25th of April 2014 / Serving Oregon & Southwest Washington since 1959

Shabbat Shuva at the Rizwan Mosque

By PAUL HAIST

article created on: 2010-09-15T00:00:00

With regard to all the talk about the Islamic center proposed for near Ground Zero in Manhattan and also with regard to Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., who would have burned Qurans to commemorate 9-11, I can’t think of much that needs to be said that hasn’t already been said.

The position that America and many of its Western friends find themselves in vis-a-vis the Islamic world is difficult, to say the least.

After 9-11 and as a nation of mostly non-Muslims, we have been uncertain who we can trust and, likewise, Muslims here and everywhere feel the same about us.

Our leaders keep reminding us that the fight we are in is not a religious war. For many, however, the distinction between Muslim and terrorist or U.S. soldier or even just U.S. citizen and Crusader is more than they can handle.

It is tempting and easy to paint with one broad brush. Realism, like pointillism, on the other hand, requires a challenging commitment to detail.

Some respond like Pastor Jones with foolish acts that succeed chiefly in making matters worse, although it can be said that what he threatened to do made many stop and remember what their real values are.

The images of Nazis burning Jewish and other books 70 years ago in Germany in great bonfires that lit up the night seem as fresh and as chilling as the real thing must have been at the time.

Pastor Jones is not a subtle man. His act would have been mortifying, had he carried it out.

There are however, acts of bias and ignorance being carried out every day in regard to Muslims here that are equally as mortifying, albeit much more subtle than Pastor Jones.

Some among us respond to the tension between the non-Muslim West and the Islamic world in damaging ways that we have to look carefully to discern.

I have seen it at the grocery where I shop in the conduct of veiled women who seem to go about that ordinary business in a way quite different from the rest of us, quietly prideful and deliberately apart, as if they feel they are being watched.

I have seen it too in the few Muslim men I know  whose conduct in public seems calculated to be meticulously proper, as if they too felt they were being watched.

I wonder what it is like to be a Muslim here. I imagine that there is a tension that accompanies their daily life, a tension that I suspect is not emotionally healthy or at least wearying at the end of each day when they can at last retire to the sanctity of their homes and families.

Almost every group that has come to this country has suffered at the hands of us who have been here a little longer.

It has never been right, but still the Irish, the Poles, the Italians, the Germans, the Latinos, the Asians, the Jews and others have been the ones to do the nation’s dirty work, to be ridiculed and vilified until—as if it were some right of passage—they have become part of the mainstream.

I did not mention African Americans and Native Americans who stand apart as special victims of ignorance and greed. But, yes, they too have suffered unnecessarily in America and to an extent for which we still may need to atone.

The Muslim experience does not yet measure up to the horrors experienced by the African and Native Americans. May it never.

But I do think the Muslim experience here may surpass what many other immigrants have gone through in that it seems more insidious, like a cancer that can spread throughout our social body with no readily apparent consequences until suddenly we discover that there can be no recovery.

Not all Muslims in America are immigrants, and I believe that even American-born Muslims are victims of this insidious suspicion and ignorance that eats away at our relations, our vitals.

I recently had the opportunity to sit among Muslims and others in a Portland mosque.

It was Shabbat Shuva. Steve Bilow had alerted his friends that the Rizwan Mosque was hosting an interfaith gathering that day, the ninth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.

Most of the speakers that day were not Muslims, but all were eloquent and, surprisingly, the specifics of each of their messages were quite different from one another, although they were also thematically identical.

Each issued a call for tolerance and adherence to the principles that are the best part of America.

I felt at home there. Not with Muslims or with Christians or with Buddhists—there were Buddhists present. It wasn’t even Americans I felt at home with, for not everyone there was American.

I felt at home merely among like-minded people in a room where no one seemed very different and no one seemed afraid.

It was refreshing and I walked away feeling more hopeful.   

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