The three topics I chose for my paper was about each faith and it’s relation to the world (science, the natural and metaphysical life), sexuality and gender, and politics. I asked the Imam my questions in his office following the service. A member of the church came in and offered us a bottle of water and some Guava juice. While the Imam and I had some minor difficulties communicating (he spoke good English but was born in Yemen and had a less-developed vocabulary), he was very open in answering questions and kind. When I asked him about how strict his mosques interpretation of the scriptures was, he said that for nearly all Muslims, the word of God is what it is, and while different groups interpret differently, they adhere very close to their interpretations (there are very few who have a loose interpretation). I began with my first topic. I asked if Islam was open to scientific theories like the big bang and evolution, and he confirmed that Islam is open to science. He acknowledged that in the early days of Islam, we did not have the means to make the discoveries we know today, and that they often take belief in the scientific discoveries that are made; that said, there are certain practices by scientists that Muslims object to ethically. He said that all the scientific happenings in the world are directly caused by the hand of God, and that he has an ultimate purpose for everything. He said that when a loved one dies, they can be sad, but they do not become angry with God because they believe that as God gives, he has the right to take away. He said Muslims believe that humans are given free will to do the right thing and carry out the word of God themselves. Having the knowledge I wanted about his thoughts on the natural, I asked about the metaphysical world. I asked if all Muslims go to heaven, and he said yes; a Muslim may go to hell if they make the wrong choices, but ultimately believing in the word of Muhammad will get you into heaven eventually. He said he does not believe a Jew or Christian or any non-Muslim can get into heaven ever because they don’t believe in Muhammad’s word, but also admitted that it is not up to him to decide. He acknowledged his interpretation has a chance of being wrong, and that he could go to hell before heaven, and that non-Muslims could go to heaven, if this were the case.
I asked the pastor my question during the coffee break. He was friendly upon greeting me, but initially did not seem enthusiastic about being asked questions. He answered them kindly and casually though, and the idea that he did not want to ask quickly went away. He reminded me that there is no universal thought in his church or in Presbyterianism, and that his answers may not be the same if I were to ask others. When asked if he objects to scientific theories, he said that he does not. He told me that he thinks religion and science ought to be friends, and that they can describe the world together. He believes that natural disasters are products of nature, and that God would not cause such a thing. In terms of free will, he said that humans have free will but often times the environment plays a major role that we cannot change. In the metaphysical world, he believes that Jesus died for all people, Christians and otherwise. He believes that heaven is for everyone, and a person is only in hell if they believe that is where they will be; he quotes a philosopher “we create hell for ourselves”. He says there may or may not be a hell like many believe in, but if there is a lot of it is right here on Earth.
Upon asking the Imam about sexuality and gender, I noted that there were no females at the service. He informed me that the women meet in a separate room on the other side of the building (my mom, who drove me, said she saw women going in the back of the building). He said this is common for many mosques—some will allow them in the same room and have the women in back—and the purpose is to protect the women; it is a preventative measure to keep people from lusting, and it protects women as men are typically more aggressive than women when they lust. He said that we all lust as it is only natural, but it is very wrong to do so while worshipping. I asked if he thinks women are inferior, and he said not at all, but they do assign gender roles because they think working comes more natural to men and housekeeping to women. I asked about how women dress, and he said it is highly a cultural thing. Most women who were raised Muslim will wear the entire garb, while many converts do not wear all of the attire. This is why Saudi Arabia is so traditional and Pakistan and Turkey are more open to how women dress. I asked if he thought homosexuality was wrong, and he said Muslims do think that it is very bad. According to him, many homosexuals will hide their identity as it will bring them down and their tribe, but homosexuals are not often shunned by their loved ones, as it is seen as a sin, but they don’t treat it much differently than other sins—it is simply highly and openly discouraged if a Muslim is openly gay.
The pastor told me that he does not believe that God assigned any objective gender roles, and that we have simply been socialized to have them. He also said that certain gender roles can be necessary to promote some aspects of life, but again nothing is objective. When asked if it is natural to lust, he said that lust does come naturally (he defines lust as sexual exploitation for one’s own gain), but it’s not really a good thing since, it is only to promote your gain and not another’s. When asked about homosexuality, he said that he believes that him sexuality is biological or physiological and that we should not condemn someone for being homosexual, just as you wouldn’t condemn someone based on their eye color. He believes that if alcoholism can be genetic, then so can homosexuality. He also says he supports the right for homosexuals to marry.
