Just as Lehigh Valley educator and Muslim leader Mohamed Bugaighis prepared to board a plane to Libya, a Christian magazine offered some fascinating insights into some of the conflicts that keep much of the Islamic world racked with strife.
I discussed Bugaighis on Wednesday. A native of Libya but now an American citizen and a retired college math professor, he opposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi for decades, at great risk, and was in Libya when Gadhafi was removed from power, permanently.
He also is a fierce foe of fanatic Muslims who resort to terrorism against others or who impose oppression on their own people, particularly in Saudi Arabia, and on Friday he returned to his homeland to play a role in efforts to establish democracy there.
On the day I interviewed Bugaighis at his home in Bethlehem, I returned to my office to find the latest issue of Liberty magazine, published by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, in my mailbox.
Adventists are a very strict and devout Christian denomination, but their magazine is devoted to two of their most precious principles — religious liberty, not just for themselves but for all beliefs, and the complete separation of church and state.
The magazine's September-October issue has a story under the headline, "Sadness Within Islam," written by Imam Shamshad Nasir, a prominent Muslim speaker and writer from California.
"As a Muslim, I am saddened to see the state of Islam today," Nasir's article begins, and then it focuses on a verdict in March by Saudi Arabia's "grand mufti," that nation's top official of religious law, appointed by Saudi King Abdullah.
Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh (his name seems to change somewhat every time I see a new news account that mentions him) ruled that all Christian churches in Saudi Arabia and its contiguous puppet states had to be destroyed.
"Such an ignorant ruling is totally against what I see as the teachings of Islam," wrote Nasir. He quoted from Islamic scriptures (Sura 2:256) that say, "There shall be no compulsion in religion."
(That "no compulsion" provision may not sit well with some elements in the Lehigh Valley, who regularly demand that children in public schools be forced to recite sectarian prayers, or who display the Ten Commandments on a courtroom wall, allowing no symbol of any other belief, including the Bill of Rights.)
"The Saudi grand mufti's extremist and un-Islamic edict fosters radicalism and animosity toward Christians, as well as prejudice against Islam in the world at large," Nasir argued.
"Ironically," he wrote, "at the same time as the Saudi grand mufti was inciting intolerance, destruction and potential murder, Saudi King Adbullah was in Spain attending a Christian interfaith conference where he was extolling the peace, love and tolerance of Islam." (It seems the chief Saudi export is not oil; it's hypocrisy.)
Nasir also noted that the grand mufti issued a verdict that called for "killing all Muslims who will not adopt the practice of offering daily prayers."
There also was some irony on Sept. 16, when the Saudi grand mufti piously denounced the murderous attacks on American consulates or embassies in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere — without mentioning that it was the crazed Wahhabi brand of Islamic extremism, now forcibly imposed by Saudi Arabia's rulers, that has promoted such violence all along.
I have argued for years that it was Saudi Arabia and its puppet states, not Iraq, that were the primary sponsors of terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks, and that the Saudis represent the absolute worst in oppression and tyranny. The only reason we are in bed with these monsters is that top American politicians, especially those in the two Bush administrations, have had enormous financial interests there.
I also have railed against the kind of bigotry we see aimed at all Muslims these days because of the actions of a few.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 last year, I wrote that "there are legions of twerps in this country who want to vilify all Muslims. ... It is something they would never do to Roman Catholics just because Adolf Hitler and most of his top Nazi cohorts were Catholics and were warmly embraced by the Vatican's Concordat of 1933."
I hear from these lunkheads every time I mention Bugaighis — and I've mentioned him often — and they almost always are too cowardly to identify themselves.
That sort of bigotry especially bothers me because my children and grandchildren are part-Japanese and I am keenly aware of what happened to Americans of Japanese descent because of the actions of extremists in Japan before and during World War II.
Today's bigotry against American Muslims is the same, and people like Bugaighis are living proof that it is misguided. It is more than misguided; it is idiotic.
It is time for Americans to wake up and realize there are at least two kinds of Muslims, just as there were two kinds of Christians during World War II.
You're just as dead if a Nazi kills you in the name of God as you are if a Muslim kills you in the name of God. Sanity should compel people to acknowledge that.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.