Empty or Full

The other day, I was reading a travel blog written by one of my coworkers.  She had visited both Sacre Coeur and the Hassan II Mosque in one day, and was commenting on how grand they both are.

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The blog entry detailed how beautiful the two structures are, although the cathedral is no longer used and is falling apart.  It ended by saying that it is a shame that the mosque is more elaborate and impressive despite being for an “empty religion.”  After many Islamic studies courses in college, I find this statement surprising and ignorant, especially coming from someone who chose to work and live in a Muslim country with students and coworkers of different faiths. Although I doubt she reads my blog, I am going to tell you, my dear readers, some fascinating things about the Islamic tradition.

Poetry and music – You’ve probably heard of Rumi, the Persian poet.  If you haven’t, look him up!  His poems remind me of the book of psalms; a lot of them sound like love songs, but are about God instead of a man or woman.

Language – The Quran is written in classical Arabic, which is a beautiful and complex language. Even native Arabic speakers have to study it for many years to grasp its many rules and structures, but those who can truly speak or write it can produce wonderful songs, stories, and poetry.

Islamic law – Many scholars have worked together to produce Islamic law and the correct sayings of the prophet.  I think it is amazing that one can read exactly what the prophet said, along with who reported what he said, when it happened, and where, and that we can trust that this information was researched for years.

Science and math – The schedule of daily prayers is very complex.  It involves finding the exact times the sun rises, sets, and is at it’s highest every day.  I also find it interesting that there are set periods of time in which to pray. Many Christians set aside a certain time of the day for prayer and reflection so as to make sure to stay on track, which is much the same idea, though less rigid.

Some Islamic art on display in Londo

Some Islamic art on display in London

I firmly believe that one can appreciate the gifts given to us by other religions while still being steadfast in our own beliefs.  And you never know; you might just learn something new about your own traditions and values by learning about those of others!

Share, Please!

Last weekend, one of the pastors of the church I go to was telling me about a book he is reading on Christian theology.  The book explained how religious practices often come before beliefs in peoples’ lives, meaning that they go through the actions of religious practices and then connect them to beliefs instead of practicing according to belief.  This means that we preach what we practice, instead of the other way around.

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The Catholic church in Rabat

This certainly holds true in my own personal path to faith.  I started by going through the motions of being Christian, such as attending church and getting involved in church activities, before actually becoming Christian.  After a while of acting like a believer, I began to realize that I did actually believe.  Some of what led me to that point was that I enjoyed the practice of the religion even without the belief, but then realized that believing was an extension of those practices, and in return made them much more meaningful.

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The Orthodox church in Rabat

This is also interesting from the point of view of a teacher.  Children may not support their actions with belief until later ages, but they can get to that point by practicing a certain action.  For example, maybe it takes many years of being told to share before a child comes to believe that sharing truly is the right thing to do.  But hopefully after a year of “share, please!” multiple times every single day, my students will start to think that it’s a good idea.

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Sacre Coeur, the Catholic church in Casablanca

To give another personal example, I was brought up vegetarian, although it was my sister who had qualms with eating meat.  Once I reached high school, I started to think about why I didn’t eat meat, and realized that I believed that it is healthier, more economical, and kinder to animals not to eat meat.  It’s true that I am now an omnivore, but I still believe that it is better not to eat too much meat, and much prefer to cook vegetarian meals for myself.

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We shared some bites.

The idea that practices come before beliefs shows us that a lot of what we believe now is not based on what we decided to believe, but on what we were taught to do by our parents, teachers, and mentors.  I find this encouraging as a teacher, as I hope that after telling my kids every single day to throw out their own trash and eat their vegetables, they will grow up to believe that they should be independent, tidy, and health-conscious.  It could also be seen from the opposite perspective; many conflicts begin because people have clashing fundamental beliefs.  I guess my objective as a teacher is to figure out which practices lead to which beliefs and make a point of instituting those in my class.  Because everything really is much better when shared!