Archive for category Islam

The Christian Grinches who almost stole Christmas

I guess it’s becoming a holiday tradition for me to make spicy chocolate crunch, since this is the second year in a row that I’ve done it.  Pretty astounding for me to stick with anything that long.

So I wrapped up a package of candy and topped it off with a Fuentes cigar tied with a red ribbon, to take over to my next door neighbor’s house.  Walking up their front steps,  I considered how to greet them, as they are devout Muslims.  I decided that this year I was going to go against my better instincts and say “Merry Christmas”.  For the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been a staunch advocate of  the  “Happy Holidays” approach.

When Asan opened the door he beat me to the punch with his own hearty “Merry Christmas”! And why not? It’s an American custom, a tradition that really has little to do with religion anymore.  The Christmas season has always been about the universal ideal of  “peace on Earth, good will towards men”.  That is, until some mean old Christians went and ruined it.

No one used to worry about offending anyone with “Merry Christmas”.  I used to work for a reformed Jewish fellow and we made no bones about the season being about Christmas.   Hanukkah fell in their somewhere,  but it surely wasn’t a Hanukkah season.  We put a tree up in the restaurant lobby every year and, yes,  there was a menorah on the mantle.  We both enjoyed the season and we both enjoyed the business that the season generated.   I never gave my personal greetings much thought, but probably gave equal time to Christmas, the Holidays and New Year.

But then some overly sensitive, paranoid and doctrinaire Christians became offended by the lack of “Christ” in the Christmas season (as if Christ hadn’t been upstaged by Santa Clause since long before WWII).  They mounted a national campaign designed to regain uncontested control of the holidays.  Coming from their lips “Merry Christmas” was no longer a  heartfelt greeting meant to wish people joy and happiness, it was now a challenge like  “I dare you to knock this frankincense off my shoulder!”  Or the Christian equivalent of the Black Power salute:  a symbol of defiance in the face of ‘secularists’ and solidarity among the ‘faithful’.   Where is the grace in that?

All of a sudden it became difficult for the rest of us to wish people a merry Christmas.  These zealous Christians had created an air of tension where there was none before.  It wasn’t the  ‘secularists’ or the rare militant atheist who made the Christmas greeting into a politically incorrect statement – it was the result of needy, insecure Christians demanding that everyone confirm their religious tradition.  In their fervent devotion to the idealized story of the birth of a  baby God they effectively  buried the adult Jesus’ message beneath the sands of a mythical Bethlehem.

But not quite. I find it heartening, when a  devout Muslim man is able to share the true spirit of Christmas with a jaded, cynical  Christian like myself, without compromising his own faith in the process.

Merry Christmas!


Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah!

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The longest word in the dictionary is all about the problem with Christians in politics

When we were kids they told us that the longest word in the dictionary was antidisestablishmentarianism. Though I could spell it, I never really knew what it meant.

Until recently, when it occurred to me that if the Founders had actually been Christian, as many neo-evangelicals claim, and not the Deists they actually were, then it is unlikely that the United States as we know it would ever have existed.

Because the founding documents were not Christian, but the product of secular deistic philosophy, they  expressly forbade the establishment of a national religion in general, not just in specific, as many of today’s religious conservative suggest.  It is not only that they made sure that no denomination – Anglican, Congregationalist or Roman Catholic – would hold sway over other denominations but that Christianity itself would not be privileged.  Which makes sense when we remember that Deists are generally distrustful of organized religion, particularly of Christianity, which many of the most influential founders had personally rejected.

Without the constitutional disestablishment of religion, in an America governed by explicitly specific Christian values, I seriously doubt we would today enjoy any of the rights that we  take for  granted.  Because  a Christian (near) theocracy would find itself  at odds with true democracy.  True democratic principles – individualism, free thought, self-reliance, the right to protest authority – are not exactly compatible with those  Christian doctrines about the sovereignty of God and the power he has granted authority (as some Christians will admit).

There are many Christians who believe that Satan is real, and that he influences those who do not accept Christian doctrine.  These people are not on the fringe,  but make up the bulk of Christian Right, who have tremendous influence within the Republican party.  It is not too difficult to imagine a Christian government that would accuse those who oppose their God-given authority as being in the clutches of Satan.  After all, this is a frequent complaint coming from the pulpits (and radio pulpits) of American neo-evangelicals, many with strong political ties and a few having sought political office.  Is there any reason to think that they would leave their religious doctrines on the Capitol steps or outside the doors to the White House, as John Kennedy promised to do? On the contrary, they’ve made it plain that they would be intentionally deliberate in applying (their conservative)  religious principles to the execution of political office.

When the media criticized General William Boykin for dressing in combat fatigues, touring churches  and telling them that God was on America’s side while the  idol worshiping Muslim’s are destined  for defeat,  Christian conservatives rallied to his defense.   President George Bush favorably compared American military intervention with God’s will and Sarah Palin recently has said much the same thing.

It is easy to think this way, especially if  your enemies happen to be non-Christians. The prevailing neo-evangelical wisdom is that Islam is a false religion, that Mohamed was a false prophet and that Muslims are misguided pawns of Satan. The Tea Party movement is outspoken about their love of Christianity and their fear and hatred of Islam.

Many Bush appointees  were influence by conservative Christian ideals and now conservative Christians have a loud, if not controlling, voice in the House. There is a very good chance that in 2012 they may find themselves in control of the Senate and the White House as well.

Do we want a government that takes Genesis into account while considering environmental action? Or makes judicial decisions based upon scriptural precepts? (Which is OK as long as that scripture is from the Bible and not the Quran). Or crafts economic policy according to a narrow reading of the Old Testament (which, btw, conveniently  ignores the teachings of Jesus in the process?)  Should our civil rights legislation be pre-determined by men who wrote over 2000 years ago?

Some people asked similar questions back in John F. Kennedy’s day.  To be elected Kennedy had to promise that he would be led by the Constitution and not Roman Catholic orthodoxy.  If an irreconcilable difference presented itself, he would resign his office.  He did not try to square the Constitution to his religion, claiming that our government is founded on his religion, as so many  conservative Christians are saying today.  But he understood that a complete separation of church and state, that which  kept the Protestant majority in check, was the only reason a Catholic would ever be allowed to run for office.

It has become popular to insist that politicians reveal their religious beliefs.  Let’s  be honest; this demand is almost always made to satisfy the doubts of Christians (who question  the wisdom of having non-Christians in office).   Apparently,  Americans of other religions, in minority positions,  need not be concerned about who governs them. Or their own political aspirations.   Fortunately, the Constitution protects politicians from having to comply, although some go to great lengths to  prove their Christian bona fides.

Looking at it from a different perspective,  I believe that any outwardly religious person,  anyone who  is willingly  outspoken about his or her faith or uses it as a political tool towards election,  should take an oath similar to Kennedy’s.

Though not on a Bible.

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As an American living in a glass country, I should hesitate before casting stones

In a recent post, I questioned where the American Muslim outcry was over Pakistan’s  pending execution of Asia Bibi for the crime of blasphemy.  I still think my question is valid, but in asking it I was critical, and perhaps even insulting, to Pakistanis and Muslims.  ” Anon”, a frequent contributor, brought this to my attention, and in doing so, he recited a litany of USAmerican abuses that, at the time, I felt were irrelevant:

“where is the American Muslim outcry “—-I can ask the same—where is the moderate American’s outcry when hundreds of innocent men, women, and children are routinely killed in Pakistan by U.S. drone attacks?—remote controlled planes that indiscriminately kill and decimate villages……attacks which U.S. President Obama wants to escalate into more densely populated towns…….. Yet, they/you are concerned with the life of ONE Christian woman?

(You can read the entire discussion (to date), including some important input from Hasan, who was in agreement with me, yet more qualified to express it than I was :   It ain’t always easy being a friend of Islam .)

Now I am starting to see things more from “anon’s” perspective.

Just the idea of executing someone for speaking their mind  is wrong and indefensible. Yet here in the USA, not that long ago, we have examples of people being imprisoned and even put to death, quite legally, by a jury of their ‘peers’, for similar offenses.  Sometimes they were railroaded,  prosecuted for no other reason than they were of the wrong skin color or  they dared to upset the status quo.

I questioned the sanity of Pakistan having numerous nuclear warheads, yet we have tens of thousands of them.  And, to date, we are the only country  ever to have  used them on innocent people. Twice.

SoI apologize for stepping out-of-bounds. I realize that it was not only insensitive, it was hypocritical and ultimately, counter productive. Though I still think my question is valid,  I doubt if I am qualified to ask it.  Perhaps it is best to let Muslims like Hasan do the asking, (and he is).  Let he who is without sin cast the fist stone,

I believe  “anon” said it best:

well–then, why don’t we all change for the better?–instead of saying—you Muslims should change. Why not make these universal HUMAN problems rather than Muslim or Christian problems? Because pointing fingers doesn’t do much—but extending a helping hand does make things easier.

