Monday, June 11, 2012

The truth about Islam and how they treat other religions

From a religious war being declared against Islam a thousand years ago to one of the candidates for the Republican nominee for President suggesting that Americans should vote on whether or not Muslims have the right to build Mosques, Islam has been met with hatred by the West.  This hatred, however, is founded in distrust and a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam.  Many in the West associate Islam with words like “terrorism” or “Jihad” with no regard to what Islam teaches.  I would like to try to clear up some common misconceptions of how Islam actually views and more importantly treats those of different faiths, mainly Christians and Jews.  To do this, we must briefly look at theology, but to get a good idea of how Islam treats others, we need to look at history and modern thought.
                Before we begin, I feel the true definition of Jihad needs to be clarified.  The word Jihad is a “loaded” one for many Westerners, who truly don’t know the beautiful meaning of it.  As far back as the Crusades, Christians have had the notion that this word means “holy war” causing many to not listen to reason. This could be because they believe that Islam has always been in a “holy war” against the West and Christianity.  While the word Jihad has been used by Islam in reference to military struggles; Ernest points out that this is not the true meaning.  In his book he writes, “When a troop of Arabs returned from battle boasting of their jihad, the Prophet rebuked them, telling them that they had engaged only in the lesser jihad, of physical battle; the greater jihad was the struggle against one’s own basic instincts.” (117)  He later notes that many Islamic legal scholars have stated that the lesser Jihad can only be done in self-defense.  This goes against the notion of the West of what the essence of this word means, and is a good example of the misunderstanding that will be covered in this paper. 
                To get a good foundation, let’s go over just a few basic beliefs in the theology of Islam.  Firstly, I would like to share one of my favorite scriptures, “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.”  (Quran 2:62)  This has a feel of universalism to it, which can be further supported by a Hadith that my Muslim friend, Salam, shared with me.  The Hadith goes, “, “And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender.” (Hadith 29 - Al-'Ankabut)  This Hadith points out the doctrine that Muslims do believe we all follow the same God. Although we certainly have doctrinal differences, what has been revealed unto us from God, Muslims do accept.  Also, interestingly it counsels not to argue.  This is consistent with what we in the LDS Church believe.  Contention is of the Devil, and is bound to get you nowhere.  Islam also believes, as does the LDS Church, that they are the true and pure religion of God.
                While Islam is a more tolerant religion than many understand, it does have some unfavorable views on Christianity and Judaism.  Basically, the held belief is that when Judaism was sent to Earth, it was pure and it was Islam, but it became corrupt.  In the Quran (2:64) it states that Judaism turned its back on God.  One of the biggest criticisms is that the message was supposed to be for everyone, yet the Jewish people turned it into an ethnocentric religion, calling themselves the “Chosen People”.  Islam also asserts that Christians corrupted the pure teachings of Christ by elevating Jesus to God himself; this idea is blasphemy in Islam.  The Hadith also make claims of the deviation from tradition as well as the changing of Holy Scripture. (Bukhari 9:92:461) This is noteworthy, since Islam prides itself on claiming their Holy Text has not been tampered with since the Prophet recited it.  While we could go much deeper with doctrine, I want to continue to explore how Muslims have actually put these beliefs into practice.  For now we have a base for Islam in which we can see it is more accepting that many believe.
                From the beginning, Muslims have tried to be tolerant and kind, with usual success, to those of different faiths.  This, after all, is the example set forth by the Prophet Muhammad.  There is a story that tells of a Jewish woman who would throw trash at the Prophet every morning. Suddenly, one day she stopped.  The Prophet went to find out what happen and learned she was sick.  He went to help her.  Also in another Hadith (Sahih Bukhari 2:23:438) the Prophet shows similar compassion to his Jewish servant boy.   Muslims can even point to the actions by early Muslims during the Prophet’s time to show how to act with justice on non-Muslims who have betrayed or broken laws.  An example of this is of when Sa‘d ibn Mu’adh inflicted punishment to the Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza.  This tribe betrayed a treaty with the Muslims and declared war, in turn supporting the pagan army formed by Mecca.  When the army of Mecca lost, it was time to deal with the Jews who betrayed the treaty.  Some critics of Islam view this as an evil event.  However, I and others, view the events from a different perspective.  The Muslims could have done what they willed with the Jewish population according to their own laws and feel justified in doing so, yet out of wisdom they judged the tribe by Jewish laws.  Let me explain.  In the Torah, those who are deemed to be traitors were condemn to death, so the Muslims executed those men responsible in the betrayal. (Way of Truth)  To me, this shows clarity and respect for those traditions that the Jews had, to judge them based on what the Jews knew and understood.  Also this is important for later history.  The kindness by the Prophet, and justice by early Muslims set up the ground work for later treatment.
