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.


Abu Bakar said...

Like her many of the sahaba lost their social position,relationship,wealth and many other things.I think we should also do this by sacrificing something to spread the Islam.

jajakallah for your informatic post.

Anonymous said...

kevinsealyI knew the Rev Ann Redding when she was the assitant rector at my family's home church Grace Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens NYC and I attended her ordination in 1984.
I am disappointed the she has embrased Islam, a religion that's no friend to Christianity and Judaism.

Kevin L. Sealy

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

Dear Mr.Sealy,

Welcome to the blog. I am honored you took the time to post a comment here.

You describe Miss Redding's acceptance of Islam as "disappointing" . It is quite understandable that you would have such a view, however please try to see it from her viewpoint. She found something within Islam that was not only appealing, but having in it a sense of real truth!!

You express the view that Islam is "no friend". to that, I would like to suggest that you pick up a Qur'an and read it, from cover to cover. That would give a better understanding of what Islam is all about.

You may discover that the Qur'an is more to it than any other source you have encountered.

And please keep reading my articles here. At the very least, it is my desire that you understand what Islam is all about.

Reeshiez said...


I too have been extremely interested in Reverend Ann Holmes Redding ever since I heard about her two years ago. I basically see no incompatibility between her practicing both Islam and Christianity because like you said, islam without the capital "i" simply means submission to the will of God. Thus as long as she has submitted to the will of God, then Redding can still continue to profess to be Christian if she wishes to. Now if we look at Islam and Christianity the way they are traditionally understood today, then there are two main incompatibilities between the two religions. From a Muslim perspective, the Christian trinity is unacceptable. From a Christian perspective, Muslim unwillingness to believe in the fact that Jesus/God died for our sins is unacceptable. But if we delve into both of these beliefs deeply, we will realize that there is room for compatibility between the two religions. Muslims have a very simplistic view of the Christian trinity. Many of us believe that Christians are actually worshipping three Gods or believe that Christians worship one God with three distinct parts. The truth is that the trinity is far more complicated and because of its complicated nature, it has caused a lot of splits in the Christian religion with each denomination believing something different about the trinity. A christian focusing on the oneness of God can see the trinity as really an embodiment of how God functions in society. For example, God the father is the God in the traditional sense. When God interacts with humans and blows his spirit into them, he can be described as the holy spirit. When God's connection to a human is so great and when that human is close to God, that human can be views as the figurative son of God and not his literal son. Of course I am not christian and I do not believe in the trinity so my knowledge on this is limited. But I can see how one can believe in the trinity in a way that does not deny the oneness of God.

Now as for Muslims not believing in the fact that Jesus died for our sins, well there is a Muslims parallel to this which was eloquently explained to me by my husband. As far as I understand it, the reason why Christians view this belief as one of the cornerstones of Christianity, is because they believe that humans are by their nature sinful and that God (in their terms Jesus) is generous and loving. And because God loves his creation so much, he took it upon himself to take all the sins of mankind in him and sacrifice himself for our sins. Again I do not understand this concept fully because I am not Christian. But let me give you an Islamic parallel. While Muslims do not believe that man is born sinful, we do believe that he is forgetful and has the capacity to sin. No matter how hard man tries, he will always end up sinning because man is weak. God understands the weak nature of man. But God loves man and is all forgiving and all merciful. So even though man continues to sin against God, God, because he is all generous, all loving, all forgiving and all merciful will forgive us for our since as long as we believe in him (or as Christians put it accept him as our savior). That is why we are constantly reminded of Gods mercy more than any of his characteristics and that is why we start every chapter of the Quran by saying "In the name of God, the most beneficient, the most merciful". Of course in Islam it is not this is not as definate as christianity and that is why we must perform good works. But then again, many christians believe in the importance of both good work and faith so it is not just us. Anyways in the end, despite the differences, Gods message is the same in both religions - God loves us and God is merciful. We must believe in God and submit to his will (or take him as our savior using Christian terminology)

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

Dear Reeshiez,

Salaamu'alaikum. Your post was very articulate, and I would like to share some thoughts on what You have said.

[1] The Qur'an says again and again that God has sent forth only one religion. In the Arabic language, that religion is called Islam.

[2] So, a reader of the Qur'an will see that it asserts that Jesus was a follower of Islam [a 'Muslim'], but that does not mean that he[upon whom be peace] spoke in the same way as Muhammad did, or prayed in the same way Muhammad did.

[3] The "Islam" that came before Muhammad [peace be upon him] suffered many misunderstandings and outright changes, the Trinity being foremost among them. Basically, the Trinity is a Roman/Greek philosophical way of looking at the reality of the Divine, something that obviously someone from the monotheistic background of the Jewish tribes would not find acceptable. There are many ways of looking at this situation, but the above is basically my take on it.

[4] God sent forth the Qur'an to Muhammad in order to clarify these issues of confusion, as you have rightly pointed out, issues that are highly debated in the Christian circles themselves.

[5] Your view on the doctrine of original sin was very enlightening. Thanks for posting. I have been told by Christians that even this doctrine is disputed, many taking different interpretations of it.


Michael said...

I've only seen the CNN bit with Ann Holmes Redding, so I can't say I understand her current theological reasoning (and without malice I can say I doubt she fully understands her current theological reasoning). The idea that a muslim(ah) was baptizing people is disturbing to me. I was raised Catholic and converted to Islam several years ago. One of the most appealing parts of Islam is the belief that we are born in a state of submission to God. The Catholic view of original sin (the Episcopalian/Anglican view doesn't seem that dissimilar) is that because Adam (as) ate the fruit, all mankind was cursed with original sin from that time until Jesus (as) died on the cross. Baptism is a ritual to wash away that original sin through Jesus. In my mind her performance of this ritual must be either insincere and therefore possibly unacceptable to Episcopalians, or sincere, making her at the least extremely heterodox to muslims. Inshallah she will come to an understanding of islam on its own terms and not try to force a syncretic form on it.

mydeark143mg said...

Peace be to you my sisters and brothers in Islam and warm greetings to all christians who can read my comment. i am one of the young individuals who are eagerly seek truth. i was baptized as a christian and after graduated to collage degree i had given the opportunity to work with the Islam community. i started to learn and read the holy bible and the glorious holy Quran at the same time. after i read about what happen to Rev. Ann Holmes Redding i can understand what she is going through. i am praying all of us who seeks the truth will find his way.All i know our main goal is to serve God,to know His mysteries. Some people may not accept and criticize Rev. Ann Holmes Redding and me because we give ourselves a chance to look and believe and disbelieve both sides of the two religion. May God forgive me and help me to search for the truth before its too late.