Friday, May 26, 2006

Curious discussion with a Saudi

The other day I received an email from a Saudi whom I met years ago while working for the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. I was doing some sort of article about interfaith-feel-good stuff and ended up asking him some questions and taking a picture of him. He told me he had done a little freelancing for the Saudi newspaper Okaz, so we had a little something in common.

Over the weeks we corresponded via email, but I was sorely disappointed when he finally told me one day, “Look, Israel has no right to exist. What was taken by force must be retaken” or something to that effect. I thanked him for his honesty and held my tongue and temper in check.

Anyway, here and there I’d get an email from him that was obviously sent out to a bulk of recipients. I finally decided to reply to one. The following is the ongoing discussion. Enjoy.

Ayman B wrote: (I don’t see any reason to reprint his full name, Zak)Subject: FW: This could save your lifeDate: Mon, 22 May 2006 13:17:44 +0300Check your car tires today.

Then there was some attachment about the importance of checking your car’s tires.

Zak Mazur wrote:
I am surprised you'd want my life to be saved. After all, I am a Zionist, Israel-loving Jew!


Ayman replied:

You are mixing here between beeing an enemy and being human. "One of Allah's slaves". I want your life to be saved as long as we are not in the battle field.
You know! I even want your after life to be saved. I invite you to Islam.

I replied:

“You are mixing here between beeing an enemy and being human. "One of Allah's slaves". I want your life to be saved as long as we are not in the battle field.
You know! I even want your after life to be saved. I invite you to Islam."

Battlefield? That is a curious statement. I try to understand how Muslims perceive what is and isn't a battlefield.

So let me get this straight: In America you and I are both humans and should strive to help each other? I agree. But if I am on a bus in Israel one morning headed to university (which I was in the summer of 1995) and the bus is blown up by Muslim dude with explosives strapped to his chest, does that mean the bus is a legitimate battlefield, and all the civilians on it were soldiers? I ask because that happened to a bus I used to take to school, but that day I took a different bus to school after sleeping at a friend's apartment. That bus was a battlefield? Those people were "soldiers?" The middle aged American Jewish woman blown to bits who was in Israel studying Hebrew was a soldier? The little kids who had no choice about what country they were born and were just going to school were soldiers? The old lady, a soldier?

Now, I know what you are thinking (no, I do not read minds!), so allow me to beat you to the punch: Please, don't point out some incident in which Israel killed civilians. Civilians die in all wars. We both know that. And Israel, like every country on the planet, is not perfect. But even if Israel intentionally targeted civilians in the same manner as does Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah Hawks, would "martyrdom" missions still be ... kosher/halal? How can two wrongs (evils) possibly make a right? I always hear Muslim apologists for suicide bombings (especially in Israel) describe them as acts of self-defense, but how is killing unarmed people self-defense?

Further, why must you worry about my afterlife (although I appreciate it, thanks)? Doesn't the Koran say that Christians and Jews also need not fear about the afterlife since we are ah al-kitab?

Granted I am not a religious Jew, and therefore in your book I will not go to heaven (I do not believe in an afterlife anyway), but I would like to discuss some philosophical issues with you (I cringe at the term "spirituality, as I do not believe in spirits or souls).

First of all, why does God demand that we be His "slaves." I'm not trying to bait you as a Muslim; I ask these sorts of questions and others, to rabbis, Christians, etc. Seriously, why would a deity as powerful as God want or desire "slaves?" I've never understood why in Judaism, Christianity and Islam people are supposed to "fear" God or be His "slave." When I meet people in real life who demand that others "fear" them or be their "slaves" I consider that person to be a psychopath. Why does religion make God seem so... jealous and infant-like? Does God lack self-confidence? Do his feelings get hurt if somebody also thinks an ancient forest on a mountain is "holy?" Do the questions I just raised to you make God furious at me? Didn't He give me a brain designed to think rationally about the world around me?

And this idea of hell. First of all, even if I was a religious Jew, we do not believe in hell. But still, lot's of Christians and Muslims believe in it, and hell is even described in the Koran, as I am told. Forever burning in hell; agony; torture, all for eternity. And for what? For not having the correct beliefs in life? So all the Buddhists and Hindus and people that worship multiple gods are ALL going to hell, even if they were wonderful, caring people during their lives and never hurt anybody, or even saved lives? Hellfire for eternity? What kind of sick shit is that? Ever hear of "gross and unusual punishment"? What kind of God would torture His creatures for eternity; the types of tortures that even Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Stalin and Hilter couldn't imagine?

So, the Bible and Koran tell us that God is jealous, demands complete obedience and if He doesn't get it, you suffer an eternity of unrelenting torture? Hmmm... not the kind of dude I'd want to be friends with, much less worship.

If I was Muslim, and you and I were in Saudi Arabia, could I even publicly ask these questions without being called an apostate or infidel and receive a whipping or beheading or even prison time? Why such a fear to doubt or question religion in Islam?

Many Muslims find America to be an immoral place. Parts of it certainly are. I could choose to rent porn -- it is there -- but I do not because it doesn't do much for me. But that's the key: choice. Here we have the ability to CHOOSE to be religious and virtuous, or not religious and virtuous, or bad, or evil, etc. But in Iran, Saudi, and other places, the government and/or society at large don’t want people to choose, they want to force religion, to make it law.

If there is a just God, who do you think He would prefer: the American who chose to follow religion, or the Saudi who never had a choice? Wouldn't God prefer that people CHOOSE to worship Him instead of HAVE to worship him? Whatever happened to the saying that there is no compulsion in religion? If not, why can't there be a church in Saudi Arabia, and why couldn't a curious Saudi visit it and worship there, if he or she wanted to?

