What’s in a name, a label we give ourselves? If I call myself something, does that make it so?
If I think of myself as Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, does that guarantee I’m following the heart-teachings of Christ, Muhammad or Buddha?
Christ lived and taught love, especially love for poor people and others society rejected. Yet in the U.S. alone, some calling themselves Christians sought to exterminate Native Americans, subjugated and abused slaves, refused human rights to women, opposed giving Jews refuge from Nazis, interned Japanese-Americans, lynched and murdered African-Americans, hurled cruel taunts at funerals of gay soldiers and attacked people because they “looked” Muslim.
The Buddha taught that everything has Buddha Nature. Yet Myanmar, governed by self-identified Buddhists and now, by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has condoned (or encouraged) persecution of its Muslim Rohingya people in ways reminiscent of Hitler.
The Hindu tradition is rich in honor and devotion for the Feminine Face of God, yet entrenched patriarchy, female infanticide and bride-burning persist in India.
Muhammad raised the status of women in his time, yet some majority-Muslim countries bar women from driving, voting or getting an education.
Yes, the concept of jihad exists: Inner jihad is the fight against the self-centered, self-righteous, egoistic parts of ourselves. And just because ISIS/ISIL/Daesh chose to include the word “Islamic” in their name does not mean they represent the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims (22 percent of world population) or the heart-teachings of Muhammad. ISIS has murdered many times more Muslims than non-Muslims. And almost all of the people who die fighting ISIS are Muslim, a fact largely forgotten in the West.
Public discourse and social media in this country has become divisive, xenophobic, full of distortion and lies, even hatred. Every one of us here, except for Native Americans, is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. And none of our religions is free from atrocities by its “followers.” (To be fair, officially atheistic governments like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union have also slaughtered and tortured millions, while enormous charity and social progress has been inspired or led by religious followers as well.)
Coming to live in peace and happiness will not happen by eliminating everyone we believe is not like ourselves! Practically speaking, it’s impossible. We are swimming in a soup of implicit bias, due in part to the media, due in part to our brains responding more empathetically to people who look like us. We can deconstruct this bias by seeing it for what it is and by purposefully getting to know people who are “different” from us, such as at interfaith, cross-cultural, LGBTQA and racially integrated gatherings. In doing so, we will learn from each other and find our common humanity — beyond the names people call themselves and the names that others call them.
Every religion, every race, every group has its outliers. And they tend to make the news. It’s up to us to see them as the anomalies they are, and to wage inner jihad on the parts of ourselves that keep us from embodying the heart-teachings of our own religions, the teaching of our own hearts, Love.
Shih-In Ma participates in Interfaith Initiative Centre County (InterfaithInitiativeCC@hotmail.com). She has practiced Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions, and studied Sufism, the mystic dimension of Islam. She spent four years in India with Amma, the Hugging Saint, and nurtures love and peace through meditation, contemplation, art and yoga, singing with Essence 2 gospel choir, involvement with Campus & Community in Unity and Community Diversity Group, and hosting bimonthly interfaith meditation gatherings.