In the West, we’ve misunderstood Muhammad and Islam for centuries. Now it’s time to stop that pattern and begin to understand what makes Islam a great Faith.
Islam started in the Arabian peninsula in 610 CE, when it was roiled by tribal and internecine strife and war, yet ultimately resulted in a worldwide Faith with 1.8 billion adherents.
By the time Muhammad revealed Islam, Christianity was the state religion of the vast Roman Empire throughout Europe and the Middle East. Christians of that era had the unfounded belief that Christ, who they revered as the Son of God, was the last of the prophets.
This misinterpretation, this temporal understanding of the station of Christ as opposed to his spiritual ascendancy and rule, has been the cause of untold bloodshed. That ignorance and misinterpretation led to eight Christian crusades, beginning in 1095 CE and lasting almost 200 years, which resulted in the death of millions of people.
These religious wars and misunderstandings remain the chief impediment to true reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim faiths.
The basis of both Christianity and Islam is to lead people closer to God by providing a greater and fuller idea and understanding of God’s will and purpose for humankind.
Muhammad said both the Jewish and Christian communities had to be protected by Muslims, despite any animosity they might have toward Islam. Just as Christ had validated the station of Moses, Muhammad validated the stations of Abraham, Moses and Christ.
In the Baha’i teachings, this is called progressive revelation. Essentially, it means all the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths came from the same source and taught the same truths. Although the external, physical laws and rules of a religion may change to suit the needs of the people at the time they were revealed, a later religious revelation calls for new laws and rules to fit a more modern time. The spiritual laws progress as well, from loving one’s brother as oneself in the time of Christ, to preferring one’s neighbor to oneself in the time of Muhammad and Baha’u’llah.
The fact that religions fight is not due to the lack of wholeness and oneness on the part of religion, but rather to the misinterpretation and fanaticism of certain of its leaders and their followers. Baha’is believe that every religion is from God, and was given to humanity when humanity most needed God’s guidance—but also that religions can fall into dogmatic decline, failing to represent their founders’ true teachings. When that decline occurs, the Baha’i teachings say, a new messenger appears.
This concept of progressive revelation is clear as the sun at noonday: every messenger or prophet has spoken of his return, or the appearance of the next messenger from God. So why do we reject and persecute that messenger when he appears? Because we are attached to our trappings, our favorite minister or imam, our favorite temple, mosque or church, the way we worship together, and the words in our books and what we think they mean. We’re so attached that we forget that our purpose in life as a spiritual being is to love God and His creation. We forget the best way to show we love God is to love all humankind.
These names of religions, Christianity and Islam, are just labels after all, symbolizing a set of values and morals and modes of thought. Do we denigrate and degrade good people because they do not profess the same Faith we do? No. Hopefully we welcome them and help them regardless of their label or non-label. That’s all God wants from us, to love each other and care for each other. That’s the true message of every legitimate Faith.
Further, with progressive revelation, if we truly believe what our messenger has told us—that one greater than he will come—then how can we hold onto these false labels? Attachment to these labels has actually set humanity back from fully appreciating what each new messenger of God has brought to humanity, when peace and tranquility could have been implemented.
It’s time to put those antiquated labels aside. If religion is essentially one, as the Baha’i teachings assert, then we can begin to see all religion as:
… different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which [the Baha’ Faith] itself forms but an integral part. It neither seeks to obscure their Divine origin, nor to dwarf the admitted magnitude of their colossal achievements. It can countenance no attempt that seeks to distort their features or to stultify the truths which they instill. Its teachings do not deviate a hairbreadth from the verities they enshrine, nor does the weight of its message detract one jot or one tittle from the influence they exert or the loyalty they inspire. Far from aiming at the overthrow of the spiritual foundation of the world’s religious systems, its avowed, its unalterable purpose is to widen their basis, to restate their fundamentals, to reconcile their aims, to reinvigorate their life, to demonstrate their oneness, to restore the pristine purity of their teachings, to coordinate their functions and to assist in the realization of their highest aspirations. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 114.
If all Christians were to accept Muhammad as a messenger of God, it would do nothing to demean or lower the station of Christ. The same concept applies from Islam to Baha’i, and from Baha’i to the next messenger of God and that new revelation.
So I ask: Is attachment to a label worth fighting over, or worth hurting someone? I hope your answer is the same as mine: No!