1. Do you really know everything?
I like to talk with young people, because they are more fluid, they are less imposing, and they do not want all the world to think the same. Maybe because they do not carry too much pain or bitterness, maybe because they are still fragile, maybe because they haven’t had enough time yet to build a strong wall around them, or they haven’t simply chosen that path yet.
Some of Muslim nuns in black hijab I have met are a bit different, they are happy to see me but always ask me a question that makes me instantly uncomfortable, ‘What do you like about Islam?’
I was asked in another meeting to explain a bit about Buddhism although I said that I am noe one. After I talked about the religions as much as I knew, this is the response I got from a devoted Muslim woman in the room, ‘You see, Buddhism only talks about spiritual life, but Islam also teaches about secular life.’ I felt discouraged to argue, so I kept silent. Although I mostly liked everyone I have met, I have to admit that sometimes I feel confused if they are genuinly happy to have me, or they are happy because I am one more person they need to convert to confirm the ticket to heaven.
I am now in Tuesday girls’ Qu’ran gathering. I feel fortunate to be in so many bright and young girls’ presence, and all I want to do is to talk with them, and learn from them. Any conversation that gives me a painful moment of having to accept I was wrong, to me, always has been the most ecstatic moment of my life.
This meeting invites one nun every week and they listen to her, just before she started to give a speech, she called me to sit beside her. And then she asked ‘What do you find positive about Islam?’ I answered, ‘I don’t know enough about Islam to think positively or negatively about it. I want to learn more.’ She seemed a bit disappointed. ‘How much do you know about Islam?’ Feeling pressured, I said ‘I’ve just read several books, and I am having questions.’ ‘What are those questions?’ ‘Well, I guess I would rather wait and have them answer by themselves than asking them for now.’ ‘Tell me one question. I can make a speech around your question for tonight.’ ‘Well, it is OK.’ ‘Tell me one question.’ ‘Well, if you insist, I just want to know what was one thing that has made each individual here decide to become Muslim.’
What I meant was I would like an opportunity to go deep inside of these young and beautiful girls’ personal experiences with the religion. Instead, this was the quick answer I got from her.
‘Because this is the most logical and advanced religion there is. Whatever questions you may have, we always have an answer. It is the last message coming from the God, and He explained everything in both spiritual and secular life. We know everything. We know about the past, the present and the future. That’s why we are happy and satisfied with being Muslim. We are not perfect Muslims, even some of the girls who gather here are not a model of perfect Muslim, but Islam is perfect, humans are imperfect, but the God is perfect. We are full of sins, but God forgives us. Whatever we do wrong, when you repent, the God always forgives you. You may think some things about Islam may be negative, like wearing a veil, or that your husband could marry another women. But it is not negative. What if you are weak, you are nervous, and you can’t have babies, then which is better, your husband leaving you, or going to find another wife? Do you understand?’
I said ‘Yes’ and I kept silent. Not that I wanted to get out of the conversation and take the approach to respect without understanding, which I find could be as violent as not respecting at all, but I really had nothing to add to her comments.
You know, I came from a Buddhists’ family where the whole religion’d developed around the notion of ‘Don’t know’. It was such a drastic contrast to meet with the religion that clamins to know everything.
I needed time to digest.
‘ 2. Respect without understanding, or understanding without respect.
Traveling among different countires and across continents, the worlds we live in, I think, either of these. One where people do not understand but respect, and the other where people somehow better relate but not necessarily respect.
Both make you lonely.
Some people go for understanding, while others for respect.
I have wanted to find a society that’s been built around respect through understanding, and I realized after hopping around tens of countries across the continents for years now, that there is no place like that. The only way is to create one.
And I also felt, whenever I feel misunderstood or disrespected, instead of complaining or crying out loud for fairness, I should go within, and examine myself. How much of respect with understanding I have given to the world?
Like today, when I meet someone like the nun that I met tonight, I would be tempted to decide to respect those but without understanding, thinking they were somehow wrong.
The world is fair, and has always been, working with the principle of ‘Cause and Effect.’
Again, I am not a buddhist, but tonight I suddenly remembered the saying of an ancient Buddist monk.