Quaker Theology #10 -- Spring-Summer 2004
The Journeyman Ė The Making of a Muslim Quaker -- page 3
While Christians are quick to reject Islam and Muhammad, the Muslims have great respect for Jesus. I had already known that Jesus was respected and revered by Muslims as perhaps the greatest of the many prophets to be honored that preceded Muhammad. What I had not known was the extent to which his teachings and our historical biblical scriptures were accepted. There is the Islamic understanding that Jesus was a Muslim. Further, the disciples of Jesus are considered to be Muslims. The Koran refers to Jesus as the son of Mary. Having been born of a virgin mother is considered a miracle and I simply distance myself from that and any other questionable matters by being a deistic freethinker.
What first appealed to me was the Muslim denial of the divinity of Jesus. Like the prophets before him Jesus is considered human. The Koran tells us in Surah 23: "No son did Allah beget nor is there any god along with Him." Yet Koranic studies uncover a broad respect for the teachings of Jesus. For me the Koran is particularly acceptable not only due to the absence of trinitarian beliefs but also its denial of original sin as a concept. I had long ago come to accept that point of view thru the Creation Spirituality teachings of the Catholic theologian, Mathew Fox. As for the trinity concept, I have no memory for that ever having entered into my belief system.
Eventually I was led to accepting, in 2003, after having studied its wider implications, an invitation to take ShahadahĖi.e. to become a Muslim. To do so one simply has to affirm that "there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." I had no problem with such an affirmation. I knew instead that my problem would be one of what I will call hybridism.
What a simple exercise it is to become a Muslim. Before doing so I knew I had to explore the acceptability of becoming a hybrid Quaker and/or a hybrid Muslim. With the latter no problem surfaced but it seems it could happen that my Quaker membership might come into question depending upon wherever I might choose to connect with either a monthly or yearly meeting. The latter write the guidelines but monthly meetings take the decisive actions.
This issue was addressed in the February 2004 issue of the Friends Journal, in which two authors, Chris Parker and Valerie Brown identify as Quakers who are also members of other religious entities. Subsequently, in reaction to those articles, letters were printed in the Forum section of the 2004 May and July Journals that questioned the multiple inconsistencies on dual memberships between both monthly and yearly meetings. The July issue quotes Sam Legg who points out that "If I understand what Quakerism is all about, I am one of the multitude of Godís children. Thee too." What a wonderful understanding.
For years I have been a member of The Quaker Universalist Fellowship and it has often dealt with membership issues and relationships. Through its writings I came to learn that George Fox was apparently very open to other faiths, and that such included his having explored and identified the universalism of the Koran. Islam has never claimed to be an exclusive religion. It has been very open to the authenticity and in particular the accommodation of other religious persuasions. As for my having responded years ago to the call to be a Quaker-Sufi, it had never surfaced as a membership problem because it never involved me in any formal relationship to a Sufi entity.
I discovered that such formalities were not called for by the many Quakers Iíve known who have embraced Sufism individually as the Quakerism of the East and vice versa. Such mutual path crossings are delightful, but they usually end due to the obscure nature of Sufism which almost refuses to allow for definitional understandings. Traditional Islamic scholars have the same problem and tend to set Sufism off to the side. My Muslim congregation does not know me as a Sufi. That somehow reserves itself for certain individual relationships that require discovery.
Iím waiting to find out whether my having accepted the act of Shahadah will pose a problem to my Monthly Meeting or my Yearly Meeting. I remain comfortable with my own recognition of Quakerism as a universalistic vehicle that takes one beyond the limits of Christianity. I depend fully upon the genius of Quakerism being understood as the Light of God waiting to be discovered within each soul. And if I were removed from membership I would simply take my Quakerism with me and become one of many Attenders.
When it comes to peace issues, a claim might be made that there has been no rival to Islam in its emphasis on peace until the recent disturbances caused by its lunatic fringe, which is attempting to appropriate Islam in a way that is not unlike the actions of fundamentalist Christians in terms of ownership. Christians have a long and sad history of militancy and Islam is now having to confront the terrorism of its own lunatic fringe. These acts have been born out of cultural differences (both Judeo and Christian...i.e. Western) that need to be dealt with. We need to explore those peculiar secular demands that defy common sense and/or our spiritual sensitivities.
