Friday, September 10, 2010

Jesus, Islam, and loving your neighbor.

WARNING: The following post could easily be taken out of context and twisted to fit an individual's pre-conceived notions & agenda. If you are such a person who processes the world through emotions, and not careful and deliberate thinking & reasoning, please leave now and go ingest at least 3 bowls full of high fiber cereal so as to clear out your mind.

I'm sure that unless you have been living under a rock this past week, you have heard about Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center. He is the so-called pastor down in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Quran tomorrow. As I am writing this, he is still waffling between burning and not burning. Either way, he seems to truly be enjoying the spot light.

Anyone willing to do a modest amount of research can easily find that Pastor Jones is not the most honest of men. And it would appear that this book burning of his is little more than a way for him to gain international attention for himself and his massive congregation of 50. He seems to show little interest in the fact that he is directly putting the lives of U.S. Service people at risk with this media driven stunt. I also hope that no one misses the irony of his church using the word "DOVE," a symbol of peace, in it's name.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how little "Christians," and Americans in general know about Islam. So I thought I would do a primer, comparing Islam to Christianity. This will hardly be exhaustive, but I think it's a decent start for those who actually want to be somewhat informed before they begin spouting off.

But first...
A True Story:
It was about 5am in May. I was sitting on my suitcase in the dark at the bottom of the hill from our school by the Old City in Jerusalem. I was waiting for a taxi to take me down to Tel Aviv so I could catch a flight back to the U.S. (The taxi never showed, but I made it home anyway.) I remember sitting there all by myself in the rather cold mountains of Judea, staring at the moon thinking how beautiful it was glowing over West Jerusalem. I was wondering how much of my experience I would remember, and how vivid those memories would be. All of a sudden, I heard a sound wafting through the Hinnom valley and from the walls of the Old City behind me.

And it sounded like THIS:

OK, maybe that's not the prettiest sound to some people's ears, but I thought it was pretty cool. Plus, it really caught my attention sitting there in the dark.

That video is taken from the Grand Mosque in Mecca, as worshippers pray before the Ka'aba, the holiest site in all Islam. Where as Jews use shofars, and Christians use bells to call people to worship, (Before noise ordinances, anyway.) Muslims use the human voice to sing people to worship. (You don't have to agree with it to appreciate the beauty of the grand spectacle.)

State of Confusion.
The Western understanding of Islam is really confusing. American Relativists will say that all the world's religions, Islam included, are actually all the same. Reactionaries will say that Islam is a religion of violence at it's core. Some in my family, and many others I know will say that Muslims are moving to America to take it over and turn it into an Islamic State. So please allow me to poke all three of those voices in the eye with my index finger.

#1. All "Religions" are NOT the same. To say so is actually quite an insult to those faiths, because there are massively significant differences between them. Jews, Christians & Muslims are Monotheists. Mormons, Hindus, and animists are Polytheists. If I were a Buddhist, and therefore believed in reincarnation, I would be insulted by someone from the JC&M group that told me there was only one life to live. What ever you choose to believe, at least show respect to someone else's faith by acknowledging it's uniqueness.

#2. NO religion is inherently violent! (OK, the guy at my store who is a neo-nazi and worships Odin & Thor? His is violent. He needs to wield his sword so as to get into Valhalla and such.) I think that history has demonstrated that any charismatic freak can twist any text, sacred or otherwise, to encourage his followers to commit violent acts. Before Christians point the finger at Muslims, we had better consider what many who have called themselves our "Brothers in Christ" have done to sully Jesus' name through acts of violence.

#3. I can't speak for every Muslim's motivation as to why they moved to the U.S. I'm sure that there probably are more than a few who entertain wet dreams of turning America in a new Caliphate. However, the ones that I know and work with will be the first to tell you that they wanted to get the hell out of their former countries because of the Islamic crazies back there. In fact, I read in the paper about two weeks ago of a Muslim man, and member of the Republican Party, in Burnsville, Minnesota, who was on one of Gov. Pawlenty's commissions. He said he moved here precisely because of our freedom of religion, and the last thing he wants is some form of freaky Sharia law.

