Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Children of Abraham

Although it was a week ago I wanted to talk about my experience at the interfaith event in Tempe on September 11th.  The Islamic Community Center of Tempe hosted the event.  The night was centered on the sacred stories of our traditions and was inspired primarily as a response to a plan by a church in Florida to burn copies of the Qur’an in mass on that same day.  The pastor conducting put it well—that rather than burn books of scripture we should let the words of scripture burn in our hearts.

There was a moment of silence in which everyone stood as the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an were carried around the courtyard for everyone to see.  They were then placed on the front table for everyone to look at for the rest of the evening.  It turns out that this Torah scroll had a very interesting story.  It came from Czechoslovakia and was confiscated by the Nazis during the Third Reich.  The Nazis preserved it as a relic to be held up for contempt.  After the war it was salvaged and eventually made its way to Arizona where it is kept today.

Reverend Reller of the United Church of Christ showed us his family Bible that had been passed down for over 200 years.  He said that it looked like it had never been read but had a lot of interesting documents inside the front cover from his family history.  For example, an 18th century newspaper clipping revealed that they descended form Jewish immigrants.  This Bible was given to him by his grandmother.  He told story of his childhood when he asked his grandmother why she loved her grandchildren.  She said that God loved them so she should love them too.  Then he recounted the story of Hagar and Ishmael, ancestors of the Muslims.  When Hagar and Ishmael were about to die in the desert God sent and angel to save them.  Then years later when Joseph’s brothers were about to kill him they decided to sell him instead to the Ishmaelites who were passing by.  So if there are too many Jews and too many Muslims we can thank the Muslims for saving the Jews and we can thank God for saving the Muslims.  And since God loves them, we’re just going to have to love them too.

The Imam shared a story of a young Russian boy who participated in a competition in Dubai for reciting the Qur’an and won.  The young boy told about his father and grandfather who lived under the communist Soviet Union that prohibited owning a copy of the Qur’an.  The grandfather had taken this boys father to a cave in his youth where they had hidden copies of the Qur’an and taught him to memorize it.  Going to and from the cave the grandfather would blindfold him so he would not know where these illegal books were hidden.  This boy passed on the Qur’an orally to his son.  It was found that in Russia copies of the Qur’an were often hidden in dry wall and buried in empty caskets.  Decades of communist oppression were not able to wipe out the words of the Qur’an in Russia.  They killed 30 million people but couldn’t destroy the Qur’an.  Then the Imam said what we need to burn are candles of love and peace.

It was a really great night and it just felt great being with so many people of good will.  It is easy to be depressed with all the negativity in the news about religion but being with this people just wiped all of that away.  This is what America is really about.

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