Rarely have the people of this country been so divided. Politically. Spiritually. Culturally.
The weight of concurrent wars, faceless enemies, a crippled economy and high unemployment and foreclosure rates will do that.
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Rarely have people been so quick to anger, so unbending in their feelings, so unwilling to listen to the perspectives of others. To understand them. To appreciate their struggles, too.
When we don't get along, when we don't even attempt to get along, we kill progress. You can't get very far when all you do is build walls. This is true in government as well as our own neighborhoods. And that's why it's so refreshing when someone works hard to tear down the walls.
On Saturday, the village of Hanover Park held a meeting titled "Who are my Muslim neighbors?" with a goal to promote a deeper understanding of Islam and its adherents.
"We are concerned when leaders who ought to know better say things that incite anger," Village President Rodney Craig said prior to the event. "We don't want to be a part of that."
The meeting consisted of a presentation by an outreach coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations followed by a lengthy question-and-answer session.
It was sometimes confrontational, but productive. It was an idea exchange. And that's the key. If we don't talk to one another -- if we don't listen to one another -- we'll never understand each other's beliefs, points of view, motives and cultural practices.
This nation was founded as a place where the oppressed could breathe free, where all could practice their religion of choice. It's the core of who we are. To subscribe to the narrowest beliefs about what it is to be a Muslim -- at the expense of all other beliefs and without any sort of understanding -- is just plain silly. As it would be regarding any religion that's foreign to you.
In a letter to the editor published in the Daily Herald this week, Kamran Khan of Mount Prospect provides some insight into the complexities of Muslim thought that many non-Muslims often overlook. He wrote in response to the recent bomb plot in Chicago in which young Muslim man is a suspect.
"As a Muslim, it is not that I deny jihad; in fact, I embrace it because I understand it well. Jihad is not repeatedly emphasized in the Holy Quran so that we can shed blood, spread disorder and disloyalty, or disrupt civil peace in its name. Not even Prophet Muhammad ever raised a sword against his enemies when much wrong was committed against him. Then how is it that some Muslims feel the need to plot a bomb to demonstrate their anger? The Quran, if used properly, would be a much better weapon even in this day and age. If we could use its beautiful and peaceful teachings to combat our anger, our internal struggle -- the jihad we should be fighting -- would be in balance."
Recognizing the need for more discussion and awareness of complexities like that, the Schaumburg Township Library District may stage programs similar to Hanover Park's. It's an idea worth spreading elsewhere, too.