Hhmm, now that I think about it, there was this guy who graduated from Jefferson S.H. a few years ago who is a refugee from Afghanistan. I know him, and he is a L.A. Lakers fan. He could be a terrorist as a result.

Jesus & Islam: In a nut shell, here is the Islamic view of Jesus.
Similarities :)
#1. Jesus is mentioned in the Quran/Koran 25 times...more than Mohammed.
#2. Muslims believe that Jesus was born of a Virgin.
#3. Jesus is a Prophet.
#4. Muslims believe that Jesus will return for Judgment Day.

Differences :(
#1. Islam teaches that it is the successor to both Judaism and Christianity. (Kind of a God 2.0 thing)
#2. Jesus is only a Prophet. He is not the "Son of God, I Am, the visible image of the invisible God." In other words, where as Jesus taught that he IS God, Islam teaches that he is not.
#3. Jesus was never crucified...which means he certainly wasn't resurrected. In fact, Islam teaches that God merely yanked him back into heaven, pulled the old switch-a-roo, and Judas Iscariot got the Roman treatment instead.

That part three is the most crucial difference between the two faiths.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the most important aspect of Christian belief. The bible teaches that Jesus' crucifixion was absolutely necessary. Jesus bore the sins of all humanity, so as to satisfy God's wrath and judgment. Jesus' resurrection was his defeat of death, sin and Satan once and for all.

In fact, if none of that happened, then the bible clearly states that the entire system of Christianity is a joke. "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith...And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; and you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." 1 Cor.15:12-19

So, there is the crux, the wedge, the final straw between two world views and systems. In no way do I disrespect my Muslim friends, but only one of these systems can be true. You simply cannot be a Post-Modern Relativist and proclaim both to be true and equal. Both claim to be THE truth. As the Highlander said, "There can be only one."

Just a thought.
I am absolutely convinced that when Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the Life. No one comes to the father except through me, " that he wasn't making a joke. If he is who he claimed to be, then he is humanities only option for hope and salvation.

So what do I do about Islam? How do I interact and be a faithful sign post for Jesus' kingdom towards my Muslim neighbors?

Well, my first thought is to stop freaking out about Muslims taking over America and forcing hummus down my throat. (I like hummus anyway...Turkish coffee, too.) Do I have faith in Jesus or not? Do I take him at his word, and trust that he knows what he's doing, and that his kingdom will prevail over ALL of the world's systems? Or do grab my guns and begin hoarding supplies for the final countdown? Which might be the proper way to participate in God's Kingdom?

Actually, the other evening at the store, I noticed more than a few "Large" people waddling about with some less-than-attractive tattoos displayed in less-than-attractive places. I thought to myself, "Hhmmm, that whole veil & Burka thing does have it's merits. I wonder if we could apply it to men, too?"

My second thought was that Jesus seemed to have this strange habit of getting to know folks before he judged them...unless they were the professionally religious. (That crazy Messiah!) Maybe I ought to develop a genuine relationship with some Muslims. You know, actually become a real friend who cares about them as a human being, not just a statistic? Maybe then I could actually enter into a dialogue with them about our faiths. Maybe, MAYBE THEN, they might actually be open to hearing about my beliefs about this Jesus guy. Also, if I actually get to know them and listen & learn about their faith, I won't sound like such an ignorant putz when I open my mouth. (I'm pretty good at doing that all on my own, thank you.)

Anyway, it's just a thought.

Ooooo! I just realized that this is the end of Ramadan, with it's big Eid ul-Fitr celebration. For those who don't know, it's a big deal in Islam. Folks fast from sun up to sun down...they can't even drink water!...which must be brutal if you live in Alaska and the holiday hits in the summer. I guess the custom for Somali Muslims in Minnesota is to head over to the Mall of America and chow down and hit the rides. (A messy combination if you ask me.)

Still, I hear that there is more than enough free food. I think I'll take a little trip. :)

Well, A-salam a-lakem.


P.S. Here are two videos of the same song. Peter Gabriel produced it for the Soundtrack to the Last Temptation of Christ. Every time I think about my experience of hearing the Call to Prayer while sitting on that suitcase in Jerusalem, this song comes swirling about in my head. So enjoy.

BTW: The second video has some decidedly UN-Islamic pictures in it. (Giggle) You'll know them when you see them.

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