Muslim? Quaker? Speak!

The author in his 2016 QuakerSpeak interview.

Ihdinā ṣ-ṣirāṭa al-mustaqīm, Ṣirāṭa al-laḏīna anʿamta ʿalayhim ġayri l-maġḍūbi ʿalayhim walā ḍ-ḍāllīn

Show us the straight path, the path of those You bestowed favor upon, not anger upon, and not of those who go astray.

—Qur’an Surah Al-Fatiha 1:6-7

This Surah (chapter from the Holy Qur’an) is the most known Surah of all. Repeated in each rakah of each daily prayer, a Muslim recites this up to 50 times a day. It is guaranteed to be known by all the faithful, ingrained in their memory and message. It is a message that, in its last two verses, implores each and every Muslim to seek God’s guidance to that path and not be led astray.

For me there is no clearer definition of being asked to seek the Divine Light.

Since recording the video “Why I Am a Quaker and a Muslim” for QuakerSpeak, it became my dubious honor to achieve minor notoriety as “the Muslim Quaker.” In both circles—Quaker and Muslim—there was abundant criticism.  Some in the Muslim community reviled me as an apostate. Rather than seeing Quakerism as the lens through which I practice Islam, the immediate view is that I have chosen to build a syncretic spirituality: my own Lego-fantasy religion built from the multicolored bricks of different sets: part Jedi, part medieval castle, all the fun, and none of the discipline. For some on both sides of the spiritual coin, I am astray. I have lost my way.

Which way is that precisely? For some, if I am not a member of a meeting steeped in 100 years of Friends United Meeting tradition, I am not a Quaker. For others, if I do not practice Islam as a Wahabi, I am not a Muslim. In all my years living and working with different people around the world, I have learnt something every Quaker and Muslim should know: we all have our own path to the Light.

Certainly some—Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) come to mind—are better examples to follow when it comes to how we treat our planet and its residents. But even they taught us that reaching that of God within us can take many forms. From those who risk life and limb daily for others to those who dedicate themselves to the protection of our planet, we all have our divine calling. To say one person’s path is truer or straighter than another’s, to say that there is only one way to God, or to say that creed or ritual will get you there—these are all ways to divide us under false flags, when the truth is we are all one people, each traveling under our own colors.

I’ve found that the “my way is the right way” position, which mars reasoned argument, seemed to only lead off a cliff.

It was debates such as this that came to the fore after my QuakerSpeak video and that drove home to me how divisive identity politics has become. Tribalism in the guise of nationalism and religious fervor has become the new religion. Some of my generation, and younger, adhere to forms of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and in their zeal, they seem far removed from the more sedate practices of our recent ancestors. You could even argue that in my Lego-brick theology, I have done the same by breaking away from the Islam that my parents practiced and choosing something altogether new that I could become more passionate about. There is a difference, however, in having that identity define my judgment. Identity-driven politics could move one to say that all I am and who I am is defined by the groups I belong to. My identity does not become so all-encompassing and important that it negates the oppression and suffering of others.

In discussions I’ve had since my video, I’ve found that the “my way is the right way” position, which mars reasoned argument, seemed to only lead off a cliff. The flip side of this, the negative interrogative, is an equally damaging vehicle for assertions: “Don’t you think this makes you a hypocrite?” 

If my video has helped in some way, that is all I could ever hope for.

Today was the last day of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid, the celebration at the end of a month of fasting. Fasting is just one part of Ramadan. More than simply abstaining from food from sunrise to sunset, it asks us to observe God more often, to be as true as possible to our moral character, to be more ready to forgive, to not speak ill of others, and to not get angry. This is not to say that we live with moral abandon the rest of the year round. Knowing we are imperfect, however, Islam asks us to take this month to focus our energies and exercise our disciplines of faith and practice. We are asked to be the best version of ourselves; knowing full well that try as we might, it is hard for us to be so every single day. It is the month that we can try to shine as an example of our own best path to God. And so by our example, we encourage others to find their own unique way in the Light. 

If my video has helped in some way, that is all I could ever hope for. My sincerest thanks to the wonderful Jon Watts who helped bring out, in myself and others, the best of Quakerism and Islam.

Naveed Moeed

Naveed Moeed is a British Pakistani who, after living in Europe and the Middle East, has settled in North Carolina. A member of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Meeting, he also attends a local mosque and serves as meeting liaison to groups working against racism and Islamophobia. Professionally he has worked in IT, but is currently a budding actor and photographer.

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