Yesterday, in the last of a three-week series on different world religions, we discussed the major tenants of Islam, sang a few songs with words from Sufi mystics, and talked about pilgrimage to Mecca with the kids. If you are interested in hearing the entire sermon, please click here.
The primary holy text of Islam is the Quran (also spelled Koran). What many people don’t know is that there are many, many passages that talk of the same characters that are in the Christian Bible – Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Abraham, Noah, Adam & Eve, Moses. And there are many similarities in the ways Muslims and Christians are supposed to behave. Here is the passage I used yesterday to highlight some of these similarities:
“Serve God, and join not
Any partners with Him;
And do good –
To parents, kinsfolk,
Orphans, those in need,
Neighbors who are near,
Neighbors are strangers,
The Companion by your side,
The wayfarer (ye meet),
And what your right hands possess.” (Surah 4.36)
Hopefully you can spot some of the similarities… if not, let me spell it out:
- There is one God, have no others
- Do good – to family, those in need, people we know and people we don’t know
- Be good stewards of everything in your possession – your money, time, talent, things
So, basically, we may look and dress a little different, we may pray in different positions; we may worship a little differently; some of our beliefs and traditions may be a little different… but in the end, where the rubber meets the road, where faith turns into action, we are very similar.
While the religious traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize the interior, contemplative path and going within to find the Divine. Christianity and Islam tend to emphasize faith in action to serve and find the Divine. I believe that neither way is fully right or fully wrong, but that a healthy balance of contemplation and action is essential to one’s spiritual growth.
Hindus and Buddhists certainly believe in acting with compassion and love, but if one never get off their yoga mat or meditation pillow, that belief means nothing. To be changed by compassion and love you need to use it.
Christians and Muslims may be all about feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, visiting the prisoner, and caring for the sick… but if we never allow for inner reflections on these experiences, if we don’t allow God to transform us inside through these experiences, that experience becomes a hollow action.
Last week few of us went to the Hospitality Center (a shelter for those who need to get off the streets, have a warm cup of coffee, a little food, a little friendship and access to a computer). It is very different to hear stories on the news, or from a friend, of people who struggling and unemployed versus seeing and hearing those stories first hand. Some of the challenges people face are enormous, and hearing it from me isn’t going to do too much for you either, you have to get out there and risk the experience. Why do I say “risk”? Because to experience is to change, and change is risky. There was no way I could return home from that day at the Hospitality Center and see my house, my life and all that I have in the same way. But that is good. Interior reflecting on the outside experience combines contemplation and action and is the agent of spiritual change and growth. Being stagnant and the same is not the goal.
I recognize that stepping into unfamiliar, and possibly uncomfortable situations, and allowing them to change you is very difficult for some people. This is where jihad plays in for Muslims (and perhaps for us, too, if we’re willing to incorporate the concept).
To be clear, jihad does not mean “holy war.” Jihad literally means “to struggle” or “to strive.” There are two types of jihad. The Greater Jihad is to struggle or strive against one’s lower self; the internal struggle between wrong and right, error and truth, selfishness and selflessness, hardness of heart and all-embracing love. The Lesser Jihad is an external effort to protect one’s life, faith, livelihood, honor and integrity. The Lesser Jihad may involve defending oneself in war, but there is no room in Islam for terrorism or expansion by violence (unless, of course, you are an extremist and want to twist the Quran to your benefit).
So, in order to step out of one’s comfort zone, to love unconditionally, to give generously, to live compassionately means that each of us probably has to, at some point, struggle with ourselves over doing these things. We have interior dramas – fears, egos, expectations, baggage – that may keep us from risking and growing through action and contemplation. We need to engage jihad in our spiritual lives.
Coming out of this series, I know in my heart once again that there is not simply one right path to God, but that all paths have a piece of the whole and when we allow ourselves to learn and grow from other ways, our understanding of God grows, our spirituality deepens and we find ourselves that much closer to the Divine.