How to find light in the darkness

There are conversation that are hard to forget; hard to forgive.

A few years ago, a conversation with a friend turned awry. During our conversation, she brought up the topic of religion. She started with the question: “What does Allah mean?” I explained that the word was an Arabic term for the word God or dios.

I thought that was the end of her curiosity, until she responded with “Allah is not God. My God is not your God.” I was confused my her remark, so I responded with, “Well, there is only one God.” She went on to explain that her God is one of love, mine was one of war. I was deeply hurt by her comment, but I approached it gently. I told her that she may have misunderstood from the media what the meaning of Islam was (I reminded myself that she had never been exposed to another religion).

She was physically worked up; angry that I did not accept her explanation. I began to realize that she was purposely trying to provoke a reaction.

I remember feeling my throat closing and a sharp pain in my gut. The same reaction I feel when I am about to cry and cannot run away.

Then, she said to me, “Everyone knows the evil in your religion; how you have to deceive and befriend Christians in order to “get by” in the world. I don’t know why you are the only one blind to it.”

My friend, whom I treated as part of my family. One of the only people I trusted to care for my children. I felt like collapsing. It is so different when a keyboard warrior attacks you, but when it is a person that you hold in high regard turns on you, how do you respond? I wanted to physically collapse.

I ended the conversation by calling her an “ignorant person” and asked her to leave my home. After she left, I cried a lot.

The details of the conversation are much worse than I can write.

One week after the confrontation, she called to apologize. I accepted her apology and have since tried to repair my relationship with her. We have become friends again, but it has been almost a year and I still feel very hurt when I remember that conversation. The words that hurt the most were “everyone knows about the evil in your religion”. For the past year, I accepted those words from her. I have second guessed many things; the sincerity of my friendships, my Muslim community, among many other things. I have found myself avoiding talks of religion and any conversation that may reveal that I am a firm believer. For the past year, I have been truly afraid that another person I trusted would turn on me, like the comment section of a social media post gone incarnate.

I have become very nervous when people around me bring up topics surrounding Islam. The words, “everyone knows about the evil in your religion” has made me second guess my family and friends, feelings that they are simply to scared to lash out at me in the same way my friend did at my home.

It has been really hard to forget this particular incident, although I have chosen to forgive her. I hold no ill will towards my friend. Although she was wrong, she is not completely at fault. I have accepted to believe that there are many other factors at hand that have influenced the way she reacted that day.

I try to have hope that forgiveness, especially with your loved ones, can start a process of healing for oneself and the world at large. I try to hold on to this idea.

Today, a friend announced that he would give his first sermon at his Methodist Church. He asked the social world for prayers. A prayer that always makes me surrender myself to God on important days came to mind, the Prayer of Light, also known as the prayer of the prophet Muhammed (pbuh). I hesitated to send it to him, but I went ahead and did so in support of his calling to spread the word of God. I had not shared anything Islam-related with anyone in a very long time, so was a little bit afraid of his response. He responded with gratitude and went on to say how beautiful he found Islam. He further explained that he enjoyed the Quran and recitations. His response made me cry. A Christian, a pastor, validating my beliefs as ones that are good.

It took me a few hours to respond emotionally to the message. Tonight, I have cried a lot. I remembered the scar that my friend left a year ago. That feeling of invalidation and spite towards the path that I hold dearest to my heart; that path through which has penetrated every part of my being with Light.

I am recovering from an encounter that has greatly affected the way I express myself religiously, because I am afraid to do so. Today, my pastor-friend’s message has started the healing process.

There are so many other things going through my mind. How are people able to find common ground despite their religious differences? How do we use framework of our chosen religion to better love others? How do we transcend the human limitations of our chosen religion to connect with people from all walks of life? Is that still possible in today’s world? I know it is possible and I need to hold on to this thread of hope to continue to heal emotionally and grow spiritually.

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Reasons Why Extremist Rhetoric is All The Same

By the word “extremists,” I am referring to individual adherents of any faith who respond to the world around them in mentally and socially imbalanced ways.

1. They see the world in black and white; right and wrongs. The only exceptions are those that work in favor of their larger arguments.

2. They appeal to fear in order to gain followers. Ex: “If you don’t follow Q, then you will burn in the pits of Hell.”

3. They use logical fallacies when trying to “prove” their points. Ex: “This is wrong, because the guy with the religious man with the big beard says so.” (Appeal to Authority).

4. They are desperate to convince you they are right. If they cannot, they resort to the fallacies as a rhetorical tactic.

5. They condescendingly think they know something you don’t know.

6. They believe that they are neo-prophets. Their  role in this life is to show you the way to salvation.

7. They carry a lot of theory (book knowledge), but rarely any experience or practical knowledge about the way to their Creator.

8. They speak before they listen to others. This deafness leads them to make commentaries about subjects, religions and people without knowledge.

9. Anything that doesn’t line up with their worldview is simply “wrong” or “misunderstood”.

10. If they don’t get their way, they become violent. Ex: blow themselves (and others) up, burn Holy Books of other faiths, commit murder, verbally and physically attack, force others into submission, build oppressive theocratic regimes (these make me want to vomit), they silence their people, and so on. (Honestly, the Buddhists are the only ones who have gotten this peace thing down).

11. Last and certainly not least, they do not understand neither God nor Peace.



10 Things Some Feel Are “Normal” Questions to Ask Muslims

The biggest WTF Questions that are pretty invasive and absurd, but asked as if perfectly “normal”. Let’s see how they sound if similar ones are redirected at Jews and Christians.

1. You removed your hijab. Are you still a Muslim?

Imagine: You removed your yarmulke. Are you still a Jew?

