Archive for the ‘al-Islam’ Category

Ramadan mubarak! a letter to a Muslim friend

June 30, 2014

This is the text of a letter I just sent to a Muslim friend on the first day of Ramadan, edited only slightly, and having sent it, I felt called to send it to all my Muslim friends, and to all, of any faith tradition, who can hear it, with my love. Those who call God “Her” rather than “Him” should substitute that pronoun; we refer to the same Holy One:

As-Salaam alaykum! I was very grateful to hear from you, and ever since then I’ve been wishing for an opportunity to sit and write a thoughtful letter back to you. Many days have passed, all with their pressures and problems, and on some days I’ve simply felt too stupid, or too caught up in superficial thinking, to gather myself together and give you a true picture of what my life is like now, or what I see when I look out on the world. Now it seems as though I needed the awful solemnity of Ramadan to frame an adequate picture of my situation, and what I see as our situation, all of us human creatures.

We are a race of exiles from Paradise. Our souls once knew our Creator intimately, and knew what He wanted of us: to love one another, to be thankful toward Him in our hearts, and to do only good. Somehow we came here, to a world where there is love, but also fear, which tempts us to be selfish and do evil; and these make us forget that we have a Creator. Worse: if we knew we had a Creator, we would hate Him and refuse His guidance, unless we could be convinced that He was just like us, and loved us and hated the ones that we hate, and asked nothing spiritually difficult of us, and smiled on our deceits and our violence. (And why would we hate Him? because turning back to Him from our rebellion would be briefly painful, and we naturally shun pain.)

And behold: a world full of religious leaders who are willing to tell us just such a great lie about God, and a world full of political leaders and institutions that embody that lie. These all say, “Let us do evil, so that good will come of it” – in the original Greek of the New Testament (Romans 3:8), it sounds like a children’s song: poiḗsōmen tà kaká, hína élthē tà agathá. This is the Devil’s song, and the whole human race sings it as it goes about its daily work, making the whole world into a great insane asylum. Those whose hearts remember the commandment “do only good, so that your conscience will stay clean and you’ll remain open to your Creator’s guidance,” are the ones struggling to stay sane among their mad brothers, sisters, parents, employers, children, husbands and wives. But how tempting it is to just say “yes” to what everyone else is saying, and help them go on doing what they’re doing – how else would we earn the money to support our families? – and this puts us back to sleep. So while we’re awake, we desperately need the company and encouragement of others who are awake, who’ll remind us of our calling to do only good, and repent of evil, and remember the all-forgiving God who loves to welcome back any and all who repent of evil they’ve thought, said, done, and approved of as if it were good.

So I pray for myself, and I pray for others, and try to do works of love as opportunities arise – my main work now. And I’m very, very grateful for every expression of love, and comfort, and warning, and encouragement I get back from others that I think are rightly guided, anything that tells me that I myself am walking the path of the rightly guided, the şirāţ al-mustaqīm, because I know how easy it is for us to be deceived by our own pride. May Allah protect you and your loved ones from such temptation always, and continue to lead you along the path of the rightly guided, now and forever, until we stand together in His glorious presence, no longer capable of falling away from Him in whom all good dwells.

Always feel free to ask for my prayers in times of temptation or suffering, and please know that I’m your friend forever.

As-salaam alaykum,

John

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Christians and Jews, Bless Your Muslim Brothers and Sisters

March 5, 2011

There follows the text of a tract I intend to distribute at tomorrow’s rally in New York City’s Times Square, “Today We Are All Muslims.” I’ve told the contact people for that rally that I can’t call myself a Muslim without express permission from my Lord, who has called me to represent myself as a Christian; but that I wish them well. Two of them have written back to me in a very friendly manner. But I believe that there are important differences between my witness and what I expect their witness to be, hence the need for me to bring the message of this tract to people drawn to the rally:

The faithful of all religious traditions should welcome any opportunity to show friendliness to the world’s Muslims, for the literal meaning of the word “Muslim” is “one who has surrendered self-will and made peace with God.” Now anyone who has done this and now lives at peace with God, whatever his or her religious tradition, must be very dear to God, and no one else who wishes to live at peace with God should ever wish to trouble such a person.

Christians and Jews may continue to disagree with Muslims on matters of theology, as they do between and among themselves, but ought to bless and encourage anyone who even attempts to surrender self-will to the One God whom we all worship. It has wisely been suggested that all our troubles began when we first thought to experiment with having wills separate from God’s own will, which eternally wills what is best for each creature and all creation. A Muslim in the true sense of the word is one who says to God, as Jesus and Abraham did, “not my will, but Thine, be done,” thus repenting the archetypal error of Adam and Eve and so putting the axe to the root of all selfishness, cruelty, deceit and war. All blessings be on such a soul!

A cynic may point to evidence that some who call themselves Muslims (or Christians, or Jews, for that matter) behave unworthily; but the existence of counterfeits has never proved the non-existence of any genuine article, and if one takes the trouble to look for Muslim saints, one will find them. But if one is looking not for good but evil, one should ask oneself: why? Why look for justifications of hatred and fear, when these are sicknesses we should pray to be healed from? Are we looking for motes in our brother’s eye to keep attention off the corruption we have in our own? Jesus had something to say about that (Matthew 7:3 ff, Luke 6:41 ff). In fact, Jesus put it quite plainly: we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27, enemies of any faith or no faith), refrain from judging others (Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1), and, in the face of all provocation, be “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), forgiving even our own murderers if need be (Luke 23:34).

Meanwhile, legislators eager to investigate alleged “radicalization of the American Muslim community and homegrown terrorism” might wisely consider how their own government, economy and culture creates its own foes, nay, depends on having “enemies” to keep their worldly machine humming – “the Communist menace” yesterday, “the Muslim extremists” today. For fear creates jobs and profits, and distracts the fearful from the state of their own house. But love, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18), pacifies, heals, and disarms. It is the only thing that does that. The United States has yet to try basing policy on it.

[The author of this article is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). This article expresses only his personal understanding. It is not a statement by or on behalf of any Quaker organization. The author welcomes thoughtful responses and inquiries.]