          As the Islamic empire grew, a notable difference between the empire, and it’s Christian counterparts was the idea that “convert or die” did not exist.  Populations that were Christian, Jewish, and other “peoples of the book” were not forced to become Muslim.  This is notably different than how the pagans were treated, but that’s another matter. (Ernest, 90)  These “people of the book” retained the name of Dhimmis, or “protected status”.  The Hadith put forth laws in which these people should be handled namely, ““by the rules and regulations concerning the Dhimmis (protectees) of Allah and His Apostle, to fulfill their contracts completely and fight for them and not to tax (overburden) them beyond their capabilities." (Bukhari 2:23:475)  This treatment was well retained by the Islamic Empire.  When it came to taxing the “Dhimmis”, it was mainly as a way to create equality, not to create division.  The Muslims already paid a tax called “zakat” which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam; while Dhimmis did not have to pay this, their tax was a way to balance that.  Also, going along with the belief that these other religions were from God, many times these minorities had the right to run many of their communities’ own affairs.  As Ernest states, “Since Islamic theology recognized that every people had received a particular revelation and law through their own prophets….religious minorities in Muslim societies were allowed, or even required, to administer their internal affairs with their own religious and legal systems.” (118)  It is not only very liberal to allow minorities to control much of their affairs but it shows a considerable amount of respect.  While the US is not entirely a “Christian” nation, it is for the most part run by Christians.  Many Christians become frightened at the thought of allowing Muslims societies to practice just a little sharia law.  Actually some Western nations go out of their way to restrict Islamic law, such as France and its ban on the hijab. Not only were those minorities under the Islamic Empire treated with respect, when the Empire was at war this respect was maintained.
                During the Crusades, there was much bloodshed on each side.  When the Christians conquered the city of Jerusalem they massacred the vast majority of citizens.  This mass bloodshed not only killed Muslims, but Jews, and Christians themselves.  The city was held for decades until the Muslim leader, Saladin came to conquer.  After already defeating one of the largest Frankish armies in the Holy Land, he marched into and took the city of Jerusalem after ten days of siege. (Karnes) His actions after the siege show the Islamic view of justice.  Many Franks were held at a price.  If they wished to leave the city, they could pay the ransom.  Many others were even allowed to leave without paying, if they did not have the funds.  Saladin also invited the Jews to resettle the city.  This shows far more restraint and justice than what was showed to the Muslims less than a hundred years before that.  While some might point out that the use of ransom was not the most progressive, the Muslims felt that there needed to be some punishment.  I view this much like the handling of the Banu Qurayza, who needed to be punished, yet the punishment was just and not taken to an extreme.  Though, as today, there has been some treatment that violates this idea of fellowship among the religions.
                In the twelfth century there arose to power in North Africa a fundamentalist group of Islam called the Almohads.  This group was formed in response to what some believed to be a loosening of morals by the current Islamic government.  Their goal was to take control.  There have been stories told of the Almohads practicing forced conversion of Christians and Jews under plenty of death. (Roth)  This is important to note, since even with the doctrines mentioned, there are still those who try to promote violence.  The modern day views and actions of fundamentalist Islam are not new. It is important to note this when trying to understand how any why Muslims view and interact with their counterparts in the way that they do.
                As we move closer to the modern day, the situation of Islam and its fellow religions began to change.  The days of Islamic rule were fading.  More Muslims had to live next to Jews and Christians, as more of equals, and not rulers.  While the Ottoman Empire was an Islamic government in the early 1900s they moved to become much more secular.  Under the Empire there lived, Christians, Muslims and Jews who lived in harmony most of the time.  When the government granted more liberties to the people, the celebration that happened is one that demolishes the views of fundamentalist Islam and extreme conservative Westerners.  The belief that these people cannot live next to each other, and not only tolerate but show love and embrace each other as brothers was destroyed in one night.  In her book, Campos captures this scene by quoting some who were there.  One such quote is as follows, “the Maronite priest four times kiss the Moslem Sheikh and the Moselm Sheikh responded by four times kissing the Maronite priest.  Moselms and Christians publicly embraced each other…henceforth they are brethren, that there are Christians, Moslem, Jews…no more only loyal Ottoman subjects standing shoulder to shoulder..” (76)  This beautifully shows how these different groups saw themselves as equal to one another.  Would a religion that taught hate have something like this in their history?  Of course they wouldn’t.  It’s with this brotherhood that Islam entered into the modern era.
