More Alike Than Different

Previously published on my Tumblr page,

I just got back from attending a meeting of the Moorish Science Temple of America. I was invited to attend by a patron who frequents my place of work.

My mind came up with lots of excuses to say no. For one, the meeting was held in a different city from the one where I lived. Attending would require me to travel on the highway, something that makes me a little bit nervous. It would require me also to go to an unfamiliar place, which added another layer of discomfort. Secondly, these were Muslims. Hadn’t I been taught all of my life about the heretical nature of Islam, that “radical Islam” is actually the real Islam, and that Jehovah was the real God, not Allah?

The other mind inside of me countered. What if I chose not to go, and missed out on a positive experience? Also, I knew that every time I gave in to my fears of traveling to new places, it would be that much harder to face them in the future. This was an opportunity for me to explore, to do something healthy for myself.

So when the rain that had been pouring down all day let up a little bit, I decided to go. I got to the city hours early, so I decided to kill some time by doing some exploring. I drove around a nearby university and stepped out to peruse the shops that were around there. I stopped a few minutes to get some frozen yogurt, then walked to the college park and back, with a gentle rain drizzle as my companion.

Finally I made it back to the center where the meeting was to be held. I was still being filled with misgivings, but the moment I saw my friend who’d invited me I knew I had made the right decision.

The meeting was both strange and familiar at the same time. Prayers were said along with the daily readings, but attendants were invited to be a part of the dialogue of the program. Some reading/preaching was done, and then the floor was opened for comments before the sermon was resumed. I found myself excitedly being a part of the conversation. The way this “service” was held reminded me a lot of how my dad would hold our Bible studies at home and invite input, though in the case of the Moors no one in the meeting was aggressive in their tone.

I was provided with lots of informative materials so that I could better participate in the meeting. As I looked over the Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America, I noticed that it was a little different from the regular Koran. This one was said to be “divinely prepared by the Noble Prophet Drew Ali” leading me to wonder if these Moors might be outcasts from the larger Islamic religious body, with Noble Drew Ali being somewhat the equivalent of a Muslim Joseph Smith. (So glad I didn’t say that though because there was an ex-Jehovah’s witness in the room and that probably would’ve been really offensive.)

The strange thing was, that the more these Moors shared, the more I saw striking similarities between my brand of Christianity and their Islamic tradition. Adam and Eve, Moses, Jesus, John the Baptist, angels, and the Devil or Lucifer were all a part of the story. Their holy book even said that the defeat of Satan came about when Jesus was nailed to the cross, a belief I thought was reserved for those of a Christian persuasion. A difference, though, is that they don’t believe that Satan is a being separate from God or possessing of his own powers, but they believe he is representative of a part of ourselves they call “the lower self”. This “lower self” is supposed to be the part of us that promotes negative traits like hatred, lewdness, and selfishness. Our “higher self” is the part of us that is a part of Allah. It is compared to a seed of goodness within us that has the potential to produce all of the holy attributes of Allah. This is very similar to the Pauline “old man” and “new man” in Christian theology, or “the flesh” and “the Spirit”, which are said to be in a constant battle for supremacy within the human life.

All in all, I am so glad that I went today, because I’m not sure if I could’ve convinced myself to still go had I not pushed through my fears and gone today. It feels amazing to be able to participate in other religious services, despite years of being told “the spirit in you won’t like the spirit in them” and “the Bible is the inerrant word of God” and “those who don’t have the Son don’t have the Father also.”

That being said, I don’t think they’ll really make a “convert” out of me. I’m looking to become less religious, rather than simply replacing one religion with another. Moorish Science still teaches that human beings need to be saved from their sins- just like Christianity does- and seems to take accounts of an Israeli exile from Egypt, a seven day Creation, the existence of angels and a spiritual realm literally. It also teaches that Prophet Muhammed was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and that in fact the goal of life is to reach a state where you can remain in heaven with Allah and not have to return to life on earth again. Allah is considered to be all-powerful, all-knowing, infinite, and benevolent, though it also teaches- as do Judaism and Christianity- that we need to be rescued from His “wrath.”

Even so, I think i have forged some new connections, or at the very least broken through some of the prejudice and negative indoctrination in my own mind. These were not evil people. Absolutely all of them used to be Christians. This goes to show me once again that the journey of faith is intensely personal, and everyone has to arrive at his/her destination in his/her own way. For me, that probably doesn’t mean converting to Islam, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The Moors teach about more than just the religious aspect, but also the cultural heritage that they feel has been lost to their ancestors. My own father is from an African nation, but he did not impart any of the language or traditions of that country to us. He seemed to more or less shrug off his old identity in favor of Americanism and radical Christianity. So my sense of being a part of the “culture” of the area where I live is very vague. Nonetheless I am still “foreign” enough to not fit in in any of the places where I have lived.

One of my mentors once told me, “You just want to find your tribe.” I don’t think anything could be more true. I would love to find a place where I just really felt like I belonged, where I didn’t feel out of place because of the color of my skin, the way I talked, or how I was raised. I would love if I had the kind of friends who would invite me to their weddings or call me when they needed advice, and not be miles and miles away at the same time. All of my really close friendships are with people that I met online, and a lot of them I don’t talk to as much anymore. It’s really amazing how hard it can be to find a true kindred spirit, but I won’t stop looking (and I also won’t give up on the one that I have).

That’s all for now.


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