The one thing Canadians are usually pretty adept at is knowing when they are walking on thin ice.
I know that this post is akin to this kind of dangerous territory.
Yesterday I went to Konstanz, only 15 km from my village, for my weekly investigation of what´s new in the stores in the line of books, music and movies.
Konstanz, like many European towns and cities, has, since the last week of November until 24 December, a large thriving Christmas market.
Konstanz Christmas Market is, after Stuttgart, the largest Christmas market in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, with over 450,000 visitors every year.
Every day from 11 am to 8 pm (9:30 pm on weekends) the lakeside park and harbour are the scene of sparkling lights, delicious tastes and smells and all sorts of goods to seduce the shopper.
Christmas decorations, international music, practical kitchenware, all sorts of clothing from the garish to the practical, pony rides for the children and a boat in the harbour that is both floating market and restaurant.
There are stands offering sausages, chestnuts, mulled wine, wild boar, Morrocan cuisine, potatoes with sauerkraut, baked potatoes, home fries, bio coffee, fondue and raclettes, steak on a bun, and food both local and exotic.
The month leading up to Christmas is a magical time, almost a forgiving time, where camarderie seems more important than differences and distinctions between people.
As I consider Christmas, its origins religious, its music endlessly replayed, I think of the world beyond the Lake of Constance.
In the streets of Konstanz, beggars seem more obvious, store lines longer, the wind rawer, the lights brighter, the crowds thicker.
Here in the West, Christmas is all one hears and sees.
Other religions, if they exist, seem not to matter, as Christianity is trumpeted throughout the land.
War, famine and disease ever present in other lands is conveniently forgotten in our passion to deck our halls and sing our carols and buy our gifts and open our presents and confuse our children with the dual messages of Father Christmas and Jesus Christ, sprinkled with Scrooge and the Grinch and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.
And folks are either eagerly anticipating or anxiously dreading reunions with loved ones, their beings fueled with joy or consumed by depression.
I think of Hindu friends in Toronto surrounded by a sea of Canadian Xmas devotees.
I think of Muslim friends in St. Gallen bombarded by yuletide Swiss, who, forgetting to be miserable for awhile, intensely scavenge the shops to obtain more materialistic signs of their affluence.
Christmas is infectious like laughter and as uncompromising as cancer.
For a short time, Christians, or festively convenient Christians, will pretend there is a unity of love and compassion throughout the world and will pretend that swords will soon become ploughshares.
We will forget that racism and prejudice, violence and war, starvation and disease exist.
We will pretend all is well in the world and comfort ourselves with this lie of an unchanging innocent fairytale time.
Meanwhile we will justify ourselves by believing lies regarding those other religions.
I have always struggled to understand others before judging them.
In my library I have collected religious and philosophical tomes of both Christian and non-Christian peoples.
I have Bibles in three languages, Catholic and Protestant, King James and Standard.
I have the Analects of Confucius, the Tao Te Ching, the Teachings of Buddha, the Qu´ran and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as works by philosophers deceased and current.
This is not meant for purposes of bragging but rather simply to show how desperately I wish to understand my fellow human beings.
It bothers me that there are those who commit violence in the name of religion.
It bothers me that entire religions are defined by those few who commit violence.
In the West we believe many things about non-Christian religions, yet know little about the generalisations we believe.
Often what we believe is to justify our moral superiority than it is an attempt to understand other faiths.
So as we celebrate Christmas, before we go to war with those who profess to be Muslim, let´s look at what we believe to be true about Islam and question its validity.
Is Islam a religion devoted to war?
(For a moment, let´s forget Christianity´s own bloody history.)
It always strikes me as ironic that a faith whose most oft repeated expressions employ the word “peace” is one that is labelled exclusively as warlike.
Typical greeting of Islam: As Salam alykum – “peace be upon you”
Muslims in keeping with tradition are required to repeat the salutation “peace be upon him” whenever the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is mentioned.
Even the term Islam itself means “peace and submission to God”.
(Let me clear I am not trying to convert anyone to anything, for quite frankly I would be a poor representative of any religion.)
