Healing the Wounds of September 11
|Let Us Share Jesus|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
I have been asked to share my views on Millennium. Today is a special day of the week for me. Today was my day to give two hours of volunteer medical care at the mobile medical van of Gennessaret Free Clinic (GFC). At GFC doctors, nurses and volunteers take care of the homeless people, people who are out on the streets with no place to live and very little or no food. I have been staffing that clinic for six years now. I spent two hours on Sunday afternoon there. The condition of people I see breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes.
We were trained in medicine to take care of people, after proper examination and tests to make appropriate diagnoses, give the right treatment, X-rays, angioplasty, CT scan, MRI. Here at GFC we are very limited as to what we can do for these poor people. At GFC we have a van, full of all kinds of medicines donated by drug companies. In the name of God, we give the medicine and hope it works! In 1991, GFC received President Bush’s 1000 Point of Light Award.
Homeless people who come to this clinic don’t just come for medicine. When I started it 6 years ago, I thought I would be a physician only. These people have all kinds of needs which we don’t realize. A young mother brought her little infant in and asked if we have any baby formula there, and I said no, we don’t have baby formula; this is a medical van. Then she asked, do you have Pampers in this van? I said, “No we don’t have Pampers!” The most common items we give, in addition to medicines, include socks in the summer and gloves in the winter as well as hygiene items, soaps and cosmetics—everyone gets them. These are all donated items. People ask for all kinds of things—several young people asked for prophylactics and we don’t carry those either. One day a young homeless man came shivering with fever. He was wearing only a light shirt and it was cold outside. All his belongings were stolen. I felt so bad I gave him my jacket.
So the needs of humans are too many and on the side of the van is the inscription from the Bible which says “anyone who touched him was healed”. “Him” refers to Jesus and it brings up the question of the Millennium. What does Jesus mean to all of us? What does he mean to a Jewish person because Jesus was after Moses and many Jewish people thing he was a reformed Jew. What does he mean to Muslims who love him, respect him and the Quran itself holds him in very high regard, calling him a sign, mercy, a witness, an example, a messiah, a messenger, a prophet, servant and spirit of God.
No one should have a monopoly on Jesus. When I was at The Millennium Institute Conference in Chicago, initially there was a controversy about the Millennium. The question was: If the Millennium is a Christian celebration then what are we doing here?
The Millennium is an event which is taking place after one thousand years. Therefore, it is a time to reflect upon what has happened in the last Millennium, where we stand now and in which direction we are going. If we do not know which direction we are going or where we want to be, we might end up where we never wanted to be.
The previous Millennium, especially the last half of it, was not a very good one. There have been many, may problems in the world. In the two World Wars, millions of people died. I think in the Second World War, about 25 million people died. The Korean War, Vietnam War use of the atom bomb, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust---so this has been a very troublesome Millennium. There are 20million people now who are stateless, refugees whom nobody wants. They have no nationality, no passport—they just keep migrating from one place to another until they get settled. There has been violence, poverty, racism and terrorism. These are forces of evil and they are very persistent in their efforts. Therefore, the forces of good should also not give in.
“There should be no compulsion in religion.” This is from Quran that people should decide to choose their religion and Muslims must respect that. There is a difference between religion and theology. Religion is beneficial and theology is not always so. In the words of Dr. M. Lillienthal “Religion is universal, theology is exclusive; religion is humanitarian, theology is sectarian; religion unites mankind and theology divides it; religion is love, theology preaches love and practices bigotry; religion looks to the moral worth of man, theology to his creed and denomination; religion is life, love and virtue, theology sows the seeds of discord and disunites one from another.”
In theology, we try to prove something: “I am right and you are wrong”, “My product is better than yours” and “I will go to Heaven and you will go to Hell.” I don’t know if this is all true. Only god knows who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell. We have an obligation among each other to know each other as human beings. We should accept each other as we are, and have a human responsibility to each other. If something happens such as an earthquake, if anyone gets injured, am I supposed to ask a question before I attend as a physician, “Are you a Christian of a Muslim?” I respond to your human need because you are the same species as I am—that’s it, no questions asked!
Thomas Jefferson, a great man, said “I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert nor wish to change another’s creed. I have never judged others’ religion by their lives for it is from our life and not from our works that religion must be read.”
How one lives the religion is important. It is said that “religion is something that men will wrangle for, write for, fight for, die for, do anything except live by it.” So which is the religion that says Thou shall steal, Thou shall kill ? None of them. The moral code of all religions is very similar.
Now coming back to the Millennium, we need to have a global ethics in order to have a global order. Global ethics are very important and before we come to the components of global ethics, we must decide on certain principles:
1. That God belongs to all. God is not my God only; there is no monopoly on God. That is as childish as when my children were young like two and four years old and I entered the house, they attacked me. “My dad, my dad!” and they started fighting among each other. Finally I had to settle them down, put one of them on one side of my leg and the other on the other side, telling them “I am dad to both of you.” Therefore, God belongs to all of us. He is not the God of Christians and Jews. Webster’s dictionary describes Allah as the God of Muslims. Never in the Quran did He say that I am Lord of Muslims; He says I am the Lord of the universe. He is not only the Lord of Muslims, Jews and Christians and everyone else, but the whole universe. A poet put it this way
At the muezzin’s call to prayer, the kneeling faithful throng the square
And on the Pushkara’s lofty heights,
The saintly priest chanted Brahma’s might.
