One Religion or Two?



One Religion or Two? *

The Case of Anne Holmes Redding

By Idris Tawfiq

There is no doubt that interfaith dialogue, whereby the people of
different religions get to know each other more through open and frank
discussion, as well as friendly interchange, is one of the most
pressing needs in the world today.

In a world that is becoming increasingly more secular, it is important
that people of faith should talk to one another and uphold common
values in a world that often has no place for God. Having two
religions at the same time, though, seems to be stretching interfaith
dialogue a bit too far.

And yet, that is what one lady in the United States claims to possess:
two religions. Reverend Ann Holmes Redding, a minister of the
Episcopal Church, claims to have declared Shahadah and become Muslim,
while at the same time remaining Christian and fulfilling all of her
duties as a minister.

She is said to put on a veil, face the direction of Makkah, and pray
five times a day. Yet for the rest of the day, she performs the
function of a minister of the Episcopal Church, which might any day
include baptisms, weddings, and funerals. On a Sunday, she leads the
congregation in its religious service and preaches from the pulpit.

Hearsay is very dangerous, so I must state right from the start that I
am going only on reports (well-sourced reports) about the matter. The
purpose here is not really to address one particular person's journey
of faith, but to see what this story has to teach us. If these few
words can be of any help or interest to Reverend Redding, that is an
added bonus.

The question is, "Can you be Christian and Muslim at the same time?" I
believe the answer to be a very resounding "No," but it needs a bit of
unpacking so we can understand exactly what is going on.

When I first heard the story, my immediate action was to go and look
through some of my own papers. Some of you may know that I declared
Shahadah and embraced Islam nearly seven years ago in Regent's Park
Mosque in London. Before being Muslim, I was a Roman Catholic priest.
Not too long after embracing Islam, I came to live in Egypt.

If I had stayed in London, the authorities at London Central Mosque
(Regent's Park) would have eventually issued me with a certificate of
embracing the Islamic Faith, once they had seen that my decision to
become Muslim was a lasting one. Such a certificate is an important
proof, for example, if you intend to visit Saudi Arabia and perform
Hajj or `Umrah.

Since I lived in Egypt at the time, I obtained the certificate from Al-
Azhar, the most famous seat of Islamic scholarship and the oldest
university in the world.

So I went straight back to the certificate. I remember very clearly
the words I had declared at Al-Azhar. The certificate, signed by the
Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar himself, contained the words I had uttered.

It says quite clearly that I reiterated [my] acknowledgement of the
Islamic Faith, saying [first in Arabic and then in English]: I bear
witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that
Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.

The next paragraph is most interesting, because it contains the other
words that I said: I also acknowledge that Moses, Jesus and all other
Prophets are servants and Messengers of Allah. I renounce all
religions other than Islam. Furthermore, I hereby and henceforth
adhere to Islam as my Faith and Shari`ah.

So there we have it, quite clearly. I remembered saying the words, and
I know that the words make sense. In becoming Muslim, we renounce all
other religions.

The problem doesn't lie in Islam accepting what had gone before.
Because Muslims accept all former Prophets, as Prophets of Islam, they
could not call themselves Christian or Jewish, but they would have no
problem in saying that they are followers of Jesus or followers of
Moses, since both of these men were Prophets of Islam.

Muslims believe that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final
Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. The problem, in this
situation, lies in what Christianity teaches. Christians believe that
the final revelation of Almighty to God to humankind is in the person
of Jesus Christ.

According to this belief, there are no more prophets after Jesus. A
Christian would be unable to accept Muhammad as a prophet of God,
because his Message denies some of what Christians have come to
believe.

Anyone who claims to be Christian, then, can't believe in Muhammad as
a prophet. One of the central tenets of Christianity, regardless of
the belief in Jesus as divine, is that Jesus died on the cross. The
Message revealed to Muhammad in the Qur'an is quite clear: Jesus did
not die on the Cross (An-Nisaa' 4:157). So, anyone who claims to be
Christian cannot be Muslim. And as we have said, anyone who claims to
be Muslim cannot be the follower of another religion.

The situation of Reverend Redding is only fully known to Allah alone,
who knows our intentions and the secrets of our hearts, but as the
facts appear, she is neither Christian nor Muslim. Anyone in such a
dilemma, having been a Christian minister and wanting to embrace
Islam, has a very difficult choice to make.

As Muslims, we should never underestimate what it takes to renounce
one's former religion and embrace Islam. Just as we spend a great deal
of time and money on calling others to Islam, we need also to spend
similar, if not more, on helping those who have embraced Islam to grow
in their new faith.

As an outsider to this particular case, it seems to me that her
dilemma much reflects the doctrinal dilemmas being experienced by the
Episcopal Church in the US , as much as her personal conversion story.
It may be possible in her church to have a variety of beliefs,
catering for a wide range of different points of view.

In Islam, we simply submit to the will of Almighty Allah and follow
the example of His Prophet - Muhammad. The opinion of this one or that
one is not important when compared to the facts revealed to humankind
in the Qur'an. As Muslims, we believe that the Qur'an is the revealed
word of Allah. It is the exact word of Allah and has not been altered
in any way.

This episode can help us all to present Islam in a very clear way to
those who would embrace it. As brothers and sisters to one another, we
cannot let down new Muslims by not presenting everything about Islam
to them in a simple way. Our prayers are with all of those who have
made great sacrifices to submit their will and their heart to Allah.
There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.

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* This article first appeared at ReadingIslam.com

Idris Tawfiq is a British writer who became a Muslim five years ago.
For many years, he was head of religious education in different
schools in the United Kingdom. Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman
Catholic priest. He now lives in Egypt. You can visit his website at
www.idristawfiq.com.

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