Faith Challenge

“It’s Always Better in America” is the title of an article that I recently read online through Before I get into the article, let me give a plug for Patheos, an online magazine. “Balanced Views of Religion and Spirituality through Faith” is their tag line and they are founded on the belief that an important part of American life is based on religion and spirituality. Rather than focusing on one faith, their goal is to be a portal where many can go and find information, articles, and news, specific to their faith. On the site, you can find portals for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and more. It also brings together an online community dialogue about faith.

The article was written by a journalist, M. Hadi YazdanPanah, who has lived in Iran and India, and now resides in the United States, involved in interfaith dialogue. He spent this past Ramadan in Saudi Arabia with his wife and children, and his reflections are on the difficulty of celebrating a Muslim holiday in a Muslim land. It is a fascinating look at how, when we are not around a society where many believe as we do, we are challenged to examine our beliefs, and to really live them out. The author’s particular point was that he thought celebrating Ramadan in Saudi Arabia would be the height of celebration, that it couldn’t get better. After all, he reasoned, Saudi Arabia is home to the most sacred place in Islam, Mecca. One of the pillars of Islam is for Muslims to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, if their health and finances allow. Surely this would be the place to celebrate.

Not so, he found. He was depressed that people would spend 2 hours praying only to end up at a million dollar mall and spend thousands on the latest in designer goods. He was disheartened that people with that much money would treat the expatriates in their country with such disdain and prejudice. He also realized that it isn’t a challenge to live out your beliefs when everyone around you is doing the same thing. In America, where few are fasting during Ramadan, he has a choice. No one would know if he didn’t follow through. Americans of other beliefs wouldn’t care. So it becomes a matter of his heart, and that is the place where we wrestle through what we truly believe.

The author gives me something to think about. Living differently than the culture by which he is surrounded, or living counter-culture, has made this man think more about his faith, what it means to him, and what rituals really mean. The author states “I foolishly believed that my spirituality during this holy month would also be exponentially higher in the Kingdom than in the United States.” He goes on to say toward the end of that paragraph “But what I learned was that in Saudi, Ramadan was not a challenge, and that was a game changer.”

It reminds me of speaking with a college student a few years ago. Initially at a Christian college, where her beliefs were reflected by many, she grew restless and cynical. She decided to transfer to a larger university where little around her was a reflection of her belief system. She thrived. The challenge to live out her faith, not putting her trust in the ideology of those around her, but finding out what she really believed was her “faith defining” moment.

So, what about you? Do you find it easier to live out your faith when those around you believe the same, or when you are forced into a place of explaining why you do what you do? Readers – weigh in on this one. Would love to hear some of your stories.

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