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.


Hassan said...

The only purpose of the questions is to find a proper answer for my own life and faith, nothing more than that. I fully respect all religions and everyone’s beliefs. I was born in a country with around 30 million populations and one of the poorest countries with the second highest mortality rate. 23 percent of Afghan has access to safe water and 24 percent above age 15 can read and write. Several times has been attacked by different occupier and has passed a miserable civil war by different kind of foreign interference. For a long time there has been religious conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
I can’t remember that at least once I did something wrong to destroying my country, so do lots of other Afghan youth, children and women, rather than feeling all kind of misery. I and lots of Afghans are never satisfied of being born in Afghanistan, but I don’t know why it is happened.
When I was in Afghanistan, I thought that in western countries, based on fully secular political-religious system, people have forgotten religion at all that they don’t have any problems in their countries (stereo Type). To me religion meant “problem”. One day I asked my friend a question that why you practice your religion? You can’t imagine what the answer was. He told me that I afraid of God, if I don’t pray the God, maybe he send me more misery!!! It was really the answer that I had the same belief about 2 years ago and I asked several normal people that they had the same idea. I started to think, what we have in our lives, more than breathing that still we afraid of God? Who is the God that he is angry this much on us? When we sleep at night and weak up at morning, still breathing and no more misery, then we say thanks God. That is true that our ancestors have been used to destroy our country, but why I am guilty of that? Is it all that God has planned for me, my ancestors and my country? (Destiny???)

The Faithful Dissident said...

One thing I've always wanted to do is to try my best to give Hassan a balanced view of religious conflict in the western world. Just because Christians aren't necessarily killing each other or planting bombs, doesn't mean that we've always been able to live in harmony with each other without any conflict. We often squabble with each other regarding differences in doctrine -- between different churches and faiths -- and even within Mormonism (the Mormon blogosphere probably wouldn't even exist without this conflict, because what else would we have to talk about? :) And victims of religion are not confined to Islam. The current sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the subsequent cover-up to protect priests, the cult-like behaviour within some Christian sects, the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Mormon history, and the oppression and ostracization of homosexuals are just some examples. They're not on the news every day like the victims of Islamic fundamentalism, because they're often less visible, and few lose their lives because of it. But they're no less important to acknowledge and discuss.

On the other hand, both Hassan and I were raised in religious homes and see much good and value in religion. I can only speak for myself, but I *think* that I've turned out OK in life because of the religious values I was raised with and not in spite of them. And reading the Qu'ran, I'm struck by a lot of the similarities with the Bible. They both proclaim God's love and mercy, a focus on rituals and obedience and submission, and they both contain what I would deem disturbing elements that can lead to dangerous interpretations that have the potential to lead to violence, whether it be direct, cultural or structural (thanks to mormongandhi for teaching me the difference here. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Faithful dissidnt and all

Regarding Islam, can I share with you the following links?

Our God is one God, (Allah) in Arabic, was present in the bible (Alah) (with one l) but have been removed, as shown in the following link. The book is called "what is his name."

Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) whom is spoken of without knowledge can be found in the early scriptures. The chapter number and verses are providedto have a look at in the following link:
Prophet Jesus and Muhammad (Peace be upon them) in the Holy Quran and Previous Scriptures

Othr useful websites

Discover the truth about Islam

Islam religion

The truth about Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)

Islam's answer to the racial problem: by a German diplomat

Islam and science

The purpose of this comment is to clear all the wrong misconceptions and stereotypes associated with Islam and its association with terrorism. I encourage you to research the islamic websites I provided you, and not anti-islamic websites and productions which feed your minds and others with incorrect information and hatred.

Those whom produce Anti-Islamic/offensive productions inevitably intend to incite and provoke unrest and intolerance among people of different religious beliefs, and to jeopardize world peace and stability. Hidden under the cover of freedom of expression.

I hope you learn the truth, and I hope there will be better understanding between Jews, Christians, and Muslims for peaceful co-existence.

God Bless
Thank you

Matthew said...

This is what I believe, personally.

1. Who is God and what is our destiny?

God is our Father and our Creator. Our destiny is to literally become like Him. In many ways, though, it is an optional destiny, because we have to make the choice to undergo and participate in that transformation.

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

God is just, and He is merciful, and He is loving (as an alternative to "nice").

3. If he planned everything for human beings from the beginning, why does he treat people differently?

This one I wonder about.

I am not convinced that He directly plans our lives, or directly influences outcomes, except when it is essential to His ultimate aims.

I believe that He allows us to make choices, and allows our mortal shells to be subject to the laws of nature. This introduces some variation into the grand scheme of things.

