Tag Archives: Muslim

The Day a Christian Wore a Hijab

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.

-Manya Brachear Pashman, December 16, 2015
“Wheaton College suspends Christian professor who wore a hijab”
Chicago Tribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Actually, she never wore a hijab, just a scarf, but her actions probably won’t endear her to a lot of Christians and Jews. However, it’s important to take a moment to understand why she did what she did.

Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the private evangelical Christian college in Chicago’s west suburbs, announced last week that she would wear the veil to show support for Muslims who have been under greater scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook.

Hawkins, 43, planned to wear the hijab everywhere she went until Christmas, including on her flight home to Oklahoma, where voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning Islamic Sharia law.

She said it’s “a time of real vitriolic rhetoric by fellow Christians sometimes and people who aren’t Christian who conflate all Muslims with terrorist — and that saddens me — so this is a way of saying if all women wear the hijab we cannot discriminate. If all women were in solidarity, who is the real Muslim? How is TSA going to decide who they really suspect?”

I’m probably going to take a lot of heat for even writing this blog post, but I think Hawkins may have a point. My wife periodically shops at a Muslim owned food store here in Boise. As a Jew, she says she has no reason to fear or be suspicious of the owner, who seems like a really nice guy, but there’s some part of her that’s wary anyway.

Before it burned down, my family and I used to frequent the Boise International Market, a collection of businesses maintained by various refuge families.

Kahve Coffee
Kahve Coffee

I particularly enjoyed having coffee with a friend periodically at Kahve Coffee, which if I’m correct, was owned and operated by two brothers who, in all likelihood, are Muslims.

Granted, I can’t read minds and automatically know the motivations of everyone I encounter, but as far as I could tell from casual conversation, Kahve Coffee and the other family owned businesses in the Market, represented people who came to this country to build a better life and become part of our community.

Of course, these refuges were from all over the Middle East, Africa, and Central America, so probably they weren’t all Muslims, but I’m not sure it really mattered one way or the other. What mattered, is that the Market wasn’t just a place to eat, drink coffee, and buy various other goods and services, it was a gathering place for all of these families and probably their second home.

There were always children playing between the shops, the kids of the business owners. Everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids. It wasn’t always a venue conducive to quiet conversation. It was more like having coffee or a meal in someone’s living room while their children were playing.

I’m writing all this to say that, religious and political differences aside, at the end of the day, the people who ran the Market were people, parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, children. They were people just like we’re people.

I hear they’re rebuilding (website under construction). I hope so. Not just for the sake of some of the best coffee I’ve ever consumed, or the ability to have a meal that isn’t mass-produced American pap, but for the sake of people who, like all of our ancestors who came to this country at some point in the past, just want to make a living, support their families, and be friends and neighbors who happen to live in my little corner of Idaho.

interfaithAs far as Professor Hawkins is concerned, Wheaton College chose to look at things differently:

“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer,” Wheaton College said in a statement.

Makes me wonder what Wheaton College would have done if Hawkins decided to dress frum to support Israel and the Jewish people.

Granted, Wheaton is a private Evangelical Protestant Christian liberal arts college, and they can make decisions based on their understanding of being Christian vs. being Muslim, but they might have handled this differently. Was what Hawkins did so radical and her reasoning so out-of-balance?

Wheaton administrators did not denounce Hawkins’ gesture but said more conversation should have taken place before it was announced.

“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the college said in a statement. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The Wheaton College administrators are within their rights to take such an action, and after all, as faculty, Hawkins does represent the college, but not everyone agrees with Wheaton’s decision.

Last week, a coalition of student leaders at Wheaton drafted an open letter calling on evangelical Christian leaders to condemn recent remarks by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. that students armed with guns can “end those Muslims.”

Gene Green, a professor of the New Testament, said what motivated Hawkins is the same concern many faculty at Wheaton share about the unfair scrutiny facing the Muslim community.

(Renner) Larson (communications director for CAIR’s Chicago chapter), who attends a Unitarian Universalist church, said he was dismayed to hear that some view Hawkins’ gesture as compromising Christianity.

“It’s disappointing that showing solidarity means that you are somehow sacrificing your own identity,” he said. “I do what I do not to be closer to Islam but because it makes me closer to my identity as an American who believes in American ideals.”

Boise International Market
Boise International Market

I can only imagine that what I’m expressing may seem radical to some of my readers, but as Larson pointed out, it’s an American ideal to accept people who are different from you into our local communities. The vast majority of American citizens have ancestors who came here from other parts of the world. That some Muslims have committed terrible crimes here and elsewhere on our planet doesn’t make your Muslim neighbor a terrorist.

