Thursday, April 23, 2009

Multifaith council of Northwest Ohio's dinner

Held at the Congregation B'nai Israel in neighboring Sylvania, about 300 guests attended, and included tables and presenters from the Muslim community, Christians of various sects, Sikhs, Jains, Hindus and a variety of other religious groups.

It was a very warm environment and enlightening experience, I learned much from discussions with the various leaders.

Now, describing the pictures a bit, from top left is myself giving comments and benediction, the sanctuary of the Synagogue, the flame at the top of the picture is symbolic of God speaking to Moses [ Musa 'Alayhis salaam]. Bottom left, with Miss Ann, one of the organizers, and at the bottom right, with our friends and activists Ahmed Kadri and wife Amirah.

The guest speaker was Peter Adriance, an NGO liason for the U.S.Bahais, who spoke on the relationship between religious communities and efforts for environmental causes.

There is more I could say, but don't know where to begin. Needless to say, these sort of events are good ways to learn about others, but also to share information about Islam. We show ourselves as humans, and not fanatical monsters. That goes a long way.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Christian/Muslim identity? thoughts on Rev.Ann Holmes Redding

The Reverend Ann Holmes Redding was recently fired from her post of two decades as an Episcopal minister. Certainly this was not unexpected, due to the fact that for the last three years or so, she has been a practicing Muslim, having taken her Shahaadah [declaration of faith, which acknowledges God's oneness and Muhammad as God's messenger and Last Prophet], and saw no conflict between Christianity and Islam. She is quoted as saying " When I took my shahada, I said there's no God but God and that Mohammed is God's prophet or messenger. Neither of those statements, neither part of that confession or profession denies anything about Christianity." [].

Sister Redding is to be commended for standing for her principles and her beliefs. It is also understandable that the Episcopal Church would take the step of removing her status as a minister, and it seems they did so in a respectful way. They referred to her as a person of "great integrity".

Dual identity?

Although I must admit to a bit of confusion, it seems as if Sister Redding's approach to religion is one that combines elements of both traditional Christianity and Islam [as popularly understood] in forming her thoughts and practices. Until her sacking, she still conducted services at the Church, while she also observed the Muslim prayers [Salaah] at a local Mosque [see image above].

I also must confess ignorance as to whether or not she holds any of the views that are considered "orthodox" within Christendom, i.e. the divinity of Christ, the blood atonement, etc..! Regardless of her understanding of these controversial theological issues, her acceptance of Islam while maintaining a link to her Christian heritage does bring in mind questions as to whether dual identity in religion is acceptable, which this post seeks to address. It is my hope that the thoughts expressed in this post will generate much discussion and dialogue, as well as investigation into Islamic texts and theology by our Non-Muslim friends. We will avoid speaking from a Christian perspective, as a Muslim I would certainly be unqualified to do that. Rather, we will attempt to address these issues from a Qur'anic-bases perspective.

Islam: the path of Jesus and Muhammad

The name Islam or Al-Islam ["The Islam"] is not a proper noun, at least from the Quranic context. It is a Gerund [Masdar] in Arabic grammar. This means that is more of a description, rather than a proper noun. As a word, it means "surrender" or "submission" to God. This word Islam is very unique, as the linguistic meaning is not tied up in the personality or religion of a particular people [unlike "Christianity" which revolves around Christ, "Judaism" around the Jewish tribes, "Buddhism" around the Buddha, and so forth]. In the Bible itself, as it is today, we can still find Islam being taught therein. This may sound strange to both Christians and Muslims, but we would like to offer the following Biblical texts as examples of Jesus Christ teaching Islam. All Biblical quotes below are from the New International Version {NIV] Study Bible. [Zondervan, 2002 Grand Rapids, Michigan]

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked "Teacher, what good things must I do to get eternal life?". "Why do you ask me about what is good?". Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good, if you want to enter life, obey the commandments." 'Which ones, the man inquired. Jesus replied "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself. Matt. 19:16-19.

The same source says that he was asked about the greatest commandment in the law. the response was "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it 'love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." [Matt. 22: 36-40]

The commandments are a list of things to do and things to avoid. In other words, it's a list of actions that constitute Islam ["Submission"] and what falls outside of it! In this regards, it is very clear that Jesus [peace be upon him] taught Islam and was himself a "Muslim" [One who was submissive to God]!

The popular understanding of the words "Islam" and "Muslim" identifies with the followers of Muhammad and the Qur'an alone. However, the Qur'an itself shows us that there has never been any religion in God's sight other than Islam [ Q 3:19], and that an integral part of being a Muslim is to believe in all of the messengers of God without distinction [Q 2:285]{Ft.#1].

The issue of a 'dual identity' becomes mute if one understands the Biblical Jesus as one who taught submission to God. It becomes mute when we understand that Muhammad himself was teaching submission to God. The religion is the same one, albeit expressed in differing terms. One Hadeeth attributed to the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon him] himself states that the prophets are all from the same father, only having different mothers.[ [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (4324) and Musnad Ahmad (8902)].

Is there a difference between 'Biblical Islam' and 'Qur'anic Islam'?

To approach this question, it is important to know that most, if not all, of the various traditions within the bulk of Christianity [or popular Christianity] has little resemblance to anything Jesus said or did. Countless books, essays and position papers have been published by both Non-Muslim and Muslim writers on various topics. The Qur'an itself takes the position that the scripture of the Jews and Christians themselves have been subject to intense editing, to the point where it becomes almost unrecognizable as a book from God [Q 2:79]. In such circumstances, we have to say that the Bible we have today gives glimpses of what can be termed 'Biblical Islam' but ends at that. So much other material has been placed therein that the average person has no ability to distinguish what is indeed from "the presence of God" and what is not.

Despite that, the Qur'an has repeatedly told us that the Christians [and other people of religious traditions and scripture] will be rewarded twice [Q 28:52-54] meaning that God looks at their actions, intentions and faith, blesses them for it, and gives a double blessing by that person accepting and conforming to the Islam that is found in the Qur'an and preached by the Prophet Muhammad. When we see figures such as our sister Redding, the following beautiful Quranic passage comes to mind.

And when they hear the revelation sent to the messenger [Muhammad, meaning the Qur'an sent to him], you see their eyes with tears, for they recognize truth from their lord. They say "Our Lord, We believe, so write us down as among the witnesses.' And why should we not believe in God, in the truth which has come to us, as we hope that Our Lord will allow us to enter the company of righteous people. And so, God rewarded them with Gardens, with rivers flowing underneath, to dwell in it for eternity. And this is the reward of those who do good. Q 5:83-85

The Qur'anic Islam is one which is from God without any corruptions therein. The Book of Allah itself serves as the main item by which we distinguish corruption from Divine truth. The Qur'anic Islam is perfected [Q 5:3] and completed in the time of the Messenger himself, meaning there will be no other scripture from God, nor a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad. That boat has sailed, and while it is true that communication and guidance can still come in some ways, in terms of world prophets and scriptures, that will not happen again. The Qur'an is the final say on the position of Christ and all the other theological questions that continue to haunt Christendom. Sister Redding seems to have found that, and we hope that God blesses her as a result, and bless us with guidance, mercy and love. We don't have to label ourselves with various adjectives and hyphenated names. Jesus did not call himself a "Christian". If he were to accept any label, it would be as a submitter to God, or in Arabic, Muslim.

#1= The meaning of Islam, Muslim, Kaafir and the Qur'anic style have all been addressed by this writer in essays published in The language of revelation. For details, contact the author.