I am attending a few talks at a mosque, which are held in the main prayer hall while men come and go to offer prayers in the other side of the hall, their audible invocations occasionally echoing across the high-ceilinged room. It’s a remarkably inviting atmosphere.
The one I’ve been particularly waiting for, about Jesus, was delivered by British Catholic-priest-turned-Muslim, Idris Tawfiq. What an opportunity!
I found him to be a skilled speaker and a warm, likeable person. He started by stressing that he had no axe to grind about the Church, but intended merely to reflect on his own journey towards Muslim belief. He went on to describe Islam as being not a religion founded by a historical figure called Muhammad, but a natural state of submission to God which has found expression in a variety of ways over the ages. This is one of my favourite things about Islam – so beautiful. In fact if I was sure that was all Islam was, I would embrace it right now. Later, in response to a question about the status of faiths outside the Abrahamic traditions, he was more generous than I’ve heard many people of the Abrahamic faiths be. He said that while belief in more than one God is wrong, he feels that God does speak to people and any goodness in their traditions has to be from God.
Regarding Jesus, he discussed how the Biblical account of what transpired in Eden differs from the Quranic account in that God did not forgive Adam and Eve, and so people have been trying to atone for their sins ever since. This culminated in the belief in a superhuman act of salvation. That was interesting but I’m not sure the difference is so stark, in practice. He then delved into the history of Christianity and of gospel-writing, which he dealt with very diplomatically and generously, but ultimately concluded that the belief in the divinity of Jesus arose out of an exaggerated love for him by his followers and not out of the teachings of Jesus himself. This mirrors what I happened to read last night in “How to Read the Bible” by Richard Holloway (which someone lent me and so far, is a great read, a sort of review of Biblical scholarship).
This sort of continues my prior questioning on how relevant history is. I was veering towards the notion that we can discern truth and falsehood without recourse to history. But history is also convincing. One of the slightly aggressive Christian questioners in the audience (there were a few) asserted that faith and the Holy Spirit are what verify Christian belief. This reliance on feeling cannot be argued with, which is precisely what the speaker said in response. But clearly, feeling leads different people to different conclusions. So perhaps history and reason has to constrain feeling, to some extent. Truth may be found in the tension between reason and passion.
My enchantment with the idea of a primordial belief and way of being is a result of my reason and my feeling. And what is primordial to me from my early memory is a belief in God and a belief that God and goodness are linked. A belief that praying to God makes you a better person. That is all I have to hold onto. Whether I choose to express it in terms of redemption through faith, or in terms of returning to the Source, almost doesn’t make any difference.
Lately I have been wondering whether I should primarily regard this intrinsic belief as my religion, rather than focusing my efforts on picking a religion from a range of pre-set options. Perhaps I should even identify myself as Muslim on the basis that true Islam (in the generic sense) describes what I believe in pretty well, and practical Islam (the religion) along with other faiths are an attempt to realise true Islam. There is no need to choose between Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, because elements have been preserved from all revelations and it is all good. Reason and feeling together show us what is good in amongst what is artificial or distorted by history.
Does this mean I am actually starting to trust myself?? 😀