religion

Life, Lunacy, and Passion: 10 Things To Think About as You Wander Through Life

"Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have." – Eckhart Tolle in "The Power of Now"

One: Thoughts on Developing a Sense of Perspective

sense of perspective

I want you to imagine something with me for a moment. Imagine you're at work and suddenly a translucent bubble gently floats past your eyes and settles right next to your keyboard. The bubble doesn't burst; in fact it appears to be kind of robust and teaming with activity.

It just so happens that your eccentric co-worker John had brought in an expensive electron microscope the other day, so rather than go through a slew of boring emails you decide to check it out with the microscope.

What you see makes you question your sanity. It’s a tiny world not unlike earth in a solar system with beings that more or less resemble humans. You are unable to pull your eyes away from this spectacular phenomenon. You quickly find that in this bubble there appear to be some major differences with regard to time; people only have 1 day to live, which is 60 seconds in our time. It is heartbreaking to see the beings born, grow old, and die within a minute’s time. What is even more heartbreaking is this: the beings don’t even enjoy themselves. For most of the 60 seconds you witness the following:

  • The majority of the milliseconds are spent doing things for other beings who appear to be trying to accumulate vast amounts of something that looks a lot like miniature plastic frisbees. With their stock of frisbees they would buy oblong concave huts made out of something resembling steel and get people to do things they didn’t want to do for mere fractions of frisbees. Evidently someone somewhere decided that the plastic frisbee-like mineral was of substantial value, and many of these beings wore it around their many necks or wrists. 
  • The beings who had the most seemed to be the most…depressed, though they had so many plastic frisbees. 
  • Some poor beings ended their own lives at 20 seconds
  • Many beings were killed fighting over what appeared to be plastic frisbees, or even just ideas. 

To you as an outsider, you simply cannot believe just how insanely these beings are behaving. You want to shout out “DON’T YOU KNOW YOU ONLY HAVE 60 SECONDS TO LIVE?!” Most of the beings had very little plastic frisbees, and spent most of their 60 seconds working for tiny tiny crumbles of plastic frisbees that the plastic frisbee hoarders had. All of the plastic frisbee hoarders lived in incredibly ornate huts, and had mountains of plastic frisbee that was very tightly watched over and added to. 

How sad for both the plastic frisbee hoarders and those with hardly any. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference on the surface regarding how sad the whole situation was. But there were some who seemed to go outside of the construct created. Some decided that they would do whatever the fuck they had to do in order to make the most of their 60 seconds. It all happened rapidly, but you could see that when the beings who consciously made these decisions experienced some tumult for a few milliseconds or even a full couple of seconds, but when the big 60 popped up they appeared decidedly more content, more accepting. Maybe not exactly happy, but not sad either. 


Obviously, this is a loose analogy of how we behave during our own short time here. Consider how time itself is merely a construct, and that within this construct we are alive for a fraction of a fraction to the tenth power of it. This is sobering; at least it should be. 

Do you realize how short your life is in comparison to time itself? I recommend checking out the WaitButWhy article regarding time: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/putting-time-in-perspective.html

It is not, I realize, a simple thing to just throw off all of the superfluous shit that drives us. We have society at large, our DNA, our upbringing, our particular circumstances, heartbreak, death, war, poverty, riches, health, illness, etc. 

The main point I want to get across here is that you should always strive to look at everything from a proper perspective. This means that no matter what you may be going through at the present moment, weigh it against this fact:

  • Someday, maybe soon, maybe later, you are going to die.

Let this one sink in. Breathe it in and let it resonate in your lungs. It can burn, but the high is worth it. 

I mean knowing fully that you are going to die someday, and that it could be today, soon, a long time from now, or somewhere in between. Weigh it against the knowledge that we are on a tiny tiny tiny blue dot of a planet

Let me repeat this. 

Realize fully that you are going to die someday, and you have absolutely no idea when this is going to happen. It could happen before you finish reading this post, though of course, I hope not. I want you to live a long fulfilling life, with the caveat that you’re a decent human being. I may be dead as you read this. Do you understand that you are going to die someday? Don’t go past that. I don’t care what you believe what happens after that. I’m talking about your time on this plane of existence completely ending. 

Always weigh circumstances, thoughts, emotions, hurt, pain, happiness, regret, anxiety, fear, and everything against this absolute truth. 

This does not give you license to go and mess other people’s lives up. This should act as a catalyst for you forming your own license to fight for and do what you want to do in this life, so long as you don’t mess with other people. This should encourage you to get out of a shitty relationship that you don’t want to be in but are too afraid to end it because you may offend or hurt the other person. That needs to stop. Now. 

This also does not mean you should always be in a state of bliss. That is simply not how life works. Let thoughts and emotions ebb and flow; just don't let yourself get caught up in them. 