                While many may ignore all this history, saying, “That was so long ago.” and believe it has no bearing to today, I say they are wrong.  I feel this spirit of brotherhood still exists today.  When discussing modern thought, I feel it’s best to go to actual Muslims as a source.  I interviewed my friend from high school, Salam Awad.  To give you some background on her, she was born in America, but her family quickly moved back to Palestine.  This is where she was raised.  She has had much exposure to both the Western world, and the Islamic world, which I believe makes her a good judge on an issue such as this.  She stated that she has an understanding of Christianity more that Judaism. I feel this may be caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet also it is in part caused by her being taught that Christianity is far closer to Islam.  Yet, she still confirms that both are from God.  There were some interesting things in which she related to me about her time in Palestine.
                Living in Palestine gives one a better understanding of the cooperation between Christians and Muslims.  She said that Christianity and Islam have lived together there in peace for centuries, which as we have read, is nothing new.  Yet, there is a ceremony that happens every night in a certain region that is very symbolic of this peace, which continues today.  The Imans and the Priest will meet up and hand the keys to their holy sites to each other to lock up.  This is a wonderful example of trust that each side has for the other, and to be honest this level of cooperation between Christian sects is fairly hard to find.  Another point she mentioned was if the “call to prayer” went out and there was not a Mosque nearby, she and her mother would go into a Christian church to pray.  This was very surprising to me.  She went on to say that she was always taught that churches and Jewish temples were holy sites.  Both Christianity and Judaism were of God.  This is also what I learned from the Imam from the Khadeeja Mosque when we visited.  He taught that we will be saved if we follow the Prophet we claim to believe in.  If we claim to follow Christ, then follow him and we will be judged on how we followed him, if it be Moses, then the same applies.  This is because these are men of God, and if we profess to follow them, then it is still holy. 
                Salam did mention that she feels most of the friction over Islam that occurs is due, as stated in the beginning of the paper, to misunderstanding.  Islam is a conservative religion that requires much.  According to Salam, many in the West see that as restricting liberty.  As a member of a religion that many see to be conservative, I can understand what she is saying.  The LDS church is a victim of the same type of misunderstandings, though not to the same extent.  To the West, the requirements of Islam make it a religion that cannot cooperate with liberty. However, there is a bridge being built over this gap of understanding.  One such group is the Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR).  CAIR is the modern incarnation of Islam which this paper has been trying to show.  CAIR is dedicated to showing the world that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.  In a letter to President Obama, the National Executive Director Nihad Awad wrote, “True peace and understanding will only come when we all - Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths and philosophies - cast off the prejudices and preconceptions of the past to engage each other based on what we have in common, not on what has separated us for so long.” Does this sound familiar?  I feel this is the understanding that the Prophet himself wanted for his followers.  In this respect, CAIR is an organization that is trying to heal the world. 
                While the views within Islam vary from liberal to fundamental, my goal with this paper was to give a better understanding of the essence of true Islam and its views of other faiths.  Islam is not a religion of hate or intolerance.  Any hate or violence is not from true Islam.  These are opposite to Islam’s teachings. If we all took a closer look at our own religion and it’s doctrines, our political ideas or even our superstitions, we would most likely find much that is misunderstood by others and therefore ridiculed.  Although a lofty goal, those who understand this should try to do something to clear up the misunderstanding when they see the opportunity.  While the pain of the events on 9-11 is still raw in America, I hope now you can come away with a real idea of what has been taught for 1500 years in Islam.  Every religion can look back and see in its own history, moments of violence and departures from the original message of the faith.  The point is to not repeat history, but to learn from it.
Karnes, Chris   The Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Author's last name, Author's first name.  Title.  Place of publication:  Publisher, 
 copyright date.
Ernst, Carl.  Following Muhammad; Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World.   William R. Kenan Jr. Fund of the University of North Carolina Press. 2003
Campos, Michelle.  Ottoman Brothers; Muslims, Christians, and Jews in early Twentieth-Century Palestine.   Stanford, California: Stanford University Press 2011
The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Maulana Muhammad Ali
Muhsin Khan Muhammad, trans. Sahih Al-Bukhari; Volume 2   Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers and Distributors 1997
Council on American-Islamic Relations

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is America Apathetic to the Homeless?

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied...but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which as beggar is a reminder of nothing.”
― John Berger
“How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?”-unknown
I have wanted to speak about this for some time.  And when I saw the first quote, it of course reminded me of the second, and it also got me to write about society’s seemingly growing apathy to the poor and homeless.  In my city of Yakima it is quite evident to see this apathy.  It has grown past merely people driving by beggars as if they are not present, and moved past people yelling “get a job!”, as if that is something anyone can do at the moment.  This apathy has moved into hate as there have even been those who have protested against the presence of beggars.  With signs saying “aren’t you tired of beggars?” “Help us rid Yakima of these people”.  Now thankfully I saw many reject these protesters, yet others praised them.  All this while a poor homeless sat, pitifully, while the protestors (a group of elderly ladies who claimed to be devout Christians) harassed the man calling me things such as “worthless”.  I am no theologian, but I have read the New Testament, and Jesus never called the poor worthless, actually his kind of advice to us is to live like the poor, by giving up ALL of our possessions to follow him.  He treated the weak and poor with the utmost respect and said they would inherit the world. 
