As I mentioned early last month, I've decided to embark on an Activism Through Reading project. My goal is two-fold. I want to expand my knowledge about topics that tend to be debated, with varying levels of knowledge. Secondly, I want to understand the thoughts and feelings of people with opinions that different from mine.
My first selection was "The Faith Club" which is a book written by three women who came together with the goal to write a book for children that would explain the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. Early on in the project, the women realized that they needed to address a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about each of their faiths, and so this book was born.
My goal of reading this book was to learn more about the Muslim faith. And boy did I learn a lot by reading this book! As I have mentioned before, I was raised Catholic and continue to practice my faith as an adult. My focus has been entirely on my faith and I know very little about other faiths, mostly because there is always more to learn about my own faith. That said, I recognize that learning more about other faiths helps me build understanding of others. My goal was to learn more about about the Muslim faith but I ended up learning quite a bit about the Jewish faith as well.
Here are some of the things I learned by reading this book:
1. Similar to the Jewish and Christian faiths, the Muslim faith descended from Abraham. Muslims believe Muhammad was the last of a series of 25 messengers and
prophets, starting with Adam and including Moses and Jesus, who were
sent by God to guide people to the right path. Muslims believe that
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which means peaceful surrender to the
will of God, are three forms of one religion, which was the religion of
the prophet Abraham. Thus, Muslims are required to believe in the Gospels and the Torah.
2. The word "jihad" means a struggle or effort. It is mostly meant to resolve an internal struggle to overcome sin. Unfortunately, this word has been corrupted by extremists/terrorists who are using it in ways that are not in line with the Muslim faith. This BBC explanation of jihad addresses the concept of holy war. I think many of us associate jihad or holy war with something that is actually not in line with what the Qur'an teaches. If you look at the Qur'an's teaching on what can necessitate holy war, it is clear that the campaign of ISIS/ISIL is not in line with the teachings of the Muslim faith. So it is wrong to associate their terrible actions with what it means to be a Muslim.
3. The Muslim faith can be split into Shia and Sunni Muslims. They are divided based on who they think should have been the Islamic leader after Muhammad died. Within the Sunni sect, there is a movement called "Wahhabism." It is an extremist group that is thought to be the source of global terrorism. It's an extreme minority within the Muslim faith and it's an extremely wealthy group as they tend to inhabit the oil-rich areas of the Middle East. Both Shia and Sunni Muslims denounce this group.
4. I also learned a lot about the battle between the Jewish and Muslim faiths over Israel. I vaguely knew about the conflict in this region, but Ranya, the Muslim author and Priscilla, the Jewish author, had many debates about this territory.
5. Lastly, the book addressed some of the roots of antisemitism. I did not think that antisemitism was something that was alive and well in the U.S., but the events of the past several months have opened my eyes to the fact that it is still a problem.
I'm walking away from this book reminded that groups of people can corrupt the teachings of a religious faith. I think we can all agree that groups like the Westboro Church have corrupted the teachings of Christianity. As a Christian, I denounce the acts of the members of Westboro Church. Their message of hate is not in line with the teachings of Christianity. It does not reflect the fact that we have a loving and forgiving God. Similarly, Muslims denounce the actions of terrorists who have corrupted the teachings of the Qur'an. I am not trying to compare the Westboro Church to ISIL because clearly ISIL has carried out their corrupted beliefs in extremely horrible ways. I am merely trying to show that various faiths have groups whose actions are not in line with the teachings of their faith. And just as I do not want anyone to see the actions of the Westboro Church and associate their practices, words and beliefs with what I believe, other Muslims do not want to be associated with the horrific actions of ISIS/ISIL. Especially since many of them have been victims of ISIS/ISIL.
My hope is that our country's leadership will stop associating being a Muslim with being evil or prone to terrorist acts. The group that has corrupted the Muslim beliefs and used those corrupted beliefs to justify their horrific actions has resulted in what I believe is a great misunderstanding in the Western world about what it means to be a Muslim.
And that is why I read this book. Obviously I only read one book so my knowledge of the Muslim faith is still very limited. But I know more than I did before I read this book. My hope is that I can help to disspell misconceptions about the Muslim faith when they arise in conversations with friends and family.
If you want to start to learn more about other monotheistic faiths, I highly recommend this book. It's a very accessible and engaging way to learn about the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. I also think it is useful to find ways to engage with others that have different beliefs and faiths than you do. Because of where I live, most of my friends are Christians. But thanks to blogging, I've made a couple of friends who are Jewish and we've had several conversations about our beliefs. I've also had the opportunity to meet others from the Muslim community by volunteering in an adult ESL classroom. Obviously that is not the place to engage in conversations about their faith, but it's allowed me to get to know them as a fellow citizen of Minneapolis. The benefit is that it humanizes a group of people that I did not have contact with before volunteering.
Have you learned much about other faiths? Do you have a curiosity about other faiths? Would you consider reading this book?
I'll be back later this week with my next selection!