I was invited to speak yesterday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which I have come to think of as my “local” church due to the many activities I’ve participated in there, including as part of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, which also wrapped up yesterday for another successful year. The theme of my contribution was “the Golden Rule”, which was the theme of FoSP 2010, and the subject of my recent paper.
As it was part of their Sunday evening service, I had a chance to see Christians at worship, which involved a variety of scriptural readings, songs and reflective supplications to God. It was a moving experience that allowed me to gain a greater insight into my neighbours’ faith and worship, and how it is both similar and different from my own tradition.
Below is the text of what I shared with the congregation.
I begin with the name of Almighty God, praising Him as is due to the majesty of His countenance. Our Lord, our Creator, our Sustainer - to You belongs all praise, a wholesome, blessed praise to fill heaven and earth and whatever You will between and beyond. Our Lord, Creator and Sustainer - send Your salutations and blessings upon your noble prophets and messengers, and all those who follow in their way until the Day of Reckoning.
It is a matter of great honour that I as a Muslim, and as a student of religions, have been invited to address this congregation – and therefore I extend my gratitude to all of you, and especially my Reverend friends, Donald Reid and John Armes, for your gracious welcome, and I greet you with the choicest words of peace – Assalaamu ‘alaykum.
The Prophet Muhammad was once playing with his grandson, Al-Hasan, holding and kissing him affectionately. One of the Bedouin Arabs was looking on, and asked incredulously: “Do you kiss your young ones? I have ten children and have never kissed a single one.” The Prophet looked at him and said: “Whoever shows no mercy is not shown mercy.”
It makes sense to understand this terse statement as teaching that God will withhold aspects of His limitless mercy from those who refuse to extend the human manifestation of that divine attribute to their fellow man.
As I explained in my recent paper on Islam and the Golden Rule, we can combine the principle of “treating others as you would like to be treated” with the ideal of acting solely for the pleasure of God, and the result is that we treat others in the way we hope God will treat us, whether in this life or the next.
The Qur’an says: “Let them pardon and overlook (others’ misdeeds). Do you not love for God to forgive you?” (Q 24:22)
The Islamic framework emphasises fulfilling both the rights of God and the rights of fellow people. The two are juxtaposed in the following teaching of Prophet Muhammad:
“Whoever wishes to escape the Hellfire and enter Paradise, then let him be a believer in God and the Hereafter when death comes to him, and let him treat people in the way that he likes to be treated.”
Our Bedouin friend refused to kiss his children. He was told, “Whoever shows no mercy is not shown mercy.” I said that this is a teaching about the divine response to cold-heartedness.
Yet it would not have escaped the notice of the Prophet, or indeed of his addressee, that being miserly with humanity will have consequences that will be experienced on the human level.
If a child is not taught by his parents how to show love and compassion, it should be of little surprise if he turns a cold shoulder to his parents when they reach old age and seek his support.
We should treat others not only as we would like to be treated, but as they deserve to be treated and as we would like to see people in general treating one another.
Likewise, we should spare people from the harm that we receive from others, and the attributes we dislike in others.
Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, a luminary of Islamic theology, discussed various means to discover one’s personal flaws. One of these, relevant to our topic today, is: “to mingle with people and attribute to oneself every blameworthy thing which one sees in them… thus one will come to scrutinise one’s own soul and cleanse it of everything one finds blameworthy in others.”
He put it starkly by saying: “Were all people only to renounce the things they dislike in others, they would not need anyone to discipline them.”
I believe that this attitude, this interpretation of the Golden Rule, is the perfect antidote to the all-too-common vicious cycle of victims becoming abusers. It can bring about the positivity we need in order to build rather than destroy.
May God guide us on the straight path that leads to Him, and may peace be with you all.