Yet, many don’t feel that is the way to approach beggars.  I have many conversations from LDS members (Mormons), to mainstream Christians, to Catholics, Muslims, and even Atheists; all of which I have heard many different ways to approach the issue of beggars.  Note that none of the religions had a consentient answer when I talked to their members (except Islam, but I know only a handful of Muslims as opposed to the majority of people I know being in the other mentioned groups).  The worse approach is the automatic accusation that the beggar is somehow a vile person and should be avoided.  Also, don’t dare give them money since they will blow it on alcohol and drugs, and they could even be faking since of course all homeless are really con-artist in a giant conspiracy.  Now, are any of those accusations possible? Of course they are.  I have members in my own family who have been tricked, and are now extremely cautious when handing money to beggars.  However, I highly doubt that most fall under those accusations, and even with those accusations, it still doesn’t matter for we need to give. 
The very sad thing is that the religious, the ones who should be the most charitable, often turn their backs the most (at least from what I have seen).  Now I am not going to judge any one single person, it’s not my place, but there is a possibility that they are merely saying they are religious yet their hearts are far from truth.  I have been there before and I understand; I have been false in my religious convictions when I was Catholic, so I am just as guilty of doing it.  I have been to General Conference twice (for those who don’t know, it’s a semi-annual Church wide conference that is held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons, which it is filmed in Salt Lake City, UT).  We literally could have a leader of the Church preach about charity and helping the less fortunate than us; then everyone leave and walk outside where there are plenty of beggars that could be helped and those far more prosperous than I, will walk by with their heads turned away.  I am only 21 years old, I don’t have much money, but I give what I can.  This  frustrates me to see some many just not care.    
As I am sure some readers by now will be thinking, “well Mister high and mighty on your high horse, what do you do?”  Well, I am glad you asked semi-fictional reader.  I always give if I have money on me.  Let me correct myself,  I usually give, there are days when I am weak and greed takes hold of me, I am human of course.  When I recognize what I did was indeed sinful, I try and repent.  I always feel that, a couple dollars to me really doesn’t matter, but if it can get a meal for someone who is without a home, then clearly it matters to them.  Also, it’s not enough to buy drugs or alcohol so I never get paranoid about that.  And, really if they are a con-artist, who cares, they manage to take two or three dollars from me.  I should be lucky that a con-artist only takes a few dollars from me, since others can have their whole live savings stolen from a deceiver.  Of course, I still get a good feeling for what I did, and still following Christ, even if the person begging was lying (which I think happens far less than many claim). 
Something a friend of mine I met in Russia, named Sarah, told me really impacted me on this subject as well.  She has lived in the Salt Lake City, the heartland of “happy valley” (nickname for the Utah/South Idaho area).  She told me how frustrated she would get when seeing fellow LDS (Mormon) members talk down about the needy, or not reach out to help.  God is always watching if we are following him or not.  She said how Jesus mentioned that helping the least of us is helping Christ himself.  Also, she did bring up how many will say that they could be con-artist or want the cash for negative items, such as drugs.  Yet, we don’t really know if an individual intents to do with the money.  If we turn our back from them and not help a fellow human in need, then we are sinning, but if they are deceiving us, then the sin is theirs.  Really by not helping someone we are digging ourselves a hole.  Many Russians amaze me since some who don’t have much, still give to those who need it more.  A friend of mine, who is only 19 living on her own in Moscow and doesn’t make a lot of money, still gives anytime she can.  She jokes how if she continues to give her money away she will be just as poor as the ones she tries to help.  Honestly though, that attitude is the attitude that Christ wants us to have, help others even if it means we don’t live comfortably.  Many might point out that it’s not logical to give so much if you don’t have much, but the Gospel is not one of logic (as much as I hate to mention that) but one of faith and trust in God that you will be given opportunities and a path will be made for you. 
