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JUST ANOTHER TRIP AROUND THE SUN

 

34 of 52 Trip Around The Sun - Islamic Center in Poway

 

Friday, December 20, 2002

 

Have traveled about 360,000,000 miles.

 

Thoughts during the week:

 

I’ve been thinking about this visit with the Muslims (Islam) – They must be a bit gun-shy about visitors, because so many have written that their religion is the cause of much of the events negatively going on in the world. Most of us know that the teachings of the Koran are very much like the teaching of the Old Testament. The religion itself purports to teach only love and goodness. They do have the dangerous belief, however, that theirs is the only true religion, and no matter how much the powers that be in a religion try to keep this a perspective of “We have it and share it with all and love everyone,” the problem still remains that there is a feeling of superiority. When an organization offers “superiority” to its members, there will always be some who misuse it. Those who suffer from the opposite (feelings of inferiority), will emotionally apply their newfound “superiority” to a competitive attitude and an opinion that all “the others” are inferior and sub-standard. “We will convert them,” they will say, but when the others are not converted, then the others take on an even more inferior position – one of rejecting Allah or God or Jesus – or sometimes even such an inane thing as astrology - or even more trivial, they reject the “correct” football team and must be punished. Some of us worry a little when the Raiders fans come to town for a game, but we all know that 99% of them are just fine football fans who wouldn’t dream of being violent over such trivia. That other 1% is still a dangerous problem, but it’s just as unfair and dangerous for anyone to blame the other 99%, the innocent 99%. Those who do this are the 1% of us who can’t get a better perspective.

 

 

 

 

The Visit:

 

Friday, December 20, 20021:00 to 2:30 at the Islamic Center in Poway.

 

What an interesting meeting. Some things confirmed – some other things learned. Most positive – some negative. (So what’s new?)

 

Baseem Saed spoke first in Arabic. I was not blessed with the interpretation of tongues this time, as there was none of the required technology in place. While speaking in Arabic, there were specific times when the congregation (of a dozen or so) would bow or make other gestures all together – or sometimes say a word or two together. All the men were on the floor and in the front. The ladies were behind them with some separation between the two groups. The women all had their heads covered – much as we have seen in conservative Catholic congregations. Baseem Saed knew I was coming, and so the people knew I was an untutored visitor. They provided me with a chair at the back of the male part and a little to the side. I was comfortably able to observe without having to participate in any rituals. Once again, it was a few minutes into the meeting before I realized that I was the only one wearing shoes. I quietly took mine off and placed them with the others. I use Baseem Saed (apparently two names to us), because I learned later, during discussion, that it’s easy to use a name disrespectfully. Often, what appears to be the first name is really more like a title (like our Mr., but with a sacred meaning.) Now I’m doing a little guessing here, but later I’ll explain some specifics that will be more accurate. Let’s say that someone’s name means “Servant of Allah.” But let’s also assume that the grammar is reversed – “Allah’s Humble Servant .” And if we called this person by what appears to be the first name, we are calling him Allah. It would be like saying “Hi, God,” to Joseph Smith if he has told us that he is a servant of God. So Baseem Saed it is, and I don’t know what his name means. Baseem Saed had intended to talk with me during the lunch, but he didn’t get to, as several other men were eager to do the same with me at the other end of the table. It was apparently as interesting for them as it was for me, and the lunch took some time, for chewing and talking don’t mix very well. They have a missionary spirit. They love people of all religions, but they are not comfortable with people adopting “false” religions with no thought of change – more about this in the following talk – and then still more in the talking during lunch.

 

The talk:

 

After the beginning in Arabic, the main talk was given in English. I assume that part of the group, though mostly of Arabic descent by appearance, did not actually speak Arabic.

 

“People get only that for which they strive for.” (The second “for” was there, so I put it in. I would use the word “sic,” but have always disliked the feeling because of its rhyme.)

 

“If we are overweight, we can overcome that if we stay with an honest program. Allah not only allows, but approves of this. Allah’s permission is always there if the thing is good for us.”

 

“Two things are required. Nothing may be achieved without the permission of Allah. Also, nothing can be achieved without striving for it.”

 

“When bad thing are achieved, it is still with the permission of Allah, but it is not with Allah’s approval.” (Even evil cannot be done without permission from Allah.)

 

“Allah has given us knowledge; it is up to us to use the knowledge wisely.”

 

“Sometimes people without knowledge act unreasonably. Not knowing anything about Islam, they dare to speak.”

 

“One should go to scholars of any particular religion before they speak as if knowing something.”