“In the year 611 (or 27 Ramadan by the Islamic calendar), Muhammed, peace be upon him, was in the cave of Hira, a few miles from Mecca, his birthplace and home.
It was Muhammed´s practice to retire to this cave regularly for prayer, meditation and reflection on the questions of creation, the purpose of life and death, the struggle between right and wrong.
While in a state of inner reflection, Muhammed, peace be upon him, heard a commanding voice addressing him, thus becoming the Messenger of God.
Muhammed, peace be upon him, first communicated his message to his wife, then his intimate friends and then members of his own tribes.
As his followers grew, he preached openly in the city and nearby communities.
The Meccans did not care for someone who denounced their gods and ancestral beliefs, so they launched a vigourous campaign to persecute the Prophet and his small band of followers.
Meccans would force Muslims to lie on burning sand, place huge boulders on their chests and pour red-hot iron over them.
Many died under this torture.
Muhammed, peace be upon him, and his followers endured the persecution by the Meccans for 13 years, a constant barrage of abuse, stoning, rubbish tossed upon them.
In 622, his life being threatened by asassins, Muhammed, peace be upon him, was persuaded by a group of Muslims from Medina, 200 miles north of Mecca, to migrate to their city.
Together with Arabs, Jews, Christians and others, Muhammed, peace be upon him, established a city-state in Medina.
He gave the city a written constitution recognizing liberty of religion, and laying down principles of defence and foreign policy and organizing a system of social insurance.
The Meccans, displeased with the Prophet´s safe departure and his establishment of an Islamic city-state, vowed to crush him.
In 624 in the Battle of Badr and a year later in the Battle of Uhad, the Meccans tried and failed to defeat the forces of Islam.
In 626 Muhammed, peace be upon him, persuaded the Meccans to sign the Treaty of Hudaybia, but after repeated violations of the Treaty, he gave the Meccans an ultimatum: respect the Treaty or declare the truce null and void.
The Meccans chose the latter option so the forces of Islam captured the city in January 630.
Two years later, Muhammed, peace be upon him, died.
Was he a violent man?
His instructions to his troops going in battle:
- Molest not the harmless or the infirm.
- Abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants.
- Destroy not their means of subsistence.
In his Farewell Sermon a few months before he died:
- Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.
- Aid the poor and clothe them as you would clothe yourselves.
- No one is allowed to take from another what he does not allow him of his own free will.
Some sayings of the Prophet:
- Go in search of knowledge.
- God is gentle and loves gentleness in all things.
- Hasten to do good before you are overtaken by perplexing adversity, corrupting prosperity, disabling disease, babbling dotage and sudden death.
- Every religion has a special character and the special characteristic of Islam is modesty.
- The most excellent jihad is that for the conquest of the self.(one´s ego, greed and insatiable desires)
The constant struggle for justice manifests itself as jihad, one of the most abused and misused Islamic concepts.
Jihad means “directed struggle” and can take a number of forms, such as the social development of a community, intellectual combat against oppressive and totalitarian thought and the uplifting of a society, as well as physical struggle against oppression and aggression.
Islam views itself during its days of maximium expansion from Libya to Afghanistan, from Armenia to Pakistan and India, from Spain to parts of China and southeast Asia, as spreading the faith and liberating conquered peoples.
Jihad as a military exercise must be performed strictly under the Islamic rules of engagement.
This means that innocent individuals, women, children and unarmed civilians cannot be harmed, property and environment cannot be destroyed, and places of worship of other faiths cannot be demolished.
Kidnapping, hostage-taking, indiscriminate shooting of civilians, placing bombs in areas where people work, are evil deeds that all true Muslims condemn.”
(Ziauddin Sardar and Zafar Abbas Malik, Introducing Islam: A Graphic Guide)
Maybe I am naive, but aren´t many of these “Islamic” concepts very similar to our “Christian” concepts?
Aren´t these concepts of charity, compassion, love, gentleness and spreading the faith exactly the very things that the Christian holiday of Christmas celebrates?
Maybe Konstanz and Mecca are many miles apart, but I wonder:
Are they really so distant from one another in the values they both cherish?