View from the Pew
American sees wisdom in Muslim faith
With hot days ahead, refusing even a drop of water for more than 12 hours between dawn and dusk seems an extreme religious observance.
"It's not a time of hardship. It's all about balance," said Warren Kundis, who will join other Muslims in the monthlong Ramadan observance that begins Thursday.
It is a time to put aside physical pleasures and focus on the spiritual self. Observant Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex. They also attempt to abstain from arguing, gossiping and criticizing others. It is one of the five basic tenets of Islam.
For Kundis, 52, it is his fifth Ramadan. His fast will be curtailed because of illness, but the month will be a time of study and reflection. "I am constantly trying to learn the subtleties of this religion."
He is one of a minority of American converts who attend the Manoa mosque beside people who grew up in Islamic tradition. He describes himself as someone "raised in a Catholic household, traveled as a military brat, disillusioned in a hotel career" whose return to college led to discovery and faith.
"I took Eastern philosophy, came to understand values and principles. ... I sucked it up like a sponge," said Kundis. "In a world literature course, we read the Quran as literature. By then my mind was open and receptive. I was reading meticulously to prepare to write a report. It was so powerful to me, so evocative. It was speaking to me personally."
A professor's willingness to answer questions led Kundis to explore Islam and eventually to visit the mosque and make a declaration of belief that Allah is the one God and Muhammad was his prophet.
Kundis is one of the best-known Muslims in town, probably because he is American. He is comfortable talking about his beliefs and articulate in explaining and comparing Islamic beliefs and practices in a context outsiders can grasp. He has talked about the Islamic perspective on public television and is invited to speak each year at Ramadan to a Leeward Community College communications class.
"I don't shy away from controversial issues," said Kundis, who displays his religion with a hennaed beard and a "kufi," skullcap. An avid anti-war advocate, he can be seen on the line whenever Not in Our Name rallies at a public curbside. He carried a Palestinian flag in a Friends of Sabeel protest on the June anniversary of Israel's acquisition of Gaza and West Bank territory in the 1967 Six Day War. He wore a sign naming his mother's Mexican ancestors at a demonstration supporting immigrants' rights. He was instrumental in the Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii's support of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq.
"It's an article of my faith that a Muslim should always try to right injustice with his or her hands. When that cannot be done, we must speak out against it."
He said he gets the response "Why are you doing this?" from his Islamic brothers, some of whom maintain a low profile in these times. "Some of them come from repressive regimes and are not used to speaking out. I respect them. Nobody ever told me to stop."