Sunday, August 20, 2006

What it means to be a Muslim

After having spent the better part of an hour putting together a comment at RedBlue Christian discussing what politics means to a Christian, I come directly to John Burgess pointing to a piece in CS Monitor written by a female Muslim journalist about what it means to be a Muslim. Too, too funny! RedBlue Christian is a site attempting to bridge the gap that divides the Christian community in domestic politics (and by extension, international affairs and how we see the rest of the world). The article was occasioned by two people who came from the same place in Saudi Arabia attending a conference apparently aimed at bridging a similar gap in the Muslim community. As John said, go read the whole thing. It's not long and will only take a minute.

At the end of the conference, I found out that my definition of a Muslim - that anyone, including an atheist, who identifies themselves as Muslim is a Muslim - had made me an atheist courtesy of some conservative Muslims who I'd debated with on the point. They'd stereotyped me right back, deciding I must be an atheist. You see why we need to talk?

"Believers are like the bricks of a building. They hold each other up." That saying of the prophet Muhammad was posted on an easel next to a panel on pluralism that included Yasir and his ideological and theological polar opposites.

At a coffee break soon after the panel, I ran into Yasir, fresh from an hour-long meeting with one of the liberal women I had heard he didn't want to meet. He looked stunned.

"But did you shake her hand?" asked another attendee after Yasir told us of the meeting.


It was my turn to be stunned: "You shake women's hands? I didn't offer mine on the plane because I wasn't sure."

Yasir stuck his hand out for a firm shake.

It's a big world in which we live. And we have a hard time understanding each other when we speak the same language, come from the same culture and have roots in the same faith. How can we not expect to be challenged when our turn comes to encounter someone from outside our little space in the world?

When I hear people prating about going to war I wonder how many have even tried to meet their neighbors, much less the distant masses they have so easily labeled as an enemy.

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