The opening chapter of the Quran is a beautiful passage known as Al-Fatiha:
In the name of Allah, the All Merciful, the Ever Merciful;
Praise be to Allah, the Lord (Cherisher and Sustainer) of the worlds;
The All Merciful, the Ever Merciful;
The Possessor of the Day of Judgment;
You only we worship and only Your help we seek.
Guide us to the Straight Path;
The Path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Mercy,
Not of those against whom You have sent Your wrath,
Nor of those who have erred and become lost.
I am struck by how similar the chapter’s themes are to the opening chapter of the Book of Psalms in the Bible:
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
Or take the path that sinners tread,
Or sit in the seat of scoffers;
But their delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
Which yield their fruit in its season,
And their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
What intrigues me is the emphasis of both passages on the right path. Both texts indicate that there is a wrong path and a right path, and that one way leads to destruction, and the other to God. Both selections stress the importance of choosing one’s way in this life carefully.
In my conversations with Yaseen, I have discovered that he and I face similar struggles in our work as spiritual leaders. We both struggle to help people find their way along the right path. We both have to work hard to encourage people to live authentic lives before God, to be who they were created to be.
One of the things that disturb me the most as a pastor is the number of people I see in Christian churches who profess to be believers, but do not actually live the life of a follower of Jesus. I would say that a great majority of people who claim to be Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation, are Christian in name only. They do not attempt to walk the Straight Path, they do not have a daily relationship with God, nor do they really want to, because then they would have to live lives of great love, hope, mercy, and even, sacrifice. Sadly, we have encouraged generations of churchgoing folks to only “talk the talk,” but not “walk the walk.”
If I am honest with myself, I will admit that I have to constantly confront my own shortcomings and ask whether I am truly “walking”, not just “talking”.
I cannot speak for Yaseen and his particular congregation, but I know that he faces the same challenges.
And yet, the encouragement for both of us can be found in these passages from the Quran and Psalms.
The Quran makes it clear that we are to seek for God’s help only in this task; we do not possess the means to find the Straight Path in our own power. We don’t accidentally stumble upon it; instead, the Straight Path finds us, through the grace of God.
The Psalm then gives us the secret for staying in the right path: we are to plant ourselves, let our roots dig deep, right beside the refreshing, nurturing waters of life. Those waters are found in the sacred Scriptures which have been given to us, the People of the Book. Those waters are found in the communities of faith, the fellowship of the same People of the Book. Those waters are found in the habits of prayer, fasting, and meditation, which we are taught by our ancestors.
When we find ourselves on the Straight Path, we must find a way to stay there, to keep walking, to keep discovering new mercies of God, to keep on reaching for the glory in front of us.
The life we seek is in the walking.