Weekly Round Up P.S. – Blog a Koran

RT: @charliehuman: “Lazy fundamentalist Christians vow to download full text of Koran and then delete it”

Oh, I could go on about how Jesus’ message of love didn’t involve the need to burn other religion’s books or how I’d rather be known for what I stand for rather that who I stand against.  Or, as Rick Warren says “I believe in the separation of church and hate.”  Instead, I thought I’d join Tall Skinny Kiwi to remember September 11 to BLOG A KORAN and help create some understanding with our Muslim neighbors.

This has been something that’s been an area of interest for me for a while.  I often let a Muslim brother of mine guest blog for me.  So my entry for Blog a Koran is a look back at some of his guest blogs:

Intro to Al-Fitr – the feast breaking the fast of Ramadan.  Except we had to celebrate it behind bars (which was a unique view of the occasion).

A Muslim take on Community – “The question that initiated this line of thought was whether or not we (by “we” I mean the Muslims here at Indiana State Prison) are a “community” in the way it is defined along Islamic terms and is this definition harmonious to the general understanding of community (and what is the general understanding of community). And depending on the answer to that question, what is our responsibility to either maintain or achieve community.”

-Hey, You Hate Us!1! part one and part two – “Several of us had a conversation along these lines the other day: the idea that Muslims overseas have a hatred for America and the American way of life, and therefore want to destroy us. This is a commonly used “bogey man” tactic that is played out by certain talking heads in the media.”

Taqwa – “You mentioned that while Christians focus in on the aspect of God’s love, that some tend to forget or negate the very real aspect of God’s wrath. And God’s wrath is not something that is very pretty.  This holds true for Muslims as well. Often, especially non-Muslims looking at Islamic beliefs will focus in on the concept of taqwa – which is the fear of Allah.”

Me and my Muslim brother are both on spiritual journeys.  We don’t always agree and, frankly, love the conversation brought about by disagreeing.  What we are not is so threatened by each other’s story that we’re moved to negate or destroy the other.  We seek to learn from each other and begin with a posture of listening and respecting one another.  It’s how friendships are formed.

Hey, You Hate Us!1! Part Two

[continued from part one]

At any rate, Islam and subsequently those areas that espouse the Islamic way of life as a part of its culture are not tolerant of certain aspects of western society that we take for granted (or for some, ignore and/or avoid). In theory, this is because we understand that there is always a blend of cultural custom that plays a dynamic in this equation. And that this cultural factor is not always sin accordance with Islamic practice. As such, these sovereign entities will take precautions in order to limit the exposure or introduction of such elements into its society. When such sovereign entities begin feeling overt pressure to do otherwise, we begin to see resistance, generally to the level of the perceived intrusion/threat.

This mindset, however, is not limited to sovereign entities, but also includes those persons who generally make up these sovereign entities. So the resistance to the above can also take the form of individual and group resistance fighters (remember, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist). Therefore even in the absence of an official governing body or body set up by a foreign entity (that doesn’t sanction internal resistance), the people will still be at odds with the contradiction that is being imposed on them. From this perception, absent the means to fight a perceived enemy on equal terms (i.e. lack of an army or contemporary military equipment), people resort to the means in which they are able to resist – so-called guerilla warfare.

Of course this goes into a discourse on suicide bombers, the targeting of innocents, and a host of other issues. Without going into a whole other discussion, let me state categorically that Islam does not condone, or otherwise promote suicide, or the taking of the lives of women and children, or non-combatants as a general rule. One of the beautiful things about Islam is that its practice is clearly legislated. The rules of warfare are not an exception. Now obviously, this is a very broad swipe at the geopolitical state of affairs, but that nevertheless encapsulates what we are seeing with this whole Muslim/terrorism debate.

We have a situation in which we are at war with an ideology. Not Islam per se (so says the government), but certainly with Muslims who have a political/national agenda and perceived the U.S. as an enemy or at minimum, an obstacle to their goals. The problem is that this perception is not limited to a few, isolated, so-called extremists, but is prevalent amongst the people of the region that is being contested. America’s ways are not their ways. It is akin to a Muslim attempting to go into a Christian home, and demanding that the occupants stop living a Christian lifestyle and now live an Islamic one. There’s going to be resistance.

