By CIARAN GILES, Associated Press Writer
MADRID, Spain – Saudi Arabia won praise Friday for taking a leading role in an interfaith conference, with participants saying it was another sign the conservative Muslim kingdom is opening up.
Rabbi David Rosen, the only Israeli who attended the three-day meeting led by Saudi King Abdullah, said he believes the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdom also wants to reaffirm leadership in the Muslim world for fear of greater instability.
“The Saudis are definitely opening up,” said Rosen, who heads inter-religious relations for the American Jewish Committee and is a former chief rabbi of Ireland. “I have heard from the Saudis that this is a culmination of a process that began the moment Abdullah ascended to the throne and that he actually wants to open up Saudi society.”
The Saudi monarch unexpectedly called the conference about a month ago. It brought together Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists among other religions and was hosted by Spain. The meeting ended on Friday.
Critics said the Saudis were the last people who should be leading a conference on religious dialogue given that Wahhabism — the austere strain of Sunni Islam practiced in the kingdom — is considered one of the religion’s most conservative. Many believe the conference was held in Spain partly because it would be politically unpalatable for Abdullah to allow Jewish and Christian leaders on Saudi soil.
However, Abdullah has made reaching out to other faiths a hallmark of his rule since taking over the country in 2005. He met with Pope Benedict XVI late last year, the first meeting ever between a pope and a reigning Saudi king.
And in June, Abdullah held a religious conference at home in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. At that meeting, participants pledged improved relations between Islam’s two main branches, Sunni and Shiite, and Abdullah also rejected extremism, saying Muslims must present Islam’s “good message” to the world.
“It’s also believed that he is very concerned about instability in the region obviously in relation to Israel, Palestine, but especially Iraq and even more the ascendancy of Iran and that there is a need to reaffirm what he sees as Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the region,” said Rosen, who holds dual Israeli-American citizenship.
William Baker, president of the U.S. group Christians and Muslims for Peace, said the real significance of the meeting was that “it originated in the heart of Islam.”
“This could not come at a better time for the whole world and peace and it could not have come from a better place as Islam is being propagandized against, lied about and distorted in the West for political purposes,” said Baker.
presented the conference as a strictly religious initiative. The World Muslim League, which organized it for the king, was adamant there would be no discussions of political issues such as the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Iranian nuclear ambitions.
At the conference, delegates dwelt instead on issues such as dialogue within the Islamic world and with other denominations. Other topics debated were the need to protect the family, the role of women in religion and ways to protect the environment. They agreed to try to organize more conferences and involve the United Nations.
For Rosen, the fact that the conference took place at all was the most significant thing.
“There have been interfaith conferences before, but never by the king of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “This is an incredible advancement.”
It is really hard to try and explain to some readers that unless you have walked a day or a week or a month and quite possibly a year in my shoes, NO ONE has the right to judge me or leave nasty comments on this blog, thinking that I would even entertain posting those comments here.
The other night I wrote on the seven deadly sins, as I did a nightly inventory of my sobriety and I prayed for some wisdom in posting that post and I even PAGED it as well so that it can be readily accessed from the front page.
Illness forces one who is ill to grow up, faster than usual. It asks of us to persevere through the illness and to hope and pray that one will live through adversity and come victoriously to the other side. 162 of my friends went into that dark night with me. They are all dead, I am still alive. I must be doing something right.
People who think they know God, come here and tell me about their God and they share with me their warped views of Christianity. They leave nasty comments with vile judgments and accusations. How could I possibly know God, be a Christian and be Gay? My God does not care that I am gay and he doesn’t care that you are straight. My God tells me that I must walk this path, and I must pray and I must respect the station of God, and I do that. I am sure that every Christian who reads this blog has a different conception of God, and you may not agree with me and that’s ok. What a bore it would be if we all agreed on every note of Christianity.
