Raj’s family

We made our way to an upscale subdivision filled with identical-looking brick homes. Theirs was at the end of a cul-de-sac, the front door dwarfed by the impressive façade. I parked on the street while Raj stood in the driveway waiting for me. He reminded me of my grandpa who was always affectionate with me, though I doubted my grandpa would have been as tender with a stranger as Raj was with me. Raj ushered me through the entrance in the garage that led directly to the kitchen.

Inside, the food was ready and the table was set. They insisted I take the head, facing the big picture window looking out to the yard. Through bits and pieces, I had learned that Raj was a retired engineer who dabbled in writing. He and his wife had lived in Texas for close to 40 years. Now he beamed with pride as his daughter explained that she and her husband, Abdul, were both doctors. To top it off, his granddaughter, Salma, was currently in medical school. I thought about how envious my grandmother would be—she had waged a many-decades long campaign to convince someone in the family to become a doctor but not one of her children or grandchildren had been swayed. Here, Raj and his wife were outnumbered by doctors.

Abdul asked what had brought me to their mosque and Raj said, yes, please tell us. They knew I was learning Islam, so I figured they wanted a longer version. As we ate, I gave it to them. I started at the beginning and explained everything. I had grown up with no religion. I got older and grew curious. Then I moved to a small town and began by going to churches. I worked my way through Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. It had taken several years, but I had finally made it to Islam. At home, I had done what I could to educate myself. Then I came to Dallas to visit my grandma and worship at mosques.

They nodded, but looked confused. I could see them trying to make sense of it. They wanted to know how my experiment would end, where exactly I would land. I didn’t know what else to tell them. I was trying to make sense of it too.

Abdul, especially, seemed baffled. He asked if I knew the pillars of Islam. I said them out loud, counting on my fingers: daily prayers, Ramadan, zakat (giving to charity), monotheism. That was four. What was the last? “Shahada,” Abdul said. Of course. The shahada, the statement of faith. He asked if I knew the Islamic view of Jesus. Yes, I answered, he is greatly respected and considered a prophet, similar to Muhammad.

I could sense the question—Did I intend to become Muslim?—on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he switched his approach. “You should become Muslim as soon as possible,” he said. What purpose did learning serve unless I planned to convert? I wasn’t sure he’d understand that, for me, knowledge was having the opposite effect: the more I learned, the less inclined I was to declare myself any one thing. But this hadn’t prevented me from developing a deep appreciation, love even, for the ideas and people I met along the way. I recalled Fatima saying she was eager for me to become a Muslim because then she and I would be sisters. I smiled at the sweetness of the sentiment. I wanted to say, “I hope we can be sisters no matter what.”

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25 thoughts on “Raj’s family

  1. Ha!! Love it. Love it. Love it!! So, the wonderful invitation to dine was indeed to proceed to some conversation about conversion. Isn’t it amazing!! People who believe that they have a “truth” and that you should understand and perceive it in the same way they do with such faith and conviction are determined that you should get it too. Somehow it just isn’t enough to accept you as you are. They truly believe you are missing out on something. As I remember your beginning search you believed you might be missing something, too and that’s what got you started. How is it for you now? Do you still feel like you’re missing something for yourself? You don’t have to answer. I don’t mean to put you on the spot. I just get excited when I see that your search so often validates what I think. Of course what I think doesn’t have to be what you think. This is so fun!!

    • Hi Frank, I think I was missing out in that I’m better off today for the experiences and knowledge I’ve gained by exploring religion. I’m just not so sure anymore that an official religious affiliation is what I was looking for…picking one feels wrong to me. Can I have them all?

      • Indeed! You can have them all. Although I embrace them all I haven’t had the deeper connection to most of them that you have experienced. I envy you that if and when you end your search you will just about be able to walk into any church, temple, synagogue, or mosque and join in prayers while listening with understanding. How wonderful to be able to say to one’s self: “Today I feel Jewish or I need to listen to Mohammed or let me see what Jesus had to say about this or I need the treasure of Orthodoxy and what would Buddha say.” You get to listen to your feelings without judgment. That in itself is a divine treasure. I’ve been palming off a little non-religious book titled: “First You Have to Row a Little Boat” by Richard Bode. If you haven’t read it yet you might enjoy it:

        http ://www.amazon.com/First-You-Have-Little-Boat/dp/0446670030/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405195093&sr=8-1&keywords=first+you+have+to+row+a+little+boat

        • Oh, I love that sentiment, Frank. I like the idea that I could find a home in any place of worship. Perhaps I am headed toward something like that. Okay, I’m going to go learn more about the book you recommend…

  2. Hi C,

    Typo: ‘will’ should be ‘with’.

