A Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh and a Christian walk into a bar …

16 Oct

Great start to a joke, right?  Well, the bar part isn’t true, instead it was a Catholic high school in Waukegan, IL, but the rest describes my afternoon yesterday when I attended the Religious Founders Day event organized by my friend Tayyib Rashid, known on Twitter as @TheMuslimMarine.  The event is to promote awareness, cooperation, friendship, love and respect among these groups with seemingly different religious viewpoints, but when you dig in a touch, instead have very very much in common.

The structure of the event was pretty straight forward – there were four primary speakers, all “clergy”, each one from each tradition represented – Ty (Tayyid) was the “emcee”.   And the topic was racism – the speakers were challenged to speak on their faith’s viewpoint of human equality and their viewpoint on how we can battle this awful scourge in our country and around the world.

The speakers were:

A rabbi – in this case from the Chicago Jewish High School in Deerfield
A Nun – she was a retired nun who used to head up the school in Waukegan IL where the event was being held
A Sikh leader – this interesting gent was from the Sikh Gurdwara in Palatine IL
An Imam – and he was from Seattle and was visiting the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Zion IL (where Ty is a leader) from Seattle

Each leader spoke for about 10 minutes, then there were 10 minutes for round table discussions (appropriate as we were seated at round tables) on what each leader said and how we could personalize it for our own use. After all spoke, the final 30 minutes was spent addressing questions from the fairly large group of people that came to the event.

There were a lot of wonderful points brought up.  The Rabbi recalled the words of the Jewish sage Heschel when he said that racism is a disease of the eyes – it’s what you see when you look out at the world with your particular viewpoint that you’ve learned.  The Nun’s viewpoint was that she felt that racism is a product of both defensiveness and a desire for more – and interestingly took on the subject of the Catholic crusades and imperialism head on and called it wrong and as a contributing factor to the racism that persists today.  The Sikh leader – who was completely fascinating by the way – more on him in a minute – said that those that are racists aren’t seeing the truth. The Imam talked about how Allah/God created diversity so that we could tell ourselves apart and as such diversity should be celebrated and not denigrated.  He also spoke of how racism is the product of Godlessness – that those that are truly with God do not see/cannot see anything but beautiful diversity.

At our table, which consisted of our friends Gail and Chris along with two Muslim men (and one of the men’s 9 year old daughter), we talked about how racism and it’s cousin, religious persecution, is a result of a lack of knowledge – and that how while our diverse cultures must be preserved, for racism and fear to end, they also must converge.

Truly mind expanding.

The Sikh leader, a gent a bit younger than me named Parminder was an especially powerful speaker. Sikhs, because of their traditional turban headgear, their religious devotions that they commit to that keep them from cutting their hair, etc., are very visually notable – he joked that “they are more hardcore than the Muslims” and that they get blamed for every wrong in the world.  He grew up in Chicago as the son of a gas station owner and his Dad and he were blamed for a) the war in Iraq and the price of gas; b) 911, c) the war in Afghanistan, d) every single terrorist attack anywhere, etc. etc.  He joked that he wonders if the idiot racists will start calling Sikhs North Koreans next.  His comments were especially prescient – counter racism with truth, and with understanding and as last resort, fight back.

We all talked about what we can do to personalize this and actions we can take to help the problem.

For my part, here’s how I personalize it and how I’d encourage you to as well.

  1. Don’t accept stereotypes of any type.  It’s bullshit that Muslims hate America and want to invoke whatever on American and want us all to die, that Sikhs are every type of terrorists, that Jews are money-hoarders who manipulate the world’s finances and bake blood into their bread, that Christians want to convert the world and are responsible for racism in America.  It’s all bullshit. Stereotypes are made up viewpoints designed to create and foment fear.  Only by refusing to accept them can they go away.
  2. When you encounter racism, instead of calling them out as racists, instead, seek to educate, inform and provide loving guidance.  One overarching view was that “if you could just get to know someone who is a …” (fill in the blank), “you’ll stop being prejudiced against them.”  It’s totally true.  But calling it out just generally serves to entrench the viewpoint.
  3. Now as a counterpoint to 2, however, don’t tolerate it either. Never participate, and always never be afraid to point out that what’s being said is a) incorrect; and b) abhorrent to you. It’s amazing how racism turns from a “naughty joke” to “a turd in the punchbowl” and the person that’s putting the racism out there goes from being the class clown to the asshole in the room in just the blink of an eye.
  4. Lead by example – get to know others from other traditions.  I would especially encourage you to make Muslim friends.  You’ll be amazed at their religious devotion, their inner peace and love and their desire to learn about what you do and what you have to offer. But, that said, for example, we were fascinated by the Sikh speaker and we’re planning to go to the Palatine Sikh Gurdwara to experience one of their worship services and learn more. And I made a new Muslim friend while at the event and we’ll be inviting him and his family to join us at a B’Chavana service event sometime soon.

Only by love, respect, understanding, getting to know others of different traditions, and ending the propagation of stereotypes will we ever solve this awful problem in America.

Peace and love, friends.

As you were,

Stew

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