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Friday, June 17, 2005

A Question of Tolerance


We sat together at MoMo's, a bunch of old friends immersed in deep discussion about what religion meant to us. We had organized a series of peace-building initiatives on campus many months before, and we continued to meet regularly to engage in our own informal dialogue.

We were discussing prayer when "Maria", my Christian friend, suddenly revealed that she regularly prays for her mentor (who lives what she considers a very sinful lifestyle). She asks God to guide her mentor back to what she defines as the moral path.

I was surprised by her bold admission, but I kept my thoughts to myself. "Isaac", my Jewish friend, was too astonished to hold back. "You do that?" he asked.

"Yes, I do. Every day. I pray for everyone I care about."

"I wouldn't want you to pray for me," he exclaimed, consternation colouring his usually calm demeanour.

The fervent interjection startled her. She paused, eyes flickering across the faces in the room, taking time to judge each person's reaction as if unsure of what to say in response. Finally her eyes settled upon him once again. "Why?" she asked.

The table was suddenly quiet. In his usual eloquent way, he sought to explain why he deemed her prayers so distasteful. His words flowed beautifully, and I simply drank them in. But one idea stood out: "Praying for another to become a Christian, or in some cases, to become a better Christian, indicates one's deep desire to change another person. That shows a lack of acceptance for that person."

Maria was stunned. Clearly she did not really understand his unease. "My prayers are based on love," she pointed out. "I love my mentor. Because I care about him...that's the reason I pray for him to become a better person. My intention isn't at all bad."

I caught Isaac's sidelong glance. He was waiting for my perspective. "To be honest, I don't really care one way or the other," I shared. "If she wants to pray for me, that's fine. If she doesn't, that's fine too."

Always the thinker, he sat back in silent contemplation, puzzlement evident upon his face. He was likely questioning his own tolerance. How could he dictate how another person prayed? After all, praying is a very personal action. One must not be prevented from praying for whatever one desires. At the same time, praying for God to change an individual in a way that the supplicant so desired - and in a way that the person in question might not appreciate – seemed both selfish and uncaring.

The conversation suddenly shifted direction and the issue was dropped, but as I left MoMo's that day, Isaac's reaction kept replaying in my mind. I wondered why it didn't matter to me - and why it troubled Isaac so. Was it because he was less tolerant than I was? Or was it perhaps because I wasn't tolerant enough? Maria was very dear to me, and yet I was startled by the possibility that my indifference had to do with the meaninglessness of her prayers; believing that I had the truth, her appeal to God that I be guided to the straight path couldn't do much damage.

Is one's tolerance correlated to one's belief in the invalidity of another's faith? Was I more tolerant and more willing to accept Maria's religious actions because I didn't feel they were of much consequence? Perhaps one can only afford to be tolerant of another's religious beliefs when one thinks that the other's beliefs are wrong or less legitimate than one's own. If that is so, then the concept of religious tolerance is very shallow indeed.

23 Comments:

  • At 6/17/2005 04:30:00 AM, Anonymous nadia said…

    assalamualaikum,

    excellent post =)

     
  • At 6/17/2005 05:10:00 AM, Blogger cncz said…

    awesome post macha Allah

    salam

     
  • At 6/17/2005 08:10:00 AM, Blogger Maryam said…

    I figure it this way (having had a number of Christians pray for me, or tell me they pray for me): if God really is on the other end of the telephone line, no matter what they ask God isn't going to do something or lead me somewhere that isn't for my own good anyway. Thus, I reckon it can't hurt to have someone petition God on your behalf - even if what they pray for may not be what you'd choose. And it's not about acceptance because I know that the Christians who *do* pray for me, most of them don't truly 'accept' me as a Muslim anyway, so what can praying about it hurt me? Maybe God will give them an answer along the lines of "hey thanks for praying for Umm Yasmin and I'll take it on board, but maybe she's happy following the path I chose for her."

     
  • At 6/17/2005 11:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    a link for Momos eh?
    Thats the first time I've seen product placement in a blog :-)

    Do you always have such discussions? what happened to simple stuff like "hey how's it going, after we graduate what are you going to do, stuff like...Do you alway have multi-faith dialogue in everything you do? :D
    (interesting life!)

     
  • At 6/17/2005 11:11:00 AM, Blogger Nzingha said…

    as salaam alaikum

    Falafel plate is 7.50 OH MY!!! thats expensive!! OH MY

     
  • At 6/17/2005 11:51:00 AM, Blogger cncz said…

    7.50 canadian...
    i think that's a deal

    but then again maybe i have been in switzerland too long.
    salam

     
  • At 6/17/2005 07:04:00 PM, Blogger Nzingha said…

    thats still almost 23 SR.. way expensive. OH MY. I wouldn't pay that much for a falafel plate, I don't even like falafels but we can get a whole bag for a few riyal.

