A confluence of events happened at a period in my life when I was paying attention, and those things coming together have influenced me enormously. The first was participation in a bible study conducted in a branch of Christianity not my own, whose dogma is occasionally repellant and repugnant to me, but whose study of the chapter in the bible is thorough. The second was my move back to the Islamic world, and my choice to study Arabic at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam.
In both cases, what I learned is that we have more in common than we have differences. I also learned that if we focus on the differences, it can be devastating.
Both groups know the Bible. My Moslem sisters knew the bible better than I did, and when discussing such issues as covering hair and wearing abaya, could quote me verses from my own book which re-inforced their argument. It was mortifying – and edifying.
My Baptist friends also surprise me. For every one who rails against gay marriage or ordination of women, there was another who would laugh and quote scripture saying “did you notice the same penalty for a woman who cuts her hair? or wears pants in public?” I learned a lot about my own religion, my own beliefs, and the goodness of others by my interactions with both these groups.
One of the differences in the Moslem world was that many houses I went into (I was honored to be invited into their homes) were very plain. The furniture might be basic or elaborate, but often, the walls were bare. Maybe there might be a calligraphy with a Quranic verse on the wall – that was it. No paintings, especially no human figures – no idols, no images.
In my house, I am surrounded by images, photos, paintings, weavings – they give me joy, but I do not worship them. They are not idols, they are merely art or family – things that make me smile. I distinguish between idols and gods. Yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy sticks with me, however, and I can hear my sweet teachers at QCPI saying to me “But doesn’t it say in Deuteronomy 4 that you are to have no idols?”
25 When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed.
27The Lord will scatter you among the peoples; only a few of you will be left among the nations where the Lord will lead you. 28There you will serve other gods made by human hands, objects of wood and stone that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. 30In your distress, when all these things have happened to you in time to come, you will return to the Lord your God and heed him. 31Because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.
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