HAMID AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION |
March 17, 2008
HAMID AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION
Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 3/17/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url: Afghanistan Without A Clue
Once more into the archives for one of my discussions with Hamid. This one was precipitated by my hut mate, Mike, who was venting during lunch about the corruption of the Afghan officials he had to deal with. After he finished eating and left, Hamid and I continued the discussion.
It would be very easy to start bashing the Afghan leaders for the way things are run over here, but the only difference between corruption in Afghanistan and corruption back home is that most folks back home are far more careful and discreet. I have no way of knowing what the actual statistics are, but humans in general are a pretty corrupt lot. The ability to use power and position for personal gain is too strong a temptation for most. I suspect many seek power and position just so they can benefit personally. I assured Hamid that I did not believe Afghanistan was any different from most other countries in this respect.
It is very frustrating for Hamid, as he hates to see people ignoring the teachings of the Qur’an. In fact, it was at this point Hamid paid me one of the nicest compliments anyone has ever given me.
“Sir. I wish you were a Muslim. You would be a great example of how a Muslim should live. You never lie. You never steal. You never murder. You never cheat on your wife. You act like a Muslim should. I wish Muslims could live like you.”
What do you say to that? Few words have ever done me such honor as these. I will remember them as long as I live. But enough of that. We moved on to the meaning of Life, The Universe, and Everything.
Hamid leaned forward as he does when he wants to launch into a Deep Discussion.
"Sir, what is life?”
Yes, gentle readers, if you imagine my mind seizing up, you’ve grasped it nicely. Hamid is getting pretty good at playing Stump the Dummy.
“Come on Hamid, you can’t ask me that. You have to be more specific. What are you looking for here?”
“But, Sir, I am serious. What is life?”
Sigh. I gave it a shot. Hamid would tell me where this was going soon enough. “Life is the sum total of all your experiences, everything you see, hear, touch, taste, and so on. Am I warm?”
“To me, this life is a test from God. My real life starts after I die.”
“That’s not much different from many other religions,” I commented.
Here we entered into a long discussion of the beliefs of major religions. Try explaining the Trinity or the atonement to a Muslim who has never heard of these concepts. You might as well try explaining quantum physics. It was, however, a very enjoyable discussion.
Hamid concluded by saying, “I wish I knew the Qur’an better. Maybe then you would become a Muslim.”
“Hamid, I will never become a Muslim. Do you know why? I believe everyone should have the right to believe whatever they want, to worship any way they please. The Qur’an teaches that infidels like me must either convert to Islam, or submit to Muslims, or be executed.”
Hamid shook his head. “The Qur’an does not teach that.”
“Hamid, how would you know? You’ve never read the Qur’an. You only know what your mullah teaches you. In this country, if a Muslim wanted to convert to another religion, the government would throw them in jail and execute them, right?”
“Yes,” he acknowledged.
“Do you have any idea how angry this makes Americans? The freedom to worship any way you wish is the most important principle in the founding of our country. Remember last year when you had that man here who stated that he had converted to Christianity, and many wanted to execute him?”
“You mean the man who ended up going to Italy?” asked Hamid.
“Yes. That story was everywhere in America. People wanted to know why we were supporting a country that acted this way.” I paused and looked him in the eye. “Most Muslim countries are the same. They force people to believe a certain way. I want no part of that. So don’t blame yourself; I will never become a Muslim. It doesn’t mean I hate Muslims, since clearly we are friends. But I will never believe this is God’s will.”
Hamid really seemed to be pondering this one. I doubt anyone had ever made him think about things this way.
“So you don’t believe what the Prophet has said?” he asked.
“I haven’t met the Prophet, and neither have you. You and I don’t know what he said. You only know what men have told you the Prophet said. I don’t care what men say to me in the name of God. You are talking about believing something based on faith. Most religions require their people to have faith.”
“But it is not faith for us. The Qur’an wrote itself, and is God’s Word.”
“How do you know? Were you there?” I countered.
“But this is what the Prophet said,” protested Hamid.
“How do you know that either? Did he speak to you? All you know is what men say he said.”
Yes, I really am this annoying. I still marvel that Hamid wants to talk to me.
“See, you have faith that the Qur’an is the eternal word of God, but you have no proof. Most other religions also require this kind of faith. They all like to say it’s based on evidence, but if you start asking the hard questions, ultimately you have to take it on faith. In this sense Islam is much like all other beliefs.”
To his credit, Hamid did not change the subject. We kept plowing on, and so we came to the topic of Hell.
“Hamid, does it bother you that according to Islam, all infidels go to Hell for eternity?
He looked puzzled. “What is an infidel?”
“You’re kidding. You don’t know what an infidel is?”
“No, Sir, I don’t know.”
This surprised me. “An unbeliever, a non-Muslim. We all go to hell for eternity. Does that bother you?”
“Oh, it’s not for eternity. You are punished for your evil, then you go to Paradise.”
“Wali (another of our interpreters) says it’s for eternity. If I don’t become a Muslim, I’ll spend eternity in Hell.”
“Well, that would be true for people who aren’t Muslims,” he acknowledged. Sometimes we have these strange miscommunications.
“Hamid, I’m not a Muslim. I’ll be in Hell for eternity if you are right. Does that bother you?”
He looked uncomfortable.
“And there are many branches of Christianity that believe in Hell too, and if they are correct, you and all your fellow Muslims will be in Hell forever. I used to believe that too, but I don’t anymore. I can’t believe God will send all of you to Hell. It doesn’t make sense to me. You certainly don’t deserve to be tortured for eternity.”
Once again Hamid was thinking hard. I added, “You have to understand, there are many Christians who don’t believe in Hell, and don’t believe you are all going there. There are many different types of Christians. I’m just telling you about the beliefs of some.”
When we headed out, Hamid was in good spirits. “You ask very hard questions. I have never heard questions like this before. This idea that people should not be forced to believe something, I have never heard this. And proof and faith, this is good too. I must talk to my mullah about this.”
So ended another joint effort to understand the world. To all my readers, be they Christians, Muslims, atheists, or anything else; my goal is not to convert Hamid to any way of thinking. We talk because we are friends trying to understand each other’s world. I am not mocking his beliefs, nor would I mock yours.
Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Thought, Freedom from Coercion, these are the foundations of our great country. If I don’t believe the way you do, hopefully that doesn’t upset you. As long as your faith doesn’t want to deny me my freedoms, I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe.
Hamid and I are exact opposites on many issues, yet we are good friends. There may be a lesson in there somewhere.