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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Critique on Interfaith Christmas

What is religious pluralism?
The article Interfaith Christmas - Making God boundless  in Huffington Post generated a few good, bad and ugly comments as usual. There are several ways to respond to the comments, however a friend gave me a sound advice, "as a moderator of talk shows and discussions, you must shepherd them to the topic, some run, and some come around." 

A fellow Muslim resorted to personal attacks, “I think you are trying to promote your idea of a hybrid religion and are using "pluralism" as a vehicle to promote yourself...."     

 Another one writes, “God sent his Son so that all may have life. He loves and accepts us no matter what we have done or where we are in our lives. No other faith or religion has a loving Father who sent his only Son to die for the whole world.  Jesus is my savior and I accept no other idealism, religion or faith other than the word of The Living God."

 A third one says, "Go teach pluralism to Muslims, we Hindus are pluralists and don't like to learn it from a Muslim."

Years ago, I chose to be a peacemaker, and it’s a daily struggle.  It means when you face a conflict, you don't aggravate it further (i.e., pour fuel over the fire), instead, you mitigate it and focus on nurturing goodwill.
The model was created by Jesus, Muhammad (pbuh), Gandhi, MLK and several others. Turning the other cheek (Jesus) or praying for those who pelt stones (Muhammad) at them are two of the many models. Remember the intent was not yielding, fighting or digging in your heels,  but finding a sustainable solution, so each can focus on living the life instead of planning, scheming and avenging the other in their vulnerable moments.

Pluralism continues to be misunderstood as a hybrid or a mish mash of religions. Some of the Indians and Pakistanis are familiar with such an effort in the 16th century by the Mogul Emperor Akbar, who made an effort to create "Deen-e-Elahi" - a religion of God, it failed miserably, people did not have a sense of belonging or bonding to one without giving up their own.  Unfortunately, those few are conditioned to jump when the bell rings, and spontaneously conclude that Pluralism is a mish-mash of religions.

Pluralism is not a religion, it is not an ideology either, it is simply an attitude of respecting other religions and others way of life without the arrogance that mine is better, scientific, older, rational, proven, makes sense, ageless or otherwise.... Religion is not about feeling superior; it is indeed humility, which builds cohesive societies, whereas arrogance kills it all. 

Here are a few questions we need to ask ourselves, "Do I believe my religion is superior to the other? Does it amount to arrogance? Did I get my religion? 

On the other hand, the peace maker in you has raised your eyebrows when a few Christians, Hindus or Jews insist that Islam is a religion of oppression. You may have been surprised when a few Muslims charge that Christians and Hindus are blood thirsty, and some from each group shamelessly stereotype the Jews. Facts don't matter to some of our vociferous friends.

Indeed, Pluralism is respecting each other’s religion, the way they believe and not the way we insist. There is no need for anyone to give up his or her religion to please the other. Pluralism is you stick with yours and I stick with mine, but together we have to find common ground to co-exist with our differences.

For every Christian, Jew and a Hindu bigot,  proportionally there is one among Muslims too, may be two, but no more. The sane majority needs to help them, pray for them and shepherd them away from unsubstantiated material. 

The intellectualism of Robert Spencer and Narayan Kataria may amaze you, they have held symposiums about Islam without Muslims in it, and have issued unilateral statements. Similarly a few Muslims draw their own conclusions about Christianity or Hinduism without even asking the practitioners of the religions. Indeed, I asked them to include a main stream Muslim to be on their panel, and I even volunteered to be one, but their intent was not a rational discussion. 
The film Monster among us was shown to a Jewish audience about the danger of Anti-Semitism in Europe. It was a frightening movie to the Jews about Muslims in Europe, the producer was clear to me, this movie is strictly a Jewish perspective, and you should not come. And of course, I went, I was the only Non-Jew beside a Christian friend who went with me, there were six blatant falsities in the movie. People were shooting questions, finally a sane man from the back yelled, "Hey Allen, it’s about Moslems, have you shown this to any Moslem?” The producer reluctantly pointed out to me, after some finger pointing at Muslims, the entire group said in unison, "Give him the microphone".  That is another story at: http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Articles/Jewish-Muslim-dialogue-a-necessity.asp

Obviously, any idea that paves the way for people to see the beauty of each faith threatens the frightened ones, as if their faith is going to vanish by acknowledging the goodness of other faiths, they are very insecure folks. Christianity is here to stay, so is Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and all other faiths.

Had God willed, all of us would be alike, but he chose each one of us to be unique, and Pluralism is respecting that uniqueness in each one of us.

A verse in Quran 49:13 presumes, that conflict exist between different people because they have not taken the time to know each other, and it guides us further to know each other, to learn about each other. When we take time to know each other, misunderstandings fade and solutions emerge, it happens even with our own family members, friends and co-workers.  And then God says the best ones among you are the ones who take the time to know each other. Indeed, those who know, come to respect the uniqueness Creator has endowed to each one of us and accept each other as they are, as long as you mind your own religion and not infringe upon others. "Blessed are the peacemakers", said Jesus.

The article Interfaith Christmas was written in a series about "knowing each other", I hope it will help us get along with all without requiring us to change for the other.

If you are keeping up with the world, Indonesia and some other Muslim nations were considering banning saying, “Merry Christmas” and failed. Malaysia wanted to monopolize and own Allah, and failed to prevent Sikhs and Christians calling him, Allah. Those attitudes are repugnant and the cause of conflicts and thank God they failed. But what we have failed to do was to sit and work with the ones who lost the battle,  instead of having them to live with the feeling of getting even whenever they get a chance.

Interfaith has been helpful in preventing many conflicts in the United States. Jews and Christians have stood up for Muslims and Muslims have stood up for them.  Yet a few Muslims, a few Christians and a few Jews don’t get it. 

Mike Huckabee said the massacre in Newtown has to do with the moral decay of the society, and then Pastor Gaddy (both Baptist preachers) corrected him in Huffington post. MLK worked hard to get equal rights for all, but the pastors of the same religion at that time called him names... but that did not stop MLK from moving forward, and he did what was the right thing to do. Civil rights act has sustained because MLK did not project it as a defeat to the ones who opposed it.

Well my friends, the purpose of writing the article is to express that Jesus or Muhammad are not the exclusive properties of Christians or Muslims, their message belongs to the whole humanity just as the message of all the spiritual masters;  to create a better world for all of us to live. We can take it the way it works for us, but we should not make their teachings a wedge between us, they did not intend.

You are welcome to differ and the whole world can differ, if you believe you can contribute towards a better society, then you must express it, and I did that in the article. I am not asking anyone to buy the idea, it is up to them.

Just remember no idea in the world has been subscribed to by 100% of the population, even our President was not elected by 100% - there is rarely a bill in the house that has passed with unanimity.

Let us absorb one more thing; God does not want 100% of the world to be Christians, Muslims, Unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, Jain and others. Had he willed, he would have done it. He prefers the uniqueness of each one of us and wants us to figure out our own peace to live in harmony, and we have to work towards that goal.

Additional comments

Md Yunus writes,
I am glad to read this article on this Christmas day from a fellow Muslim who is celebrating Christmas as it realizes my dream that was articulated more than three years ago in a letter to Qantara.de editor dated Oct. 2009 that reads as below:

"Muslims regard their Prophet (Muhammad) with inordinate love and devotion, as reflects in their vociferous and even violent reactions to attempts to lampooning him in the media or literary works. but there is hardly any visibility of their devotion to Jesus Christ. Islam not only venerates Jesus Christ and his Mother, Mary, it also asks Muslims to make no distinction between any of the Prophets (2:177, 2:285, 4:152, 57:19). Historically Muslim scholarship has remained silent about these complementarities, and instead, focused on the differences between the two faiths.

But today, when increasing gap, hatred and mistrust between Islam and Christianity is leading to terrorism and “Just wars” with terrible consequences, its time that Muslim scholarship takes notice of the common boundaries, and encourages the Muslims to visibly showing devotion to Jesus Christ by celebrating the Christmas, and praying for peace together with their Christian brothers. 

Anna Hourihan writes, “Mike. I particularly like your interpretation of John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." To have that Christ-consciousness and Christ's example of how to live is the thing, and not that the person Jesus is the only way to salvation. Many blessings to you and your family this Christmas!”

Marylou writes, "A very beautiful and touching article, Mike.  Thank you!  You are correct in your interp of Jesus' statement no one comes to the father but by way of me -- this is not to be taken literally.  As you stated, it means to follow his example.    Jesus never made himself equal with God.  He said specifically: The  father is greater than I am.   He also told us to pray directly to God and even gave us the exact prayer, "Our Father, who is in heaven ... "  

It is ok to have different understandings, that is Pluralism, but it should not create ill-will or hatred towards each other, that is not the intention of the teachings of any spiritual master, be it Jesus or Muhammad.  

Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place and standing up for others as an activist. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at www.TheGhousediary.com. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News, fortnightly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site www.MikeGhouse.net indexes everything you want to know about him.

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