Archive for May, 2007

Worlds Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part III – the finale)
May 29, 2007

Being diametrically opposed to the idea of Christians being polytheistic was not enough to prevent further investigation into the heart of a man who lives in a different world, both spiritually and mentally. I was compelled by the reverence that Kia demonstrated during our discussion. He answered my questions with a great deal of humility and dignity, always assigning honor and glory to Allah. I could not help but think of how mainstream Christianity has become so convoluted with the subconscious idea of God being the supreme novelty. With “Christian” books, music, jargon, and fashion dominating our lives, we seem to be stuck in Christian ghettos where God is the really hip mayor. Christianity has become fashionable. When you read the works of the early church fathers such as Augustine, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus, you interpret a sense of reverence in their writings. They seem to understand the magnitude of the God with which they are referencing. We have lost that; I have lost that. Kia’s insights were saturated with reverence for his God, and I was humbled by it.

Inadvertent doses of humility were often given to this evangelical Christian during the course of our brief interaction. After discussing verbal persecution in America, the privilege of white Christians quickly surfaced. Kia admitted to being the victim of countless prejudicial encounters, even several during his stint at the YMCA. The stories are all the same: ignorant and intolerant whites embarrassing America with hearts of stone and the intellects of children. We progressed on through the Civil Rights movement only to regress after the events of 9/11. Kia has come to expect this treatment, though his faith does not waver.

As we enjoyed fresh baklava, I gave my friend the opportunity to conclude our conclave with anything that might be on his heart with regards to something we discussed or failed to discuss. He proposed education as the tool to abolish the acute disease of intolerance that our nation suffers from. Kia wisely forecasted that people will not let go of prejudice until they are taught how and why. I whole-heartedly agree with this prognosis. On a more personal level, my faith was found suspect in the light of this man’s humility and respect for his God and his customs (wading through the muck of Christianity is a chore that I often fail to recognize as necessary). I truly feel that I possess more respect and admiration for Kia Jahed than I do for countless followers of Christ that have crossed my path over the years.

The previous statement, though entirely true, is devastating to my spirit.

Worlds Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part II)
May 21, 2007

…We trekked on, consuming issues such as the Shiite/Sunni dichotomy, the Iranian Revolution, the kinesiology of prayer, and Bathism. The doctrine of the afterlife, according to the Qur’an, was of particular interest to me, so I inquired. According to Kia, the Qur’an explains that those who believe in the one, true God (Allah), those who believe in the “last day”, those who exhibit works of righteousness…anyone who fully submits themselves to God…these people have nothing to fear (with regards to destiny). Kia explained that the doctrine within the Qur’an assures this person’s salvation. An enormous exception to this mandate is the person who believes the prophet Muhammad to be a liar; this person is not subject to the mercy of Allah. I was illuminated to the idea of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others enjoying the fruit of eternity together. Despite this tolerant notion, the previously stated stipulations are without dispute or debate. One is not required to be a graduate of the finest Protestant seminary to know that Christianity does not boast of such “equality”. The doctrine of the Christian faith explains that saving grace was provided by Christ when he willingly sacrificed his life for the sins of humanity, past and present. The wrath of God was appeased by Christ’s impeccable blood. This sacrifice is sufficient to cover the sin of any individual who declares Jesus as the Son of the living God, believes in his accomplishments through the cross and resurrection, and commits their being to His Lordship. This person is promised God’s grace, and this grace is available to all. According to Christianity, the requirements of salvation are nothing more and nothing less. Obviously, the beliefs of Islam and Christianity, with regard to the afterlife, are polarized. In my worldview, Kia’s convictions of truth are not sufficient for God’s grace and mercy. After hearing my friend’s description of Islamic dogma, I was naturally inclined to ask if I was subject to Allah’s mercy. After all, I can boast in one God, belief in the “last day”, works of righteousness, and submission to a sovereign creator. Kia’s response was unexpected and nearly offensive.

