Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Laughing with Muslims

Jamal Rahman 
 Dr. David C Aune, AU Religion Department

        Why should I take the time to listen to a Muslim guest speaker on the topics of religious differences and sacred laughter?  Can I really learn anything new from someone who directly challenges some of my core beliefs?  And why should I care about religious issues anyway: what differences do they make?  These are the questions that many of us may be asking ourselves when we hear that a Muslim interfaith speaker Jamal Rahman will be giving two presentations on Tuesday March 11 and Wednesday March 12 (both at 7PM on the AU campus).   
       As associate professor and chair of the Religion department here at Ashland, I am in a good position to answer these questions.  Years of teaching and scholarly activities have convinced me of the value of learning about other religions and engaging in inter-religious dialogue.
  Particularly when it comes Islam, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings that continue to be promoted in our world.  But Jamal Rahman will provide some valuable insights in a creative, entertaining and thought-provoking way.  He is a nationally known personality who has written and spoken extensively about Islam and Sufism (a spiritual movement within Islam).  For over ten years now he has appeared along with a Rabbi and a Protestant minister as one of the three “Interfaith Amigos.”   See his website at jamalrahman.com.
Jamal’s Tuesday presentation (at 7PM in the John C. Myers Convocation Center on March 11) will be on the topic of “Encountering Irreconcilable Differences.”  This title intrigues me because so much of the interfaith discussion these days seems to overlook obvious disagreements in our respective faith traditions.  Jamal approaches the topic by not just celebrating similarities but also by honoring the dignity of differences.  For him, the goal is not to change other people but to get to know them on a human and personal level.   And, in perhaps the most important part of his presentation, he will ask the question, “How does it feel to be the other?”  By taking the time to listen to and interact with Jamal, I anticipate that we will gain skills for understanding and dealing with various kinds of differences (not merely religious ones). Empathy is something all of us could develop further in our lives.
Jamal’s Wednesday presentation (at 7PM in the Student Center Auditorium on March 12) will be on the topic of “Sacred Laughter: Awakening the Soul through the Sacred Laughter of the Sufis”).   Honestly, this topic intrigues me even more because, while I can relate to the value of laughter, I don’t know much about what the Sufi spiritual masters have to say about it (or how and why it might be considered “sacred.”)  Could it be that the ability to laugh at ourselves and focus on the playfulness and joy in life is actually a spiritual gift that connects us with others and enhances the life that God intends for us?  Again, this is an experience that all of us might find beneficial and surprisingly enjoyable.
So I’ll be encouraging everyone I know to attend Jamal Rahman’s presentations.   His presence at Ashland will certainly enhance and enrich our lives.



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