Ritual, Routine, and Religion

Fragile Moon
Creative Commons License photo credit: xyzpdqfoo

Well, as you can tell by the title, the alliteration bug bit. I was going to add Ramadan in there too, but thought that might be a bit much for some. But thinking about Ramadan is what got me started on this post in the first place. (Sometimes I wish my thinking mind would just turn off!)

Like many Americans, I have an extremely limited understanding of Islam. I had some exposure to Muslims when I was at UCLA in the late 1970s. There was a lot of anti-Shah demonstrating on campus and I didn’t have a clue what it was all about. Muslim male students were trolling the campus trying to arrange a “financial” marriage to an American woman so they could stay in the country. There were even Visa issues back then. I think the going rate in 1976 was $10,000 for a “financial” marriage.

Then there was Malcom X vs. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s. Almost like the message was violence vs. pacifism. Islam was about violent resolution, Christianity was about peaceful resolution. Somehow the “Christian” roots of the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t talked much about during their violent reign. Malcom X would never have been quoted by the general public back then and just yesterday a quote of his circulated among my friends on Facebook.

When I feel uninformed, I read. Last year, I finally made myself read two books that had circulated on The New York Times bestseller’s list: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I had been resisting reading either of these books, probably because I unconsciously I knew they would be disturbing.

And they were. But not because of what I thought. What was so disturbing, for me, was how girls and women were denied access to education and the complete control exerted over them in every conceivable part of their lives. It was the worst imaginable form of dehumanization I could think of…not that I react well to much authority in the first place.

Since September 11, 2001, much has been politicized about Islamic beliefs,  jihad, and terrorism. It’s all very confusing, very complex, and been going on for a very long time. An iTunesU podcast I listened to led me to a small, very informative book by John Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. It was an excellent overview of the complicated history of Islam and an insightful look at the precipitation of and key leaders in militant Islam.

Last week I finished reading Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks. She wrote this book in the 1990s when she was a Middle East journalist for the Wall Street Journal. I finished reading it as Ramadan was beginning. Oh, and I saw a lot of parallels between fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity. Not surprising and very disturbing.

Ramadan has also hit the radar screen for some blogs I follow. In fact, a couple of Christian blogs I saw in passing were lamenting the lack of sincere ritual in Christian churches and how Christianity can learn from the piety of its Islamic kin. Hmm. I know plenty of churches who are guided by liturgical ritual. Maybe they were reacting to the routine that occurs when ritual becomes too familiar? They didn’t say enough to know much.

It’s normal to be disturbed by stuff we don’t have experience with or understand. It’s also easier to look askance at people, cultures, and beliefs we’re not familiar with. It’s also dangerous to not acknowledge the similarities there are between people, cultures, and beliefs. And, as with everything under the sun, there are always extremists among people, cultures, and beliefs. It’s usually the extremists who get most of the attention and who, by default, become the examples lifted up as the norm.

This isn’t quite where I thought I was headed when I started writing this post, but it’s where I ended up. Thankfully, there is never a famine of food for thought!

The Faith Club

The Faith Clubamazon

Last week, Friday July 22, 2011 to be exact, the world was again horrified by violence from a religious fundamentalist. Because it happened in a country known for tolerance and included horrific violence to kids, we paid attention. Violence fueled by fundamentalism and ideology is happening in way too many places on our planet. And I’m not even talking about the violence wrought from economic disparities, domestic disputes, and other run-of-the-mill crimes against humanity.

Our elected leaders cannot even have civil, productive dialogues about issues that directly impact our lives like the economy, health care, and education. How do we even hope for them to have any ideological discussion that impacts our very democratic foundation like voters’ rights and the First Amendment?

We can’t blame it all on our elected officials. How many of us can have these conversations? Are we willing to discuss difficult subjects with others purely for the opportunity to be enlightened and deepen our understanding of something of which we might not know very much? Are we open to exploring a belief system or an idea of someone else just to see what their perspective might be? Even if we aren’t interested in changing our own beliefs, can we at least not be judgmental about someone having their own beliefs and allowing then to maintain their own convictions?

Three women, from three faiths – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – got together in the aftermath of 9/11 to write a children’s picture book t0 highlight the connections between their faiths. As they started talking about what they believed, misunderstandings and stereotypes surfaced. The project was almost doomed before it ever got off the ground!

They decided that in order to talk about the things that united them, they needed to address the things that divided them in their beliefs about faith, God, and religion. They made a commitment to meet regularly, in each other’s living rooms over tea and dark chocolate, to talk and explore this complicated, often volatile, subject matter.

The Faith Club is a compilation of their taped conversations and private journals. It’s an invitation to eavesdrop on their private conversations as they wrestled with and articulated their thoughts on jihad to Jesus, holy texts and heaven.

I read this a few years ago, but in light of the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the ongoing religious tensions (among other things) in our own country, I thought I’d share it with you. Of course, I’d love to hear what you think!!