Cultural Jihad*: Nothing to Fear

*A note on the use of the word “jihad”: “jihad” means something like “faithful struggle.” For Muslims, “jihad” is a positive word unassociated with terrorism or violence of any kind. In this column I use the word as it is misused by many non-Muslims, that is, as a synonym for holy war, especially when such war is directed at the West. I’ve done this because I don’t know how to talk about the concept of “cultural ‘jihad'”–a figment of paranoid non-Muslim imagination–without using the awkward name given to the phenomenon.

So a pastor, a rabbi and an imam walk into a crowded, fancy hotel ballroom in California’s Silicon Valley…

Each clergyman says a few inspirational words and offers a prayer of invocation. The men of the cloth then embrace and seven hundred folks in the room clap and cheer because the three of them— the pastor in his faux-linen dog collar, the rabbi in his crocheted yarmulke, and the imam in white robes beneath an ankle-length gabardine overcoat— present a compelling image, a brief reminder that options beyond antagonism are readily available for the spiritual heirs of Abraham.
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Buddhist Bocce in the Barrio

This week my column is an edited version of the sermon I preached at Foothill Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2008. The text for the sermon is Acts 17:16-34,the story of St. Paul preaching in Athens.

If you ever ask me what I like about the neighborhood in which I live the first thing I will tell you is that around the corner from my house and about three blocks from the childhood home of Cesar Chavez, in my overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhood, there is a house that has been converted into a Cambodian Buddhist monastery. If you are lucky, when you walk by this house, you can see the monks, all dressed up in their bright saffron robes, playing bocce ball in a court that has been built in the front yard.

This is why I like living in East San Jose: we have a graffiti problem and we have gangs; the slump in the housing market has decimated the wealth of equity my neighbors and I had in our homes, but deep in the heart of a very catholic, very Hispanic barrio, you can find southeast Asian monks, playing an Italian game. To me it’s a vision of the future, and if I’m right, if the future looks like Cambodian monks playing bocce ball in an Hispanic neighborhood, then, to my mind, the future will be a friendly and pleasant place. There is hope for the world. Continue reading

Respectfully, the Pope is Not a Muslim

A link on the Islamica Magazine website will take the curious religiously inclined websurfer to an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI, written in response to the pontiff’s impolitic and regrettable remarks given during a lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany last September. I was impressed enough by the letter to send my thoughts to Islamica Magazine, who, I’m told, will publish it as a letter to the editor. Said letter, somewhat expanded and extended is published below. Given the Pope’s visit to Turkey this week, now seemed like a good time to share my thoughts. This piece also can be found on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality page.

As I read over the list of Muslim leaders who have signed the “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XIV,” I cannot help but be impressed. I’m not familiar with all of the names, but many of them are recognizable to me, and I am privileged to have made the acquaintance of at least one of the signers, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson of the Zaytuna Institute in California. It is a extraordinary list. The only name I wish could be added is my own.

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Ramadan in the American Family

This column was first published on UPI’s on October 16, 2006
Because it is the holy month of Ramadan, I stopped by a local mosque last week to spend time with an old friend and to talk about the state of Islam in America.

I had been troubled by a series of anti-Muslim “Mallard Fillmore” comic strips on the funny pages of the San Jose Mercury News last week, and I wanted to get a sense for how such Islamophobic vitriol was affecting the Muslim community. But first we talked about Ramadan. Continue reading