Islam

As I wrapped up my trip through Buddhism, I started to get nervous. I knew the time to explore Islam was fast approaching. Unlike the places of worship of the previous religions that had allowed me to tailor my explorations to ease into a particular faith by degrees, theological variations among Muslims are less apparent. Perhaps this is especially true in the United States, where congregants who gather under one roof may hail from a range of countries and represent a spectrum of belief. In all likelihood, I would have no way of readily identifying the individuals whose convictions put them at the extremes of Muslim faith.

Back at home, I gave the matter more thought. My tiny town serves as home to a surprisingly diverse Islamic community, many of them young men and women from countries across Northern Africa and the Middle East who earn degrees from the university. The absence of a busy urban environment seems to render them more conspicuous here and I watch with interest. One day I witnessed a man and his two young sons pause to offer afternoon prayers at the local mall. They knelt on small rugs facing a Bath and Body Works, their backs to the walkway. I wondered about the trust it took to assume such a vulnerable position in public. Their faith was as enveloping as the sweet fragrance from the store.

Phil and I encountered a group of Muslims at a remote county park. Ours was the only car in the lot when we arrived but after our hike we encountered two picnicking groups. One was a cluster of men sitting and eating. Several hundred yards away, several women were stretched out together on a blanket in the grass laughing and relaxing. We knew they were Muslim because of the scarfs fastened securely at their chins. So unexpected was this sight that I felt Phil and I had entered the forest in rural Washington state, but had emerged somewhere on the other side of the planet.

I was forced to consider what seemed like an irony: Islamic female garb may be worn to conceal, yet it never fails to identify. This might not be the case in places where the population is predominantly Muslim, but in countries where this is not the case, Muslim women stick out. Often, if it weren’t for the women, the Muslims in my midst would have gone unnoticed. A guy in the pasta aisle at Safeway was just a regular dude until I spotted his wife in a hijab draped from ear to ear; she had a bare band around her eyes like the opposite of a masquerade ball. Her face may have been hidden, but the collective identity to which she belonged was on display. I wondered what it must be like to bear the brunt of public scrutiny, to have your presence function as a symbol. I once walked behind a woman wearing a full burka that rendered the woman inside as invisible as a ghost. The fabric of her garment rolled and snapped so wildly that it appeared to contain its own weather pattern. Outside a breeze blew gently; underneath, a storm raged.

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5 thoughts on “Islam

  1. So, we’ve moved on. I’m wondering if we will have as many comments. Americans in general are not very well informed about Islam. So I look forward to hear what you have found.

    We were immersed in folk Islam while we lived in Africa. By “folk” is simply meant that, in many areas of the world, Islam is syncretized with local beliefs, such as animism. The men who took on Islam where we lived were marked by their Islamic name (such as “Brahma” for Abraham), refusal to drink wine or eat pig, and attendance at the mosque on Fridays.

    While I have strong disagreements with much Islamic teaching, I have great respect for many of the traditions, and especially the scholarship of Islam, which was far ahead of the West long before the Renaissance. While it may be difficult to find differences among Moslems here in the States, there actually is a lot. Much of this is hidden to Americans because of our fears that any Moslem must be a terrorist, ready to kill all of us infidels. It kills me to hear Americans quote chapter and verse from the Qu’ran about how we must be killed, refusing to believe that any Moslem may love peace and our country. Islam is not so strongly divided as Christians are about what the Bible says and its meaning.

    One of the things I find most interesting and intriguing about Islam is it’s attractiveness to many Americans, who remain hungry to find spiritual certitude. There is not much in the way of certitude in our country these days.

    I applaud what you’re doing here, Corinna (as always).

    • Hey Walt! Interesting point about the Muslims you met in Africa who incorporated some previous traditions into Islam. I think that same trend can be seen in the other faiths as well, especially when it comes to the more “magical” or mystical elements of the different faiths. It seems like those aspects survived overtly or covertly even when a region officially adopted a primary faith such as Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or even Judaism (I’m thinking of Kabbalah). We love miracles and transcendent experiences.

  2. The break I took from commenting during the past few weeks was because I wanted to simply listen through the weeks of exploration of Buddhism, trying to see the big picture of what people seek. I kept thinking during Corinna’s very thorough discoveries about Buddhism, where’s the personal, and does that matter? Where are the relationships or The Relationship? While she met many interesting and engaged people, the “god” wasn’t personal at all, (even though there was a following of the person Buddha who once lived and set the primary example). Even still, it seemed more to be a state of mind accomplished through anesthetizing desire, and no matter how long it took, it was to be pursued. It’s seems that the power is in the pursuit.

    I’ve only known two Muslims well. One had a very sick child (in a coma with an unknown diagnosis). They were from Ethiopia and she sought me out for prayer. She was a devoted Muslim but opened herself to prayer to the Christian God and to Jesus on behalf of her child. She had a Qur’an but could not read it because she did not believe it could be translated. She simply worshiped the book. She did not cover herself but was devoted to her prayers. We prayed together daily and after three weeks, her child woke up.

    The other Muslim was a young Christian woman who fell in love with a Muslim. She surprised him, her family, and her church by becoming a Muslim shortly after they married. She covers herself and she loves the acts of devotion that the Muslim religion requires. Other Muslims who are acquaintances (like my manicurist) do not understand the lack of commitment (particularly in the area of morality) in the Christian faith. I have found that morality is highly important to the Muslims I have met. I do not know any Muslim men though.

    “Underneath a storm raged.” What is a storm to one might not be to another. Americans might say, don’t you see the storm? How hard it is to see and understand what drives someone.

    • Hi Ginger, So good to see you! I think you’re right that, in general, most versions of Buddhism to do not have a divine entity with whom one might have a relationship. I know that aspect of religion is very important to some people, and maybe less of an issue for others. I’m still trying to figure out where I fall on that issue. But what’s interesting is that regardless of the different beliefs, both faiths seem to point their followers in the same direction–which, from my understanding, is a sense of being a part of something greater, being a part of a greater whole. They seem to help a person feel that and know that…

  3. I would describe that as the image of God in all of us, and also the need and desire for worship of the one who created us. And, there is some element of truth in all religions, because God cares– the idea of common grace toward us all. That to me, speaks highly of grace!

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