Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

August 9, 2010


Filed under: Religion,Social — cec @ 11:19 am

My local paper kindly reminds me that tomorrow’s moon rise begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and that the associated fasting and prayers begin on Wednesday.

Recently, I was talking to my neighbor, the very kind, interesting and extremely conservative Glenn Beck viewer. While we were talking, he brought up Muslims and his fear that they were trying to take over the country (apparently, religious appropriation of a country is only okay if it’s Christian – but that’s another story). According to my neighbor, no religious Muslim could ever possibly be up to any good. I don’t explicitly recall him calling Islam a false religion, but he very much believed that you couldn’t trust “them,” that they were all radicalized and out to destroy “our” way of life.

At the time, I countered by noting that while in graduate school, I knew several Muslims that were all very good people, moreover, I would be surprised if any of them have converted to a fundamentalist form of Islam. My advisor was a (I believe non-practising) Muslim. One of the best and kindest professors in my department was a practising Muslim – on his office wall, he had a discrete prayer calendar reminding him of the appropriate times to pray. Moreover, there were several Muslim graduate students in my research group, including a gentleman named Hakan.

Hakan was a great guy (presumably he still is, I just haven’t seen him in several years). At the time, K and I lived in a town house a couple of miles from my office, in a part of the city that was growing. Because of the population growth, the city decided to put in a new water pumping station just down the street. Unfortunately, we had plastic piping in and leading up to the town house. When they first started testing the new station, a pipe burst in the front yard. We had a plumber come out, dig it up and fix it. Shortly thereafter, a new spot went and I did the digging and repairing myself. Finally, after the third time, I had enough. I was going to (hand!) dig a trench between the water meter and the house and put in copper piping.

Well, I mention this to my officemates, and Hakan volunteers to help dig the ditch. He came out on Saturday morning and we spent several hours in the sun, digging the trench and tunneling under the sidewalk. After a couple of hours, I asked him if he wanted some lunch or something to drink. He said that he couldn’t – it was Ramadan and therefore, forbidden. I was horrified that I had him out in the sun, digging a ditch while he couldn’t eat or drink. It wasn’t the middle of summer, but I recall it being hot enough that I was worried about his health. Regardless,  he persevered and we got the copper piping installed. Thinking back on it, my understanding is that a part of Ramadan is service and in taking his beliefs more seriously than many people I know, he was both abiding by the fasting requirements of Ramadan and helping his officemate, even if it was physically taxing.

I do understand why people would be concerned about fundamentalism in Islam, I’m concerned about it too. But I’m also concerned about fundamentalism in Christianity and most other religions for that matter. But those who think that all Muslims are radical or that all of Islam is somehow tainted by the radicals, need to spend some time with Hakan or any of the other Muslims that have positively affected by life.

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