    I’ve found that probably 90% of believers will show the outward manifestations of hospitality, since they’re trying to ‘sell’ you on their religion and you’re a potential ‘customer’. But once you make it clear you’re not ‘buying’ or even ‘in the market’, the facade (which you used as a metaphor, whether consciously of not) comes down, and they even feel a sense of betrayal as if you had played them along, as if you were misleading them by expressing interest while lacking ‘good faith’ to actually convert.

    • Hi Dave, Thanks for the proof read. Yes, it’s a tricky position: to have a genuine desire to learn about a faith without necessarily being interested in converting. I think if there was more encouragement and acceptance of “faith tourism” we might be better off.

      • Hi C,

        It seems like you were born a few millenia too late, as you’d make a great pagan! 🙂

        Let me to explain:

        Xianity emerged when the majority of Gentiles worshipped PAGAN gods, who, unlike the God of the Jews and Jesus, weren’t “jealous Gods”.

        Pagans were quite comfortable ‘sampling’ Gods, worshipping one set for a particular stage of their lives (ie fertility gods when young), since Gods were a ‘mix and match’ affair.

        And if one God failed to provide the desired results, you simply tried another: no harm, no foul.

        The ONLY stipulation within the Roman Empire was citizens HAD to support the Emperor as the divine Son of God by offering a yearly tribute or sacrifice (and they didn’t have to actually BELIEVE it, since the emperor didn’t care if you did, just as long as the State was supported). This was expected from all Roman citizens as contributing to the common welfare (military defeats, famines, plagues, etc were often blamed on those citizens who didn’t root for the ‘home team’).

        Being polytheistic, pagans had no qualms about doing so, and readily complied; Xians refused, often choosing to die as martyrs (based on Jesus’ words, “pay Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God”. Remember: YHWH is a ‘Jealous God’).

        So that’s the environment in which Xianity emerged, which succeeded by demanding a level of commitment far-exceeding that required by far-more open-minded and tolerant pagan religions (esp after Constantine became a Xian, and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire).

        So that’s the environment in which Xianity emerged, which succeeded by demanding a level of commitment that far-exceeded that of more open-minded and tolerant pagans (esp after Constantine became a Xian, and made Xianity the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire).

        Throughout the Bible, Jesus consistently denounces tolerance of other faiths, eg saying “you cannot serve two masters”, and in another scripture, “you’re either for me or against me”.

        The book of Revelation has Jesus saying he detests those who are ‘lukewarm’ in their faith and not whole-hearted, and he will spit out the wishy-washy and undecided.

        Even the practice of Eucharist (introduced at the Last Supper) can be seen as forcing his Jewish disciples to take a stand to separate from their Jewish roots, since the symbolic act of drinking blood was a death-penalty offense under the Torah (it not only violates Kashrut, but worse, constitutes idolatry). Some NT scholars suggest Jesus intentionally created the ritual as a “make or break” ritual, constituting the moment when Xianity was born as an offshoot cult of Judaism, introducing a polarizing act designed to revulse the more conservative-minded Jews while attracting young disenfranchised Jews who were willing to part ways with old traditions).

        Obviously the Abrahamic faiths prevailed in the Western World, with their dogmatic stance of, “Our way or the Highway to Hell”.

        So even if they don’t say it explicitly, most Xians will lose interest in you once they figure out you’re a “no-sale”.

        If they’re following their own Bible, fundie and evangelical Xians are NOT talking to you to meet interesting new people to gain new viewpoints, or to make new friends, etc. They’re especially NOT talking to others to be converted into their religion!

        Instead, they’re engaged for ONE specific purpose: to try and ‘sell’ THEIR salvation message.

        Why do they do so?

        Most truly believe they MUST spread the “good news” in order to save THEIR own eternal soul, driven by THEIR fear of a vengeful and angry God.

        Sad that such a manipulative psychological tool survives and is even voluntarily-accepted by many in 2014. I suspect I was born 2,000 yrs too early, dreaming of a time in the future when rational thinking will prevail.