The problem for the U.S. is that in order to actually “win” this “war”, it has to capture the hearts of the people that his is attempting to subdue. The people, the common man in the street, has to want democracy, has to want the presence of U.S. troops and personnel and the like. They have to want to buy what America is selling. The people have to genuinely feel that the U.S. has their best interest at heart. Guess what? They don’t feel that way. Consequently, we are observing a predictable dynamic.

We have troops that are in harm’s way every day. Death and manglement is the order of the day from any direction. There are no battle lines, with the enemy on one side and us on the other. So what happens is that the common soldier tends to view everybody as the enemy or potential enemy. This, in turn, affects how a soldier will interact with the populace. It’s much easier to mistreat, lookdown, harass, and otherwise antagonize an enemy than a friend.

By and large, our troops accord themselves with honor. But they are being placed in a situation that is ill-suited for what they are trained to do on the one hand, and what their very presence conveys on the other (an occupying military force). It only takes a few incidents to taint the larger body of good work and polarize the populace against and already perceived adversary.
The people obviously react negatively to this perception by their occupiers. As a result, they feel victimized, and step up their activities to expel people, in their view, that don’t represent their interests, don’t respect their culture, and want to cause them harm. The situation will only continue to deteriorate because each party views the other as hostile. Soldiers, historically are ill-suited for the task of nation building for this very reason. Historically, people of occupied territory look disfavorably at foreign troops in their midst. The result: conflict!

So we have to ask ourselves “why are we constantly interfering and interceding in the affairs of sovereign nations that do not pose a threat to the U.S.? What is it about our foreign policy that so antagonizes so many people and nations around the world?” Further we should ask ourselves and consider the answer to the following: in whose interest is it to continue down this path of religious and cultural polarization? Who benefits? (it was these questions that reminded me of President Eisenhower’s words). Are we safer today than we were yesterday?

I would submit that the answers to these questions are not as simple as “Muslims hate us and our way of life.” If we begin to sincerely and honest answer these questions and determine if the answer is worth the consequences that are involved, then we will be better suited to deal with the dilemma that we now face.

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Hey, You Hate Us!1! Part One

After the last time he guest blogged for me, I received all sorts of interesting e-mails about how “they” (meaning Muslims) hate “us” (meaning Americans). So I thought I’d let him respond to that idea (Warning: He couldn’t just say “no, we really don’t.” He’s even more long-winded than I am, so this is a multi-part blog). Feel free to parse his pronoun use (I just know this is going to get me on some watch list):

Several of us had a conversation along these lines the other day: the idea that Muslims overseas have a hatred for America and the American way of life, and therefore want to destroy us. This is a commonly used “bogey man” tactic that is played out by certain talking heads in the media. You may recall that just twenty years ago, the Soviet Union and communism was the enemy of choice. The line then, as now, is that the Russians hated our way of life, wanted to destroy us, and dominate the world. I would submit that one should remember he warning of President Eisenhower as he left office: “Beware the military industrial complex.”

The reality, I believe, is that the dissatisfaction that many foreign entities harbor, is centered on US foreign policy and how that policy affects their lives (or at least their perception of its effect). Generally speaking, if US interest did not have some sort of negative consequence in the lives of people in foreign lands, they could care less about what Americans do or how they live.
What we see, more often than not, is a clash of cultures. We have the American way of life, centered around a particular idea for governing and socially indulgent, on the one hand. And on the other, we have a culture that is traditionally conservative and centered/modeled from a religious orientation (speaking about areas that are Islamically dominated).

The dichotomy only becomes an issue beyond a theological/sociological debate when one attempts transposing one ideology over another in a practical sense. With Muslims in America, for the sake of contrast, we observe the constant dilemma of living a life that is at odds with many of the (currently) socially acceptable norms of our society (prevalent sexual immodesty, homosexuality, etc.). Our issues revolve around how we can avoid these things, protect our children from such negative influences, and still progressively/successfully navigate the American landscape as a Muslim. In other words, with the American Muslim, it’s not so much about changing America to fit our needs (any more or less than Christians feel the need to) but rather how we can live as Muslims in the midst of ubiquitous contradictions and still maintain and Islamic equilibrium.

I mean, let’s be real, pit of iniquity allusions aside (which IS an issue), America more than any other place in the world (except maybe Canada), offers people the very real opportunity to practice their religion in a meaningful manner, without the fear (generally speaking) of being persecuted by the government or some group that disagrees with one’s doctrine. A Sunni Muslim in Shia dominated Iran, for example, is not in the most ideal of environs to practice Islam.

