Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Activism Through Reading: The Faith Club Review

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.

Main takeaway:

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!


Charbelle4 said...

So many thoughts! I am definitely going to check this book out! I've taken classes on understanding Judaism and Islam, I grew up learning about Judaism since the church I grew up in has a heart for Israel as well as Refuge, the church I go to now. I mentioned I took the religions of the world class in college and I really enjoyed it! Unfortunately in the South you run into people who grew up in church, think that they're Christian, but can't tell you why the believe what they believe and there is an underlying ignorance and intolerance. I'm incredibly thankful for the churches in this area that have stepped up and are working to tear down the misconceptions and actually be the church in the community and not just a building!

Carolina John said...

Love it! This sounds like a great book, and it is really interesting to look at other faiths. Particularly, I enjoy reading on zen buddhism. There's not a central deity in buddhism so it becomes more about a collection of theories that we can still learn from. Very interesting. I'll have to check out this book too.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I really liked this book when I read it like 4 or 5 years ago so I'm a little rusty on it. I did really enjoy the discussions between Ranya and Priscilla about Israel. It definitely helped me make a more informed decision on what I thought and to keep it in mind when I heard others demanding it one way or another. Since then I've read these books that have hit on religions. Some are memoirs, some are fiction but all let you into a different perspective. Between Gods by Alison Peck, The Almond Tree (HIGHLY RECOMMEND) by Michelle Corassanti, and The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

Nora said...

Thanks for sharing! I have not read this book but it is on my to be read list. As part of my major in college, I was required to take world religion as well as political geography and both were so very interesting to me. I could certainly use a refresher on other religions but my world religion class was very helpful in understanding cultures and religions other than my own. The political geography class brought it all together nicely as well, explaining wars over food, religion, etc.

I think this is a great idea, by the way, activism through reading. <3

Jeanie said...

This is a fascinating post and I think I would enjoy the book for the same reasons you started it -- to learn more about the Muslim faith. I like how you broke it down and fully explained the concepts and it seems as though this should be reading 101 for just about every human being. Like you, I am offended when churches/individuals/institutions corrupt the basic tenets of a faith.

I'm glad you told us about this one. I think I may have to add this to the reading list.

Stephany said...

This is great! For some reason, there's a wait for that book at my library. Hopefully that means more people are trying to learn about the Muslim faith right now. :) I tried to come up with reasons why people are so hesitant to learn about other faiths - like, you can believe your faith is the "right" one, but still take the time to learn about what other people believe. I think we should do that. We cannot stay in our bubbles anymore. You don't have to agree with what other faiths believe, but we do need to respect it and learn about it.

I think we've lost the human element of who Muslims are and what they believe in. That's why there's such fear, fear that's so misplaced.

Thanks for doing this project! Still hoping to read this book sometime soon. :)

Amber said...

What an interesting post, thanks for sharing so much useful information. I did know some of this but some if it I didn't know at all. I would really like to read this book but unfortunately my library doesn't have it. I may consider buying it on my kindle at some point down the road though. I was not raised religious so actually don't know a lot about any of the faiths, but of course know the most about Christianity because it seems to be the most predominant faith in western civilization, or at least the faith that is most talked about / portrayed in media etc.

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

Very interesting post! I am hoping to read the book soon but about 30 books I had on hold just came in at once so I'm not sure lol.
I had a student a few years ago that I think was Muslim (I've had other students who actually were) He was selectively mute and so I'd talk to his parents about ways to connect with him. They would always say things like, "yea, we don't celebrate Christmas..." with no elaboration as to what they DID celebrate, even when I would prompt a little. Or yea, we go to Sunday school but it's not called "Sunday School"...I could be wrong, but I always felt like they didn't want me to know they were Muslim, or maybe just didn't want the greater school community to know which they felt like would happen if they told me. It makes me sad that they have to feel that way or worry about it. We have a pretty diverse school so I can only imagine how people feel if they are not in a diverse community.

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

I like research different faiths, for interest sake. I took religious studies in university, which I really liked, and have read a few books on different religions.

Sandra Bond said...

Thank you for the great review! I really want to read the book now to understand more about different religions. I was raised catholic, but I don't consider myself religious anymore.