How to be Good?

A Chat with a Muslim Imam - Part 2

March 22, 2021 Sarah Buckmaster Season 1 Episode 8
A Chat with a Muslim Imam - Part 2
How to be Good?
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How to be Good?
A Chat with a Muslim Imam - Part 2
Mar 22, 2021 Season 1 Episode 8
Sarah Buckmaster

What does it mean to be a good person according to the teachings of Islam? 

This is the second-half of my interview with Imam Abdulah Polovina – if you haven’t listened to the first half yet, then head back to our previous episode and take a listen. We covered what it means for a Muslim to be a good person, talking about the 5 Pillars of Islam, how Muslims feel about forgiveness and what Imam Abdulah recommends we all do more of in our day-to day-lives.

In this second half, Imam Abdulah goes more deeply into the mechanism of faith, and shares his personal experiences of moving to America and being the first Imam to study at a Catholic University. He talks about his experiences living through (and being injured in) the Bosnian War, and we also spend time talking about the role of women in Islam.

If you’d like to learn more about Imam Abdulah Polovina, this is a great article in Portland's Street Roots magazine: Demystifying Islam, a Portland Imam opens his mosque.

Show Notes Transcript

What does it mean to be a good person according to the teachings of Islam? 

This is the second-half of my interview with Imam Abdulah Polovina – if you haven’t listened to the first half yet, then head back to our previous episode and take a listen. We covered what it means for a Muslim to be a good person, talking about the 5 Pillars of Islam, how Muslims feel about forgiveness and what Imam Abdulah recommends we all do more of in our day-to day-lives.

In this second half, Imam Abdulah goes more deeply into the mechanism of faith, and shares his personal experiences of moving to America and being the first Imam to study at a Catholic University. He talks about his experiences living through (and being injured in) the Bosnian War, and we also spend time talking about the role of women in Islam.

If you’d like to learn more about Imam Abdulah Polovina, this is a great article in Portland's Street Roots magazine: Demystifying Islam, a Portland Imam opens his mosque.

[Podcast Theme Music: upbeat electro/beats]

Sarah Buckmaster  00:03 
Hi, everyone. I'm Sarah and this is 'How to be Good?'; the podcast that explores what it means to be a good person in today's world.

[Podcast Theme Music]

Sarah Buckmaster  00:14
This is the second half of my interview with Imam Abdulah Polovina. If you haven't listened to the first half yet, then head back to our previous episode and take a listen. We covered what it means for a Muslim to be a good person - talking about the five pillars of Islam, how Muslims feel about forgiveness and what Imam Abdulah recommends we all do more of in our day to day lives.

Imam Abdulah Polovina  00:36 
"The meaning of Muslim is the one who practices the way of peace".

Sarah Buckmaster  00:43 
In this second half Imam Abdulah goes more deeply into the mechanism of faith, and shares his personal experiences of moving to America, being the first Imam to study at a Catholic University, and his experiences living through the Bosnian War.

Imam Abdulah Polovina  00:57
"I shared today everything from my heart".

Sarah Buckmaster  01:00 
This is a really special conversation with an inspiring and warm faith leader. And I hope you enjoy this second part.

Imam Abdulah Polovina  01:12
That mechanism of faith can help us really to beautify ourselves and beautify others, you know, so let's put others needs in first. And let's believe, let's have trust in God. Let's be confident in who we are. And let's do good to others, to ourselves, wherever you are, support people. Be there and purify the intensions; just strive to do good. No matter what, at the end, all people will be remembered based upon their actions. God bless.

Sarah Buckmaster  01:56 
Thank you. And you're very passionate about opening up your mosque to people who are non-Muslim as well. And you mentioned at the beginning that Islam is a faith that there's a lot of misunderstandings around. Is there anything specific you wanted to share that we haven't covered in conversation about the Islamic faith? - any misconceptions that you'd like to talk about?

Imam Abdulah Polovina  02:17 
Yeah, thank you. I mean, the point when I mentioned that Islam is one of the most misunderstood faiths in the world... what I'm calling upon all listeners, good people, who will listen this - try to meet Muslims. Try to read, you know, about Islam. There is no harm. I read Bible. I have Bible in my home, you know. I encourage my non-Muslim friends - Christian, Jews, anybody - read Quran. Because in Quran - you know, I mention that terrorism... in Quran, not just me but every true Islamic scholar will say, there is no term of terrorism in the Quran. No, you will not find it... there is no way to find it in there, not even close. So why I'm saying this? - because that is the modern term. That is the sign that Islam actually promotes the peace, because as I mentioned, the meaning of Muslim is the one who practices the way of peace - because Islam is way of peace.