However, I am not doing the most I can do, because just given money, usually doesn’t help them.  My friend Sierra told me that many times what these people need more is a friend, or someone to talk to.  Life is extremely hard for them; to think it isn’t is ridicules.  Something I will never forget is the last time I went to General Conference.  While yes, many walked right by the needy without even a glance, there was one man who shocked me.  A beggar was sitting, with just a sign.  He was a veteran of either Iraq now or 1991, I am not sure right now.  He was missing a leg.  I gave money, but kept walking, I truly didn’t know what to say.  Though, someone behind me stopped as well.  And he sat down with the man and began to talk to him.  A couples hours later I was walking again passed this area and that man was still with the veteran.  The veteran was in tears, telling this man his story and thanking him so much for caring to speak with him.  I have never seen someone who was so appreciative in my life, as that veteran looked right then.   It looked as if this one man who stopped to understand the veteran and share a message of Christ’s love, did far more than my two dollars. 
It’s true, even us who give when we can, can do more, and should do more.  I have always been afraid and timid to talk to them, which is an issue I am trying to deal with.  Instead of giving money, we could take them to a nearby fast food place or restaurant and feed them and hear their story.  This I am sure can help make a great difference, since money and food can only help the physical issues, but their loneliness and rejection by the world creates many mental issues, that to help through, they could use a good friend. 
Us Christians are commanded to help the poor and needy and to reach out.  And if you are not religious, or an Agnostic, or an Atheist well those in need are our fellow brothers and sisters.  We need to give up these fictions that divide us and come together to help each other.  If we truly helped each other, maybe we could eradicate poverty.  It won’t be easy, and will take a long time, but I honestly believe we can.  In America, we have the resources to do it; we just need to rid ourselves of our selfishness and greed. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let's Look at what the Quran has to say about Jesus and non-Muslims

In life I strive to try to bring groups who think they are in opposition together or to create a better understanding of different peoples.  Two of these groups are Christians and Muslims, who have large misconceptions of the other side.  Of course with this goal my topics were Jesus in the Quran, since that could be common ground for both groups, and the treatment of non-Muslims, which is something I think many westerns have their own misconceptions about.
      To Muslims, Jesus is not an unknown name, yet it is not the same as many Christians believe.  Interestingly he is referred to as the Messiah, which means the “Anointed One”, whose synonyms is Savoir and Redeemer, yet in Islam Christ did not come to die as a sacrifice for our sins.  He was however born of a virgin, Mary, though it was on a journey (shown in Chapter 19, section 2) rather than a manger.  Usually I am use to seeing Jesus get the persecution for the authority he claimed, but the Quran showed that Mary did too, when in Ch. 19:27, calling what Mary “brought” was strange.  The commentary said this was since Jesus claimed such authority and it was somewhat backhanded, and it is clear to see the calumny for Jesus right away comes to his mother’s rescue.  His speech though is something of interest.  From our readings on the Quran in class, we saw that Jesus did not die on the cross, nor was he resurrected; yet in Ch. 19;33 Jesus mentions he will be resurrected.  To quote exactly, “And peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised to life”, clearly this shows that Jesus will die and come back.  Sadly though the commentary has nothing on this, so I did look on the internet, and I didn’t find a good answer, or one that may be reliable.  This then does raise an interesting point, of what if he did die on the cross, even by the Islamic version of history, there seems to be plenty of times for some corruption of their Holy Book in it, maybe this is a sign that something was meddled with.  Something in his speech though that caught my eye was 19:36, since the commentary compares it to Matt. 4:10, which as someone who is looking for common ground, these two verses are clearly that.  The largest difference is that Islam views Christ as a great prophet, not God in the flesh.  Now this is a point that many in Christianity argue about anyway, for most Christians literally believe Christ to be Heavenly Father, a concept that is ridicules to LDS, yet we still hold the divinity of Christ.  In Islam, Christ is not divine, and in Ch. 4:171 it states that he is “only a messenger”.  There are many scriptures in which Jesus points to all his power coming from God, but this is the same in the Bible, as far as the idea that Jesus is literally God, I do agree with the Quran on that being an idea introduced after his death and ministry.  There is a section about the false doctrines introduced, as well as mention of them in other areas of the Quran, for the LDS faith, we can agree on this idea, since we very much do believe that Christ’s teachings were perverted.  
      When it comes to relations with non-Muslims, it is fairly liberal.  This can be shown by 2:62, where is it says, “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.”  This shows a very Universalist outlook, yet it is also a commentary against those religions.  In the commentary I have it is pointed out that this shakes the concept of a favored nation, whose member will go to heaven alone; much like the criticism of the Jewish people who call themselves the “Chosen People”.  This furthers illustrates a larger issue that the past faiths were the truth until the people rejected it.  Just read two verses later (2:64) in which the Quran states that the Jews turned their back after being given the truth.  While they still can achieve salvation, they are chastised throughout this section for rejecting God’s word.   It is true that there could be verse to back unfriendly relations to non-believers.  In Ch. 60 verse 1 it does say to not take disbelievers as your friends, yet it is not that simple.  In verses 7 and 8 it is explained that the only reason to not take the unbelievers as friends was due to the conflict and war happening at the time.  The commentary explained the historical background and that it depends on what is happening.  To actually quote the commentary, “the true principle is revealed in unmistakable language, allowing friendly relation with one class of disbelievers and prohibiting such relations with those of another class.”  So from this it is perfectly okay for friendship between disbelievers, except with those who are actively seeking to destroy you or your faith, which isn’t far off from Christianity, which teaches to still help those who are sinning, but if they are actively trying to corrupt you, to then cut yourself from them. 
