The Words of the Werner Family
Once upon a time, almost a thousand years ago, Muslims and Christians were engaged in bloody combat, as they have been many times since. The leader of the Christians was Richard the Lion-hearted and the leader of the Muslims was the equally brave Saladin. Both gradually came to recognize the fruitlessness and folly of continuing enmity and such destructive bigotry. According to the historians, the two met, saying, "If you give me something you really love and I give you something I greatly treasure, perhaps then peace can be restored to our unhappy world." "Fine," said the other, "Ill give you my beloved sister and you give me your much-loved brother. If they are joined in marriage, then perhaps we can live together as one big family." As you well know, that plan never bore fruit. But this does not mean it was not the right way and God's way. If we as Christians share what we love and you as Muslims share what you love, our world can be a better place for all mankind.
My comments at this first Muslim-Unificationist dialogue are intended to show what impresses me about Islam. These remarks will be based on my world religions trilogy and some articles on Islam which have been published in several American, European and Asian magazines. But more importantly, my appreciation for Islam comes from visits to great Muslim cities like Damascus, Tehran, Delhi, Cairo, Beirut and Jerusalem. My deep respect for the Islamic faith is largely a result of seeing those parts of the world where Muslim culture is still a living reality. How could I forget the piety and beauty of the Mosque of Omar in Damascus, the tomb of Abraham at Hebron, the Taj Mahal in India or the Muslim masterpieces in Iran?
However, my main theme is to suggest what modern Muslims can do to improve and revitalize the West. We Asians are like most of you Muslims in one very important respect. Since we are not rooted in Western cultural traditions, we can look at the West quite objectively and sometimes critically. This does not mean we are anti-American or anti-European. Not at all. All it means is that we are able to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses from a different perspective.
For this reason, as an Asian and an Unificationist, let me repeat the substance of an assessment of our modern world made by the first secretary-general of the Arab League: In the past few generations the forces of materialism have been defeating man's spiritual life, he wrote. Without any aim or goal we have wrought havoc everywhere. In the name of women's rights, we are destroying the serenity of the home. In the name of nationalism, we are tearing nations asunder. In the name of social reform and revolutionary reconstruction of society, we are losing the freedom of the individual. We today are marching on to ruin. Those words come from a book entitled "The Eternal Message of Muhammed."
What is there about Islam which is inspiring? First of all, its deep piety. By contrast with most Europeans, Americans and East Asians, the average Muslim is a man of prayer. Believers in Islam stand out because of their practice of daily prayer. No matter where I visited in the Muslim world I heard the call from the minarets for men and women to bow in adoration to God the all-merciful. Every day the small villages and big cities of the Muslim world pause to remember the supreme authority and unfailing kindness of God. There is nothing comparable to that in London or Paris, New York or Tokyo, San Francisco or Seoul. For Islam, daily public prayer is part of man's ordinary routine, as it should be.
This deep piety results from God's revelation of His will in the Quran. Let me quote only two brief texts: In Surah 3:51 it is written:
It is God Who is my Lord And your
Then worship Him This is a Way That is Straight.
And in Surah 11:61 one of the ancient prophets declares:
"Oh my people! Worship God: yet have no other God but Him. It is He who hath produced you from the earth and settled you therein. Then ask forgiveness of Him, and turn to Him (in repentance': for my Lord is [always] near, ready to answer."
Why do Muslims affirm the necessity for daily public and private prayer? Because they recognize the absolute sovereignty of God. This belief provides a bridge which connects Islam and Unificationism. We too assert that mankind can never find lasting happiness here on earth or enjoy the eternal bliss until all peoples recognize His primacy and supreme authority. In Islam, religion is defined quite fittingly as "submission to Allah." In Unification theology, we say that God is our rightful subject and we exist to be His object. Or to use more common New Testament language, our most fundamental concern is to establish the kingdom of God on earth. As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Thy will be done on earth even as it is in heaven." Hence, our chief goal as Unificationists is to realize the universal reign of God throughout His creation and among all men.
