Aug 192010

The Pew Research Center released the results of a new national survey yesterday. The survey looking into public opinion regarding President Obama’s religion concluded that, “A substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined.”

Survey results show the number of Americans who believe the President is a Muslim climbing by 7 percentage points, from 11% in March 2009 to a whopping 18%. That’s nearly 1-in-5 Americans. This increase was matched by an even larger decrease in those who believe him to be a Christian, which dropped from 48% to only 34%. Of note is the fact that the survey was completed in early August, before the President’s remarks on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” so numbers are likely to tilt still further.

Of course, it probably doesn’t require being stated, but the survey also showed that the change in opinion was much greater amongst his opponents. More than a third (34%) of the conservative Republicans polled now believe him to be a Muslim, up from only 18% in the prior poll.

A separate poll, conducted earlier this week by Time magazine, shows the numbers have tilted still further since the President weighed in on the Cordoba House issue. The Time poll resulted in 24% of those interviewed stating that he was a Muslim, but did show fewer undecided, with 47% believing Obama to be a Christian.

So, let’s see: does President Obama turn, face Mecca and kneel and pray 5 times each day? Does he attend a mosque? How about a church? Does he profess to be a Muslim? Has he ever?

If President Obama is a Muslim, he has got to be the worst Muslim on the planet. Muslim’s believe that the Salah, their prayer, is obligatory. It’s to be done 5 times every day, on a strict schedule that divides the day into parts. It’s central to the faith and one of the Five Pillars. To neglect performing even a single prayer is a great sin — to disregard the entire practice would be certain damnation.

True faith is found in a person’s heart, and the only way we have to know a person’s faith is by what they profess and the way they act. The Bible tells us that, “Each tree is recognized by its fruit.” Christ’s most famous sermon states that good people bring good things and bad people bad things, both from what is stored in their hearts. This is how we are to know a person’s true faith, because “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

Whether you’re Christian, Muslim, or Jew, whether you believe in deity or not, this simple rule rings true. President Obama’s faith is evident in his words and actions. This is how we are to know him. It matters not the faith of his father, even though he was a “confirmed atheist.” And the fact that he attended elementary school in Jakarta, at the age of 8, is immaterial, whether or not the school was a madrassa, which it wasn’t. The President professes to be a Christian, and his actions are in concert with that declaration, therefore anyone without ulterior motives must accept it as so.

If you believe in the Bible, or simply practice common sense, then it should be obvious that President Obama is not the person whose faith should be questioned. No, that distinction should be reserved for those who profess faith but spread lies, for those who would sacrifice the many for the sake of the few — for those who would discredit a good man for their own selfish gain.

As a footnote, when I visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) in the 1970s, I took off my shoes as well. Does that mean that I’m now a Muslim?

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Aug 182010
Feisal Abdul Rauf
Image via Wikipedia

By now, there are few Americans who haven’t been exposed to the furor surrounding the construction of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan. Labeled the “Ground Zero Mosque” by its opponents, the project officially known as Park51 has become a centerpiece for those wishing to use anti-Islamic sentiment for their own advantage. From former Speaker Gingrich’s analogy comparing the Islamic Center to a Nazi sign at the Holocaust Museum, to half-term Sarah’s tagging it as the “9/11 mosque,” the crazies are flying into the issue like moths into a bug zapper.

Of course, as is almost always the case, the loons have no real substance in their arguments. Like Palin’s “death panels,” the specter they raise lives entirely in the minds of the self-serving fearmongers. This is SOP for the GOP, but in the case of Park51, they’ve actually taken their hyperbolic distortion to new levels.

There’s sadly so much wrong with the attacks being levied by conservative opportunists that it’s difficult to identify their most egregious warping of the truth. But anyone interested in honesty need look no further than the contrived project title — now a part of the American vernacular — to witness the unscrupulous use of misinformation. The clever creation of an epithet is actually somewhat remarkable, in a sick sort of way, but its power is destructive and its message a lie.

The Park51 project will build an Islamic community center, not a mosque. The facility will include a mosque, but plans are for a 13-story building that includes a swimming pool, basketball court, auditorium and culinary school in addition to the mosque. The center would also have a library, art studios, meditation rooms, and of significance — a memorial dedicated to victims of the 9/11 attacks. But correctly referring to Park51 as a “community center” just wouldn’t have the same impact as “mosque;” it simply fails to conjure up other-worldly images of central domes and minarets; it’s far too benign and without the power to evoke fear.

And “Ground Zero” — now there’s a term of unmistakable emotional force in contemporary America. Nearly lost is the old association with Hiroshima or with nuclear blasts in general. Today, the mere mention of Ground Zero elicits a swell of emotion that accompanies the recollection of the horror of September 11, 2001. The character of anyone who would abuse the memory of that day for selfish gain is without doubt questionable, yet conservatives have done so ever since the dust settled. And this latest rendition of hate-based leveraging is even more despicable than the rest.

Not only are the plans to build Park51 not at Ground Zero — in fact being at least two blocks away on Park Place — but the location is not even along a path to get to Ground Zero. The specious linking of Park51 to the hallowed ground where the former World Trade Towers stood, where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, is purely an attempt to create controversy and gain political position. But as morally wrong as this distortion is on the surface, it’s even more reprehensible on the inside.