So, I call upon listeners just to open heart to Muslims, you know, because when you meet devout Muslim, you will see somebody there as your brother, your sister. We harm each other sometimes because that is lack of faith knowledge, there is lack of that true positive energy inside of us. Because God is one. God created all of us. In Muslim community when somebody dies, we say one short verse from the Quran: From Allah, we came. To Allah, we belong. And to Him is our return. That is something that we say to make it easy for the families to know and to understand what's going on. So my invitation is truly - wherever you are, go visit and talk to Muslims, especially read Quran. So, let's start within ourselves. Maybe now at our level - we cannot change what is there, at high political something - but let's work at our level, change there. All changes start from within.

Sarah Buckmaster  04:32 
Can you maybe share with us some of the inner changes you've experienced as part of your journey so far?

Imam Abdulah Polovina 04:38
To be honest, Sarah, when I came to America, I had some kind of - I don't know how to say like - little bit background but what happened here... that I call that spiritual journey. I learned a lot about Christianity, Jews - I didn't mention, maybe you read about that... I feel proud that I did my Masters at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry - that is Catholic University. So I mean, with this respect, I mean I'm saying this you know, I was the first Imam to have that degree. I was ready to go beyond myself.

And also this is invitation to kind of go beyond yourself, meet Imam, meet Islam, talk to Islamic scholars, talk to your fellow Muslim neighbours, brothers, sisters, and you will see that the miracle will happen. Now I have - I don't call them like "pastors, rabbis", I call them my "brother" - because there is some connection within. That is for me miracle. Yes, I'm coming from the country Bosnia with multicultural, multi-faith, you know, I brought something. But, in general, everywhere, there is some level of ignorance, you know, misunderstanding. There are a lot of things that we can do, and especially, you know, on all sides, there are good people with good hearts... No matter Muslims, Christians, Jews etc...

Sarah Buckmaster  06:09
I think there's often a belief that women are seen as 'less-than' within the Islamic faith. So I just want to voice that so any women listening know that they're also welcome. And I think I even had an apprehension of reaching out to a male Imam, because I thought "Oh, is there some kind of thing that I shouldn't directly be contacting you?" And so I'm so appreciative of your warmth...

Imam Abdulah Polovina  06:33
Yep. Yeah, thank you. Now you're my sister Sarah. Recognise that.

If I can say first shortly, when you see the women, the Muslim woman, wearing the veil, you know - that kind of modest way of covering the body. She is giving one message:  don't deal with my body, deal with my mind. Because Sarah, we are living in the time of so many sexual expressions and freedom. Point of Islam in teaching the woman to cover the body is to go beyond herself in that mind. Yes, Islam promotes freedom, you know, but also freedom has some boundaries. But I think what is the message that the true devout Muslim women is giving? This is the message you know.

And to be honest, everybody can do research. What I see is so many women, non-Muslim, they are embracing Islam. So the question is - because there is one kind of blaming towards Islam - that women in Islam are oppressed. But the question is now, how can somebody accept the faith who oppress them? So our sisters, every woman, they also need to go deeply, non-Muslim sister, Christian, Jew. Go talk to your Muslim sister, devout Muslim sister. Yes, there are some women in Islam and everywhere who are.. but we have answers in our faith. We don't judge our sisters in Islam by whether they're wearing this or that kind of clothes. But we just encourage them to, as I mentioned, to give that message of mind, of goodness.

08:23
Because, this is my opinion, the problems that we have, maybe within family, within even environments we live... because private part of our lives goes in public. And then we misunderstand the true meaning of who we are. And those women in Islam, they accepted that way of life. And to be honest, I think it's not fair to even say to Muslim woman, let's say in America, France, Britain, doesn't matter, that wearing that, you know, they are harming our way of life. Come on, we respect your way of life. Respected women, they are wearing the short clothes. I respect that is her choice.

Why I am saying this, my Sarah, is I believe that in every faith, every religion, the true believer, the true believer, is most tolerant person. People think we who practice faith in all sides - in this case, Islam - that we kind of press people to pray. No, we just invite people. Like people, they go to lawyers, the doctors, you know, because of the certain advice or need or issue they need to solve. The same with us. Because let's say I'm a lawyer, a spiritual doctor, you know, you cannot find, for example, the doctor for people with envy, jealous, you know, you have no doctor to cure the envy. That is spiritual part. Same is with the women: they find the peace, the goodness in faith, they would like to practice it, but give them the chance, respect their decision.

10:08
And I will finish again with that message. This is I think, truly the message of the Muslim woman... "don't deal with my body, deal with my mind". Meet that person, talk to her, you know, see who is really there. Maybe that Muslim woman can really help you, me or anybody around, to maybe understand better the life, the surroundings, the faith, the way in which they express their connection with God.

Sarah Buckmaster 10:43 
You mentioned you grew up in Sarajevo, and you experience the Bosnian War. And I saw that you actually were wounded multiple times in that. And I just wonder, having experienced firsthand that kind of violence and almost an expression of hatred when you're within a war, has that ever made you doubt the goodness of people? Or did you ever have moments of self doubt about what you were doing and your spiritual journey because of having that real world experience of the opposite of what we would see as peace and love?