In fact, having just read a story from Arutz Sheva, I discovered the most unlikely people (at least from my uninformed point of view) can be heroes or criminals.

You can’t tell by looking.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-attributed to Martin Niemöller

Blowing Out a Candle

They DID NOT choose their religion. They were brain-washed into it. Religion is a matter of geography. Religion is a matter of the family you were born into.

THINK! It is not you who chose your religion, it was chosen for you! It is time to move on, to realize that religion is man made. Become who you are, an individual, an atheist!

From an image posted on Facebook
by Spread Logic and Reason

Disclaimer: This is a rant. This isn’t what I normally post here as a “meditation.” Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being pushed around by a bunch of folks on the web who think they can take an image, manipulate it with some text, and use it to complain about how bad religion is. Today, I decided to push back.

I first saw this bit of Internet meme “shared” by a Facebook friend and a person I’ve known for many years. He’s a person I hold in high regard but we obviously have different viewpoints on religion. If I had seen this coming from almost anyone else, I would have ignored it, but I consider this person an actual friend, so naturally, it hurts.

Here’s my initial response to seeing this image:

I turn 58 tomorrow. I didn’t become a Christian until I was over 40. I used to be an atheist, primarily because the prevailing culture around me was atheist and it seemed to make sense at the time. Then I started thinking for myself. Why would I let the culture around me choose my religion and my identity for me? Why would I let an Internet meme choose my identity for me?

And what have I ever done to you that you should try to change my identity into what you think would be better for me? I’m not trying to change you.

Then I thought about it some more while doing my lawn, came back over lunch and expanded my answer:

It occurs to me that all cultures and people groups have their various values and customs that are passed on from one generation to another. Most liberal progressives don’t complain about cultural diversity, even if it radically differs from their own, because they recognize that people have the right to observe their native customs and certainly, in the vast majority of cases, liberal progressives and atheists don’t demand that other people groups who are not white, middle-class Americans, change their ways just because they are different than the white, middle-class American atheist’s ways.

Islam and Judaism are closely tied to national, ethnic, cultural, and racial identity. Why isn’t is considered racism, prejudice, and bigotry for you to demand that Jews and Arabs refrain from passing on their values and beliefs to their children? Are you (the general “you”…not naming anyone specifically) more equipped to tell the rest of the world to live your lifestyle? Don’t you pass on your values (atheism, progressive liberalism) to your children?

Why are you trying to control everyone else in the world?

To be fair, between my first comment and my second, my friend said:

Jim, if you had been born in Saudi Arabia and were atheist, assuming you survived to 40, the odds are more likely you would have become Muslim. This isn’t really about an Internet meme, but an historical fact. It exited loooooong before the Internet. 99% of people grow up believing what their parents did. Why did none of the natives in the Americas become Christian for 1500 year. That you decided to for a different belief system than your environment does not alter the facts. You are an exception.

I can see his point, but I think he (and a lot of people like him) are missing something. In making statements and posting photos such as the one I put at the top of this blog post, aren’t atheists trying to say that their viewpoint, lifestyle, and values system is superior to everyone else’s? I know that many religions, particularly Christianity, are accused of exactly the same thing and I know from personal experience (having once been an agnostic leaning toward atheism) that having to listen to a Christian evangelist can be really annoying.

But what about all that “diversity” stuff? If progressive liberalism and atheism supports generally being accepting of racial, cultural and ethnic diversity, then isn’t complaining about how different ethnic, cultural, and racial groups choose to raise their children and pass on their values a type of bigotry? While Christianity isn’t tied to a particular nationality, race, ethnicity, or culture, Islam and Judaism certainly are. How can the comments espoused by this group of people be seen as anything but prejudiced and even racist?

Yes, I’m coming on strong. Yes, today I’ve decided to feed the trolls. But it seems like everyone is supposed to have rights to this, that, and the other thing in this world…except religious people. Not only is this group of atheists guilty of the same acts they say religion commits: exclusivism and rejection of the values and lifestyles of other people groups, but they’re also guilty of what the rest of the world sees Americans as doing: attempting to spread our own values and lifestyle to the rest of the world and using our own cultural lens to judge the right and the wrong of other people, cultures, and nations.

How are these atheists any more morally correct than any religious person?

“Blowing out someone else’s candle does not make your’s burn any brighter.”


