I apologize for my delay in the latest in my Lenten series on Islam. I am concurrently doing a bible study at my parish on a completely different topic, which has required more prep work that I was expecting. As such, my research for this blog series has remained in my head and not written down.
In any event, I thought for this post I would go in a bit of a different direction. I have another topic on Islam and Jesus that is in the hopper, but I am going to have to whittle it down, as it is way too long. That topic could be a mini-series unto itself. Keeping with the general Catholic buzzword for the year of mercy, I thought it might be interesting to discuss the issue of the Sanctity of Life in both Islam and Christianity.
This topic may stretch you a bit, if all you know of Muslims are the crazy people who blow themselves up in the Intifada against Israel or something. Personally, I think Palestinians do their cause a disservice by engaging in suicide bombings because for most of the West, this is morally evil and, at the very least, distasteful, to ethical and moral thinking.
It may surprise you to learn that the Qu'ran actually has some very pointed things to say on the subject that I do not think is largely contrary to the teachings of Christ. For example:
"...if anyone kills a person-unless in retribution for murder or speading corruption in the land-it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the lives of mankind. (5:32)"
"do not take the life God has made sacred, except by right. This is what He commands you to do: Perhaps you will use your reason (6:151)."
Muhammad, who Muslims revere as God's final messenger to humans, listed murder as one of the major sins. He warned that the first cases to be settled between people on the Day of Judgment will be those of bloodshed. Muslims are even prohibited from indiscriminately harming animals, and have been taught that there is a reward in kindness to every living thing-animal or human.
Islamd encourages people to bring about benefit and good for others in every way possible. In the Qu'ran, God praises those who have given preference to others over themselves (59:9) and that "God constantly helps the one who helps his brother" and even that "a smile or kind word is charity." There is in Islamic moral teaching a particular emphasis on helping the downtrodden of society, especially orphans, the poor, and the needy. Muslims are taught over and over in the Qu'ran to build and not to cause harm or destruction.
Almsgiving is a critical pillar of Islam. This is known as zakat (زكاة) which in Arabic means "that which purifies." Traditionally, it has been set at a rate of 2.5% and is obligatory, though the exact rate is somewhat debated among Islamic scholars. In most countries, this is voluntary, although a few places like Saudi Arabia collect it as a tax. However, most Muslim scholars teach that for it to be spiritually beneficial, this almsgiving has to be given directly by the giver. It does not count if you donate that money to a Mosque or charity, etc. While extra donations to such organizations are deemed a moral good, to fulful the moral obligations of zakat, you physically have to go out and give it to an actual poor person: no if's, and's, or but's.
While 2.5% may seem rather paltry, one has to remember this is for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Likewise, I think Christians can learn something about that bit of it having to actually give directly to a poor person. One of the things that I find disturbing about everyday Catholics is how cheap they are in charitable giving on average. (Let me note that some Catholics are extremely generous, but they are the few, not the many.) Catholics have the lowest tithing rate of any Christian group. When they do give, odds are they just give to the Church and that's it, thinking that the paltry 5 bucks they toss in the collect plate occasionally is plenty. They certainly don't go out and seek the poor, they think the Church (Catholic Social Services, etc.) will take care of it for them and that let's them off the hook, morally and ethically speaking.
Well, I have news for you: that don't cut the mustard, if you look at the Bible. James does not beat around the bush, Jesus certainly never did here, here, here, there, everywhere. I can go on, but you get the point: you need to help the actual poor, not the ethereal, hypothetical poor that Father down at social services knows.
If you need some ideas on how to show mercy in a real way this week, I can make a few suggestions. Consider some of these fine Catholic charities:
Sponsor a child or elderly person though Unbound.
Help pay for the tuition of a Catholic school child in Bethlehem, Israel through the Knights of Columbus.
Help feed Syrian refugees here.
Stand and donate help to Iraqi Christians.
Help the actual poor; it is not optional, folks.