Tag Archives: Islam

Bullies and Religion

“Radiolab” replayed a story this month that mentioned hockey great Wayne Gretzky (NPR 2/9/2014,”Secrets of Success,” original air date 7/26/2010).  At the age of two, Gretzky’s parents put hockey on TV for him and when the game was over he would cry.  It seems at two, he loved the game that much.  My own early memory is so much less, but still similar.  On the first day of fourth grade we were required to write about our summer.  I recall thinking that I could probably survive fourth grade if all I had to do was write, of course, that was before the math began. 

I think that writing is a little different from the obsessive passion of the Wayne Gretzkys and Olympic hopefuls of the world, for example, because the writers I most enjoy have read a lot and lived life.  While it may be true about many passions, vocations, or the arts in general, it seems that there is a need for times of reflection and quiet – passion alone is not enough.  It has been my experience regarding both religion and writing, that periods of solitude and retreat are essential, especially when we are struggling.

Islam is projected to be the fastest-growing religion worldwide according to Pew Research (link follows), rising IMG_0924from 1.6 to 2.2 billion people by 2030.  All that started in a cave, with one person.  Mohammed, before he was the prophet he was to become, needed some solitude and developed a habit of retreating to a cave in the hills of Mount Hira outside Mecca, (Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, 1991, p.224).

“The Future of the Global Muslim Population”

The Buddha, before he was the Buddha, was Siddhartha Gautama and born to a wealthy family, offered every comfort and luxury of his culture.  But he left it all behind, including a wife and son, to “live the life of a lonely forest-dweller…to rejoice in solitude,” (Huston, p.83-4).  And so, from solitude, two of the world’s great religions began.

In part, the retreat by Mohammed and the Buddha was a response to the suffering around them. In our post-modern world of runaway capitalism, I ask you to think about a basic and common form of suffering, workplace bullies.

The Philadelphia Business Journal did an unscientific survey of 173 responding readers and 58 percent said they knew of a supervisor at work who was bullying people; another nine percent said there was one who quit or was fired, which makes 67 percent.  PBJ asked the wrong question.  The question should have been: “Have you or any of your coworkers been bullied at work?”  I guarantee the number would have been higher, and 67 percent is not small.  If this number is representative, or as I suggest low, then lots of people are miserable at work.  They fear for their jobs, their health, and have little peace of mind.  Job satisfaction is a ridiculous fantasy when your spirit is crushed on a daily basis.  And even if your passion is outside of work, you drag home too depleted to pursue it.  You become Wayne Gretzky forgetting that there was a hockey game on tonight and just losing interest in the puck.

Bullying at Work in the PBJ

I assert that in a capitalistic society with the ever-widening gap between the disgustingly rich and the working poor, threatening someone’s livelihood is economic violence.  The expertise of the bullies is convincing you they can harm you, they are willing to do it, and enjoying the whole dirty business.  In some cases, they really can hurt you.  If, like most folks, you can’t quit because you need the job, you are stuck.  Has anyone noticed the workplace has gotten meaner?

There are a number of reasons that Mohammed and the Buddha needed solitude, and their response to suffering was, in my opinion, one of these reasons.  I had a shrink once who called it “strategic retreat.”  With enough retreat, meditation, contemplation, and if you are a person of faith – then prayer, I believe you can survive.

This is not my tidiest column.  I have started to write this several times over several months.  I intended to go on a rant about bullies and how I am just sure God doesn’t like them.  What I won’t do is defend them or rationalize their bad behavior because of a difficult childhood, or crap like that.  It doesn’t matter why they are a bully.  It matters who they are bullying and what weapons they are using.  It might be a jealous co-worker starting gossip or a supervisor who thinks you remind him of the sister who regularly called him on his shit.  The bully is not my preoccupation or priority, it is the victim.  If that is you, I want to let you know that you that you do not deserve this and that I recognize that your pain is real.

There are no easy answers for suffering, whatever the cause.  If your religion is not helping you with this, then consider reframing it.  I have read a little something about all of the major religions and some of the minors.  They all have something to say about suffering and some of it is helpful.  Don’t take any of it at first reading or what you were taught by others.  Allow yourself, like Mohammed, some time alone in the cave and see what comes to you.  I don’t have much faith and it is not common or traditional, but I do believe that if you are suffering, eventually there will be some measure of comfort come into your life.  You may not see justice served to the bully, but you might get some for yourself, which is much more important. – J.B.

