Recently Rev Mellen Kennedy has pointed out that Islam is the most maligned religion in the world and told the Christian community the five pillars and beauties of Islam in a church in Atlanta:
How wonderful that some of you already got to visit a mosque. You're very fortunate here in Atlanta because you have many mosques many opportunities to reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the whole state of Vermont where I hail from.
We have one, so you have no reason to not visit. It's right around the corner from you, there are mosques everywhere and it's important that we visit, because Islam is the most misunderstood and the most maligned religion in the world today.
We are being whipped up into fear of Muslims and when we are afraid, we're stupid. Actually, we're operating out of just that reptilian part of our brain. When we're afraid, we don't have access to our higher functionings. Our whole self, the power of the knowledge in our hearts, our whole being were resigned to a small place of living. Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet says, “People are afraid of what they don't understand.” So, my hope today is to share with you a little bit about what I love about Islam in order to invite you to a place of more understanding and less fear.
Islam is very practical if you are looking for insights about how to live a good life, how to be a good person.
Islam has wonderful gems to offer to you. One of the things I love most about Islam is that it invites us to be concerned about what is the most important thing in life, to get our priorities straight. What is it for you? Stuff, money, power, prestige, family, kindness, service, love, art, compassion… What is it for you? If you get nothing else out of today, take that one question and live into it and if you don't know the answer yet, find out what is it for you?
“La ilaha illallah Muhammadan rasulallah.”
What's most important in Islam? The answer is very clear:
“La ilaha illallah Muhammadan rasulallah.” “There is nothing but the source, god, the One.” How did you say anything that “Love which is greater than we can know.” That's what matters and Muhammad is His Prophet, the prophet of love… “La ilaha illaallah Muhammadan-rasulallah.”
And the thing how us humans when we get that clarity, we know what's important. What do we do with that? We forget… That's who we are… We humans, we are the great forgetters.
How many of you made a new year's resolution back on January 1st? How were you doing with it now? Let's be honest. How are you doing now January 7th? We get this high resolve and this clarity and then we get caught up in all the distractions, all the things pulling our intention here and there and we forget that. Poet Mary Oliver says, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” What is it?
In order to not waste our life, we need to regularly hit that reset button come on back to Center to our heart, to what we know is really why we are here, what we know is really important.
Regularly throughout the day to stop and come back and saying “let me check in” and remember what matters so I don't waste my day or my week or my month or my life. And for Muslims, this is prayer, salat. It's the second pillar of Islam. The first pillar “La ilaha illa Allah” to know what matters and the second pillar is to hit that reset button in order to regularly come back to center and remember what really matters. And for Muslims this is not an activity in the head, it's an activity of the whole body.
[She describes how to perform salat]
Can you imagine how limber you'd be? If you did that 17 times a day and it's done in the direction of Mecca, northeast more or less. To hit that reset button in order
come back to hear that voice still and small like we just sang about to come back to what matters. So practical I love that the second pillar of Islam.
Islam also reminds us to always be concerned about those who are less well-off than ourselves. Over and over in the Quran it says “Be concerned about the widows and orphans, be generous.”
I brought some soup as a symbol of generosity giving, donating to food banks, giving to people who need food.
I think about Muhammad almost like a spiritual as a social genius. He himself was an orphan. By the time he was six years old, he had already lost both his parents. He knew marginality, he knew it. And what happens when there is imbalance in a society. Where there are some who have a lot and some who don't have enough. What happens here? Those who don't have enough are suffering, aren't they? Out of their lack, lack of nutrition, food, health care, hygiene, educational opportunities… They suffer and in their suffering they may experience illness. Their illness doesn't stay there, does it? It spreads the rest of the people.
And in their need, they may choose to engage in criminal activity, just to try to put food on the table. And that destabilizes the whole society. When you have some without and some with too much. And what about the people with too much? Greed is spiritual bankruptcy. We cannot know well-being in our hearts when we are so rounded with too much while others are suffering.
It creates instability and Muhammad peace be upon him he was a spiritual genius saying “let's bring it back into balance, let's give, let's be generous” and this is the third pillar of Islam, zakat, generosity. I love that about Islam
And I love too that Islam invites us to take a break from our habits. We humans, we're habitual creatures. We just are, we do something once, we do it again, we do it again, we would just do… How many of you are sitting in the same seat you always sit in today? That's ok nothing wrong with that. We're creatures of habit. And if the habit’s the good one, like brushing your teeth, wonderful. It strengthens you. Your habits can raise you up to give you strength and clarity to live your life on purpose with integrity or your habits can pull you down. To take a break from your habits because what happens when you try to take a break from your habit when you try to stop reaching for whatever it is and you cannot? What is it for you? Coffee, sugar, alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, your cell phone, your tablet, gossip… What is it for you? This behavior that you're caught in you know it's not worthy of your best self and yet there you are. It's addiction isn't it? When we can't stop reaching for it. We can't stop doing it, and yet your life is so valuable. You matter and to live your life on purpose and to cultivate the habits that raise you and strengthen you so you can be your most beautiful best loving caring giving self. So, to take a break from your habits, so you see who's in the driver's seat in your life and put yourself back in the driver's seat whatever it is for you.