When I got sick, and doctors told me that I had, at best, 18 months to live, that I better make good use of that time, I took that diagnosis home with me and I was alone. Because I would be Coming Out again, and AIDS was the great leveler. It surely separated the boys from the men, and the girls from the women. I tell this story again because it is who I am – what I am – and where I came from.
I had to come to believe that I was going to live, when all of my friends were dying. Against all odds, a group of men rallied round me and forced me to think, they begged me to believe in them, if I could not believe in myself or in God at that present moment. I cried for days. I worked my ass off and I listened to every word that was spoken to me in that first 18 months. I listened to the men who made sense of living. I listened to men encourage me through the toughest time of my life. Were THEY wrong???
The path lies ahead of you. What you choose to do with that knowledge is up to you. I had a choice, I could stay on the path and follow the leader, or I could go it alone. I chose to follow the leader. When Christianity turned its back on the sick and the dying, WE were still there. When the Christians were condemning us, and labeling us, WE were still there, we walked through that hell. I accuse many for what they did to me and my friends. I accuse you for turning your back on so many, families, friends, lovers, churches, congregations, funeral parlors, office workers, hospital workers and doctors and nurses.
You have not a shred of experience on what we lived through. You have not a leg to stand on when you speak your vile accusations and judgments. God as my witness, You have no idea who I am, you did not see with thine own eyes the horror I witnessed. You did not weep at the bodies laid wasted by those who abandoned them. I reckon, you did not shed one guilty tear of remorse for your actions.
And God Wept…
I counted the days, one by one, on paper, in my house, in my heart and in my mind. I sewed my own memorial quilt with the others and when they died I wept for my friends and those who loved them to the end. I worked night and day to care for the sick and the dying. I worked night and day to keep myself alive. And I was sober as well. I experienced rehab and I read my Big Book, I worked my steps and I let go of my resentments and my ego. Because let me tell you, there is no EGO when it comes to mortality. You beg God for one more day, one more week, one more month. You tell me if you’ve ever knelt before God, knowing that your life is in his hands, and you don’t let go of your EGO pretty damned fast.
God does not deal is egos and attitudes, although you wouldn’t know that by the actions of some Christians I run across on this blog. You’d think that God stepped out of his heaven to tell some Christians that it is their duty and responsibility to speak for the almighty!
I beg to differ…
I do not know of any Christian, priest, minister, pastor or the like who has ever heard from the Almighty and has access to the 1-800 number to the heavenly host. Not one day goes by as of late that I don’t think about my mortality. Because we are quickly approaching my diagnosis anniversary. It has been 14 years and counting, and I am still here, 162 of my friends are DEAD!!!
The longer I lived the more I believed that I would make it – the more I walked the path, I learned about me, about others, I learned what true compassion was, because I watched people like you, HUMAN BEINGS become ANIMALS, un-compassionate and uncaring. I witnessed the worst that humanity threw at us, don’t think for one moment that I have forgotten after so many years. I have not…
I know very few noble men and women in my life. I know that the men and women who worked tirelessly to help me and others stay alive, did that because they had to. The believed in us when nobody else did. They hoped that we would survive the medications, the drugs, and or the lack there of. Those men and women stood at the gates of death and protected us to the best of their ability to see that no one would go alone and those who lived would not forget the kindness shown to them in their darkest hours.
YOU who think you know God. YOU who think God has anything to say about me. YOU who think that you can prance around your little churches proclaiming “Jesus Saves” on Holy Sunday and at prayer meetings and revivals, out of one side of your mouth, and from the other you spout such vitriol and hatred!!! How could you possibly be in communion with the same God who created heaven and earth and all that you see before you!
May God have mercy on your souls.
