Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 4

Yesterday was my mother's 57th birthday. My wife and I got her an Amazon gift card. It wasn't for that much or anything, but it's hard when there's 5,000 miles between you. When you do one of these gift cards online, your only option is to send it through email. Again, it's the best way since we live so far away. After selecting the amount you'd like to make the gift for, they ask you to add your own birthday greeting. 

I started writing and then paused. What am I going to say that hasn't been said before? Am I supposed the write, "thanks for being a great mother and hope you have a happy birthday" or would something more personal and heartfelt be appropriate? The struggle for me is that I have always written gushy birthday cards and notes. I can make my mother, sister and wife cry in a matter of seconds with some words from the heart. If I continue going for the kill like that, doesn't it kind of lose it's effect?

I'm having the same struggles with memorized prayers, but I digress. (That'll come later.)

I should say that my mother does in fact deserve one hell of a sweet note. Mothers and sons often have a close and special relationship and we are no different. It doesn't matter what country your from or what religion to adhere to. All sons cherish and honor their mothers. Islam, in particular, has very strong instructions for me and their mother. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) laid on some pretty solid words in terms of honoring our moms. I thought about quoting the one about 'Paradise being at the feet of mothers', but that's gross. My mom used to have corns down there. I went with this one, instead:

"And revere the womb that bore you, for God is ever watchful over you."

So rather than adding in some trite comment like "Happy Birthday" or "You're 57 years young", I'm going simply say this: I'm blessed to have wonderfully funny, close and modern family which, as it so happens, could not have existed without the grunt work my mother put into it.  It is her masterpiece and I'm can't wait to see the final painting. 


Day 3

Epiphanic moments are hard to come by for many of us. Sadly for me, I often allow my elation from such events to be swallowed as my mind concedes all too eagerly to the trivial distractions of my amplified secular life. By doing so, the pure joy of self-discovery becomes another hapless tick on my increasingly mundane existence. The balance of my psyche is askew and the longer I hesitate to level myself out, the harder it will be to find my much needed equipoise. 

Or, in other words, I need to give myself the space to enjoy the natural high of amazement.

As dejected as that sounds, I wouldn't characterize myself as a person who focuses on displeasure. I don't. I actually have avoidance issues and prefer to lap up felicity as much as possible, yet, in the back of my mind, there's a negative presence lurking about, poking holes in the thrill and excitement of life. This dilemma is not lost on me though. In fact, it's teachable for all of us. 

The point of life is personal for all of us and no amount of religion, education or love is ever going to spell it out for us. The conundrum is this: If we don't allow ourselves to treasure an epiphany, a moment of bliss or a shot of absolute jubilation (sounds like a drink), then what is the point in ever searching for it? Some might say it's about the hunt, not the game. Well, perhaps, but hunting season only last for two months. 

The reason we're here is not only transcendental, it's also exponentially beyond me. What isn't beyond me is the fact that all humans seek happiness. We crave it, fight for it and pray for it. It's time to really enjoy it while we can.

So why so much about epiphany and happiness? Last night, while listening to some lectures I tumbled across this song. 

It encapsultaes the beauty of an epiphany -the moment a person sees the light of something he thought was doomed to darkness. Religious epiphany doesn't have to equate to conversion. That's too rigid for its mysticism and wonder.

The song by Yusuf Islam, i.e., Mr. Cat Stevens, makes the statements that Moses, Jesus, Noah, Mohammed, Adam and Abraham are messengers of Allah. Looking deeper into the religion, that is true. All of them are messengers of Allah and to go one step further,  the decendants of Imran, the father of Maryam (Jesus' mother) who is also the most holy of women in Islam, and Abraham are the chosen people. The common thread that runs through these religions, to me, is always overlooked. 

Maybe I'm a bit behind the curve, but as a person who was raised in a Christian household, hearing these familiar names and stories really takes Islam from the reaches of the Arabian desert to a place that's much less foreign and certainly more accessible. 


Day 2

What do I actually know about Islam? 