Does your job make you feel like you’re just fuel for a corporate furnace? Say goodbye to it if you can. If you can't, then it will be important to keep perspective and work toward making the necessary changes to get out of it. Yes, we need to make money, but how much? Some will have to fight harder than others in the game of money-making. My hat is off to you. I definitely realize it’s that much more difficult if you have a family. 


Are you going through something right now? 

At the risk of sounding like a metaphysical shaman, try this exercise: 

Imagine yourself separated floating quickly but comfortably away from earth. 

Don’t worry about being able to breathe and all of that. You’re only going there in your mind. Start from right above your town, to the Earth's atmosphere, and to the moon and beyond. You want to be able to see the earth, but from a great distance. Now look. Use an ultra-powerful telescope to see all of the things going on

Look at everyone going about their tasks on earth.

See our bickering and loving and hating and everything in between from afar. Lives starting, in motion, and ending. Stressors originating solely within our psyches and serving no purpose whatsoever.  We are an enemy to ourselves all too often; what happens when we become allies to ourselves? What happens when we finally start standing the fuck up and pushing past all the thorny bullshit we throw in front of our path? Oh and the thorny shit we throw in our paths doesn’t land on solid ground. It lands on other thorny shit thrown there by others and society at large. 

Stop adding to that pile. Stop making your feet bleed more than they already are.

Accept who you are. Accept the present moment and continue moving ahead doing your best in this life. Wake up


Two: The Importance of Being the True Self and Living Your Own Life, Not Someone Else’s

authenticity be true to self

No-one else lives your life. This is an obvious de-facto statement, right? Why do our actions often suggest otherwise? Why do we continue to act as though others have a say in how we choose to live the only short life we have? 

From the very far outside looking in, this doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s pretty crazy and reminds me a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. 

So why do we do this? It is because we desperately want to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by “the tribe.” Things are more comfortable doing it this way because it is an obsolete but very prominent part of our DNA. Many many years ago if you weren’t accepted by the tribe, then you were thrown out of the tribe, and you died. That’s why it made sense back then, but it makes absolutely no sense today. Now there are so many different world views and “tribes” out there that we end up trying to fit into not just one but multiple groups of thought. This means it doesn’t really matter a whole lot which group we associate ourselves with, as long as it isn’t some nefarious sociopath-think group. Let’s go a step further: what if you decided you didn't care about pleasing any group of people, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not likely that you would get killed for it. Unless you happen to be fighting hard for a highly charged political or social cause, then there’s not much to worry about. At the end of time, who really gives a sh*t about how well you played along with your tribe’s worldview? 

In fact, the things that people really give a sh*t about are the actions you’ve taken that don’t fit into the common mold or the established path. 

I recommend reading the following blog post to better understand why we let the words and opinions of others sway us in various directions: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/06/taming-mammoth-let-peoples-opinions-run-life.html 

What is the true self?  For one, it is multifaceted. You are not binary computer code; that is, you are not wholly one thing or another. We are all multifaceted. Forget the black-and-white box that Hollywood sometimes portrays, because it is a lie. It is no more real than Puff the Magic Dragon. 

It is always tempting to want what others have, and not just material possessions. Maybe it's the charisma that your favorite actor exudes, or maybe it's the calm and eloquent way that a friend tells stories in front of thousands of people. 

It's time to stop trying to be someone else. Sure, sometimes it's good to emulate behaviors in others that you look up to, but don't get too caught up in it. Cultivate you.

It is tempting to give in and let society, family, and friends dictate how you should live your life because it makes it easy. It makes things comfortable.

No matter where you are in life, I think it's important that we try and stop making decisions based on how we think others may perceive us. No-one else lives your life, so be sure you’re the one behind the steering wheel. As you contemplate all of this, remember that your desire for comfort and safety can be the biggest obstacle in getting what you want out of life. 

I believe fully that it’s vital to contemplate how you want to be remembered when you die. Go all the way to your deathbed self and think about what would upset you most, or cause the most intense feelings of wistful but resigned regret. Is the only thing stopping you from living and doing what you want to do fear? You know what you have to do then. 


Three: Dealing with Psychological Fears (Past, Present, and Future)

Whatever stressors, fears, regrets, feelings of remorse, feelings of dread, or any other rumination you may indulge in should go head to head against a couple things:

  1. The present moment
  2. The knowledge that everything passes, including your life 

Maybe you believe you can’t forgive yourself, somehow “ruined everything,” can’t see any hope in the midst of anxiety and fear, can’t let go of how someone else hurt you, can’t let go of how you hurt someone else, etc. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to realize a few things, and put a few other things into action. 