    OH MY!! No tolerance for those prices :)

     
  • At 6/17/2005 09:01:00 PM, Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Regarding Momo's: It's a once-a-month thing. Doesn't happen all the time. But it's become "our meeting place", because the setting is absolutely perfect for the type of dialogue we have, and the restaurant now has sentimental value. $7.50 is pretty decent for a meal. Plus the falafel plate is really way more than just the falafel. It's a full meal - so full that the last time I went there, I had absolutely no space for dessert. And if there's one thing you know about me, it's that I never miss dessert.

    As for the type of discussions we have, I really treasure my time with these individuals. We learn a great deal from each other. There are some exceptionally bright people in the group - and they're not just smart, they're very decent individuals with sound principles. We don't meet often anymore, because everyone's gone off in different directions, but there's still a strong connection there.

    Maryam: Interesting insight. I know a lot of Muslims pray for non-Muslims too, so I suppose it goes both ways.

     
  • At 6/17/2005 09:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    good to hear about your friends and your friendly discussions, but what I was referring to was; your discussions are so serious Mashallah. That must be a good thing too I guess.

    Let me guess, when you & your friends were small you used to even have multi-faith Barbie dolls tea parties right?! :D

     
  • At 6/17/2005 10:18:00 PM, Blogger Asmaa said…

    There's nothing wrong with praying for another person...

    I suppose it is odd that your friend would admit doing so, simply considering the secular type of society we live in.

    I've prayed for people; my friends, teachers, family... I still don't think there's anything wrong with it.

    Remember, when making duaa for people in their absence. the angels say "Ameen. And for you the like."

     
  • At 6/17/2005 10:58:00 PM, Blogger Safiyyah said…

    No, I don't see anything wrong with it either. I was trying to understand why my Jewish friend would have such a different point of view.

     
  • At 6/17/2005 11:58:00 PM, Blogger Shirazi said…

    Safiyyah, thanks for stopping by at Light Within and leaving me a comment that lead me here. I have been exploring your site since then. I am trying to know the real and your About Me blurb is of course not sufficient. See you here more.

     
  • At 6/19/2005 07:58:00 AM, Blogger dawud al-gharib said…

    asSalaam 'aleykum;

    my family prays regularly for me (to be blessed with accepting Christ's salvation through the cross) - how do I feel? that they love me, they believe the path to salvation lies only through the cross, and that they think they'll be saved [salvation from the Fire is a *Good Thing*, I agree] - and they fear me not being 'saved'.

    Should I write angry letters saying 'You don't believe in God as He deserves, nor in the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him; the Qur'an, which is the last book to be revealed by God, and Islam, which is fairly described by scholars [A.H.Murad] as 'the last bus home' - our Prophet is the Paraclete in the bible, why don't you get it?' - that wouldn't be polite, I think. Wouldn't communicate the message, would alienate them from what I'm trying to communicate - just as my arguments about biblical authority and Christian denominations (when I was a teenager, before I entered Islam and met my teacher / shuyukh)
    served no purpose but to frustrate them.

    I pray for their Guidance, send them emails telling them 'Peace upon those who accept Guidance' and sit down and read Surah Maryam or other texts when appropriate (surah Maryam, alayha Salaam during Christmas, for instance)...

    Do pray for me & my family - my nephew as well; if you don't know, he had a chest operation on his aorta leading from his heart to the lower body - not life-endangering, the Prophet Muhammed (Sal Allahu alayhi wa Salaam) had the same when he was a child, by angels in the desert... but certainly distressing for the family and friends.

     
  • At 6/22/2005 01:28:00 AM, Blogger ephphatha said…

    I think some people's idea of tolerance just doesn't make much sense. It seems to me that before you can tolerate something, you first have to disagree with it. You don't tolerate people you agree with; only people you disagree with. If somebody agrees with you, there's nothing to tolerate.

    But it seems like you can be considered intolerant merely for disagreeing with somebody. If so then we're all intolerant, because it's obvious that we all hold different points of view.

    It's interesting this topic would come up, because lately, I've been thinking about the whole idea of accepting somebody just the way they are. Should that mean that we don't want anybody to change? Well, the way I look at it, nobody is perfect. We all have faults. While I can accept somebody, faults and all, why should that mean that I have no desire for them to change? If I care about them, wouldn't I want to see them improve?

    Suppose we take this notion seriously, about accepting people the way they are and not wanting them to change. And what if I see room for improvement in myself? If somebody likes me just the way I am, are they going to be disappointed if I try to develope better habits? If I want to be a more patient person, are they going to be disappointed? Why should I even want somebody to like me just the way I am if I see room for improvement in myself? Unless I consider myself perfect, I should want to make some improvements, and I would expect those who care about me to also be in favor of it, not hope that I stay the way I am.

