Mom, dad, I could’ve been a Muslim.

Every once in a while the fact that we’re all human slaps you in the face.

Recently I shared a Facebook post about the fears of American Muslims now that Donald Trump is in power. (You can see the video here)

Someone commented: “While all Muslims may not be violent, if they follow the teachings of their religion that potential is always there. They are not just like everyone else on the street.”

And down the rabbit hole of religious intolerance we go.

There are many counter-arguments to that simplistic viewpoint, but the fact that so many people in North America embrace that reductionist meme is troubling. Why do they do it? The short answer is that we all see things from our own  viewpoints.

I grew up in a Christian household. I went to Sunday school. The people I knew – my mother, father, neighbours and family – were good people. The lessons I learned about life from my stern but loving father (who I was always a little bit scared of) and from my caring and compassionate mother were wrapped in the warm cloak of family, church and social rituals like Easter and Christmas.

When I grew older I questioned some of the claims of Christianity. I stopped believing everything in the bible, but Christianity was still there in the faces of family, in the holidays we all shared together. When I read about the bombings and killings in Northern Ireland and about sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, I distanced myself and my family from those people. What they did was not Christian.

We live in a primarily Christian country, and almost everyone, including the media, agreed that what those people did was their personal action, and that Christianity itself was not violent and was not a religion of sexual deviance…

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WAIT A MINUTE!!!!

I apologize. Let me start over from the beginning.

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I grew up in a Muslim household. I went to the mosque every week. The people I knew – my mother, father, neighbours and family – were good people. The lessons I learned about life from my stern but loving father (who I was always a little bit scared of) and from my caring and compassionate mother were wrapped in the warm cloak of family, worship and social rituals like Ramadan and Eid.

When I grew older I questioned some of the claims of Islam. I stopped believing everything in the Koran, but Islam was still there in the faces of family, in the holidays we all shared together. When I learned about the killings of Christians in Egypt, and the beheadings of reporters by ISIS,  I distanced myself and my family from those people. What they did was not Muslim.

We live in a largely non-Muslim country, and almost everyone, even the media, agreed that what those people did was a religious action, and that Islam itself is a violent religion…


In today’s North America many supposedly good people unquestioningly believe and distribute material that promotes hatred and misunderstanding about Islam.

They’re not all vicious or political opportunists. Sometimes they’re just people who are so steeped in their own religion or viewpoint that they cannot open their minds and hearts to other perspectives.

The only way that we will ever understand other people and cultures is to understand them first as human beings. Just as importantly, we have to understand that we as human beings are primarily shaped by our own culture.

Mom, dad, I could’ve been a Muslim. 

 

Eating Creatures

Of course, when you are young, you feel things instead of think things. The first poem was how it felt sometimes growing up on the farm, that life was beautiful, but the pain that we caused to the animals we raised was not.  It was written many years ago.

When older, I accepted that most living things eat other living things for nourishment. If you keep animal protein in your diet, the question then becomes one of how we treat the animals who are raised for our nourishment.  The question is about empathy.

The second poem puts that question in a different way.

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The Bumpkin Boy

A bumpkin boy, from province bound
From amongst the fair pig sties
Where oft he’d play with cat or hound
Beneath the sovereign skies

A boy who loved to feel the breeze
And listen to its tales
While lying still beneath the trees
Or walking lonely trails

In forests deep an owl’s grey eyes
Would startle wide and stare
But notice not the boy near by
A silent shadow there

In greening fields a cow would raise
Her eyes and see the child
Upon a hill with arms upraised
In genuflection mild

To laughter would the raindrops fall
The weather was as kin
In winter’s snow he’d prance and call
His dog to sport with him

The pain he caused would sorrow him
While forking or with feed
And tears at times his eyes would dim
He’d sing while still he grieved

The animals he killed to live
He’d treat with gentle mien
And beg them to his ways forgive
By their deaths made obscene

“Such horrors here” he’d say “but still
What right have I to quest
These things that make my conscience chill
Are by my fathers blessed”

And back to work he’d turn, intent
On piece of mind; his goal
With every breath he took he meant
To cauterize his soul

A shadow now slept o’er his face
And oftentimes was seen
Still as a tree in thoughtful grace
His eyes bespoke a dream

One day his dream was answered, and
He died while still a boy
His quiet smile and steady hand
His last breath spoke of joy

IF

If sparks of transcendence
in humanity glow
For we need to be more than
the toying cat more
than the fruit-munching ape more
than the grazing beast

Then one bright spark must surely be
with every creature born
a kindred trust
and empathy

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