2. How are you a Hispanic Muslim?

Imagine: How are you a Black Christian/Jew?

3. You wear makeup and eyeliner. Isn’t that immodest and unIslamic?

Imagine: You show too much cleavage. Isn’t that immodest and unChristian?

4. Do you have hair on your head?

Imagine: Do you have hair on your crotch?

5. Does God want you to kill kufirs?

Imagine: Does God want you to crucify your only son?

6. So every Muslim man can freely engage in polygamy?

Imagine: So every Christian/Jewish man can have 700 wives and 300 concubines? (See King Solomon–Kings 11:3)

7. What happens if you miss a daily prayer?

Imagine: What happens if you miss a Sunday/Sabbath service?

8. Why do Muslims want world dominance?

Imagine: Why do Jews want world dominance? 

9. D0 you believe that men should marry underage girls (under 18)?

Imagine: Do you believe that God should impregnate an underage girl without her consent and then not marry her? 

10. If you are really a Muslim, why do you curse so much?

Imagine: If you are really a Christian, why do you fuck so much?

I am Jewish. I am Christian. I am Muslim.

I arrived at a really interesting insight today. It was an aha-moment that really made me feel comfortable with the complexities of my identity and faith.

Today, a student asked me “what is your faith?” Feeling hesitant to discuss religion with a student, I answered with “I am Jewish, I am Christian, and I am Muslim.” At first, we both laughed. The answer was meant to confuse the student and redirect conversation. Instead, he was interested in my response and asked me how that was possible. What was meant to be a silly response, was the most honest response I’ve given in a long time. I explained, “I am Jewish because my ancestors are Jewish. I also believe that Abraham is the father of my faith. I am Christian culturally. I was raised Catholic and it’s a culture that will always be a part of who I am. I am Muslim by belief. I believe in the Oneness of God and I accept Muhammed as His messenger.” The student was Muslim and said, “I never thought of that. In that case, I am also Jewish and Christian because Muslims come from the same Abrahamic tradition.”

This moment was extremely important for me. Situations are not always black and white. In my case, I cannot ignore that I come from a Christian upbringing—school, family, and culture. On the same token, as a Muslim, I also understand that Jewish and Christian tradition have never been a stranger to Islamic thoughts. In fact, I am floored when I learn that Muslims who have been raised in “Muslim” countries have never read the Bible or the Torah. These books are the foundation for the Islamic faith and comprehensive knowledge is absolutely necessary in order to have smart conversations about one’s Islamic faith.

What was meant to be a confusing response, ended up being the most clear thing I’ve said in a long time. It just takes a little bit of reflection to understand that our identities (no matter how “pure” we believe they are) are often very complex and beautiful.

The Intersection of Faith and Intellectualism

Since returning to Miami and seeing many of the folks back home, I started to think about the relationship between God, religion, and intellectualism.

I have been wondering about the fact that the majority of those who claim a faith (e.g. Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikhs, and so on) are mostly lay followers. By lay, I mean that many people of faith have not learned about God and their religion through books, but rather through word of mouth (i.e. families, school, friends). Oral knowledge falls under “conventional (or folk) wisdom” and is often undervalued. The reality, however, is that the majority of believers are not religious intellectuals*.  In this post, I refer to bookish scholars of any faith as “religious intellectuals” and the rest as “lay believers”.

I wonder how much we gain and lose spiritually with intellectualism. By intellectualism, I am referring to what we call “intellectual masturbation” in the academia (I think this phrase gets my point across the best). That is, an illogical and unhealthy obsession with arbitrary details and categories.

What I am noticing is that people (regardless of faith) who learn through oral tradition tend to show more wisdom and tolerance, while intellectuals tend to display arrogance and a sense of righteousness and entitlement.

This brings me to a concern about my generation and those of the future. Many of us today are doing things that previous generations could not do. Regular ol’ folks are reading information online, accessing scholarly books, and using technology to share knowledge about their individual faiths. Regular ol’ folks have access to a lot of information available through the internet and participating in the larger conversations (i.e. religious debates).

What are the benefits to quick and feasible accessibility to information in religion? Are there consequence in virtualizing the most personal part of our lives: our faith?  On the one hand, the access to and distribution of information widen our minds. On the other hand, getting lost in intellectualism can give us the false sense that the “smarter” we are, the better we are. When does theory take over practice and debilitate our connection with ourselves and God?

I have begun to believe that categories destroy most things; one of these things being human relationships. Categories forces us to focus on differences. I wonder about this a lot. How does my visibility (or invisibility) as a believing Muslim translate? How do I categorize myself as belonging to a particular faith without becoming part of the masses? Does this category (visibility) debilitate my ability to be seen as a Person? Does it define me in ways that I do not wish to be defined by others?

Two days ago, I was in the waiting room of a hospital. A middle-aged Cuban women sat next to me and began talking about her husband who was critically ill. Then, she began to talk about God. She was Catholic and assumed I was too. She talked about God in a natural and unpretentious way. I had begun to forget how simple it is to believe in God (regardless of religion). I had also begun to forget that God is simple despite the fact that we always try to attach human weaknesses to God (e.g. jealously, anger, fickleness, and so on). I feel that God is greater than our minds can imagine. I am wondering if intellectualism is what prevents so many people to continually bicker about “who” God is as if it is something at which we can arrive.

Can we arrive at our own sense of God through our particular faiths without discrediting valuable knowledge of other faiths? Can we work towards a common goal for humanity through categorizations? Do knowledge and faith depend on one another? Does religious intellectualism trap us in theory and make us impractical?