Finally, astronomers are pretty confident that the Milky Way Galaxy is home to over 100 billion stars, one being the sun. Further, there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in space, each with their own hundreds of billions of stars. The chemicals required for life as we know it on this planet are abundant in the universe. Just by pure odds, it is very likely that there is other life out there, and some of it may be intelligent; perhaps far more intelligent than we.

If there is a creator of the universe (which I do not necessarily dispute; I'm an agnostic, not an atheist), why would It only make intelligent and sentient life on one tiny little planet on the edge of just another galaxy? Wouldn't that be a HUGE waste of stars and matter?

If there are other life forms, what do they believe? Do you really think they too believe in books just like the Bible and Koran?

Oh wait, I'm still not done. Faith. Why do you think some people have faith and others do not? Who gives us faith? Personally, I've always somewhat envied those who have faith, because faith gives answers to mysterious questions that will never be answered-- unless one has faith. Where does it come from? Does God give it to some and not others?

I do not expect you to answer everything at once.




Blogger airforcewife said...

Interesting discussion. On your part, anyway. He didn't sound like he wanted to think about what he has been programmed to believe.

BUT as a religiously observant Zionist Catholic-Christian, may I take a stab at answering some of your questions? Keep in mind that I tend to stray a bit from official theological doctine of the Catholic Church...

First, you address the "slaves" of God line of thought, which leads to "fearing" God. I always thought that a better description was that we are CHILDREN of God. God is our ultimate parent - who tries to guide us into the decisions best for us, but whom we can turn our back on if we so choose. A good parent will punish their children when necessary, sometimes severely. Sometimes more than once when the lesson isn't learned. Sometimes what our parents do doesn't make sense to us until later. Sometimes the answer is, unfortunately, BECAUSE I SAY SO. But I wouldn't say I'm God's "slave" by any means. I'm his child. We love our children and value them. Slaves are not necessarily loved or valued.

The two greatest commandments according to Jesus, that Jewish rabbi, were to love the Lord our God above all things and then to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I think that explains most of Christianity and Judaism in a nutshell. God has given us the guidelines, it is up to us to follow them.

** by the way, loving our neighbors as ourselves... I don't fall into the hippie-dippy hug the world version of this. Do you always love yourself? Sometimes I HATE myself. Then I have to figure out how to realign my relationships and actions in order to love myself once again.

If we are loving our neighbors as ourselves, I can't see how that is an admonition to let everyone victimize us. Obviously, sometimes we give ourselves tough love, and sometimes it is necessary with those around us.

I have also heard often that true Hell is living in the absence of God. And if you look at the Christian Lucifer (I don't know if Judaism has the same thing going on with Lucifer), that is exactly what his torment is. He makes his own Hell, but what is so awful is that God has turned his back on him.

Now, the other Galaxies and whatnot... Why does having faith preclude that understanding? Personally, the more I studied science, the more fervent my belief that that there MUST be a guiding hand out there. How could it just happen? There were too many variables and too many coincidences. Just as I am somehow able to magically summon up MORE love when additional children being added to my family, so I figure can God do for those he creates.

**add more in a sec, I seem to be running on and on and on and taking up a crapload of room...**

11:56 AM  
Blogger airforcewife said...

Okay, the faith question... Why do some people have faith and not others? I don't know. I don't think faith is something granted to us or given us as a gift by God. It is something we have to get to on our own.

For me, it is never feeling alone. I have two examples that I can give you that underscored my belief to me. The first one happened four years ago when my 2 year old niece died. She had MANY problems from the time she was born, but was so very valued and loved by her parents and by everyone who met her.

We thought Joy was getting better, in fact, she visited us three days before she suddenly died. My sister and brother-in-law handled it much better than I ever could have... my mother asked them, "Why aren't you ANGRY? How could God do this?"

My sister said, "Joy was in horrendous pain every day of her life. She had to have terrible treatments that were supposed to prolong her life. If I were to rail against her death, I would be asking for her to be tormented and in pain. Now she is at peace and with God."

My sister routinely dreams about Joy - wonderful dreams where Joy visits and her and talks about her siblings and the family and tells my sister how much she loves her and how happy she is now.

Second example: When my husband was deployed to Iraq, he used to call me as often as possible. Because of my personality, it was better for me to know what kind of things were happening to him than to guess he was in the middle of every event the media was reporting. I also kept a journal while he was gone, of my feelings, experiences, etc.

One night I woke up about 2 am in an absolute panic attack. I have never had a panic attack before (or since), but I sat up in a cold sweat and was unable to move, breathing raggedly, and I wanted to puke. I had no idea what was going on, but it eventually subsided. I recorded it and then watched TV for a while.

My husband later called me and recounted that earlier that day (the same time I had my panic attack) his convoy had broken down in Baghdad and sustained fire. He thought he was not going to get out, but they were rescued in time, no casualties.

I just can't see how if there were no God, I would have known with such obvious proof (my journal entry that my husband knew nothing about before recounting his story) that there was such tremendous danger.

And while my sister's dreams of Joy can be explained away as a coping mechanism for her, that explanation is just a little too pat.

It does boil down to having faith. But I also think that we have to LET ourselves have faith. One can have faith and still question why things happen, but it requires admitting that we do not, and never will have, all the answers.

Kind of like our relationships with our parents.

Anyway, sorry for the soliloquoy! But you just had such an interesting discussion beginner!

12:13 PM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

I like the idea of being children of God.

As to hell, in Islam, or at least the Koran, I believe, Hell is described in intimate detail-- and it's is fire and brimstone hell.

Some of the questions I asked him I already had my own answers for, but the goal of my letter was to get him to examine his sacred cows. You are right, he didn't want to.

Thank you for your posts; it's a lot of food for thought for me.

8:07 AM  

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