America offers a person a viable means of economic prosperity, something that can be a sparse reality in many corners of the globe. So, America for this, and other viable reasons is not necessarily an enemy to Islam or Muslims. And for most indigenous Muslims (and many foreign ones, considering the number that emigrate to the U.S.), this is the perception of America.
The perception of indigenous Muslims of foreign lands, who are on the receiving end of American foreign policy ventures, can be quite different. The best example that I can think of is Saudi Arabia, which has been fairly consistent (though not wholly successful) in warding off some of the less desirable influences of western culture. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation, which is to say that its population is predominately Muslim and its government and laws are modeled after the shari’ah (literally “path”, Islamic laws). Islam, to use contemporary vernacular, is conservative in nature. This is to say that Islam is not very tolerant, as aforementioned, of many of the norms that are socially acceptable in the west.

Interestingly, we view this resistance to “American values” as something akin to sacrilege. “How can those people reject our way of life?” Yet if some entity would try to impose an undesirable ideology on America (say, communism), we would literally be up in arms. As if the American way is the standard by which one HAS to live.

[to be continued]

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A Muslim Take On Community

So I have this friend in prison with whom I dialogue regularly about our respective faiths (he has discovered Islam while in prison). Every so often, he guest blogs for me. Since we continue to contend that Islam and Christianity can teach each other anything and shed light on each other’s beliefs, here is his take on the idea of community.

The question that initiated this line of thought was whether or not we (by “we” I mean the Muslims here at Indiana State Prison) are a “community” in the way it is defined along Islamic terms and is this definition harmonious to the general understanding of community (and what is the general understanding of community). And depending on the answer to that question, what is our responsibility to either maintain or achieve community.

Community is defined as:
1. People in area: a group of people who live in the same area, or the area in which they live
2. People with common background: a group of people with a common background or with shared interests within society
3. Nations with common history: a group of nations with a common history or common economic or political interests

So depending on the context that it’s used, one could say that community is basically a group of people that either live in the same locale or have similar backgrounds/concerns. I would also say that this is the general understanding that people of the concept of community.

As such, when we talk about the black community, for example, what does that mean? We don’t all live in the same are, we don’t all have common backgrounds, or share the same interest. I guess you could argue that we do have a common history and that we are all darker than white people, but does this really define community?

My problem with this is that community should mean more than that. If we limit ourselves to the above understanding, then we are no more than a collection of individuals that are sharing space. There is no sense of … I don’t know … concern/love.

Islam defines community as a brotherhood (which obviously has a richer connotation – goodwill, a feeling, fellowship, and sympathy for other people). And it is along these lines that Islam defines community. Allah says, “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher; therefore serve ME and no other,” and “The believers are but a single brotherhood: so make peace and reconciliation between your two contending brothers; and fear Allah that you may receive mercy.” (23:52 and 49:10).

The idea that is being put forth is that the believers are bonded together, unified by their faith in Allah and that as a result of this there is a responsibility to one another. Actually a love for one another. Allah says, “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.” (3:103)

I don’t want to get preachy here. Suffice to say that the idea is that through our common faith, we are bonded together. We are commanded to love one another. This love is not necessarily the kind of love that you have for a wife or a child. In fact, you might not even particularly like a fellow brother. It is the kind of love, I suppose, is best exemplified amongst members of the armed forces. During my tenure as a Marin, there were plenty of guys I didn’t particularly care for, but the bottom line was that they were Marines. As such, I would always extend that man the respect and courtesy that he was due, I would assist him in whatever he need assistance with, I would put my life on the line to protect him.

That same love is called for in Islam in terms of our relations with one another. Allah tells us to hold on to the Rope, all together. The idea is that we are stronger together than we are individually. You have heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Kind of the same idea here, that collectively we support one another in the areas we are weak. That collectively, there is a measure of accountability that is not present individually.

Then, of course, we have a model of community. We have the historical accounts of how the Prophet (saw) and the early Muslims lived. And what we see, in short, is a body in which the individual sacrificed for the greater good of community, a structure of mutual respect and assistance, and (very important) a very real practice of accountability. This is the best example of what a community is.