This is something that has actually been haunting me for the past week and especially for the past 40 or so hours. I don't know a thing about the real and true religion of Islam. Being an American in a time of religious strife and global conflict certainly allows for bits and pieces of the religion to be thrust upon me, but outside of sound bites, academic comparatives and the occasional glance at Al Jazeera's opinion page, I don't have the slightest grip on the details of the religion. This project aside, that is not alright with me. I don't like being clueless.

Intellectual hubris is not my thing. I am the first to admit that I am not the brightest of men, but I will stake a claim under the curiosity column. Yet, how is it possible, as a curious man, for me not to know more about a religion that is embraced by nearly a quarter of the world? To me, that sounds irresponsible.

But maybe I'm asking the wrong question, so allow me to change it. Considering my claim to inquisitiveness, how is it possible for me to accept only fragments of an entire religion and claim to have had enough? Sure, I wouldn't verbalize such a statement, but my actions and subsequent ignorant comments and conversations certainly have and perhaps even continue to illustrate my intellectual tolerance. If I don't actively seek to gain a broader and more accurate picture of any subject, regardless of category, aren't I subtly admitting an mental  fill?

As commented by (and linked to) a friend yesterday, there seems to be a growing segment of people (Americans included) who have allowed themselves to be educated only enough to their liking before an opinion is formed and espoused. Worse than adopting an ill-informed position on something, some people take their half-truths on the road with them to inform the peasants of their wisdom. 

Take this email for instance which carried the title, "Can Muslims be Good Americans?" Since it's a hate email, it naturally comes with a presupposition that "Muslim and "good American" can not co-habitat a sentence.

Here is the gist of it:

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon God of Arabia.

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran).

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

Socially - no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

Politically - no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan.

Domestically - no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).

Intellectually - no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

Spiritually - no. Because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.

Therefore after much study and deliberation....perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both "good" Muslims and good Americans. Call it what you's still the truth.

You had better believe it.

If you want to read a good take-down of the claims made in the email, there are plenty, but the point is that the author of this rant learned only enough so they could launch a childish tirade at a faith that clearly scares them. Just to give you an example of how pervasive this list was, if you were to enter the title of the email into the Google search box, it auto-completes the sentence. 

The whole thing brings me back to the origin of wisdom and knowledge. Many people like to claim they are wise, but how are we to be sure they are really pure in intent?

"He has taught you that which [heretofore] you knew not."
(Qur'an 2:239)

All faiths have their own ideas on this one. Christians believe their God to be omniscient while Buddhists are taught that it takes utilitarian observation and analysis to truly understand if something is in fact "wise". Regardless of faith or philosophy there are certain facts that I know to be true and, on this one, Mohammad can help.

If a person is given silence, he is given wisdom.

And to that I'd like to add that a modest person understands the wisdom of silence.


Aside from starting the Quran from the beginning (which was interesting considering Adam and Eve popped up like thirty pages into it--a fact that I did not realize), I'm really trying to focus on the Five Pillars of Islam. Since I'm new to this religion, I'm taking it slowing and trying to understand it all one step at a time.

The first pillar is Shahadah which is essentially a statement of faith. It looks like this...

أشهد أن لا إله إلاَّ الله و أشهد أن محمد رسول الله 

"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger."

If you're really good, then you'd recognize the text above is also written on the flag of Saudi Arabia.

.In English, it looks a little like this: Ashhadu Alla Ilaha Illa Allah Wa Ashhadu Anna Muhammad Rasulu Allah. 

Interestingly, reciting the Shahadah three times in front of witnesses is all it takes to convert to Islam (video here). Of course, one must be totally sincere in doing it and fully understand the gravity of such a recitation. (It's not like Candyman.) I plan on reciting this many times, but my sincerity will disqualify me at this point since I am not prepared to dedicate myself to Islam (or any religion for that matter).

I'm really enjoying my studies so far and am really working on looking at the beauty that clearly thrives within Islam and Muslims and ignoring my cultural biases. 

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

As-Salāmu `Alaykum

Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon you...


Day 1

Back from break and fueled up. I made plenty of great contacts in the Korea(n) Muslim community (although most of them are not Korean) and although I can't change my schedule to go to mosque on Fridays, the weekend is also packed with worshipers and services. In fact, the mosque that I'm going to can hold up to six-hundred practitioners. I'll be heading there this Saturday after my Democrats Abroad meeting. They have service in Korean, Arabic and English. Great news.


