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.