 

I want to comment here. I have two requirements when I select a teacher. One is that the teacher loves his subject, and the other is that he knows his subject. A teacher who knows math but does not like it will not be a good teacher of math. A teacher who loves math but does not know math also will not be a good teacher. Now that’s easy, isn’t it?

 

If someone wants to learn about Mormonism, how would he select a teacher? First, the teacher must love Mormonism, and second, he must know it. If we go to a Jehovah’s Witness to learn about Mormonism – even a very studied one, we would still be missing one of the requirements – that he love his subject. (Still easy.)

 

But what if we wanted to learn about Catholicism? Could we use a Mormon for a teacher? What if this Mormon was a Catholic for forty years? This teacher would have knowledge – but still does not love Catholicism. Not a good teacher.

 

Or what if we wanted to learn about Communism? Could we use a Capitalist for our teacher? Of course not, but now it’s getting harder for us to agree.

 

If I want to learn about homosexuality, I will select a homosexual for my teacher. Now, to be sure, I will go to others to receive their views and objections – but I will then take these views and objections to my loving (of the subject) and knowledgable teacher to get his answers to those objections.

 

Without both knowledge and caring, we have a hopeless teacher.

 

We know. Of course, that many dare to speak of Mormonism, knowing and caring very little. We know these are useless teachers for that subject. Why do we miss this logic on other subjects?

 

“Christians and Jews are Allah’s creations. We are called to take care of them.”

 

(Do you see the superiority here? Even while caring?)

 

Once a rich uncle of my dad’s came from Texas and stopped for a visit. Dad and he were talking of a time past, when the uncle’s grandfather had held several slaves. I was 14. The uncle was pointing out how grandfather had loved his slaves. He did not mistreat them, and they were most willing to serve. I called in our Labrador Retriever (Blackie.) I told the uncle that I loved this dog very much – and that he was willing to serve when needed. But I did not respect this dog as my equal. It does not matter how much we love a slave, it is evil to be the boss of another man – or woman. Leaders should be leaders – not bosses. This means they inspire rather than manage. They never would want to “own” another person like I own Blackie. He’s my dog; I could even sell him if I wanted – but another human being? Shame on Grandpa.

 

“Take care of them,” indeed. I’ll take care of my own self, thank you very much, and if I need assistance, I’ll ask for it – or accept it when offered. I do not need the Muslims to take care of me – and the world does not need the Mormons to take care of them either. Yet all of us should be helpful back and forth – with no feeling of superiority – or extra correctness, etc.

 

“Adam was the first prophet. He was the first man with a message from Allah. The Koran did not come only for Arabia. It came to Arabia, but it is for all mankind.”

 

More talk now in Arabic.

 

“Let us strive for compassion. Let us strive for understanding.”

 

“Anyone who has watched TV from 9/11 to now, needs our understanding. Let them vent, and try to understand.”

 

“In this environment, can any of us contemplate doing something bad? This is good for us; it makes us strive even harder to be only good.”

 

“But we cannot be passive. We must be the teachers – with tolerance for all – teachers of the unique religion – started with Adam. First find peace for yourself – then distribute it to all.”

 

“We must follow the suna.” (This was the sound of the word – don’t know if the spelling is correct.) Suna is the way of life. Allah tells us to pray. The suna tells us how to pray.”

 

And now the most interesting statement of all (for me.)

 

“No one converts to Islam. They revert to it. From the beginning, it is a part of them.”

 

“They go back to the truth – back to the Koran – back to Adam’s religion.”

 

Prayer:

 

If I heard this right: “Make my death a prevention from doing any wrong.”

 

 

And now we had lunch. Chicken and beef – long string beans – rice – sodas.

 

We visited at the table. (Once you get these guys loosened up, they talk a lot. They will move themselves from another part of the table to get into the conversation. I’ve done this too. Baseem Saed, the minister (?) did not join us; he was at the other end of the table. I think he noticed how well we were doing – and wanted to let it be.)

 

I was not so crude as to take notes during this informal conversation, but I will try to remember some highlights.

 

I told them that I thought the religion in which I grew up – and their religion had an interesting thing in common, that Adam was one of the good guys. “Yes,” they said, “He was the first prophet.” I told them that most of Christianity regarded Adam as a fallen and hopeless person doomed to burn forever in Hell, but that Mormons regarded him as the first prophet, a good man, who took the fruit because he was supposed to. They liked this commonality.

 

Abdul Raheem introduced himself to me. He was a quiet young man, evidently a newer member of Islam. As we talked, I called him Abdul. Others were having a side conversation with a smile. One said, “People sometimes call us by what they think is our first name.”

