Friday, September 30, 2016

Sunni Versus Shia Within Islam

We have all heard of the traditional Sunni/Shia difficulties within Islam. This feud has been on-going for over a millennium. It’s been the cause of strife and war within the Mideast for centuries. It is into the midst of this internal Islamic strife that we plunged during the Iraq war under the Bush Administration. It became a mess. The Obama Administration continued to flounder, as well, because of this internal Islamic rift.
My wife and I were away to visit India and the United Arab Emirates – especially the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It was quite a contrast between India and her 3,500 years of history and the UAE, barely 50 years old. But I finally was able to make sense of the Sunni/Shia difficulties. Since the Mideast conflict(s) is such an important aspect of our current political and security concerns, I want to share my new understanding with you in this message.
As we toured Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and the wealthiest of the UAE, our Guide kept referring to the tolerance the Sunni Islamists offered to all Abu Dhabi residents. All religious beliefs are welcome as long as they, including Islam, do not try to proselytize other residents. That can get you removed from the country. I began asking questions of our Guide about the Sunni branch of Islam as opposed to the Shia Branch. He gave me little snippets of answers here and there, as were appropriate to what is was we were currently touring.
Finally, on the last day we visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I had heard of this fabulous mosque, but I really didn’t know what to expect.  When we saw the mosque, I was blown away, as was everyone else in our tour group. I told a companion traveler, “I really didn’t know what to expect, but I surely didn’t expect this!” He felt the same way.
As an aside: Google “Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi” and click on the Wikipedia entry. Check out the details of the Mosque in Wikipedia – especially the sections entitled Design, Dimensions and Statistics, as well as Key Architectural Features. The information presented is very much in line with what we heard from our tour Guide, who functions as an Imam (which simply means prayer leader) in his local mosque.
Most of the world’s Muslims are Sunni (85-90%) by recent estimates while the remaining 10-15% are Shia or Shi’ites. The Sunnis are throughout most of the Arab world, Southeast Asia (including Indonesia) and Africa. Saudi Arabia has the largest Sunni population. Pakistan has the second-largest Sunni population. The Shi’ites are primarily in Iraq and Iran. Pakistan also has the second-largest Shia populations in the world.
Although the Sunni/Shia animosity is a very, very complicated issue, our Guide tried to explain it as succinctly as possible. After the Prophet Mohammad died circa 650AD some of the Islamic community thought his successor should come from his family – it should be an inherited line of succession. This successor would be the Caliph of the Islamic community. Additionally, there should be a hierarchy of imams (or mosque leaders), culminating in the highest, most potent, position – that of Ayatollah. Those favoring this approach were the Shia, or Shi’ites. Shias also believe special spiritual qualities have been granted not only to Muhammad but also to the other Imams, especially the Ayatollah, who can understand and interpret the hidden inner meaning of the teachings of Islam.
Others believed that the successors to Mohammed should be determined by the method of choosing or electing leaders, as endorsed by the Quran, by the consensus of the Muslim community. These are the Sunni. The foundation of Islam for them is the inherent equality of all believers before God.  Hence tolerance. In Sunni mosques the men stand hip-to-hip and foot-to-foot with their neighbors – regardless of social position. This equality before God and a sense of Oneness with all present is very dominant and critical for the Sunni. Women are separated from men in the mosques – not because they’re inferior – but because they are there to pray and sexual distractions can affect both a man or a woman if they are in close proximity to each other.
ISIS/ISIL is not Islamic but simply a terrorist group fulminating the Sunni/Shia tensions and trying to manipulate the seething anger and resentment between the two groups for their own political interests. Most of the people ISIS/ISIL kills are Muslims. Although ISIS/ISIL inflicts much of their terror on Shia populations in Iraq, they also target any group in Syria that will encourage the continuity of the civil war there. Any unrest is seen as a good thing to ISIS/ISIL – something that can be exploited for their political benefit.
The understanding of the Sunni Islamic view as one of tolerance was also pointed out as we passed the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, where there is a marvelous sculpture of the word “Tolerance.” Equality and tolerance also explain the care taken by the government to protect the indigenous Emirati population, which is only about 20% of the residents of the UAE. Education, health care, housing, and employment are all considered a right of native Emirati citizens. The remaining 80% of the population consists of immigrant workers and employees of outside companies. These, too, are afforded a great many benefits because the UAE demands their contracts contain a living wage, adequate housing, health care coverage and a paid month-long leave (with round trip airfare) so the workers can go home each year. Violations of that contract with an employee can result in the cancellation of the company’s ability to continue to do business in the UAE.
Tolerance and equality before God are the hallmarks of the Sunni. Top-down Islamic dictates from the Ayatollah is the hallmark of the Shia. They can (and do) detest each other and play for political gain by keeping their differences inflamed.
This explanation helped me. I hope it is helpful to you as well.

