Sunday, November 15, 2009

complex families

Could we learn anything by studying someone else’s dysfunctional or interesting family? The family saga story in fiction and non continues to be popular. The holiday film rollout always has a home for the holiday meal gathering of strangeness set of selections that run together year after year. Two families fascinate me lately and I’m trying to make sense of them…the Abraham family and Muhammad’s family…I’ll make my own an added third. Fair enough.

No movie script or soliloquy from Hamlet or even David Sedaris can match the story of Abraham. So many faiths have ownership in the saga, with many people including Muhammad claiming kinship with the guy and his children. Map out the family tree, consider the tribal roots and places he moved into, the wives he had, the covenants with his god and it’s a mind boggler. Dismiss it as myth if you choose, but we seem to be living the aftermath of this dysfunctional multi-faceted family today. Many people on opposite checkpoints with loaded weapons pointed at one another all claim this guy as their distant father either spiritually or even blood-wise. It has gotten me thinking lately.

Move forward in time a bit and Muhammad, claiming ancestry to Ishmael, starts multiple families, with multiple wives as was and is still in some places the custom. But without a son, after his death a feud ensues among his extended family and followers and we live today with the legacy of that feud…the Sunni-Shia split. Complex for sure. Deadly, every day.

So when we write or speak about Islam, it may be appropriate to start to refer to Sunnis and Shia separately…for they are different. And their rivalry is violent, not just philosophical or historical. In killing eachother, as all killing seems to claim, innocents suffer.

Understanding the Sunni-Shia split is as fundamental as understanding the Reformation and all the denominations that it created over the years. Judaism’s many forms explains the spectrum of the faith as well as the complexity of Israel’s politics. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox present a world of belief variety before any study of Protestants.

Abraham and Muhammad’s family story foreshadow the complexity of today in more ways than faith and god selection and naming. Tribal structures, the concept of the tribe, the family, the family land, the covenant concept, the family economies, the role of women, warfare, subjugation,…life is there in its many dimensions if we could all agree, in the literature, the words, the story.

Families split in many ways. Understanding why they split is important. Understanding the effects of the split is something many of us live every day and try to understand along the path of living. It makes me think of how this nature of the split is universal. We speak about families in the sense of their unifying effect, the unit, the closeness. But addressing the fragments of family has a great deal of applicability today, whether you're planning Thanksgiving, or negotiating a peace settlement somewhere.

Delve back to Abraham and Muhammad…these stories are modern.

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