There are other people in this room who have also struggled with addiction in this way and whoever overcome it. You can get help, you can do it, your life matters, it's valuable. This is the next pillar of Islam, fasting. Fasting not just from food but fasting from other activities and behaviors as well. And when we fast from food in particular and it says over again in again and again in the Quran “fasting is good for you if you only knew.” Because we put too much in our bodies, don't we? We stress them. We overeat and put junk and we don't honor the beauty of ourselves. And also, when we fast hunger is not a theory in the head, it's an experience in the body when we fast from food. That feeling. And then when you see somebody else on the street who is begging, it's not a theory, you feel empathy, because you know what hunger feels like. It's harder to close your eyes and walk right on by. Mohammed, that spiritual social genius, to create harmony and stability in society. The fourth pillar of Islam, fasting, taking a break from habits. So practical, I love it.
And I also love about Islam that it encourages us to take a break from our location, to travel with intention, to recognize the power of space, the sacredness of space. And how the greats who have walked on this earth have blessed the earth with their presence, their breath, their thoughts, their actions.
I know you are on the verge of a major decision about this sacred space for you. You have made this place sacred by your presence here. And as you perhaps choose to move on you perhaps make a new place sacred by your use and your love. The earth is sacred, our places are sacred and, when we travel with intention, we are changed by it. This is the fifth pillar of Islam, pilgrimage. And for Muslims, the pilgrimage is to Mecca, which none of us will probably go there but where is pilgrimage for you?
My last name is Kennedy, my family is Irish, my parents have gone to Ireland. My mother says “There are no words to express what it is like to walk in that place of our ancestors of the great Celtic saints and sages.” It may not be Ireland for you or Mecca but where is it for you? Anybody been to Walden, the place where that great book was written, it's a place of pilgrimage for many of us, anybody been to Transylvania, a place of pilgrimage for many of us.
And what happens when we go. We leave our usual haunts, we travel with intention, we let ourselves be changed, be open by new experiences, new interactions. And we come back and we are not the same. We look at our lives and we say “Why was I doing that? I'm not going to waste my one wild and precious life on that!” And we come back renewed and with a new value, a new understanding of the sacredness of our location the beauty of the earth. I love this about Islam, so practical.
What's the one thing that matters in your life? Hit that reset button regularly, so you come back to your purpose and don't be self-centered, be always concerned about others and their needs, those less well-off especially. And recognize the sacredness of the temple of your body. Cultivate habits that are worthy of you that lift you to the best of who you are. And recognize the sacredness of space and the gift of the ancestors, the sages, the saints, the prophets, who have gone before us and held a beacon of example for us. Travel with intention, let yourself be changed.
Do not fall into the trap of fear the media is trying to spread
The five pillars of Islam, what great practical advice for living your life on purpose. And yet at the same time is all of what I've told you is true, the beauty of this great tradition we are being whipped up into fear against Muslims and Islam.
I have a dear friend Rudy, who is a retired UU Minister and a Sufi like myself. And about seven years ago or so he said to me, “Mellon, Rudy grew up in Austria under the rise of Hitler, he said “What I see going on in the world now and the United States reminds me of my childhood in Austria. And in that time, it was the Jews who were being maligned and now it's the Muslims”
Hermann Goering, the right hand person of Hitler, a Nazi, in the Nuremberg trials he said something like this “The people do not want war, that's a given, but the people can be brought to the bidding of their leaders. It works the same in all countries whether it's a dictatorship, a democracy, socialist, doesn't matter. All you have to do is convince the people they are under attack, make them afraid, condemn the pacifists for being unpatriotic, and the people will come to the bidding of their leaders”
We're in the midst of such a time. People are afraid of what they don't understand. I implore you do not fall for this ruse because as I said earlier, when we are afraid, we are stupid. We are relegated to a very small part of our mind.
People who advocate violence are dangerous, whoever they are. Within Islam, guess what percent of Muslims, this is based on a Gallup study worldwide of Muslims, guess what percent of Muslims think violence is the way to go, is appropriate response to what's going on? Less than %1. This is really accurate social science research. And this less than 1% of Muslims who advocate violence are getting 75% of the media coverage. This one less than 1%, yes they are dangerous. The fringe in any religion is dangerous whether they are Christians or Jews or Sikhs, whoever. Folks who feel compelled to use violence. This minority in any religion is dangerous. When we hear about Christians, we know not to equate the minority who would bomb an abortion clinic with all of Christians. The same is true with Islam. This less than 1% who would advocate violence, they do not speak for Islam.
The people who speak for Islam are the people who are most concerned about living life on purpose. Not wasting your wild precious life but hitting that reset button coming back to center, be concerned about justice and everyone, everyone's needs.
The true Muslims are the people who recognize the temple of the holy spirit, which is our body and cultivate life and living in habits that are beautiful and worthy. The true Muslims are the people who respect the earth and the prophets from all traditions.
So, I implore you. You've got Muslim neighbors all around go visit, make friends. Do not let yourself fall into this trap of being afraid of what you do not know and take the example from the great tradition of Islam and live your one wild and precious life on purpose. May it be so! May it be so blessed be, amen!
Erhan Akkaya / Yeni Asya English