Many years ago I went to a retreat at the Omega Institute in New York. It was a Buddhist retreat, but there were four other non-Buddhist retreats taking place at the same time.
One of them was with Sufi Muslims. They were teaching the whirling dervish dances of their sect. They did a performance for the rest of us at Omega, and I was deeply touched by the loving nature of their performance and the meaning behind the dance.
I do not, frankly, know much about Sufism. I have read that they believe that at their cores, all religions are the same. Thus they preach the commonality among people, rather than differences between them. I occasionally read something that was written by the king of Sufism – Rumi – and I am always touched by the poetic, loving and compassionate nature of his words.
In India there was a time when Sufi Muslims had the most influence, and it was one of the most enlightened times in Indian history. This also happened in Spain. Muslim Spain once even sent a Jewish diplomat as its representative to Germany.
So when I hear the sort of vitriol that is directed at Muslims, I can only think back to my most direct experience with Muslims, which was at that retreat. I would trust those people with my very heart.
Perhaps I am just too simple minded, too naive, but I believe that most people want to do the right thing. Sometimes, sadly, that leads them down the wrong path. But I think the motivation is right, even if the skill is lacking.
I was greatly heartened, therefore, to read the following item:
OSLO (Reuters) – More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.
Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.
“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest’s organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.
“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”
Norway’s Jewish community is one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.
I am an unabashedly devout Buddhist. And to the extent that makes me a better person, I think that is a good thing. And I think that is true of whatever you believe. The real test is what kind of person does it make you? Does it make you kinder, more compassionate, more loving, wiser, more generous? If it does, then your path cannot be all wrong. But if it does, perhaps you need to consider another course. The proof, after all, of the pudding is in the tasting.