Unitarian Universalist Minute: Islamic Connection

Unitarian Universalism springs from sources – many tributaries flow into the river of the faith we share. The longest and largest source for us is Protestant Christianity, with more recent contributions from Humanism. The Muslim influence on our development has never been huge, but it has played a role.

For example, on our Universalist side, there’s George de Benneville, born 1703. While sailing to America, De Benneville was moved and impressed by the kindness and caring he encountered in some Muslim Moorish sailors on the ship. The experience helped open de Benneville to open-minded exploration of religion. His long and colorful spiritual journey led him to Universalism – the view that all souls were saved – which de Benneville was the first person in colonial America to openly teach.

On our Unitarian side, Islam, or Mohammadism as it was typically called, played a role in our early arguments about the trinity. The early Unitarians, in developing our tradition of freedom, reason, and tolerance, got their name from their critique of trinitarianism. They were Unitarians, saying God was one, rather than Trinitarians, saying God was three. In that debate, the Unitarians sometimes pointed to Islam, which is also unitarian, as evidence that, however faiths may differ, the oneness of God was a natural and reasonable conclusion. In the later 1800s and into the 1900s, Islam remained a frequent topic of Unitarian discussion. While these discussions were often critical, gradually a growing number of Unitarians found much to admire in Islam, and Muhammad’s image among Unitarians was progressively rehabilitated.

(Adapted from:
http://transientandpermanent.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/muslim-influence-on-the-roots-of-unitarian-universalism/, where more info is available. Thanks to James Ford for this link.)


The Storm Averted

Here in Florida, we know hurricanes. When the high winds and heavy rains come, we do what people do when disaster strikes and lives and ways of life are put at risk. We pull together. In Florida, when the hurricanes come, it brings out the cooperative spirit. We help each other get through the power outage, the clean-up, and the repairs. And we give particular attention to the ones hit hardest.

In like manner, we saw a hurricane of religious division headed our way, due to hit this week-end. Rev. Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center had announced that September 11 was “Burn a Koran Day,” and that he intended to publicly burn copies of the Quran on that day, in a gesture of contempt for Islam and Muslims.

When this storm of religious strife appeared headed our way, Gainesville’s faith community and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship responded. In the last week Jews, and Christians, and Moslems, and Hindus and Unitarian Universalists have joined and been blessed by one another.

On Wednesday September 8, at in Interfaith Prayer service at Trinity Episcopal Church, leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths shared in prayers together for peace and for harmony among peoples of diverse faith.

On Friday evening, September 10, hundreds gathered at Trinity United Methodist Church for “Gathering for Peace, Understanding, and Hope” -- an evening of coming together and engaging various peace activities and in conversations across religious lines.

On Saturday afternoon, September 11, there was a rally and march in the neighborhood of Dove World Outreach. I was among the speakers. At the same time,"A Day of Peace and Unity" on the downtown plaza organized by the Gainesville Muslim Initiative included speakers and conversations for interfaith peace, and a candlelight vigil.

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship were in attendance at all these events, engaging with our neighbors of varying faiths and doing the work of building mutual understanding.

Our Sunday service on September 12 carried out a commitment made a month before among a dozen or so congregations to include certain specified passages from the Quran at our respective Sabbath services on the weekend of September 10-12. (The passages: Surah 3:64, 2:177, 2:136, and 49:13).

In the face of the threatening hurricane of symbolic intolerance, the interfaith community came together. And we gave particular attention to the ones hit hardest. The Gainesville, and indeed, World Islamic community was targeted, and so, in solidarity with our Muslim siblings, and in solidarity, too, with all the congregations who are also stood with our Muslim neighbors and friends, our choir sang songs of peace, including a beautiful Iraqi peace song, and I spoke of our denomination’s historic connections with Islam, and of our ongoing commitment as Unitarian Universalists to the work of building true peace.

An inclement climate for tolerance called for special action. At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, standing on the side of love is our everyday commitment, come foul weather or fair.


Sep 11

Rev. Terry Jones now says he won't be burning a Quran: "Not today, not ever."
And the sign on his property announcing "International Burn a Koran Day" has come down.

Sighs of relief.

The New York Times has a nice article about Gainesville and how we're responding to having Rev. Jones in our midst.

Last night I was at a neighboring church, Gainesville's Trinity United Methodist Church, for the "Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope" held there. Read about it:
It was marvelously well-attended. Rev. Jones seems to have drawn quite a lot of people into more energetically seeking interfaith harmony.
One indicator: When the leadership of Trinity United Methodist asked its membership for volunteers to help with the set up and logistics and provisions for their planned Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope, they actually got more volunteers than they could use. "That's never happened," said one staff member.
I was there with our Zen group. We set up mats and cushions at one edge of  the hub-bub, and did some public meditation for peace. I set out a sign to let all the passers-by know they were invited to join us on one of the empty cushions "for a few minutes, or longer as you like." Another sign said, "Peace doesn't end with inner peace. It just begins there."
There were speakers -- for about 6 or 7 minutes each -- on the half-hour -- which served as a nice timer for our sits.

This evening I'll be at the "Day for Peace and Unity" event at our downtown  plaza.


Quran Burning Update, Friday morning

As of this writing, Rev. Terry Jones has “suspended, not canceled” his plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday evening, September 11.

The attention given to Jones turned what would have been one small front-yard bonfire in our neighborhood into a symbol for the whole world of anti-Islam religious intolerance. Jones’s plans came to represent in many eyes the anti-Islamic bigotry, Islamophobia, and general resistance to diversity of the entire Western World.

Because the gesture of burning the Quran is such a powerful symbol, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville along with many other people and groups in our area recognized that our response to that gesture was also powerful -- and vitally important. We understood, as Americans, as Floridians, and as people of faith, that our capacity to answer burning hatred with the cool waters of understanding would be judged by our response to this act of intolerance in our midst. It has been truly heartening to see the interfaith community in the Gainesville area come together to affirm mutual respect, to pray together, to answer division with unity, and to respond to belligerence with commitments to peace.

Whether Rev. Jones actually burns copies of the Quran on Saturday or not, we remain committed to standing together; standing in for all people everywhere who seek a world of mutual understanding, peace, and justice; standing against intolerance; standing on the side of love.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to stand in witness of the faith tradition we inherit, to embody now our heritage of freedom, reason and acceptance. And we invite friends of tolerance from all faith traditions or none to stand with us.

Friday evening, September 10. I encourage attendance and participation at the Gathering for Peace, Understanding, and Hope at Trinity United Methodist Church. From 6 PM until 9 PM there will be a number of “stations” to visit, and speakers, for about 5 minutes each, every half-hour. This is an important opportunity to meet with others across faiths and build the peace and understanding that comes with relationship.

Saturday, September 11. Meet at 5:30 PM at UUFG (4225 NW 34th St). We will organize there, and, in light of any newest developments, make decisions about carpooling to places to demonstrate for peace, be in solidarity, and stand on the side of understanding and love. Wear your "Co-exist" or Unitarian Universalist t-shirt; bring signs. There may be a Peace March in the neighborhood of Rev. Jones’ church. In any case, we will (also) be participating in the Candlelight Vigil for Peace and Unity hosted by the Gainesville Muslim Initiative. This event comprises a number of actions including feeding the homeless (5:00–6:00 PM), a blood drive, book drive, and food drive (5:00–7:00 PM). Various community and faith leaders, including me, begin speaking at 7:05, and the candlelight vigil is from 8:00 to 8:15.
Sunday morning 11:00 AM Worship Service, September 12.

Our annual Ingathering Water Communion will take on the added significance of differing faiths as well as individuals flowing together into community. We'll have readings from the Quran and explore together the path to a world of peace.

Unitarian faith calls for standing for unity in love amidst diversity of thought. Universalist faith calls for standing for inclusion of all within the circle of equal concern and respect.