Parable of the Jacob the Tailor (Note: I have heard this parable in many different versions and contexts, the following is adapted from Dr. Scott Alexander, summer 2006, CTU.)
Once upon a time there was a tailor in Krakow, named Jacob. Jacob was a poor man; his wife was ill; and he had three daughters. He worked his fingers to the bone, sewing, making dresses and suits. Each night however, he had a haunting re-occurring dream. In the dream he saw a castle in Prague that contained a treasure. After he had the dream for 30 days Jacob went to his wife and told her about the dream. His wife said that indeed it must be a sign from God and he should go to Prague. So, Jacob packed up a few things for the journey and went to Prague; and there he found the castle that he had seen in the dream -- but, alas, it was in the Christian quarter and he was but a filthy Jew. How could he dare go into the Christian quarter! But knew he had to enter the castle he had seen in his dream. He crossed into the Christian quarter; but, alas, he was intercepted, arrested by the guards who drug him off to jail. When Jacob was brought before the head jailer, Jacob knelt down before the him and begged for mercy. Jacob explained that for 30 days he had been having this dream ... and he described the dream to the Christian jailer.
In amazement the jailer replied: "I too have had a dream." The jailer explained that he too had a dream for the past 30 days. In the dream he was told to go to Krakow and find the house of a tailor named Jacob. There, he was to go into the kitchen, move the stove, and under the stove he would find an immense treasure. But the jailor said, "How could I do this? How is this possible? There must be five dozen tailor's in Krakow named Jacob. How would I ever find the right house? It is a silly dream."
And then he said to Jacob: "Go on your way and forget these silly dreams. Go back home and kiss your wife and greet your daughters."
So Jacob returned to Krakow and went back to his house. He kissed his wife and his daughters and then ran into the kitchen and with the help of his daughters he picked up the stove and moved it aside. And there under the stove was a flat stone, and under the stone, he found an immense treasure, and Jacob and his family lived happily ever after.
What is the meaning of this story? The rabbis explain the story in this way: the treasure was in Krakow, but the knowledge of it was in Prague. You have to go outside of yourself to understand who you are.
It is possible that by studying Islam we might come to a deeper appreciation of Christianity. "The one who knows only one religion knows no religion at all." Our appreciation of the Islamic religious experience, should convert us. We are converted by the other religious experience, but we are not necessarily converted to the other religious experience. Our dialogue with Islam, should make us better Christians. The "religious other" introduces us into another dimension of our relationship with God that we would not have known if we had not experienced the emphasis of the other tradition. When we experience this relationship with God in Islam we can then return to our own home and experience that relationship anew in our own, Christian way.
So now, at the end of this course, can we -- like Jacob the Tailor -- return to Krakow and go back to our own house and discover there, under the stone, an immense treasure? What insights into Christianity have your received by journeying into Islam?
1 Post-Modernism Today, when we think of "Islamic Countries," we usually are thinking of "Third World" countries which have not yet entered into the "post-modern" world. Kenan Osborne has pointed out that when we compare the relationship between government and religion in Muslim countries and Christian countries we are comparing apples and oranges. In order for the comparison to be accurate we should think of Church state relations in Christian countries in pre-modern times, for example in medieval Europe -- where we believed that the Bible was inspired word for word, Adam and Eve we real people, salvation was impossible for non-Catholics. Is the current "disconnect" between culture and religion in America a positive or a negative development. What will Islam look like in a post-modern world? (We already have indications of this development in Islamic communities in the United States.)
"Who we are is how and where we've traveled." (Murray Bodo, The Place We Call Home: Spiritual Pilgrimage as a Path to God. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2004, p. 70.) What elements of our faith journey influence our view of Islam? What differences are there below the iceberg ?
