This post first appeared as one in a series of weekly columns in The Finger Lakes Times: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-adonai-father-almighty-allah-akbar/article_9a0dcf2a-1f7e-11e7-ab29-774353b20366.html
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are brother or sister religions – they may argue and fight but they share the same DNA, strengths, and weaknesses.
The fact that Americans do not know or understand the broad and deep connections between these three religions makes us susceptible to prejudices and the support of misguided policy decisions.
Noah (Nuh)*, Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa) are featured as prominently in the Qur’an as they are in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), along with more than twenty other Biblical stalwarts. Jesus (‘Iesa), son of Mary (Maryam), is the Messiah (al-Masih) who brought a new revelation of the Gospel (al-injil) for both Christianity and Islam. While the exact teachings for spiritual practice are different for each religion, springing from three different texts (Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’an) written centuries apart, those teachings are often very similar and almost always complimentary – at least when the focus is on practice rather than creed.
There was an Episcopal priest in Seattle who decided she is both Christian and Muslim, stirring passionate debate on both sides, and was ultimately defrocked for not renouncing the Islamic half of her faith. But what she did was to offer the vision of a new day when people of faith can stop seeing their traditions as mutually exclusive. “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both,” she said (The Seattle Times, 2/4/16).
Many secular people who eschew religion blame sectarian faith for most or all of the intractable violence in the world, and yet, it is not religion at the heart of those conflicts. It is a more generic character or nature of the human heart and mind that is the problem. People with power and economic agendas use religion for personal and corporate gain, and truly sometimes those people are within the religions themselves. But religion itself is no more inherently violent and territorial than any other form of human coherence and association. One of the gifts of religion in fact, is a deep and abiding sense of community in which healing can and often does take place.
This is not a defense of religion against the charge of institutional corruption, abuse, and prejudice, because clearly all institutions of religion are guilty of that and more. It is to say that we have begun to move into a new day. Obviously we are early in this stage of its evolution, as the defrocking of the bi-faithful priest indicates. But religion and spiritual pluralism, with the rejection of mutually exclusive truths, has begun.
Just as there are fewer and fewer Republicans and Democrats, and more and more Independents, there is a change afoot in how fiercely we guard the boundaries of our religions. That can only benefit the cause of peace, and the hope of reconciliation among divided peoples.
*Parentheticals are transliterations from English and Christianized names and terms.