The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, goes the American proverb. It means, comparing ourselves to others, we always imagine that others dont have the problems we do. In reality, usually this is not true. Its just that we really dont know the situation of others as well as we know our own.
In my experience, in some ways it also applies to religions.
Because of the responsibilities of my job, I get to travel to many different places in the world, meet a great variety of persons and encounter a great variety of views and beliefs.
Sometimes its amusing to talk to religious people who have very little knowledge of Christianity. They seem to imagine that all Christians are pretty much the same and that the Pope in Rome is their head.
Alas, we Christians know better. Were very aware of the many differences that divide us, sometimes bitterly. We classify ourselves into several major branches: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Evangelical. Each of these includes a variety of groups and kinds of belief. There are even some religious groups that many would consider only marginally Christian, if Christian at all.
But, if by Christian we mean those who consider themselves disciples of Jesus, why then its not so far off the mark to consider all Christians the same.
Christians who have had little contact with Muslims and Islam have a similar tendency to consider all Muslims the same since they all hold that God is one and follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Alas, Muslims know better. Theyre very aware of the many differences that divide them, sometimes bitterly. They classify themselves into several major branches: Sunni, Shii and Sufi. Each of these includes a variety of groups and kinds of belief. There are even some religious groups that many would consider only marginally Muslim, if Muslim at all.
The countries of the Middle East reflect this variety.
In Lebanon, the people are Christians and Sunnite and Shiite Muslims and so, respectively, are the president, prime minister and president of the parliament.
In Syria, the majority of the people are Sunni Muslims. The government is secular Islamic. The president and most senior officials belong to a group known as Alawites. Some Muslims question whether Alawites are true Muslims at all.
In Iran, almost all the people are Shiite Muslims and so are the strict religious authorities who rule them.
In Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim group called Wahhabis dominates. Its adherents consider the Islamic world, especially Muslim governments, corrupted by the West. They advocate a return to the pure law of the Quran and the obligation to impose it on other Muslims and non-believers, by violence if necessary.
Recent events reflect their influence. But, not all Muslims are the same.
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA