In the past, a friend said: "Dean, I just found out you're a Moslem. Tell me about your religion."
Sometimes, he would add, “You don’t believe in God; you believe in Allah, right?”
I always enjoyed our conversations.
To my friend, I would explain that Moslems do believe in the same God as Christians and Jews. The word “Allah,” in fact, means “The God.” I might also quote the Quran for him, which says: “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us (the Quran) and in that which came down to you (the Torah and Gospel); our God and your God is one.” (Quran 29:46)
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People were often surprised to hear that Moslems believe in Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, all the other prophets in the Jewish faith, and of course, Jesus. When they heard that Moslems also believe in heaven, hell and the day of judgment, they often asked, “So, what’s different?”
So, we would talk about Islamic views on original sin and the trinity, which are different from what is taught in Christianity. Our conversation always ended with the recognition that our faiths have a great deal in common. In fact, our beliefs do more to unite us than to separate.
That realization, that moment in our conversation, was one I always enjoyed.
The first American mosque I attended, almost 40 years ago, was a small converted house in a modest part of Los Angeles. Our imam would invite priests and rabbis to give sermons there, and often they invited him to their churches and synagogues.
I remember the sermons as friendly, welcoming and based on the commonalities of our faiths. For me, that was where the conversation started.
Today, most people who know me as a Moslem don’t ask me about my religion. Perhaps they feel an obligation to be politically correct. Perhaps they fear the conversation will spiral into a discussion about some deplorable acts done in the name of Islam. I appreciate their desire not to put me on the spot, to save me the angst of dealing with questions they think might be hard for me to answer.
But in our efforts to be polite and to not to step on toes, we stopped asking questions. We stopped talking about our common beliefs and our shared spirituality. And so, the conversation ended.
When we stopped talking, we created a vacuum. And, it didn’t take long for new voices reflecting extreme points of view to take over.
Our conversation was taken over by terrorists speaking from a cave in a war-torn country, or extremists calling for Islamic expansion and domination of the world.
Fear and resentment of Islam grew. It was seen as a hostile, intolerant and invading religion. A few politicians, religious leaders, bloggers and radio talk show hosts took up the rhetoric. And, they turned up the volume.
Some of these individuals quoted verses from the Quran. When they did, they gave no context or historical perspective that might suggest the true meaning of the scripture. Perhaps they didn’t understand it, or maybe they were creative in their interpretation. They characterized Islam in a way that reflected their biased view; a view that Moslems and non-Moslems alike could not comprehend.
I don’t think we need to raise our voices in response. I don’t think we need to drown out the extreme points of view. I don’t think we need to start a publicity campaign or fight for media attention.
I just think we need to have conversations with friends again. I think we should surprise each other with what we have in common.
Dean Hosni, an underwriting professional in the insurance industry, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.