They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.
I wasn't going to make this story about Islam, just my experiences with Ramadan. But I feel as a conservative (which doesn't have to be synonymous with bigot) I have to say something about the hateful intolerance I've seen towards cultures and beliefs we insulated Americans don't understand. My uncle tells me that Islam is inherently evil because (using a biblical allusion) the "fruit" it bears is evil. Of course, this is completely irrational. If this was true, my Christian uncle would have to denounce his religion as inherently evil from the beginning, as history will well testify, from heinous acts wrought in the name of Christianity.
Less than 7% of Muslims have extremist leanings but this fanaticism is not inspired by Islam, but rather violent cultures that wield the banner of Islam in the same way that Hitler, the KKK, and The Lord's Resistance Army wielded Christianity- as the only conviction powerful enough to enflame fanatics to total disregard for life (these eternal absolutes are essential to any violent movement- soldiers must believe in something greater than mortality, and religion consistently qualifies as the best ideological candidate). The most peaceful religion can be used as violent inspiration in the wrong hands. Most Muslims are actually ashamed of this blatant disuse of an inherently peaceful religion.
I never knew much about Islam, but as soon as I started hearing anti-Muslim sentiment, I knew there was something wrong. I knew two Muslim girls in Utah, and they were as sincere of God devotees as anyone I've met. They truly believed in their religion- and they were smart, very sweet girls, which seemed to be products of their faith. I've heard similar things about Mormonism, so I knew this was a cause for greater investigation. So I started reading about Islam this summer and found that contrary to popular (and prejudiced) belief, Islam is a good religion filled with people who draw closer to God through their faith and rituals. But I want to stress that if we hate Muslims because we feel we are at war with Islam (49% of Americans feel negatively about Islam) then we are the same as the extremists in Afghanistan who hate America because they've been told to hate America, without second-guessing the reasons. If you grew up in the Middle East, chances are you'd be Muslim too. Find out for yourself if the religion is evil, find out with an open mind- otherwise we are puppets, just like America's "enemies."
So, now to the point of this story: my experiences with Ramadan. I decided that to fully understand the religion, I should use the anthropological method "participant observation." Hence, Ramadan. I guess it wasn't just for a cultural curiosity though. I wanted to come closer to God, and I decided that anyone, Muslim or not, could benefit from fasting. The purposes of Ramadan include: developing empathy for the poor and hungry, coming closer to God, and learning self-discipline through abstinence. This was a bit of a roller-coaster ride for me. I was more sensitive, both to spiritual things- goodness, kindness, and humility, and to my weaknesses (lack of food sometimes made me grumpy and rude). So in a word, I was more malleable. A good thing for me. I have power issues- submission is my biggest problem with God. I think that's why I was initially impressed with Islam. Islam actually means "submission" or "surrender" and this is their chief doctrine. You can only be happy if you submit to God. Ramadan has taught me that you can't be drastically weakened physically, and feel periodic hunger pangs, without being reminded of something. For me, it is was my dependence on God, who I had to seek for stregnth multiple times a day, when I couldn't turn to food or water. And water- I developed an unhealthy obsession with it on a few hot Arizona days. The heat here is crazy. It rises in visible waves from the pavement- scalding, merciless. It doesn't usually bother me much- I like the heat as long as its dry, but without water, its pretty mind-altering. In our car (with no air-conditioning) I would begin to fantasize- water lying in a pool, gushing from a fountain, drizzling from a rooftop, and mostly, devastatingly, sliding down my parched and aching throat. I'm sure this obsession was unhealthy, but it was unavoidable.
I was a woman in love. Luckily, the weather cooled over the course of the month, and these fantasies only gripped me on a handful of days overall. If I drank enough water in the morning, before the sun rose, I was usually fine. The hunger could be bad too- it was hard not to give in, and on two or three days, I did when I began to feel sick and my mom insisted (I have blood sugar problems), but this always made me feel bad, especially thinking about the NFL player who is faithfully observing Ramadan during training camp (hours of exercise in the sun). During the worst hunger pangs and bouts of deydration, I was forced to think about other's suffering. I thought of my African brothers and sisters, also beneath scalding sun, who can't eat or drink, not from choice, but from lack. They can't break their "fast" when the sun sets, but have to watch their bodies atrophy and their children weaken. How terrible to be so helpless…I prayed for them as I fasted, but even as I prayed I felt the hypocrisy of my prayer. We are God's hands on earth- he wants us to do his work, so we can learn and be blessed. Many of them are praying for our help, but we are complacent in our freedom and riches, and through the cushions of luxury, we can't hear their want, their supplication. It's not just Africa, of course- there are people suffering in all corners of the world, including the United States.
If everyone could observe Ramadan, I believe there would be a much greater outpouring of love for the less-fortunate, and an understanding that "no man is an island"- that when "they" suffer, so do we. It's been a frustrating, (physically) weakening, (spiritually) stregnthening, difficult experience. But enlightening too. It was definitely worth it. And I got to meet some awesome Muslim girls, who are incredibly friendly and faithful to God. So what if they're not Christian? I think that God is pleased with all His children who are faithfully seeking Him the best way they know how. There is no place for hatred in God's kingdom- and we'll never be true disciplies of God until we learn to love His children- no matter how they choose to serve Him.
I wasn't going to make this story about Islam, just my experiences with Ramadan. But I feel as a conservative (which doesn't have to be synonymous with bigot) I have to say something about the hateful intolerance I've seen towards cultures and beliefs we insulated Americans don't understand. … Continue Reading »
For years, I've been engaged in interfaith work in a variety of ways. I work for the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi (the Peace of Christ). Through my job, I have helped organize a couple of Fall Assemblies at which we had a panel of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim … Continue Reading »
Asalaamu alaikum. Peace to all who read this. My name is Saif Allah Downs. I'm a 31 year old revert to Islam. I was a Christian for many years but never truly satisfied that I had found my home, the place where I belonged. I had struggled to understand my … Continue Reading »