Wednesday, October 06, 2004


How the Koran defines martyrdom?

I thought I knew based on what the media has presented to the general public since the events of 9/11. You know, the whole bit about all the virgins and the free ticket to heaven for like 40 of the martyr's relatives. To me, that sounds like a fairy tale that rivals the heaven that waits for righteous Christians where they get to sit at God's feet and sing Kumbayah with Jesus. In my opinion both sound like a crock of shit sold to people who aren't capable of critical thinking. But there are noted scholars and theologians of both faiths who are down with those respective plans for the afterlife. And I believe that my soul is never ending, that it's ridden this mortal coil before and it will again, though it comes back in a different form every time, a belief that Patrick has pointed out to me cannot be empirically proven, so it's as full of shit as any other version of an afterlife.

A belief is simply an agreement by one or more people that something is true. Then you go on faith, if you have any. And I don't discount faith because it has sustained me through so much in my life.

But like all religions that are based on written word, the book of rules, an instruction manual,
Islam is open to interpretation. And just like the biblical which has been used by haters to rationalize horrendous crimes against humanity, so to is the Koran. Sunday as I was sitting in traffic driving home from San Diego I was listening to Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet, who has a really fun name to say out loud. Say it. You'll see. Anyway, her guest is Vincent Cornell, an American Muslim and the subject of the show is Violence and Crisis in Islam. The whole conversation was very interesting and enlightening, but the thing that he said that I remembered the most, the thing that would be most devastating to me if I were a Muslim, was his description of how the Koran defines a martyr.

According to the Koran a martyr cannot choose his own death. A martyr cannot create the circumstance of his martyrdom. A martyr is made when a person makes the decision to give his own life to save that of another. And we're not talking about the spiritual life of another, we're talking about the physical life.

If I were Muslim it would be devastating to me that my spiritual touchstone would be considered by so many who lack the understanding of what Islam is, to be a religion of hate. A religion that condones the taking of innocent lives because of the misinterpreation, or manipulation of the words in our instruction manual by a group of fundementalist extremists, for use as justification for murder. I would be deeply saddened by the fact that in standing up and saying I am Muslim there are people who would think that I was a hater. I know people who believe that all Muslims want to see non-muslims dead. A position that may be held by a few, but doesn't represent the beliefs of the many.

In western culture we call someone who gives makes the choice to possibly lose his life in an effort to save another, a hero. A fireman who gives his life in the course of rescuing someone. A soldier who is killed in an attempt to save a fallen brother or sister. A total stranger who pulls over to an accident on the freeway to attempt to rescue people from an overturned car. We see these stories all the time and these people are described as heroes. Yet if those stories were reported in the Muslim world the same people would be called martyrs by virtue of their selfless behavior because in the Muslim world everything you do, your behavior and your actions are part of the minute by minute practice of Islam. You're not just Muslim when you're in the mosque.

Living in a secular world it is very hard for me to understand the level of fundamentalism that exists under religious governments. Although, this country does seem to be heading to a kind of religious fundamentalism that is insidiously creeping into our culture, it is not yet as overt as say, that which existed under the Taliban. No - we won't even realize it until the police are writing tickets to women with exposed kneecaps and unmarried couples are being stoned for making out at traffic lights. And we're all listening to the Four Freshman and the Best of John Ashcroft. Major segue here - but go see The Yes Men.

Anyhoo - I was really taken aback by the manipulation of the martyr law by the whack jobs that flew the planes into the world trade center and all the rest of the suicide bombers. It's much like the whack jobs who bomb abortion clinics and kill people who aren't in agreement with their interpretation of what it is to be Christian. There are so many layers to Islam, many of them good although you'd never know from the way the media covers terrorism and practically makes the word interchangeable with Islam.

And even though I don't believe in hell - I'd like to think that they're all suffering unspeakable and unending pain for the crimes that they've committed against humanity and the core values of their respective religions. However it's manifesting for their neverending souls.

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