Amid a monastery’s weed,
An old Franciscan told his beads,
While to the synagogue there came a Jew to praise Jehovah’s name.
The one great God looked down, smiled and counted each His loving child.
For the Turk and Brahman, Monk and Jew,
They all had reached Him through their prayers they knew.
This is it, my friends. God takes care of all those who believe in Him and also those who deny Him. He provides even for those who are atheists, knowing that these people don’t believe in Him. We expect so much mercy from God, but we are not merciful to each other. We expect forgiveness from God, but we are unforgiving of each other. It is a shame that we have been created in the image of God, but is our behavior in His image?
2. The second thing to understand is that God’s mercy surpasses His wrath. Of the 99 attributes of God, as Muslims know, the most common one is Ar-Rahman, which means the compassionate. He is merciful and His mercy is so great that once you ask for forgiveness, He will forgive you but you have to ask. Not asking for forgiveness is a sign of arrogance. He has tolerance. We do sin all the time, even the priests and the mullahs. He has tolerance so we should be tolerant of each other.
Just because another person prays to the same God in a different manner, in a different language, in a different posture, in a different direction, that does not make him or her less worthy of my love, of my respect for his life and his values.
We humans are unique. Let us compare ourselves to trees and birds, for example. We don’t think very much of trees which are cut in a forest. They seem to be much better creations than we are. Trees have very little need for themselves. They grow on their own but are so beneficial to everyone else. They provide shade, fruits, oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. They perform so many functions. Without trees the world would be nothing. The first thing we want to do with any land where we go is plant trees. But more than that, they don’t make any distinction between people and they are kind to everyone! And, look at the birds, the hummingbirds that come and sit down on the trees and enjoy them. Before these birds are allowed to land on a tree, do you think trees ask these birds the questions; “What is your color? What is your race? What is your religion? What is your belief? From which part of the world are you migrating?” These questions are not asked by trees, but we human beings, before we extend our kindness to another fellow human being, do ask.
I get asked these kinds of questions all the time, like where do I come from? Even recently, a Muslim organization asked me, and I replied from Heaven!
It’s nice to know, but what difference does it make where I come from? In the Quran it says that “We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you know each other (not that you despise each other).” Thus, creation of color, language and shape is the design of God. He could have made us of the same color, but He created human beings in different colors, speaking different languages, just like the two gardens. You go to one garden and the flowers are of the same kind, same color, same shape and same fragrance. Would you like that garden or would you go to another garden where there are different types of flowers, with different colors of flowers and different fragrances? It was not that I painted myself brown and you painted yourself white. Quran says “The best among you, again in the eyes of God the one who is most God conscious.”
The components of global ethics are commitment to non-violence, respect for life, commitment to solidarity and a just economic order. The problems in the world, for example, the violence that we see, are not always between the religions but it is usually between those who have and those who have not. In India, the sectarian riots at times have an economic motive to destroy the businesses of the other party.
So in many places there is violence, from South Africa to South America and in all these places you can see there are haves and have-nots. As long as the North-South debate is going on, the North is taking advantage of the South and the Sou9th remains a market for the North, there will be injustice and violence. Commitment to tolerance for each other—it’s a part of global ethics; we are improving but still we have not come close.
Yesterday I was watching the TV and President Clinton gave a speech: Now 34 churches have been burned down so far in the South. Now this is not the Muslims of the Jews burning Christian churches; both sides are Christian. Today we are talking about Jesus, we are talking about what Jesus did for people and both of them are followers of Jesus. Racism is a shameful disgrace to our great society.
Equal rights and partnership of men and women, equality of men and women should be a goal of the next millennium. Women have been oppressed everywhere, in every time period, by followers of every religion. I think that instead of women fighting for their rights, it is better to give them their due share of respect and equality in economic justice.
In this new Millennium, we, in the religious community, have a duty toward our world and toward our fellow human beings. It is our unilateral obligation to invite others and to work together in building a better and more peaceful world, a world which is free from oppression and exploitation, where rights are realities and where justice prevails over oppression.
Prophet Mohammed had predicted the coming of an age that after many years of bloodshed, the people would recommit themselves to peace and unity of mankind and we are going in that direction but must increase the pace because the forces of evil have not stopped working and therefore we cannot stop working either. The destiny of mankind is doomed unless people join together in goodness.
By the token of time
The mankind is at loss
Except as those who have pure belief
And joined together, in the mutual teaching of
Truth and Perseverance
(Quran Surah Al-Asr)
Let us share the mission and work of Jesus (Peace be upon him).