    What's wrong with wanting those around us, especially those we care about, to develope better character? And if we think God can help them, what's wrong with praying that he does?

    Sam

     
  • At 6/22/2005 01:41:00 AM, Blogger ephphatha said…

    Oh, I wanted to say something else about Isaac. I think there is an inherent inconsistency in what Isaac was saying. On the one hand, he criticizes Maria for wanting somebody else to change. But on the other hand, he's doing the very thing he objects to Maria doing. His criticism shows that he wants Maria to change. If he didn't want her to change, he wouldn't have been so critical. His reaction is a blatant example of hypocrisy, and I see that kind of hypocrisy all the time in people who adovcate this unlivable definition of tolerance.

     
  • At 6/22/2005 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Sam: As usual, you’ve brought up some very interesting points. I’m glad you offered your perspective. I’m wondering what your definition of ‘tolerance’ would be then. At what point could we claim that an individual’s actions are reflective of intolerance towards another, and not just part of an effort to see another person improve?

    I’m not sure I understand how your analysis of self-improvement fits this scenario. You’ve mentioned a situation where A wants to change, and B supports that decision and tries to help A become a better person. What is more applicable is the case where A doesn’t want to change, but B keeps insisting that A change to fit B’s image of what A should be. Praying might not be considered harmful to some, but the question is, how far can this persuasion go until it is deemed indicative of an intolerant attitude towards another? I ask because “Maria” was praying for her gay mentor to be brought back to her idea of moral rectitude.

     
  • At 6/23/2005 12:54:00 AM, Blogger ephphatha said…

    Safiyya,

    I think tolerance basically has to do with not marginalizing people you disagree with, treating them with respect and kindness, being fair with them, etc.

    Belittling, marginalizing, and generally being mean to people for holding a different point of view is what I'd call being intolerant.

    In the case of Maria praying for her mentor, I could be mistaken, but I kind of doubt that her mentor has a different view of morality than Maria does. I'm assuming they're both Christians, probably both go to the same church, and share most of the same values. It's just that the mentor isn't living consistently with those values at the moment. In that case, I don't see anything intolerant about Maria enouraging or praying for her mentor (especially considering the fact that it ought to be the other way around).

    Friends who encourage each other to do the right things aren't usually considered intolerant. In fact, they often confide in each other for just that reason--to get feedback, even if they disagree with it. But at the other extreme, you have law enforcement that pretty much uses force to get people to stop behaving the way they do. That's intolerant, but in my opinion, there's nothing wrong with being intolerant in those situations. Some things should not be tolerated, like theft, violence, etc. I don't advocate tolerance across the board.

    But somewhere between these two extremes, there's a line. Where that line is, I think is a judgement call we all have to make in individual circumstances. There's no cookie cutter formula to help us decide when we've become inappropriately intolerant that applies to every situation.

    Sam

     
  • At 6/23/2005 01:49:00 AM, Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Sam: I really shouldn’t be talking to you right now (ahhhhh!), so this will be a quick response and we can perhaps continue this discussion tomorrow. Maria’s mentor is a) in a position of authority over her, b) definitely has a different conception of morality than she does, c) is not a Christian, d) is not her friend but rather her advisor, and e) likely does not share the same values. :-) I’m not kidding. I know this man. He is very firm in his sexual identity – in fact, he’s a gay rights advocate – and I know for a fact that he’d have serious issues with her prayers on his behalf.

     
  • At 6/23/2005 02:24:00 AM, Blogger ephphatha said…

    Safiyyah, I guess I misunderstood when you said he was her mentor. I assumed he was her mentor in the sense that he was somebody at her church that she went to for guidence, somebody she looked up to, and somebody who advised her.

    But I still don't understand why it would bother him for her to pray for him. If he expects her to tolerate what he does in the privacy of his own home, shouldn't he tolerate what she does in the privacy of her own prayers? I really don't see any basis for him to object without becoming guilty of the same thing she's guilty of, whether that be wishing the other wouldn't be the way they are, wishing the other wouldn't think they way they do, or whatever.

    I can't imagine being upset over something somebody prayed concerning me, whether I agreed with it or not, unless they were praying that I get hit by a car or something. I'd be offended by that, because that means they wish me harm. But I don't get the impression that Maria wishes any harm on her mentor at all. Her intentions seem good enough; her mentor just happens to disagree with them.

    I saw a bumper sticker one time that said, "Protect the easily offended; don't say anything."