American Hero: Imam W.D.

What’s happened to “Star Trek”?  It’s gone mass appeal with little time for a story in between faser fire, fisticuffs and bodies spit into space.  This is not your parents’ action and adventure of the old Indiana Jones days.  No, today it means convincing, gratuitous violence, thank you J.J. Abrams (the over-lauded young director).  The title “Star Trek into Darkness” is entirely appropriate.  Yes, I admit I’m a bit of a Trekkie.  I like that it was always easy to find several interesting heroes in a “Star Trek” episode or movie.  Still, the question this disappointing movie made me ask is: who are our heroes?  What constitutes an American hero these days?

First of all, there’s trouble with the word ‘American.’  Linking our identity to this continent reminds us (or should) of the historic fact that the Europeans stole this resource-rich continent from the Native Americans, along with economic prosperity for the elite built on the backs of African (et.al.) slaves.

The exploitative heritage of this country is often glossed-over, or worse, a cliché.  In fact every time I look at Andrew journey-into-america-cover211Jackson on a $20 bill I shudder.  His systematic and unapologetic intention to exterminate Native Americans would easily be called genocide by today’s standards.  Author Akbar Ahmed assigns him the category of “predator” in describing “three distinct but overlapping identities – primordial, pluralist and predator,” in Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, (p.45).  Ahmed’s examples and explanations of these identities are interesting, but for the sake of brevity in this column you can take them at face value, using Dick Cheney and Andrew Jackson as examples of predators, Thomas Jefferson being a pluralist, and the Puritans primordial.  Ahmed looks at these conflicting identities and their impact on society, and foundational for the conflicts we all live with today.

The book flap of Journey into America said, “This eye-opening book also offers a fresh and insightful perspective on American history and society.”  I’m backing into the story of this book because reading about my own country’s history through the eyes of immigrants was powerful.  I was not ignorant to America’s inglorious past, but Ahmed put some of this country’s history in the context of how Muslims are currently treated in America, immigrants and natives.  Not surprisingly, he reveals story after story of bigotry, though this book is much richer than any of those stories in isolation.  In fact, the context he provides is what makes reading Ahmed compelling.  It matters in general, but also because there are six to seven million Muslims in the U.S., and globally, one of every four persons is a Muslim (p.7). 

Ahmed chairs Islamic studies at American University in Washington, DC and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He chose an anthropological methodology because, “Anthropologists believe that society consists of interacting parts, and that anthropology is therefore the only discipline attempting to study society as a whole,” (p.10).  Ahmed travelled the U.S. and beyond with a team of researchers for visits to mosques and personal interviews, as well as collecting 2,000 questionnaires from people of all backgrounds all over the country. 

With all these stories, from first-hand accounts and from history, there was one person who especially struck me as what I think of as a real American, and my idea of a hero.  Ahmed described him by saying, “The genius of Imam W.D. was that he single-handedly moved the African American community toward identifying with a pluralist American identity while moving away from Black Nationalist Islam,” (p.174).

In my effort to get to know him better, a well-informed source referred me to two books.  Both are dated, but offered me a fuller picture of Imam W.D.  In American Jihad: Islam After Malcolm X (1994), author Steven Barboza titled the chapter on W.D. Mohammed “Prodigal Son,” (p.94).  (The Black Muslims in America, 3rd Edition 1994, by C. Eric Lincoln was also consulted for this column.)  Over time, the world would see how W.D.’s interpretation of Islam differed from his father, Elijah Mohammed.

Barboza’s book had an undertone of disappointment that W.D. did not build on his father’s legacy and empire, which was successful, but harsh.  As one example of sanctioned non-religious activities, the Nation of Islam (NOI) under Elijah Mohammed had a team of “enforcers” (“Fruit of Islam,” FOI) which were known as the ‘punch your teeth out’ arm of NOI.  That may well have been the case since there was a story of ten people killed ‘for no other reason than they didn’t want the FOI completely dominating their lives,’ (p. 96).  Imam W.D. also ended the exclusion of whites (p.95-6).  Louis Farrakhan and his followers eventually split from Imam W.D., retaining many of Elijah Mohammed’s doctrine and practices.

