Tag Archives: Islam

It’s all about religious tolerance

Joe Volk of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) just sent out an email message encouraging all Quakers to “state publicly that you stand with our brothers and sisters in the American Muslim community” in the days leading up to September 11.

I heard about this from my friend E, a Quaker and a yoga teacher, who writes on her blog: “It has been heart-rending for me to read about the growing rancor and bigotry about religion and race…. My great grandparents fled the pogroms, and my parents felt free to become members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)….”

We’re not quite at the level of pogroms yet, but Rev. Meredith Garmon, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, Florida, writes in a blog post today that anti-Muslim hate crimes are increasing; in addition, “Here in my home of Gainesville, Fla., a local fringe church known for its anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT rhetoric has been getting national media attention for their planned ‘Burn a Qu’ran Day’ on Sept. 11th.”

Whatever you may think of the proposed Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan, I know you’re not going to burn a copy of the Qu’ran, or pee on a mosque, or stab a Muslim taxi driver. Whichever side of the issue you’re on, I know you’re not going to spout increasingly inflammatory rhetoric in the days leading up to 9/11 (which this year are the final days of Ramadan). Nope, we’re all going to show the best of religious liberalism, and spend the next two weeks thinking peace and publicly supporting the principle of religious tolerance.

Below is the text of the FCNL email message. Continue reading

Religious literacy: What do kids need to know about religion?

We’ve tentatively identified four big educational goals for the religious education programs in our church, and one of those goals is to make sure children have basic religious literacy compatible with the society they’re living in. More specifically, we want children who have gone through our program to know: (a) the main Bible stories they’re likely to encounter in Western culture (in literature, film, painting, etc.); (b) stories and facts about the main world religions they will encounter both in their immediate environment and in current events; (c) a basic knowledge of the history of Western religion (primarily Western Christianity), and in particular the history that led to the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism; and (d) the main characters and stories of Unitarianism and Universalism in North America.

Yesterday I had lunch with three of the lay leaders in the children’s religious education program to talk about assessment strategies for our religious education program. I suggested that part of our assessment strategy for this educational goal of religious literacy should be a list of the specific things we want to teach our kids; i.e., which Bible stories should kids know? which famous Unitarians and Universalists should they know? etc.

Below is my first attempt at generating such a list, with material to be covered from ages 3 to 18. I would love to have your comments on, suggestions for, corrections to, and additions to this list.

Continue reading

The Man, the House, and the Cat

This story is part of a work-in-progress, a book of stories for liberal religious kids. The source for this story is Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah (Dutton, 1967). I once used this story in worship services during the church pledge drive, but that seemed a little too heavy-handed, and I don’t think I’d do it again. In fact, since this can be a touchy story for adults, it might be best only to use this during children’s worship services.

The Man, the House, and the Cat

You probably already know that in order to be considered a Mulsim — that is, someone who follows the religion of Islam — you must do five things. First, you must confess that there is no God but Allah whose prophet is Mohammed; second, you must pray five times a day; third, you must fast during the month of Ramadan; fourth, if you possibly can, you must make the journey to Mecca, the center of Islam; and fifth, you must give money to the poor. Sheik Nasir el-Din Shah, a Muslim who was a Sufi master, once told this story about giving money to the poor.


Once there was a man who was very troubled in his mind. He faced such great troubles in his life that he could see no way out — oh, his problems were so great that I dare not tell you what they were. If you heard all his problems, you would be desparately sad for a month.

And yet his troubles kept growing worse. It got so bad, his friends gave up on him, his servants moved out, he had no one to talk to but his cat. In desperation, the man swore that if he ever found a way out of his troubles, he would sell his house, and give all the money he gained from selling his house to the poor people who lived in his city.

Soon thereafter, his troubles miraculously came to an end! Within two or three days, everything was fine once again. He sighed with relief. Once again, he could enjoy living in his beautiful house — and then he remembered. He had sworn that if he ever got out of his troubles, he would sell his beautiful house, and give all the money to the poor.

He realized he did not want to sell his house. Why, if he sold his house, and gave away all that money, he would have so little money left, he would have to live in a much smaller house. That would be most unpleasant! But he swore he would sell his house. But there was no reason for him to give away so much money; far better that he keep the money for himself.