In 40 years of life, I know who I am today. I survived. I lived. I persevered. I broke all the records and markers that my doctors gave me. I survived a family that turned their backs on me. I survived loosing my friends, my fellows, my boyfriend at the time. I survived finding my lovers corpse 5 days after he killed himself, rather than telling me that he was sick. I survived the curse that his mother said to me as I signed his body out of the coroners office to send his rotted corpse home to his family when she spoke those words:
“I Hope that every night when you close your eyes, that you see my dead sons body before you until the day that you die…”
Not a night goes by that I don’t pray for his soul and for mine. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded that this body is but a shell that I happen to inhabit for this lifetime. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded that I could die at any moment because my constitution is not that of a 26 year old boy any more. Not a day goes by that I don’t start my day with prayer and pray during the day and before I go to sleep at night that i don’t thank God for that day and pray that there is air in my lungs when I get up the next morning. It seems that God listens to my prayers, because there is still air in my lungs tonight.
You must concede that I know of what I speak of. You must concede that somewhere in God’s heaven are millions of souls who have gone before me, who speak to God on my behalf. You must concede that Sister Georgette, my sainted Grey Nun aunt, isn’t up there speaking to Mere D’Youville on my behalf. You must concede that after all these years, that I know how to pray. You must concede that probably I have prayed prayers for myself and my friends that YOU have never thought about praying for yourself or your families.
Death and Dying is not just a spectator sport for those who live and die with illness. You look at a child who is sick, and you feel pity for them, yet you spurn the lot of us who are sick and dying. There was no pity on your face, only recriminations and condemnation. Until you face your appointed hour could you ever utter one single word against me, my friends or our family.
We learn a great deal about life in the pursuit of death. We learn a great deal about prayer when the chips are down and we have to utter those “Hail Mary” prayers. I don’t think that YOU could shine a light on my prayer life with the certainty that you think you have. I don’t believe that YOU could even imagine what it is that I pray for on a nightly basis. I don’t believe that YOU could ever know the relationship that I have with God, because of the way you treat others. Humans are imperfect beings.
Religious men and women across the board for centuries have prayed to God, studied the finer points of God and they speak about theologies and religions, and nobody has the definitive word on God, what He thinks and what He believes of anyone on earth. Scripture, Talmud, the Qu’ran, the Bible, the Upanishads and the Vedas all speak of spiritual nature and spiritual truth. Words written by man, inspired by God are open to interpretation by the best scholars and religious leaders. Centuries of collected works are borne into a system of belief for the masses because YOU need to believe in something, and far be it from me to tell you what to believe, and As God as my witness, YOU have no right to tell me what to believe, how to live my life, or who I can love.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers eye.”
On top of 40 years of lived experience on this earth, and 14 years balancing the fine art of the living and the dead, I have spiritual truth on my side. I have years of sober time under my belt. I have worked to become selfless and ego-less. We have a reading called the Promises in AA that we believe will come to pass if one works the program of recovery to the best of their ability.
“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not.
They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.They will always materialize if we work for them.”
Every week at my home group meeting we read this passage from the Big Book. And I can tell you that I have come to believe because I have watched God walk into our meeting and rest and I have seen his grace fall on the souls of those who come to that meeting week in and week out. I have seen God move in ways that probably YOU will never see in your lifetime. I have been blessed and my friends have been blessed by God because we come together to learn, to change, to work and to share our message with those who might need to hear it.
Over the last five years I have worked on my religious truth. I have studied God INTIMATELY. I know who God is and I know who God is not. I have prayed simple prayers in some of the most beautiful churches on the earth. I have walked the staircase to the roof the Pinnacle of the Holy Catholic Church. I have stood in awe of the expanse of Rome and I have looked down into Papal Gardens where I am sure, centuries of Popes have communed with God in their time.
I have spoken to Pontiffs, I have worshiped in the greatest Church that exists on the planet. I have communed with the bones of saints and prophets. I have stood in the place of honor where the disciple Peter’s bones rest beneath the cuppola of the Vatican. I have walked the hallowed halls of the catacombs beneath the Vatican and I have seen the early Christian catacombs on Rome where the first Christians worshiped God.
