Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Rays from the same lamp

Finished watching a fascinating film last night: The Message (1976). I say “finished” because it is three hours long, and it took me two nights to watch. But it was well worth it.

It’s the story of Mohammad, Prophet of Islam. It stars Anthony Quinn, so perhaps like me you would have assumed Quinn played the Prophet himself. But the film starts with this note:

“The makers of this film honour the Islamic tradition which holds that the impersonation of the prophet offends against the spirituality of his message. Therefore, the person of Mohammad will not be shown.”

Unusual to watch a film in which the main character is never depicted! But it made me realize, truly everything we know about our religious leaders is derivative. We know about them through their followers.

Early in the film, Mohammad’s followers find themselves seeking refuge in Abyssinia. They are taken before the king, who is Christian, to see if he will allow them to stay in peace, or throw them in chains for their actions in Mecca. Here is the defense one of the pilgrims offers:

“For years we worshipped wood and stone, images of our own manufacture. We lived in ignorance of God. We had few earthly laws and no heavenly laws. The rich neglect the poor, and the natural pity of man whereby he lifts his brother up when is fallen is described by them as upsetting social order. To this inhumanity has come a man whom God chose, and in that we believe.

“I speak of the Messenger of God. Mohammed teaches us to worship one God, to speak truth, to love our neighbors as ourselves. To give charity—even a smile can be charity. To protect women from misuse, to shelter orphans, and to turn away from gods of wood and stone.”

The king replies, “What Christ says and what your Mohammad says is like two rays from the same lamp.”

The pilgrim then recites what the Qur'an says about the birth of Jesus. “In the name of God, most gracious most merciful, relate in the book the story of Mary. How she withdrew from her family to a place in the east. How he sent to her our angel Gabriel who said, I am a messenger from your God to announce the birth of a holy son to you. She said, How shall I Mary have a son when no man has touched me? And Gabriel replied, For your Lord says it will happen. We appoint him as a sign unto man and a mercy upon us. It is a thing ordained.”

The Abyssian king replies, “The difference between us and you [draws on ground] is no bigger than this line.”

Granted, this film, like a lot of films about world religions targeted to a Christian audience, probably was trying to increase understanding between people. So it most likely chose episodes from early Islam that would contribute to that understanding. What struck me was the king’s reply: Basically, the difference between us is insignificant.

I stand with that Abyssian king. I believe if you truly dig to the core of spiritual teachings, you find much more in common between them than the fuss we make over differences would imply. For some reason, most of us focus on the differences. Is it some attempt to feel more righteous, or to control, or to remain separate? I’m never sure what motivates that impulse to criticize. But for me, I’ve tried to train myself to find and build on the commonalities, to make them the focus of conversation when I meet someone of another faith, to appreciate the good and do my best to understand.

The substance of any spiritual teaching is its genuine spirituality. And you can find that spiritual core in all the world’s long-lasting teachings. The differences are often simply a matter of semantics. Focusing on the spirituality of the teaching, I think, makes it easier to discern what elements of the teaching are more human in nature and therefore perhaps a function of a certain era, tradition, or geography. All teachings have developed these human aspects that need to be understood as human, not divine. But the spirituality is universal, and it transforms and heals no matter where it’s found.

There’s a short but powerful book I highly recommend: Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong. A quick but fascinating read, this book helped me see how history has shaped current divisiveness. And now that I have learned this, I feel responsible for turning that tide of history in whatever way I can—by listening, understanding, appreciating. Finding the connecting points and celebrating them. For, we are all rays from the same Lamp.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 2/19/2013 11:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the best writes up I have seen online in awhile!! Great Job! Loved the movie, and I have read all Karen Armstrong's books, Truly she inspired me as well.

At 2/20/2013 09:02:00 AM, Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your comment! Best wishes in your exploration of spiritual truth.



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