“You are stuck in an elevator for 20 minutes. A person in the elevator looks at you and says, ‘Are you Muslim?’ You answer Yes. ‘What is that faith all about?’ he says. You have 20 minutes to describe your faith. What will you say? 20 minutes.”
My husband and I were on a panel discussion on Islam at Chautauqua Institution. The moderator—the Bishop, had posed his first question.
We turned to face the audience and gave our 20 minute crash course on Islam. This is the history—the family tree of sorts, here are some of the beliefs, this is what we practice; told a couple of stories, quoted a few statistics, plus a few dates.
“What gifts does your faith tradition bring to the table, and what gifts in other faiths do you admire and would like to adopt?” the Bishop asked.
Now we are talking.
First the easy part—the gifts of our faith. How much time do I have?
- The belief in the One God, the Creator, the Sustainer. With Him, I have a direct relationship. If I have Him on my side, I am at peace.
- Five daily prayers. Every day, 5 times a day, I push the pause button in my life, stop what I am doing, and put God above everything else. I stand in His presence and thank Him for His blessings. Five times a day, I am touch with the cosmos: daybreak, noon, afternoon, sunset, and nightfall.
- Every year, I must give 2.5% of my savings to charity, to share God’s blessings with those less fortunate. To let go of money, is priceless.
- Once a year, I fast during the month of Ramadan—from daybreak to sunset, no eating, no drinking, no sex. [Some are easier than others]. Its an annual refresher course in cultivating restraint; and it does makes me realize what it is like to go without food. And I mean it when I say, it makes me God conscious. Plus I get an added bonus: I lose weight.
I am not done.
- Whenever I start to do something, as in eating a meal or starting the car, I say Bismillah to mean that I begin in the name of God. Just a reminder, that we are in God’s hands.
- When I make the intention to do something, as in ‘see you tomorrow’, I add InshAllah. God willing. See you tomorrow, InshAllah. If I fail to show up, I can shift the blame to God. It was God’s will.
Now, the gifts of other faiths. Hmmm!
Shall we start with the Christian faith? I have always loved the practice of saying Grace at the dinner table; holding hands around the table, and thanking God for the blessing of food. We Muslims should make this a regular practice in our daily lives. And of course, I love Christmas. The lights, and the joy it brings into the homes.
In the Jewish faith, I think it is such a sensible idea that one day in the week, you just rest. Rest, reflect, reset, and recharge. I tried it once. I had come back from a Sabbath service, and was so charged up, I decided to observe the Sabbath. It was hard! I kept reaching for my cell phone. But eventually, I settled into a grove, and spending the day sitting in my chair, my feet resting on the ottoman, reading a book, watching the sailboats glide by on the East River…was heavenly. I also believe that the practice of completing the reading of the Torah over the course of a year keeps the faith alive. We do that during Ramadan, and then we put away the Quran for the rest of the year—sort of. Why not make it a daily thing like the Jews do?
In the Hindu faith, I love the music of the temples. For centuries, Muslims have fended off music, considering it as a distraction at minimum, and lewd at worse. Enough! No need to deny yourself the joy of the sound of music. Let it in and let it stir your soul, and feel your heart thump with a happy beat. Then of course, there is yoga. That is on my bucket-list.
I didn’t forget Buddhism and its gift of meditation. The cure for all stresses, anxieties, tensions and fears; the alternative to anti-depressants and tranquilizers. Imagine starting your day with clearing your head, and ending the day by instilling quiet. We could all use that.
Bishop, did I answer your question?