Empower the True Muslims;They Are Hope for Humanity

On Sunday morning I was thinking about the day’s options for maintaining myself in a fit spiritual condition, getting on with the process started by the Third Step. Pagans in general, like everybody else in general, do not like the idea of turning one’s life over to the care of a Higher Power. I remember a day when a beautiful young gay Witch was saying to Lady Epona, “I can’t turn my life over to anyone!”

She replied, “What do you think you did at your initiation?”

“Oh,” he replied.

(Her “Pagan/Polytheistic Interpretation of the Twelve Steps,” which she wrote under the name of Nora, as in Ibsen’s Doll House, can be found online.)

My thoughts went on, to wondering how many people who say the “Our Father” understand that “Thy will be done” applies to themselves.

I thought again how ingenious it was of the Prophet, Blessed Be His name, to have realized that in practice faith must begin with turning it over, with submitting to the will of God. Until you have done that, you cannot understand how it is that “His [or Her or Their] service is perfect freedom.”

And suddenly it began to dawn on me what an enormity Muslims face in this country. Insight often arrives like that.

Since the Boston bombing, the newscasters have talked nonstop and nonsense about Muslims, saying nothing positive. Newscasters and all others who have not read the Qu’ran, who do not know what the Five Pillars are, and who badmouth Muslims and Islam are speaking out of ignorance and bigotry. They deserve being told to shut their mouths. Would they dare to speak of Jews or Evangelicals or Catholics in this way? I almost feel like puking.

All the Muslim men I have known have been absolute sweethearts, among the nicest guys I have ever met. Al, who owned the local Arco station, one day told me proudly he had become an American citizen. He used to let me get five dollars in gas on credit on bad days. After a trip back to Egypt to visit family, he spontaneously brought my wife a picture of Isis and Osiris painted on a papyrus scroll.

The Arabic greeting of A salaam aleikum is the same as the Hebrew Shalom aleichem. They mean “Peace be with you, my brother.” Should it not be obvious that a holy book that begins “In the name of the compassionate God” is the book of a people of peace?

My wife badgered me into reading the wonderful Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu-Dunn, who explain, among many other matters, that a quiet revolution is taking place in many Muslim countries: women are teaching other women how to read. My wife told me of a Muslim man, a member of the Taliban, whose wife came to him, begging him to read what the Qu’ran actually says about women. Having read it, he fell on his face before her, kissed her feet, begged for her forgiveness, and began treating her like a princess. He also chewed out the local Imam for lying about what the Qu’ran said, resigned from the Taliban, and began working with the liberals.

When I walk by African-American women who have converted to Islam, where they receive far more respect than they ever had before, and greet them, they calmly reply with the traditional Aleikum, a salaam. But if I say A salaam aleikah (I don’t know what the correct case ending is) to immigrant Muslim women on the street, they are usually so shocked at having a non-Muslim wish them peace that they forget to respond.

I also see those women watching everyone around them, warily, fearfully. Most American Muslims live in fear, not of other Americans, of any faith, but of the extremists. As William Blake wrote about London in the 1790s,

I wander thro’ each chartered street

Near where the chartered Thames does flow

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.


In every voice of every man,

In every infant’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban,

The mind-forged manacles I hear.

Sunday morning I also heard the CEO of Google comment to Fareed Zakaria that 99 percent of Muslims worldwide are decent ordinary people, just like most people, but it is the noisy minority of extremists who get all the attention. Why do the ordinary, law-abiding, caring Muslims tolerate the extremists? Why don’t they oppose the extremists, speak out against them? Because any Muslim who publicly opposes the extremists is very likely to be assassinated. That has been happening. It is not being investigated. It is being covered up.

The extremists also continue to try to force their reactionary version of Islam on all other Muslims by force and violence. Try to imagine what it would be like if Conservative Baptists were going around shooting Anglicans and Catholics.

The extremists are not true Muslims at all, just as the skinhead neo-Nazis holed up in Montana or elsewhere are not true Christians, let alone the only true Christians, as they claim to be. Imagine that neo-Nazis controlled some national governments, used civil wars as a way to take over other countries, infiltrated governments and other organizations, and sent death squads to assassinate anyone who criticized them. Sounds like World War II, doesn’t it? But that is what American Muslims are facing.

Is there no one else in the world who is saying this? Am I just being the oblivious guy who forgets half the things my wife tells me? Have I just not noticed? But if anyone else is speaking up, they are not speaking loudly enough.

It is wrong, wrong, wrong for American Muslims to be living in fear. Is that what we want America to be? Is that what we want for our country, which fought a bloody war for years in order to bring true religious freedom to everyone for the first time in history?

If you are successfully working a Twelve-Step program, if you understand that turning it over to God or the Gods, however you understand them, is the key to your survival, then reach out to your Muslim brothers and sisters. They live by that knowledge also.

If when you pray by using the quintessentially Jewish prayer that begins “Our Father,” as we usually do after the end of an AA meeting, if you mean it when you say “Thy will be done,” then reach out to your Muslim neighbors, because they mean it too.

Myself, I would trust a Muslim who is sincerely trying to know and do the will of God far more than a nominal Christian who is not trying at all.

