On Being Christian and Muslim Simultaneously
Daily Times, July 26, 2007
In what has been termed a “surprising and bewildering” development, an American priest recently revealed she was both Christian and Muslim since converting to Islam 15 months ago. As reported by Seattle Times (22 June, 2007), Reverend Ann Holmes Redding now offers prayers with her Muslim group in a Seattle mosque on Fridays, and on Sundays she “puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest” — as she’s been doing for the last 20 years.
While Redding’s supporters find no problem with her denominational duality, reaction among theologians and scholars is mixed. Some say it is possible to be both Christian and Muslim “depending on how one interprets the tenets of the two faiths”, while others, the report notes, believe that “the two faiths (are) mutually exclusive”.
As for Redding herself, she says she doesn’t find it necessary to “reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam” because the two religions are “compatible at the most basic level” in her understanding. Pointing to the discord often seen among followers of one religion, she claims that her embracing of Islam was “the calling of my heart to surrender to God” — which is what Islam is all about.
Unusual as Redding’s case seems, she reflects a sort of double dynamic between Islam and the West on one hand and Christianity and Islam on the other. A dynamic variously noted by two prominent twentieth-century thinkers: the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) regarded as Pakistan’s spiritual father, and Carl Jung (d.1961), pioneer of Depth Psychology, which differs from Freudian psychoanalysis in exploring the truth of religious symbols in the human psyche.
In his lectures ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’, Iqbal notes that the world of Islam is spiritually moving towards the West to reclaim its own intellectual dynamism, which had remained mostly dormant in past centuries. Further, just as European thought received inspiration from the world of Islam in the past, Western thought today could help catalyse a Muslim intellectual renewal. Indeed, Iqbal believed that there was nothing wrong with this, as “European culture is only a further development of some of the most important phases of the (intellectual) culture of Islam”.
At the same time, however, Iqbal feared that “the dazzling exterior of European culture may arrest our movement and we may fail to reach the true inwardness of that culture” (p.6).
At a moment when western society seems a depthless swirl of hedonistic images, “true inwardness” might seem a long way from western culture. This is a misleading view: That western culture is also home to a deep inwardness as reflected by Jung’s psychological inquiries, his study of Christianity’s movement towards Islam in Western unconscious, and possibilities of a ‘new enlightenment’ arising out of reconciliation of Christianity and Islam.
A case in point is Jung’s analysis of the dreams of Wolfgang Pauli, the Nobel laureate in Physics who collaborated with Jung in several scientific works. The following are excerpts from Pauli’s ‘futuristic’ dream showing the coexistence of symbols of Islam (Quranic verses) and Christianity (choral singing, wine) in a space that’s both Church and Mosque:
The dreamer goes into a theatre to watch a play which is supposed to take place in the distant future. However, when he enters he finds that the theatre is a Church. Then he notices that the Church interior resembles a mosque — in fact, it is the Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul. There are no seats but “a wonderful effect of space”; no images, but framed Quranic texts on the walls. The dreamer comes across a crowd of people whom he does not know, and who say in unison, thrice: “We confess that we are under the power of the Lord. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us”. Then the organ starts playing and there is choral singing, followed by a serving of wine, and “everyone is cheerful and equable”. (CG Jung, Dreams, 1974)
As is known, Hagia Sophia was built as a church in the sixth century and converted into a mosque in 1453 after Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. And even though Kemalist secularism turned the mosque into a Museum in 1935, secularisation could not strip the power of Islamic and Christian symbols, as the dream suggests: these symbols remain alive and reconciled in the Western unconscious. Furthermore, Jung’s investigations into the symbolism of the Crescent and the Cross in the Western unconscious made him believe that the coming together of these two religions would create a “tremendous outburst, a release of energy as an enormous sphere of light... the light of a new enlightenment”.
At the same time, however, Jung warned that the new enlightenment would remain unactuated unless people were able to consciously reconcile within themselves the seemingly “irreconcilable nature of Islam and Christianity”.
Reconciling the opposites of Islam and Christianity, however, remains a Herculean task, not least because the historical baggage of the Crusades is now burdened by an ongoing ‘war on terror’ most Muslims see as a new Crusade against Islam.
However, in owning both Islam and Christianity, Rev Redding’s is an unusual step toward shedding the antipathies between the two religions. Her supporters include both Christians and Muslims, and the bishop of her Church, the Rt Rev Vincent Warner, sees her denominational duality as opening “exciting interfaith possibilities”.
Suroosh Irfani teaches Cultural Studies at National College of Arts, Lahore