      After studying for this paper, I was surprised.  I knew there were similarities between Christianity and Islam, but I wasn’t sure how it was.  I also knew that Islam is more open to non-Muslims, than most religions have been to people who don’t share their beliefs.  Now the beliefs on Jesus are close to my own, the only issue is the divinity part, or the part that he is not the Son of God.  Since I still do believe that the Quran is from God, yet I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I attribute the inconsistency to either God not revealing completeness but rather the message he wanted for the Arabs or the more likely, corruption of man of the Prophet Mohammad’s (Peace be upon him) message.   I think if more understood that Jesus does have a place in Islam, there could be more dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  However, not all Christians would be receptive, this past week I talked to street preachers who said that Muslims were damn since they reduced Jesus to a prophet, and not God himself.  A theme that I picked up about the relations to non-Muslims was one greatly of tolerance rather than acceptance.  This goes well with the history of the Islamic Empire and their treatment of the Dhimmis.  While they did not enjoy the same benefits of those in Islam, they had their basic freedoms and rights and were treated with respect.  This seemed to jump out to me, though there is still a tone of somewhat disdain to the other beliefs, since they rejected and changed God’s word.  As a member of the LDS church, this is nothing new since we say that all other churches are abominations in the eyes of God; though it is because they have been corrupted.  There are still differences between Christianity and Islam, but I think of it as the way the Christian King of Abyssinia did when he drew a line on the ground and stated that the difference between the two were no thicker than that line.  I would say that line is even smaller for those in the LDS faith in relation to Islam.  I truly believe, after reading in the Quran, that Islam was the purest religion until the Restoration, and that it was completely pure when the Prophet Mohammed lived on this earth.

Quran used; The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Maulana Muhammad Ali

(To study more for yourself, please follow the link and get a copy of this great book)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Repentance is Proof that God Loves Us

One of the greatest gifts that our Heavenly Father gave us is the opportunity to repent for our sins and transgressions. It is a vital part of our Lord’s plan that without it, no person could even hope to make it into heaven. As stated in the fourth Article of Faith, repentance is second only to having faith in Jesus Christ. This makes it a very important factor in our eternal salvation and thus something that every single human being on this planet should come to know and love. For it is known, “All men, everywhere, must repent” (Moses 6:57)
I shall quickly touch on what it means to sin. Sometimes there are confusions between a transgression and sin, sometimes there is for some too much guilt placed in a harmless transgression. James describes sin, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17). So, as we can see if someone knows the law and still openly rebels, then they have sinned, and thus they are not striving to be like God. We should feel ashamed by this, but know that no person can avoid sin. John made this clear, “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [Jesus Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8–9). He shows that all sin and there is no escape from it, but there is a silver lining, for he mentions that we can be forgiven of these sins.
The reason behind the importance of repentance is we are a fallen and sinful people can not fulfill our potential without a tool like repentance. The Prophet Amulek taught us that “And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.” (Alma 11:37). It is clear that without this gift, we could never make it back into heaven for we are certainly unclean. This point also made clear in the writings of Nephi, “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21) Showing this importance, Elder Bernard P. Brockbank quoted David O. McKay saying, “Every principle and ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ is significant and important in contributing to the progress, happiness, and eternal life of man, but there is none more essential to the salvation of the human family than the divine and eternally operative principle, repentance. Without it, no one can be saved. Without it, no one can … progress.”(Bernard P. Brockbank, Fall 1974 General Conference)
Another reason it is important to repent is sin can bring us low and “slow” us in our dealing in the world and especially with the spiritual things. President Monson explained this in a talk where he compared sins to the barnacles that grow on the under side of a ship. These are not good for shipping boats since it creates drag and can slow their progression, much like sins slow our spiritual progression. So, once in a while the boats will go far up river to the city Portland, where the freshwater will kill off all the barnacles. I believe its best to have the Prophet take the story from here, “Periodically, the ship must go into dry dock, where with great effort the barnacles are chiseled or scraped off. It’s a difficult, expensive process that ties up the ship for days. But not if the captain can get his ship to Portland. Barnacles can’t live in fresh water. There, in the sweet, fresh waters of the Willamette or Columbia, the barnacles loosen and fall away, and the ship returns to its task lightened and renewed. Sins are like those barnacles. Hardly anyone goes through life without picking up some. They increase the drag, slow our progress, decrease our efficiency. Unrepented, building up one on another, they can eventually sink us.” (Thomas S. Monson, April 2000 General Conference) From this we can see that an un-repented life will begin to make the individual drag in life and lose their luster from the extreme weight of sin, but all of it can easily be taken away.