#3 Sep 2016

Copyright 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Acceptance Is Awareness Without Fear

At last, acceptance proved to be the key to my drinking problem. After I had been around A.A. for seven months, tapering off alcohol and pills, not finding the program working very well, I was finally able to say, “Okay, God. It is true that I—of all people, strange as it may seem, and even though I didn’t give my permission—really, really am an alcoholic of sorts. And it’s all right with me. Now, what am I going to do about it?” When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. From that moment on, I have not had a single compulsion to drink.
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
Acceptance is the singular requirement for enjoying peace, joy, and serenity. Being accepted in Alcoholics Anonymous – truly accepted just as I was – transformed me. I had never experienced that before. I haven’t had a drink since nor have I been the same since. But what is acceptance?
You may recall I have written before stating that, for me, acceptance is a better word than love, because “love” is such an overused word. But what is acceptance? What does it mean? I’ve met a lot of resistance (from myself and from others) about accepting someone or something that is met with aversion or abhorrence. Many feel that to accept something or someone is the same as approving. It is not. Many feel that it is impossible for them to really accept because whoever or whatever it is is so distasteful or disliked. Acceptance is not “liking” someone or something. Many are afraid of accepting someone because it means they might be getting away with something they shouldn’t. Acceptance does not mean simply saying, “That’s okay.”
So, what is it? What does it mean to accept someone or something.
I recently read a definition of Acceptance that really resonated with me. The author (Doug Bennett, What Color Socks Does God Wear? 2015, p. 74-5) was discussing the importance of being aware and accepting of what is. We’ve all heard this admonishment many times. Let it go. It is what it is. Just relax and accept. But Bennett notes how hard that is. From my own experience I concur.
He continues: “I can define acceptance as awareness without fear. Fear distorts our perception of reality, or at least encourages unhealthy perceptions of reality. Allowing ‘everything’ into awareness requires that we get around our fears that are keeping so much of our reality out of our awareness. In spite of that difficulty, I believe that learning to be aware and accepting is an easier task than trying to change our learned perceptions that are based in serious fear.”
As I’ve stated before, “I have to understand, on a visceral level, who the “Me” or “I” really is when I am speaking or thinking. The “I” that says to myself, “I really need a newer, more reliable car” is a different “I” than the one that says to my Holy Spirit, “I can’t do this anymore; help me perceive things the way You see them.”

#2 Sep 2016
Copyright 2016
PS: This will be my last message this September. I will be out of the country.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Another Perspective On Perception

I have discussed perception a lot in these messages. I do that, in part, because it is so central to A Course In Miracles (ACIM). In fact, ACIM defines our change in perception as our Atonement. It is effected by the Holy Spirit – not by an act of willpower on our part – only when we are truly open and willing to see things, events and people differently. Perception is also very central to recovery and the achievement of serenity in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Members of the AA Fellowship will not talk about how you go about changing your old-thinking perceptions. Rather, they will tell you, as they told me, to focus only on today – don’t drink, go to a meeting, share openly and honestly, talk to your sponsor, work the steps, pray to your Higher Power, and the rest of your life is none of your business. Doing this earnestly, you will come to discover that your compulsion to drink has melted away, serenity and joy have begun creeping into your life, and your perception of the world is changing.
In a small book given to me by a friend [What Color Socks Does God Wear, Doug Bennett, 2015] the author discusses, among other things, how we developed our perceptions and why they are so difficult to change. He comes at this from the perspective of science and logic. It was very interesting reading.
How do we learn from our reality? Isn’t reality just what is ‘out there,’ the stuff that we walk around in and bump into once in a while? Let’s look at how that works.
“We perceive our environment, what we think of as reality, with our senses. [Karl Pribram, eminent neuroscientist, psychologist and philosopher, who postulated that we humans think in holograms] proposed that the process we … use to perceive things involves memory of learned experience. In Pribram’s model we take in information from our environment through our senses and convert it to holograms. Those little holograms are taken to our memory, where we retrieve something from our memory that matches the input information. That retrieved information is projected back out of the receiving sensory organ and forms what we see or otherwise perceive.
“This means that everything we perceive is learned,” [p. 35]
So, what if I haven’t learned it yet? Does that mean I wouldn’t “see” anything? The answer is “yes!”  I remember reading of the Spanish explorer’s conquest of the Aztecs of Central America, who maintained constant “watchers” for potential enemies. Why didn’t they “see” or report the square-rigged sailing ships of the 16th century Spanish ships as they moved close to shore? The Aztec watchers had no frame of reference for these massive forms “floating” on the sea. Early reports indicated they had reported large, slow-moving clouds floating above the ocean. That’s all. When they began to see men disembark, they thought they were gods who came from the clouds. The watchers simply didn’t see “traditional” enemies. There was nothing alarming to report.
We know what eventually happened.
Bennett goes on to describe how, as we learned these initial experiences, it wasn’t just the physical perception that we learned. Each physical perception was accompanied by meaning and feeling reactions, as well. When we “see” something, the meaning and feeling reactions occur at the very same time as the physical perception. When you see a snake out of the corner of your eye, the registering of the sight of the snake, the fear we learned from that initial experience, and the jumping-out-of-the-way all occur simultaneously. They were all learned together. In Bennett’s words, they form a perception packet of information – the object itself, the feelings, and the associated physical reaction. It is this “packet” we recognize, project outward, and then respond to.
“There are several apparently different aspects to our learned responses. To give them all a convenient handle I have invented something I call a perception packet. I am not proposing that such things really exist. This is just a way to explain the process. Imagine that for each situation in our life we have a little packet, a perception packet. Every time we encounter that situation or that person or thing, we look up the packet for that situation, open it up and it tells us what we have encountered, how to feel, and what to do in that situation.” [p. 38]
ACIM and AA alike teach what I see reflects primarily only who I think I am. If I am essentially angry, I will perceive anger in almost every situation or person. I will be wary, fearful, untrusting, or tentative. If I am essentially open-minded and trusting, that’s what I will perceive. If I’m on the lookout for a quick mark, I will see everyone else looking to take advantage of me. ACIM states what we perceive is merely a reflection of our own thoughts. AA says it much more simply: If you spot it you got it.

#1 Sep 2016

Copyright 2016