Praying to Allah in the Classroom?
Plus: my unchristian friend and hating the collection plate
Have questions about another religion's customs? Scroll down to ask Arthur Magida, author of "How to Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies."
Q: An instructor at a local community college recently told a Muslim student that her reference to God was "inappropriate and unacceptable in an American classroom." The student had started a presentation in an English-as-a-second language class with the phrase, "in the name of God, most merciful, the gracious." What's wrong with this? It seems fine to me.
A: You're right. There is nothing wrong with that phrase, which comes from the opening verse of the Koran and is part of the prayers that Muslims say five times a day. What was wrong was the instructor's intolerance and ignorance--though, it must be added, that his concern may have been legal, not theological. If the college was a public institution, having a religious invocation before a student's presentation conceivably violated church-state separation.
Our religious landscape is changing, as greater numbers of immigrants from all over the world move here. With the United States now probably the most religiously diverse country on earth, we're moving fairly quickly from a nation whose central faiths are rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition to one with many diverse faiths that have their roots in a theological bazaar.
"Religion," wrote De Toqueville about two centuries ago, "... is simply another form of hope and it is no less natural to the human heart than hope itself...." It's up to us to nurture this hope and to remember that all of us--at one time--were strangers in strange lands. And that America's promise can best be secured by ensuring that none of us is a stranger here today.
Q: I love my best friend, but I often find that she's not very compassionate. She never gives to charities or volunteers at soup kitchens or shelters for the homeless. Or anyplace else. I do all of these. She goes to church every Sunday, but I don't think she's much of a Christian. What's the best way to tell her to practice what she preaches?
A: The one-word answer to your dilemma is in your own question: Love. Not just your friend's love for others, but your own love for your friend. When Jesus was asked what was necessary to receive eternal life, he said we had to go beyond the letter of the 10 Commandments and be completely generous with ourselves and our hearts. He also discouraged judging anyone, partly because it led to arrogance.