 

Hearing this, I, of course, asked some questions. I was pretty certain they were talking about me. So it was all explained to me.

 

Raheem” is one of the 99 attributes of Allah. It means roughly, “Most Merciful.” “Abdul” means roughly, “Servant.” When the two words are joined to make a name, it together is only the first name of a person. Abdul Raheem is “Servant (of the) Most Merciful.” Were I to call him Raheem, this would be far worse, for I would be calling him God (Allah.) All 99 attributes make up many names for Muslim men. Abdul Kareem Jabaar (means great basketball player). No – This Kareem is one of the 99 attributes of Allah. Abdul is servant again – and Jabaar, I think, is actually the last name or family name.

 

Not all names are formed this way. Mohammed Ali, for example, has a prophet’s name – which means roughly, “Float like a butterfly – sting like a bee.”

 

The guys at the table did not know which of the 99 attributes “Kareem” was, but they knew it was one of the 99. (Remember the 4th section of the D&C? How is it? Remember patience, tolerance, brotherly kindness, etc. I’m not sure if patience was one of them – but there are far fewer than 99.)

 

Among other things, as the boys became comfortable, I was told that Allah had changed millions of Jews into monkeys. “Look at a monkey – he has a face like us – hands – acts like us in many ways – but he cannot speak. This was because Allah wanted these Jews to stop speaking.” Only one was telling me this – and I wouldn’t want to take it for doctrine – but all the others were there to hear it, and did not contradict it.

 

But assuming for a moment that this is a doctrine of Islam – How do we feel about such a doctrine? (Do we have even a clue as to how much resentment there is between these two large groups of people?) Do we think of the science required – and the hopelessness of such a process – changing a man into a monkey? I do.

 

When the alchemists of yesteryear were trying to make gold out of lead, they failed miserably. But the process is much simpler – and might be achieved someday – with all our newfound atomic knowledge. It would never be worth the cost – molecule by molecule. We already have made several elements from other elements – it happens during atomic reactions.

 

As ridiculous as such a belief may appear to us, think on the following: I know members of churches who believe that Lot’s wife was “changed” into a pillar of salt. Others who believe that person’s spirits got into the bodies of other animals and ran around. Somehow, if it happened a long time ago and can’t be tested, it is believable to many. So - that Jews were changed into monkeys is not really such an unusual belief. But it requires a great hate to believe it. I knew people in the south of our own country who believed that we did not evolve from other life forms – but that Negroes did. What – did they not know we are of exactly the same species? They were so averse to studying the miracle of speciation by natural selection – yet when presented with this “handy” theory, they bit right in. It requires a lot of hate to be so willing.

 

It turns out that one of the young men in the group had been Mormon. From discussion, it became obvious that he knew little – but he was sure it was wrong. Others chimed in – it was obvious that the Mormons were a false religion, because they eat pigs. Allah has clearly told us not to eat this – but you still do it, do you not? “Yes – I love bacon.” They appeared shocked, even though they had just assumed it by themselves and surely should not have been surprised. (They would like bacon too, if they tried it – and if it was crisp yet not over-cooked.) It’s like James Bond’s “Shaken but not stirred.”

 

But now that conclusion that the Mormons are wrong is very easy – no study required – since Muslims following Islam are the only ones that are correct, it’s obvious that the Mormons are not correct. And vice versa, the Mormons feel the same way. I use the word “feel” advisedly, as there is precious little “thinking” going on in this process. After all, we say we “know” things because of a “warm feeling in the heart.”

 

There was also questioning and discussion concerning our worship of more than one God. “You worship Jesus and also his father – right?” But Allah has told us there is only one God, and that God is Allah. “Even in your Old Testament, it is a commandment.” Finding something wrong with another religion is such an easy game. Science does the same – only when they find something wrong, they fight it out – test it and test it again and again – and correct the current thought on the issue as the data dictates – open to new corrections when more data is available. (Repentance?)

 

I don’t think we have done as badly as we did with our Japanese Americans during World War II – with respect to our Muslim or simply Arabic Americans during this time. But I do hear people on the radio who would like to do it just as badly. (Even nice people like Roger Hedgecock and Dr. Laura.) Pre-Judice is a horrible thing, but it is probably some part of all of us – and hard to conquer. Dr. Laura, being Jewish, is more understood by me now than she was just last week. When others hate you, it is easy to hate back. I don’t know who started hating first, but it’s been going on for a very long time. I think it’s unreasonable to think we can go in and break up this fight.

 

 

34 of 52 Trip Around The Sun - Islamic Center in Poway

 

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