Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea Religion

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin


The Balti had originally migrated southwest from Tibet, via Ladakh, more than six hundred years ago, and their Buddhism had been scoured away as they traveled over the rocky passes and replaced by a religion more attuned to the severity of their new landscape—Shiite Islam. (2.23)

Religions are practically living things, just like the people who practice them. They, too, have to adapt and change to the landscape they find themselves in.

Even during his five daily prayer sessions, Mouzafer, a fastidious man of faith, would steal a glance away from Mecca to make sure Mortenson was still nearby. (2.30)

This quote shows how devout Mouzafer is, and maybe we're reading into it too much, but it also seems to suggest how Mortenson is almost as important as Mecca to this man. This is a theme we'll see crop up further down the line.

"Will you show me how to pray?" Mortenson asked, impulsively.

"Are you a Muslim?"

"I respect Islam." (6.43-6.45)

One way to understand a religion separate from your own is to participate in its rituals and see them for yourself. Mortenson educates himself firsthand in the customs of Islam by participating in their prayer.

A true Muslim would leap at the chance to help poor children instead of trying to steal their money. (6.63)

Like any major religion, one of the tenets of Islam is to give charity to others. Many people of all religions lose sight in the whole let's help others who are less fortunate thing.

For years, Mortenson had known, intellectually, that the word "Muslim" means, literally, "to submit." And like many Americans, who worshipped at the temple of rugged individualism, he had found the idea dehumanizing. But for the first time […] he glimpsed the pleasure to be found in submission to a ritualized fellowship of prayer. (6.86)

Mortenson sees how the prayer ritual builds community and fellowship, kind of like Mortenson's own devotion to mountain climbing, which relies on brotherhood and support.

[Mortenson] was praying like a Sunni at the heart of Shiite Pakistan. Among the warring sects of Islam, Mortenson knew, men had been killed for less. (12.50)

Ah, the joy of sects. Islam is a fiercely divided religion, one in which differing customs can mean the difference between life and death.

"For these blessings, I thank Almighty Allah," Aslam says, "and Mister Greg Mortenson." (16.65)

Mortenson ends up being put right alongside Allah here. This kind of talk may contribute to his desire to do everything himself—like a god, he wants to be omnipresent—but then again, Mortenson's also responsible for recounting this moment to Relin…

Wahhabism is a conservative, fundamentalist offshoot of Sunni Islam and the official state religion of Saudi Arabia's rulers. (19.18)

All religions have branches. Just like Christianity and its numerous denominations, Islam branches off, too, and some of the denominations are more fundamental, and at times destructive, than others.

"I wish all the Americans who think 'Muslim' is just another way of saying 'terrorist' could have been there that day. The true core tenets of Islam are justice, tolerance, and charity." (19.110)

Not all Muslims are terrorists. The vast majority of Muslims are kind and caring people who will do anything to convince people that they're not like the outliers, the ones who are loud, violent, and dangerous.

"What really humbled me was how the response came from all sorts of people, from church groups, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews." (22.31)

Mortenson's mission, in its purest form, unites people of all belief systems to work toward a common goal: education.

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