There is not one egotistical bone in my body. I have worked tirelessly for years to share a message of hope and love with my readers. I have worked with the sick and the dying. I have spent a lifetime learning how to die. I have spent a lifetime studying the path to righteousness. I don’t care one bit for righteousness, I DO care about Holiness. I care that I live a holy and blessed life. I care that those I listen to live holy and blessed lives. I care that the religious authority that I follow RESPECTS me for WHO I am and are not bothered by WHAT I may be.
The world is so caught up in labels. What good have labels done to people in the past? The Nazi’s believed that labeling people and putting them in extermination camps was useful. To route the world of Jews, Gypsies, Christians, (oh yes they exterminated Christians too), homosexuals, the Polish and the sick and dying. MILLIONS of people WERE MURDERED because they were labeled as useless and dirty.
I once believed, as a young person that I wanted to carry a label, but 40 years of experience has taught me that once you label someone, they are as good as dead. Once you label someone, they loose something of themselves. The uniqueness of the soul is tarnished by those who would see them labeled. In centuries of time gone by, we have seen what labels do to human beings. Because if YOU can label us, then You believe that you can separate us from the whole, and section us off from the normal human population. You do not own that power any longer.
My Husband, my friends, and my fellows love me for the man I am today. One who gives freely of his soul every day that I live. One who writes with such passion and strength. One who lives with determination that I can safely say that probably YOU will never see in your lifetime. Because faced with imminent death, I am sure you would not rise to the level of enlightenment that I have seen in my lifetime.
Ah, you might get sick, get cancer, or some other disease, you will say a prayer here or there, and maybe you just might see the face of God before he takes you, but you will still be as judgmental and vile as you are today. Nothing will change.
Because a sick heterosexual is far better in Gods eyes than a sick homosexual.
Because you believe that God will hear and harken your prayer before he does mine. Well, I wonder about that. What do you think? YOU who sputter unchristian words now need God’s grace, because like me, now you are sick and you need God to heal you and make you better. Do you think that you are going to walk a different path than I have? Do you think that your illness might be better than mine? Do you believe that a heterosexual should be pushed up the line of healing before God, before someone like me?
You have no idea what it feels like to face your own death, several times over in my case. And lived to tell the tale. And you think that I am prideful or have one ounce of hubris in my soul? You think that I am arrogant and that I come from a place of ego rather than a place of selflessness???
I have come to believe…
One day YOU will stand before God, and on that day YOU will reckon for all that you have done on this earth, and for me it is this last thought that keeps me going in my pursuit of Christian faith, that at the end of my life when I stand before God I will hear him say:
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Will God say the same words to you???
I have told you that I am reading a book written by Benazir Bhutto titled: Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West. It is a very convincing read so far, and Islam is not my strength, but I have taken my series of introductory classes in Islam. I am going to write for you, excerpts from the chapters which I have read. I am not a scholar of the Qu’ran, and I am not a Muslim, but please, if you are moved to comment and discuss I would welcome your input on the following entry for tonight.
The case – the very strong case – for a pluralistic and modern Islamic society is made directly in Islamic scriptures’ references to violence, terrorism, intercultural relations, interreligious relations, the place of women in society, and science and technology. Despite the protestations and assertions of some, and despite skepticism outside our own community, the vast majority of the billion Muslims in the world embrace a peaceful, tolerant, open, rational, and loving religion that codifies democratic values.
It is a religion that sanctifies the traditions of the past while embracing the hope for progress in the future. This is the interpretation of Islam that my father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and my mother, Nusrat Bhutto, embraced and practiced and taught my brothers, Mir Murtzaz and Shah Nawaz, my sister, Sanam, and me.
This is the true Islam, in contrast to the perversion that has been espoused by extremists and militants and the caricatures that is too often accepted in the West. The greatest and purest source is the words of the Prophet himself. And when the Prophet speaks of “Allah,” he is speaking of God, the same monolithic God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. “God” is a translation of the Arabic word “Allah,” not just the God of Islam but rather the God of monotheism, the God of all who believe in Him and believe that He is the Creator of the universe, of this world and the hereafter.