Imam Abdulah Polovina  11:15
Thank you.

That question is kind of very personal, emotionally, you know.

The war in Bosnia, I think like everybody... It was challenging, you know, not just physically but also spiritually, mentally. Yes, sometimes, in those hard times, challenging times, dangerous times, you call upon God... to be honest... God, where are you?... you kind of have that thinking in some sense. But in same time, when you call upon God, you actually recognise he is there. God is there. Because you see in which way we survived the war.

You know, you cannot make reflection during the war, but you know, after everything, then you do some reflection, and you feel how God was present in all the way.

You know, sometimes I think people are thinking God is somewhere there. He has some his own business to do. No, he is all the way within us. He is there. And sometimes as our teacher, God sends some tests, even maybe the war, just to show who we are and in which way we will act.

12:30
Yes, unfortunately Sarah, I was a little bit disappointed in humanity at that time because all those people - and it doesn't matter what sides, but among them there was people of faith. I will try to be a little bit 'outside' now... but for me, as young person there and also after the war, in my mind... you have neighbours. You live together with Muslims and non-Muslims, and it's hard to accept one thing. You live together with some person, in your neighbourhood, let's say 40 or 50 years... so many dinners together, work, families and that neighbour killed you like this. That was for me hard to swallow. What happened in the mind - in the heart? That is the question.

13:31
And while I'm talking to you about this self-doubt, I would like to share one narration from the time of Prophet; one narration with two persons - Abu Bakr and Hanzala. They went together to Prophet. And Hanzala - in front of the Prophet - said "Hanzala has become a hypocrite, oh Messenger". Prophet says "what are you saying?". And Hanzala replied, "well, when we are with you, in your presence,  we feel like we are there. We see it, we feel like our faith increases. But when we left you, we go back to our homes with wives, families and businesses. We forget...". And Prophet said, "But Hanzala, but Hanzala... time should be given to the worldly affairs and time should be devoted to prayer". And he said this three times.

14:38
So what is the point? We need to make balance in our lives. Yes, sometimes when we are in this life taking care of family business, there are some issues. And then when you are deeply in prayer, remember God. Because it is not fair - in some sense, it is called bad action if you spend  most of the time in the prayer and you forget to help your wife at home, or talk to your children... then you are not good Muslim.

My point is - I'm trying to explain these last words of the Prophet - yes, do your job in this life. Respect your wife, family, businesses - but also, as Muslim, we have five daily prayers. The point is - Make Balance. For sure, we will have challenging times but with true faith, with true understanding who we are and what's going on around us, and with that wisdom that we have from God, we will prevail. I believe - and in our Islamic belief system, we believe that when things are in chaos, God is in control. He knows why that is. He knows who is there to promote that positivity and that true and meaningful way of life for all. It doesn't matter who we are

Sarah Buckmaster 16:10
Imam Abdulah - thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate what you've shared with me and with the listeners of this podcast

Imam Abdulah Polovina 16:18
I share today everything from my heart, and again, I'm really thankful to you Sarah for giving me this opportunity. I hope that these messages that we share today - if any one person understands, I'll be happy. But I hope it will be more. Let's see this as a kind of movement in some sense - to do good. Not just that somebody press the "like" on our social platform. Just do it because we need it. Because we need for ourselves, for our families, for people around us, to ... how we say?... for me, for you, for everyone - point finger - I want to be like him, I want to be like her - because he or she is doing good thing.

God Bless

[Podcast Theme Music comes in, and then gently fades so it's quietly playing in background as Sarah begins talking...]

Sarah Buckmaster 17:13
My deepest thanks go to Imam Abdulah Polovina for taking the time to talk with me, and for being so willing to open up about his faith and personal experiences. This conversation touched me deeply and I feel so grateful to have had the chance to talk with such a genuinely warm, open and wise faith leader. As he suggested, if you’d like to learn more about Islam, please reach out to the Muslim community – and if you’d like to find out more about Imam Abdulah himself, I’ll include a link in the show description to a wonderful article written about him in a Portland magazine. Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoyed!

And if you've enjoyed this episode and would like to hear more episodes and interviews exploring the question of what it means to be a good person in today's world, then please consider hitting the subscribe button. And, if you have time and liked what you heard, then I would love you to leave a review and share with your friends. I'm in the early stages of this podcast and very much learning as I go - any help and support is really appreciated. Thank you for listening, and if you have any questions or suggestions, please email me at any time. It's Sarah@howtobegood.co.uk and I would love to hear from you. Thank you.

[Podcast Theme Music, fades out]

Transcribed by Sarah Buckmaster and https://otter.ai