SO THEY WILL KNOW WE ARE FAMILY
(Homily for the Sept 11, 2011 service at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Portland, OR)
Good Morning. Thank you, Dr. DeWett for inviting me to be part of this unique service.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the tragic September 11 attack on our country. A misguided and evil group, driven by hatred, camouflaged their wicked designs behind the Islamic façade and caused unimaginable loss of life and destruction in our country; its effects are still being felt around the world.
I represent the youngest sibling of the three great Semitic Faiths and bring greetings of peace to my brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, the blending of religion and politics, and historic and current global political events, has defined our relationships. As faith groups, we have failed to engage in meaningful and objective understandings of our common bonds of humanity and spirituality. Let’s do it now so they will know we are family!
In remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price, we affirm today that we will propagate peace and promote our common bonds of humanity and spirituality to defeat hatred. Hatred is caused through ignorance and fear of the unknown. We must eliminate ignorance and fear in our societies by increasing interactions amongst ourselves. With this resolve, we can defeat hatred. Let’s do it now so they will know we are family!
Some of you may know that together with Dr. DeWett and others, we formed a Circle of Peace to facilitate meaningful interfaith dialogues; we celebrated the Circle’s inauguration in this very room earlier in the year. The Circle held its first public event last Sunday in which many of you participated. This is a very positive start and we want to expand this group across the country and then around the world.
I want to emphasize the critical need for us to understand each other as human beings and to celebrate our common spiritual heritage. To reinforce this point, let me categorically state that Muslims worship the God of Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus; Allah is the Arabic name for the same Supreme Being. In our obligatory prayers, we beseech God to bless us like He blessed Abraham and his people (meaning the two older siblings of the Abrahamic faiths). Islam does not monopolize salvation. It acknowledges the Divine origins of all earlier faiths and requires belief in all earlier prophets and all revealed books. It stresses human rights, and is built on the principles of equality, peace and justice, which I believe are inherent in each religious tradition.
The Islamic concept of The People of the Book is all encompassing. In its narrowest interpretation, it includes Semitic siblings. However, with the Muslim belief in more than 124,000 prophets (read as innumerable), all earlier faiths, prophets and revealed books, this all inclusive concept is much broader.
Sadly, radicals in our midst have successfully hijacked our respective discourses to suit their political and hate-filled agendas. Unfortunately, the majority amongst us has largely been indifferent to the growing radicalism in our respective ranks, either because we lack proper understanding, or we fear the radicals’ backlash, or simply because we are not interested. None of these options is defensible because the situation is spiraling out of control. Our world view is often shaped by the electronic or print media, through powerful newsworthy stories which are generally slanted by the presenter’s biases and brought directly into our living rooms. Interestingly, each side presents their version of the event to convince their audience of being victimized by the other side. Because of my frequent travels, I have seen the same event reported from opposing perspectives, both of which are convincing and are extreme interpretations!
We live in a global village – thanks to the efficient transportation and communications systems. People from different cultures and faith traditions have become neighbors and partners; we do things differently based on habits and culture – a proper understanding of which is important for our neighbors and partners. Without this understanding, ignorance and fear can take roots amongst the communities. And direct personal interactions are the only way to improve mutual understanding. I see communities wanting to do so. My being here is one example of that positive change; the formation of the Circle of peace is another. We have to be mature enough to discuss all topics, even those we feel uncomfortable about because that is the only way to enhance mutual understanding and long-term partnerships.
However, things become complicated when the communities are unable to articulate their own beliefs clearly and unequivocally. A good example of this is the Muslim’s lack of clear explanation of concepts like Jihad, Sharia, Apostasy, Blasphemy, etc. Muslim radicals have re-defined these concepts after the termination of the Ottoman Caliphate and the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire after the First World War. They developed convoluted ideologies to justify the restoration of the Islamic State and have generated lots of literature to support that objective. Unable to find support for their distorted objective in the primary source of Islam – the Qur’an – radicals relied on contrived secondary and tertiary sources to substantiate their ideologies.
These concepts are frequently in the headlines and are associated with senseless acts of killings and destruction. Naturally, Non-Muslims fear the consequences of these concepts, as presented by the radicals who propagate them to forward their hate-filled agendas. Moderate Muslims have largely failed to effectively challenge those concepts and, with time, the radicals have come to hijack and dominate the Islamic discourse. Rather than encourage research and objective discussion to challenge the flawed doctrines, Muslims societies have prohibited debate on these matters. I have undertaken this difficult task of researching and writing about these topics to generate healthy discussion and more research.
The real reason for this intellectual divide is that Muslim societies have not recovered from their political defeats which dismembered their empires and their societies have not fully transitioned from the agrarian to the industrial economy.
Without delving into details, I want to stress that religion is essentially a spiritual training program to shape the person’s outlook and behavior. Muslims’ obligations consist of two parts: Obligations towards the Creator and those towards the Creation. In the larger picture, the obligations towards God are meant to inculcate traits like personal responsibility, discipline, hygiene, equality, peace, justice and helping the needy. As some of you would know, August was the month of fasting for Muslims. During this month, Muslims abstain from basic essentials like food and water; they carefully guard their speech and actions and are sensitive to others. They do this only to please God. This self-discipline is meant to become part of the individual’s personality and each year, the person has to achieve a higher target of piety. This training is to prepare Muslims to fulfill their obligations towards the Creation which carries more importance.
The Qur’an lists three stages of human development and defines their corresponding behavior patterns. Like all life forms, human beings are instinctive by nature; Muslims are required to transcend this instinctive stage and progressively advance towards the moral and spiritual states by religious practice. Even in the basic instinctive stage, Muslims’ must treat others with absolute justice. The requirement to behave with absolute justice, even at the instinctive – or animal – stage, qualifies them to be called humans. The next higher state is the moral state where benevolence is required as the minimum behavior trait. At this stage, the individual can differentiate between right and wrong, and while safeguarding their own interests, must also look after the interests of other creation which includes humans, animals, and the environment. The third stage is the spiritual stage which requires overwhelming benevolence. This is the stage when the individual is driven to help and look after the welfare of the creation without safeguarding his own interests. The spiritual stage is best described by the mother-child relationship where the mother is willing to do anything for the welfare of her children. Religion is thus a tool to progressively help elevate human beings from the instinctive to moral and then to the spiritual state.
In closing, let me challenge each of us to agree to the following four steps:
- Propagate and practice the message of peace and justice.
- Stress our common bonds of humanity to help satisfy the spiritual and material need of people around us.
- Through individual research, understandings, and interactions, enable the Semitic siblings to better understand each other.
- Invite other faith traditions to join in our quest for reinforcing our common bonds of humanity.
Let’s do it now so they will know we are family! – Thank you and Peace be upon you.