May 2, 2010

An Open Discussion With FD and Hassan: Islam, Christianity, War in Afghanistan, Ethnic Discrimination, The Role Of God And Religion In Our Lives

After my previous post recounting my recent experience at Lutheran mass, my Afghan brother Hassan left a comment that I thought deserved a post of its own.

In recent days I've been thinking about how we, as Mormons, usually attribute all the suffering and misery in the world to human beings exercising their free agency and thereby inflicting pain on others by their own choice -- against God's will. A few days ago, an Afghan friend of ours -- and Hassan's best friend -- was suddenly deported and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. I don't think it was "God's will" for him to be sent out of the country into an uncertain future on the streets, neither do I believe that the majority of people here (if they knew about it) would have wanted this to happen to him, but one ends up feeling rather helpless. Is the world really dominated by a majority of heartless people who want to perpetuate all the pain and suffering of poverty, war, violence, and discrimination? Or is the problem, in reality, that a minority of people with evil intentions has an upper-hand on the good majority? It's the main reason why I believe in a god that is more deist in nature, rather than one that is actively involved in every intricate detail of our lives.
One thing that I've learned from my discussions with Hassan is that the "explanations" for inequality that I was once so comfortable giving seem terribly inadequate when you're faced with them head-on. Some of the Mormon theories in regards to free agency, pre-existence and foreordination seem totally plausible until you have someone like a refugee sitting in front of you whose life is in political limbo and utter ruin. Another Afghan refugee sent me a link yesterday about children in war, which you can see here, and there was a line in the song that really struck me:
"Is this what my life is for? To be wasted in a world of war?"
I have never felt from Hassan that he is bitter, even though he has every reason in the world to be so. But I remember a conversation with him when he asked, "What crime did I commit to be given this destiny, except that I was born in Afghanistan?" I have no sensible answer for that question.

So, before we jump into Hassan's list of questions, here is some useful background information:
  • I'm still technically Mormon, but am more universalist at heart and personally believe that the spiritual and temporal welfare of individuals is more important than what religion is "true" or "correct." Religion is no longer "one-size-fits-all" in my world view.

  • Hassan is a non-practicing/non-believing Shia Muslim who had to flee wartorn Afghanistan because of his ethnicity and dissenting political and religious views. As a Hazara and Shia Muslim, he was both a religious and ethnic minority in Afghanistan. His application for political asylum is currently being processed, so he still has to live daily with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his head. The current political situation is bad for refugees, particularly from Afghanistan, and the majority are having their asylum applications rejected.

  • I'm currently reading the Qu'ran (among other things) and Hassan is reading the Bible and selections of the Book of Mormon in Persian.

  • We share a very similar world view, and despite our non-literalist approach and problems with religion, we have a similar view on its valuable role in the lives of the human population.

  • We both believe that a secular state is necessary in order to protect religious freedom and civil rights.

  • We question the appropriateness of any religion to discriminate within its faith based on factors such as race or gender.
So, although most of us are Mormon here, let's open our hearts and minds to consider some varying perspectives and discuss Hassan's following questions and comments (I've made some minor spelling and grammatical edits for clarity):
  1. Who is God and what is our destiny?

  2. Is God "nice" and "just?"

  3. If he planned everything for human beings from the beginning, why does he treat people differently?
"I am looking for some answer that makes sense to believe in a
religion. I was born in Afghanistan into a Shia Muslim family, though
I never wanted this. I have been abused and insulted because of my race,
nationality and mostly religion. If I had been born in another place,
for sure I could have a different life and different destiny. I feel like a
victim of religion, and my belief has always created problems for me. I want a
religion to ease my life and help me with the best way of life based on peace
and freedom, but now I am mostly afraid of religion. If I practice my previous
religion, I have to endure abasement and insult my whole life, if I change
my belief, I will be killed, and if I don’t believe any religion still I will be
killed. These are all because of being born in Afghanistan, and according to
Islam, it is my destiny. God has planned it for me from the beginning
of my life. I don’t know, how do you believe, FD, MG, MH and other
friends? :)"

I'd like to invite all of you readers to an open dialogue here. Feel free to ask Hassan your questions about Afghanistan, life as a refugee, or any of the aforementioned topics, and I'm sure he'll be happy to answer if he can. Most of my readers are pretty good at being open-minded and respectful, but let's try to steer clear of any prejudice or religious dogma. So if we disagree, let's do it without being disagreeable. You can all let me have it, but be nice to Hassan. ;)

The floor is now open for your question and comments.