Abraham’s Children

March 16-22, 2006
VOL 125 NO. 10
Abraham’s Children
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) CNS
Many Westerners must have scratched their heads in wonder when they saw images from the Muslim world depicting the deadly riots that rocked those cities over cartoons appearing in a Danish magazine depicting Mohammed.

Many columnists and analysts asserted that the riots were evidence of the galactic gulf separating the West and Christianity from the Muslim world.
But are they so different after all? Are the Islamic world and Western Christianity on a collision course toward open conflagration?

When Mohammed, the central figure in the Islamic faith, had the words of the Qur’an delivered to him by the Angel Gabriel, he joined a line of prophets including Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham and Jesus Christ. Mohammed traced his descent back to Adnan, who, in turn, traced his own descent back to Ismaeel (Ishmael), the son of Ibrahim (Abraham).

For Muslims, Mohammed is the final prophet, the “seal” of the prophets and there will not be another until the coming of the savior (al-Mahdi) in the final days. The word “Islam” translates into English as “submission/obedience,” but it also connotes “to surrender; peace.”

Allah, the God of Islam, is the same as the God worshipped by Christians and Jews, the other Abrahamic religions. The Qur’an refers to Christians and Jews as “The People of the Book.” While there are abundant differences between the two faiths, another shared commonality at least between Catholic Christianity and Islam is the veneration of Mary. One chapter in the Qur’an is, in fact, called Surah Maryam.

Of course, there are significant differences between Islamic belief and those of Christianity. Islam doesn’t recognize the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The oneness of God is the fundamental concept of Islam.

One description of God from the Qur’an (Sura al-Ikhlas) reads “He is God, the one and only. Allah, the Eternal, Absolute and Self-Sufficient master. He begetteth not, nor is he begotten. And there is none like unto Him.”
In reference to the Trinity the Qur’an says in Sura An-Nisa, “O People of the Scripture! Do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about God except for the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was only a messenger of God, and His word that He sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers. You shall not say, ‘Trinity.’ You shall refrain from this for your own good. God is the only one God. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God suffices as Lord and Master.”

The Christian experience in the Middle East has been increasingly problematic. John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter recently reported that Sunday, Feb. 5, a 16-year-old Turk shot Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary in Trabzon, Turkey. The youth shouted “Allah akbar” (Allah is great) before shooting the 61-year-old priest. Moreover, the number of Christians living in the Middle East has decreased significantly over the course of the last half century. Not long ago, the city of Bethlehem was 80-percent Christian; now just one third of the population is Christian. More Palestinian Christians live in Australia now than in Palestine.

While there has been some strife between the federal government and Muslims in Central New York, as in the case of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, on a community level, there has been little friction between Muslims and Christians in the cities of the Syracuse Diocese. A longtime peace activist, Father Tim Taugher held an interfaith service with members of the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier on the eve of the war in Iraq at his former parish, Blessed Sacrament.

“We have a good working relationship,” Father Taugher said. “There’s been a good effort to be hospitable together. There seems to be a good rapport among us.” Imam Kasim Kapuz, a native of Turkey, arrived in Binghamton in 1993 when he was pursuing post-graduate work in Middle East Social History.

Within a year, Kapuz began community outreach in Binghamton, attending an Interfaith Council meeting in 1994. Between 2,000 and 2,500 Muslims live in Binghamton, Kapuz estimates, adding that roughly 19 nations are represented by the Muslim population. One of the fruits of that Interfaith Council was a Bible-study class in which various representatives of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Binghamton met weekly to read stories from Genesis. “We sat together and discussed the stories to find our commonalities and our differences,” Kapuz said.

Father Fred Daley’s parish, St. Francis de Sales in Utica, is within walking distance of the Kemble Street Mosque. The Mohawk Valley city was inundated with a Muslim population during the war in the former Yugoslavia. Of the approximately 7,000 Muslims living in Utica, 6,000 of them are Bosnian. “It’s been very positive,” Father Daley said. “The Bosnian community has fit very well into the Utica community and there’s great respect for one another. The Bosnian community is seen as bringing a great many gifts and talents to the Utica area.” A native of Egypt, Magda Bayoumi has come to embrace Upstate New York and the city of Syracuse in particular.

Bayoumi arrived in the U.S. in 1977 when she was visiting a favorite niece in Albany. She returned to Egypt following a prolonged visit but felt a strong connection to Upstate New York and returned shortly thereafter. She took courses at SUNY Albany but moved to Syracuse in 1979 to pursue her bachelor’s degree and has lived there ever since.

“Albany felt like home to me,” she said. “I didn’t feel a big difference between Albany and my home. I felt the warmth of the people and that reminded me of home.” Although she has been called a Muslim activist, Bayoumi prefers to think of herself as an advocate for the Muslim community in Syracuse. “I don’t know about ‘activist.’ That name came to me,” she said. Previously, Bayoumi worked as an advocate for persons with special needs. After Sept. 11, she found herself focused on the needs of Muslims in Syracuse. “9/11 all of a sudden made Muslims the most horrible people on earth when the Muslims have suffered so much,” she said. After the events of Sept. 11, Bayoumi said she saw a change in those who she dealt with outside the Muslim community.

“Either people treated me with too much love and support or people looked at me with a question mark on their face,” she said, explaining that the question mark indicated suspicion. Kapuz said that the Sept. 11 attack, more than anything else, demonstrated to Muslims in Binghamton the need to illuminate Westerners regarding Islam. “It made us first of all aware that Islam is the least known religion in the community,” he said. “It showed the need for us to educate people and made us more public.” Bayoumi contends that terrorists, when they prey upon the innocent, are anathema to the teachings of Mohammed as expressed in the Qur’an. “Our book is very, very clear,” she said. “As long as they are not fighting you, you cannot harm them.”

Bayoumi asserted that terrorists are simply using religion to justify their violent activities. “Religion has never inspired terrorism,” she said. “Some people take religion as an excuse to do what they want to do, just as Christians used God as an excuse for the crusades or European Jews used God as an excuse to occupy Palestine.” Kapuz echoed Bayoumi’s comments saying, “Terrorists do not represent the tradition of Abraham. We are predominately a peaceful tradition.” Kapuz added that many Westerners conflate Islam with terrorism because the media are irresistibly drawn to those fringe elements that claim religion as the impetus for their activities. “They are very angry so their voices are very high and they are attractive to the media,” he said. In the case of the deadly riots that swarmed throughout the Muslim world around the cartoons that appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Bayoumi asserted that the tumult was caused by the feeling among Muslims that they haven’t the same rights as, say, Westerners. “The riots and the burnings have nothing to do with religion,” she said. “People, especially Muslims, are fed up with being treated as second-class citizens.”

“They are disenfranchised and politically motivated rather than religiously motivated,” Kapuz said. Nevertheless, the cartoons did offend Muslims throughout the world. In certain places, peaceful demonstrations were held. At the Islamic Society of CNY Mosque, Bayoumi herself offered a talk regarding Muslim teachings on depicting Mohammed. She explained that none of the prophets esteemed by Islam are ever depicted in images.

“We see the prophet Jesus as being a higher standard than the image,” she said. “Dishonorable cartoons should not be used for any prophet,” Kapuz said. Among the 12 cartoon images is a drawing of Mohammed with a turban made from a bomb. Another image showed Mohammed armed with a scimitar. She said the images depicting Mohammed himself as a terrorist were particularly offensive.

“No one promoted peace more than the Prophet Mohammed. Peace be upon him,” she said. “No one promoted love more than the Prophet Mohammed.”

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