This Is My God

SAN JOSE, CA--The God that my family and I pray to is not the dark God portrayed in Osama bin Laden's taped messages to the world. Bin Laden invokes a God of rage and vengeance, but when I read the Quran I feel the presence of a forgiving God who instructs us to be kind, just, and patient, and to go the extra mile for peace.

Bin Laden sees the world divided into two camps, the faithful and the infidel. As the supposed leader of the faithful, he has threatened to wage war against infidels until achieving victory. As a Muslim, I do not see the world his way.

Bin Laden's definition of the faithful includes only his followers, a negligible fraction of the world's 1 billion Muslims. But in the Islam that I know, the right to differentiate between the faithful and the infidel belongs to God alone. His apocalyptic notion of two camps locked in mortal combat is also wrong. God says in the Quran that He has divided mankind into many nations and tribes and blessed them with variations in languages and colors so that "we may know one another."

In other words, diversity of culture and religion is a permanent human condition, designed to test our faith and deepen our spirituality. A rigid theocracy ruled by an autocrat claiming to be acting on God's behalf, as suggested by bin Laden's distorted vision, has no sanctity in Islam.

Bin Laden declares that "God has blessed a group of vanguard Muslims who are at the forefront of Islam to destroy America." But the God familiar to Muslims is compassionate and creative, not cruel and destructive. History teaches that fanatics from any faith who fancy themselves as saviors of one kind or another reduce sacred texts to manuals on crime and punishment. So it is with bin Laden and his followers.

From the Quran I learn that suicide and the slaughter of innocents are unconditionally forbidden. God forbids violence and killing as catalysts for spiritual renewal. Instead, He tells us that spiritual renewal comes from reasoning and reflection. Indeed, Quranic verses describing nature and natural phenomena outnumber verses dealing with commandments and sacraments. In the more than 6,000 verses in the Quran, some 750, one-eighth of the book, ask believers to reflect on nature, to study the relationship between living organisms and their environment, to make the best use of reason, and to maintain the balance and proportion God has built into His creation. "Pure Islam" is what Muslims practice when they follow the "middle path," shunning extremism of any kind, living in peace with others and in harmony with the natural world.

In the 20 years that my family and I have been living in America, we have never experienced any conflict, moral or otherwise, in balancing our religious duties such as fasting, prayer, and charity with Western education and democracy. Contact with people of other beliefs and cultures sharing a common set of values has only strengthened our faith. Every day we realize anew that variation in "colors and languages" among the "many nations and tribes" is indeed a blessing from God.

That is why I am saddened when I hear some radio talk-show hosts filling the airwaves with xenophobia against Muslims while demonizing Islam. I hear them talk of the "war-mongering God" of Islam, attempting to prove that Islam is a "dying religion" and that Islam holds appeal for conversion only among "convicts in prison."

But they are the minority. The great majority of Americans are beginning to realize that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a common root and that excesses of a few zealots cannot be a reflection on any religion.

My teenage daughter and I were watching television on Oct. 11, reliving the horrors of the attack on America a month ago, when images of a dazed and terrified man and woman fleeing the Twin Towers filled the screen. Blood was streaming down their faces. My daughter turned toward me and asked, "Dad, how can anyone love God in heaven if they hate people on earth?"

It is a question for which I had no answer, but one I want to pose to extremists everywhere.

Rahim is a software consultant in Silicon Valley who edited "Iqra" -- an Islamic magazine -- from 1986 to 1999.

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