The Madina Institute
and its Interfaith Outreach
a Christian appreciation
"Treat others as you would like to be treated. Afford all human beings
unconditional compassion, kindness, and dignity, regardless of background."
-- Madina Institute
About the Madina Institute
A Christian's Response to the Madina Institute
I am a Christian not a Muslim. I cannot read the Qur'an in Arabic; I am not steeped in classical Muslim theology; I do not know the traditional prayers.
However, I hear something deep and beautiful in the call to prayer and recitations of the Qur'an; I have taught Contemporary Islamic Thought to college undergraduates about five times; I have co-taught a course on Leadership in a Multifaith World with a Muslim friend (Sophia Said); and I have many Muslim friends.
I work with folks at the Madina Institute in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I admire them very much. I like to go to the Institute and somehow feel "at home" in what may seem to other non-Muslims a strange and perhaps slightly exotic atmosphere. I know the folks at Madina well enough to know that there's nothing exotic about them. They are ordinary people, as am I, trying to live out their faith and add a little love and beauty to the world. I am, too. In this spirit I offer a Christian response to the Madina that I know.
One True Religion?
Perhaps, as folks at the Madina Institute believe, there is a true religion, planted within the heart of a boundless One in whose heart the universe unfolds. I say "in whose heart," because, for me, God is not a being in the sky cut off from the world by the boundaries of divine transcendence, but rather an all-encompassing Womb in whose heart the universe unfolds, moment by moment. We are "in" God presence and in God's love, even if we don't know it. God is One, to be sure, but One-Embracing-Many.
So if God is indeed this kind of One, then perhaps, as the Madina Institute proposes, even God has a "religion" and this religion which has compassion as its core. Perhaps Jesus was a man who felt beckoned into this religion, inviting others to be similarly beckoned. Perhaps, as Muslims say, he was a messenger. Indeed I believe this is the case. He was a ;prophet and messenger and so was Prophet Moses and so was Prophet Muhammad -- peace be upon them all. All sought to be surrendered to the One in whose heart the universe unfolds.
How might we further imagine the compassionate One who thus beckons. Muslims invite us to imagine the One as al-Jaami (the gatherer and uniter), which is one of the ninety-nine names of Allah. This is the phrase Fatima Hendricks lifts up in the video on the left at eight minutes and fifty seconds. She understands the name to refer to Allah as a healer and uniter.
The phrase is pregnant with evocative power. It suggests that Allah's very will is that all the unreconciled parts of creation and humanity, and all of the unreconciled part of our own hearts as well, are or can be gathered into a harmony that includes, rather than blots out, multiplicity. The differences between people and nations are not eliminated. The differences themselves make the whole richer, albeit in a peaceful and non-violent way. Such, she seems to say, is the will of Allah, the will of God. Our task as humans is to be receptive to this will and live it out in our lives.
If there is wisdom in this idea, then we might all claim our muslim identities. Here let the very word "islam" name, not people who belong to the religion of Islam, which is itself one among many, but people whose hearts are surrendered to the lure toward peace and non-violence. These "muslims" may belong to different religions or to no religion. Either way they practice, or seek to practice, the true religion.
Like Jesus, like Moses, like Muhammad (peace be upon all of them) we are all "muslims" and our task is, or can be, to engage in activities that help purify the hearts so that our hearts are be infused with the spirit of al-Jaami, so that we act as reconcilers and peacemakers in the world.
Peace as the Fulness of Life
On Earth as it is in Heaven
Here peace does not simply mean the absence of violence. It means the fulness of life for individuals and communities. A peaceful society is a community that is creative, compassionate, participatory, egalitarian, humane to animals, and good for the earth, with no one left behind and with none considered outsiders. It is a society in which immigrants are welcomed, the sinful are forgiven, the lonely are befriended, and the rule of law is the rule of love.
If there is any wisdom in what I've said, then the purpose of the religion of Islam is not to build walls for the sake of isolation and self-satisfied purity, but to reach out to others. It is to help people find the fulness of life as individuals and to help build these kinds of communities in which all people -- people who are Muslims and also people of other faiths and no faith -- feel safe, secure, and adventurous. They have roots and wings.
