Carl Sandberg, when asked what was the word in English language that he hated most, replied "exclusivism." The ideas that follow from exclusivism indeed provide the framework for a very narrowly defined world view which has been at the heart of innumerable intra- and inter-religious conflicts, wars, and genocides. Assuming that there is only a select group who an arbitrary God has chosen or forgiven, the others seem then to be excluded from His mercy and grace. Repetition of these kinds of claims have caused great harm throughout our history; counter-claims necessarily follow and the divide continues to deepen. To justify this way of thinking through Biblical, Quranic, or any Scriptural source renders the lofty ideals within these sources of guidance meaningless and only adds insult to injury. As we face the evil of, all forms of, terrorism there is a definite need to understand this complex issue so that we can respond appropriately to contain, if not annihilate, this modern "Plague of Darkness" -- to use a biblical term.
Violence perpetrated by Muslims may have complex reasons, but the framework of their hatred and hostility has indeed come down to an "Us vs. Them" paradigm, which they base entirely on an Islam, which the majority does not agree with. Again, these misguided people see God on their side and have internalized exclusivist attitudes and values, which, in their thinking, separates them from the rest of the world. Heaven for them is secure, and they are prepared to act on what they falsely interpret and believe as God's promise of Heaven for their acts. They are then the chosen ones. All their acts are justified through a historical narrative of their own which reaffirms this attitude and belief that theirs is a manifest destiny and that they are purging the world of evil. To base one's claim on the moral authority or right dispensed exclusively to us by a God who we all believe is merciful and just, to achieve worldly advantage, or to stake claim to heaven, is presumptuous, pompous, and perverse. This, as the basis of interaction between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, will only increase the tensions that already exist between these groups.
The ethos of Judaism is tikkun olom - the repair of the world. It is a universal challenge reaching out to all. We are all "Chosen" to love and repair. Jews, as others, are chosen for a world of Godliness and not superiority. To say otherwise justifies the hatred of the Jews, and makes Jews God's target. Will this notion hold for any group that has suffered? Blacks, Native American Indians, Armenians? God can not be made a scapegoat for xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity, and anti-Muslim. We prefer to define ourselves as a choosing people: choosing goodness over demonization. Those who feel they are chosen and who "do the will of God," and those who follow chosenness foster civilizational war.
Islam came after Judaism and Christianity. Starting from this vantage point in its history, it has in its roots much that the other two offered earlier. Therefore a Muslim is a Jew before he is a Muslim, a Christian before he is Muslim. Five times daily when a Muslim offers his mandatory prayers, the format of which is set from the earliest times within it, he has to offer Peace and Blessings on the progeny of Prophet Abraham. This, along with several verses in the Quran, clearly define the inclusiveness that has been sadly absent in the thinking of many Muslims who are deluded into believing and acting on the exclusivist paradigm.
Therefore to trash Islam or to judge it condescendingly from an assumed moral high ground for the deviant acts of a few of its followers is entirely an act of historical or political opportunism which will only make a bad situation worse. Instead, there is a critical need to build on the "inclusivist" paradigm, and to refrain from mixing politics and religion, even as we sound off as religious leaders offering an understanding of the complex problems of the world, including terrorism. From the Muslim perspective, it is twice as difficult because of an onerous legacy that has perverted the true meaning of Islam. With the Governments within Muslim countries being mostly un-representative and un-caring and the masses mostly poor and uneducated, it will not be easy to undertake this critical task yet this infact is the critical need. The majority of the Muslim masses do believe in this message and are but waiting for their voices to be liberated and amplified.
Let us choose the path of understanding and pluralism. This is our true blessing.
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Nazir Khaja, M.D. - Chairman, Islamic Information Service, Torrance, CA. Tel: (310) 370-4660, Email: [email protected]
Rabbi Steven Jacob - Temple Kol Tikvah, Woodland Hills, CA. Tel: (818) 348 0670, email: [email protected]
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