O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.
– Sahih International translation of the Holy Quran Thirteenth Verse of Chapter 49 (The Dwellings)
The above quote was in a video that an Egyptian American Muslim friend posted on FaceBook. The speaker, a Muslim, challenged other Muslims to examine why Muslims who believed in the phrases of kindness prevalent throughout the Holy Quran were accepting the “kill and slaughter” ideology of certain Islamic scholars and Terrorists who use the Quran to spread hatred of non-Muslims. After quoting the verse, he asked, “how can we know one another if we spread hate?”
In 1985, I first read the Quran which was in desk drawer in my hotel room when I was on an extended business trip to Pakistan. I picked it up to pass the time and read it through by the end of the trip. I had taken a college course a decade previously called “The Old Testament as Western Literature”. I read the Quran, not as a religious text, but as literature. What struck me were the similarities rather than the differences between the two texts.
The man in the video articulately summed up, in less than 10 minutes, an intuitive sense I’ve had about how narrow ideologically driven interpretations can lead to hatred. In my reading of the Quran all those years ago, there was much kindness as well as some not so nice passages. Islamic scholars, who the speaker names in the video, distorted the Quran to condemn non-muslims. Early Christians also promoted their agenda with Biblical interpretations that did not include kindness. I do not believe that modern Christianity spreads hate, but it’s ideology can cause divisiveness. People who believe in the messages of love and kindness need to act and speak louder to be heard above the cacophony of ideology.
I often wonder how we, Americans, who came together as a nation of many peoples based on the concept of inclusion, are so eager to judge and verbally attack people who are different. I am certainly not immune to casting judgement. I do believe, as you get to know some one, it’s really hard to hate them. Without kindness, communication and understanding, the seeds of hatred can easily be sown.
I’m not so naive as to believe you can really “know” anyone. I spent my Junior Year in France in the mid 70s, where young, white American girls (my tribe at the time) were frequently targets of catcalls and suggestive remarks by men from former French territories of Algeria and/or Tunisia. While the flirtations may have been innocent, they were unwanted and annoying. I had no interest in communicating with them. Over the course of the year, I developed a deep distrust of a tribe I labeled as North African, Arabic speaking men.
Flash forward a few years, as a floundering college liberal arts graduate trying to find her niche in the work world, I was a bit nervous about accepting a job at Ford Aerospace as a French/English translator for a contract with the Government of Tunisia. The contract meant I would be interacting with 18 members of the Tunisian military in training in the US over 9 months. I was amazed when my business relationship turned to friendship with some of these men. Some were guests at family holiday events to include Christmas dinner.
Unlike my experience as a student in Paris, I was treated with respect. (Of course, I had also changed tribes from student to business woman.) These men, in time, identified me as their American “sister”. The most religious and kindest man, Ali, would tell me often about the goodness of Islam. For years, he sent me a Christmas card every year to tell me what was new with his family. Another man wanted to “live like an American.” He partied heartily and was often on the prowl for a girlfriend. After sending him a birthday card when he went back home, he chastised me and asked me not to write again. Apparently as an unmarried woman, I might be viewed as an American slut in his family’s eyes.
My point here, is Ali, the devout, kind, Muslim, was a true friend. As we discussed the religions traditions we grew up in, I often found that there was more similarity in our values than expected. The other man who blended in more with my culture was not a true friend. I felt a little hurt by how quickly I had been moved from “sister” to American Slut category, but I chalked it up as a life lesson to challenge my beliefs.
The above example caused a self-examination in how I developed different beliefs about race, religion and national tribes as a young adult. In the present day, I continue to examine more subtle examples of tribalism. Several years ago a close family member decided she no longer wanted to be part of my life. I had sided with another’s version of events preceding this decision. My husband and I were labelled as “homophobes” and years of love and relationship building were thrown away. The homophobe label was even more hurtful and confusing than American Slut was decades ago. I accepted this person’s choice of partners. I was having some trouble with what I perceived as some self destructive behavioral changes that I questioned, I thought in a kind way. I tried, unsuccessfully, to seek understanding. This experience has made me question. How is it that you can be in someone’s life and not know them? Why is it, that when you identify your beliefs one way and the other person holds firm another way, communication seems impossible? When do you give up and decide the opportunity to know someone is not to be?
As the video came to a close, the speaker stated that if Islamists tell their followers not to wish Christians “Merry Christmas”, they are sowing seeds of hatred. I translated this as “you do not have to believe like another to be kind and extend good wishes.” In this New Year, I wish you kindness and the opportunity to know one another.