Yesterday, at the school where I work, a Muslim gentleman talked to us about the customs of Islam, especially as they pertain to our Muslim students and in what ways we should accommodate them. Lately they’ve requested time off from class to say their daily prayers – performing Salah.
As it turns out, we are required to do nothing, just as we are not required to accommodate any Christian or Jewish traditions that might interfere with the day’s education. We do, however, want to be considerate and, if possible, reasonably accommodating. ( For example, we always offer an alternative when we serve port at school meals.)
The Muslim speaker said that he met with our students and determined that they are, for the most part, not intentional in their faith: they do not pray at home, they do not know the Arabic necessary for the prayers and most importantly, they do not comport themselves in a fashion that would show they are trying to do the will of Allah: they are constantly getting into fights and some are notorious bullies. Basically, he thought they were just trying to get out of class. Then the gentleman asked; what good is religion if it does not make you a better person?
He said that these boys, all from the slums of D.C., are apparently being turned on to Islam by someone there who sees it is a better lifestyle alternative to gang membership. A mosque can give the same sense of belonging and community support that the gangs do for these forgotten youth, yet instilling a much different set of values and goals. He felt that the students in question had just started on the right track and his intent was to teach those willing how to be good Muslims.
After the meeting broke up, one of my friends, a devout Christian, asked me how I felt about young people being led to Allah instead of to Christ. Just fine, I said. The conversation went something like this:
My friend: “But don’t you think that Christianity provides a better option than Islam”
“No, I don’t. Not in this case. The church has already failed these kids”
“But don’t you think that following Jesus is the best way to God? I mean, why are you a Christian then, if it’s all the same?”
“It’s not all the same. But what do you mean by ‘following Jesus’? What do we mean by the term “Christian”? Those are loaded terms – and if they have any meaning at all for the uninitiated they are often negative.”
“Yeah, but at least Christianity is peaceful.”
“Is it? Consider its history.”
“But that was the past. Look at all the Muslim terrorists today. Sure there are some Christian nut jobs who are violent but they are pretty rare. Christians are pretty peaceful today. ”
“They are? Remember the violence in Rwanda? Not that long ago.”
“Sure, but they were tribal enemies.”
“And also Christians. And don’t forget the violence in Northern Ireland.”
“But their actions prove that they are not real Christians.”
“And our Muslim friend might say that the terrorists are not ‘real’ Muslims. And they are often members of war-like ‘tribes'”
“As the speaker asked, what good is religion if it does not make you a better person? When fundamentalists of any religion emphasize belief over faith, heavenly rewards for ‘true’ believers against the evils of an ‘apostate’ world, it fosters intolerance, hatred and violence.”
“Jesus’ teachings help lead us to God. If the teachings of Mohamed can help lead some of these tortured kids to Allah, which is just their word for God, then isn’t that a good thing? God is good. Allah is good.”