I had family members worried that I would cause my own premature death by provoking, then accepting an invitation to lunch today. Perhaps it was too late; I had already set the wheels in motion. Dead man walking.
I went to a city planning board meeting some weeks ago to protest two things. One was that a proposed residential and commercial development adjacent to my neighborhood would drain traffic from the once beautiful golf course into my quiet neighborhood. The other was that one of the proposed developments included a Muslim mosque as part of a Tri-Faith Initiative.
Because I had learned of this development only one night before the city planning meeting, I was somewhat less than eloquent when I proclaimed to God and country that a mosque, one mile from my home was unacceptable because mosques are known recruiting and training grounds for terrorists.
Listen, I never claimed to be that smart. Immediately after the meeting, I approached a gentleman who had been identified as a representative of the Tri-Faith Initiative. A more Jewish looking man I have never before seen. He wasted no time identifying my comments as coming from ignorance and bigotry. It turns out the Rabbi is also a high speed attorney here in town but he was only half correct. I am not a bigot. Not even a tiny bit. I just didn't like Muslims because of their religious beliefs and their murderous behavior.
I gave him my card and suggested he educate me sometime. I never expected to hear from him again. Last week, I received a call from a very pleasant woman, inviting me to lunch with the Imam (the head dude) from the mosque, at the Omaha Press Club. I like the Omaha Press Club, so I said sure.
When I hung up the phone, I was thrilled. Thrilled as in a little excited, a little ready to pee my pants, a little scared, a little more scared. Not of death, well, yes of death but I'm not really afraid of death, so not really of death, although I prefer not to die yet. I was scared by the fact that I had just committed to meet with someone that was probably going to be smarter than I, more eloquent on the topic, maybe have goons gathering information on me, ready to blow me up the next time I was wandering the outdoor market. Except that I don't know where any outdoor markets are. Anyway, I thought all of this really fast.
Now, I'm going to stop here for a second. I read a lot of newsy stuff, mostly online, where news of Islam is generally that of people stoning people to death, or hanging people to death, or marrying nine year olds, or beating their wives and daughters. Or ramming loaded airliners into giant buildings. This wasn't all yesterday. This is over a long time. All bad, all the time.
I knew the night before the meeting, that I should be sharp and up on my Islam "stuff". My Islamaledge. So naturally, I stayed up too late and dinked around on facebook and read unrelated (but interesting) "other stuff".
I got up in the morning, got to work five seconds late, then held my morning appointments at the office. Glancing at the clock, I dashed out the door for my drive downtown without so much as writing down one single item in my notebook of intelligently prepared, well thought out questions. I took care of that right before feeding the meter.
If nothing else, I have learned to trust God when I need him. He always seems to give me the words I need. I met Sharon in the lobby then confidently got on the wrong elevator and rode up six floors before realizing this elevator had no 22nd floor button. As we stepped out onto the sixth floor, I quickly realized this was the bellydancing lessons floor, so we stepped just as quickly onto a different elevator that did happen to have a button with "22" next to it. Phew. This is getting long and I haven't even started the topic yet.
Sharon and I got to the lobby-like, living room-like, entryway to the Press Club, said a quick prayer, then prepared to die. At least, until the hundred and twelve year old midget walked in and asked if I was Ward. Sorry, little person. But he wasn't really. He was just old and not very big. And as it turns out, he's also the Chief of Cardiology at a major hospital in town. I kind of scowled when I found out that little nugget of information. I was going to be murdered by the Chief of Cardiology? Things just weren't adding up.
As we were being led to our table, we were joined by a much taller man, probably in his thirties, who was introduced as the Imam's son. Ah. Surely the assassin. Nope. IT guy it turns out. He does computer networking stuff. Nice guy. But there's one more chair at the table. I'm thinking mean Jewish Rabbi guy, or... assassin. Nope. Son's Catholic wife. Oy. And she was as effervescent as an Altoids in a 7-Up bottle.
The conversation was quite interesting. The Imam spoke softly and with a strong Kentucky accent, so we had to lean across the table to hear him speak. Maybe the accent was from some Arab land. I bet that was it. Probably not Kentucky at all. Other than that, I think we all understood each other pretty well.
I made it clear that I was there to be educated. I think he was expecting a hostile opponent based on what angry Rabbi attorney guy had told him, but I quickly explained the situation leading up to our meeting and the Imam visibly relaxed. Effervescent wife bubbled over with happiness so I told the waiter to bring her chicken and rice with extra butter. I thought for sure the slightly decreased diameter of her arteries would slow her down some but it didn't. Yes, they really brought her plate flooded with butter. I apologized to her for not making it clear to the waiter that I was just joking, but she didn't really seem to mind all that much.