The Park51 story doesn’t end with the illegitimacy of the project’s label; that’s just the beginning. The heart of the controversy is rooted in the attempt by hate-wing activists to conflate Islam and the 9/11 terrorists. While this is obviously prejudicial stigmatization at its very worst, when wrapped in fearmongering alarm, it quickly gains traction within the large population of xenophobic Americans.

Never mind that there are more than a billion Muslims in the world today. Never mind that the vast majority of those Muslims are peaceful. Never mind that all religions have extremists and those who corrupt or ignore the teachings of their faith. Never mind that even George Bush made it clear that terrorism is “not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Never mind that there’s already a mosque only 5 blocks from Ground Zero, or that the site for Park51 is already being used as a prayer center. And for Newt and Sarah’s sake, please never mind the fact that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind Park51, is exactly the type of moderate Islamic cleric that right-wing commentators call upon to speak out against terrorism.

Imam Rauf has routinely spoken out against the death cult of al-Qaeda and its adherents. He is a Sufi, a practitioner of an older strain of Islam, one whose ethos is egalitarian, charitable and friendly. The Rand Corporation, in a 2007 report, advised Western governments to “harness” Sufism. They contended that its adherents were “natural allies of the West.” And this is exactly the message carried by Rauf, who “has written extensively on Islam and its place in modern society and often argues that American democracy is the embodiment of Islam’s ideal society.”

Rauf is exactly the type of Islamic leader that Americans should embrace and work with to forge better understanding and interfaith cooperation. The stated aim of his organization, the Cordoba Initiative, is “to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tensions.” For what more can Americans ask?

The proposed name for the building: Cordoba House, is even given in the spirit of harmony. Named for the city in Spanish Andalucía where Muslims, Jews and Christians once co-existed for centuries. It embraces that extraordinary time when these diverse faiths came together and culture and science flourished.

Indeed, the only people involved in this debate who Americans should fear are the usual fact-free suspects on the conservative right. Just as they did during the healthcare debate, under cover of the American flag, they launch all manner of incendiary rhetoric, with complete and total disregard for the truth. Sadly, they do somehow get enough people to buy into their hyperbole that they move public opinion. Recent polls do show 63% of New Yorkers are opposed to a “mosque” near Ground Zero. But with all the negative press, this can be expected. Fortunately, those who live nearest Ground Zero, where the effort is supported by people of all faiths, have not been so easily swayed.

When I originally heard about this issue, my first reaction was, “Oh my god, why would they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero.” But then, of course, I found out that it’s not actually at Ground Zero, and the plans aren’t really for what you would think of as a mosque, and the people leading the effort are moderate, peaceful Muslims, and this may actually be exactly what’s needed to bring people together . . . well, once you get the facts straight, it becomes obvious that it’s rather un-American to stand in opposition. It’s really a case of “Will America uphold the principles on which she was founded, or will she allow fear and hate to rule the day.”

My support for the Cordoba House Islamic Center is unequivocal. I have but one regret in the matter — that I don’t live close enough to engage with these fine people and help them to realize their vision.

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May 252010

“Standing before a room full of fellow African-Americans, Jamila Bey took a deep breath and announced she’s come out of the closet.

Bey and other black atheists, agnostics and secularists are struggling to openly affirm their secular viewpoints in a community that’s historically heralded as one of America’s most religious.”

Chika Oduah and Lauren E. Bohn, Religion News Service

Pie chart of religions of African Americans
Image via Wikipedia

I think this break with traditional religious frameworks is both natural and healthy. For far too long, people have been asked to swallow the entirety of the religious teachings for whatever faith they choose. Religions all preach a special knowledge of the truth, and most present their way as the exclusive path to a desirable eternal life.

When people of good heart question the doctrine of their church, synagogue or mosque, they are typically dismissed as unknowing or immature. To cite inconsistencies in scripture is seen as heretical. To question God is blasphemy. Religious leaders profess to have the answers of eternity, but any thinking person knows that they’ve taken those answers from the works of men.

That said, I also think that atheism is a reactionary overcompensation for the dogmatism of our religious history. Atheists often express an intellectual superiority over those who believe in a god. Of course, their superiority is an illusion. They know no more of the reality beyond what science can explain than their Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist counterparts.

The real truth is that we humans only get to know so much. In the final analysis, we cannot even be 100 percent certain that a physical world actually exists, yet there are people who claim to know whether or not there is a god — or life after death.

Whatever position a person takes regarding the existence of god, they need to do so with full understanding that unless they choose agnosticism, they are taking a leap of faith. As Einstein stated, “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.” Such humility is the only appropriate posture with which to approach the question of god.

In the end, there are few things as personal as an individual’s belief in god. There should be no fear in exploring the possibilities. There should be no ridicule for believing something different. Questions should be honestly solicited and eagerly asked — and
“I don’t know, nobody does” should be a perfectly acceptable answer.

I look forward to a time when people of all faiths can band together and share their thoughts and beliefs without fear of reprisal. I look forward to a time when we focus on the common threads that weave their way through all religions. I look forward to a shared faith of what holds us together rather than what tears us apart.

Is there a god? I don’t honestly know.

Is there life after death? I can’t answer that for certain either.

I can say that I choose to believe in God and a hereafter. I take that leap of faith knowingly, sincerely, and with great humility.

And this I know without doubt: we are here, and whatever the truth is, we’re all in this together — our system of faith should start with that.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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