My final topic was about faith and politics. When asked if Muslims want their religion to be an aspect in lawmaking, he said that while some view religion as a thing of worship, most Muslims believe it covers all aspects of life. He says that Sharia Law is their law, but as long as the laws of a country do not interfere with their ability to practice Sharia Law, they will not be interested in changing the law otherwise; from what he sees, the US Constitution does not interfere conflict with Sharia law and that Muslims are not interested in changing to constitution because they have the ability to practice. They support Sharia Law to be the law of Middle Eastern countries, but that is because most people are Muslims there anyway. When asked about religious extremism, he said that radicals are condemned and their way is wrong. When I brought up Israel and Palestine, he admitted that there is the real issue. He believes that a two-state solution is the best solution and that they have no right to tell Jews they should not be there, and vice-versa, so long as what is Islam’s remains Islam’s. When asked if he is okay with Jerusalem being split, he said that this is the main problem and that while he believes Jerusalem should be Palestine, he knows it is not that easy. He says if you were to split it, however, the conflict would not end.
The Presbyterian pastor, when asked if religion should influence law, said that he feels religion, whether directly or not, cannot help but influence law and culture in some form. He was also adamant that his church and most attendants very much support the separation of church and state. He said that he appreciates the tax breaks that churches get, but would oppose any taxpayer money going toward a church if the church can’t support itself as it is. When asked for his opinion on very socially conservative politicians with a religious agenda, he noted that he clearly is not a social conservative, and that he finds those types of politicians discouraging, and at times annoying. Even though the question at hand is not one that Christianity is directly a part of, I asked any about a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. The pastor said that a two-state solution should really be the only solution, and that Jerusalem should be split between the two.
One thing I noticed about the two religions is that the answers I received from their leaders were mostly similar, but they have different ways of achieving their beliefs. Neither group objects to scientific theories, nor that people have free will. Both believe that lust is natural but is not a good thing. Neither believes that homosexuals should be shunned. Both are open to a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. Neither believes religious law should be imposing political law so long as it does not interfere with their personal religious law, but that it will influence law in some form as a religious person wouldn’t pass a law that interferes with their own religious rights. There are some differences however. In Islam it is believed that God is the cause of everything and uses nature, while Presbyterianism doesn’t believe God controls aspects of nature that would harm people. The Imam believes only Muslims can go to heaven while the pastor believes that everyone technically goes to heaven, but at the same time both admit they could be wrong. Neither believed women were inferior, but they do differ on the concept of gender roles. Even though they neither would shun a homosexual, the Imam was adamant that Muslims do think homosexuality is bad; the pastor was very open about it, although in the context of the rest of Christianity he is one of the few exceptions, as most of Christianity is very opposed to homosexuality. They also differ on the policy of Jerusalem. I notice that most of their differences are very minor though, and a lot of their ideals are the same. The differences between the services were mostly the people: the Muslims were nice but they were much more focused on praying before the service, while the Presbyterians were very open and casual. Also, at the mosque it was very leader orientated, while the Presbyterians seemed pretty focused on the group. A characteristic they both shared was their sense of unity. I never felt anything quite like hearing the Muslims sing “ameen” during prayer, but the group orientation of the Presbyterians also gave you the idea that they were unified, because everyone talked to each other like they knew each other. Both religions were revitalization movements, which is described as “a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture” by Anthony Wallace (Bowen, 185). Both religions developed out of Abrahamic origins but made their own editions to as what they as is more proper, or the correct version of God’s word. If I could find any objective issue with the information I was given is that the leaders’ beliefs aren’t going to be the same for all Muslims or Christians or maybe not even all Sunnis or Presbyterians. While this Imam does not believe Sharia Law and the US constitution contradict, even if most Muslims think this way, there was no way for me to know whether most are on the same page or not. His beliefs on whether women are inferior may be subjective to others as well. I’m not sure if I would get the same answers from the man on the board or the head Imam. As for the pastor, while he seemed to be very socially progressive, in my experience most Christians are not this way, especially with his openness to homosexuality and how people can get into heaven. I get the feeling I would have more objective date if I went to a different mosque or Presbyterian Church. Regardless, I found this assignment enjoyable and would like to attend these services again.
Works Cited Page
Bowen, John. “The Qur’an as Recitation of God’s Speech” Religions in Practice.Boston: Prentiss Hall, 2008. Print
Bowen, John. “Revivalist Movements” Religions in Practice. Boston: Prentiss Hall, 2008. Print
Knight, Kevin “Presbyterianism” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. 2009. Web.
Warms, Richard. “Christianity” Sacred Realms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.Warms, Richard. “Islam” Sacred Realms. New York: Oxford University Pr