As part of the Ecumenical & Interreligious Course I recently completed, we visited a mosque and took a dip into Islam. I was really excited about this part of the course because there are so many misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. So here are 7 things I learned that stood out and everyone should know these thins, too, because we’re not so different. In fact, we’re all cut from the same cloth and the same way I don’t agree with my parents on everything, Muslims, Christians, and Jews also don’t agree on everything, but we are all children of God--the same God!
Let's face it. There's a lot we can learn from each other, but on a recent field trip to Hsi Lai Temple, the Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, I was enlightened by what I learned. Of course, my mind was flooded with so much more curiosity, and I was amazed by how many similarities there are to Christianity. As we got in a little Buddhism 101, two things struck me deeply as lessons we Christians could and should learn if the Christian community, particularly the Catholic Church's goal, is to create unity among Christians.
I went to Shabbat service at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple as part of an educational "field trip" for the Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Studies course I'm taking. We learned about Judaism and Catholic-Jewish relations, and it was such a revelation. I had been to temple once before, back when I was thirteen for a friend's Bat-mitzvah, but I don't remember what it was like. My mom remembers it being long, and she was right. Our Catholic mass is 1 hour long, this service we were at was two and a half hours! Although, that's also because there were two bat-mitzvahs at this service.
My husband once said to me, "You know, everything you're saying and a lot of what you believe goes against the Catholic Church." I was quick to respond, "Maybe some of the PEOPLE of the church, sure, but NOT the Catholic faith." Where we have seen the church fail, we have seen man fail, not God. All I know is that I am here to love and be love, and that is the basis of Catholicism...or at least how I have learned and understood it.
I heard that Archbishop Jose Gomez, the archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese was passed up for Cardinal by Pope Francis, because Pope Francis wanted to bring up some of the "smaller" guys. It would have been easy to appoint Archbishop Jose Gomez, because he runs the largest diocese in the United States, which naturally means having great influence. However, Pope Francis decided to show everyone that the guys covering small diocese, the ones who may go unnoticed, are just as important. You can never forget the "little" people, because they too make up our community.
I don't know how true this is, but it sounds like Pope Francis, and it made me think about the state of our country. There's concern that those being appointed to lead our country will only look out for the big guns. Right after our election someone told me, "Justine, you have nothing to worry about, because none of this is likely to affect you. You're not a minority. You're privileged." My mouth dropped a little and I was deeply offended. I'm American-Asian and I'm a woman. How am I not a minority? I understood what she meant though. But regardless of how any policy directly or indirectly affects me, this is my country, my people, my world. These leaders are supposed to stand up for our values and work for the people. Have we all forgotten what the very first line of the preamble to our Constitution says?
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
I started thinking a lot about these words as our country continues to feel more and more divided. WE are the PEOPLE of this great country. If we are to always works towards a more perfect Union, we cannot reject parts of the union, and parts of the people. Having a difference of opinions is one thing; but taking action that most certainly disturbs domestic tranquility and divides the people is another. If we don't work to support ALL the people of our country, then we are only allowing ourselves to fall greatly and fall far. True, times were different when our founding fathers drafted the Constitution, and many of them may have been racist and slave owners, but the preamble to the Constitution does not refer to any specific kind of people like "We the white male People of the United States." Nor does it say, "We the some People." No, it says, simply, "We the People..." Our founding fathers drafted and implemented the Constitution on behalf of ALL Americans.
I keep repeating those words to myself, and I keep thinking about my friends' families who are affected and would be affected by any sort of ban on Muslim countries. How are "We the People" able to split up families, upstanding American families, because we are driven by fear? Many of my friends' families fled dire and perilous situations, came here, worked hard, and lived out their version of the American dream. They embody the American values our forefathers laid out to protect in the Constitution.
The sad part is, this sort of anti-immigrant attitude is not new to our nation; but we live in a time where we shouldn't have to fight this. It's the Muslims today, it was the Italians, Irish, and Chinese before, who will it be ten or twenty years from now? It should be no one, if we remember our Constitution, if we remember what is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”), and if we remember that refugees are people, too. They're escaping the horrors from which we are trying to protect our country. So, we're on the same side.
How can a nation ever be strong if it preys on its most vulnerable links? If you want to fly, you must lift those who helped build your wings.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
This week a photo of French police enforcing the burkini ban by demanding a woman remove her clothing circulated the worldwide web and caused a lot of conversation over the ridiculousness and insulting imposition that had been placed across 30 French towns. Thankfully, France's highest administrative court ruled that mayors do not have the right to ban burkinis and suspended the ban.
When the idea of this burkini ban first arised, I thought how ludicrious. The fear boiling over in the French people (and a lot of people around the world) is not unfounded, but a anti-Muslim attitude is. Is a burkini ban really the way forward? Is telling a woman what she can and cannot wear whilst enjoying the sun and the waves going to stop terrorism? Of course, it's not about women, it's about religion right? Well in this case, the two are intertwined. I couldn't come close to understanding how they could not see the greater harm they were causing. How could they not see the bigger picture of their actions?
Some of these French towns saw their actions as championing secularity. It's about forcing Muslims to better integrate into French culture. Yet, the burkini was invented to help Muslims integrate, because it allowed them to go swimming and to the beach with their peers and friends. What the ban does is quite the opposite--it would alienate Muslims and that is dangerous. It is dangerous when you alienate any group of people. So much for liberte, egalite, and fraternite.
If I were to go to a French beach should I be banned from wearing my pendants of Mary and Jesus and my own saint, Santa Giustina? In a French public school, yes, this would not be allowed, but a public beach where I'm just looking for a good time and some Vitamin D? What if I wore a bikini that says "I LOVE JESUS"? Or what about the nuns???? Are they going to ask a nun to strip herself of her dress and veil??? Look at this first rule I found noted in a BBC article.
The first rule noted here says "...banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism." Who is to judge what is improper clothes and not respectful of good morals? 50 years ago, women's bikinis used to be measured for being "improperly" short. You know what's not respectful of good morals? Talking back to your parents, cheating, judging someone's looks, talking behind someone's back. You know what else is not respectful of good morals? This burkini ban. Maybe we should force everyone to be nude at the beach, no sacks no snacks, then we can really ensure everyone's safety.
As I went on and on enraged by this ordeal, I read various articles regarding the matter--most denouncing the ban and many showing the arguments in support of it. It's sexist, it's discriminatory, and it promotes Islamaphobia. One woman who supports the ban made an interesting point that made me stop to think. She said she was in support of the ban, because it relieved women who if given the choice would choose not to wear the burkini, and instead of facing the pressures of their families and cultural pressures, could blame it on the ban. Perhaps there are women who would choose not to wear a burkini, or a hijab, or other custom wear, but for being conditioned or pressured to wear them. That's the thing though isn't it? It should be a choice. Not matter what side of the sword you're on, it should be a choice. I have Muslim friends who wear hijabs and Muslim friends who don't wear hijabs, but it's their choice.
In fact, I just recently went to the beach with a Muslim friend and she chooses not to wear a hijab. However, she still believes in and is most comfortable in what she feels is modest clothing. She wore some lose yoga pants and a t-shirt, and we had a blast.
The bottom line is this ban went too far. It's on the same spectrum of wrong as shaming a woman for not sticking to traditional values and dress.
The more we play with fear, the more fear will play with us. May we find a way to grow more tolerant and understanding of each other so that we may build a world that does not teach our children to hate.
BIG LOVE & HUGS