One of the saddest things I see is people procrastinating repentance. I have been told many times over by friends, “I am young, I don’t want to change, and I have plenty of time in my life to repent”. This cuts deep since it is not true. Putting off repentance is extremely dangerous, for it grows the possibility that they will never repent. The Prophet Amluek knew this and taught many years ago the great dangers. “For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.” (Alma 34:35) The more one puts of repentance the more weight they will feel from sin, and they will slowly become more and more a servant of the adversary with out even realizing it. The Spirit will not waste his time on one who will not repent and sadly this leaves people open to Satan’s growing influence on them. I know this on a very personal level. On the topic of not repenting President Monson related another story about how long un-repented sins can destroy us later. “The ice storm [that winter] wasn’t generally destructive. True, a few wires came down, and there was a sudden jump in accidents along the highway. … Normally, the big walnut tree could easily have borne the weight that formed on its spreading limbs. It was the iron wedge in its heart that caused the damage. The story of the iron wedge began years ago when the white-haired farmer [who now inhabited the property on which it stood] was a lad on his father’s homestead. The sawmill had then only recently been moved from the valley, and the settlers were still finding tools and odd pieces of equipment scattered about. … On this particular day, it was a faller’s wedge—wide, flat, and heavy, a foot or more long, and splayed from mighty poundings [—which the lad found] … in the south pasture. [A faller’s wedge, used to help fell a tree, is inserted in a cut made by a saw and then struck with a sledge hammer to widen the cut.] … Because he was already late for dinner, the lad laid the wedge … between the limbs of the young walnut tree his father had planted near the front gate. He would take the wedge to the shed right after dinner, or sometime when he was going that way. He truly meant to, but he never did. [The wedge] was there between the limbs, a little tight, when he attained his manhood. It was there, now firmly gripped, when he married and took over his father’s farm. It was half grown over on the day the threshing crew ate dinner under the tree. … Grown in and healed over, the wedge was still in the tree the winter the ice storm came.
In the chill silence of that wintry night … one of the three major limbs split away from the trunk and crashed to the ground. This so unbalanced the remainder of the top that it, too, split apart and went down. When the storm was over, not a twig of the once-proud tree remained. Early the next morning, the farmer went out to mourn his loss. …
Then, his eyes caught sight of something in the splintered ruin. ‘The wedge,’ he muttered reproachfully. ‘The wedge I found in the south pasture.’ A glance told him why the tree had fallen. Growing, edge-up in the trunk, the wedge had prevented the limb fibers from knitting together as they should.” (Thomas S Monson, Ensign, May 2002, 18) Like this hidden wedge, un-repented sins can bury deep in us and weaken us to a point where we will not be able to withstand a storm that we would normally be strong enough to stand against. Through the Lord and his gift, we can erase those wedges and be as if it had never happen.
While repentance is a gift, to some it is very scary and daunting. Once a person recognizes sin in their lives, it hurts, and to repent is going to hurt, but it should. Many adopt the idea of “premeditate repentance” which is lie from Satan. “And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:8) This is nothing less than a slap in the face to our Savior. To think that we can sin a little, plan to repent afterwards, and only get a minor punishment is ludicrous. “For those who have strayed, the Savior has provided a way back. But it is not without pain. Repentance is not easy; it takes time—painful time! You deceive yourself if you believe you can break the promises you have made with Heavenly Father and suffer no consequence.” (M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, May 1993, 6) Also, President Kimball stated something similar, “There is no royal road to repentance, no privileged path to forgiveness” (Teachings of the President of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball) True repentance is a changing of heart, and is extremely painful. Yet the end result is amazing. And everyone is strong enough to go through repentance, for the Lord will never give us more than we can handle.
As mentioned earlier, repentance usually is much more than just seeking forgiveness for sins; it is the conscious decision to follow Christ and try to turn away from the sinning. While of course in our fallen state it is impossible to completely turn away from sin, we must still try since if we don’t, we will be judged for it. The greatest gift, in my eyes, is repentance that leads to conversion.