I also believe that He is aware of how all of this variation can and will play out, and that He offers us the opportunity to learn from whatever situation we may be in. When people earnestly seek Him, I believe that He will open up pathways for them whenever He can so that they can find Him.

Ultimately, though, I am not entirely sure about how all of this works in practice, especially when I look at my life of relative comfort, compared to the lives of others in the world, who suffer so greatly.

The way that I reconcile it for now is this: This life is a temporary state. Although it is painful here and now, once we die and move on to the next state of our existence, we will look back on it with the eyes of eternal spirits, to whom a mere eighty years is not that much, really.

Please, please don't take that as minimizing or denying anyone's suffering, because that is not my intent. I just think that our perspective will be much different after we die than it is right now.

I also believe that Christ is able to heal all wounds, of the body and of the spirit, and that as we accept Him, ALL of our pain will eventually be washed away through the power of the Atonement.

I have seen this happen in my life, in my sufferings, on the scale of suffering that I endure, and I draw the conclusion that the same thing will happen with even greater power once we die and are no longer subject to the terms of mortality.

I simply press forward, trying to do the best I can, for everyone I can, and hope and trust in God to take care of the things I am unable to fix.

Sorry for the length of my reply, but it is a complex question that evades simple or brief answers, and I know that my answer is not complete, nor does it fully satisfy me, but it's the best one I have right now.

I hope you find some of it helpful, Hassan. God bless you in your journey.

Anonymous said...

Your destiny, Hassan, is to be part of something wonderful. The promise of Christianity is that all things work to the ultimate good of those who love Him, even physical death. Christ is the destitute king, born in a stable, betrayed by his closest friends, murdered by those he sought to help, humiliated among thieves, and buried in a borrowed tomb.

By every human standard his life was a failure. He ruled no people, but was a member of an oppressed race simply by where he was born. His religion treated him as an apostate, and its elites led the conspiracy to destroy them to maintain their own political power.

And in sharing that human fate, He revealed, that God is WITH us, even in hell on earth.

We all have to learn for ourselves how and why the world is as it is; my guesses are probably stranger than most. But it begins with faith that you are not in life alone. Nothing has to be done to earn that companionship for you.


Hassan said...

Thanks FD, that is right that there have been some conflicts in all religions. Christianity also has had some problems, mostly in the medal age, when the church is used as a political tool. Thanks my other friend that provided some useful links about Islam, I visited most of the websites. I hope this friend take part in this open dialogue and share his views, and I invite some other Muslim brothers to join as well. Of course we are not here to judge, about different religions that which one is right or wrong, moreover, the FD reads the holly Quran and I don’t think that the Quran would be an anti-Islamic production!!!
Thanks Mettew, for your nice comment and useful views on my questions. I can understand that the Christians believe that the God father is the Creator of nature and human beings, if so, and then he will decide about how his creatures should be. I can strongly believe that the earth geographically isn’t a fair place, so creating people as children in different places of the world also wouldn’t be so fair. If he creates all human beings, so he should look after them as well. For example some people in this world suffering very much without being guilty of any sine or crime but some live like a king with committing all kinds of crimes, so who will apply just on these creatures?? About view on the world as a temporary state, I want to say that it wouldn’t be so fair also; if the people who have never suffered and never committed mistake in their lives will be punished in the eternal state and those who have suffered a lot without being guilty would have a nice life, and if everyone has nice life, so why it is not balanced?
And thanks Fire Tage, of course all human beings should endure their destiny, but still there we can find some good way to change our destinies. It is very painful, when we want to change our fate, but we are not able to do that and we always live with misery, because the geographic location, race, religion, language and ethnicity create destiny for us. I am not a religion professional to discuss on the doctrine, but I want to discuss the role of religion in human being’s live in practice rather than theories. If I ask questions and discuss frankly, it never means as outrage to religions and your beliefs :)

Paul said...

Hassan, here is something to consider:

I am not an ardent proponent of any exclusive religion although I now consider myself to be simply a Christian. Having said this, though, there are many scriptures that I identify with, be them Christian or non-Christian. One such scripture, which happens to come from the Mormon faith, is what I will make reference to in the following paragraph.

