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!
1. There’s an entire chapter in the Quran devoted to Mary, as in the Virgin Mary, and she is mentioned throughout the Quran. As a Catholic, this makes me feel a warm and special connection with my Muslim sisters and brothers. Not even all Christian denominations regard Mary as highly.
2. The word “kill” appears only five times in the Quran. Why does this matter? The media has twisted inaccurate translations and manipulated people’s fears. Some people would like us to believe that the Quran instructs Muslims to commit violence against nonbelievers, but this is false. I've heard it in the media and I've heard it from my friends, but I found it difficult to believe, so I asked a woman, whose name is Maria Khani, and whose native tongue is Arabic. She has studied the Quran for decades, teaches the Quran, and lives by the Quran to finally settle this for my own knowledge. She even reads the Bible daily. So that was her response to me--that the word "kill" appears only five times in the Quran, and only in the context of war. The Quran also allows for self-defense. There's a translation that refers to the "verse of the sword" and certain media outlets have clung to this, but Maria also said that the word "sword" is never written in the Quran. This is a bad translation. In fact, the Quran teaches bringing peace to earth and preserving life.
3. There is a very practical reason men and women are separated in mosques. Have you seen how Muslims pray? They are on their knees and they stick their butt up in the air. They also sit and stand tightly together during prayer services, because it's believed that the devil slips through the cracks. Frankly, I wouldn't want some random dude's butt in my face, nor mine in his! How uncomfortable would that be?
4. Speaking of separating men and women, the media and those who don't understand Islam and Muslims like to point the finger at how repressed Muslim women are, but the Quran teaches equality. What we often confuse is religion vs. culture and tradition. Do you think the Quran says anything about not allowing women to drive? No. That goes back to centuries of men trying to control and minimize women. Nor does it say anything about women having to wear hijabs, just that EVERYONE should dress modestly. If you want to talk about hijabs and burkas and all that jazz, let's talk about the high heel theory. Going back to separating men and women in mosques, many churches STILL do that. Not to mention, there are some pretty sexist verses in the Bible. I remember for our wedding we were given various readings to choose from, and despite whatever modern translation was written next to it, there were readings I refused to say. THANKFULLY I had a choice. Some Christian denominations don't give you a choice.
5. Ramadan is like Lent, but Muslims are way better committed to fasting and prayer than we Christians are. If they skip a day of fasting, they have to make up for it at a later time. When I "fast" for Lent, I do a modern day fast where it's two very light meals, and one bigger meal; just enough to sustain me through the work day. Usually, I find it easiest to juice, and have a salad at lunch. However, even outside of Ramadan, if they miss a prayer, they have to make up for it. They way Muslims are devoted to prayer is really inspiring.
6. Muslims also pray the rosary...well, sort of. If you look at Islamic prayer beads, it looks similar to the rosary, and that's because they borrowed it from the Catholics. While they're not praying Hail Mary's, they are praying praise and glory to God. Their prayer beads, which usually contain 99 beads, are called Misbaha or Tasbih, and it's used as a counter, which is basically what the rosary is too--it's designed in such a way to help you count. Nowadays, very modern Muslims will use an electronic counter you can wear like a ring. I spoke to a couple women though, and one of them made me smile when she said that she prefers less to focus on the count, because then it's about the count and not about the prayer. Instead, she sometimes just does it in her car and recites the prayers while she's driving. I smiled, because I know so many Catholics who do the rosary in the car. Might as well make use of your commute, especially in LA where there's so much traffic!
7. Technically speaking, the way Christians see all people as God's children, Muslims see it the same way. We are all God's children.
These are just a few stand out things I learned, that I think are really important for the rest of us to know and understand, because it shouldn't be an "us and them" thing, it should just be a "we" thing. We have to learn to be good neighbors, because for centuries, we've had Muslims living in largely Christian countries, and we also have Christians living in largely Muslim countries. When we divide ourselves, we hurt our fellow Chrisitians or fellow Muslims where they are minorities in their country. It has to stop. We have to do better. We have to understand each other. We have to accept each other and learn from our differences. Our differences is what makes us stronger together. It's the same in any team setting right? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and so you need a diverse team and you need inclusion on those teams if you're going to grow and succeed.
Remember to be love, be brave, and be excellent to each other.
BIG LOVE & HUGS