“The fruits of repentance are sweet. Repentant converts find that the truths of the restored gospel govern their thoughts and deeds, shape their habits, and forge their character. They are more resilient and able to deny themselves of all ungodliness” (Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, May 2007, 102–5) As a convert this statement is close to me, of course he didn’t just mean converts to the Church for there are many LDS who need to or have been converted to Christ. If there is anything that is clearer to me, it is the greatness that comes out of true repentance and a conversion to Christ. This topic is of such importance to me. Before I became a member, I truly say fit in my eyes to destroy God’s influence over the earth. I was down the road of a ‘son of perdition” and could care less. I would rather not go into to much detail on my near spiritual suicide which much I have always kept to myself. However, I know that I have been forgiven and if I could be, I know anyone can be. Does my past still hurt, yes, but I understand that it comes with what I did and the important thing is that my Heavenly Father has manifested unto me that he no longer sees those sins; this is a greater gift to me than my own life. Yet, if I could go back, I would not change a thing, since out of everything I did, I ultimately learned much about the un-restraining love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for all of us, and I grew to understand the atonement infinitely more than I would ever been taught in church.
For many the path to repentance is unclear. As members of the Lord’s church we are blessed with the knowledge of the path, yet we also have the responsibility to go forth and share this with others. We know from the Book of Mormon and the Bible that Christ is the way to repentance. “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26) Christ is the way, the truth and light and only through him can repentance come. To learn more we must search the scriptures for they are what teach us the wonders of Christ and the gift of repentance. We have many examples of those who have been changed from repentance. Whether it is Alma the younger, who sought to destroy the church with words, or Saul, one who was much more violent in his dealings. These and many others have seen the glory of Christ and his eternal gift. If the person is a member of the LDS church or of other church, if they look to Christ, they will find repentance and forgiveness.
It is true, there is a thing called the “unforgivable sin” that is taught most notably by the Apostle John. However, to commit such a thing one must have a perfect knowledge of Christ and the Holy Ghost, a thing I doubt any man could ever have since we can’t achieve perfection in this life. Also, the idea is that if one has perfect knowledge then they will never want to come back even after they committed the sin. But that is not the point, since I feel conformable in saying that there is not a sin that we as humans can commit that the Lord will not forgive.
This topic is such a dear gift and that is something I can not stress enough. I may sound like a broken record on that point, but for some things that needs to be the case. I have seen my life completely change, in every aspect; socially, culturally, religiously, politically, even down to my likes and dislikes, all because I have repented and came to Christ. If I could give all my knowledge just to have a perfect knowledge of repentance and how incredibly forgiving our Lord is, I would. I still can’t comprehend it sometimes, how by an act sins can be washed away. I have a firm testimony in this, which lead to the testimony I have for everything else in the Church. This is a direct result of a greater gift, the atonement of Christ. I know personally of his forgiveness and love, I have been blessed to have seen it. Understanding repentance, brought back my faith in Christ, and showed me the truth of this Church and the Holy scriptures. One could have all the knowledge in the world, but yet if he does not know about repentance, then, I believe, he knows nothing.

What is more Important, Church or family?

What is more important?

Today at work I was listening to a church program on the internet. It was about keeping life simple and not trying to be to complex. The conversation went from one topic to another and the issue came up of family and the Church. Namely the issue was, which is more important. How do you balance your responsibilities and duty to the Lord's Church, and keep all your responsibilities and still be with your family, which is of course very important. One of the speakers told a story of when he was a Bishop. He was conducting a meeting outside of church, but still every important. He was speaking with some brothers when his phone rang. It was his daughter, around 7 or 8, and she wanted him to come home. She said she had to speak with him and it was extremely important. He asked if it could wait, but she said it was urgent. He didn't know what to do, so he decided to have someone finish the meeting and he went home to speak with little girl. It turned out to really not be that urgent, but to her it was very important. The man was glad of the choice he made putting family first, but is that suppose to be the case every time? One of the men doing the show said a quote from Stephen Covey that give some great insight on this issue. The quote went something like this, "It is not an issue of what is more important, the Church or family, our loyalty should be with God. If we trust him then we will know which one is the right one to choose when certain conflicts come up". Sadly, I can not actaully remember the exact quote but I think that is close. I think that is a very inspired statement. For some, the Church trumps all, but we can not forget the other aspects of our lives, especially families. If we listen to God then we will know the correct choice. I believe this can help us with other things too. For people in college, at least for me, it was hard to balance Church with school. I was there to get an education, and that is something that moves with us to the next life, so it is important. Sometimes we may have a conflict with studying for a big test, and going to FHE. There are many other examples like that of course, but the point is we should just listen to hear what the right decision is. Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you guys :) God Bless!!!