Okay, with this on the table, how does this stack up to how or what we generally apply the term community too. Looking at, for example, the Islamic Communities out in the world. What we see, in general, is Muslims falling into what I call the contemporary Christian paradigm (you really need fancy titles for something simple, I could have just said the way Christians do stuff these days).

Here’s what I’m talking about. Let’s go back, oh, 100 years ago in this country. What we will see is a particular standard of morality. This standard, obviously, had a Christian foundation. More importantly, this standard was being not only espoused from the pulpit, but there was an expectation of adherence by the general populace. If one would act counter to this societal standard, then there were repercussions. For the sake of time and space, I’m being really general, and there are exceptions but I think you get the gist of what I’m saying.

We fast forward to 2007, and there is still a standard of living being propagated from the pulpit, however, there is no accountability to the message. A message is preached on Sunday and then the people are dispersed back to their individual lives – which is all good and well for Christians (ha!). The problem, as I see it, this is also true of the Muslim communities. This is counter to the very spirit that is embodied in what community means, or should mean, to the Muslim. Nevertheless, brothers go to the mosque on Friday, but then is seen coming out of the liquor store on Saturday, turning up a 40 oz and what? Nothing. That’s a problem.

So, to answer my own original question, do we have a community here? I would say yes we do. We certainly have the commonality of faith. We express a degree of love that is expected of Muslims for one another. And, just as importantly, we have a degree of accountability and expectation of one another.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Intro to Al-Fitr

The world stopped for Emir Abdur Rahim in 1993. Actually, I knew him by a different name before he converted to Islam and yet our lives have followed parallel paths. For example, we both have found ourselves in positions of leadership in our respective religions despite our best efforts.

I am a proponent of prisons, as punishment as well as a place for rehabilitation. However, far too often in practice, it ends up dehumanizing most people – nobody ought to be able to put you in prison, torture you, and diminish your capacity for forming social relationships.

And I hate the way Muslims are generally branded. As Christians, we hate it when the actions of a few define us as a whole. Be it scandals (money or sex) or fundamentalists (protests, hate-filled pronouncements, or other acts of extremism), we fight to make sure those things don’t become our public face. As Black people, we hate how we are often depicted on television or movies, portrayed in the news, or portrayed in hip-hop.

So one reason why Abdur and I came together was to engage in conversations, but it also reminded me that religion without transformation is worthless. That when the church is not doing its job of making disciples and transforming lives, one of the consequences is people left without a sense of community (and them seeking to find it wherever they can). When prisons don’t offering much by way of redemptive rehabilitation, it leads to recidivism.

All this to say here’s my latest INtake article. “Celebrating Al-Fitr.

11-16-06 – Celebrating Al-Fitr.

I was invited up to the Indiana State Prison to celebrate Al-Fitr, the festival of breaking the fast by my friend, Emir Abdur Rahim.  The occasion is usually held the day after Ramadan (which was on that Monday), but due to their circumstances, held it on the following Saturday.  Part of what we wanted to do was challenge each other in our faiths and learn from one another.  There is much that the Muslim faith has in common with the Christian tradition, much of which has been obscured due to the current climate.

My favorite comments came from Mutiah Abdul Basit (formerly Raymond Powell) whose name means “obedient servant of the Expander”(the Expander is one of the attributes of the Creator).  He spoke on how ignorance has many of us locked into oppression, echoing the sentiments of Maya Angelou when she said “I wish I’d known better so I could have done better.”  He went on to meditate on how people need to be able to unlock information; how, unless one pursues education, it is easy for people to get over on you.  Then we’re left with Too Short’s lament from “The Ghetto”:  “Cause when you’re ignorant, you get treated that way/And when they throw you in jail you got nothing to say.”

In our rush to put criminals in prison and throw away the key in an effort to make us feel safe, we conveniently forget that these are human beings, not beyond redemption.  Warehousing is not enough.  Rehabilitation is getting on the right track, but it too is not enough.  There must be transformation.

Neither Abdur nor Mutiah were the men they were when they went into prison.  Too bad it took incarceration for them to be put on a spiritual path.  If Abdur and I were to spend our time together trying to convert each other, we would have missed the point of being together.  Instead, we started with what we had in common, rather than focusing on what separated us.

We are brothers on a spiritual journey who believe in peace and who want to serve God whole-heartedly.  That’s how bridges are built.