I recently completed a combined education experience and vacation to Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Upon return, one of my friends asked: 'So what did you learn from the Temples, Mosques, Pyramids and Churches of the Old World. Were humans better off under the rule of the old gods and their priests? Or are we better off with Ayn Rand and the religion of Moronism, the instant think of the tweets and web and TV?'
My gut reaction to a life time of stimuli received on the trip is it is a highlight of my life, opening my eyes, especially about Islam and Western roots. Also, we totally forget Christianity was rooted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, not in Rome and Europe. I realized different sides of the 'conflict'; it is outrageous that Palestinians living in the 'occupied territories' in Israel are subject to military law and courts for civil offenses, e.g., violence, robbery, etc.. I realized untaught history: the Egyptians were using black and red ink to keep track of transactions 3,000 years ago and slaves were not permitted to build the pyramids. The beauty of the areas around the Sea of Galilee, Jordan country side and the Nile can not be adequately described in words.
The main orientation is we all have a common base of Abrahamic religions. Jews believe God tested Abraham when asked to sacrifice Isaac while Moslems believe God tested Abraham when asked to sacrifice Ishmael. The Egyptians, 2000 years before Jesus, believed their God Osiris had a virgin birth. Same stories. The importance is to understand the message of the story.
It's not an ‘old world’ as my friend calls it, but it is our world, where what we think is a negative aspect of religion such as a call for jihad is more custom and politics than based in the religion. (Jihad is a process of continual improvement as a person.) For example, our perception of Moslem women wearing head dress is custom, while we do not question Sunday church hats for women, although neither is in the Koran for Moslems or New Testament for Christians. Our distorted image of Islam is as distorted that all Americans are cowboys shooting six guns all the time.
People want what we want, safety, security, a honest government, a better life for their kids, education, etc.. What we see as faults of Islam and they see as faults of Christians and Jews are due to politics and customs with a misunderstanding of religious doctrine. The roots are all the same.
Even everyday life is all the same, kids with Sponge Bob TV shirts and Dora the Explorer backpacks, widespread availability of Coke and Pepsi and TV aids hawking the same weight loss products in Hebrew and Arabic, shipping and handling not included. It is very safe, no anti-Americanism and no fully armed military on ever corner. It is very old and new, people with their animals and dressed like in the sterotypical movies in gowns, but holding iPhones next to their mud homes with satellite dishes.
Now as we enter this holiday season, we need to remember our common roots and similarities, not our differences, and to be good and kind and charitable to our family, friends and community. This is the message of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad.