I am no expert on Islam, but I have Yemini neighbors who bring me food every Ramadan, and every Hajj, and sometimes we talk about God. They were the first to offer whatever I needed after my husband died. They are righteous and holy people, and we have been neighbors for long enough for me to see one generation born and grow up and now a second coming along nicely. They, too, are people of the Book, and Salvation history runs through them as it does for us and for the Jewish people. They don’t know Jesus as the Christ, the Holy One, as we do, but they know him as a great prophet. And they know and love his mother, too. Not the same, but not so far apart.
Islam means submission to God/Allah, in humility and obedience to God’s law. Jesus taught us to be humble before his Father, and to obey God’s holy word. When Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder, and yes, men and women separate, but that was sometimes the way for us, and still is for ultra Orthodox Jews, they stand brother to brother, sister to sister, and when they look to the left and right it is to say “I see God in you, my brother, my sister.” We know that the Holy Spirit binds us into one Body, and we see God in each other, too. I fasted this Lent on beans and lentils and steamed vegetables (well, mostly). But could I have fasted knowing hunger and thirst for a month? I wish I could share the Good Shepherd, the Redemption from sin, life everlasting, but it isn’t God’s will to take from them the passion they have for God in their way.
How do we commit to a righteous life? In Islam the guidelines are the five pillars: 1) the declaration of faith, that there is only one God. 2) Obligatory prayer. 3) Giving charity. 4) The Ramadan fast. 5) The Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. What are ours? They are pretty well spelled out in the baptismal covenant. First, belief in the Creed. God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, the church, forgiveness of sin, resurrection, life everlasting. But also to refuse to do evil, to turn from Satan and all his works. To pray. To continue in the fellowship of the community and in the bread and wine of the Holy Table. An obligatory trip to Jerusalem would be nice, but we take our journey at the Table of the Eucharist when we partake of his presence and are fed. We have no fixed daily prayer times, unless we are vowed in some way or follow the Prayer Book offices. We are urged to give freely (although a good Stewardship campaign can feel like the Law). And fasting is not obligatory, however great the fruits are for those who observe it. The greatest thing we have in common is our faith in God in our midst and in our community.
In the past couple of weeks one Daily Office reading has been from Proverbs. Cherish Wisdom. Be prudent. Be a grown-up. But how? What are the boundaries of righteousness? In both Islam and Judaism it is spelled out in laws. We have rules, and Jesus is clear he has not come to eliminate moral law, but to transform it into love of God and forgiveness of sin through him and the Spirit. There are laws for those who need them (1 Tim 1:8-9a) – don’t covet, steal, commit adultery, lie. We are taught to give to the needy in goods, time, and talent, and to pray, in praise and thanksgiving, for guidance, in repentance. Righteousness has an evil twin, self-righteousness. Jesus has a bit to say about that. Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement (Mt 23). Jesus mocks hypocrisy in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Lk 18:9-14). Go into your room and pray in secret (Mt 6:6). Righteousness comes from God. A humble and obedient heart listens to God, in the Spirit, in Scripture, in community. In the secular world in which we live it is too easy to create our rules, or ignore God’s.We are still accountable to our Judge.
When the Most Rev. Michael Curry preached love to Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and to the world, he was clear about love, love of each other, but moreover that love of God and from God is the answer to the world’s sin. And that is the message Jesus brought us, without doubt or reservation. In the secular world, love can be treacherous, just as self-righteousness can be. Love without discipline is hedonism, in fact it isn’t love. Self-indulgence, pleasure seeking for our own sake or power, gratification without concern for those around us is sin.
Why this compare and contrast of the two largest groups of people of the Book? We know from our Scripture that the people of Abraham were the first to know love of and obedience to God, so my prayer is for my Jewish ancestors also. But to look at the daily murder of innocents in Gaza, to remember the land grab that was the Crusades, the horrors of ISIL, we haven’t done so well, any of the three of us. Love of land, love of power, love of “my way is better than your way” is destroying the gift of relationship with God which we know in the Trinity, and Muslims and Jews know from adherence to specific laws. We are all responsible to God our judge. Evil is growing, and must end, and only we can end it.
I can pray for the Holy Land, but there is little I can do. But I can speak as a Christian. We need discipline, too, not the same discipline as the five pillars. We come from different faiths, but we all come from the same fallen humankind. Yes, we need to discern with whom we sleep, what food and drink we choose, how we deal with each other in business, family, church. But we also need to discern where the rigid legalism and political hypocrisy of the new evangelical right is destroying us from within, as fundamentalist Islam is eroding the goodness of people like my neighbors. We are all facing new social challenges, and change is hard. Perhaps we need to step up and think about our lives, and what we gain and lose when our Love, that burning Love PB Curry preached, is not tempered with Scripture, the words of our Lord. We must expand our willingness to forgive and not seek vengeance in the name of justice. We must love each other as God loves us as we struggle through the complexity and confusion of modern life. We must never forget that Jesus is with us always, unto the end of time (Mt 28:20). He is the heart of our righteousness.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.