Early scholars of comparative religion sometimes emphasized the importance that religious scripture takes on different levels in religious movements and traditions. This however is not always case, showing that there does not always need to be such a high importance placed on written texts. Comparing the American converts to Islam, the followers of Hasidic rebbes, and the Cambodian converts to the Jesus Christ Church of the Latter Day Saints can show this.
Compared to the other two, the religious movement of Americans converting to Islam places a higher emphasis on religious scriptures. One example of this comes from a woman named Amira who converted to Islam after she lost her kids to Child Protective Services. Once she converted, the Islamic community gave her a lot of support to rebuild her life. She then went to study sessions for converts where she was taught how to pray correctly, how to raise your kids to be good Muslims and about the Prophet, (178 Abdo). Amira joined a community in which she found stability in and in terms taught her the way of being a good Muslim (and person) based on religious scriptures.
Another example of this comes from a man named Chris who was confused with Christian teachings and converted to Islam. He chose it because he thought that it showed people how to be really good human beings in the Islamic readings he found online as well as on his grandfather's shelf, and thought it was compatible with science and modern knowledge, (168 Abdo). Chris, like many other Latinos, “Described the Muslim experience as an intellectual one. They felt that other religions demanded blind faith, but Islam required analyzing the holy text,” (170 Abdo). With fields such as Science and Technology increasing, people are searching for more logical reasons to follow that can be backed up by written word with a set of instructions. This, among other reasons, is the appeal that Americans have to converting to Islam.
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Followers of Hasidic rebbes place an importance on religious scriptures but not nearly as much compared the American converts. One example from the stories by Peretz is the story of a student and the Rebbe. They live in an impoverished town with no money to feed students who stay awake all night and go hungry all day. During a lesson, Rebbe is given a bowl of food that all the students intently gaze at. When one of the student does receive a bowl of food, he rejects it and says: "Yes, Rebbe a penitential fast! A moment ago, when you started to eat, I felt that I was about to transgress the commandment, 'Though shall not covet, (149 Paretz).
This shows that there is a slight focus in terms of holy texts since the student had knowledge of the commandment. It is however, the only time that religious scriptures seem to be acknowledged in knowledge, uplifting texts. In fact the story even begins by saying "In bad times, even the value of Torah – the best merchandise – falls,” (147 Paretz). This directly mocks the importance of the Torah, even though it still considers it the best merchandise, because Paretz says that is can still fail. This alludes to the fact there is not a significant importance upon religious scriptures in the followers of Hasidic rebbes.
Compared to the American converts to Islam and even to the followers of Hasidic rebbes, Cambodian converts to the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism) places an even lower significance on religious texts. Instead, there is more of importance on just the ideals that they hold. "Only the church provided both charity and emotional support in dealing with her crisis. In particular, Mely found the help of Mormon women, who emphasized values such as kindness and friendliness very gratifying in managing her emotional turmoil," (203 Ong). Mely was a result of a series of unfortunate events and reciprocated her thank you by converting.
Compared to the Islamic convert Amira, she did not receive any study sessions on scriptures of Mormonism or how to raise her family to be good Mormons. Instead, she, like many other converts, joined solely because the Mormon Church helped them out. Some did however join because they found comfort in some of the beliefs, but this was not found through religious scriptures. Instead, Mormons went door to door, in predominately Cambodian apartment complexes, using psychological and economic pressures to try and force people to convert. The people who did convert under these pressures only did for their needs and continued to believe in the Buddha and practice Buddhist rituals (210 Ong). Although there was an importance on the ideals held by the Jesus Christ Church of LDS, there was little to none importance of religious scripture in the religious movement of Cambodian converts to it.
Although these religious movements are all successful, they greatly differ in the degree of knowledge and study of the scripture. These differences arise from location, what is going on in the world, and the different economic struggles. The American converts of Islam has a lot to do with what is going on in the world. Since September 11th, there has been a lot of racial profiling against Muslims due to their extremist counterparts. This led to many people wanting to find more about Islam and possibly why the terrorist attack occurred. “Latinos, like many other Americans, began searching for more information about Islam. Some found it in mosques in their communities, where organizations were distributing pamphlets, books, and takes to dispel misconceptions about Islam and educate Americans about the true face of their religion," (173 Abdo).
This resulted in some Americans converting to protect a religion that was being attacked, in addition to those joining because the religious texts did not require blind faith, as mentioned earlier. In addition to September 11th, integration was also going in the United States. African Americans such as Malcolm X also found Islam through prison because they believe it is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. 6% of the 150,000 federal inmates in 2004 were Muslim, of which 85% of those converted in prison since there is a greater importance on self-reformation where one can teach one's self about Islam (176 Abdo). This can be compared to the followers of Hasidic rebbes in an impoverished community.
There was only one religious leader who controlled most of the religious teaching and taught that there is more to Hasidic Judaism than just the Torah. He said that people who study on the surface are like strangers looking at the King's palace do not even dare to knock for fear nobody will open. Compared to those who immerse themselves in just the essence of the Torah who enter deep inside the palace (153 Paretz). When there is only one religious leader, it is hard to get a wide range of views and teachings. Additionally it is hard to teach these scriptures in an impoverished community where there is a greater need for food.
Cambodian converts on the other hand are the products of an impoverished community where people sought guidance into American society. They did not know anybody besides the people in their community and were outsiders to everybody else. The Mormon Church was their way of transitioning into a different way of life as described by one woman: "Half the Asian kids in the U.S. don't have any form of recreation or place to socialize. The church provides all forms of recreational activities...Initially, the religious lessons were boring and I hated them, but as I kept going to church I started to get serious," (213 Ong).
This shows that many converts did so to become accustomed to society, regardless of whether they believed in their ideals. These three examples show that even though there might be a high degree of religious scriptures in today's Western society, it is not necessarily required for a religious movement. There are many contributing factors as to why one might chose one religion and depend on region, economic standing, and many other variants.
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