        Dave

        • Hi Dave, No, Paganism doesn’t appeal to me. I’m more interested in a worldview where we are all connected, and can honor our common source. Paganism seems to go back to tribalism–every group with their own god. That’s kind of the antithesis of what I’m after.

          • Hi C,

            Yeah, and that’s exactly the stereotype the Xian Bible attempts to paints pagans with. Have you actually investigated pagan beliefs, and are you sure you’re not just relying on preconceived stereotypes and prejudices?

            http://www.paganfederation.org/what-is-paganism/

            Of course, it takes a strong sense of personal independence in order to self-identify as a pagan nowadays, but the TRUTH should be the most-important criteria for selecting religious beliefs, right?

            Otherwise, people are selecting beliefs on the basis of what others believe, or how different ideas make them ‘feel’ regardless if it’s actually true.

  3. Corinna, I think this posts highlights the fine line between picking the faith tradition that is right for you and insisting that it is the only right way. For me, after a great deal of searching, Anglican Christianity is what brings me closer to God. For others, it is a different path. As I said in prior posts, God will try to reach you in the way that makes the most sense to you. I happen to find the liturgical structure and cultural context of the Anglican faith most meaningful. There was a time in my journey when that wasn’t true, but now it is and probably will be for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean my faith can’t evolve into deeper levels of understanding. In his epistles, Paul recognizes the evolution of faith and understanding when he compares teaching with starting out with milk and soft food and moving on towards solid food–a fuller understanding of faith.

    When Abdul’s said you should have become Muslim right away, we see the same idea so oft repeated in many other religions, and especially fundamentalist Christianity. The Way becomes The Only Way, which happens to be My Way. I think one of God’s greatest gifts to us is our diversity, and the ability to seek and see him in so many different ways. I think as longa as “The law is written on your heart”, you are moving in the right direction.

    • Hi Tim, I wholeheartedly agree–there’s a huge difference between walking a path that feels right/good for you vs. claiming or believing your is the only right way. It’s the difference between unity and a million rifts. Such a small shift in perspective, but it changes everything!

    • Hi Tim,

      My understanding was Paul said in Romans that the law is written on the hearts of ALL men, gentile and Jew alike, regardless of whether they’ve ever heard of Jesus or not. Per Paul, EVERYONE has “natural law” (where he said even their conscience bothers them) as their basis for morality.

      (I like to point out that passage to believers who insist atheists have NO moral basis to determine right from wrong: are they unfamiliar with what their own Bible tells them? Such misinterpretations also underscores the problem of claiming it as a perfect source of morality, since it’s subject to misunderstanding!)

      Sadly, it’s clearly not enough, and there’s no scriptural basis to think God gives partial credit to anyone (as if handing out “E’s for effort”), since the NT quite consistently makes the point that all humans MUST accept Jesus as their personal Lord and savior based on FAITH, or else end up in Gehenna (Hell) for an eternity.

      Certainly you believe that basic principle of Xian theology?

  4. Hi Corinna,
    I admire your search and your honesty in seeking a truth that is right for you. A true religion is what rings true in our hearts, the most sacred temple. For me, basically if a path can help you open your heart to divine love then it is worth your time and dedication for ultimately we are all here to learn how to receive and give divine love….Perhaps your search will lead you to a church, faith, idea, or way of life that those who are there will share with you what they have learned and experienced, offer it to you, and then let you decide if you can incorporate it and use if for your own journey. I follow a path called ECKANKAR, yet I hold each of our path’s as sacred and never presume that what is right for me is right for anyone else, until they prove it for themselves. And I like what Frank said about all the bridges you have made to each of these religions and that you see and value the best from each. They are all like spokes in a wheel…Quite a journey you have been on. Continued blessings and peace on your way. May the Blessings Be

  5. I think it is perfectly natural for people to share their faith with you. Raj’s family obviously gets a great deal of meaning out of their faith, and that probably has a lot to do with their graciousness toward you. They are joyful about their beliefs and they are joyful that you are there. It’s a pretty hard heart that sees all religious people who befriend you and share their faith as having ulterior motives of only trying to get converts. The only thing we might imagine in this case is that this family perhaps misread your study of their faith as intent to join them. I can see how that could happen.

    There are several people in my church who do not believe for various reasons but they come anyway–for other reasons. They like to serve the greater good of a body of people; they like the good that the church does in the community; they love the people and are loved in return. They are not seen as outsiders at all. But when someone says to you, “I’m eager for you to become a Muslim because then you and I would be sisters,” I hope you don’t take that as an exclusive statement which infers the opposite if you do not become Muslim. Believers in a particular faith (well, I can only speak for Christianity!) do have a deep bond because of their common worldview and experience of God. It kind of overrides life, providing the prism through which events of life are interpreted. Those who don’t believe might in those instances think, “that’s just foolishness, or naivete, or weak pretensions, or even scandalous. Who could ever believe that?”

    Besides, believing (at least in the Christian faith) is just a beginning. It’s not an “I’ve got it now, no more worries!” venture. I don’t suppose anyone can learn all there is to know about God in any religion, or understand fully in ten lifetimes, who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. So it’s a lifelong journey.

    Blessings to you,
    Ginger

    P.S. It might be fun (for your next book!) to do a topical study across religions, like forgiveness.

    • Hi Ginger, Yes, I can see what you are saying. I really don’t want to have such a bleak outlook that I assume every person with a religious affiliation who is friendly with me is wanting to convert me or expects me to convert. In fact, I don’t think that was the case throughout this journey. I met many who didn’t seem too concerned with my status…they were just nice and welcoming (and, of course, there were probably many who assumed I was one thing or another). But I guess this journey brought up some interesting issues in terms of exploring a religion and worshiping with people without officially being that faith…many people didn’t know what to make of me and I can understand why they would question my motives or express curiosity. But I do think it might be a better world where people of various (or no) affiliations could explore other faiths and worship and it wouldn’t be weird at all. But that takes openness on both sides.

  6. Ginger, as always, it is a joy to read your perspective of the Christian faith. You put into revealing words what I can only think.

    For anyone who finds great joy in their faith, great peace, fulfillment and happiness in their “Xianity” (somewhat disrespectful a term, but at least it does contain the first letter of the name of Christ), it is only natural that they wish that others can share in those feelings. But to intimate that if the one you share with doesn’t convert to your faith, you simply ‘discard’ them……..that negates the faith in which you say you believe.

    I don’t believe, for instance, that Mother Theresa ever stepped over a leper because she couldn’t convert them to Catholicism.

    Corinna, I wish you continued revelation on your journey, and hope your journey’s end brings you joy. And I throw in an idea of C.S. Lewis. When he was making his journey of discovery, he narrowed down to three the religions he felt had the greatest grasp of “TRUTH”. Those three were Paganism, Hinduism and Christianity. I always found that interesting. Did you study Hinduism, and did I miss it while I was gone for so long on vacation?

    Yours in Christ,

    • Hi Patti, No, I didn’t explore Hinduism on this particular journey. But only because I was focusing on the four faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam) that are most influential (most number of followers) in the United States. However, I feel like Buddhism contains much of the essential wisdom of Hinduism in that Buddha came from a culture that was primarily Hindu. It’s parallel to how Jesus was from a Jewish culture and how Christianity contains the essential wisdom of Judaism (monotheism that unites humanity and gratitude, etc.).

  7. That’s right! I had forgotten that you were studying basically those four. I agree that there are surfaces that touch in Buddhism and Hinduism in the same corollary as Christianity and Judaism. But Hinduism is also radically different from Buddhism as well, especially in the matter of deities vs non-diety. It also has parallels to Christianity, which is why Lewis found it interesting, in that it has a trinity. What makes it differ radically is it’s origin as basically a fertility religion, with it’s emphasis on sexuality. That makes it differ the most from any of the ones you have studied, I think. Anyway, it’s interesting.

    As always, nice to talk to you. 🙂

  8. We find our own truth within and ultimately it is that truth that we follow. It doesn’t have to be defended because we’re not using it to convince anyone else but ourselves. We know from our life experiences that something that makes perfect sense to us may seem foolish to another. It doesn’t matter. It is as unique as a fingerprint.

  9. One of the things I find most intriguing about your journey through Islam is the genuine welcoming spirit that people such as Raj have shown to you. I’m guessing that there are a lot of Christians who are suspicious of this, since we’ve been brought (since 9/11 especially) to think of Islam like we once thought of the “Japs” during WWII–evil butchers who would do anything to either draw you to their way of thinking or else kill you.

    I am constantly surprised to find such welcome along your path. Thanks again for drawing this out of people and sharing it with us.

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