We cannot solve Islam’s problems for them, especially not by warfare. As the Buddha said, Hatred can never be overcome by hatred. Hatred can be overcome only by love. I believe we need to turn to the Muslim nations that are not dominated by the extremists and ask them what we can do to help. We should offer all necessary help to Turkey and Egypt and Pakistan—which, remember, has already elected a woman President and is under attack by the extremists also.  We should empower the true Muslims, those who live a life of faith and compassion, so that they can themselves overthrow the extremists and establish a peaceful society that participates fully in modern civilization. We cannot do that for them. We can only offer them our love and support. And money and weapons.

While I’m up, let me please recommend the blog “Muslimah Next Door,” by Dilshad Ali, Patheos’s Islamic channel editor. She is one of the best spokespersons for Islam I have ever discovered. Her blogs describing her family’s life, and their struggles with a severely autistic son, are such exquisite writing that they often reduce me to tears.


  • Kate Gladstone


    > The Arabic greeting of A salaam aleikum is the same as the Hebrew Shalom
    > aleichem. They mean “Peace be with you, my brother.”

    “As-salaam / Shalom” is “Peace.”
    “Aleikum/aleichem” is “on you” (or, more idiomatically in this context, “with you”).
    Which part are you translating as “my brother”?

  • Deborah Bender

    I don’t think it is particularly useful to say, “(X and Y, whose views and acts I abhor) are not true (whatevers). That would be like my saying that the fanatic who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin was not a true Jew. He was a Jew, all right, and no doubt thought he was doing God’s work.

    I’ve been studying comparative religion most of my life, and one conclusion I’ve arrived at is that absolutely any religion is susceptible to its teachings being understood in a way that oppresses people and justifies state or personal violence. Conversely, most, perhaps all religions have the potential to be interpreted and practiced in ways that are personally liberating and that support social justice and functional societies.

    (Continued next post)

  • Deborah Bender

    Within a religious tradition, arguing that so-and-so has misunderstood
    or misapplied the teaching/doctrine/text is a valid strategy for
    shifting the views of the authorities or the community as a whole. It’s a
    total waste of time to address this kind of argument to people who are
    not adherents of the religion, because they can always point to contrary examples, and who gets to decide which examples represent the tradition and which are outliers?

    I was taught as a child that the era of Muslim rule in Spain was a Golden Age for the Jews. I also remember listening to all the blather about peace and good will to men around Christmastime while thinking about the Inquisition and pogroms. No doubt if I had discussed this with any Christian I knew, I would have been told that those people weren’t true Christians.

    (continued next post)

  • Deborah Bender

    No justice, no peace. World peace requires several kinds of efforts.

    We must strive to reduce the benefits that leaders receive from stirring up hatred.

    As individuals, we must try not to generalize from our personal histories as victims of violence and injustice to hatred or fear of every member of a group that includes the people that wronged us. At the same time, we have every right to be cautious about other members of that group until we know their intentions.
    As members of any group, religious, ethnic, or national, we have a duty to inform ourselves about both the bad and the good our own group has been responsible for, and to support efforts to make our group a force for good in the future.

    I don’t hold individual Muslims responsible for jihadi violence, and I hope they don’t hold me responsible for drone strikes on civilians. Islam, once the cultural leader of the West, has been held back by European colonialism and petrodollars. It hasn’t had its Enlightenment yet, and until it goes through that process, organized Islam and I are not on the same page.

  • Deborah Bender

    If you are reading my three comments, they will make better sense if read in the order I posted them, which is the reverse of the order in which they are showing up on my screen.

  • Sunweaver

    Education is one of the biggest things that will keep us safe. When my Pagan brothers and sisters understand that our Muslim neighbors are just folks like us and not bad men out to get us, that’s a few more people willing to stand in defense of our fellow citizens and for their freedoms as well as our own. When they understand a little more about us, that’s a few more people willing to stand with us for the freedoms of all.

    The Muslim ladies I know are the strongest, most beautiful people I know. They have been through so much the past few years and I am so grateful that I can call them my friends.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

    I really get irritated with stories that start out with “true” insert religious here. The bombers are true muslims, about as true to their faith as other Christians who we don’t agree with, Pagans who are bloody irritating and you want to take behind the woodshed. I’m sure there are equally abominable Hindu’s and Buddhists.

    Stop being Pc about it, the people who want to use terrorist tactics aren’t going to go away. It would be like ignoring the Irish heritage of the people who participated in the IRA.

    Newscasters are doing this, because they are doing the whole if it bleeds it leads. You want to stop them from being so sensationlist then call for one particular news station to not be watched(boycotting) send that to the editor. Do that for a week and switch to another station. Use your rating numbers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674870487 Leslie Fish

    One advantage of living in America is that you CAN own weapons, despite the frantic efforts of the gun-control crowd. I believe that — even in California and New York — any citizen who goes into the local sheriff’s office and asks to get a firearms permit *in order to protect him/her self and family from Muslim terrorists* will get not only the permit but a note in the sheriff’s records. Enough such notes, and the media will eventually (have to) notice. Then we’ll start hearing a lot about the moderate Muslims and how the fanatics persecute them. THEN we’ll see the govt. do something about dividing the sheep from the goats, protecting the moderate Muslims, and seriously going after the fanatics.

  • Captain_Dg

    For the most part I agree with the writer. However, he does not get to the heart of the problem. While extremists may be a minority, there is absolutely no one in the Muslim world who can say they are not Muslim with any universal authority. The religion is not centralized and while the extremists’ terrorist views are in the minority they are also well within *some* traditional interpretations of Islam.