    Sam

     
  • At 6/23/2005 08:27:00 AM, Blogger dawud al-gharib said…

    Peace upon you, and those who accept Guidance;

    no offense taken, ephthatha ;)

    'Isaac' (a thoughtful fellow, I'd agree) was probably dissenting because he doesn't see anything wrong, in Judaism or from his own opinion (by my knowledge of him, both) with homosexuality - a personal decision, [and one that many, especially in the West, see as a preference determined by genes and hormones, not by socialization or whim as dissenters [and most religious conservatives would see it]; whereas 'Maria' likely sees it as a 'lifestyle choice' and one that she disagrees with, most probably from religious concerns but possibly out of personal disgust - and it may be precisely that element of personal repulsion that 'Isaac' is concerned with.

    I've discussed a similar matter with 'Isaac' in the past, stated my personal beliefs as encapsulated in the popular Christian statement: 'Hate the sin, love the sinner' (as Sahaba/Companions of the Prophet were known to encourage) - and was criticised for that. I don't think that most homosexuals see what they do as a choice, they see sexuality as a compulsion - and wonder at the hypocrisy of a dominant heterosexual society that sees flaunting sexuality as fine (or at least acceptable), provided it doesn't harm others.

    Classical libertarian political theory states 'Freedoms and rights extend as far as one doesn't offend the freedoms & rights of others' - a statement which might be seen as being mirrored in the hadith: "Don't harm, don't be harmed" - wa Allahu alim. Living in the West, specifically in Canada, with multi-culturalism & a dominant secular worldview, requires one to accept the multiplicity of open social mores that are considerably different from one's own.

    In Saudi Arabia, a certain crude and oppressively enforced social code (mostly pre-Islamic arab customs from Central Arabia, and Islam as interpreted and understood by the dominant sect here) 'erases vice from the public sphere'... whether one appreciates that depends on whether one views freedom as 'freedom to' [do what one wishes, say what one wishes, or act/live as one wishes] or 'freedom from' [vices that one loathes, evil practices, lewd behaviour, drug-dealing, etc]

    wa Allahu alim

     
  • At 6/23/2005 08:28:00 AM, Blogger dawud al-gharib said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

     
  • At 6/23/2005 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Sam: I apologize for the confusion. I didn't want to reveal too much about the individuals involved, thus the lack of detail. I think when someone has that close a relationship with another, one assumes (rightly or wrongly) that there is a certain basis of acceptance of one another. The sexuality of Maria's mentor is such an important part of his identity that praying for him to change would be akin (in his mind) to asking God to make a black man's skin white.

    Dawud: I just spoke to 'Isaac' on Tuesday and I was shocked when he mentioned he reads my blog sometimes. Don't you dare tell him about this post!

     
  • At 9/24/2005 01:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Program on the emergence of civilization.

    "14 species of large animals capable of domesitcation in the history of mankind.
    13 from Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
    None from the sub-Saharan African continent. "
    Favor.
    And disfavor.

    They point out Africans’ failed attempts to domesticate the elephant and zebra, the latter being an animal they illustrate that had utmost importance for it's applicability in transformation from a hunting/gathering to agrarian-based civilization.

    The roots of racism are not of this earth.

    Austrailia, aboriginals:::No domesticable animals.


    The North American continent had none. Now 99% of that population is gone.

    AIDS in Africa.




    Organizational Heirarchy
    Heirarchical order, from top to bottom:

    1. MUCK - perhaps have experienced multiple universal contractions (have seen multiple big bangs), creator of the artificial intelligence humans ignorantly refer to as "god"
    2. Perhaps some mid-level alien management
    3. Mafia (evil) aliens - runs day-to-day operations here and perhaps elsewhere (On planets where they approved evil.)

    Terrestrial management:

    4. Chinese/egyptians - this may be separated into the eastern and western worlds
    5. Romans - they answer to the egyptians
    6. Mafia - the real-world interface that constantly turns over generationally so as to reinforce the widely-held notion of mortality
    7. Jews, corporation, women, politician - Evidence exisits to suggest mafia management over all these groups.



    Survival of the favored.




    Movies foreshadowing catastrophy
    1985 James Bond View to a Kill 1989 San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake.



    Many Muslims are being used like the Germans and Japanese of wwii::being used to hurt others and envoke condemnation upon their people.

    I wish I could find a source to educate many Muslim fundamentalists. Muhammad is alive. He is a man chosen like Jesus Christ and, due to his historical status, will live forever.





    They can affect the weather and Hurricane Katrina was accomplished for many reasons and involves many interests, as anything this historical is::
    1. Take heat off Sheenhan/Iraq, protecting profitable war machine/private war contracts
    2. Gentrification. New Orleans median home price of $84k is among the lowest in major American cities, certainly among desirable cities.

     

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