By living in a spirit of forgiveness, we not only uphold the core value of citizenship but also find the path to social membership that we need. Happiness does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, nor is it guaranteed by freedom. It comes from sacrifice: that is the great message that all the memorable works of our culture convey. The message has been lost in the noise of repudiation, but we can hear it once again if we devote our energies to retrieving it. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the primary act of sacrifice is forgiveness. The one who forgives sacrifices resentment and thereby renounces something that had been dear to his heart.
The United States has desecrated what most Muslims consider God’s presence on earth (the Qur’an), drowned out the call to prayer with the American anthem and rock songs, used grotesque sexual assaults to undermine piety, mocked religious holidays, and engaged in freelance proselytism.
How long can we expect the memory of such abuse to endure? Does it qualify as torture according to the definition offered in John Yoo’s famous Justice Department memo—“significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years”? History suggests that the collective memory of this abuse will last far longer than that. Millennia ago, another religious group with strict codes of ritual purity and devotion to God underwent physical and religious torture at the hands of occupying forces, prompting insurrection. More than two thousand years later, the events accompanying that revolt are still commemorated annually. The people are the Jews, and the holiday is Hanukkah.
Finance | Too bad nobody in the West thought of it: Islamic banking is better weathering the meltdown because sharia law curbs excessive risk-taking, with bans on interest and trading in debt. The strictures on usury mean investments only in “productive enterprises.” [Washington Post]
Taking a page from the evangelical mega-churches that have popped up around the country, Muslims have begun setting up multi-site “mosque chains” to accommodate increasingly large religious services, Mallika Rao reports for the Religion News Service. Often branded as more progressive than other mosques, some of the organizations have begun offering gymnasiums, adult education classes, and even mixed-gender prayer areas. The strategy seems to be paying off, both financially and organizationally. Abeer Abdulla, a media specialist for the Islamic Society of Central Florida in Orlando, told Rao, “because of how streamlined we are, you can get off the highway from anywhere and find a mosque that is well-maintained, well-structured and that will always be open.”
(Thanks, Pew Forum.)
Sometimes conversion is gradual, but quite commonly things come to a head in a single instant, which can be triggered by a text, an image, a ceremony or some private realisation. A religious person would call such a moment a summons from God; a psychologist might speak of an instant when the walls between the conscious and unconscious break down, perhaps because an external stimulus—words, a picture, a rite—connects with something very deep inside.
For people of an artistic bent, the catalyst is often a religious image which serves as a window into a new reality. One recurring theme in conversion stories is that cultural forms which are, on the face of it, foreign to the convert somehow feel familiar, like a homecoming. That, the convert feels, “is what I have always believed without being fully aware of it.”
Take Jennie Baker, an ethnic Chinese nurse who moved from Malaysia to England. She was an evangelical, practising but not quite satisfied with a Christianity that eschews aids to worship such as pictures, incense or elaborate rites. When she first walked into an Orthodox church, and took in the icons that occupied every inch of wall-space, everything in this “new” world made sense to her, and some teachings, like the idea that every home should have a corner for icons and prayer, resonated with her Asian heritage. Soon she and her English husband helped establish a Greek Orthodox parish in Lancashire.