Tuesday, February 28, 2017

I read the Qu'ran!

This whole Year of Faiths idea popped into my head at the start of the year. I was reading the Qu'ran and decided that I ought to read the whole thing in 2017... which led me down a rabbit trail of other ideas - Why just one holy book? Why not explore a different faith each month (on top of seminary)?

I never thought I'd finish the Qu'ran by February. And I realize that, as my Muslim friend Sofia said to me over brunch this month, that you can't just read the Qu'ran front to back, because any holy book is like an onion, requiring you to pull back layer upon layer, day after day.

But I did read it through, all the way, marking my progress on a chart. I thought it was at least a noble beginning, and a grateful gesture toward Mahmoud, the stranger I met on a plane who mailed this lovely Qu'ran to me as a gift.
In reading it, I loved soaking in the familiar stories from the Bible, with small twists and suprises: stories of Mary's youth in a sanctuary, paralleling gnostic texts; Abraham's sacrifice of his son (not Isaac, but Ishmael); Adam and his wife in the Garden of Eden, not sullied by original sin; warnings of blessings and doom, in nearly equal measure and with an especial nod toward helping the poor and disenfranchised (emphasized in both scriptures). I began marking the parallels between the Qu'ran and Bible characters with post-its, until I realized I was running out of post-its.

I feel like a better Christian, with a deeper appreciation of the Bible, for having read this book.
I'm still looking forward to a podcast soon with Dr. Sofia Khan, about helping refugees. This month dedicated to Islam has been such a blessing with new friendships - Khalil, Mahnaz, Sofia - and a deeper appreciation of the Muslim faith.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mahnaz Shabbir on Islam

UPDATE: We recorded this podcast in the morning, and learned later in the day that a local triple shooting last night, leaving one man dead and two others injured, was a hate crime. It was directed toward two men who were, like my friend Mahnaz, of Indian descent. The other victim, Ian Grillot, was injured after standing up to the shooter. More than ever, I feel this weight of responsibility to increase dialogue with, and compassion toward, people who do not look like "us" or believe like "us," because this xenophobia and violence ratcheting upward in American society is destroying humanity. My prayers are with all of us, and especially the families and victims of this disgusting violence. May we all have the courage of Ian Grillot!

As part of my "Year of Faiths" podcasts, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Mahnaz Shabbir, who has given hundreds of lectures locally and internationally about her Islamic faith. Her article, “I am an American Muslim Woman” was syndicated throughout the United States, and she has been featured on CBS, "Voice of America," and recently co-authored the chapter on Islam in The Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers. Mahnaz is a mother, grandmother, business owner, devoted citizen, award winning journalist and humanitarian, and among the honorees of Ingram’s Magazine’s list of the “50 Kansans You Should Know.”

Tomorrow I'm joining Mahnaz at The Project Equality Summit in Kansas City, where she is a guest speaker. What a treat!

Link on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-lift-podcast/id1194719815?mt=2

Link on Stitcher: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-lift-2?refid=stpr

In this podcast episode:
0:00 - Have you ever had a mystical experience?
5:48 - Introduction
6:41 - Growing up in an immigrant family
9:51 - How does one become Muslim?
11:22 - History & beliefs of Islam
14:25 - Praying 5 times per day
15:12 - Ramadan, the month of fasting
20:27 - On her husband's death and the pilgrimage to Mecca
26:11 - The decision to wear a hijab
30:53 - On Islam and women
33:43 - Xenophobia and fear in America today
37:50 - Why Islam makes the world a better place
39:53 - On the meaning of life

New biz cards

 Sometimes, it's the little things in life that thrill. I designed new biz cards this week for the podcast, and in doing so, reflected on just how much fun I've had in the past two months, since beginning this adventure with these fine people. Today, I'm feeling especially grateful for this journey.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Meet a Muslim event

This month, my Year of Faiths journey is focused on the religion of Islam. I'm more than halfway through the Qu'ran, am practicing the prayer postures (which make a fascinating theological study), and have some meetings lined up this month with Islamic faith leaders. One of them, Mahnaz Shabbir, invited me to attend an event put on this Sunday at Al Inshirah Islamic Center by the Crescent Peace Society: "Meet a Muslim."
It was an extraordinary experience, all around, and I was so heartened by the community's response!

Several Muslim leaders, including Mahnaz (below), shared about the Islamic faith, and offered the warmest hospitality to their curious guests. As we sat together, mostly on the floor, the sense of friendship and solidarity was deeply touching. A Muslim woman sitting beside me even took my hand - not just as a greeting, but to hold it in love. It warmed my heart.
At the call of the muezzin, we had the chance to watch the Muslim community in their afternoon prayers. Out of respect, I didn't take a picture of the prayers, but this is a photo of the enraptured audience. The Muslim speakers inculcated us into the meaning behind each posture, which enriched the whole experience (I think the postures will warrant a future blog post - stay tuned).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Year of Faiths: Islam

So it's month 2 of my YEAR OF FAITHS adventure, and I have loved spending January immersed in meditation and Eastern Buddhist thought, propped up by yoga cushions and serendipitous meetings, culminating in a mind-bending podcast with Lama Matthew Foster (HERE).

For February, I'm dipping my toes in the religion of Islam. I can't think of a more appropriate time to stand in solidarity with my Muslim friends, and to reveal the beauty and love of this peaceful religion, as all around the world and especially in America, the rhetoric against Muslims has turned toxic and violent. Populism is brewing up a Dark Age in America and the world.

But I'm reminded that in the Dark Ages of Europe, Islamic scholars preserved the treasured teachings of the world's greatest minds, made advances in the sciences, mathematics and other studies, and even developed a penchant for alchemy. In my own little way, I too want to become an alchemist, using this brief immersion experience with Islam to transform:

Ignorance into illumination,
Fear into curiosity,
Xenophobia into Philoxenia (love of the stranger).

For the month of February, dedicated to Islam, I'm going to:
1) Learn the prayer postures of Islam, and pray five times per day
2) Read the Qu'ran, front to back, all 6,236 ayahs
3) Visit a mosque and interact with the Muslim community
4) Study the mystic Rumi
5) Record a podcast with Mahnaz Shabbir, and join her at the Diversity & Inclusion Summit (where she is a guest panelist on behalf of Islam)
6) Learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis, and find some way to help

Journey with me?

 (This summer in Istanbul at the Hagia Sophia, where the Christian and Muslim worlds converge... I'm determined to raise my kids to love ALL cultures and appreciate other religions, not fear them.)