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"I am both Muslim and Christian"


By Janet I. Tu

Seattle Times religion reporter


Shortlyafter noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf,preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.


OnSunday mornings, Reddingputs on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.


Shedoes both, she says, because she's Christian andMuslim.


Redding,who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark's EpiscopalCathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she's ready to tellpeople that, for the last 15 months, she's also been a Muslim � drawn tothe faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved.


Herannouncement has provoked surprise and bewilderment in many, raising an obviousquestion: How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim?


Butit has drawn other reactions too. Friends generally say they support her, whilereligious scholars are mixed: Some say that, depending on how one interpretsthe tenets of the two faiths, it is, indeed, possible to be both. Othersconsider the two faiths mutually exclusive.


"Thereare tenets of the faiths that are very, very different," said KurtFredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller TheologicalSeminary in Pasadena, Calif. "The most basic would be: What do you do withJesus?"


Christianityhas historically regarded Jesus as the son of God and God incarnate, both fullyhuman and fully divine. Muslims, though they regard Jesus as a great prophet,do not see him as divine and do not consider him the son of God.


"Idon't think it's possible" to be both, Fredrickson said, just like"you can't be a Republican and a Democrat."


Redding, who will beginteaching the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University this fall, has a differentanalogy: "I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I'm both an Americanof African descent and a woman. I'm 100 percent both."


Reddingdoesn't feel she has to resolve all the contradictions. People within onereligion can't even agree on all the details, she said. "So why would Ispend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam?


"Atthe most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That'sall I need."


Shesays she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God� the meaning of the word "Islam."


"Itwasn't about intellect," she said. "All I know is the calling of myheart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposedto be.


"Icould not not be a Muslim."


Redding'ssituation is highly unusual. Officials at the national Episcopal Churchheadquarters said they are not aware of any other instance in which a priesthas also been a believer in another faith. They said it's up to the local bishopto decide whether such a priest could continue in that role.


Redding's bishop, the Rt.Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Reddingas an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaithpossibilities exciting. Her announcement, first made through a story in herdiocese's newspaper, hasn't caused much controversy yet, he said.


Somelocal Muslim leaders are perplexed.


Beingboth Muslim and Christian � "I don't know how that works," saidHisham Farajallah, president of the Islamic Center of Washington.


ButRedding hasbeen embraced by leaders at the Al-Islam Center of Seattle, the Muslim groupshe prays with.


"Islamdoesn't say if you're a Christian, you're not a Muslim," said programmingdirector Ayesha Anderson. "Islam doesn't lay it out like that."


Reddingbelieves telling her story can help ease religious tensions, and she hopes itcan be a step toward her dream of creating an institute to study Judaism,Christianity and Islam.


"Ithink this thing that's happened to me can be a sign of hope," she said.


Finding a religion that fit


Reddingis 55 and single, with deep brown eyes, dreadlocks and a voice that becomeseasily impassioned when talking about faith. She's also a classically trainedsinger, and has sung at jazz nights at St. Mark's.


Theoldest of three girls, Redding grew up in Pennsylvania in ahigh-achieving, intellectual family. Her father was one of the lawyers whoargued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case thatdesegregated the nation's public schools. Her mother was in the first class ofFulbright scholars.


Thoughher parents weren't particularly religious, they had her baptized and sent herto an Episcopal Sunday school. She has always sensed that God existed and Godloved her, even when things got bleak � which they did.


Sheexperienced racism in schools, was sexually abused and, by the time she was ayoung adult, was struggling with alcohol addiction; she's been in recovery for20 years.


Despitethose difficulties, she graduated from BrownUniversity, earned master's degreesfrom two seminaries and received her Ph.D. in New Testament from UnionTheological Seminary in New York City.She felt called to the priesthood and was ordained in 1984.


Asmuch as she loves her church, she has always challenged it. She callsChristianity the "world religion of privilege." She has neverbelieved in original sin. And for years she struggled with the nature of Jesus'divinity.


Shefound a good fit at St. Mark's, coming to the flagship of the Episcopal Churchin Western Washington in 2001. She was incharge of programs to form and deepen people's faith until March this year whenshe was one of three employees laid off for budget reasons. The dean of thecathedral said Redding'sexploration of Islam had nothing to do with her layoff.


Ironically,it was at St. Mark's that she first became drawn to Islam.


Infall 2005, a local Muslim leader gave a talk at the cathedral, then prayedbefore those attending. Reddingwas moved. As he dropped to his knees and stretched forward against the floor,it seemed to her that his whole body was involved in surrendering to God.