So he told people they could buy his house for one piece of silver. However, his cat must continue to live in the house — everyone knows that cats don’t like to move — and the cat was such a valuable cat, he must sell it for no less than ten thousand pieces of silver.

A rich merchant bought the house for one piece of silver, and also bought the cat for ten thousand pieces of silver. The man gave all the money he gained from the sale of his house to the poor — which was only one piece of silver. But the money from the sale of the cat — ten thousand pieces of silver — that money, the man kept.


Sheik Nasir el-Din Shah did not say what happened to the man afterwards. But Sheik Nasir el-Din Shah did say that many people are just like the man who sold his house for one piece of silver. Many people resolve to do the right thing, but then they change things around in their minds to make it easier, and make it be to their advantage. Nasir el-Din Shah said that until we can stop doing this, we will not learn anything at all.

This is a hard story to listen to. Even today, we know we should give money away, but instead we go and spend that money at the mall. I know this is something I have a problem with — how about you?

More on Hadith in Turkey

So what’s going on with the Turkish government’s reported revision of the Hadith, as reported by the BBC on Tuesday? Over on the Guardian Unlimited (U.K.) Web site, in their “Comment Is Free” section, regular contributor Martin Kettle writes:

Ever since the BBC Today programme announced this morning that Turkey’s department of religious affairs has begun a major revision of the hadith — the non-Qur’anic commentary on the words and deeds of Muhammad — I’ve been trying to find out more. But on the basis of what I have been able to find out so far, this story is the one that got away. The BBC website has nothing further about it. The Reuters, AP and other wire services say nothing either. For the non-Turkish speaker, it’s a deeply frustrating experience.

Kettle says he is frustrated about the lack of coverage because “if true, this is surely a serious event in the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds alike”; adding that his frustration is only increased because “there is no more interesting country in Europe today than Turkey.” However, there’s more coverage than Kettle may be aware of….
Continue reading

Muslim reformation?…

Currently in the works, a radical revision of the Hadith:

Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam – and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion.

The country’s powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

Link to BBC story.

Wow. For us religion geeks, this is huge news. It seems unlikely that U.S. news media will cover the story in any meaningful way, so now I’m trying to figure out where I can go for solid coverage of this story. Any ideas?


Respecting the Koran?

The International Herald Tribune for June 1 carries a fascinating opinion piece by Aijaz Zaka Syed, titled “The West’s Contempt for Religion.” Link (And no, I’m not creating a link to something printed tomorrow, it’s already tomorrow in Parish where the Herald-Trib is published.)

Syed contends that the West has developed a general contempt for religion due to the excesses of Western Christianity:

The church’s excessive control over its flock during the oppressive centuries leading up to the European Renaissance (remember the Spanish Inquisition? Or how the church persecuted Galileo Galilei for his scientific beliefs?) and its unreasonable opposition to all scientific inquiry and quest for knowledge generated a popular backlash. As a result, much of Western society banished the church forever from its life and day-to-day existence. More important, this hopeless conflict left a deep distrust and contempt for all religions in the Western mind that remains far from shaken.

Because of that contempt, Syed says that religion in the West has become something that is restricted to the individual, or at most to within the four walls of a church.

I’d like to think that I can understand religion as a matter of personal experience and conviction (in fact, that’s part of my religious system), yet it can still be something I take very seriously, and not treat with contempt. Yet Syed has a good point — Westerners do have a tendency to either condemn religion, or slide into fundamentalism. It would be nice to find a middle ground of respect.

In the mean time, Syed ends by saying:

Whatever Washington’s explanation [for the Koran desecration incident], this is certainly no way to win the battle for Muslim hearts and minds. If this is what President George W. Bush had in mind when he promised ‘human liberty and democracy’ to the people in Muslim lands, the Islamic world would be better off without America’s gifts. Thanks but no thanks.

Nor will Americans win any global friends by taking the condescending attitude that all religions are bosh, and worthy only of contempt. Sorry, my anti-religious friends, but an American superiority complex can take many forms.