Waste No Time Arguing About What a Good Man Should Be. Just Be One
Islam has brought comfort and peace of mind to countless millions of men and women. It has given dignity and meaning to drab and impoverished lives. It has taught people of different races to live in brotherhood and people of different creeds to live side by side in reasonable tolerance. It inspired a great civilization in which others besides Muslims lived creative and useful lives and which, by its achievement, enriched the whole world.
I don’t judge a religion’s value on the behavior of a man you know in a university class because he has a certain last name. People stray from their religious practices because of their weaknesses, not because there is something inherently wrong with their religion itself. It has become common to criticize other people's religions and discriminate.
Yet, what else do we have with which to gauge a religion, if not its followers and their actions? Scriptures can be interpreted in many different ways (just look at how many hundreds of years scholars have debated verses of the Torah and how many different sects of Christianity exist, each with its way of understanding the Bible). Actions are what tell us who people are.
It is time we move beyond narrow-minded understanding and religion-racist opinions. It is time that we teach children to respect the religious rights of others. It is time to teach our children that even those sitting in the highest seats of power in our government can ignore the democratic rights of others in the United States of America. However, tolerance and respect are never mistakes. Ignorance is the poison that spreads like wildfire, typically without justification. It continues to be carried out whether it is contained in a religious book. When a country calls itself a democracy and a nation that respects the multicultural values of all its citizens, it must not use the difference of its people as a pretext for hate, segregation, and then elimination from civil rights, equality, and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It’s time we stopped blaming religions for the bad behavior in their followers and respected the followers who practice the good deeds taught by their religion - whichever one they practice.
History is full of people who have discovered it is easier to fight than think, easier to have enemies and friends selected by powerful people than to make their own difficult choices, and simple to follow blindly than to lead, even if that leadership must be the private choice of a one person with a free and doubtful mind.
A former Ukrainian classmate, who became my third roommate after graduating from Duke University, returned to his home country almost a year ago. He was Christian, and I am a Muslim, along with Yusef. That did not seem to matter. Dimitri never felt outnumbered. He respected us, and we respected him.
Dimitri was not forced to return to his home country. He chose to. He always said that it was important to him that his country remained independent of Russia. He was Christian, and the Russian government was not sympathetic to any practice of religion. My roommate and I dropped him off to leave Raleigh for what I was unsure about, but all things considered, a very long time. Before walking into TSA check-in, Dimitri suddenly turned and just stopped. He put down his carry-on and came back and hugged me and my friend Yusef in a way that made me feel he may never return. Dimitri always laughed, but this time he was sad and told the both of us to make the best of our lives. It was the first time I ever saw him shed a tear.
While the people who live in areas of the old Soviet Union are familiar with war, it is less real for average Americans. For all its horror, Russia’s war against Ukraine is still remote for many of us.
I received one call from Dimitri, and Yusef received two. Neither of us received any calls from him after that until the one call from his mother. She did not have to say more than hello to let us know the reason for her call. Dimitri was dead. He had been stopped and shot dead for no reason other than being a young Ukrainian bringing groceries and medications for people in his apartment building. Naturally, we were in a state of shock, and for the first few days, we said very little to each other. For days, weeks, then an entire month went by before we could really speak about him.
I remember how difficult our classes were and the relief we felt when it all ended. Our dream was to be free from lectures, term papers, and exams. Dimitri majored in Public Policy. The three of us did. We all hoped to help implement and evaluate policy solutions for society's problems. Dimitri did not get the chance. If he had lived, he would have made a difference. He had his religion, and Yusef and I have ours, but we all agreed that there is a God and that He hates injustice.