Friday, August 13, 2010


The other night I saw the new crescent moon. It suprised me, jumped out from behind a tree or a building. It was beautiful. In Annette Hinshaw's calendar it is the month of the Nesting Moon, the first month of Autumn. This year it also happens to be the holy month of Ramadan.

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is the month in which the first verses of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Observant Muslims fast from sun up until sunset during the month and spend extra time praying, giving alms and working to be close to Allah. The end of the month is celebrated with the festive holiday Eid ul-Fitr. Eid is the social equivalent of Christmas in Christian societies when families gather for meals and gift giving, hospitality to neighbors and friends, giving to charity and more eating and visiting. During the month of Ramadan families break their fast in the evenings with a meal called iftar, which is often a time for people to gather as well. The Islamic calendar is a purely lunar one so the month rotates through the solar year. This year Ramadan falls during the long, hot days of late summer which makes the fasting even more onerous. Many people feel a deep sense of compassion towards the poor during this time because they know what it’s like to be hungry.

I have been feeling a growing concern lately over the public image of Islam in my country. It's a hard feeling to put into words - I want to know more about Islam and the people of the world who are Muslim. I want to share my findings and highlight the fact that Muslims are people with similar needs and aspirations as people we know more intimately and that Islam is a varied and vast religion. I want to show that Muslim people have all the good sides and bad sides as Christian and Jewish and secular people. In short, I want to find examples that break apart our stereotypes of Muslims and share those with everyone I come in contact with.

It's actually really frightening how scared and ignorant Americans seem to be about Islam. Islam is the second largest religion in the world with close to 1.6 billion people who follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad all over the world. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, a moderate republic with elections and friendly relations with the global community. There are an estimated 6-8 million Muslims in the United States and about a quarter of those are African-American. This is not a religion or a group that can be painted with broad strokes or reduced to a two dimensional stereotype.

The story about the mosque in Lower Manhattan has the country in a tizzy. I have actually heard news people and politicians insist that Islam is a religion of violence, that all Muslims are terrorists and even call Islam a cult. This is absurd. Can 1.6 billion people or even 7 million Americans be terrorists? Thats like calling all Catholics child molesters because of the issues with Priests or all Protestants hate mongers because of Nazi violence. There are real issues of tolerance that need to be dealt with both within Islam and by non-Muslims, but it is not just not true that every Muslim is a terrorist.

The North Pacific Yearly Meeting has a query in it's Faith and Practices that asks "Do we avoid being drawn into violent reactions against those who are destructive of human dignity? Do we reach out to the violator as well as the violated with courage and love?" I think this is such an important question for everyone who cares about peace, justice and religious tolerance today. We need help when dealing with people we see as enemies or as violent to be sure that we don't come to embody what we are fighting against. There is a true and real strain within Islam of intolerance and violence. How do we confront that part of Islam with compassion and integrity? How do we keep conscious of the difference between extremists and their co-religionists who are moderate? How do we remember that all people, no matter their religion, ethnic background, socio-economic status or even their actions deserve compassion and love? I haven’t a clue where to start with this except to ask the questions.

A Community of the Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
Open your hands,
if you want to be held.
Sit down in the circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd's love filling you.
At night, your beloved wanders
Don't accept consolations.
Close your mouth against food
Taste the lover's mouth in yours.
You moan, "She left me." "He left me
Twenty more will come.
Be empty of worrying
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

From Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

As the month continues I will be using Facebook as my main form of ministry and share statistics, quotes, anecdotes and facts about Islam and Muslims from around the world. I’ll be sure to post some of my status updates here later. What do you know about Islam or Muslims? Do you have any personal experience with Islam? What do you wonder about Islam? Know any blogs by Muslim men or women worth reading? When have you ever been challenged by an interaction with someone who is intolerant or violent? How will you be working to get close to god this month

Photos courtesty of manitoon and birdfarm. They are of mosque decorations in Iran and Pakistan. Check out their flickr streams by clicking on the photos or their names. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

I'm terribly behind on my planned writing on my religious experiences, but my first year in college, I fell in with some Bahais. Wonderful people, gentle souls, living their faith in every way. I learned about Bahaism from them, I read Bahaullah and the Bab, I observed the Ramadan fast with them. While Bahai is of course different from Islam, it grew out of it - my experience was that it was similar to the relationship between Quakerism and mainstream Christianity. Even down to the history of persecution. I was very impressed with Bahai's melding of science and religion, the belief is all humans being equal regardless of color - but in the end, I recall that we broke ways on the subject of homosexuality.

sta┼Ťa said...

Mmmmm. Thank you, Alyss.

fillingalix, another BMC alum who was part of my original class became Bah'ai, and while I know it's a source of depth for her, it's sad for me, since b/c of the homosexuality thing it opens a gulf between us...

Anonymous said...

It was so puzzling to me that the tradition could be so open about race and not about sexuality. Sigh.

(PS You can just call me Calix, the Latin for chalice.)

birdfarm said...

Great questions, Alyss, and beautiful poetry - thank you for posting. Islam - where to start? Such a huge topic. I've travelled in Turkey, Morocco, and Iran (all majority-Muslim countries) and found nothing but kindness, warm welcome, and great hospitality toward people from other countries. People went out of their way to help us and wanted to talk to us about our different countries and how all we all want is brother/sisterhood and mutual understanding and friendship. In Morocco we made friends with a family whose friendship is still strong today. The growing hatred and prejudice in this country fill me with terrible sadness; in Europe things have already become more extreme, with a ban on minarets in Switzerland (minarets are the tall mosque towers from which the call to prayer is sounded) and a tax on hijab (head covering) proposed or enacted in many countries. In times of economic distress it is common to turn hatred on someone... Latino immigrants are also increasingly targeted. I feel despair and don't feel that I can do anything to address this or change it. A mind seized in the grip of hatred seems so implacable....