Traditional China And The Middle East–Two Ways To Relate To Divinity–Quickflight

by bria4123 on March 11, 2012

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I thought I’d cause a little trouble while I was in Egypt. I knew that this story would mess with my Cairo guide’s head.


5 weeks before, I was in Malaysia, in Malacca’s Chinatown. The community temple (pictured above) is full of Confucian and Daoist shrines, and ancestral tablets. Lots of traditional Chinese faiths thus rub shoulders in a view of Heaven as an extension of the family and the community. This view of divinity is strikingly different from the focus on a single all-powerful god that the Middle East’s three great religions have stressed. So, my young Cairo guide, who was a pious Muslim, who had never been out of Egypt, was about to get a little shock.

The Malacca temple’s main hall houses altars for several gods and spirits.

Two men, at two different times, approached a shrine while smoking a cigarette. One gentleman took a puff while standing at the altar.

The Cairo woman said,”That’s disrespectful!” I explained that many Chinese concepts of divinity are different from Middle Eastern–that traditionally, many Chinese have seen the universe as a community of spirits in harmony, so the 2 smokers were approaching divinity as though it’s part of their community and extended families. “I know that Islam focuses on one god as way above all His creation, but many traditional Chinese feel intimate with some divine beings. Both of these views of divinity have very ancient roots, and they’re both very rich.” Her eyes remained glazed–no “Aha!” I didn’t expect one–she was immersed in her culture, as the 2 Chinese men were deeply in their world.

Each world has so many dimensions that it’s hard to see beyond it if you live in it. But immersing yourself in many world-views, and appreciating the infinite wealth in each, might be as good as Heaven.


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