Does God's forgiveness ultimately depend on how we answer a multiple-choice exam?
At my Aunt Florence's funeral last week, that question came up from a Christian perspective, because I was the only Muslim in a room full of Baptists, Evangelical Lutherans and Charismatic Catholics. And while they weren't at all concerned about Aunt's final destination they were all certainly worried about mine.
I've actually put a lot of thought into my chosen religion: in Islam -- among other things -- I think I'm looking to the most authentic representation of the person of Jesus, for myriad robust and scripturally based reasons. In fact, it's one that was followed -- for those same robust reasons -- by the majority of the earliest Christians for Christianity's first four hundred years, until the non-Christian Emperor Constantine imposed the Christian Nicene Council's more "Greco-Roman friendly" version by imperial fiat and the sword almost 400 years after Christ was born. I don't think many Christians living today realize just how bloody and oppressive that imposition was: the northern Church declared what was then a common interpretation among early Semitic Christians; that Jesus was -- like us -- one of God's creations rather than God himself, a heresy. Then, over the next few hundred years their followers used the Nicene Creed as a tool, ostensibly to promote unity, but actually to root out heretics, sometimes even at sword-point.
Today, that's all ancient history, few if any Christians remember it and to most Muslims, whether we are Semites or not, it just doesn't matter. Instead, we each look to the version of Jesus that feels right to us based on where we are religiously: what I call "truthy" Jesus rather than "true" Jesus; "truthy" being a word coined by political comedian Stephen Colbert to describe "something I'm sure is true, because it feels right". Basically, any Muslim will tell you we all love Jesus, just not the Nicene bishop's version. In response, most Christians would likely tell us that we're missing the point, but that's not the problem, that's just the basis of an interesting conversation. No, the problem is that we don't talk, or otherwise compete to good purpose in our shared pursuit of Heaven. Instead, those long-ago doctrinal disputes have become fossilized religious doctrine; used solely to define whose team jersey we wear in our worldwide religious competition over who's going to win God's Grace in the end.
Religious marketing; the claim that there is only one "true" faith, that God's Grace is a limited commodity and that just one faith controls it, has marred our religions for the sake of a small and self-serving religio-political elite since that elite's forbears first discovered the rest of us had more than one religion to choose from -- and discovered as well just how easy suborned faith sometimes makes it to manipulate us -- that inequity then infuses our theological conflicts with super-existential importance, which in turn drives believers to levels of exertion that has caused tragic suffering and loss throughout the world. In the last 2000 years, over 200 million human souls have lost their lives to religio-political disputes: pretty much half of them to Christians, and half of them to Muslims: these last ten years are no different --with almost a million Muslims dead alone, pretty much half to Christians and half to other Muslims-- and so despite world progress in so many other areas believers are no better than we were a thousand years ago. Is that because we are all missing the point?
Every year during Ramadan, I re-read through the Holy Quran from start to finish. And based on that I think we are all missing the point, loosing sight of what our forest of faiths could actually be for the sake of arguing over which tree is best. And I'm not actually worried about where my Aunt ended up either, even though she wasn't a Muslim.
Al-Ma'idah, "The Banquet" confirms, regarding Muslims, Christians and Jews:
Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but He willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ.
If the followers of the Bible would but attain to faith and God-consciousness, We should indeed efface their bad deeds, and indeed bring them into gardens of bliss; and if they would but truly observe the Torah and the Gospel and all that has been bestowed from on high by their Sustainer, they would indeed partake of all the blessings of heaven and earth.
In fact, the opening verse of the first book of revelation in the Qur'an, Al-Baqarah, "The Cow" opens with:
This divine writ- let there be no doubt about it- is a guidance for all the God-conscious...who believe in that which has been bestowed from on high upon thee, as well as in that which was bestowed before thy time: for it is they who in their innermost are certain of the life to come!
And if you do believe in the Quran and what came before you'll see:
- Krishna didn't tell Arjuna how to make more Hindu's, he taught him how to make better choices.
- Siddhartha didn't strive to make more Buddhists; he strove to make better people instead.
- Moses didn't work for the sake of the Children of Israel alone; he strove for all good people who would work with him.
- Jesus taught his followers to worship his Creator and serve their fellow man, not him.
- Muhammad struggled for justice, and freedom, and equality for all under God.
Infidel in the Quran isn't a word that applies to non-Muslims, it applies to anyone who says one thing and does another, regardless of their religion. And Kuffar doesn't mean unbeliever, it means specifically someone who knows the truth and buries it regardless, for his or her own selfish reasons, whether Muslim or not.
In the end, if you read all God's revelations with an open heart, you'll see it doesn't really matter so much whom you follow: what matters more is why you follow them, whether you follow them well, and what following them means you actually do. My Aunt Florence wasn't lauded by all her family and friends alike because of her doctrine or her devotion to it, but instead because she was kind to everyone, because she believed God was even kinder: capital "K" Kind to everyone, herself included.
Near the end of both their preaching, both Jesus and Muhammad gave summary "Sermon's on the Mount", where each promulgated the same core values of freedom, equality and justice for all, and both told their followers, "Go in peace, Serve the Lord."
Neither told their followers to serve Jesus or Muhammad, or Christianity or Islam.
It's quite striking to me, how often the image of a foot-race is used when God's spirit speaks to us regarding relations with other and different believers, because while every racer is inevitably and necessarily in a different place on the same race-course they way one succeeds remains the same for each: play by the rules and strive your hardest, along the path before you.
So in the end, I think the secret to getting along is quite simple.
Go in Peace.
Serve the Lord.
And don't forget to be kind.