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It ain’t always easy being a friend of Islam

When a supposedly moderate Islamic government like Pakistan’s has a law on their books making blasphemy a crime, well, they don’t make it any easier for those of us who are friends of Islam.   And when a person is sentenced to death for speaking their mind then it is time for Muslims around the world to speak out against Pakistan and sharia law.  There is no way that any  reasonable person,  of any religious persuasion, can justify persecution.

I don’t care if the women is Christian.  That is irrelevant.  It certainly is a big deal to a lot Christians, but this  would be just as insanely horrible if the accused was Hindu or Wiccan or  Muslim.   Yet, this  incident is providing Christian Islamophic factions (as well as some impassioned atheists)  some heavy ammo in their battle against Islam. And frankly, this particular Muslim fundamentalist position is pretty well indefensible.

I used to think of Pakistan as a civilized place.  The country has produced some extraordinary people who achieved extraordinary things in science and the arts.  Cosmopolitan cities.  Ranked in the top 15% of the world’s economies, according to GDP.  Heck, they even have the atom bomb.

A theocratic country with a medieval  mindset that has the atom bomb. Actually, dozens or maybe hundreds of them.  Gives one pause, doesn’t it?

Now, in Pakistan, there are some loud and courageous dissenting voices, in the media and in government as well.  One politician has introduced an amendment to the anti-blasphemy laws that would eliminate capital punishment for the offense.  Now that’s a good thing but it is not good enough.  No country should have any laws on their books having anything to do with blasphemy or any law protecting any religion from spoken or written criticism.  No country should ever have an overt alliance with any religion, Muslim, Christian or Jewish (sorry Israel and Texas).

I’d like to ask what a lot of people have asked before: where is the American Muslim outcry against Islamist tyranny?  I just spent a lot of time searching for something like this on the web and, well, I can’t find anything of the sort. Why doesn’t CAIR have anything to say about this? I mean, how can they see a major threat to American Muslims with Juan Williams’ relatively harmless off-the-cuff remarks and not see the danger in keeping silent on the tyranny of Pakistani sharia? This is like upbraiding a smoker for polluting the air while sitting behind the wheel of an idling SUV.

I have friends and neighbors who are Muslim.  We tend to keep the conversation outside of religion and away from international politics. But tonight I might risk propriety and ask for their take on this. Do they think  my question is a valid one?   I’ve also met some interesting Muslims on this blog and would like to ask for their thoughts  as well.

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Obama a Christian? Bad news if you are a Teavangelist….


…but it could be worse. Enough with the Judeo-Christian stuff. How about some Islamo-Mormon values? There are similarities, out on the extremes.

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A Tea Partier’s worst nightmare

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When I get on an airplane and see people in Christian garb, I’ve got to tell you: I get nervous

And who wouldn’t? I mean, when you consider that, these days, Christian garb is mostly an assortment of tee-shirts with audacious or even combative statements plastered across the front of them. Don’t see too many clerical collars out there any more and what few nuns are left kicked the habit years ago.

Even though I think NPR was just plain idiotic for firing Juan Williams, I can’t agree with his remark. Maybe because I have Muslim friends, but I don’t see anything frightening about their traditional attire. It’s just quaint ethnic clothing like German Lederhosen, French Berets, Texan boots and Baltimore Raven’ beer-helmets. But those Christians – have you ever read some of their tee-shirts? Kinda nutty, in a scary way. What is it that they are trying to say, anyway?

Hey, how come, if the Muslims are supposed to have such a war-like faith, they don’t wear tee-shirts like these? ( And isn’t that last one a baby’s “onesie”? Jeesh!)

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Mark Driscoll: Definitely no yoga, dude, but avatars are pretty cool

The other day a friend of mine said that, although she didn’t agree with his theology, Mark Driscoll was a pretty smart guy. I agreed.  Boy, were we wrong:

‘Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic,’ Driscoll said. ‘If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class.’

I guess he’s an expert.  Right. Better warn those taking the weekly yoga class in my church.  They have been acting sort of…spooky.

