Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Islam: A religion of peace?

One of the most challenging teachings for me personally from our current set of readings had to be the teaching on jihad.   For me it challenges everything I have ever known or heard about the Islamic religion.  The book (World Religions, A Voyage of Discovery by Jeffrey Brodd) indicates that Jihad does indeed mean struggle or exertion, but that it is first and foremost a struggle against the self.   A personal, spiritual battle against the flesh that must be disciplined into submission to Allah.  Secondly, it is the concept of social reform.  That jihad is then taken and understood in the context of social reformation.   Both of these notions are notions that I as a Catholic understand and would be welcome to see more of in our own Church and society.  

My experience though, both through the media narrative and my journey through various protestant churches, indicated that jihad was first and foremost the concept of a Holy War.   Most of the news and media outlets seem to indicate that this is what we are up against.   That the average Muslim hates America, hates what we stand for, and even refers to us as the “Great Satan.”   That does not seem to be the actuality of Islam though.  Even today I saw an interview with the Dalai Lama in which he indicated that the words “Buddhist terrorist” and “Muslim terrorist” are already a step in the wrong direction.  That all world religions strive for peace, unity, and living together in a better world socially.  He even indicated that the Qu’ran dictated that once a Muslim committed an act of violence he was no longer an authentic Muslim.  

How do we reconcile that with what we believe to be true?  I guess it means taking a longer look at those who hold this belief.  Asking questions with genuine interest in understanding them and hoping that in doing so we can build bridges between our two faith traditions.  I imagine this to be a difficult journey.   It’s one that is going to take time for me, one that is going to take prayer, and hopefully the grace of God will allow me to overcome my own preconceived notions and to take another look at a culture and faith that I believed to be completely alien to me; but one that upon further inspection had much more in common with my own beliefs that I could have imagined.  Their respect for Jesus, Mary, and the prophets, their love of God, their belief in the monotheistic deity, fasting, prayer, and alms-giving just to name a few.  

I think that this is a good reaction to have.  To not always be comfortable with what we already think we know, but to be challenged to seek the truth regardless of what our mind has already cemented as fact.  If I had kept to some of the beliefs I had growing up I would not be who I am today, nor would I be Catholic.   I believe that to be an indication of the grace of God alive in our lives, asking us to reach out in understanding to our brothers and sisters from other nations, creeds, and races.  That’s truly what I believe to be the axis and means of evangelization: make a friend, be a friend, teach that friend about Christ.   It all starts with relationship.  Honest, authentic relationship.   One cannot even begin to be friends with someone on a deeper level without first truly taking time to learn what they hold dear, what they hold sacred, and truly taking time to listen.

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."