I had the pleasure of spending 8 days in the Muslim country of Morocco. To be honest, I was a bit nervous after reading the warnings in the guidebooks. I was aware of a bombing of a tourist cafe in Jamaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh in April 2011 as well as a general anti-American sentiment from people who had visited the country in the early to mid-2000’s. However, I was assured by the local travel agency I used that it was completely safe for Americans to visit. And, I am so glad that I did.
I’ve traveled to many countries and, on the whole, Moroccans have been the kindest and most generous people I have met. The people I met treated me as a family member as it is a very family oriented society. When an old friend passes by, Moroccans don’t just say “hi”…they take time to ask about the individual’s health, family, job, etc. They also greet each other as “brother” or “sister”. In addition to treating each other (and people they don’t know) warmly, they gave money to the disabled and elderly, and they made religion their priority. Everything revolves around Allah. You will hear a call to prayer over loudspeakers five times a day.
During my visit, I had some great conversations about religion. I wanted to understand the basics of Islam as well as the culture. I am a Christian and being American, I’ve heard a lot of “anti-Muslim” rhetoric since 9/11. Quite honestly, I get tired of people and certain media demonizing an entire religion based upon the actions of extremists. As my late grandmother used to say, “not everybody who goes to church is a Christian.” Every religion has its own sect of crazies. Westboro Baptist does not represent me or my beliefs. Yet, they call themselves “Christians.” Hitler saw himself as Christian. And, I am sure the Catholic priests who molested little boys see themselves as Christians too. Just as al-Qaeda sees themselves as Muslims.
Claiming a religion doesn’t automatically make you the representative of it. Everybody has their own set of beliefs…whether they believe in a form of religion or not. But, all of us have a belief system. Whether we worship God, Allah, Buddha…or a set of gods…or none at all. The bottom line, I feel, is that we should be able to respect those that are different from us.
In speaking with some Muslims in Morocco, I was able to learn the following about the differences in our religions:
1. They regard Jesus as a respected prophet, not God. I think this is the biggest difference. That’s the essence of the message of Islam…which is to call upon people to worship the one God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jesus, etc.
2. They don’t believe in the original sin. I’m told that the Quran mentions the story of Adam, Eve and the apple but places the blame on Adam and Eve equally, then forgave them. Thus, Jesus didn’t die on a cross nor did He die for anyones sins (since we are born sinless). He was raised to heaven and will return before the end of times.
3. They are accountable for their actions. On the day of judgment, their deeds will be weighed. Belief alone does not guarantee them Heaven. Their good actions have to outweigh their bad actions. These deeds could be anything from praying to God to serving for a better humanity.
Islam has 5 pillars that every Muslim must practice:
1. Shahadah = the declaration that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.
2. Prayer (Salat) = establishing of the five daily Prayers.
3. The paying of alms (Zakat) = which is generally 2.5% of the total savings for a rich man working in trade or industry, and 10% or 20% of the annual produce for agriculturists. This money or produce is distributed among the poor.
4. Fasting (Sawm) = refraining from eating, drinking or satisfying other needs from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar (usually around August/September).
5. The Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) = this is done during the month of Zul Hijjah, and is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it. If the Muslim is in ill-health or in debt, he or she is not required to perform Hajj.
While there are differences (mainly that Christians recognize God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), there are some similarities (we fast from time to time, pay tithes, help the less fortunate and pray). I’m not saying that one religion is better than the other. I am a Christian. However, my grandmother is a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ve had to learn from an early age to figure out differences and make a decision on what I believe is true. Just because I don’t agree with the tenets of certain religions doesn’t mean I should disrespect them. As long as our rights and person aren’t infringed upon, we should be able to live in peace.
The terrorists from 9/11 and from the recent U.S. embassy attacks are horrible people. And so was Queen Mary (also known as Bloody Mary) who burned Protestants on the stake for refusing to convert to Catholicism. History is riddled with those who want to use violence & murder to uphold their “religious beliefs.” Let’s not judge an entire religion based upon the acts of a few. Making Muslim synonymous with terrorism is wrong. Just like the anti-Muslim movie that has caused a firestorm recently was wrong. I think if we quit judging others, we will find that we are more alike than we realize. Of course, this is just my humble opinion.