Islam ... tolerance and political Islam

Islam ... tolerance and political Islam

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

I was sitting next to my favorite classmate and friend, Jack, in Journalism School, University of Oregon. He was commenting on a subject matter, when he suddenly announced: Me, as a Jew and a communist, think ....”

I couldn’t follow what he said next, as my mind was spinning then at his shocking revelation.

Now, here is the man who helped me publish my thesis about US media bias toward Israel and against the Arabs. The same person who led my classmates to convince our professor to change the class schedule in order to suit my Ramadan fasting hours. What’s happening, here? How is this revealed “identity” going to affect our relations?

Then, I thought about it in a different way: What difference does it make?

He is still the same kind, helpful, friendly person I have known for months. What if he is a communist and a Jew? Will that change his personality or make him less worthy of my trust and gratitude?

By the end of that class, I had already decided. Jack will stay on my friends' list. He earned a good spot with his idealism and kindness.

In America, I also learned to care for my Shiite friends. After I thought they don’t deserve to be Muslims all my life, and wrote so on my homepage “Understanding Islam and Muslims.” Then, I met Hussein at the Islamic Center, in Ramadan.

He and his fellow Shiites came every evening to pray with us and join our Iftar. I dealt with one of them in a couple of business deals, and he proved honest and decent, as Islam taught us to be. Now, I have many of them on my Friends List. They earned that, too.

Again and again, I met with people who were previously classified as “non-friendly,” if not Islam’s “enemies". But I found that goodness has no religion, ethnicity, or class. Any human is capable of being kind, ideal or a hero. Any person, no matter how related or associated, can be a good friend.

We should be very careful about judging people. People are capable of doing the right thing and change for better or worse, regardless of their history and track records. Much of what you receive depends on what you give.

A lot of what comes your way is what you come to expect. If you assume the best in people, many won’t disappoint, even if others got different experiences with them.

People react as much as they act. They react in kind to your decency, honesty, fairness and friendly attitude. They also react to your suspicions, mistrust, aggressiveness and uncivilly.

Five years later, when my schooling was through, I returned to a region with ages of mistrust, misunderstanding and animosity. Religion, the most unifying force for humanity, is used as banners and excuses for hate, division and wars.

It got worse. Action and reaction among religious fanatics at the top — leaders of terrorist organizations and governments — took us down a fast path to the clash of civilizations.

On regional and national basis, we managed to break even the unbreakable — blood unity. Sunni and Shiite of Iraqi tribes, families and neighborhoods who lived in peace for generations, married to each other, studied and worked side by side, are now shooting one another.

We need to help, we all need to unite in helping these efforts, starting with our neighbors, friends and colleagues. Sometimes, all we need to give is a friendly smile and sweet hello to the "other different". Do not believe Political Islam, we are all beloved creatures of one God.

— Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi