Reviewed by Dr. George F. Simons at diversophy.com
These two books came as a gift to me from a Muslim colleague who is currently a refugee seeking asylum, while at the same time assisting other refugees and asylum seekers. Both volumes are reprints of books authored and published at the beginning of the last century by an Indian religious leader, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at, a community to which my colleague belongs. Frequently considered heretics in Pakistan and elsewhere, Ahmadis frequently suffer persecution and experience restricted religious and civil rights in various Islamic countries, making both their presence and return problematical.
Jesus in India which I read first, provided me with perspectives that were quite unfamiliar to me though I am somewhat a theology and history buff. I did my master’s degree in the history and practice of religious ritual and my doctoral work on the psychology of learning and human development. However, my researches were largely focused on Judeo-Christian and Western perspectives, so this was new ground for me and widened my outlook.
My awareness of communities in Islam was largely limited to the differences between Sunni and Shia and had no explorations into other communities and their regional differences. My intercultural work is more focused on practical, everyday behaviors as they affect interactions with foreign others, rather than on the deeper spiritual sources of values and behaviors that may drive them. In essence, the author, who claims messianic status, maintains that Jesus did not die on the cross, but recovered from his injuries and went on to seek to preach to the Lost Tribes of Israel in what is today largely Afghanistan, influencing the shape of values and beliefs reflected in Islam and Buddhism. The book is written to largely to provide historical and theological support for this version of the Jesus story and sort out the claims to messianic missions in Islam as held or proclaimed on the part of imams and prophets.
In addition to my deep Catholic upbringing and engagement, I also studied and experimented personally with Buddhist and Hindu practices and learned to respect their spiritualities through the teaching masters and gurus I came into contact with. It was easy to recognize valid spiritual affinities that were shared by these traditions as well as being enriched by the fresh perspectives that each brought. Today’s many non-denominational spiritualities and therapeutic interventions are heirs to these traditions.
On the other hand, the second book, The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam felt more familiar to me in the sense that it reflected the religious and moral framework similar to that I was raised in and accentuated the values and behaviors that were the familiar challenges of life as I have come to live it, imperfectly, but ideally. The book is organized to address five questions: 1) The Physical, Moral and Spiritual States of Man, 2) The State of Man after Death, 3) The Object of Man’s Life and the Means of its Attainment, 4) The operation of the Practical Ordinances of the Law In this Life and the Next, and 5) Sources of Divine Knowledge.
What I found fascinating was the realization that current research and discoveries about human cognitive integrity and neuroscience might reflect and support, in particular, the concepts discussed in the first of the Five Questions, the one that the author most extensively deals with, “The Physical, Moral and Spiritual States of Man”. Today’s evidence seems even more solidly in favor than the 19th century psychology, epistemology and philosophy available to the author in his time. It would be interesting to see this re-expressed in terms of our present understanding of the universe and the physics of nature. Perhaps the successors of the holy man or followers of his tradition are currently doing so. In any case, we are discovering that insightful ancestors and contemporaries were in belief and practice quite aware, in their own terms, of the cognitive integrity now touted as fresh scientific discovery.
My purpose in so briefly reviewing these two books is primarily to share with my interculturalist colleagues the importance of understanding and responding to the religious diversity both within our belief systems and those differentiating us into diverse confessions. This diversity underlies many of the seismic cultural and political developments in today’s world and is frequently misused by brokers of power to divide, oppress and kill. Sharing our stories on the level of faith and beliefs and learning to listen to them sympathetically is essential if we are to understand and find the antidotes to many of the deadly conflicts we are infected with. Love and understanding are the jihad that the author would have us embrace.
Islam International, 1996 & 2015