I firmly believe all wholesome faith is a good thing. There is way too much religious intolerance in the world today. And that’s not a good thing. I am reminded of one of my professors in seminary, Jacob Needleman. He employed a powerful metaphor when discussing world religions. The religious quest, Needleman suggested, is like ascending Mt. Everest. It’s a long climb up to the summit. And where you begin your ascent looks different depending on where you live. If you begin in Mumbai, your map may look a lot like Hindu Vedas; in Texas, a Schofield Reference Bible; and in Saudi Arabia, it is apt to look like the Koran. But by the time one gets up above 15,000 feet (about half the cruising altitude of a commercial jet and about half the height of Mt. Everest), all the maps begin to look similar. And at the summit: they’ve all brought you to the same place.
Yes, indeed, the map from Saudi Arabia looks very much like the Koran. The Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. At age 40 (610) he began to have visions. In 622 he was forced to migrate to Medina. Twelve others came with him and four of them were Christians. The Middle East has always been a place of many faith traditions. Muhammad was impressed with the Prophets, but believed that neither the Jews nor the Christians had lived up to the Prophets—and in some cases had even falsified their messages.
So, Muhammad offered another path to the top of Everest: The Path of Submission: Islam. You do not have to be a saint. You just have to be true. Jihád is very misunderstood; it means “struggle,” just as “Israel” means “one who struggles” with God. This is the basic, underlying truth about the human condition: LIFE IS STRUGGLE. Don’t be deceived. Don’t trivialize it either, said Muhammad. Make it holy.
Indeed, all religions, if we focus on their central tenants, lead us to better, more productive lives. Our chalice lighting reading ended with the plea to Allah, “Guide us in the straight path.” A straight path is one that is direct, straightforward, and explicit. More than other religions, Islam spells out its directives simply and explicitly.
The Five Pillars of Islam are the principles that regulate the private lives of Muslims in their dealings with God. They are (1) the one-sentence confession of faith: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet.” Followed by (2) prayer five times a day. Next is (3) is charity: two and one-half percent of one’s resources should be distributed to the poor every year. The next (4) pillar is Ramadan, which began at sundown on Monday, April 12. Muslims who are not ill or involved in crises like war or unavoidable journeys fast during Ramadan: from the first moment of dawn until sunset, neither food nor drink nor smoke passes their lips to teach self-discipline and compassion Islam’s final (5) pillar is pilgrimage to Mecca once in their life if possible.
In our UU Sources class we’re asking each other what it is that informs our faith? For me, the sense of unity amidst diversity in the various faith traditions has always offered a spiritual connection to Unitarian Universalism.
by Rev. Dr. Stephen H. Furrer