Muhammed Iqbal, the ideological father of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, was one of those who saw the social, economic and political implications of Quranic teaching about God's unique authority. To believe that God alone is God means that His servants must put everything else in second place. If God alone is God, we must reject the worship of anything less. We cannot worship our nation, our race, our class, our political party. To be a chauvinistic nationalist, a racist or a materialist is to commit the worst of all possible sins, by ascribing "a partner to Allah."
In most parts of the world, such thorough-going dedication to the rule of God has virtually disappeared. Like the Muslims, we Unificationists reassert the need for absolute God-centeredness. As we say so often, we believe in God-centered individuals, God-centered families, God-centered nations in a God- centered world. As I see it, against almost insuperable obstacles, Muslims are committed to the establishment of a theonomous social order and a theocratic world. That kind of dedication impresses me. We stand on a common platform.
Let me briefly expand our common theocentricity in three specific areas. First, religiously. As you are well aware, the Quran contains numerous warnings against ascribing partners to Allah. God has no equals for He alone is God. The Quran contains some very barbed criticisms of religious people who have ignored that basic doctrine. Christians in particular are often upset by what the Quran says because they think that it is written with their doctrines and worship in mind.
For example, when the Quran declares that God is one and not three, isn't this a direct attack on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity? When we read that Allah has no wife, is this not a criticism of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos)? Or when the Quran asserts that God has no son, is this not a repudiation of Christian belief in the Incarnation? Hence, for many traditionalist Christians there appear to be insurmountable barriers to Muslim-Christian dialogue and cooperation.
Fortunately, for Unificationists these dogmatic disagreements are verbal rather than substantial, as they are for many liberal Protestants these days as well. Muslims do not agree with some historic interpretations of Christian doctrine. Yet today these dogmatic explanations are no longer held by some Christians either.
But let me comment on the Unificationists' position. We recognize the very common religious practice of identifying the messengers, prophets and saints of God with God Himself. That has historically led to all kinds of theoretical and practical difficulties. I was pleased to learn that Muslims do not like to be called Mohammedans. They do not submit to Mohammad but to God and only God. However important and exalted, the Prophet's role is subordinate to the higher authority of Allah.
A similar attitude was upheld by Jesus and his first disciples. Original Christianity was theocentric rather than Christocentric. In fact, it was not the apostles, but their opponents who first called them Christians, according to the book of Acts. Only later was Christianity transformed into a Jesus-centered religion rather than a God-centered one. But there is no need to elaborate upon the Christological development. That story is clearly documented in almost any history of church dogma.
There is no time to go into detail about Unificationist reinterpretations of ancient Christological and Unitarian dogmas. Unificationists do not believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. For us, Jesus was a man who had been given a divine commission to establish God's kingdom on earth. Nor do we accept the Nicean and Chalcedonian doctrines of the Trinity. Like the Old Testament and the authentic teachings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, Unificationists affirm that there is only one God, the maker of heaven and earth. When we use Trinitarian language, we refer to a perfected Adam and Eve, two human beings, whose unity is based on their total devotion to God. Naturally, as Christians we affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was appointed to the messianic office by God. Jesus was the Christ, as the New Testament teaches. But his messianic mission did not make him part of the Godhead, a second person of the Godhead, Trinity or consubstantial with God, as the fourth century creeds claim. He was one with God in a unity of will, oneness of purpose, his total dedication to the Father.
Islam can be of immense benefit to the Christian world, it seems to me, if it reminds all of us to put God first and Him alone. What the churches today need is God-centered and God-dedicated and God-guided Christians instead of Lutherans, Calvinists, Wesleyans, Arminians or some other group whose primary allegiance is to their human teacher.
The doctrine of God's absolute primacy also greatly affects our understanding of man. If God alone is God, then all men should practice the virtue of humility. We are not self-sufficient and self-made. That is why Muslims prostrate themselves when they pray. That explains why the Quran describes the faithful as "slaves of Allah." "Thy will, O God, not mine, be done" is a prayer representing the core of piety.