Akbar Ahmed compares Imam W.D.’s impact on American Islam akin to Martin Luther’s impact on Christianity (p.173).  In 1992 he was the first imam to offer morning prayers in the U.S. Senate (Barboza, p.98).  Not only did he make great strides in pluralism, he also taught his followers how they could be good Muslims as well as patriotic Americans.  Another imam said of him: “He is the greatest inspiration to us; he inspired us to accept our obligations and responsibilities as Americans.  Since 1975 we have identified as Muslim Americans.  We have rights, duties, and responsibilities as Americans.  We have to support good wherever we see it,” (Ahmed, p.192).

I now see the late Imam W. D. as a peaceful, devout spiritual man who sacrificed and persevered to lead people of his own faith on a devout path, while maintaining and building inter-faith relationships.  In this country he was a pioneer in teaching a more Orthodox, compassionate Islam.  He’s not taught in American history classes.  Probably many more non-Muslims think of Louis Farakhan or early Malcolm X.  Imam W.D.’s influence was quieter, but likely more widespread, and more spiritual than political.  That was heroic.

With no disrespect to Imam W.D. or Akbar Ahmed, I leave you with something less lofty.  I have been enjoying Canada10340‘s Islam-light on Hulu.com.  Take a look at “Little Mosque.”  It’s not quite a sitcom, but it’s not drama either.  It is an everyday interpretation of the lives of Muslims in a small town in ‘America’ (remember Canada is on the American continent).  This show makes me makes me smile, and sometimes laugh out loud.

“Little Mosque” on Hulu.com

Asalaam alaikum: peace be unto you. –J.B.

Anger Mismanagement

It is probably a mistake to admit this, but on the way to church, I flipped someone off.  Even at the time, I recognized the irony of my actions.  I admit I think they deserved it, and I did feel better doing it.  They were walking in the middle of the street in slow motion.  It was in a quiet neighborhood – but it was a street.  They saw my vehicle and just kept walking slowly in the middle of the street, before they finally sauntered to the shoulder. 

Even though at the time of my indiscretion I was driving to church, I don’t consider myself one of those typical church ladies, mostly because I enjoy cursing like teamster.  (Yes, I have heard them do that.)  But in my experience, very often church ladies have the same inclinations as me and my one-finger salute.  You see, I think passive aggressive is still aggressive and sometimes worse because it masquerades as nice.

At a place I worked I had a co-worker who was one of those sweet middle-aged women who everyone thinks is kind.  She was in church about four times a week always talking about praying for people and God’s will.  My perception is that she was more of a self-martyred doormat, and expected other women to be the same.

In the department in which I worked I was being picked-on by a male co-worker and quite honestly had groused about it a little too much.  Church Lady didn’t come to my rescue or defend my honor.  Nor did she communicate directly to me that my commentary was wearing thin.  When she became chilly (passive aggressive) I made several attempts to offer to help her with work or see if anything was wrong and got no response.  Instead she complained to a manager about me.  No complaints about the male for his actions, but instead about the female (me) and my reaction to being harassed.  As a female, she expected me to suffer in silence.

It seems that there are too many opportunities to feel out of control, frustrated, pissed off, and even enraged.  Fewer and fewer people know a safe way to handle those feelings.  Here’s what I don’t do – pray it away.  Turning anger in toward religion just creates an angry religion.

In my readings, I have come across an expert on this: a humble Vietnamese, Buddhist monk whom I have heard speak and whose books I have read.  His writing style is not challenging to serious readers (English is not his first language), but thePanOnStove content of his books is spiritually inspired, and almost magic in its simplicity.  (It is wise to read it as poetry.)  In Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hahn talks about “cooking anger,” (p.29).  He compares it to cooking potatoes.  “But even at a very high flame, if you turn off the fire after five minutes, the potatoes will not be cooked.”  I take this to mean that my anger deserves respect, and a minimal amount of time to process.  My anger has validity and deserves recognition by me, though perhaps something more positive than flipping someone off.

