreligious  On September 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks for reading and comments, MK. I realy agree with you about education and exposure. We are all more alike than different. I envy you participating in all those Friday nights. What a blessing.
      Thanks again. -J.B.

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