2 Fundamentalism Farah (page 424) points out that the term fundamentalist "was coined in the 1920's by American Protestants who argued that the text of the Bible had to be applied literally." For example, "wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything" (Eph 5:24) means that wives are to be subject to their husbands who make all the decisions, etc. Some members of the American "Christian Right" are biblical fundamentalists but the two categories are not the coterminous. Some members of the "Christian Right" seem to equate the fundamental message of Jesus only with the issues of abortion and gay marriage. -- [I once heard a lecture by a history professor who said that "while abortion, infanticide, forced sex between master and slave, etc. were moral and cultural issues at the time of Jesus, we have no record that he ever preached on these issues." ]
In distinction to this Christian use of the word "fundamentalist", a Muslim "fundamentalist" is one who believes that the fundamentals of Islam are the "Five Pillars," the Qur'an, and the life and sayings (Hadith) of the Prophet. In this sense, all Muslims are fundamentalists: Sunni, Shiites, Sufism, etc. The Muslim fundamentalist is not "one who takes the text of the Qur'an literally" -- that is the Christian use of the term. Radical, fundamentalist, conservative -- these "labels" do not all mean the same thing. For example, there are many Muslim fundamentalists who are peace loving, computer using, open minded, forward looking, etc, etc. Men and women who, like Mohamed, are willing to "seek knowledge even in China."
It would be interesting to debate what a "Christian Fundamentalist" would look like if the term "fundamentalist" were used in the "Muslim" sense, that is one who believes in the fundamental message of Jesus. What would that entail? One who works for social justice and is "anti-capitalist"? One who works for peace at home and abroad and is "anti-military industrial complex"? One who espouses radical poverty? One who renounces all power and authority? I think it would be an interesting question.
3 One God Does the Islam faith stress on the oneness of God have any Implications for your own belief? Do you think that most Catholics avert to the fact that we believe in one God each Sunday when they recite together the Nicene Creed, "We believe in one God"? Of the three great Abrahamic religions, the doctrine of the trinity is specific to Christianity. Does this doctrine have any practical implication for your own Faith? Do you think the doctrine of the trinity plays any functional role in the day to day life of most Catholics? If so what?
4 Incarnation All of the three great Abrahamic religions believe in a God who is close to us, however, only the Christian believes in a God who actually became "one of us" and experienced creation even as we do. Does the incarnation set you apart from Jews and Muslims in some conscious way regarding the manner in which you view the world? Did God enjoy taking flesh or was it "something he had to do" because of Adam's sin?
5 Way of Life "The secret of Islam's powerful appeal lies in the fact that it is not only a religion regulating the spiritual side of the believer, but also an all-embracing way of lie governing the totality of the Muslim's being." (Farah, pg. 14) While Christianity is limited to one hour a week (or less) for some Catholics is there a way in which Christianity is a "all embracing way of life" or is this proper to Islam?
6 Solidarity "Islam stresses communal solidarity" and in this regard "it has more in common with Judaism than with Christianity" (Farah, pg. 1) "The pagan Arab, like his Muslim successor, recognized that his individual fortunes were intertwined with and inseparable from the fortunes of the whole community." (Farah, page 24) Despite the fact that the first theologian of Christianity, in his inaugural vision, experienced the Risen Lord in his members (I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting), and the observations of pagans regarding the first Christians: "See how they [the Christians] love one another; there is no one poor among them" Christianity is often seen (and experienced) as an "individualistic" religion. Can you explain why the doctrine of the "Body of Christ" has never really caught on in American Catholicism? Is Christianity a "me and Jesus religion". (For example as I have lectured around the country these past forty years explaining Catholic Eucharist, I have found that the changes in the Mass that are most difficult for Catholics to accept are those changes which stress the "communitarian" dimension of the liturgy. For example, I think of the man who once asked me in the question period following a parish presentation in Albuquerque: "Father, why do we have to do that 'kiss of peace' thing? I don't know those people. And the ones I do know, I don't even like.")
7 Jihad Why do we only speak of Jihad when it is the Muslims who are doing the fighting? Is jihad any different from Saint Augustine's explanation of a "just war?" Could one speak of the American Revolution as a jihad against England?
8 Separation of Church and State Shari'a makes the fundamental law of Islam the fundamental law of a country (e.g. think of having a country governed by Roman Catholic Canon Law). In the USA we often hear the phrase "separation of Church and State." What does this actually mean? Does it mean that government has nothing to do with religion? That government is not dictated by a particular religion? That religious values have nothing to do with how people are governed? What are the positive and negative aspects of living in "a secular society"? Do the bishops tell us how to vote? When I perform marriages which are recognized by the state, is this not a mix of the secular and the religious laws?