What kind of anger led the two men accused of the Boston Marathon bombing to such behavior?  Like most of us, this has been disturbing to me.  The Wall Street Journal article (link follows) tells the story of a lost, frustrated young man (the older brother).  The guidance he received from his mother was to pursue extreme Islam.  That’s not a reflection on Islam.  It is, in my opinion, bad parenting.  I sincerely believe that any religion, or any ideology for that matter, could have been exploited to the extreme by this young man.  He had a need to lash out, as he did once at his local mosque.  Reasonable Muslims told him to knock it off, just like moderate Muslims have condemned what it seems he did in Boston.

Wall Street Journal on family religious issues of accused Boston bombers

Salon article on deceased and accused Boston bomber disrupting mosque service

Religion News.com on Muslim leaders against terrorism

Religious people will likely disagree with me, but I don’t think religion is the answer for all one’s woes.  Religion may offer inspiration or guidance, and hopefully spiritual growth, but if someone has serious psychological problems or is socially disenfranchised, religion will be received and exercised in that same way.  Every religion is interpretive and angry people will interpret religion as angry.  Put more simply: people find the god they want.

That takes me to Bill Maher.  I usually agree with him, so when he went on a rant about Islam I really had to stop and think.  It is difficult to argue that Islam is not a dangerous religion, though I don’t really believe that it is.  With religion, much like human beings, context is everything.  There is a difference between understanding the Islam of Mohammed and his writings, and perceiving Islam only through the eyes of angry Muslims who have embraced a cult-like interpretation of what is truly an inclusive, peaceful religion.  As tragic as recent incidents have been, the actions of extremists represent a very small minority of practicing Muslims.  In the same way most Christians would not want to be thought of as people who bomb abortion clinics (I hope); nor would Buddhists want to be known for the “War Monk” in Sri Lanka.

When Bill Maher judges a religion on the behavior of its practitioners, it makes sense and seems fair.  But we live in a mass-media, global world with a lot of troubled people.  Some of them are going to choose a religious interpretation that validates their anger and allows them to lash out.  That can happen in any religion, or political group for that matter.  Remember, the moderate people are not newsmakers.  Peaceful, reasonable people do not make good headlines.

Bill Maher on Islam

I feel like we have learned enough about the accused Boston Marathon Bombers.  It was a sensational and horrible tragedy played out on live feeds for days on television and the Internet.  But now it is time to learn and heal.  We need to “cook” our own collective anger and learn from what has happened while we find ways to support those who have been hurt.  I do not want to see one more photograph of those young men. They should not be the news any longer.  We are the news.  People helping people is “Boston Strong” and that’s the only news I want.  And religious people around the globe – for this is not just about Islam – have to prove our worth by serving.  It takes a lot of compassionate service to offset those working for angry interpretations of religion. – J.B.

The Mean Streets of Capitalism

When I think about how many bad bosses I’ve had, I lose count.  One of the worst was a seemingly non-threatening short, middle-aged white female who was a cross between the Snapple Lady and Darth Vader.  She would interrupt me whenever I tried to speak in a meeting, though usually she just excluded me entirely.  She lied about me to her supervisor – and you can bet that it wasn’t flattering.  She routinely requested reports from the database with criteria that didn’t exist and when I miraculously pulled something together (after working late) she either didn’t read the report, or asked for endless modifications.  Of course she was pleasant to everyone else in the department, so they thought she was “sweet.”  While I worked there the organization had a hiring freeze that made it impossible for me to transfer out of her purgatory.  My husband was scheduled for life-threatening/saving surgery, so I could not do anything to jeopardize our health insurance.  It was at this point I begged my doctor to please schedule a colonoscopy so I could get two days out of work – better a camera than her foot.  And I believe there are many people out there with similar stories.

A 2010 study by MetLife (“Study of the American Dream,” April 2010, reported on MSNBC) reported that 55 percent of Americans were worried about losing their jobs.  At the time of that survey 9.5 percent of Americans were out of work.  The numbers are only slightly better now.  There are many Americans who feel they are permanently unemployed or painfully underemployed (which I think is a euphemism for a low-paying job that sucks).  There are also people who may not live in daily fear of job loss, but have awareness that it could go away at any time for no reason related to their own performance.  Then there are the hard-working folks who get an undeserved bad review so the organization doesn’t have to make good on a promised raise or bonus.  If you want to keep your job, check your conscience at the door and don’t question authority.  May I just say this is no way to run a country?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38417262/ns/business-personal_finance/t/many-fear-job-loss-have-no-savings-it/#.T8L3p1J0mSo