After we ordered, we got down to business. One topic flowed very nicely into the next. God did, indeed, give me the words I needed. I asked him about Shariah Law and Shariah courts. He explained that Shariah courts never exceed, or ask for, or expect judgements that violate the law of the land. For instance, a Shariah court in the UK would be for inheritance or handling property disputes but could never be used to order the execution of a wife for adultery.
The Imam and his son seemed like genuinely nice people but they also seemed a little uncomfortable when I spoke of their less peaceful brethren. Imam stated that Gallup had done a global survey that resulted in the conclusion that only 2% of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world actually were extremists. I wanted to feel relieved that only twenty six million Muslims wanted me dead, but that relieved feeling was hard to hang onto.
He explained that, like Christianity has Catholics, and Episcopalians, and Baptists, etc, that Muslims also have many different sorts, as well as customs and practices and beliefs that vary based also on geographic location. I kind of knew that already, but hearing him say it made it sink in and make sense.
But then we turned the discussion to moderates versus extremists. I mentioned the murder that occurred the other day, of Salman Taseer in Pakistan for blasphemy because he supported a Christian woman who had offered water to some farmers who refused because as a Christian, she was unclean. You can read about that here. There was celebration among moderate Muslims for this murder.
When I asked him about this, he responded that there were different definitions of what a moderate Muslim is. This after he had repeatedly referred to himself as a moderate Muslim. He also said that there were many Muslims that interpreted the Quran to suit their needs, much as Pastor Terry Jones did in Florida when he planned to burn Qurans, or as Fred Phelps does when he protests soldiers' funerals in the name of God.
I pointed out that in most Arab countries, that his son and his daughter-in-law would be put to death because of their marriage, if I understood correctly, and that his son would be considered a bad Muslim. He readily agreed.
A very unsatisfying answer that I received was when he tried to explain away radical Muslims in the United States as Timothy McVeighs or Columbine killers. Unsatisfying because neither the kids at Columbine, nor Timothy McVeigh committed their acts in the name of Jesus. The lone wacko defense was also what he used when I asked why peace loving Muslims didn't speak out against the extremists. That, and that the US press is biased and won't print loud objection by Muslims to Muslim terrorist acts. He claimed that much information received even by NPR is heavily redacted.
When I pointed out that after 9/11, there was a resounding cheer from the Muslim population heard the planet over, he stated that many moderate Muslims also protested, saying that good Muslims would never do that, but that the extremists were given the mouthpiece of the press, but the moderates were not.
I also asked about abrogation. The first part of the Quran is peaceful, when Muhammad was a preacher. The second part is much more violent, when Muhammad was a politician. It states in the Quran, that when there is a contradiction in the Quran, that anything that comes after, abrogates, or replaces, anything that comes earlier, thus eliminating any contradiction. The Imam's response to that was that the entire book is Holy. To me, that sounded like a sidestep. But he was very pleasant as he did it.
Of course, my questions regarding the widespread pedophilia and polygamy found in Islam, as well as wife and daughter abuse, were taken care of by his answer to my questions about Shariah Law.
Remember, this conversation happened over a meal, with uber-effervescent wife, and a small group that kind of liked one another. When I asked the Imam directly about Taqiyya, knowing of its existence, how could I know if everything he said wasn't a lie, he responded simply, "You can't."
His explanation of taqiyya is that a Muslim can deny his religion if that is required to save his life. My understanding has been that a Muslim can lie to further his religion, even if that is lying so he can plant bombs to kill those that he can't convert.
All in all, I enjoyed a very pleasant luncheon with a highly educated surgeon, his information systems worker son, my friend Sharon, and the ever bubbling, butter filled wife of the son. Imam and son think that Jesus was a prophet. Sharon and Bubbles and I know that Jesus is the Son of God, sacrificed on the Cross so that our sins can be forgiven so that we can have everlasting Life.
Bubbles did mention that she thought we all had to perform good works to earn our way into Heaven but we agreed to disagree for the time being on that one, and I said that we would pray that she sees the light.
I think we will probably meet again. I can see being friends with these folks because by the standards I have learned from my news sources over the past decade or so, these are terrible Muslims, but nice folks. Besides, you never know when you're going to need an experienced Muslim heart surgeon with a buttery daughter-in-law.