“Look, God is all-powerful.
Who is a teacher like him?
No one can tell him what to do,
or say to him, ‘You have done wrong.’
Instead, glorify his mighty works,
singing songs of praise.
Everyone has seen these things,
though only from a distance.
“Look, God is greater than we can understand.
His years cannot be counted.” – Job 36:22-26
One of the fundamental roadblocks to peace and reconciliation (in matters of faith, of politics, and of social justice) is the tendency we all own to construct and then live inside of homogeneous bubbles. To this end we surround ourselves with people who are just like us, we formulate doctrines that justify exclusion, we script narratives that further narrow our perspective, we practice self-segregation, we value like-mindedness over unity, we refuse to listen to other points of view, and – most importantly – we fail to cultivate relationships that might challenge our prejudices.
- we surround ourselves with people who are just like us,
- we formulate doctrines that justify exclusion,
- we script narratives that further narrow our perspective,
- we practice self-segregation
- we value like-mindedness over unity,
- we refuse to listen to other points of view.
- and – most importantly – we fail to cultivate relationships that might challenge our prejudices.
In consequence, we fail to grow as whole people, we fail to learn, we fail to own an accurate world view, we fail to engage in dialogue that will identify how much we have in common, we polarize by default, and we miss the opportunity to share our story, our hearts, our very selves.
RAMADAN: So Monday evening, in response to a gracious extension of friendship, Rebekah and I enjoyed the privilege of sharing a meal, good conversation, and evening prayers with our brothers and sisters at the Institute of Islam and Turkish Studies in Cary.
This is the month of Ramadan (when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset), and we had been invited to break fast with the Islamic community at Iftar – the community Ramadan dinner:
“One of the our goals,” my contact wrote in his invitation, “is to bring together the communities in order to promote compassion, cooperation, partnership and community service through interfaith activities such as dinners… we would like to break our fasts with our friends regardless of their religion by gathering around the table to taste the delicious Turkish meals and to share an interfaith spiritual atmosphere in this sacred month.”
The evening together involved a documentary movie about Turkish Islam, a Q&A session, evening prayer, and then the community meal.
I learned a tremendous amount and – most importantly – connected on a personal level with a group of good people who practice their faith in such a way that God leads them to value and work for compassion, education, community, and justice. These are people who approach life with intelligence, imagination, and commitment, people of faith working to bring peace, progress, and reconciliation to this world.
QUESTIONS? While I was struck by the open spirit of the Islamic community, and impressed with their genuine friendliness, I could not help but note the absence of any reform vis-a-vis Islam’s glaring culture of male chauvinism and institutional sexism.
During prayers: the men gathering together at the front, with women relegated to the back, off to the side. During dinner: the men served in one line, with women going through a different line, with the visitors. As to organization: the complete absence of women in leadership roles.
The patriarchal aspects of Islam – just as in much of Christianity – are cultural relics of an era where the need for social reform ran the gamut, from child labor to slavery to classism to segregation to the rights of women. However, after centuries of progress in other areas, equality for women remains glaringly absent. I would be interested to hear about mosques and Islamic communities where women participate on an equal footing, and are respected as spiritual leaders.
SUCCESS: For me, the evening was a resounding success. I got to know good people of faith who love God, and who want to serve God in this world. Most importantly, this is the kind of experience that helps me to move beyond stereotypes, blanket assumptions, and the tendency we all have to be suspicious and hostile to things we don’t understand.
And if there is one thing this broken world needs, it is more friendship and understanding, especially between people of different faiths.
“Look, God is greater than we can understand!” – Job
Peace, hope, promise, and love – DEREK