When corporations were originally established in the last century it was considered a “privilege.”  A worthwhile viewing on this is the 2004 documentary, “The Corporation.”  In it Richard Grossman of the “Program on Corporations” said, “In both law and culture the corporation was considered a supported entity that was a gift from the people in order to serve the public good.”  Ah, the common good.  Remember that notion from antiquity?  We don’t need Old Time Religion, we need Old Time Capitalism.  We need the kind of patriotic capitalism where corporate executives are ashamed of layoffs and see a diminished workforce as personal and organizational failure, not shrewd cost-cutting.

As entities, corporations are amoral.  In practice, situation ethics emerge as the elite of the organizations work to protect their own interests.  People without conscience are more valuable to these organizations, and exercising one’s conscience may mean demotion, alienation, or job loss.  Though some attention is paid to public perception (have you seen the new BP tourism ads for the Gulf Coast?), I believe that is to insure we are distracted from the ugly truth.  Corporations relentlessly pursue quarterly profits – even at their own long-term expense.  That pursuit is at the cost of jobs and the health and welfare of our country’s resources and the human beings who live here.  It’s just plain mean out there.

Many people make the mistaken assumption that morality comes from religion.  Religions are just one source for ethical guidance.  This is a secular country and we need a stronger common moral code to keep corrupt and unbridled capitalism from trampling us.  Even in a pluralistic society, that is not an impossible task.  The following are selected ethical suggestions I’ve extracted from several mainstream religions, with the helpful review of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.

  • Buddhism – The Eightfold Path: Right intent, Right conduct, Right livelihood
  • Islam – The Five Pillars: Guide us on the straight path
  • Judaism – The Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness
  • Christianity – The Greatest Commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself

The majority of people in this country believe in God and the majority of religions have a valuable moral code.  If we look to how we are alike rather than how we are different it should be possible to reinforce commonality and morality.

It’s just not too much to expect any corporation to serve the common good.  That is not Marxism or Socialism, it is common sense.  Real patriotism is about taking back the Mean Streets and remodeling this country so it is not only there in the future, but more fit for all of us today.  Ranting about abortion or gay marriage while the everyday work place is mean and immoral can’t possibly be what any God wants any of us doing.  Respect your own religion, or respect Secular Humanism, but going to work or finding a job should not be at the expense of our dignity or our soul.  -J.B.

Newt the Nightmare

Newt Gingrich was not morally inspiring the last time he held office.  His situation ethics – which in his case meant he was exempt from the many values he purported – makes his recent pandering to the ‘religious right’ all the more offensive.  So now Newt is back, with a threat to run for president.  Do we really need another ignorant, embarrassing president?

With all due respect to the Texans I like, and there are some, Newt made an appearance at a San Antonia church from which even John McCain rejected an endorsement in the last presidential race.  To put the Cornerstone Church in perspective, their clergy John Hagee, described the Holocaust as fulfilling God’s prophecy.  (For the full CNN story written by Dan Gilgoff, from which the photo here is posted, see the link below.)

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/28/gingrich-fears-atheist-country-dominated-by-radical-islamists/?iref=allsearch

Here’s what Gingrich said about religion in the United States: “I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9.  I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

If Maggie and Robert are in a half-decent school, then they probably know more about American history and civics than their bigoted grandfather.  This is someone who used to be Speaker of the House who clearly doesn’t understand the separation of church and state.  The separation is not an atheist conspiracy.  The United States has a secular government by design.

My abridged description of the origin of separation of church and state is that it was largely a result of squabbling between different Protestant Christian denominations that didn’t want any of the others becoming the official church of the new country, e.g. the Baptists didn’t want to be forced to be Puritans.  The way to protect each other from having an official religion forced on them was to have no state or federal religion.  That also means that the Constitution protects us from Islam becoming the official religion, though I for one am more worried about the Christian extremists.

Howard Fineman put it well in The Thirteen American Arguments (p.61).  “The land we live on was claimed in God’s name, but the world’s first officially secular government sits on it.  We invoked God in making our Declaration of Independence, but not in our governing authority, the Constitution.”

Fineman is not some crazy, liberal journalist spouting off.  His reference is to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”  This is the amendment that protects all of us from a totalitarian government.  Now that’s what it means to be an American.