Kia respectfully explained that to associate divinity to any one person is a violation of monotheism. Essentially, Muslims believe that the doctrine of the trinity exposes Christians as polytheists. It should be noted that the word “trinity” never occurs in Christian scriptures; rather, it was used to articulate the three manifestations of the one, true God by early church fathers. The most widely used metaphor with regards to the idea of the trinity is that of H20. H20 can take on the form of water, vapor, and ice. Regardless of its form, it still is composed of the basic elements, hydrogen and oxygen. In the same way, Jesus is believed to be God revealed in flesh, one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. Similarly, the Spirit of God that was given to believers after Christ’s ascension is the unseen presence of the sovereign Creator that true followers of Christ possess. In the eyes of a conservative evangelical, this is no violation of monotheism. Rather, it speaks to the generosity of the supreme deity because he has provided his essence both physically and spiritually for those who follow Him. This is problematic for the devout Muslim. Although never explicitly articulated, Kia communicated that the Christian, in his opinion, can not boast of belief in the one true God.

World’s Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part I)
May 14, 2007

It was rather fitting that I sat in a Mediterranean restaurant discussing the doctrinal implications of Islam with a devout disciple of Allah.

Kia Jahed and I sat a few feet apart enjoying customary chick peas and reminiscing about the days when he and I worked together at the local Y.M.C.A. We had a friend who was Jewish, and the three of us usually worked the same shift. Daily, Kia would begin random jokes with… “Hey guys, you ever heard the one about the Muslim, the Christian, and Jew?!” It was a blessing that Kia was always so comfortable and confident with his faith; it made for a less awkward and burdensome fulfillment of a certain intercultural communication requirement. Kia is currently slaving day in and day out at the University of Louisville’s medical school. In response to my sincere appreciation for his presence, he assured me that without strategic distractions, such as the one I had provided, he would slip slowly into madness. The appreciation was mutual.

Leaving room for the blessed baklava, we pushed aside our last plate from the buffet to fulfill the purpose of our assembly. Even the tone of our voices slightly changed, reflecting the gravity of the issue at hand. I pressed the record button. My first question to Kia was simply meant to get the ball rolling, but I was given a response that I did not expect. Kia was, in fact, converted to Islam. I ignorantly assumed that anyone of Middle Eastern descent, like my friend’s skin so clearly manifested, had been born into the fastest growing religion in the world. “Following suit” had been the biography of Jonathan Smith, but I quickly learned that Kia’s parents, despite having migrated from Iran after the Revolution, were nothing more than humble agnostics who had never found their place in religious discussion. Although born in Iran, Kia spent the vast majority of his impressionable years being warped by American culture, as I had. Being toted to church on Sunday morning with friends was nothing new to my dark, bearded crony. After being invited to a Friday prayer by some friends from a local pizza shop as a teenager, Kia was mesmerized by the humility and reverence that saturated the words of the Imam. Soon after this initial encounter, Kia began to haphazardly skim through the Qur’an. His words to me in that Mediterranean restaurant expressed the impact that the divine revelation of Muhammad had had on his young spirit: “It was like swimming in a ocean of truth.” After hearing this testimony, I must admit that there was a bit of dissonancy in my spirit. Although I cannot confirm the existence of absolute objectivity (The Myth of Objectivity…coming soon), it seems that Kia’s decision to immerse himself in that particular “ocean” came to fruition through untainted, non-parental influenced musings. There is a small part of me that holds contempt for my Christian heritage. Would I have settled for reformed theology, inerrant and infallible scriptures, and the priesthood of the believers if it were not for the overwhelming influence of my parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on? That question will remain unanswered. The Muslim that sat across from me that day was fortunate enough not to have to carry that weight. Unlike him, being spiritually jaded was the theme of my religious preference. Since I was an infant, the pages of Christianity’s divine book have been stamped on my mind, my heart, and my soul. Subsequently, at the ripe age of twenty-two, its dynamism has been tamed, resulting in occasional numbness. There are brief glimpses of its power and authority, but my history and the distractions of my world suppress it with great force. With beautiful rhetoric, Kia articulated his zeal for carrying the words of the Qur’an in his heart. He dismissed the notion of the Qur’an being used as a mere reference as lukewarm and disrespectful to the faith. This conviction left me speechless in the light of my fellow Christians utter lack of reverence and respect for the book we allegedly center our life around. I was devastated to see my people’s apathy and disillusionment exposed over humus.