9 Children of Abraham The Jews know that they are children of Abraham and have inherited the land promised to Abraham (they trace their ancestry through Isaac.) The Muslims know that they are children of Abraham and they possess the land promised to Abraham. They trace their ancestry through Abraham's first born son, Ishmael. Christians, of course, know that they are the true sons and daughters of Abraham they trace their lineage through God's Son into whom we are grafted through baptism and the land promised to Abraham and his descendants is rightfully ours. Who owns the Holy Land?
In March 1996, seven Trappists monks of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped by a Muslim terrorist group. The discovery of the bodies of seven Trappists monks in Algeria on May 21, 1996, sent shock waves through the country and the Muslim community in the region. While the monastery was occupied, and knowing the he might well die at their hands, the abbot, Dom Christian, sent the following letter to his family and religious superiors in France.
I find it a moving and insightful letter. I have used it in many a sermon / homily during the intervening years. I think it expresses well (among other things) how even the holiest among us are caught up in social sin.
* * * * *
If it should happen one day -- and it could be today -- that I become a victim of the terrorism that now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: How worthy would I be found of such an offering? I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil that seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity that would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I don't see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the "grace of martyrdom" to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I know the contempt in which Algerians taken as a whole can be engulfed. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam that encourage a certain idealism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam is something different. It is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed it often enough, I think, in view of and in the knowledge of what I have received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the gospel learned at my mother's knee, my very first church, precisely in Algeria, and already respecting believing Muslims.
My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: "Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!" but these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences.This life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that JOY in and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life, from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, besides my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, a hundredfold as was promised! And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing,
Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU and this A-DIEU -- to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy "good thieves" in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. AMEN!
* * * * *
Trappist Remembers Monks Murdered in Algeria
5 Years Later, Tibhirine Monastery Is Empty
VATICAN CITY, MAY 22, 2001 -- (from Zenit) The discovery of the bodies of seven Trappist monks in Algeria on May 21, 1996, sent shock waves through the country and the Muslim community in the region.
The seven, of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Atlas in Tibhirine, had been kidnapped two months earlier by a Muslim terrorist group.
Other Catholics -- men and women religious, and even a bishop -- had been killed previously in the country, and even in the same diocese. But the case of the community of Tibhirine, which had been a symbol of the interreligious dialogue, overwhelmed the country.
To recall the tragedy, Vatican Radio spoke with Father Armand Vielleux, who was the Trappist procurator general at the time.
--Q: What happened?
--Father Vielleux: It was a very intense and difficult period. A period of prayer, because we were almost certain, at least at the beginning, that our brothers were still alive. We imagined what they were going through, and wanted to live it with them in prayer.
--Q: On several occasions you have said that it is not about individual witnessing, but the sacrifice of a whole community.
--Father Vielleux: Yes, because it was a very united community. They made all decisions by common consent. They made the decision, in community, to remain faithful to their vocation and to the people with whom they lived.
--Q: What remains of the Tibhirine community?
--Father Vielleux: Now, there is nothing in Tibhirine. The monastery is there, but it is not possible to live in it. We do not have the government's permission, as it believes the region is still too dangerous. Because of this, at present, part of the Tibhirine community is in Morocco. A group of them hoped to return to Tibhirine this year, but it is not possible: There is too much violence in the Medea region.
--Q: Given that one can pray anywhere, and lead a contemplative life in any place, why is it necessary to go to live it in such a dangerous place?
--Father Vielleux: The monks of Tibhirine had established strong ties with the country, with the local people, with the Muslims, with the Christians of the area. For them, to be faithful at that time of difficulty was an absolute imperative. Now, the Trappists want to return in response to a call from the people. The Muslim people are very close to that monastery, they have looked after it, guarded it, and desire the presence of the monks. This is due to fidelity to a communion that was established over many years between the Muslim people and a community of Christian prayer.
--Q: In your order, a monk takes a vow of stability. Up to what point are they willing to pay the price for this?
--Father Vielleux: It is a price our seven brothers paid with their life. When difficulties arise, it is not the time to go, even if we have the possibility of doing so.
MOVIE (2011) by Xavier Beauvois. "Des Hommes et des Dieux" -- "Of Gods and Men"
Copyright: Tom Richstatter. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 09/04/13. Your comments on this site are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org