First, realize that the present moment is all you ever have. You don’t have the past. It’s forever gone, so every second, minute or hour living in remorse over the past is wasted time. I don’t care what it is you’ve done in the past. You need to face the utter reality of the situation, forgive yourself, and move on (I say this as much to myself as to anyone). If you need to make amends, then make amends. If it’s something truly messed up, then turn yourself in. 

This is all more aimed at those who struggle with unnecessary guilt over innocuous things. I have OCD, so am somewhat of an expert in feeling remorse over things that I fear may have happened because of me, or things that could possibly have happened because of something I did. 

What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace — and you do so now. The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it now. Past and future obviously have no reality of their own. Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present. Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now.

Tolle, Eckhart (2010-10-06). The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (p. 50). New World Library. Kindle Edition. 


Four: Dealing with Mistakes, or Failure

dealing with failure and mistakes

Even if you have recently fallen, have recently picked up that bottle after years of never drinking a drop, hooked up with someone that you'd be embarrassed to tell your best friend about, took a drag or smoked a pack of death sticks, or reached again for a needle or a flame to bring chemicals to boil; you can get the fuck up and try again, and this time with renewed veracity. 

Maybe it’s nothing so extravagant. Maybe you just behaved in a way that you deem a bit below your ideal, or maybe you let your pride get in the way of things, your ego. For some, this can feel just as intense as doing something much further away from our ideal self-vision. 

One thing among many that I’ve learned from Pema Chodron’s book “The Wisdom of No Escape”  is that we need to be less aggressive toward ourselves when judging our past actions. No past actions really need to be analyzed to any great extent, unless there is a lesson to be learned and applied now or later. Rumination should not even be a part of our vocabulary, at least regarding past events, because again, it is a complete waste of time. While in the throes of intense feeling and being encumbered with a waterfall of negative thoughts being generated, it may feel like the only damn thing we can do is ruminate. 

But that shit never works. It never helps. It doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help anyone else. In fact, it only makes life suck more. You don’t have to make life suck more. Are thoughts of inadequacy or pomposity infiltrating your brain? Let them be, but don’t indulge them. Just view them like a passing train. It’s a loud-ass train I know, but you don’t have to get on it. If it’s a sense of arrogance, be aware of it. You don’t have to fight it, or try and remind yourself of some horrible thing you’ve done so that you can get back to a median level, or even worse, to a more comfortable and known inferior position. 

You are inferior to no-one. 

No one can always stand tall. Great nations fall; powerful suns die. Don't waste vital time ruminating on a perceived "failure to live up to the ideal self" vision. 

Powerful, amazing, life changing people fuckup. One difference between greatness and mediocrity is how we deal with fucking up. 

When I was 28 I fucked up, but I did not handle it the way a great man would, I'm slightly embarrassed to say. 

Face your demons. No matter what kind of pain it causes, face them head on. Trying to run or avoid them only imbues them with power. 

Are you disappointed that you let yourself be puppet-mastered a bit, or peer pressured even as an adult? That shit never ends, it just changes color. How you have allowed yourself to be influenced in the past does not have to dictate how you act right now. 

You are here now. When the future comes, be "here" and act in accordance with your true self.

Realizing DEEPLY that NOW is EVERYTHING. It is all we ever have. And if it sucks a bit with emotional turmoil, so be it, but don't let it be because of something in the past. If condemning thoughts about the past come to mind, observe but don’t give them the power they want. 

Yes, sometimes things that have happened in the past have been causes of unwanted circumstances today. But all you have to do is deal with the here and now. 

Don't believe me? Unless you've found a way to bend time in order for you to touch and manipulate the past, something that already is, then you cannot argue. 

You have right now.

There are times when my mind, for whatever reason, focuses heavily on the past, especially concerning derogatory memories (good memories of the past come up too, or just memories that don't trigger much emotion, but those never stand out as an issue). 

Observe the mind. See how it goes out of control. Accept the emotions that accompany the dark thoughts. It doesn't mean you agree or disagree with anything. When people say things like "I choose to be happy," I think it’s patronizing and condescending to the majority of the population who cannot merely "be happy." Happiness is fleeting. Inner contentment and acceptance of what is going on without judgment is something that does not have to be fleeting.  

Always aspire to act in accordance with the ideal self, but forgive if you know (or perceive through your cloudy mental lens) that you have fallen short. If you have made a mistake then muster every ounce of your courage to face the present moment, then embrace it fully and without reservation. There is no other way to live. Is your life different now because of it? So be it. It is different. Accept it as it is, and change what you can change. 

Be true to self. Respect the self. Take care of the body, mind, and soul. This means living in the present, even if you’ve slipped up recently. I’ve found http://www.freeaffirmations.org/ to be a great resource for finding affirmations to go through that can help with these things.  