Many people around the world think that the word “jihad” means only military war, but this is not the case. As a child I was taught that jihad means struggle. Asma Afsaruddin, a well-regarded scholar of Islam, explains the correct meaning well: “The simplistic translation of jihad into English as ‘holy war,’ as is common in some scholarly and nonscholarly discourses, constitutes a severe misrepresentation and misunderstanding of its Quranic usage.” Jihad instead is the struggle to follow the right path, the “basic endeavor of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.”
The importance of jihad is rooted in the Quran’s command to struggle (the literal meaning of the word jihad) in the path of God and in the example of the Prophet Mohammad and his early companions. In fact, some of the Muslim world believe holy war against the West is warranted in a new global conflict.
… Therefore, it is important to show the true meaning of jihad: as an internal and external struggle to follow the right and just path. Jihad involving armed conflict must be constrained by the standards of just war, just as Christianity sets similar standards. I will substantiate, with theological backing, the idea that terrorism cannot be supported by reference to the Holy Book.
In the history of Islam, there are two different constructs of the term “Jihad.” First there is the internal jihad, a jihad within oneself to be a better person, to resist the temptations of the soul. This is a struggle centered on eradicating character flaws such as narcissism, greed and wickedness. This is the greater jihad.
The second form of jihad is personal conduct at a time of war or conflict. The Prophet is said to have remarked when he came home from a battle, “We return from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” This shows the importance of the constant internal struggle that we all face within ourselves. It is nonviolent struggle that makes us become better people. The greater, internal jihad is seen as more important that the lesser, external jihad.
Let us look specifically at the issue of terrorism. Muslim jurists developed a specific body of laws called siyar that interprets and analyzes the just cause for war. Part of the law indicates that “those who unilaterally and thus illegally declare a call to war, attack unarmed civilians and recklessly destroy property are in flagrant violation of the Islamic juristic conception of bella justum. Islamic law has a name for such rogue militants, muharibun. A modern definition of muharibun would very closely parallel the contemporary meaning of ‘terrorists.’ The acts that these muharibun commit would be called hiraba (‘terrorism’). Thus all terrorism is wrong. There is no ‘good terrorism’ and ‘bad terrorism.’
Osama bin Laden’s creed that “the terrorism we practice is of the commendable kind” is an inverted rationalization for murder and mayhem. In Islam, no terrorism – the reckless slaughter of innocents – is ever justified.
The Qu’ran reveals that God sent 120,000 prophets. Thus, it can be argued that in a Muslim state, diverse points of view will be represented and must be protected. The Qu’ran does not simply preach tolerance of other religions; it also acknowledges that salvation can be achieved in all monotheistic religions.
Freedom of choice, especially in matters of faith, is a cornerstone of quranic values. This freedon of course, leads to pluralism in religion, both within Islam and outside. The quranic preference for freedom of choice clearly manifests a divine desire for pluralism and religious diversity; examples of this from the Qu’ran are clear and striking: “You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.” The Qu’ran unambiguously desires choice in religious matters.
Quite remarkably and uniquely, the Qu’ran acknowledges that other religions can readily lead to salvation. For example, the Holy Book says:
Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.
Islam embraces all humanity under one God, discrediting all other exclusive claims to salvation. I don’t believe there is anything quite like this is any religion on earth.
Islam believes that people should be allowed choice in religion and that no religion should be forced upon people. Religious freedom allows people to freely accept Islam – or any religion – as their religion of choice. Practicing Islam out of force rather than choice is unIslamic. The Qu’ran states : “There is no compulsion in religion.” Indeed, the practice of religion while under compulsion or forced conversion is against the teachings of the Qu’ran. (Thus, the forced conversion of Muslims perpetrated by Christian slave masters would not have been permitted in Islam, nor would have the forced conversion of Sephardic Jews by Christians during the Spanish inquisition.”
This is a lot to process, and is all that I have highlighted so far…
Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, Benazir Bhutto, Chapter 2 pgs. 20-33