View from the Pew
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu businessman Jan Rumi, a Muslim, talks about Muslims in Hawaii. He will be appearing at a symposium Monday on "How to Pass On Your Religious Heritage," sponsored by All Believers Network.
Legacy of charity
Businessman Jan Rumi says his Muslim faith is like other religions in promoting the gift of giving
Fayez Rumi and a Saint Louis School classmate teamed up to send money to a relief organization helping impoverished people in a foreign country. They committed to giving $20 a month, and they didn't tap their parents to underwrite their charity.
When Honolulu businessman Jan Rumi and his wife, Bithi, learned about it months later, it was an affirmation that they were succeeding in passing on their religious heritage to their son.
"His buddy is a Christian guy, and they teamed up and were doing this charity, sending money to a kid in some other part of the world," said Jan Rumi. "I felt pretty good about that. The fact that they can translate their conscience into some real action is the best thing about it."
Symposium addresses closing the generation gap
A Monday morning symposium by the All Believers Network will explore an interest shared by all faiths, "How to Pass On Your Religious Heritage" to youngsters growing up in a secular, pluralistic society.
The program from 9 a.m. to noon at Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin Hawaii, 1727 Pali Highway, is free and open to the public.
Jan Rumi, a Honolulu businessman who is Muslim, will be the guest speaker.
Members of the interfaith sponsoring group will lead small group discussions with audience participation from the perspective of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and other beliefs.
Charity is a basic tenet of the Rumi family's faith as Muslims, a value they share with friends across a spectrum of different faiths.
"To me one of the most attractive elements of my religion is that charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, the commitment to doing something for people who are not as fortunate as you," said the father. "I especially empathize with that because I come from a country that is one of the poorest in the world, Bangladesh."
Like many of Oahu's more than 3,000 Muslims, Jan Rumi is frequently faced with questions about his religion, especially when violent extremists cast a shadow on it.
He is one of the few island Muslims who are comfortable joining in interfaith activities, getting involved in comparative religion discussions. He will be doing that at a Monday symposium about "How to Pass On Your Religious Heritage," sponsored by All Believers Network.
"I truly feel there is very little difference between a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew and, for that matter, a Hindu," Rumi said. "I think our core values are the same. There are differences in form and structure and culture," said Rumi. Christians, Muslims and Jews "are all children of the Abrahamic faith; we all believe in one God."
All religions face the fact that younger generations growing up in a pluralistic, secular society don't always stay focused on the faith of their parents.
"It is a challenge. It is not easy for Americans to keep the religious heritage they came from, to keep their children Catholic or Christian. The best antidote would be parents showing by example," said Rumi, who did just that by making charity a career choice. He describes it as stepping off the "corporate America" path he was on since graduation from Purdue University with a master's degree in computer science.
Formerly a department head with the Honolulu branch of the Grant Thornton accounting and management consultant firm, Rumi and a partner opened Community Empowerment Services last year, a business that provides services for mentally ill and homeless people referred by the state. The staff of 25 counselors, social workers, doctors and including Bithi Rumi, a psychological nurse, is currently working with 160 clients.
"I wanted to do something that goes back to the tenets of Islam, charity, work for the common good," he said. "This service provides a way for me to do that."
The Rumis will engage in another of the five pillars of Islam next week as Ramadan begins. The parents will observe the dawn-to-dusk fasting restrictions. Their younger son, Alavi, a high school junior, has endured the rigorous religious discipline in recent years, too. It's a matter of choice for both sons, said the father. Fayez just graduated from the University of Puget Sound and is on the school's nine-month study course in several Asian countries.
Another pillar of Islam is to pray five times a day. It's a goal not possible to reach in many households, said Rumi, who manages at least one daily prayer session and attends the Friday prayers at the Manoa mosque.
"I know lots of people who feel quite like a Muslim but not necessarily praying five times a day. The measures are that you believe in the Holy Book and in the prophet Mohammed and his teaching. It's no different than a Christian who believes in the Bible but doesn't necessarily practice the teachings. You like to go to church, but you might not go for months; you're still a Christian.
"I am a strong supporter of moderation in every religion. I have a severe problem with extremist Jewish, extremist Christian, extremist Muslim. I don't think this is the real religion of Judaism or Christianity or Islam. That is the primary motive I have for being interested in interfaith understanding."
"I am not an ascetic person, but I like to be balanced in terms of what I do for a living, how I conduct myself in my family, the community, maybe on a higher level," he said.
"If I have been able to give my children good Muslim values as a human being -- don't steal, don't lie, don't harm other people, live a righteous life, all that good stuff -- then I feel I am successful as a Muslim."