I am one of those who believes that Democracy has become a synonym for Christianity. And, we now find ourselves in a profound crisis with this understanding produced by the outrages that have been committed in the name of both. They have become little more than hollow words, emptied of all content or meaning and unfortunately they can be whatever politicians want them to be. To my personal satisfaction I recall having heard one admit that Democracy was the Free Worldís whore, willing to dress up to satisfy a whole range of tastes and available to be used or abused at will. Our early support of Iraq against Iran was a prime example of exactly that.
This characterization was not true of Democracy in my younger days, at least as I recall them. Despite our isolationism we seemed to be on the path of compassion for real social justice in the thirties. I recall learning to knit washcloths in grade school for Finnish relief. Perhaps that was the beginning of the feminist movement! Earlier my young heart ached when I watched newsreels of the Abyssinians being overrun by the Italians. Finally, following WW II, the implementation of the Marshall Plan introduced us to world relief issues that were uplifting. Later our support of Israel was rational until it was corrupted to allow for the injustices suffered by the Palestinians being subjected to over 50 years of occupation. It seems nowadays that every rationale presented for what is going on ends up on the road to commercialism and corporate globalization which is the new name of the game. Commodities go hand in hand with injustice. The divide between the rich and the poor is becoming wider as commercialism wields its power.
And so 9/11 became a wakeup call for me to take my long term Sufi-Quaker connection and make it come personally alive to Islamís future in our midst. To formally accept the faith (Shahada) does involve one with a membership commitment. Attendance at regular Friday services (Juma) is expected. A weekly lesson is offered based upon the Koran. There is a financial support expectation. One may choose, however, to remain on the fringe of the Five Pillars of Islam. For example I donít pray five times a day (Salat) unless one credits those moments of silent contact with God that occur routinely throughout oneís day. That works for me. Contributions (Zakat) on behalf of the needy is a given and as to the annual fasting (Ramadan) I am excused due to health issues. I would love to go to Mecca (the Hajj) but again age and health issues interfere. That didnít prevent me recently from being caught up in the joyful return and excitement of a local small Ďfí friend who went this year. I believe it may have changed his life.
Meanwhile the dichotomy of my two weekly experiences, the mosque and meeting, are not in conflict. The demands are quite similar, both being a part of like-minded people, one body willing to prostrate themselves as a whole to make contact with God and the other willing to center down together and gather in the whole to make that same contact. In my case it really works.
This potential conclusion to what I have called my Journeyman experience has had quite an impact upon my way of life. Iíve often wondered what my lifeís journey would have been like if I had remained in that small Connecticut town just to keep its grass manicured. Then I think also of those many others who preceded my journey, some of whom were not unlike Muhammad (peace be upon him) and/or Jesus (peace be upon him) in the presentation of the truths they brought forward.
While the Koran was making its impact upon the world there were numerous other similar sects or efforts in process. The list is long . . . the Sabaeans, the Magians, the Keomursians, the Zarwanians, the Maskhians, the Zoroastrians, the Dualists, Sasanadese, the Musnawanians, the Maniwians, the Muzdakians, Jainism, the Samaritans and who knows how many more? We do, however, know of those that survived with greater ongoing visibility such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and our own Christianity with its seventy some odd sects. But, for how long? There are over one billion Muslims for us to eventually include significantly within our long history of successful secular diversification. They cannot be ignored.
My hybrid posture may not be found to be acceptable in terms of genuine Society membership. I donít know the answer to that. I do know that so far I am in good company. My long standing Quaker-Sufi posture has simply been enhanced by the activity of two loving communities who gather weekly to pray for peace. It has been quite a journey.
I have a postscript that may be helpful to some readers who may have never recognized the success of Islamís early geographical conquests as a religion based upon peace. This was a fascinating phenomenom. Historical studies confirm that Europe, other than Spain which prospered under its Muslim culture, was experiencing the Dark Ages and was eventually rejuvenated in part at least by the science, poetry, mathematics, philosophy and the arts that flourished in the Muslim world. The spread of Islam that took place was due primarily to those differences rather than its military skills. Stanwood Cobb, in his 1963 book Islamic Contributions to Civilization, claimed that Islam . . ." was the virtual creator of the Renaissance in Europe." Now, perhaps we can return the honor via a change in how we handle our own supremacy to include a willingness to truly become one of many nations under God and relate to the Middle East with the respect that it deserves.