Imam Yahya Hendi: America and Islam-Cooperation or Confrontation? Part 1
October 2, 2010 1 Comment
Recently, I went to see Imam Yahya Hendi speak. Who is he? You’re wondering. “Imam” registers—so he’s a Muslim cleric. Synapses fire, and all of your memories pop up, and every article and personal interactions (or lack thereof) are immediately associated with this word. He? It must be a he. Wait. She just challenged my assumption of this person’s gender, so it must be a she. Wow. A female Muslim cleric? Interesting. “Yahya Hendi.” Hmm. Not an Anglican name, so a foreigner. Wait. Another synapse fires. Maybe he’s not. Before any more synapses fire, you must know where he’s from.
Where is he from? (Yes, Imam Hendi is male. I just want to keep you on your feet.) He answered this question himself, during his talk: “I’ve been asked many times where I am from—I say from dust—as the Bible, Koran, and Torah says. We should act as if we are all fellow Dustians.”
We are all human. That is what matters. How important is it, really, that we know where on the global map one is “from”? My opening paragraph outlined what I assume will be the thought process for many who read this humble piece. Word association—we connect memories and knowledge with images, words, and emotions. It is the brain’s drive-thru in regards to learning something or someone new. Many times this is helpful. Often, it is not. Assumptions, it is said, makes a disagreeable donkey part out of you and me. Awareness of this is important, so we may know when it is appropriate to use this mental shortcut, and when it is not.
The title of Imam Hendi’s talk was “Islam and America: Cooperation or Confrontation.” I consciously use “talk” rather than “lecture” or “speech” because the heart of this appearance, and his mission, is dialogue between Islam and Christianity, Judaism, America, and everyone and every place within and in between.
Father Adam Bernell, of Bellarmine University, invited Imam Hendi to speak—the two worked together in Washington D.C. in 2001. The two worked to bring the community together after 9/11, and Imam Hendi had the privilege of being one of President Bush’s advisors after September 11th.
The Imam spent a good deal of time talking about faith. “Peace is essence of religion—love is the essence of faith—forgiveness is the essence of religion,” he says. He asked, “Are we willing to speak their language of inclusivity and love and compassion?” Are we? I pose this question to you. Let’s face it. The war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and much of the opposition to any Islam mosques or community centers is as much as, if not more so, about religious opposition than the 9/11 attacks. Many American Christians are quick to say it is extremists that attack women’s clinics and doctors that perform abortions, and that Christianity is a peaceful religion—but in another breath, are quick to condemn Islam for the actions of a few extremists. But Christianity is different from Islam, many have argued. Is it?
The Yahya Hendi says no. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are much the same. In fact, he told us, the Bible and Koran are 80% the same. The disbelief in the audience of mostly students of a Catholic university was palpable. Here’s an example—the story of Abraham. The story is featured in both the Koran and the Bible. Imam Hendi says they are 95% the same. The only difference? In the Koran, Abraham does not lie to the pharaoh—he does not say Sarah is his sister. Lying is a sin—and a prophet may not lie in the Koran.
Imam Hendi called on us to read the Koran—and I challenge you to do the same. It is easy to hate what you do not know. How much of our collective knowledge of Islam has been from our own pursuit of knowledge and understanding? How much of it was simply told to us by an authority figure and accepted as truth without checking for ourselves? Don’t chase after secondhand knowledge—what is told to us by preachers, the media, and non-Muslim authors. Read the Koran for yourself. It is a far more productive activity than burning them, I assure you.
As Imam Yahya Hendi said that night, ““We no longer live in our own ghettos.” It is time for us to stop acting as if we do—and start behaving like we’re living in a global community, where borders and differences are meaning less and less.