Before I really get started, I want to get the whole Park51 mess out of the way. This past month I have watched and listened to my compatriots spit on the faith of over a billion people on this earth. I have coasted between embarrassment, anger, fear, pity and full-blown astonishment. It is clear that the debate has nothing to do with sensitivity or location. It's about two things: 1) petty election season politics and 2) xenophobia.  The worst part of the whole thing is that the GOP and the conservative punditry out there has married the two and it has created a disgusting environment for Americans to exist in. 

A new teacher arrived at my school this morning. He's a nice fellow from Hanover, PA. I asked him about how it was being back in America, expecting the typical answer that returning expats give which ranges from "I loved it" to "Man, Americans are fat." I did not get that response today, though. What I got was more grim.
"America is miserable. It's sick and only getting worse."
I don't doubt that current economic woes coupled with the midterm absurdity has made for a climate that is less savory than The Wonder Years, but what really concerns me is that this side of America has been hiding in plain sight for decades. The only difference is that the hateful have a forum now. Is America waking up from a dream or are they just in a nightmare?

I am certain that this topic will come up before, during or after my time in the mosque and I will not defend my fellow Americans who have chosen to turn their backs on the most important aspect of our nation's founding. I know how my wife, my family and my friends feel about this situation and all of them are lined up with me. So, unless any new developments occur in regards to this issue, I plan on putting it aside this month. 


I woke up this morning before sunrise and pulled out my paper detailing how to do my daily prayers of which must be done five times a day in the direction of Mecca. I was blown away by the time it took me to read the romanized Arabic. Luckily, the online Quran that I'm reading (as well as the hard copy I'm picking up this weekend after Mosque) has a nice English translation.  There will be plenty more to come on that front. You know, the first day always takes some getting used to.

What I have discovered so far is that while reading the Quran, I can't separate the words from the followers. Generally speaking, Muslims hail from a certain geographical region and with each e-page that I e-turn I can't help but visualize them. I think about their clothes, their faces, their history and, yes, even some of the violence that a minority of them have committed against their fellow man. This is really wrong and intellectually I would never say or do anything that casts a negative shadow on the religion, but I'm starting to wonder if, perhaps, they have also been poisoned against others in the same fashion. Is there a "typical" Jew or Christian?

Allah said, "there is a disease in their hearts" --still learning the proper ways to quote the Quran-- and while he was talking about those who try to deceive Him, I can use it here. 

It's hard to live a life that is free from cultural perception and self-deception. In fact, it's impossible. We are scholars of the senses. Recognizing that, however, is only the first step. The "disease" seeps much deeper than what we see and hear and it poisons our hearts and eventually soils our souls.  For someone to claim one thing like, "I support Park51 because Islam didn't attack us on 911, a few extremists did" and then visualize the negative physical manifestations of some Muslims while reading the Quran is a signal that maybe the heart has been polluted. 

I don't know what it is, but it's sure to be an interesting journey and I'm thrilled to see what wonderful treasures Islam has to offer. 


In case you're wondering what is happening with the Pious One, I figured I should let you know. I'm taking the month of August off to better prepare for my upcoming religions. I was a little frustrated with Jainism because I didn't have anyone to connect with and share in the religion. I don't want that to happen with Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Protestantism. So, this month, I am seeking out groups, buying texts and preparing for a smooth transition into Islam with will take place on September 1st. 


Day 30

Jainism is finally done! I don't say that because I didn't like it. I did. In fact, I loved it. I say that because it was exhausting. Not knowing when the next meal is or where it's coming from is really eye-opening. I've lived a very pampered life and the whole time I never once realized the ease that has been provided for me. Sure, money has helped that, but how our civilization and modern society has evolved really created an environment for laziness, entitlement and avoidance. I can't say that I will always remember my physical pain from the month, but I will remember the lessons the taught me.

From what you experienced, what was the best part of Jainism?

