By John E. Carey
July 6, 2007
I have known Habib (translates to “friend”) for some time. He works hard, keeps to himself, obeys the speed limit and loves his family.
You have already probably made a judgment or two about Habib, maybe. You think you might know what region of the world he comes from and what religion he follows.
Yet Habib, though an immigrant, is an American citizen who loves his new home. He votes and pays his taxes. His children go to the American public school and not “The Arab School” as some around here call it.
An educated man, he is familiar with the teachings of both Islam and Buddhism. I spent some time taking Habib to lunch, and slowly, as if prying open a can of tuna with a mall screwdriver, I started to learn more about the man, and, I dare say, the world.
Once Habib began to speak, his enlightened thought process amazed me. He said, “Americans are moving further and further away from Human Spirit.”
“What the heck does that mean?” I asked.
“In the Qur’an,” he began, “Allah said that He is a hidden treasure longing to be known. Allah made man so that He himself, Allah, would be known and appreciated.”
In my naivety I asked, “And Allah is God?”
“Allah is God,” he said. “Allah teaches that death is only another chapter. Not a beginning or an end but a passage.”
“And between the beginning and the end we must seek peace and tranquility and happiness.”
Between the begining and the end, I thought, we make money. He with the most toys at the end wins. But I quickly buried this thought.
After an awkwardly long silence, I again chimed in perhaps from ignorance or naivety, “How about the suicide bombers?”
“They have bastardized a great religion, a great way of life and happiness,” said Habib.
Maybe this guy Allah isn’t so bad, I thought.
Habib then said, “Listen to the reed flute. It is made from the reed growing in the river. But after it is cut down and removed from its rightful place, its home, you can hear it crying tender agony.”
As an American I am in too deep here.
Then Habib speaks of Buddhism.
“In Buddhist way, how much you endure, how much you go through without complaint — determines your happiness.”
I see fireworks like the Fourth of July. I know many people who have had an easy life. They were showered with gifts and material things – yet they are unhappy. And I also know a group I call “The Survivors.” Many went though war, many are refugees, some lost limbs and homes and relatives. Among this group I have experienced happiness and even joy. Joy of surviving, and not despairing. Joy of continuing against the odds.
Before we finish lunch, Habib offers this: “Do you know John, the biggest problem with America today?”
A basket full of answers leaps into my mind: the war, George Bush, Taxes, China, the Taliban….
Before I can speak a word Habib says, “Accusing and pointing of fingers. There is no ‘we’ in American politics just now. There is a lot of ‘them.’”
Habib finishes with this: “Politicians, and talk shows, and focus groups and web sites and blogs, all with tremendous opportunity to bring us together. But everybody seems accusing and nobody admitting.”
As we walked back to our destination in a calm silence, I though about President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln: an icon of American greatness. He brought his harshest critics into his Administration, for the promotion of the general welfare and good.
Old Abe: not a Finger Pointer.
Many today seem to have lost faith in the common good. And winning over the other party seems preferable to winning against forces outside America.
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