Five: Thoughts on Collective Humanity

humanity

Everyone has a certain level of stupidity. Humans are not infallible or supremely intelligent. Many people act purely on the whims of their fragile ego. One only needs to watch the 2016 American presidential debates to see what I’m talking about. 

Hubris, greed, lack of empathy, blatant stupidity, and violent attachment to ideologies are all pitfalls of humanity. As my friend put it, “we have room for improvement.” We mask our weaknesses and ignorance with pride, tribalism, facades, microcosmic knowledge, and absolute statements. Sometimes strength means being able to say "I do not know," or to express self-doubt.

We build ourselves up too much and take ourselves way too seriously, especially considering the short amount of time we have here. I think we need an evolution in consciousness, the way we think, and the way in which we conduct ourselves with one another. 


Six: Thoughts on Social Justice

justice scale

There is too much injustice in the world for me to really get into it here, so I'll narrow the focus a bit.

I'm not perfect in this area, and honestly feel like I'm way too self-centered most of the time. However, one day in Chiang Mai I went for one of my runs, which always resulted in a lot of sweat; enough to make my shoes slosh because they would become saturated with it. Anyway, one day I remember seeing a kid who had a condition that precluded him from being able to walk properly. There was a gate that he was just not going to be able to scale, so a local and I ran over and helped the dude out.  

I tell you this not to toot my own horn, but to say that on that day one thing really infiltrated my brain: we should not ever fuck with the downtrodden, with those "less fortunate," with children, or with anyone perceived to be "weaker" because of a disability or socio-economic status. For example, if you knew someone who said it made them feel powerful and good to beat up homeless kids in 3rd world nations, how would that make you feel and what actions would it prompt? I realize that we all can't be out there to try and "save the world." I'm just saying if something like this crosses our path, we had better damn well take action. 

It goes without saying that you should practice kindness and give respect to everyone around you (unless a reason is given not to), but is it not doubly obvious in certain circumstances?


Seven: Thoughts on Why I Traveled for Almost a Year

travel reasons to

Why did I quit my job, sell everything, and go on a trip around the world for many months?  For one, I realized that there were a lot of things that needed to be jettisoned from the way I thought and acted. This included working jobs I didn’t care about only for a paycheck, doing things for fear of displeasing others or staying stagnant out of fear and addiction to comfort. On this trip, I came to realize the beauty of being human and truly standing for ourselves and for others. 


Eight: Thoughts on Religion

religion picture

I’m not religious. I do not bow to Confucius, Siddhartha Guatama, Joseph Smith, Jesus, Muhammad, etc. All made pertinent marks on the world, but it is my belief that they were fellow humans who walked the earth. I do not mean any offense to the devout who believe otherwise; I’m just stating what I believe to be true. That said, I don’t claim to know everything about this immense universe, including metaphysical matters. If there is a "God,” a higher power, etc., then it is my belief that this “entity,” for lack of a better word, is nothing like we have written about or made up. I was once a devout Christian so know that what I write here will be rejected because it doesn’t line up with established sacred text. I would have done the same. 

Anyway, I don’t honestly know how we as humans could behold in our very limited minds the immensity of an entity responsible for creating the known universe. 

We don’t even understand our own minds yet. 

I also don’t judge those who follow a religion, as long as the religion in question doesn’t advocate:

  • Violence
  • Prejudice and Discrimination
  • “Truths” that have quite obviously been refuted as being completely incorrect. For example, the belief that the sun revolved around the earth, and the like. 

Believe what you want to believe if it brings fulfillment, joy, and love for those around you. I still sometimes call out to the universe at large for help. Maybe it’s silly, and then, maybe it isn’t.


Nine: The Importance of Health

wellness image

If you don’t have your health, then it can make it very difficult to do what you want in life. We are obviously carbon-based biological finite beings, and things get screwed up. Cells multiply uncontrollably, hearts give out, accidents happen. As much as we can, I think it’s worth it to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

I remember once talking with a fellow co-worker who imbibed in fast food every day. He made a curious statement, which was: “at least I’ll be happier than you eating what I want to eat.”

There are a couple of things wrong with that statement. For one, objectively speaking I was a much happier person overall (as far as I could tell). Second, healthy food can taste fantastic. Third, eating better can have a positive influence on the way we think and act. 

I'm not trying to be judgmental here. In fact, I’ve been down that road. Not only did I get addicted to fast food, at one point I was drinking like a fish and downing 2000+ plus calorie meals in the middle of the night. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be healthy at this point in time. I’m downright grateful for it. 

I’m not talking about cutting out everything and living the life of an aesthetic. I just truly believe that imbibing in a healthier lifestyle can make us more alert, happy, and emotionally stable. 