Why do many of us have the tendency to think that God places people in the particular places or circumstances they are born in? In certain Mormon scriptures there are verses which seem in imply that some people were ‘chosen’ for some specific roles and so these people conclude that this means they, or certain others were born at a particular time in history or place on earth because of their so-called ‘worthiness.‘ For example, in The Pearl of Great Price, Abr. 3: 23, it states: “And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.“ It states Abraham was ‘chosen‘ to be someone special but not until you read the full text do you begin to understand that God is not necessarily stating that Abraham will be a ‘ruler’ in this life, but rather in the Eternities. In this same scripture it states: “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world *WAS*; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;“ Hence, what *was* in the past eternities will also *be* in he future eternities, not just here on earth during our brief and sporadic mortality. But as this scripture continues, here is the rub: “We will go down, for there is ***space there***, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; 25) And we will ***prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;***“

What I am suggesting is that the reason and purpose of our birth and individual lives have far greater and deeper meanings than most of us realize and are not encapsulated in just the brief time OR place (“space”), OR circumstances we are born into. Our lives -- our full existence began long before we were ever born into this world and it will continue long after we have so-called ‘died.’ Are you so much worse off than someone, either wealthy or poor, born in Europe during the time of the Black Plague, or worse off than a child born today to an affluent family in America, but dies due to an disease like cancer, or is born with a terrible congenital defect, (for which there are many in this situation)?

Here is another thought. When you suffer because of some injustice or circumstance, do you not think God suffers along with us? I think He does in the sense that He understands our suffering. And I think He even intervenes from time to time and relieves the causes of the suffering, but why in some cases and not in others, no one can say but Him. But the fact remains is that He is always with us in no matter what circumstances we are in ***IF WE WANT HIM TO BE WITH US.***

I have suffered greatly in my life at certain times. But at during many of these times I have been comforted by God, although not relieved of the pain or causes for the suffering. There is a difference between being ‘comforted in your suffering’ from that of being ‘relieved of your suffering.’ In fact, I can personally attest that I was better off at the time being ‘comforted’ by God during my trial and suffering than had I been simply relieved of the causes for that suffering without any feeling or sense of His presence.

I could go on with more thoughts, but I have said enough already.

Peace and blessings, and understanding be with you.

mormongandhi said...

My comment was way too long to be posted here, so you can find my response to those eternal questions on latter day satyagraha!

Carol said...

1. I believe God is our creator and that we are all children of God. I believe that God loves us infinitely and that He wants to help us become like Him so that we can live with Him forever. He wants to help us become more kind, forgiving, loving, merciful, generous, humble and patient, and He will help us do so as we seek for His help.

I believe that God and everyone on earth is bound by the law of agency. God will not force anyone to do good deeds or to be good, and we cannot control the choices of another, either.

2. I believe God is both merciful and just. However, we do not always see His justice in this mortal life. Hence, often bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen as part of mortality (having bodies, suffering from natural disasters, etc), because of our own unwise choices, or because of the unwise, unenlightened choices of others. Because God loves us perfectly, He wants to help us endure our suffering and to even find peace amid suffering.

3. Because I believe God loves each one of us infinitely, I do not believe He treats His children differently. We are the ones who choose to treat one another differently, who start wars, who hold grudges, who choose thoughts of anger rather than thoughts of peace. I believe God loves men and women, people of all races, religions and cultures the same. Because He is our Father, He does not love one person more than He loves another. Because we lack His eternal perspective, right now some aspects of life seems unfair and even cruel, but when we begin to see the world through His loving eyes, we will discover that He is always with us-- loving us, caring for us, and longing for us to return to His presence.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I want to thank everyone for their comments so far. It's always helpful to hear different perspectives and I know that Hassan appreciates it as well and we reflected on them yesterday in conversation.

I encourage everyone to read the post that mormongandhi linked to above. I personally found it to be very thought-provoking in a positive way. Thank-you, mormongandhi, for putting so much thought into such a lengthy response.

Hassan said...

Thanks Paul and Carol for your lovely comments. And thank mormongandhi for your nice and informative post. It was very good information and I recommend everyone to read it. God bless you all:)

Mormon Heretic said...

I wish I had seen this post sooner. Sorry for not stopping by--it's just been a crazy busy time for me.

I am wondering if anyone has read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali? My wife read it, and it is on my "to read" list. If any of you have read it, I was curious what your perspective was on it.

I think far too many people mis-use scripture for the pain and detriment of many, and God is saddened greatly when this happens.

Hassan said...

MH, thanks for your comment. Yes you are right; Muslims believe that there is no God but the only God (Means no more than one God). Since I was born, I have verbally heard a lot that there is a God, who is nice and just, he has created all the nature and human beings, but some of the people like me still don’t know really who, and how he is? Muslims strongly believe in pre-destiny that all the things for a child are planned from the beginning of her/his life by the God and he looks after all the aspects of human being’s lives. I am not talking what is written in different books but to me human being’s lives are important and I want to know the rule of God and religions in practical life. Most of the people with different religions, believes that the God has created the entire world, so if he did, he must be able to look after that as well. Well in reality there are lots injustices a human rights violations and lot of people around the world suffer from oppression and cruelty, but still waiting for God’s just!

Anonymous said...

Hi Hassan and FD,

I thought I would share a great interfaith discussion I recently read: