PORTSMOUTH — Dr. Wayne Young, Director of Spiritual Formation at Cornerstone United Methodist Church (UMC) in Portsmouth, shared a presentation about Islam to a very attentive audience last month.
“The presentation was a presentation of classical Islam. I touched upon the history beginning with Muhammad, and I talked about the major doctrines and the major practices,” Young said. I dealt somewhat, with the cultural, historical aspects, particularly in the realm of how the development of Islam differed from the development of Christianity. Much of that was due to cultural and political differences.”
Christianity developed in the historical situation, where Christianity was never the major political power. While it had some power in terms of the Catholic Church, and in terms of the Holy Roman Empire, and that sort of thing, but the religion itself was never the dominant political power in the nations which were involved in Christianity, basically the West.
“In the East, as Islam developed and spread throughout North Africa and into the Middle East, part of that religion itself requires it to be a political entity,” he said. In other words, the religion rule the cultures into which it spread, and that made it a totally different situation from what Christianity faced in the West.”
Dr. Young possesses a rich background in the subject of World Religions, as well as teaching the subject matter.
“Following seminary in Columbus, I attended Duke Graduate School of Religious Studies, not the Seminary, but the Graduate School, and that is what my program concentrated, which was World Religions and Ethics. My seminary degree was in Biblical Studies and Theology, and my graduate program was in World Religions and Ethics,” he said. “It was not that I was unhappy with my theology, I was fascinated by world religions, and I had a knack for teaching at the university level. I had exposure to the various world religions, and then as I came near the end of that graduate program, I also was teaching at North Carolina Wesleyan, and taught History of Religion courses along with the New Testament and biblical courses.”
As it pertains to the Islamic faith, gaining a clear understanding is vital.
“I was interested in the various religious traditions around the world, and that is where my interest came from. With Islam being a major player in world religions, and certainly in the political situations which we find ourselves in today, the understanding of the religion is very important in our understanding much of the situations involved,” he said. “
Young expanded both his knowledge and understanding about the Islamic faith a book entitled, ‘What is Islam?’ Written by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan which was given to him while visiting Jerusalem.
“This is a book that I shared with the group at Cornerstone. A lady gave me this book in Jerusalem. I took it from her because I was interested in what it had to say, but I didn’t look at it until I came home, because I assumed it would be pretty much the typical information that you teach, the doctrines, and the practices and the histories and so forth.
It was not until Young actually sat down and examined the book given to him in Jerusalem, that he noticed a different teaching about Islam by the author.
“But when I took the time to look at the book more closely at home, I discovered that this had been written by a fellow who was basically centered in India, and had been very much influenced by the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, and his take on Islam is very different from what we usually hear about Islam,” he said. “His teaching (Khan’s) about Islam is that when one makes a recognition that God is all powerful, and that we are all his subjects, it ought to affect the way we treat one another in a peaceful manner. Of course this is quite different from what we usually hear.”
He said the book eradicates stereotypes about what a Muslim is.
“It kind of serves to emphasize the fact too, that not all Muslims are terrorists, or ISIS members, or ISIL members, and many Muslims do in fact adhere to a discipline that is more peaceful and contemplative than others,” he said. “When you study the history of world religions, you enter it knowing that you’re going to get basics of various religious traditions. But you always have to study those religious traditions with the knowledge that people in those traditions have various shades of focuses, and various shades of zealousness and also various shades of in terms of what we would call fundamental religious traditions and liberal religious traditions.”
“To compare it to our situation as Christians, if someone outside of our religion were to study Christianity they would present things like, the Apostles’ Creed. They would talk about the Western church, the Eastern church, and that sort of thing,” he said. “But as far as being able to really appreciate the differences between Fundamentalists, and Liberalist Christians, that would not be a part of that initial study.
He said there is a broad spectrum of people in all religious traditions.
“While we can talk about Muslims. There are as we would say, there are Muslims, and then here are Muslims. The same with Christians, and Christians,” he said. “You also add into that the idea that for many folks, their religion is a part of their lives. For some folks, their religion is all their lives. So, you have a broad spectrum of people involved in each religious tradition, and you must be very careful when you’re studying tradition of religions that you don’t, say — “Oh, I know all about this religion, and I know what you must believe,” he said. “So you have to be very careful with that.”
In the book, the author views the struggle between a person a God, an internal struggle as opposed to an external one.
“This author has chosen to see the struggle involved in religion as a personal struggle with the individual in his relationship with God. Other folks in the Islamic faith would talk more about the struggle with the infidel, or the unbeliever, or with the blasphemer. It would be an external struggle as opposed to this gentleman’s teaching as an internal struggle.
Young attend an Interfaith Dialogue at Ohion University Southern, and heard a comment that he deems extremely important.
“I think that one of the most important things that Christians, particularly Western Christians need to understand was expressed to me in a meeting that I attended at Ohio University Southern in Ironton, because I also teach Religion at Ohio University Southern,” he said. “They had a discussion, a faith dialogue and two Christian ministers from two different denominations were present. There was a fellow there who is a surgeon at Marshall University, and is a Muslim. What struck me most significantly about his comments is that he opened his comments by saying, “”When you are a native of the Middle East, you have to be religious.”” “I though about that in relationship to a citizen of the United States. If were talking about religions of the United States, I can’t imagine anyone opening the conversation by saying, if you live in the United States, you have to be religious,” he said.
Religion is a way of life in the Middle East, where Muslims pray five times each day, no matter where they are at the time.
“What he was saying is that because Islam is such a major factor in the Middle East, you have no choice but to be religious. To explain that, Muslims go to prayer five times a day, and it doesn’t matter that you are in the middle of a city, or maybe you are at the marketplace, you stop five times a day, and you go to prayer,” he said. “And you begin that prayer with a recognition that there is one God, Allah is his name, and Muhammad is his prophet. So, from the time that you are old enough to stand, throughout your entire life that you are a Muslim, you are expected to pray five times a day, recite that creed, and recite that prayer so that it’s reinforced on a daily basis for everyone who is a Muslim, and virtually everyone is a Muslim in the Middle East.”
He said in essence, the surgeon’s comment is a true expression of the Islamic faith in the Middle East. Nothing competes with a Muslim’s faith.
“So the surgeon’s comment, that in the Middle East you have to be religious is the way it is,” he said. So, again in Western religions in the United States, Western Europe, people would say my faith is an important part of my life. A Muslim would say, my faith is my life. There is a real difference in mental mindset in terms of religion in the two cultures, so at Cornerstone I wanted to help people to see that.”
Young said received a positive response from the audience regarding his presentation about Islam that evening, and entertained a question and answer period. He also said that he would be sharing another presentation about Islam some time in April at the request of some who were unable to attend. The date in April will be announced soon.
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.