May 10, 2010, 2:40 PM
The prophet Muhammad and therefore his followers are commanded to remain anchored in the certainty of the final message and be fully immersed in its truth. To be immersed is to the place else.
In another verse, as if to discourage fruitless debate and thereby possibly impugn other messengers (a danger for the novice believer), the Quran states that not all the names of all messengers were disclosed to the Prophet; the “holier than thou” attitude constricts the heart, and handicaps the spiritual; quest.
We have sent messengers before you. About some We have told you, and about some We have not told you. (40:78)
And verily, the faithful, and the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians-Whoever believe in God and the last Day and act piously, no feat shall come upon them nor shall they grieve. (5:69)
Worthy of note also in the preceding surah is the non-definitive classification “Sabians”. Though there are some scholars with the view that the Sabians are a group from amongst the Jews, there are others without definite opinion. If one were to follow the latter view, the Quran is telling us that there are others beyond the followers of the three monotheistic religions who shall find God’s Peace. Even if the Sabians can be identified, it is quite clear that the test of God-conspicuousness is to be left with God. The spiritual spark resides in the innermost niche of the heart disqualifying us from questioning another person’s spiritual quest. The spiritual-center and the spiritual struggle are within. One’s earnest conscientiousness must therefore turn its focus within one’s own “Straight and Sincere Path”.
SINCERITY FOCUSES INWARDS. OUTWARDLY IT MANIFESTS TOLERANCE
It is a historical fact that each successive monotheistic religion has been more tolerant of its chronological predecessor. The opposite has not been true. Succeeding religions have held within their beliefs the doctrine of “continuity of prophets”. Tolerance has been precious little the other way around. Judaism has considered Christianity an errant religion as has Christianity considered Islam. Many if not most of those who believe that Moses parted the Red Sea to save his people, doubt the virgin-birth of Jesus. And many if not most of those who believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary doubt the Quran as God’s direct Word and the prophecy of Muhammad. The renewal embodied by Jesus was considered detraction by the day’s “religious establishment”, likewise the renewal embodied by the Quran has met its own residence. Intolerance of faith is a potential pitfall for any religious establishment”. The equivalent and likely pitfall for the soul seeking renewal is a relapse, certainly not intolerance. Intolerance is a flaw of the heart likely to attach itself to the mighty, seeking to block any change, rather than to those who want to escape from under the might. The renewal merely seeks to protect and preserve the renewed Message. The establishment and other powers that be, will label such conscientiousness, “exclusivism.” The religious establishment” of our times, is fond of citing, as evidence of Quranic intolerance and exclusivism, a verse that exhorts the believers to stay anchored in the message of the Quran:
O you, who have renewed your faith, do not take the Jews and the Christians as your allies and patrons (awliya)…. (5:51)
It helps the cause of these dissenters that some poor renderings have translated awliya to “friends”. It cannot be so. The Quran allows the marriage of a Muslim to a Jew or a Christian. How could it then prohibit friendship? Far from forbidding friendship with the Jews and the Christians, the Quran is merely reinforcing the message of reliance on God Alone. God and not some other pre-existing human authority is the “Wali” (singular of awliya):
Sufficient is God as a patron and protector (Wali). Sufficient is God as a Helper. (4:45)
Or take it from Joseph; there can be no better authority than this young man, who was once a little child abandoned in a bark and dank well by his own brothers. Witness Joseph’s gratefulness to his Wali upon being finally reunited with his parents, at the end of his long and arduous ordeal:
“O my Sustainer! You have indeed bestowed on me some aspect of power, and taught me some aspects of interpretation of dreams; Creator of the heavens and the earth, You are my Protector (Wali) in this world and in the Hereafter, Let my return (in death) be of a soul in submission and join me with the righteous.” (12:1101)
Having said so, it must be clearly understood by the believer and the nonbeliever (who cares to understand) that the Quran reminds the Muslim that God and His Prophet take precedence over any other relationship, including the relationships of blood. Many Muslims, including Noah and Abraham and Lot had to endure the pain of leaving a loved-one behind in the way of God. A Muslim after all places God, His Message and the Messenger at the very center of his core. They who “fight he believers for their beliefs and expel them from their homes or support their expulsion” are to be avoided:
Thou will not find folk who believe in God and the Last Day loving those who oppose God and His messenger: even thought they be their fathers, or their sons or their brothers, or their clan. As for such, He has written faith upon their hearts and has strengthened them with a Spirit from Him, He will bring them into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein to abide forever. God is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. They are God’s party. Surely! Is it not God’s party who are the successful? (58:22)
This too is a test of faith. Abraham sums up the pain of a dutiful and submitted heart when he leaves his father:
Expect that Abraham said to his father: “Certainly I shall ask forgiveness for thee but I have no power to do aught for thee against. God” (60:4)
Robert Frager, Ph.D. relates an incisive incident related to his spiritual guide, Sheikh Muzaffar, who was once invited to perform Islamic Prayers in a Paris Cathedral. After having performed the prayers the Sheikh turned down a request for a reciprocal gesture. “Absolutely No”, was the Sheikh’s response. Explaining further to his hosts who must have been rather befuddled, no doubt, he said: “I have a right to pray in your cathedral because I love Jesus. But you cannot pray in our mosque because you do not love Muhammad”.
Islam honors the prophetic chain. Islam also respects those whose practice differs from theirs. In Madinah when around sixty delegates of the Najran-Christians were visiting the Prophet in the Mosque of Madinah, the guests were allowed to pray in the Mosque, notwithstanding the fact that they faced East during their services. Through providential design, as the last of the major messages, Islam has a natural disposition for religious tolerance. The followers of Islam must zealously guard this Divine gift. It is a gift not to be merely acknowledged. It must be conscientiously honored. God is Al-Muqaddim, the One who determines the sequence and precedence of objects and evens and beings. Jesus renewed and realigned the message of Moses and his predecessors. Muhammad renewed and realigned the message of Jesus and Jesus’ predecessors. A “Muslim” (and the Muslim) cannot but honor each and every prophet in the prophetic caravan. The Truth is that each new cycle of revelation is meant to open new doors. Spiritual doors do not close, they lead to new vistas. Sincerity is an unfolding quest. To love Muhammad is to love Jesus and Moses too. Rumi reminds us all that:
There are those who accept the Law of Moses and not the grace and love of Jesus.
Like the Jewish King who killed Christians.
This is not right. Moses is inside the soul of Jesus as Jesus is in the soul of Moses.
One era belonged to one; then it was the other’s turn, but they are one being.
To be continued