Another aspect of health is emotional and mental well being. I think meditation, yoga, socializing, and practicing gratitude can be life-changing. I admit that I don’t meditate or do yoga nearly enough, but I know the benefits are very real. 


Ten: Achieving Greatness, and Knowing What It Means For You

stay focused

I’m fairly certain that achieving greatness can only be done if you’re ready to eschew comfort and security. I have yet to experience my own version of greatness on the scale I want, so take all of this how you want. If someone you admire is doing something that appears to be easy yet they are incredibly successful, then I’d wager that they’ve put in a ridiculous amount of effort and self-sacrifice to get there. There are some exceptions to this of course. 

What is greatness, or success, or whatever you want to call it? To me, it is following your true self, knowing what you want, and going after it without reservation. It could be just being the best parent you can possibly be, or maybe it’s to become a novelist or to get a stable job in the corporate world. It means working your ass off. It means staying incredibly focused. 

The hard part is usually determining what you really want. It can be really really hard to first know what it is that you want, then after realizing it, coming to terms with the reality of it. Most of us don’t know what we want, or we want too many things. In my case, I love the thought of many many things. I love the thought of running a podcast like Radiolab, or of being an actor in a cool movie despite having zero acting experience or becoming a neuroscientist. 

The Importance of Visualization

Just as successful people visualize themselves achieving whatever it is they are out to accomplish, all of us should do the same. The athlete visualizes him or herself getting to the finish line first, scoring over and over again, or pulling off an incredibly complex skateboarding trick. But they don’t just visualize the end-goal; they visualize the work involved to get to that point. The novelist visualizes publishing a book as well as the work they need to put in to make it happen. 


These are some of my thoughts, and hopefully, some of them resonated with you. Feel free to agree or disagree. Thanks again for reading, especially to those of you who read all the way to the end of this long post. 

Should You Be Scared of Muslims?

Throughout history, there have been far too many groups of people who firmly believed that they should murder en masse because their god ordained it. I can hardly write that sentence without shuddering with utter bemusement, disbelief, disgust, horror, and anger. 

We are a young and dumb species. 

Our collective hubris only makes it more obvious. More of that later. First, let’s discuss stereotyping. 

The Problem With Stereotyping

Stereotyping is lazy. Allow me to elaborate with a fictional character named Karen.  

Karen is visiting the U.S. from Australia and is boarding a plane to Kansas City from Chicago. Unfortunately, that day she had a very bad migraine, had recently quit smoking, and genuinely disliked most people. She stole coloring books from a couple of deaf children, flipped off an elderly woman who was having trouble with her luggage, and told a flight attendant who had just finished a double shift that she looked bloated. 

Karen is a true bitch. 

She sat beside a middle-aged man named Bill and gave him such a stink-eye that he felt his face turning brown. Bill had never met anyone from Australia, but after being kicked in the shin for trying to talk to her he knew exactly what ALL Australian women were like. 

With that one anecdote, Bill would talk at length about how horrible Australian women are around the dinner table, despite the fact that his interaction with Australian women was nil. According to http://countrymeters.info/en/Australia, there are 12,209,117 women in Australia. Is Bill justified in making a blanket statement about 0.00000819060051599145% of women in Australia? 

No, of course not. If you think so, then you should quietly put away your electronic device and reach for a coloring book with very large shapes that are easy to color in. Please don’t steal the coloring books from deaf children, because that’s very wrong whether you're religious or not.

It's simply easier to say that an entire group of people is one way or another. I know I do it from time to time, especially when I write about how cool a particular culture is, like Thai culture. (Thai people are truly amazing, btw). 

But really I'm just being lazy when I make blanket statements like that. Based on anecdotal cumulative experience, those who have lived in Thailand have more authority to speak on such matters. Even then, there will be biases and modes of thought colored by personal experience. Anthropological arguments are hard to make using a priori statements. 

Throughout the years in our short human history, we have preferred black and white, binary, good or bad, us vs. them. 

Well guess what? Life is not always clearly "this" or "that." Are you fully good or fully bad? Is every Muslim a terrorist? Is every American bombastic like Trump? Is the nation of France filled with only stuck-up assholes? Are all Canadians super nice? 

It's hard enough to say that 20 people in a room are one certain thing, let alone millions, or in the case of Muslims, billions. It's this incredibly narrow “everything is black or white” way of thinking that provides a tributary to an ocean of insane rhetoric used by politicians and many others. Have you ever heard the expression "We should just nuke em”? Or, "Let's just drop a bomb on that whole country”? And recently, "Let's make it illegal for Muslims to enter the country”?

Let's make it illegal for those who are part of the second-largest religion in the world to enter the country? Let's just shut the door to 23% of the world? Good thing Muslims by and large are a peace loving people; otherwise, I'm pretty sure we'd be fucked. Maybe we are anyway considering our presidential candidates (written June 2016). 

