Competitors for love - Zeyneb Sayilgan


We are competitors for love. We have no time for enmity
(Bediuzzaman Said Nursi)

After a year of teaching at the Seminary, it has become ever clear to me that as people of faith we continue to face the same challenges in today’s modern world. Our last class “Contemporary Islamic Ethics” discussed many issues of the current global environment: moral depravity, the de-sacralization and ongoing exploitation of nature, aggressive materialism and ego-centricism. For most of the time, the students felt like looking into the mirror when studying how Muslims in America are striving to live a religious life with ethical and moral integrity while trying to be good citizens and making a valuable contribution to their society.

Logan Taylor’s (MA 2013) reflection on poverty who was a student in the class highlights this common challenge:

The problem of poverty has been an ethical concern among Islam as it has been in Christianity. I found several similar comparisons between the Bible and Christianity and the Qur’an and Islam to be very interesting.

According to Muhammad, “Faith in God means service to humanity, and one of the greatest forms of service is compassion toward the poor and needy.” Qur’an 74:43-44 says that on the Day of Judgment sinners will be those who did not pray or feed the indigent. The Bible says similarly, in Acts 20:3,5 “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive’.”

The Qur’an 111:2 initiates the criticism of the wealthy who reject Muhammad’s call. Their wealth will avail them nothing in the hereafter. They spend their days boasting of the wealth they squander, rejecting the steep path of righteousness that calls for freeing the slave or feeding the orphan and the downtrodden. This Qur’anic verse also reminds me of the Rich man and Lazarus. In this parable we see that the rich man ignores the needs of Lazarus, the poor man who lies at his gate every day. When the rich man dies and asks to return to his brother to warn him of his fate, we learn that to not care for one another, especially the poor, is against Jesus’ teachings. The issue of poverty is shown as being a central concern in both Christianity and Islam.

As is evident, the issue of poverty can be collectively addressed by Muslims and Christians who make up almost half of the world’s population. Our faith traditions are rich enough to provide us with the intellectual and spiritual resources to improve the lives for all beings on this planet. Yet, not only do we seem to lack in bringing in our voices, we are also witnessing a widespread mistrust, or even worse, conflicts between our faith communities in some parts of the world. How can this be? The students agreed that the global issues we are facing are nothing but a reflection of our inner spiritual crisis as a result of the ever increasing disconnection from our Creator.

The Qur’an calls the believer to keep the microcosmic spiritual balance by cultivating a sound and healthy heart, otherwise the global situation will not change.  Indeed, God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves (Q 13:11). Change must occur within our hearts first, in our families, neighborhoods, and communities, and will naturally bring positive change globally. A moral individual living a balanced life with the respect for the inherent sacredness of nature will make a difference in the world. Each and every human heart has an impact on the macrocosmic spiritual balance of the universe similar to the ecological imbalance created by the extinction of an animal species or a plant. All beings are interconnected and their inner states affect each other and have an impact globally.

A negative heart or attitude has ramifications for all beings in the universe. Mistrust, intolerance, and prejudice need to be eliminated first, so that we can come together in taking care of the world and deliver a message of hope which was so clearly articulated by John George (MDiv 2013), also a student of this class:

This is the salvific belief I have and see and hear in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. God our God is One! He who made the night and the day has sovereignty over all creation. He rules in endless day for night and darkness are not obstacles to him. He sees in the night just as he does during the day. This is my hope that the God of the People of the Book has the last word and the final say. Who will come to the rescue of His creation for that is His way.

As stewards of this sacred possession and as empowered, favored beings of God and Scripture; we must stand as one, in one accord for the intercession, advocacy and defense of the life sustaining earth and all its inhabitants.

Zeyneb Sayilgan
Luce Visiting Scholar