Religion has been a big part of my life until lately, when I found the true meaning of faith is something more powerful than we could even imagine.
I grew up in the midst of Islam in Damascus-Syria in the seventies and early eighties. It was a faith free from the ‘terrorism’ the West tends to mention with the word ‘Islam’. My Islam knew no terrorism, no violence, and was a quiet religion based on surrender. I got into it during my teen years when a boy at the Friday mosque prayer invited me to Al-Halaqa, something equivalent to Sunday school.
I attended with the other boys and learned Islam on a deeper level. Our Halaqa leader, Abo Hazem, was popular with the boys since he liked the outdoors and took us on trips into the Syrian wilderness. We would stop everything in the middle of the day to wash and pray in a line, kneeling and placing our forehead to the ground.
I’ll never forget a trip we took to the mountains 50 miles north of Damascus where Christian villages are scattered. We prayed on the sidewalk in front of a church dating back the fourth century. They invited us in and told us about their faith, and Abo Hazem shared our faith. I left that day wondering why there were many religions.
Islam can be tough when you strictly follow its rules. You have to wash and pray five times a day. The first prayer is before sunrise, then at noon, afternoon, sunset, and the night prayer. You have to fast the entire month of Ramadan, no eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Being a boy without much inner strength, I cheated when I opened the refrigerator around four or five in the afternoon and saw the water bottles mocking me. But no one saw me, well, I was sure God saw me. But the sky didn’t fall.
You also have the separation of the sexes in every walk of life. Who wants to hang out with just guys when there are so many pretty girls around? My foray into Islam lasted a couple of years. When I was a senior in high school and could not go to parties because girls were there, I weighed things on the social scale. This method of measuring your allegiance applies to over 80 percent of Syrians.
I came to the United States in 1984 at the age of 18 to attend the University of Tennessee. I ended up marrying a Christian. My family was of the progressive variety and did not see any harm in that. Both my ex-wife and I respected each other’s religious affiliation, until a few years into the marriage, and after surviving a ruptured aneurysm in my brain which kills a large number of people, I debated converting to Christianity.
My Christian friends were thrilled and helped me find out more about the faith. One suggested reading the book of John in the Bible. When I got to John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” I put the Bible down. I was not going to convert to something I cannot share with my family. Why would I want to come to the father and leave my father, mother, and siblings behind?
Then a friend named Dana explained it was none of my business what happens to other people. “Would you convert if it was only you and Jesus?” She said. I told her if it was just him and me I would convert in a heartbeat, but . . .. “There are no but’s” Dana said. And that was that. I became a Christian.
I reveled in the love Christianity preaches. I had grown up to a poet for a father who read me love poetry instead of nursery rhymes, and I found much love in Christianity. When I read the book of 1 John, I discovered the word ‘love’ mentioned seventeen times in one paragraph.
I was found. I loved my new faith. However, my family did not. There were a few years of turbulence, and they still to this day feel betrayed, but all in all we respect each other. Well, I respect them more than they respect me.
But they do not know about my new faith.
My family does not know that my faith now is purely, utterly, and totally, “love”.
Love for mankind regardless of who you are, whom you worship, and where you come from.
Love for those who have not, and those who were born on the wrong side.
Love for people who look different than me, especially those who are a different color than me.
Love for anyone and everyone even if they intend on harming others, or me for love can sway people in darkness to see the light.
Isn’t that the true meaning of religion?
I realized a few years ago that we inhibit a tiny ball hurtling through space with billion of other balls around it. I asked myself if there was a God in this universe, he/she has to be something we can grasp. The God of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths is more powerful that us, and is able to cause disasters and ignore killings and war, all for reasons we do not know. He’s a just God, and there is a reason for everything. Our job is to accept those happenings as coming from above.
Let me tell you about my God.
Love knows nothing bad. Love causes nothing bad. Love ignores nothing bad. Love has nothing to do with anything bad. ‘Bad’ happens because we’re on an unstable planet with unstable people committing crimes in the name of their God. Love could correct all of that.
Love is about something entirely different.
Love ushers in times when a ninety-year old man looks in his wife’s eyes while dying and smiles, their wrinkled hands grasping their souls.
Love sees two people giving up their freedom and independence and becoming one.
Love teaches us how to become parents wiling to give up our lives for our children.
Love is so powerful it results in forgiving those who wronged us and loving those who hate us.
Love is the reason we have existed for this many centuries, and the reason we will continue to exist.
Love is why we will look at this planet from 30,000 feet and smile and feel our gratitude meeting our expectations.
Love judges not, hurts not, pains not, harms not, condemns not, belittles not, segregates not, criticizes not, and rebukes not. Love is not racist, does not breed violence, and will not cause little ones to cry at night but go to sleep humming a happy tune on their tiny lips and in their tiny little hearts.
For if love is found, nothing can outlast it. If love is around, everything will revel in it. And if love abides, all can forgive and forget and beam into each other’s faces and say, “I love you”, the three most powerful words in any language.
Love is not selfish and is not proud or boastful. It keeps a record of beautiful things and forgets the ugly. It causes us to fully trust each other and protect one another. It makes us ignore our anger, forgo our ego, and leave our home to take a journey into a new land – just to find it.
Love is beauty that knows no darkness, and light that knows no ugliness. Love is surrender into each other’s arms without a worry. Love is ecstasy and a high of love onto love and into love, from love and for love.
When love calls us, we must heed and follow despite the hurt in love. And when his clouds rain blood on our hoping self, we must not shield ourselves. For the red drops and his prickles are for our maturity, and his thorns are to prune our immaturity. For love is a giver and a healer, red drops and prickles alike.
Love is the true faith of all humans. Lets call it that and stop labeling each other different. Lets stop seeing each other different. Lets stop fighting, for all wants to love and be loved.
With all my love,
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