I’ve done a lot of searching, and I just can’t find any conclusive evidence regarding what percentage of Muslims are deranged murderous lunatics, more commonly known as radicals or extremists. The question presented is always, “Well, what constitutes a radical? Can they merely condone terrorist attacks, or do they need to be actively attacking?” Good question. Quite honestly, depending on what shitty blog you end up on (including this one), you can get a range from 0.00006% to 99.9%. 

So what do we do with that? I don’t know, I’m still trying to understand all of this too.

Before we go further, what exactly is a Muslim? Great question!

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the religion of Islam. I will try my best to present an unbiased, factually based synopsis for you. 

Mus·lim

ˈməzləm,ˈmo͝ozləm/

noun

1. 1.
a follower of the religion of Islam.
 

adjective

1. 1.
of or relating to the Muslims or their religion.

OK, that doesn’t help very much. Let’s find out what the definition of Islam is. 

Is·lam

isˈläm,izˈläm/

noun

1. the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

    * the Muslim world.

- Merriam Webster Dictionary

OK, maybe we need some more help in figuring out what it means to be a Muslim. Here is my very condensed version of Islam, based on what I’ve read. I apologize for any errors or information left out (please let me know via email if there’s something extremely erroneous). 

Muhammad, born 570 CE, was orphaned at an early age, later became a merchant, and married an older widow when he was 25. He had no formal education. He was known to go into the mountains to meditate and pray, and when he was 40, things got real. According to followers of the religion, the archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad in a vision when he was 40, which turned out to be the first of many such visions over a period of many years. The content of the visions was put together to form the Qur’an. See History World for additional information.   

The Qur’an is considered to be the verbatim word of God by Muslims. It was compiled by Muhammad’s companions after his death in 632 CE. The version we see today, as I understand it, was put together by Uthman, the third caliph and friend of Muhammad’s.

In addition the Qur’an, Muslims are advised to read: the Torah (which are the first five books of the Old Testament), the Zabur (which are the Psalms of David), and the Injeel (the gospel of Christ). http://www.christiananswers.net/islam.html

OK, so we have Muhammad, and we have his revelations put together in a religious text. From around 600-something to now it has grown from 1 follower (his first wife Khadijah) to approximately 1.6 billion or so today. And you know what? It’s still growing. 

So how the hell did some Muslims start getting into terrorism? I’m afraid that question is a bit above my pay grade, but there is a pretty decent, heavily cited Wikipedia article that delves into the reasons, which you can peruse at your own leisure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_terrorism. At a glance, it appears to be a mixture of revenge, deranged ideology, micro-societal pressure, and lost youth being plucked to join a community of like-minded people. 

It’s kind of like one big gang with confident idiots telling lost idiots what they should do and believe. One thing that I keep reading over and over again is that the terrorists themselves are often not really religious, or they’re at least illiterate when it comes to really understanding a sacred text like the Qur’an or the Bible. 

Additional relevant sites: 

  • http://mb-soft.com/public/terroris.html
  • https://www.quora.com/Which-passage-s-from-the-Quran-is-are-used-by-Islamic-terrorist-group-to-justify-their-acts

At this point it may be worth going over what Islam is actually about. The following was obtained from http://www.gotquestions.org/Islam.html

The Doctrine of Islam

Muslims summarize their doctrine in six articles of faith:

  1. Belief in one Allah: Muslims believe Allah is one, eternal, creator, and sovereign.
  2. Belief in the angels
  3. Belief in the prophets: The prophets include the biblical prophets but end with Muhammad as Allah’s final prophet.
  4. Belief in the revelations of Allah: Muslims accept certain portions of the Bible, such as the Torah and the Gospels. They believe the Qur'an is the preexistent, perfect word of Allah. 
  5. Belief in the last day of judgment and the hereafter: Everyone will be resurrected for judgment into either paradise or hell.
  6. Belief in predestination: Muslims believe Allah has decreed everything that will happen. Muslims testify to Allah’s sovereignty with their frequent phrase, inshallah, meaning, “if God wills.”

The Five Pillars of Islam

These five tenets compose the framework of obedience for Muslims:

  1. The testimony of faith (shahada): “la ilaha illa allah. Muhammad rasul Allah.” This means, “There is no deity but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” A person can convert to Islam by stating this creed. The shahada shows that a Muslim believes in Allah alone as a deity and believes that Muhammad reveals Allah.
  2. Prayer (salat): Five ritual prayers must be performed every day. 
  3. Giving (zakat): This almsgiving is a certain percentage given once a year.
  4. Fasting (sawm): Muslims fast during Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. They must not eat or drink from dawn until sunset.
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj): If physically and financially possible, a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once. The hajj is performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.

Killing in the name of….

You know, this killing in the name of stuff has been around for quite some time. People have been murdered in the name of many a religion or religious sect. How many people have been killed in the name of religion (check this out for some interesting answers: https://www.quora.com/Which-religion-is-responsible-for-the-greatest-number-of-deaths-of-infidels-over-its-entire-history)? Let’s go a step further and forget about religion. Just what kind of killing has gone on in human history? The simple answer is: a LOT.

Genghis Kahn. Tamerlane. Shaka Zulu. Lothar Von Trotha. Christopher Columbus. Julio Argentino Roca. Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Don Ignacio Zuniga. Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama. Rafael Trujillo. Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Mao Zedong. The list goes on and on. Countless massacres. Countless. Many if not most instances of genocide were started in the mind of one man. 

Let that sink in.

One person was somehow able to influence a vast number of people to commit unthinkable acts of violence. One person.

When are we going to learn that just because someone speaks with an air of authority it does not mean that any authority should be bestowed? When will we learn that despite the fact that someone appears to be working for us in perilous times, what they require of us is our dignity? Of course, it’s more complex than that, I know. However, we have played our part as sheep very well throughout history. Our longing to be part of the tribe often outweighs any true and original thought.

Ugh…I think that may have to be another article. 

You think your country is free from genocide? I doubt it. Check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

Why am I putting all this information in here? Because this shit is not new. Based on the logic used to talk about ALL Muslims in certain parts of the U.S., no one should be allowed in the country. Maybe the Janists…they’re probably alright, but who the hell knows. 

Here are some interesting facts you may not have been aware of:

The majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the West. Excluding the September 11 attack, only 0.5 per cent of deaths from terrorism have occurred in the West since 2000. Including September 11, the percentage reaches 2.6. 
Lone wolf attackers are the main perpetrators of terrorist activity in the West. Seventy percent of all deaths from terrorism in the West since 2006 were by lone wolf terrorists with the rest being unknown or group attacks by more than three attackers. 
Islamic fundamentalism was not the main cause of terrorism in the West over the last nine years. Eighty per cent of deaths by lone wolf terrorists in the West were driven by right wing[sic] extremism, nationalism, anti-government sentiment and political extremism and other forms of supremacy. 

- Global Terrorism Index, 2015 

My Narrow Anecdotal Experience With Muslims

I was in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, which is located on the island Borneo. I decided to go for a run in the heat one day because I needed the clarity that Matthew Inman talked about in his post "The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances." 

Along the way I was stopped by a few girls who were all wearing Hijabs (you can use 22Words.com as a reference point to know which headscarf is which). I fumbled with my earbuds, trying to switch them off so I could tell what they were saying. The sweat was already beginning to drip heavily on the steaming cement, but no one seemed to care. They were wanting to know if I had time for an interview. "For a class?" I queried, to which they answered yes.

I always take the time to answer questions when I'm stopped by students, for a number of reasons. One reason is that I want to immediately shatter any derogatory paradigms they may have regarding all citizens of the U.S. Granted, there are a great number of narrow-minded assholes in the U.S., but there is also an abundance of extremely kind and cool people. I always hope to represent the more "let's all chill and hang out together" side. Yes, people from all over the world stereotype. It happens to be one of those universal things us humans do. 

The girls were Muslim, wearing the proper Muslim attire despite the heat. They asked me about 5 questions, but 3 stood out to me. One was, "Do you think it's inappropriate for us to wear headdresses when it's so hot outside? Another was, "Would you be okay with your mom becoming Muslim?" And finally, "Do you feel threatened when you see someone wearing a headdress?" 

In answer to the first question, I just stated that if it's a tenet of the religion, then it doesn't really matter whether it's appropriate or comfortable. This is aside from what I think of religion altogether, which is something I won't be discussing in this article.

For the second I said sure, I'd fully support my mother if she suddenly decided to follow Islam. I'd fully support and love my mother regardless of ANY religion she belonged to. Perhaps if I were a devout anything my views would be different. 

For the third, I replied honestly and said that I did not feel threatened. And I don't. This one made me think a bit, though. 

Prior to that conversation, I had already made some great Muslim friends, but it made me look back to when I first started interacting with those who followed Islam. 

I love talking with people, but I wondered how I should address the women in headdresses. It's pretty obvious, at least with the Muslim women I interacted with in Malaysia; treat them with dignity and respect, just like you would any other human. What I suppose I was really wondering about was whether it was even inappropriate to smile at a girl, or God forbid flirt a bit? 

When I stayed in the Kinabalu National Park at Mile 34 lodge, I was fortunate to be able to speak with a large group of Muslim men and women. It. was. amazing. They were just really cool and fun to hang out with. 

