“Take a Breath” (The Place of Religion in Normal Discourse)

It seems it is often true that when I engage a Muslim in discourse, the topic often morphs into a discussion of religion, and how the West does not understand Islam as a religion of peace.

While I agree that this is an important topic, and one I often emphasize myself, it is not the only topic.  Today I criticized an acquaintance for suggesting that people in the West “seek to demolish Islam.”  He also said,  “Ask God to bring together the Muslims on the truth and make them victorious over their enemies.”

He said these things in written Arabic, perhaps thinking that his comment was immune to comment from a non-Arabic speaking American.

I was criticizing the rhetoric, which can be seen as inflammatory.  I was not criticizing Islam.  I believe that such militant rhetoric simply helps breed a countervailing attitude.  I pointed out to him that no one could sensibly believe the hyperbole that any sensible leader seeks “to demolish Islam.”  There are approximately 1.6 Billion Muslims and 57 Muslim countries.  As I have already said in this series, we all need to dial down the rhetoric, and understand one another’s point of view a little better.

Another Muslim immediately criticized me, saying that my “problem” was that I believe the distorted ideas that are presented in the media about Islam.  Anyone who knows anything about me, and my activities on behalf of Muslims over the past five years would know that I have no such “problem.”  Nonetheless, there seems to be a tendency among some Muslims to believe that anyone who says anything contrary to a position of any Muslim, right or wrong, is criticizing the religion.

In our vernacular, we would say that you are “wearing your religion on your sleeves.” That is to say that you are too sensitive about comments, which refer to Islam in any way.  I have Jewish friends, who respond similarly at any mention of Judaism or Israel.  Just because someone mentions something about the Muslim or Jewish worlds does not mean that we are criticizing the religions.   If Muslims hope to have a discourse with non-Muslims, you must first “take a breath,” and try to understand what your friends are saying.  In turn, you can expect us (your friends) to make a greater attempt to help others understand you.  I do know that this is not easy, but this is what is required in order to bring the world back to a peaceful norm in everyone’s perception.

In the same exchange, I quoted The Buddha:

‎”In this world

Hate never yet dispelled hate.

Only love dispels hate.”

The reaction I got was “We do not believe in the law of Buddha.”  If we cannot mention a truth from the wisdom of the ages, other than those truths expounded by The Prophet (PBUH), I fear we are very far from finding common understandings as humans.  We can ignore one another, but we cannot eliminate one another.  There are approximately 5.2 Billion non-Muslims in the world.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric obscures the truth that Muslims already do coexist very well with non-Muslims, and on a global basis.  We have mutually beneficial common trade, we live in peace together, we do respect one another’s religions, though the media make it difficult to remember this, and we often intermarry.

My point is that we must learn to “take a breath” and understand one another, before we react.  The person who said that I have a “problem” said so without knowing anything about me, and how I have interacted with Islam.  The same person wanted me to surely know that Muslims do not believe in the law of the Buddha.  Rather than try to understand the point I was trying to make, which is a point I think most Muslims do endorse, the reaction and assumption was that I was somehow challenging Islam by referring to another tradition.

I pray that we can all learn to “Take a Breath!”

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