The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
June 2011 – Vol. 14 Issue 4
In May Branch members attended several programs relating to Islam. A highlight was the May 6th keynote address by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, opening “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” a program to counter Islamophobia organized by local Christians, Muslims, and Jews. A compassionate and profound speaker, the Kuwaiti-born Sufi is imam of a mosque in New York City, where he has served lower Manhattan for 28 years. He emphasized that many basic assumptions are common to Islam and America, a subject treated in his book What's Right with Islam. For example, the statement “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is compatible with Islam, which stresses the inherent equality of all persons. In fact, this statement embodies universal ideals supported by the mass of people everywhere when they have the opportunity to express themselves, as in the Arab Spring revolutions. Democracy can bring positive changes throughout the Muslim world and lessen extremism, he said, and the need today more generally is for recognition of common moral values in a global social contract. Optimistically, he maintained that better understanding between Muslims and the West is nearer than most people can imagine.
A wide-ranging question session continued for over an hour. Imam Abdul explained the controversy surrounding the Community Center he hopes to build, disparaged for partisan political ends as the “Ground Zero Mosque.” In his view the common ground between Christianity and Islam is in their emphasis on love and compassion, and he playfully encouraged Christians to think of Muslims as “Unitarians with an Arabic liturgy.” He highlighted the importance of Muslims adapting to American culture, as Catholic and Jewish immigrants have done, thus finding ways to express to other Americans that “we are loyal to America and loyal to our religion.” Further, he pointed out that Sharia law mandates religious tolerance and obeying the laws of whatever country one inhabits. Islamists, he held, are those who preach extremism in an Islamic vocabulary, while the real distinction was not between religions but between right-thinking and wrong-thinking people, the latter believing that only their own views are correct. Such groups, of course, are found in all religions. It was a memorable and encouraging evening.
On May 11 members attended an animated lecture by Dr. John L. Esposito sponsored by the Acacia Foundation. An expert in Islamic studies, he pointed out that deciding if Islam is compatible with modernity and democracy depends on whose Islam and which Islam, for like Christianity it is not monolithic. He discussed Islamic reform movements, including that of influential Turkish imam M. Fethullah Gülen, for whom Islam equals service. Between colonialization and Western-supported dictatorships, the Islamic world has as yet been unable to implemented many home-grown reforms. He further outlined why Islamophobia in the West has grown over the past fifty years and what can be done about it.
Finally, members had the opportunity to hear Cathy Keene Merchant, Buddhist pacifist and former Managing Director of the Compassionate Listening Project, describe the recent delegation she co-led to Israel and Palestine, where a group of ordinary Americans listened with open hearts to people on all sides of the conflict, including religious, political and grassroots leaders, settlers, refugees, peace activists, citizens, soldiers, and extremists. The deep and strong emotions expressed, as well as the psychological and physical violence pervading the situation, make these valuable visits extremely stressful. Moreover, once back at home participants may find their experiences discounted or denied when they go against others’ entrenched attitudes or the usual media reporting. The Compassionate Listening Project calls “for peacemakers to initiate humanizing contact and cultivate compassion for those on all sides of a conflict.” Its main goal is to help bring about reconciliation by creating a “process of rehumanization and teaching others to see one another as people, rather than faceless enemies.” For more information see www.compassionatelistening.org.
Join us one Tuesday a month for informal conversations exploring major ideas that have influenced human thought and actions through the ages. This month our topic is Democracy. What is the philosophical basis of democracy? Why has this form of government become more common? What are its advantages and flaws? Is it appropriate everywhere? Should all people have an equal voice or are there legitimate grounds for political privilege? How can the tension between democratic government and elites (economic, social, religious, educational, ethnic) be resolved? Why do democracies fail? If democracy depends on an informed, involved electorate and an independent press and media, how can these be strengthened? We hope to see you there!
July 5: The Big Bang
August: Living Beyond War: Nonviolent Conflict Resolution
September: Sustainable Agriculture
December: Free Will and Determinism
Stop this day and night with me, and …
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me: you shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her, it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-wash’d babe, and am not contain’d between my hat and boots;
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good;
The earth good, and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth, nor an adjunct of an earth;
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself;
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)
This is the meal equally set – this is the meat for natural hunger;
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous – I make appointments with all;
I will not have a single person slighted or left away; . . .
In all people I see myself – none more, and not one a barleycorn less;
And the good or bad I say of myself, I say of them.
And I know I am solid and sound;
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow;
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless;
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by the carpenter’s compass;
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.
I exist as I am – that is enough;
If no other in the world be aware, I sit content;
And if each and all be aware, I sit content.
One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself;
And whether I come to my own to-day, or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
I am the poet of the Body; and I am the poet of the Soul.
I am the poet of the woman the same as the man; …
I chant the chant of dilation or pride;
We have had ducking and deprecating about enough;
I show that size is only development.
Have you outstript the rest? Are you the President?
It is a trifle – they will more than arrive there, every one, and still pass on.
I am not the poet of goodness only – I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.
What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me, and reform of evil propels me – I stand indifferent;
My gait is no fault-finder’s or rejecter’s gait;
I moisten the roots of all that has grown.
Walt Whitman am I, a Kosmos, . . .
Whoever degrades another degrades me;
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.
I speak the pass-word primeval – I give the sign of democracy;
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.
I believe in the flesh and the appetites;
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from; …
I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul;
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral, drest in his shroud,
And I or you, pocketless of a dime, may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye, or show a bean in its pod, confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.