This is how the Madina Institute imagines Islam. If Islam speaks with this voice, then I am very much in favor of it. I will continue to practice it as a Christian.
Islam on a Journey
Even if God has a religion and it is compassion, I also know that no religion -- not my own and not Islam and not Judaism and not Buddhism -- has a lock on it. As Muslims say: Allahu Akbar. God is always greater than our concept of God including our religious concepts.
The religions are also historical processes that evolve through time. They are filled with diversity and competing interpretations among their followers, and they are always re-constructing themselves. In any given generation their followers will identify what they take to be the essence of core of their traditiion, and seek warrant for their perspective by appeal to the past.
The late philosopher and poet, Muhammad Iqbal, saw this, too. He wrote a book called The Reconstruction of Islam in which he proposed that historical Islam is on a journey toward becoming what it was originally intended to be: a religion that respects the dignity of each and every person and treats all with compassion. He felt that the religion had been hijacked by overly-conserative religious scholars and that it can and should become a "spiritual democracy" where people not ulama rule, and that its adherents should live with respect for others.
Iqbal and Madina
Did he discover the true transhistorical essence of Islam? I don't know. What I know is that I like the Islam of which he speaks resembles the Islam of which the Madina Institute speaks. Hear the Madina Institutes' statement of its core theological principes:
"We strongly believe that Islam is based on a firmly non-violent message and love, and therefore tries to teach the peaceful, loving, inclusive, and compassionate message of Islam. Tradition must be distinguished from religion. Thinking, not just blindly following, is key. Unconditional compassion is the foundational cornerstone of our Deen. Violence, whether verbal, intellectual, or physical, is contrary to the core Message of Islam. Islam came with the strongest message of non-violence ever. Violence is the language of the inarticulate. If you can’t articulate your opponent’s points as well as you articulate your own, then you haven’t even started. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Afford all human beings unconditional compassion, kindness, and dignity, regardless of background."
More About the Madina Institute
Madina Institure is an Islamic renewal organization with an online and local presence. Its programs include a one Year Associate’s Degree Program in Islamic Studies. a three Year Bachelor’s Degree Program in Islamic Studies Part-Time Islamic Studies Program. It has local branches around the world, too: for example, in Oldham, UK; Capetown, South Africa; Ontario, Canada; and,, in the US, in Atlanta, Georgia; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In these local branches many courses are offered for young Muslims, including (and importantly) learning Arabic and how to read the Qur'an in Arabic. Also important in these branches is the image of Islam that is offered, namely an image of unconditional compassion. The aims of the branches are to be centers of "love, warmth, openness and excellence" that inspire a new generation of Muslims and that reach out to people of other faiths in a spirit of cooperation, peace,
On Being a Friend of Madina
I am one of those people of other faiths. Recently retired from teaching, I have been actively involved in interfaith opportunities for my own local community under the auspices of the Greater Arkansas Interfaith Network (GAIN) which is a project of the Center for Process Spirituality. You can see some of GAIN's many programs in 2018 by clicking here. While at Hendrix I co-taught a course called Leadership in a Multifaith World for college undergraduates with Sophia Said of the Madina Institute and Reverend Teri Daily of All Saints Episcopal Church in Russellville, Arkansas. We developed in close cooperation with the leading forum of interfaith studies at a collegiate level, the Interfaith Youth Core based in Chicago. Our hope was that something like a Leadership in a Multifaith World might be taught by other people in other settings, and we developed a webpage for our course that might help them. Click here to see the page.
What I so appreciate about Madina's vision is that it does not seek to turn me into a Muslim (member of the religion) but to help me become a muslim (surrendered heart) in my own Christian way. I do not seek to turn Muslims into Christians, either. I sense that we we Muslims and Christian -- and many, many others who are neither Muslim nor Christian - are included in a larger love that wants us to live in joyful, crazy, peace, respectful of one another and friends to each other. I guess that, in my own small way, I'm a member of the Madina Institute, too. Or, to be more accurate, a Friend of Madina.
-- Jay McDaniel