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OPINION: Enjoy all peoples for the rich experience

by Robert Box Columnist | May 11, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

According to the Muslim calendar, April 1 to May 1 this year was the period of Ramadan, which occurs every ninth month, according to the Islamic calendar. It is one of the major Muslim observances. For the most part, I'm rather sure that not many people living in northwest Arkansas even noticed it, but it is central to their faith system. There are three monotheistic religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In the United States, Islam is the third largest religion after Christianity and Judaism. Some sources say Islam is the second largest religion in the world with well over one billion members.

The most recent study of religions in the United States lists around 3.45 million Muslims, about 1.1% of the total U.S. population. At the 2020 census, Dearborn, Mich., had the largest concentration of Muslims with a population of over a million people. Over 750,000 Muslims live in New York. It is true that there are several different kinds of Muslims and in some instances some are involved a multitude of hostile activities, but those living in the United States are as peaceful as are the members of any other religion.

When we lived in Michigan, we had the opportunity to interact with the Muslims living in the Dearborn area. Yes, they had their problems like everyone else, but they were nice people who were both friendly and easy to get along with. My church denomination even had a large church located in their midst and had no problems.

On one of the tours I hosted that included Jordan, we were puzzled one evening at our hotel when it was announced that our dinner would be late and include a lot of food not on our agenda. Obediently, we waited and enjoyed the meal. However, I as the tour leader immediately began to inquire about the reason for the changes, and discovered that it was the season of Ramadan and the king was going to be eating at our hotel's restaurant. Since Ramadan is a month of fasting, it was not permissible for Muslims to eat until after sundown, thus the king would not eat until after dark (and, obviously, so would we). It also is the custom of Ramadan that the king should eat with the common people at least once during Ramadan. It was our lucky day.

To add to that story just a bit, being aware of all of the media stories about how bad Muslim people were, I immediately began to inquire if we were safe. I was told by more than one person in authority that the people loved their king and that there was no reason to worry. When the king arrived, I watched him and his group of dignitaries enter the restaurant, eat dinner and then leave. I discovered that King Hussein was a very short person, and discovered that he had the smallest guard unit I have ever encountered. I was even able to talk with his guards while he was eating in a friendly manner. I told my tour people there was no extra charge for the unexpected moment of royalty.

Islam calls on Muslims to set aside 2.5% of their accumulated wealth each year for zakat (Ramadan), which is used to help the needy and poor. I am not sure how this has played out in various cities, but in New York where Muslims make up 9% of the population it is a big deal. The Islam faith is based upon the Five Pillars of Islam, a collection of foundational beliefs and practices that include a belief in God and his final prophet, Mohammad: prayer, fasting during Ramadan, making the pilgrimage to Mecca and charitable giving (zakat). In 2016, New York Muslims donated more than $608 million to charity. That's a sizeable contribution.

I have found over the years associating with various groups of people that most people of other religious beliefs than my own are friendly, good neighbors and willing to help others when the need arises. There are a lot of major differences between people in Christianity, so it should be no surprise that the same is true for other religious people; but it is wrong to lump them all together and declare they are bad. I have seen the Jordanian Muslim children dressed in their uniforms obediently attending school. I have interacted with 12-year-old Jewish children in front of King David's tomb in Jerusalem, and loved every minute of it. Some of my best neighbors have been Mormons. And, the list goes on.

Learn how to appreciate the people around you and to enjoy the rich experiences you have to share together. You both will be blest.

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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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