Dear people who don’t like religion,

How does complaining about religious people make the world a better place? What do you gain by “going after” Muslims, Jews, and Christians? Do you plan on taking on Buddhists and Wiccans next? Has the Dalai Lama somehow offended you? If you really want to spend your time and energy being useful and helping others, please step away from the computer and actually do something for another human being. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Give cans of food to the local food bank. Spend an hour picking up trash in the parking lot of your neighborhood park. Hold the door open at a public building such as the library for a disabled person or a single mother who is trying to manage five children. Heck, just smile at a stranger once in a while because it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t complain about me or people like me, saying we’re the problem. Go out into the world and be the solution. If you do that, the problems will take care of themselves.

Signed, a fellow human being, who has volunteered, donated, picked up trash, held doors open, and who smiles occasionally at strangers.

Thank you.

Red Stew in Context

campfire-stewOnce when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished”-which is why he was named Edom. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” And Esau said, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.Genesis 25:29-34 (JPS Tanakh)

Let there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.Hebrews 12:16-17

We usually think of right and wrong as based on some set of formal or informal standards. For religious people, there tends to be a formal code against which actions are judged morally. It’s a little more fuzzy if you are a secular person, but that amorphous entity known as political correctness seems to be the final arbiter of proper actions (I tend to think of it as the doctrine of “Thou shalt not offend anybody”) in humanistic philosophy or atheism.

The example I’ve presented, from this week’s Torah Portion Toldot may seem to be difficult to understand in terms of how right and wrong are defined. Just what did Esau do that was so wrong? If it was his birthright, why shouldn’t he sell it for a bowl of red stew or anything else?

We don’t have a concept of the “rights of the first born” in modern, western society, so the question of Esau’s “sin” is mysterious to us. It cannot be understood outside of it’s literary and religious context and it is that context that provides the actions of Esau and Jacob with meaning. The First Fruits of Zion commentary on Toldot offers some illumination.

Whenever we allow our appetites to rule us, we are following in the footsteps of Esau. How often our desire for “red, red stuff” dictates our decisions! Opportunities to honor or despise our birthright pass before us on a daily basis. We are constantly placed in positions where we must decide between what we crave and what is right. A man who lets his appetites control him is a godless man. For many men, sexual temptation is the “red, red stuff” for which they are willing to compromise their birthright. For others it may be the desire for power or control. For others it may be desire for possessions. For still others, it may lie in the realm of physical addictions. All of these are signs of Esau. They are the “red, red stuff”.

Esau accepted Jacob’s offer. The Torah artfully describes Esau’s cavalier exit with a succinct series of one-word verbs: “He ate, he drank, he rose, he left and he despised his birthright.”

In some ways, the exchange between Esau and Jacob becomes a metaphor for how people confuse their priorities and their values, choosing something quick and satisfying at the expense of what is precious and enduring. The transaction becomes a lesson and a cautionary tale for people of faith to stay the course and to cling to our principles rather than giving in to momentary stressors, challenges, and temptations.

Now let’s take one giant step backward.

Right and wrong are defined within a contextual framework. Without such a framework, morals, ethics, and values either do not exist or become highly subjective (something is good because it is good for me or I like it, regardless of its impact on you). As I previously mentioned, religion isn’t the only framework that defines right and wrong. The secular world has a set of standards and morals that guide people in “right living”, but those standards often contradict what religious people think of as proper behavior. To be fair, between different religions and even within different sects of the same religion, the standards for right and wrong vary…sometimes by quite a bit.

vandalism-in-JerusalemThe recent Sydney Morning Herald news story When women and girls are the enemy illustrates how members of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community are seemingly “at war” with women, or at least with their appearance in photos and advertisements, which they believe is immodest and sexually “tempting”. But from an outsider’s viewpoint, it’s one thing to object to an image on moral grounds and something else entirely to commit acts of vandalism to enforce those morals. This example is uncomfortably close to a proposal in Saudi Arabia that may require women, who are normally completely covered from head to toe except for their eyes (and they have to see somehow), to cover even their eyes if these women have tempting eyes.

I suppose the philosophy behind both sets of behaviors is that these Jewish and Muslim men are incredibly concerned that they’ll be inspired to some sort of sexual attraction by women and are making the women (or the photo ads of women) responsible for the men’s feelings. I’m sure I’ll receive some sort of rebuttal about what I just said and I admit that I lack the context by which to completely understand what these Jewish and Muslim men are thinking and feeling, but like I said, right and wrong are defined contextually. For instance, seeing a little, red-headed girl as the official icon for the Wendy’s Hamburger restaurant chain is no big deal to me, but it might seem offensive to a conservative Jewish or Muslim man.

OK, to be fair, just about every guy has to deal with the struggle of objectifying women in terms of appearance, and if you are a Christian and seriously consider what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:28, then this really is a problem that men must address. In Christianity and in most forms of Judaism however, the responsibility is given to the men and not to the women since it is our eyes, and our brain, and our emotions that are at the root of obedience or disobedience, not the fact that women exist physically and visually.

I mentioned taking one giant step backward before. Let’s take another one.

Is God an Objective being? That is, does God exist independently of whatever religion and creed we happen to follow? Most of us should say “yes”. God doesn’t need us to be a Lutheran or a Catholic or a Reform Jew or an Orthodox Jew simply to exist as God. Moses said:

Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God. –Psalm 90:2

And David said:

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever. –Psalm 29:10

If God existed before Creation and He will continue after all things have passed away, then God’s standard of morality, correctness, and justice are certainly independent of our religious orientation or lack thereof. Sure, it’s probably not as simple as that, but I have to start somewhere. The Talmud considers morality to be somewhat mutable and changeable with the needs of each generation, but there is a limit beyond which Jewish people (and Christians and Muslims) say, “this is always wrong.” God must have that limit too, only in His case, His is the ultimate limit. God is His own context. He is, in reality (however you want to define that term), is the final arbiter of right and wrong.

God didn’t really invent “religion”. A religious framework is the interface by which people define and live out the actions they believe to be the will of God. However, religion is a man-made construct designed to interpret the Divine and as something man-made, it is not perfect…probably far from perfect, as a method of interpretation and definition.

How do people choose a religion, assuming they are religious? If you are born into a religious Jewish or Christian family, there is a possibility you will continue the religion of your parents because it is what you have learned and it is a continuation of your family and culture. But that’s not an absolute assurance. Some Jews have chosen to convert to other religions, to reject the religious aspect of their Judaism, or in extreme cases, to reject being Jewish in any lived manner. Someone born into a Christian home isn’t guaranteed to grow up a Christian and many kids leave the church the minute they are old enough to effectively tell their parents, “No.”

Why do secular people choose one religion or another? I don’t want to take up time and space by describing my own experience of becoming a believer in detail, but let’s just say a series of very unlikely events occurred that resulted in me accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and starting to attend a specific church in my community. My Jewish wife introduced me to the local Messianic Jewish (One Law) congregation and I shifted my religious orientation. Within the past year, I’ve shifted again based on my assessment of the validity of the One Law proposition, while my wife, over the past several years, transitioned into a more traditional (non-Messianic) Jewish faith.

But is my religious orientation (admittedly in a state of flux at the moment) any more or less valid than any other Christian in or out of any other church (or synagogue) or any religious Jew or any Muslim or any other spiritual or faith group?

Tough question.

My personal opinion about why we have so many different religious and spiritual traditions in the world is that we, as human beings, are wired by God to seek Him. On the other hand, as human beings, we want what we want and we want it our way. If how we perceive God’s requirements in one system doesn’t meet our personal requirements for a faith community (whatever those requirements may be), then we go shopping for another faith community until we find one that fits the bill.

I know, that’s kind of cynical, but that’s what we do as human beings. We simply tell ourselves that the religious tradition we have selected is the “true” religion and all of the others are wannabes and posers.

interfaithBut how do you know you are right in your choice? How can you be so sure? Remember, your entire understanding of what is right and what is wrong is based on the religious, spiritual, or moral context you have selected for yourself (and even secular humanism and atheism is a “moral context”). How you think of others and how you treat them is based on that context. How you think of yourself and your place in the universe is based on that context. You chose it. You live with it. If you don’t like it, you can change it. Many people have.

It’s a tough question. What makes you right and everyone else wrong? Or, turning the question around, what makes me right and everyone else wrong? How can I be so sure? What if I made a mistake. If God exists, if God cares for human beings, if God has an objective set of moral standards He wants people to understand and live by, how can we know them and how can we be sure; how can I be sure, that the values I’m living by right now are the ones He has for me?

Or for you?

If Rabbi Freeman is right, that set of standards and context is extremely important.

There is no such thing as a mitzvah done alone.

In a mitzvah, space, time and consciousness converge. You nod your consent, and a flood of generations flows through you to do the rest.

Together with you, every soul of our people, wherever they may be, are swept along in the current.

That works for Rabbi Freeman within his conceptual framework but what about the rest of us? In Judaism, the metaphor can be extended to include performing every mitzvah as a partner with God. Is God waiting to perform the mitzvot with us? Are we are living a life of enduring substance or just noshing on a pot of yummy red stew?