Friday, April 1, 2011

Zendo and Mosque: Sharing Space in Ireland

The murder of seven UN Workers and five others today in Afghanistan is an awful act by Muslims outraged at another act of religious intolerance, the burning of a Koran by an American Christian pastor. It's also my guess that the nearly decade long military occupation in Afghanistan also played a large role in these acts of violence, but it's hard to ignore the influence of religious intolerance in this incident.

As such, I'd like to share this, from a discussion thread at Treeleaf Zendo:

I’ve a sitting group in the college I work in. The college is bang in the middle of Dublin City Centre and full of students from all over the world. Each Monday, we sit in “The Quiet Room” for an hour. The Quiet Room is available to everyone for spiritual practice and for such classes as Tai Chi and Yoga.

So, what’s been happening is that the Islamic students come in during zazen and totally ignore that a sit is in progress. They lay out their mats and pray facing Mecca, while the rest of us sit facing the wall or rise on the bell for kinhin.

After zazen had been interrupted a few times, I put a poster outside on the door while we sit: “Zen Meditation in Progress, 12 noon to 1pm” it says. But still the Islamic students come to pray in our midst, undeterred.
I considered asking them to wait until we are finished. We have the room booked for the hour, after all. But in the end I’ve decided that we should sit regardless of whoever comes through the door and to whatever purpose.

So, we just sit in silence often, and sometimes we sit to the mumbled incantations of “Allah Akbar”.

Obviously, religious tolerance is a complex thing.

The discussion that follows is also worth scrolling through. There are a few stereotypical "you can't talk sense to Muslim comments," but overall I find the response of the original poster to the situation, as well as the comments of other Treeleafers respectful, positive, and even insightful at times.

Peacefully sharing space with other worldviews, especially in the realms of religion and politics, is a challenge. Humans are fully capable of doing it, but we are also really good at not doing it at all. Excuses are many. Grudges from the past are many. And fears about what might happen in the future are also plentiful.

So, when people are able to work together, talk together, or simply be together like in the example above, those examples should be shared. Especially as a way to counter all the failures, small and horrific, that fill the news on a daily basis.

*Image from a 2006 Dialogue between Muslims and Buddhists held in Thailand.


Ji Hyang said...

I'm not a member of treeleaf-- so cannot comment there. But I do know from years of experience in interfaith dialogue that the groups "new" to the terrain too often end up competing for scarce resources-- a dualistic frame of mind which as Zen students we are trained to see beyond. The implicit assumption is that these are all the resources which can be accessed--I wonder about that.
Muslims do have a practice of praying five times a day, and these prayers need to be fit into certain time spans. Which, during the short days of the winter, are pretty short. I would ask whether another room can be made available...and I would also visit their Friday evening prayers to get to know their community and work things through, warm hand to warm hand.

By the way, HHDL's book, Towards a True Kinship of Faiths, has a beautiful chapter on Islam.

Nathan said...

"The implicit assumption is that these are all the resources which can be accessed--I wonder about that." This is a good point. And it's probably true that both the Zen group and the Muslim students are, in Dublin, pretty new and fairly marginal. However, my guess is that there also might be some added challenges for at least some of those Muslim students who are also more recent immigrants to Ireland (or children of recent immigrants.) When I was in Ireland in 1998, there was already a fair amount of anti-immigrant sentiment, and that was before the Euro and increase in immigration.