Monday, July 18, 2011

Trip to the Mosque: a moment of Joy

Muslim youths lighting candles at Aathgaon Kabrasthan
in Guwahati, Assam, on the occasion of the Muslim religious festival
Ten years ago, only a few weeks before the attack of 9/11, I had picked up a book by one of my favorite authors, Karen Armstrong. This book, The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, wound up saving my sanity in the wake of the plane crashes and attacks that shook the nation. An exploration in the rise and phenomenon of fundamentalism in these three great world religions, this book gave me the understanding and the knowledge to NOT blame Muslims as a whole, but to understand that the actions of a fringe group, in no wise should be used to judge the whole. Understand, I already had that view as it was; I mean, what if the rest of the world only understood Christianity through the lens of Westboro Baptist Church’s extreme hate and judged me by their actions?

Yet still, I knew very little about the Muslim faith before reading Armstrong’s book. As the decade has passed, hysteria, hate, demonizing and rage have risen higher and higher through the sensationalism of the media. The willingness of our brand of politicians and Christian Fundamentalists to rush to throw gasoline on the fire of rhetoric that has painted all Muslims with the narrow image of hate has only made things far worse.

This has a personal face for me in my relationship with my father. My Father is, to employ the term, a good conservative Republican Christian conspiracy theory chasing wingnut. He is 84 years old, and has spent his life determinedly, willfully locked into that view of the world, which has gotten worse, admittedly as he has grown older. Apart from religion and politics, he is the warmest sweetest individual you could ever meet. He treats women as equals and with true respect, while calling Feminism satanic. He has dear friends who are Buhdist, but rants against any other religion than his own, on the religious political level, not the personal. And in the ten years, his hate for Muslims has grown to the point of a fearful dark bitter thing that rides him. He considers Obama to be a Kenyan born Muslim and loathes him.

My father and I have gone round and round on this, gently as we can. He will not believe anything I say about anything that does not fit his political, religious views. (I have a promise to my mother not to get into an all out political/religious argument with him, since I can hang up the phone, and she has to live with the aftermath. It has become an increasingly difficult promise to keep over time.) I have reached a point of personal sorrow and despair over this aspect of my relationship with my father; only my stepping back from this “argument” has kept our relationship whole, I believe.

So I have listened year after year to the anger and hate from my father’s lips on this subject. Saturday, I went to the Mosque in town with my class from school as part of a religion class. I went with hope in my heart that I would hear the other side. That my firm belief in the sanctity of all faiths, in personal dialogue to dispel the demons of hate and prejudice would be proven out. And it was. We were met by a lovely man named Ibrahim who was so kind and gentle and knowledgeable, who was exceedingly informative about his faith and how it was lived out in his life and his famlys' life.  By the time we were out of there, I wanted to hug Ibrahim! I learned so much – both knowledge that will increase my effectiveness as a therapist, should I encounter a Muslim couple in my office, and also that healed much of the pain and anguish in my heart with my father.

My father was born 8 decades ago, in a world that barely exists anymore, so much has changed. I believe at the heart of his political, religious polemics, is simple fear of change and with that fear an utter inflexibility to change. Part of it is his personal past in his family system, his generation, and part of it has to do with simply who and what he is. Nature or nurture, somehow he was molded into this rigid unbending two dimensional view of the world. I wish he could meet Ibrahim. For always, on the personal level, he is so different. Where he will not listen in a high level debate on abstract points, he would be gently, lovingly, respectful of Ibrahim whether or not he agreed with him – and might come away with some small shift in perception. It would be harder at any rate for him to demonize all Muslims if he knew one, personally.

I don’t think at this point, it is possible for me to “change” my father. I am not even sure I should – look what is destroyed and what you have to replace old views with before you charge in to change someone. But I do know that my journey to the Mosque has given me the ability to see my father through a better lens. To understand even more where he is coming from. To be even more patient and compassionate with him. To forgive his outbursts and his fears.

Last night I noticed a post on line from a friend of mine in the international community who is Sunni Muslim. He posted that it was was the night of Shab-e-Barat. I wrote my friend and asked him if he could tell me more about this, since I was a none Muslim.  He responded and told me that this is the night of forgiveness in the Islamic calendar, proceeding the month of Ramadan, when Allah forgives all who come to Him. During this night, Allah proclaims:

"Is there anyone seeking forgiveness, that I may pardon him?

Is there anyone requesting sustenance that I may provide for him?

Is there anyone afflicted with difficulty (so that he may ask for assistance) that I may help him?

Is there anyone with any other need?”

Perhaps, at such a holy time and in relationship with my father, the need is forgiveness and understanding, and meeting him where he is.

إن شاء الله

Insha’Allah – as God wills.

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful and ironic post. Yes, I noticed on the calendar that Ramadan starts very early this year -- August 1st. I've never heard of Shab-e-Barat before but it makes sense to seek and give forgiveness before such a major fast.