I’m not saying that Driscoll has a low I.Q. – I’m sure that’s not the case. But the above statement sure doesn’t make him sound very smart. It’s the kind of thing that a lot of religious people are saying these days about other traditions, practices and beliefs that they apparently know next to nothing about. It’s the kind of remark that someone who thinks he has all the  right answers will make.  Stupid and…bigoted.

I suspect that Driscoll (like his fellow Calvinist, Al Mohler) is sure that yoga is demonic because of it’s “non-Christian” roots in Hinduism. (Though he just might feel that yoga is not ‘macho’ enough for him.)  To folks like this,  any  spiritual (or psychological) practice not based on the Bible is demonic, so it only follows that it’s practitioners are worshiping and serving Satan. A major problem with this position (aside from the arrogance) is that many, if not most, of the critics’ own beliefs and practices are not strictly Biblical. At least that’s what the majority of their Christian brothers and sisters think, even if they are too polite to say so.  Some, who are not so polite (like me ) might suggest that it is Driscoll and friends who are actually following Satan,  since Satan is a clever Hebrew metaphor for the selfish and frightened ego.

This idea that yoga is a way to allow demons access to our minds has been a staple of Christian pop-culture for some time and it’s a mainstay of Christian suspense fiction. But is it any coincidence that in the past few months ‘evangelical’ leaders have begun speaking out against a practice that is so closely identified with Hinduism? I don’t want to sound cynical, but have the hordes of Christian Islamophobes softened up the playing field for a more spirited condemnation of other non-Christians? (If so, then their fellow-traveling Jewish Islamophobes might want to be careful.)

Many of the people who have taken hip-shots at other religions really should know better. Graduates of divinity schools, colleges and universities – you wonder if any of them had ever taken a comparative religion course. But then some of those who teach comparative religions at the college level can miss the forest for the trees when it comes to faith.  Though not bigoted they may be prejudiced,  tending to see every religion as monolithic (or almost so) – each devotee devoted to the same set of doctrines and imagining the same image of God: all Muslims striving for world domination, all Hindus as polytheists, all Christians believing Jesus is the sacrificial Son of God etc.  Certainly a minister like Driscoll should know better -he  just needs to look around at his fellow Christians.  Consider how there is such a  diversity of theological opinion and such a lack of consensus on who Jesus was and what he said and did.  How some Christians might even accuse  Driscoll of  idolatry – an artist’s conception of Jesus on his tee-shirt.  He should ponder that a while before he gives into the temptation to tilt at other spiritual windmills.

Actually, maybe a little yoga would help. He’s  already hooked into the Christian pop-culture passion for avatars

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Judaism is to Christianity is to Islam as Blues is to Jazz is to Rock

In an article on the Veterans Today website, Dr. Ashraf Ezzat said some things that struck me as rather profound:

It is hard to imagine that after thousands of years of man’s pursuit of divinity we still worship not one GOD.  Human knowledge and experience have critically evolved throughout history. We don’t eat or read or think or even listen to music like in ancient times. Music has dramatically evolved from folk - prehistoric- music to large scale symphonies. But we still practice religion like in ancient times worshiping multiple deities with different names.

Music is the universal language of mankind, why can’t religion play the same role?

Let’s detach religion from the hate rhetoric and dirty politics. Let’s strip away the false appearances. Let’s liberate religion from the bounds of ignorance and extremism. Let’s delve into an era of enlightenment and coexistence amongst believers of different faiths and beliefs. Let’s agree that we could practice different religious rituals but that we glorify the same GOD.

Let’s not hate and kill each other over religion. Nobody’s GOD will like that. Nobody’s GOD could have decreed that.

Religion should be like music acting as a subtle form of communication which, at its best, transcends the limitations of language and ethnicity in unifying the people.

Which got me to thinking about other ways in which religions, particularly the Abrahamic faith traditions, are like music:

Though some dispute it, most believe that blues music predates jazz – that the blues initially spawned and influenced jazz but then they developed concurrently. Later rock and roll emerged, relying heavily on the blues and (less so) jazz.

Which seems analogous to how Christianity has its roots in Judaism while Islam incorporates elements of both pre-existing religions (though it leans more heavily upon the Hebrew scriptures than the New Testament).

When a musical form becomes the springboard for a new genre, it is in no way outdated, invalid or incomplete.  And just because it existed before the newer genres does not make it in any way superior. Though some people listen to only one kind of music, most people can appreciate many different styles. Even the die-hard head-banger can appreciate the elements of jazz, blues (and even classical music) that make up the DNA of rock’n’roll. (Just as the religions of the West and the East share the DNA of Zoroastrianism.)

Huston Smith, in his autobiography “Tales of Wonder”, tells us how he has for years ‘religiously’ practiced the spiritual traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, yet ultimately identifies himself as a Christian:

“Of most things that happened to me, if they had not happened, I would still be the same person. Erase Christianity from my life, though, and you will have erased Huston Smith.”

I had a little trouble understanding this until Dr. Ezzat’s analogy stimulated my imagination and reminded me of a Neil McCoy concert I once was cajoled into attending ( consequently missing Buddy Guy’s performance at the Annapolis Blues Fest). I’m no great country music fan but I do like some of the older classic songs. Neil McCoy was good, but his music didn’t really turn me on, except for the “Hillbilly Rap” in which he spoofs Jed and Granny’s theme song in the style of an early rapper.

Just before that song he introduced the members of his band, each one showing off a little of their prowess with other musical styles: blues, jazz, heavy metal – they were all excellent. I have to assume that these fellows (like me) enjoy various types of music and that they (like Smith with religions) are virtuosos when it comes to their musical applications. Yet it is country western music that defines them,  just as Christianity defines Smith.

I think it is perfectly reasonable to understand, accept and celebrate other faith traditions while realizing that it is through only one of them that you most easily meet God. Sure, some elements of all the great religions are simply awful,  just as some music is played poorly ( and a lot of religion is practiced poorly) while a lot of music (and a lot of religion) is merely commercialized crap.   There must be a common muse that inspires all good music, just as there is a common spirit that inspires all good religion.  Obviously not all musical performers can find that muse, just as many religious people can’t seem to find that spirit.  A good part of it, though, is pretty good, even if not to everyone’s liking.

But what goes into making a religion good, anyway?  As with music, you’ll know it when you find it.

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Let’s be honest: the proposed Quran burning is no longer about free speech, if it ever was.

I think that most people, most of the time, are pretty reasonable. That’s why they tend not to get all excited about what those other people, the unreasonable ones, are saying. Because these kooks are usually just doing a lot of talking and not much walking. A lot of posing but no closing.

Most of history’s political tragedies started out as a lot of hot air blowing in from the fringe. The tendency of the majority is to wait and see; things will just blow over. The crackpots will come to their senses when they realize they are being ignored.

But the current pack of crackpots aren’t dispersing in the wind, they are growing larger and stronger. And their rhetoric is about as bigoted and hateful as one ever hears. Not from their leaders per se – they are much too politically astute to really speak their minds. But their followers are not compelled towards any such moderation, and yet their leaders never chastise them or redirect them towards a more polite line of debate. Where, for instance, is the Christian Right Wing’s voice condemning this planned book burning in Florida? They may not be openly lauding them, but their followers certainly are. The tip of the iceberg merely hints at the danger below.

I normally don’t like to give these folks too much attention, but If you haven’t had the pleasure of the uncensored vitriol of today’s Islamophobes, then I suggest you check out the comments thread on this article posted on Atlas Shrugs. The author, Pamela Geller, takes the President to task for restricting the speech of the gun-toting pastor and his little church down in Florida.

Of course, all Obama did was strongly urge the ‘church’ to change their plans, as it will likely spark a powder keg of violence. It’s not like he ordered them to cease and desist, or threaten any of the church members with prosecution. But he might.

Taking lead of past chief executives, from Adams to the last Bush, if the president is convinced that someone’s actions pose a significant risk to the security of Americans then he could, and most likely should, take action. The broad, open-ended mandate given the president by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 may even make it easier for him.

But whatever your opinion on this is, it is impossible to justify the kind of rhetoric found on websites like Atlas Shrugs. It is not reasoned. It is not thoughtful. It’s not even, strictly speaking, political. It is no different than the types of words that bigots have used for years. Though I am hesitant to say it; it is nothing more than ‘hate speech’. As repugnant as these words are, I do believe that they have every right to use them. They are protected by the Constitution.

But this is a right that the vast majority of the world’s population does not enjoy. Most of the Muslims who are visibly angry over the proposed book burning do not understand why it is that our government, if it is serious about forging friendships with them, won’t just order the Dove Outreach Center to cancel their plans. They certainly don’t understand why our leaders can’t do this.

So then the burning question is this: is this ‘church’, by destroying these Qurans, attempting to engage in free political speech (the speech the nation’s founders were thinking of) or are they now deliberately inciting people to riot?

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