The Gilgoff story reported that Gingrich converted to Catholicism two years ago.  (I guess he had his annulment fast-tracked.)  Ironically, the early Americans were not too kind to Roman Catholics.  As an example, Philadelphia’s cathedral was completed in 1864 with minimal stained glass windows to discourage the vandalism like had taken place two years earlier in anti-Catholic riots (this information is from a tour I took in 1998).  That’s what it once meant to be an American, Newt.

There are more moderate than “radical” Muslims, just like there are more moderate Christians than extremists.  Those moderates are not suicide bombers any more than most Christians go around bombing women’s clinics.  I just completed research on news coverage of religion.  For the perception of radical Muslims, I do place some blame on the media and the politicians.  Those participating in radical Islam do not represent the majority of Muslims and are usually politicians who have hijacked the religion to serve their own ambitions.  News stories that were better researched and better written would make this clear.  I also remind you than when there was a shooting in Arizona by a crazy white guy, no one talked about his religion.

When it comes to Newt Gingrich, it’s hard to know where to stop, but I will.  Thinking of people like him ranting ignorantly about religion just ruins my day.  If Gingrich runs for anything anywhere, it ought to be back to school because he could really do with some education. -J.B.

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

Missionary Go Home – No Just Go Away

One of my favorite scenes from the “Sex and the City” TV series was when Charlotte wanted to convert to Judaism and the rabbi slammed the door on her.  That’s my kind of religious leader.  The Dalai Lama said, “You should be devoted to your own religion while nurturing a deep respect for other religions.”

I had a distant relative go to China on a “mission” to convert the heathens to Christianity.  This was organized by some group in the business of proselytizing on a regular basis.  The catch here was that they had to deceive the Chinese government into believing they were offering some social service.  I never heard what service that was.  Is there anyone reading this that also finds it ironic that these Christian missionaries were so willing to lie systematically about their intentions and activities in order to fulfill their “mission”?  From what I can tell, this did not for one moment create any ethical dilemma for those involved.  Deceit does not strike me as a Christian value.  Premeditated deceit is so much the worse.

Aversion to conversion is difficult for zealots to understand, but trying to impose your religion on someone else is just arrogance.  Working to convert people of other cultures is imperialism.  The other misguided and connected activity, which is necessary to support this scramble to convert, is the need for fund-raising.  Don’t kid yourself, being a missionary is profitable.  Since God doesn’t have a payroll for cash in this lifetime, the missionaries have to convince the faithful to support them financially.  They go to family, friends and churches to ask for money.  The faithful are happy to chip in because it’s all about God’s work, now, isn’t it?  I know of one church-going couple who spend more on missionaries every year than they ever spent on the education of their children in total.  These same folks are quick to judge the poor for being on welfare.

There is a difference when the faithful make a statement by taking action.  Public television’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly (“Season of Service,” 10/16/2009) had a story that demonstrated a mission of service that is indicative of compassion and respect.  I would say it is mission in action, and actions that are needed and welcomed.  More than 26,000 Christian volunteers cleaned schools, organized and operated dental and medical clinics, and offered many other services including free veterinary care.  Watch or read the story on the link below.  You’ll feel better about humanity – I promise.

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/october-16-2009/season-of-service/4589/

This has been a news week when the raging controversy is whether or not there should be an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site.  The Pew poll was also released indicating how many people think the president is Muslim.  On weeks like this, it seems the Stupids are winning.  It is sad that not only is the rumor about the president untrue, it shouldn’t matter.  This is not, by design, a Christian nation.  It is a secular country designed to allow the free practice of any, all, or no religion(s). We would be better off with no missionaries except the likes of the “Season of Service” or Habitat for Humanity.  Show me what you believe and just stop talking about it.  True Islam is about compassion, and Christianity is the same.  If you define a religion by the fanatics, then all religions look bad.

So, missionaries, go home and stay away from mine.  Unless you want to roll up your sleeves and really make a contribution, we just don’t need you.  There is already enough judgmental arrogance to go around.  And if you want to offer social services as an example of the best of your religion, then come on.  Whatever religion you are and wherever you want to be, there is not one single spot in this world that couldn’t benefit from more compassion – especially Ground Zero.