Easy. My mind was re-framed this month in terms of my relationship with animal life and the environment. We always hear that we need to clean up and protect the environment and that result should be enough to motivate people to do something. However, leading someone with a carrot only lasts for so long. What I learned this month was an entirely new way to envision my role in the cosmos. I really visualized the vehicles in which our souls are carried and how important the decisions we make with them are. I have a newfound responsibility on earth and it's not simply for ascetic and health reasons. It's because I am of this earth and could perhaps have existed in a different capacity before this life.   

What improvements, if any, did you witness in yourself?

I don't know if I improved. I caved to temptation with alcohol and many times I got outwardly frustrated with Jainism, but if anything, I think I padded by increasingly bulky trove of patience. It's hard giving up things and it was even harder when people would ask, "What's the point?" It would be easy to give into that, but I didn't. Victory?

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

Not buying anything was really horrible. Well, maybe it was the constant need to rely on my wife for stuff. I don't know. I'm not a big-spender, but it's hard being a burden to the one you love. 
Did you find that people were receptive to Jainism?

Really receptive. In fact,  I was amazed by the curiosity that many people had. I know that they wouldn't necessarily start to follow the creed, but people really opened up to the idea. In fact, I caught some of my younger elementary school students with Jain information in their bags and "George = 자이나교 (Jainism)" written on their notebooks. All ages of Koreans were into it. 

Would you ever consider becoming a Jain?

Hmmm. Let's put it this way: I will always incorporate the lessons from this month into my life, my family and my future religion. But no, I don't think Jainism is the perfect fit for me. 

Any last comments?

If anything came from this month, it was my "Bridges to Beauty" project. Depending on August rain, I will keep it alive. My wife and I are planning on making it more inclusive to the community in September. We all need to do a better job taking care of this world. We are at the top of this karmic chain and have the gift of reason. We need to use it well.


Day 29

From what you saw and heard, what was the best part of Jainism for you? 

Jainism was a little out of my league. George and I spent many nights discussing different aspects of the religion, but I really had a hard time believing any of it. For me, the best part was George actually allowing his love for the earth materialize through his "Bridges to Beauty" project. I support his activism and passions, so this was great for me. Can I credit Jainism? Why not? 

What improvements, if any, did you witness in your husband?

Again with this one? Can someone else write questions? Alright, I'll play the game. He certainly became even more pensive this month. I know it was hard for him, but I'm proud of the thought he put into small things like taking care of our dog's smallest of emotions or even the spider that has now created a massive web in our bathroom window. Maybe it's this project or my training, but I'm starting to see a mature husband. That's a feat.

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

That's easy. He couldn't spend any money or buy anything. Guess who had to do all of that? Sure, he got some stuff from students, but I was behind most everything. It makes me happy that we live in a time where there is equality in marriages because this could not continue.

What do you think of the nudity, face masks and shaved hair?

The nudity is tiring. I mean, he sits on our furniture like that. On the bright side, I did get to force him to shower much more than usual, so I liked that. He only wore the face mask a few times and in Asia, that's not really unusual. Many people where masks when they get sick. When you live in a city of 20 million, bacteria and viruses spread fast. The short hair was nice, although it wasn't technically "shaved". Personally, I prefer his hair a little longer. There's no character in short hair. I was proud of him though. He's had hair issues forever.

Do you think Jainism looked different from Buddhism?

Sure. Jainism was very difficult, but honestly, I don't think George liked it as much. He says that he loves all of them, but I got the feeling that he was getting tired of the rules. With Buddhism, there were rules, but not as extreme.  

Would you ever consider becoming a Jain?

Nope. Not only is Jainism really hard to manage in any country besides India, but I don't believe a word of it. George was trying to get me all excited about the karmic levels and I liked learning about it, but there is no way that I could tell people I believe in that. It sounds too much like a movie plot. 

Next month is Islam. Are you excited?

Well, I'm ready. I wouldn't day excited, though. We're both a little curious about what's going on in the Itaewon mosque and considering what's happening in America with all this mosque drama, I'm curious about what they are thinking. 

Any last comments?

All of these religious adventures have been great for me. I didn't even know what Jainism was a month ago and now I at least have the background to understand who and what they are. I might not "feel" it like George claims, but I do "know" it and that has been great.