With the guys, it wasn't as apparent that they were Muslim. One I met in Kuala Lumpur was an inventor, incredibly intelligent and inquisitive. And I would've had no idea that he was Muslim if he hadn't told me that he needed to go pray after getting a smartphone reminder to do so. 

A guy in Kota Kinabalu from Pakistan talked both of my ears off after a run. I was in his store, standing there incredibly sweaty and somewhat smelly. The Nebraska in me wouldn't let me just say see ya sucka! He felt it was his duty to buy me a Snickers because we talked for so long. Others came and went while he and I discoursed. He spoke fervently, and I did too. He seemed to have this intense need to educate me on Islamic matters. 

He definitely had opinions regarding the American government, as most people in the world do. He wasn't always on point, and I always defend my country when someone says something out of ignorance about it. America is wayyyy too multifaceted to be crammed into a Trump box. 

A really interesting thing that I learned from him was that he found many of the American people to be genuine and caring. He was from Pakistan and said that the American people showed great support for the Pakistani people during the earthquake of 2005. The government was not to be trusted in the least, however. He didn't care for Obama at all. 

There was one conversation I had with a girl who told me that she believed Americans were loud, arrogant, and Trump-like (yes, stereotyping). I assured her this was not the case. I, for one, was not like that (if I ever become like that I give every person who reads this full permission to slap me as hard as you possibly can). This led to a discussion about America imposing itself all over the world, kind of like that drunk guy on the dance floor trying to get with every girl within reach. I had to agree that I had seen FAR too many KFC’s and 711’s on my journeys throughout SE Asia. I admit that I’m extremely ignorant when it comes to international trade and commerce, so if you know something that should be added here, please comment or send me an email. Or, I suppose you could just think, “This is shit, I’m going back to work,” and that’s fine too. 

Anyway. I want to change the paradigm that all Americans are overbearing bombastic assholes. How? How how how. Hollywood, you now have a new moral objective my friends. 

One paradigm at a time. First, time to change the way some Americans view 1/6 of the WHOLE WORLD.

You know what? Seriously, Muslims are just people going about their lives: they work, have shitty bosses like the rest of us, have sex, don't have sex, eat (except during the day during Ramadan), laugh, cry, and generally live like most people in the world. And what are most people in the world doing? They're trying to get by. They're trying to live their lives the best way they know how. 

For better or worse, America does exert 

The Muslims who I met have nothing to do with terrorist factions, and if I had to make an educated guess, I would say that the overwhelming majority of Muslims don't. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. So those of you who think all Muslims are terrorists, you are absolutely wrong.

I really hope that no one ever says what I’m about to say, but I have a feeling that there are a few people who do. It goes something like this: “We should just get rid of all the Muslims in the world.” If anyone thinks like that, then you are essentially saying a few things:

  • You think genocide is OK
  • You believe in mass murder and are just like the terrorists
  • You want to kill MY FRIENDS
  • You are a complete fucking idiot 

I asked a couple of my Muslim friends some questions. I’ve included the questions and paraphrased answers below.

1. What are some things that are most misunderstood by Westerners (or anyone not affiliated with the religion) about being a Muslim?

To be fair, not all things are misunderstood by Westerners, but the main things would be the terms of “jihad,” “hudud law” and “polygamy.” But most of the time, the perspective will change. For example, if we dig a bit more into polygamy, we can find that in the past it was a significant criterion for being a Muslim, but not for personal pleasure, of course.  

2. How do you think people who are not Muslim see you? Do you feel like you would be accepted everywhere? Please explain why you would or would not feel accepted in some places.

In Malaysia, we do just fine. But for an example, if we traveled to the United States, I think most people would actually feel a little uncomfortable, especially around the women because they tend to wear hijabs to cover their aurah. Before the 9-11 tragedy, I don’t think it was a problem. What do you think? 

3. What is the best way to make others more aware of what you represent as a Muslim? 

Respect towards every religion in the world. Because we have to actually believe that all religions teach peace and harmony. If we don’t know something, we should ask, and ask the right people rather than Googling and making assumptions. 

4. If you were speaking with someone who interpreted verses in the Qur’an as justification for murder, what would you tell them? 

I think the way we interpret verses can vary from person to person. Again, we need to refer to the experts. 

5. What do you think is the biggest issue with the way some Westerners view Islam? 

Terrorism. Here in Southeast Asia, we live peacefully.

So, should you be scared of Muslims? I guess if you’re scared of people who practice religion (the majority of the world), then sure. But I think that’s more your problem than anyone else’s. 

Additional recommended resources:

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/islam.htm
  • http://listverse.com/2009/07/10/top-10-misconceptions-about-islam/