Getting beyond mosques and book burning to find some common ground

Each religion sees a face of God, despite the human diversity of rites and practices they each practice

The Rev. Petra Weldes | Special Contributor

LIGHTING THE WAY FOR PEACE | Carla Bolta of New York holds a candle during a peace rally in support of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero on Friday, Sept. 10, in New York. (Jin Lee/Associated Press)There is a deep and essential unity underlying our apparent differences; it is our shared humanity. And underneath the outer human diversity of spiritual rites and practices is the shining reality that each religion sees a face of God, and teaches fundamentally the Oneness of God and a deep love for all of creation.

Consequently, we must learn to respect all paths to God for what they add to the richness of our spiritual understanding and how each faith succors a people for whom that faith is their way to God.

We know that, as Albert Einstein said, we cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. Fear and hatred will never transform fear and hatred, nor will it create a peaceful world.

As the media frenzy around the controversy over a proposed mosque (actually a community center) within blocks of Ground Zero has continued to grow, and verbal and physical attacks against Islamic people take place, it seems that many Americans have forgotten some basic tenets of, not only the U.S. Constitution, but also of civility and common decency.

While appreciating the raw feelings surrounding the site, which has rightly become sacred ground in the nine years since the fall of the World Trade Center towers, to deny rights to groups who had nothing to do with the tragedy is simply mindless fear and hatred.

Sept. 11 was not an act of Islam. It was an act of terrorists who distort the precepts of that religion. Surely we recognize that all spiritual traditions have their zealots, fanatics, and people who misuse and misinterpret their faith for their own gain.

We must begin to recognize and support the full expression of religious freedom, realizing that all paths to God, when rightly practiced, promote love, peace and respect for others. Consequently, it’s important to honor the dignity of all the world’s sacred literature including the Bible, Torah, Qur’an, Avesta, Pahlavi, Sutras, Vedas and more.

We must begin to see that these texts all contain a portion of humanity’s spiritual truth, and therefore deserve to be treated with the same care with which we would treat our own.

Ernest Holmes, in the New Thought text “The Science of Mind” once said, “Find me one person who is for something and against nothing, who is redeemed enough not to condemn others out of the burden of his soul, and I will find another savior, another Jesus, and an exalted human being.”

In that same spirit, let us stand together for the One Divine Presence that moves through all humanity, and respect the dignity of every person’s right to the full expression of religious freedom, rites, practices and ritual.

Let us support the respect and dignity inherent in the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, and the law of a Higher Power known by many names. Let us envision a world beyond what we now know; a world free of war, homelessness, hunger, poverty, disenfranchisement and terror — a world of peace, freedom, justice, caring, compassion and unity.

The bigger issue, then, is not the proximity of one piece of sacred ground to another or the comparative sacredness of one text versus another. The issue is finding common ground to create a peaceful, tolerant world that works for everyone.

The Rev. Petra Weldes is senior minister of the Center for Spiritual Living in Dallas, online at CSLDallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Iran’s deadly ‘Bizarro World’

The use of the Bible to defend laws in the United States could be as dangerous as the use of the Qur’an in the Iranian theocracy

EXECUTION
EXECUTION | Iranians Mahmoud Asqari and Ayad Marhouni were hanged in Justice Square in Mashhad, Iran, in 2005, after being convicted of sodomy. (Iranian Students News Agency)

In the Bizarro World, everything is well, bizarre! The planet is a cube; everything ugly is beautiful; everything is sort of the opposite of Earth.

Welcome to Iran!

In the real world, when a person is accused of a crime, evidence is presented to support the charge. Some sort of due process is used to deal out justice.

In the Bizarro World of Iran, not so much.

Take the case of Ebrahim Hamidi. He was arrested two years ago in Iran and charged with “lavat” (sodomy), a crime that is punishable by death.

Hamidi and three friends were involved in a fight with members of another family. Part of the charges leveled against them were that they had assaulted a man and attempted to abuse him sexually.

After three days of alleged torture, Hamidi confessed, and his three friends were released in exchange for their testimony against him.

It might sound like a pretty ordinary assault and attempted rape case — but for the fact that the alleged victim admitted he fabricated the charges under pressure from his family.

In the real world, that would most likely result in the charges being dropped and Hamidi being set free.

But remember, we are in the Bizarro World of Iran.

Hamidi sits awaiting execution for homosexual acts, even though he is heterosexual and from the testimony of the victim, innocent.

Why? Well, it seems there is a bizarre legal loophole that allows something called a “judge’s knowledge” to bear weight in a case where there is no supporting evidence, and the judge says, “Hang him.”

Here in the real world his defense lawyer would be throwing out every legal motion in the book to stop this miscarriage of justice. In Bizarro World the defendant has no lawyer, at least not any more.

His attorney, human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, is no longer in Iran. He was forced to flee the country to live in permanent exile in Norway because of his human rights advocacy.

His wife was arrested and held in solitary confinement just to drive home the message. She has since been released now that Mostafaei is out of the country.

You see, in Bizarro World, lawyers like Mostafaei, credited with saving at least 50 people from execution during his career, are not welcome. He defends children and women against harsh punishments that include the medieval practices of stoning and public whipping.

Sounds strange and outlandish, but it’s true.

Iran is a country that is, in effect, a theocracy. The laws are adaptations of Shari’ah, the Islamic legal tradition that includes the Qesas law, or “eye for an eye.”

These traditions were augmented with loopholes like the one allowing judges to use circumstantial evidence and just plain intuition in deciding life or death matters.

It is not a happy place for many people — and LGBT citizens in particular. There is a lesson in this sad and strange tale, and that is the explicit warning against theocratic justice.

If you don’t see any reason to fear this kind of problem back here in the United States, you must be familiar with neither the Bible nor the make up of our highest courts. The legacy of the Bush years still haunts us and will for many years.
And that “eye for an eye” thing is a direct quote from both the Qur’an and the Bible.

Our founding fathers were some pretty sharp cookies, and when they consciously shied away from any kind of state religion, they did so because of the immense potential for abuse that they saw in theocracy.

That wisdom is under constant attack by the right wing revisionists who would have us believe we are a Christian nation. Those same voices warn against the evils of Islam and the draconian Shari’ah Law, yet if given a chance they would impose the same kind of restrictions. They would just give them a different name.

The story of Ebrahim Hamidi is a cautionary tale, and it is one we should take note of, leastwise we might slip into the “underverse” and end up in a Bizarro World of our own.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas