February 10, 2015: What Islam is and isn’t

Posted on : Feb 10th, 2015 | By | Category: Still Speaking

“Then you will know the truth; and the truth will set [or make] you free.” John 8:32.

Last Sunday we had a wonderful experience as we got to meet and hear Narma Ali. Narma is the Muslim Chaplain at UCLA Medical Center and a friend of mine. She is a Muslim woman who is filled with grace, wisdom and love. She is deeply spiritual and has a very unique role as a woman Muslim chaplain.

In just 45 minutes she opened us to what Islam really is and isn’t. In that light, she suggested three books for those who want to continue learning more. They are:

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. It’s the story of a young Muslim woman who is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. How she got to this place in history is a whole other story. Here’s the short form:

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize. I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. I Am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

Another excellent book is Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong. It’s been on the national bestseller list. The Washington Post calls it, “A small gem bristling with insight.”  Here’s a summary:

No religion in the modern world is as feared and misunderstood as Islam. It haunts the popular imagination as an extreme faith that promotes terrorism, authoritarian government, female oppression, and civil war. In a vital revision of this narrow view of Islam and a distillation of years of thinking and writing about the subject, Karen Armstrong’s short history demonstrates that the world’s fastest-growing faith is a much more complex phenomenon than its modern fundamentalist strain might suggest.

The third book Narma recommended is The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas by Anand Giridharadas. This book tells the story of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi Air Force officer who dreams of immigrating to America and working in technology. But days after 9/11, an avowed “American terrorist” named Mark Stroman, seeking revenge, walks into the Dallas minimart where Bhuiyan has found temporary work and shoots him, maiming and nearly killing him. Two other victims, at other gas stations, aren’t so lucky, dying at once.

The True American traces the making of these two men, Stroman and Bhuiyan, and of their fateful encounter. It follows them as they rebuild shattered lives—one striving on Death Row to become a better man, the other to heal and pull himself up from the lowest rung on the ladder of an unfamiliar country.

Ten years after the shooting, an Islamic pilgrimage seeds in Bhuiyan a strange idea: if he is ever to be whole, he must reenter Stroman’s life. He longs to confront Stroman and speak to him face to face about the attack that changed their lives. Bhuiyan publicly forgives Stroman, in the name of his religion and its notion of mercy. Then he wages a legal and public-relations campaign, against the State of Texas and Governor Rick Perry, to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.


Clearly, what we discovered on Sunday is that Islam is as diverse, perhaps even more diverse, than Christianity. Some who practice Islam are more oppressive of women than others. That is also true in Christianity. Some “pick and choose” individual verses and passages from the Quran (Koran) to justify their actions, just as happens in Christianity. Some are more conservative in their beliefs and practices of faith, just as is true in Christianity. But one thing was made absolutely clear: terrorism is not justifiable within the teachings of Islam. Those who teach and try to justify violence in the name of Islam have not read the Prophet Mohammad’s teachings.

In the Jewish and Christian scriptures there are many references to so called “Holy Wars.” As I have said over and over again, it is very dangerous and just plain wrong, when any nation or people use God to justify war. It is equally as dangerous and wrong when any nation decides “God is on our side” and not also on the side of, or the God of, “the enemy.” Jesus, Mohammad and Gandhi were each very strong pacifists. Each of them spoke of radical change but always by non-violent means. As Narma pointed out on Sunday, it is in fact only a very small portion of the world’s Muslims who try to justify violence in the name of their religion. But, that is impossible if one follows the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad or the Prophet Jesus. And yes, in Islam, Jesus is included as one of their Prophets – including the teachings of Jesus in what we know as “the New Testament.”

As I listened to Narma on Sunday, I was reminded again of how profound and powerful the words of Jesus are, when he said, “Then you will know the truth; and the truth will set [or make] you free.” John 8:32.

I hope we will continue to seek and know the truth and join in being set free.



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