How can a born Jew, a baptized Christian, and, in order, a confirmed Lutheran, Catholic, and Episcopalian be a Moslem? There’s a literal and a metaphorical answer. First, the literal one. When I was in Morocco in 2001 as an adult facilitator at the World Congress of Youth, our local hosts took a busload of us to see the great Mohammad II Mosque in Casa Blanca. Most mosques are open to people of all faiths but not this one. You had to be Moslem to get in. Since as a non-Moslem I knew a lot about the religion Muhammad had founded, our main host, a young woman, said to her male colleagues, “He’s Moslem enough for this place. Take him in by the men’s entrance.” So, in I went. Minutes later a mosque official stopped me: “Excuse me, Monsieur. Are you Moslem?” I recited the Moslem Confession of Faith in Arabic. “Ah, welcome to our mosque,” he said. Since I had offered that short sentence in the presence of three male Moslems—the official and my two hosts—I was both physically and officially in.
Now the metaphorical answer: Some 59 years ago from today, May 22, 2020, I was initiated into the spiritual practice of Subud, short for Susila Budhi Dharma. Founded in the early 1930s by the Javanese Muhammad Subuh (d. 1987), like 90% of Indonesians a Moslem, Subud in its full title means living a noble life (Susila) by surrendering to Almighty God (Dharma) and thereby growing into one’s biggest and best self (Budhi). (The Indonesian archipelago was home to both long-term Hindu and Budhi societies before the advent of Islam. The modern country is now the largest Moslem nation in the world by population, but the culture still retains significant traces of its Animist, Hindu, and Buddhist past.)
Bapak, as Subud members call their revered founder, once explained that he had originally wanted to call Subud Islam because of its all-important reliance on personal surrender to God. The name of course had already been taken. So Subud it was and still is for its membership in 100 countries. Although I had fasted 40 times during Ramadan for its spiritual benefits, I never became a formal follower of the religion of Islam and for the past decade have been a dedicated member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado. I have however come to understand that the foundation of all three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is based on surrender to God as practiced by Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), who modeled that stance in life by leaving his country of origin and being willing to sacrifice Isaac—in the end he didn’t have to—the miraculous only child of his old age, both at God’s command. Islam is Arabic for surrender. It’s the main pathway to Salam, peace, which in Arabic comprises the same three formative consonants, S, L, and M. Now, after 59 years of following Subud and an octogenarian, I hope that some measure of the former has led me to something of the latter. Thank you, Bapak, and Awmain, Amen, Amin!