Saturday, June 27, 2015

A guest article re:parking

(The Rev. Know-it-all is making a trek to the north woods. In his place a pastor addresses a local situation.)
I have been asked if we are going to share the parking lot with our new neighbors, the  Al Suffah mosque. No, we are not. The Episcopalian church at 8201 Karlov Avenue had been for sale for quite a while. One morning, I saw someone taking down the for sale sign. I asked the fellow taking down the sign to whom the building had been sold. He said that he really would rather not say.
I said,” Oh, you sold it to Muslims.”

He said again, “I really can’t say.”
I then said, “I’m the pastor across the street.”

He brightened and said, “Oh, then I can tell you. Yes, we sold it to Muslims and I’ve wanted to talk to you about letting them use your parking lot.”
I said, “That will never happen.”  
Suffah Educational Guidance (School) and Masjid (Mosque) was formerly located in a rental property on Devon Ave. in Chicago. It is not originally a local congregation. Why would they purchase a facility that had no parking? I can only surmise that they assumed, or were told, that they would be able to use the large parking lot at St. Lambert’s. I was never consulted about the situation; it seems the whole transaction was rather secret.
I suspect that the realtor assured the buyers that they would be able to use the parking lot. I also suspect that the Muslim community had no idea that the people who had sold them the church were a different group than the members of St. Lambert’s. They told members of our staff that they had good relations with the diocese. They were surprised to learn that the Episcopal diocese is not the same as the Catholic archdiocese. If the building was sold as including parking, or even hinting that a deal had been made with St. Lambert’s that would seem to me to be fraud. It makes no sense that a congregation based in Chicago would purchase a facility here without parking included.
Parishioners, staff and neighbors have been approached by members of the mosque to ask about the parking lot. I had a brief e-mail correspondence with a member of the masjid staff, in which I said that I would be interested in dialogue, but collaboration was not possible unless I could agree with the aims of the school and mosque. I have managed a lot of parking lots in my life as a priest. I have actually had to go to parking lots to arbitrate fights and direct traffic while still wearing vestments.
 When a parking lot is open to shared use, it becomes the property of no one, and all feel they have rights to it, but have no responsibilities for it. To allow someone the use of the parking lot is to take on a legal liability and an insurance liability. Even if disclaimers are posted and waivers are signed, a decent lawyer can overturn them and drag things out in court for months. No one has permission to use St. Lambert’s parking lot, except on church business. Two large congregations simply cannot share the same space. Even if someone says, it will only be occasionally, it will inevitably become the mosque’s regular parking lot. We need to know exactly who is in our lot and why. When neighbors stake out territory and there are a 5 or 10 extra cars in the lot regularly, we find that odd things start happening. Drug dealers start meeting in the lot because among all those cars they have some anonymity.
I remember at another parish having to regularly clean up used condoms and syringes from the lot. No one worried about a few extra cars, no one except me. This was starting to happen here at St. Lambert’s, but because we were on it right away it stopped. For the good of the neighborhood, I refuse to lose control of the lot.  These are the practical reasons for my decision.  There are other reasons that, for me, are perhaps more important.
Suffah is an interesting word.  In the far end of the mosque in Medina there was a suffah, a raised platform for sitting or reclining at the north end of the mosque. This is where Muhammad and his companions met as exiles from Mecca.
The English word sofa is derived from suffah. So in effect the name of our new neighbors is “Masjid e Suffah,” means the mosque of the sofa, and perhaps implies that its members are the close companions of Muhammad in a new and strange land.  The new mosque on Karlov is more than a mosque. It’s a “hifz” school. Urdu is the common language of Pakistan and a number of northern Indian states. Hifz is the Urdu word for rote memorization.  From the literature I could find on the web the purpose of the school includes introducing young people to Muslim tradition, to train young Muslims in the memorization of Quran and in the implementation of its principles. Frankly, there are some Islamic principles that I find questionable.
I have a hard time with the Quranic injunctions regarding women. For instance, regarding inheritance: (Qur'an 4:11) "The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females."  Regarding divorce: “And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them, according to what is reasonable. But the men have a degree over them.” (Qur'an 2:228) regarding legal testimony (Qur'an 2:282) "And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.”  The veiling of women seems to be demanded by Quran 33 59 “O Prophet! Tell to your wives, and daughters and Muslim women, that they should keep putting a part of their wrapping covers over their faces.”  The most startling is An-Nisa 4:34 “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard. As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, beat them but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means. Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.” 
Modern Muslim apologists say that the context of the verb “daraba” is shun or advise, but in his farewell sermon Muhammad would seem to indicate otherwise. “Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain from [evil], they have the right to their food and clothing in accordance with the custom. Treat women well, for they are [like] domestic animals with you and do not possess anything for themselves”.
 Beyond the Quran, in the sayings of Muhammad we read, “Umar ibn al-Khattab told that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.” (Sunan Abu Dawoud 11:2142)
If you think I am making this up, or exaggerating it, look it up for yourself. Do a web search for “How to beat your wife, YouTube”. I dare you to do it. You will find videos discussing the virtue of moderate wife beating. If you think I am impolite or intolerant to mention this, you are a fool. Your wanting it not to be true changes nothing. I cannot in good conscience help a school where young men will be taught that under, certain circumstances, women should be beaten. I just can’t do it.
Two more verses in the Quran trouble me. Surah 3:28 teaches, “Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers…but you should guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully.”  In Islamic law the doctrine of kitman (secrecy or, concealment) is part of ‘iyal, the art of deception. To make ambiguous statements, to pay lip-service to authority is perfectly acceptable in Islam. One is even expected to conceal one's religion when it is to the advantage of Islam or when the individual Muslim facing persecution. This is called “taqiyya.” No Muslim owes an infidel the truth when it comes to matters religious.
If you have a Muslim friend, he is either not a very good Muslim or not a very good friend. Close friendship with non-Muslims is forbidden. No matter how polite or friendly, a good Muslim should not let a non-Muslim into his deepest confidence. 

"Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" Quran 9:5
It is the goal of the orthodox Muslim to enforce Islamic law, sharia, on the entire world. Under Islamic law, we Christians, Jews and one or two other religions may practice our religion privately, provided we pay a special tax. When we pay the tax we must be made to feel that we are subjects. We are to be humiliated. Atheists, Hindus, Wiccans, Shintoist, Daoist, practitioners of any folk religion or nature worship, anyone who is not in a “religion of the book” must convert to Islam or be killed.
One more verse, "Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Time of Ignorance.” 33.33 (al-Ahzab) There are only two eras in Islam, the time of Islam and the time of darkness. Muslims have a reputation for scientific advancement in the middle ages. The case can be made that many of the Muslim advances in art, architecture and science were the product of the conquered Non-Muslim people among them. Whether or not that is fact the door to science slammed shut around the year 1100 when the Islamic jurist Muhammad al-Ghazali rejected Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and other Greek thinkers because they were infidels. He taught that natural law is a restraint on Allah, and thus could not exist.  All things are caused by the sovereign will of Allah, and thus are not the result of natural processes.
Most of the Islamic world accepted al-Ghazali’s teachings and his view that the sciences are pointless and even unlawful. In Islamic law all forms of human art are discouraged except calligraphy and the use of Quran verses as ornamentation. Wahhabism, the strict form of Islam practice in Saudi Arabia, and the inspiration for the current Islamic movements advocates a return to the primitive life of seventh century Arabia, and absolute Sharia. There is nothing worthwhile beyond Quran and the will of Allah, and thus art and science and the use of reason are pointless. Music is discouraged as well as non-Quranic study except for the sake of the advancement of Islam. My entire culture should be dissolved. Goodbye to Mozart, Michelangelo, the great Buddhas of Bamiyam, and the treasures of the Louvre. Even grape vines must be uprooted by the true believer because wine is evil. (Qur'an 5:90) Goodbye to the Napa valley, Au revoir to the vineyards of Bordeaux.

I will not cooperate with an institution that by teaching Quran, if I understand correctly, hopes to teach young men to limit the freedom of women and to beat them on occasion, holds that under certain circumstance it is proper to deceive me, that wants to take away my freedoms as an American citizen and to subject me to its legal code or kill me, and wants to eradicate my culture and my way of life and my religion. 
Added to all this, we are a congregation that includes Arab, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians who have fled Islamic initiated violence. We are a congregation whose members are Africans, Filipinos, and people from Sri Lanka and India all of whose countries of origin are suffering or have suffered conflict with Muslims. Why would I want to help a school that teaches anyone to memorize Quran and to use it as a guide for their lives?

Rev. Richard T. Simon

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