To illustrate this virtue of humility, let me tell you a story I heard a couple of summers ago at an international Muslim-Christian dialogue in Hartford Seminary. Muslim peoples are famous for their expensive hand-woven carpets. A weaver will take many years creating a rug of elaborate floral and geometric design. Each carpet has a unique pattern which is woven with painstaking care. Yet somewhere in the carpet the designer will make a tiny mistake, one so small that no one else can recognize it. Why? Because out of humility, the maker wants to confess his faith that only Allah can create something of perfect beauty. God alone is perfect and man, no matter how talented, can never seek a higher status than that of Allah's humble servant.
That's one aspect of the Islamic doctrine of man. There is a second which is just as important. The Quran teaches that God created man to be His vice gerent, His representative on earth. For Muslims as for Unificationists, man stands in a unique position, far above the rest of creation. To quote Iqbal again, man exists to "organize, synthesize, focalize, dominate and construct" the world in which God has placed us. Using language drawn from Genesis, we say man's purpose is to be fruitful, multiply and exercise dominion over the earth. According to Unification theology, God gave Adam and Eve that mission which has remained man's purpose in creation ever since.
Prof. al Faruqi has done an excellent job of summarizing the Muslim doctrine of man in his "Historical Atlas of the Religions of the World" (1974, p. 245). But probably you have never heard how much this Islamic understanding of human dignity has impressed the Koreans. We had almost no first-hand acquaintance with Muslims until the Korean War.
Among the United Nations troops who helped us fight the communist aggressors there was a detachment of Turks. Very quickly Koreans began to admire those Turkish soldiers for their manly dignity, military bravery, disciplined life-style, unfailing courtesy and their respect for women and the elderly. "What makes you like that?" Koreans asked. "We are Muslims" was the reply.
My final point is that Islam impresses me because it's a faith which deliberately embraces every aspect of life. Here let me praise the noble example set by the Prophet Mohammad. His was never an otherworldly, escapist or privatized piety. In Unificationism we say that God expects of each of us to fulfill three blessings: to achieve personal perfection, to establish a good family and to perfect our mastery over the world. As a loving husband, a kind father, an inspiring religious leader and a just ruler, the Prophet himself demonstrated that ideal. And ever since that time, Muslims have put their faith to work, expressing it in architecture and painting, philosophy and poetry, science and government.
Islam is proof of Tillich's epigram: a culture is the form of a religion and a religion is the substance of a culture.
Unfortunately the media has generally been as anti-Muslim as anti-Moonie. Consequently the Muslim attacks on materialistic and atheistic communism have seldom been given a fair hearing. Let me therefore quote a sample paragraph taken from the official magazine of the Muslim World League, published in Mecca:
"This communist dreamland is a
utopia such as would never be materialized in this world of reality.
It belongs under the realm of delusion. Its basic assumptions, that
the human being can ever be artificially made equal in possessing
similar means of production and that all class-war shall come to an
end when and if wealth is distributed evenly among all people and
that humanity cannot progress except through interclass warfare, are
altogether baseless and untrue. It (communism) represents an idealism
such as can fascinate fools only. It originated out of materialism
and ironically enough is supposed to be based on scientific
principles and facts of life."
Muslim World League, Nov. 1973, p. 24
We Unificationists are not discouraged by the present state of the world. Not at all, for we are convinced that our age can be a time for divine promise.
As we engage in friendly dialogue, let's never forget what God expects of us today. What better way then is there for me to conclude my paper than with a final quotation from the Quran (Surah 3:52):
"When Jesus found unbelief on their part, He said: Who will be my helpers in [the cause of] God? Said the Disciples: We are God's helpers."
Whether we realize it or not, we Unificationists and Muslims are natural partners in all those things which matter most, because we are God's helpers in restoring His sovereignty over His creation.