Thenin the spring, at a St. Mark's interfaith class, another Muslim leader taught achanted prayer and led a meditation on opening one's heart. The chanting appealedto the singer in Redding;the meditation spoke to her heart. She began saying the prayer daily.


Aroundthat time, her mother died, and then "I was in a situation that I couldnot handle by any other means, other than a total surrender to God," shesaid.


Shestill doesn't know why that meant she had to become a Muslim. All she knows is"when God gives you an invitation, you don't turn it down."


InMarch 2006, she said her shahada� the profession of faith � testifying that there is only one Godand that Mohammed is his messenger. She became a Muslim.


Beforeshe took the shahada, sheread a lot about Islam. Afterward, she learned from local Muslim leaders,including those in Islam's largest denomination � Sunni � and thosein the Sufi mystical tradition of Islam. She began praying with the Al-Islam Center, a Sunni group that ispredominantly African-American.


Therewere moments when practicing Islam seemed like coming home.


InSeattle's Episcopal circles, Redding had mixed largely with white people."To walk into Al-Islam and be reminded that there are more people of colorin the world than white people, that in itself is a relief," she said.


Shefound the discipline of praying five times a day � one of the fivepillars of Islam that all Muslims are supposed to follow � gave her thedeep sense of connection with God that she yearned for.


Itcame from "knowing at all times I'm in between prayers." She likensit to being in love, constantly looking forward to having "all these dateswith God. ... Living a life where you're remembering God intentionally,consciously, just changes everything."


Friendswho didn't know she was practicing Islam told her she glowed.


Asidefrom the established sets of prayers she recites in Arabic fives times eachday, Reddingsays her prayers are neither uniquely Islamic nor Christian. They're simply herprivate talks with God or Allah � she uses both names interchangeably."It's the same person, praying to the same God."


Inmany ways, she says, "coming to Islam was like coming into a family withwhom I'd been estranged. We have not only the same God, but the same ancestorwith Abraham."


A shared beginning


Indeed,Islam, Christianity and Judaism trace their roots to Abraham, the patriarch ofJudaism who is also considered the spiritual father of all three faiths. Theyshare a common belief in one God, and there are certain similar stories intheir holy texts.


Butthere are many significant differences, too.


Muslimsregard the Quran as the unadulterated word of God, delivered through the angelGabriel to Mohammed. While they believe the Torah and the Gospels includerevelations from God, they believe those revelations have been misinterpretedor mishandled by humans.


Mostsignificantly, Muslims and Christians disagree over the divinity of Jesus.


Muslimsgenerally believe in Jesus' virgin birth, that he was a messenger of God, thathe ascended to heaven alive and that he will come back at the end of time todestroy evil. They do not believe in the Trinity, in the divinity of Jesus orin his death and resurrection.


ForChristians, belief in Jesus' divinity, and that he died on the cross and wasresurrected, lie at the heart of the faith, as does the belief that there isone God who consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Redding'sviews, even before she embraced Islam, were more interpretive than literal.


Shebelieves the Trinity is an idea about God and cannot be taken literally.


Shedoes not believe Jesus and God are the same, but rather that God is more thanJesus.


Shebelieves Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God,and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine � because Goddwells in all humans.


Whatmakes Jesus unique, she believes, is that out of all humans, he most embodiedbeing filled with God and identifying completely with God's will.


Shedoes believe that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, and acknowledgesthose beliefs conflict with the teachings of the Quran. "That's somethingI'll find a challenge the rest of my life," she said.


Sheconsiders Jesus her savior. At times of despair, because she knows Jesussuffered and overcame suffering, "he has connected me with God," shesaid.


That'snot to say she couldn't develop as deep a relationship with Mohammed. "I'mstill getting to know him," she said.


Matter of interpretation


Somereligious scholars understand Redding'sthinking.


Whilethe popular Christian view is that Jesus is God and that he came to Earth andtook on a human body, other Christians believe his divinity means that heembodied the spirit of God in his life and work, said Eugene Webb, professoremeritus of comparative religion at the University of Washington.


Webbsays it's possible to be both Muslim and Christian: "It's a matter ofinterpretation. But a lot of people on both sides do not believe ininterpretation. "


IhsanBagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky,agrees with Webb, and adds that Islam tends to be a little more flexible.Muslims can have faith in Jesus, he said, as long as they believe in Mohammed'smessage.


Otherscholars are skeptical.


"Thetheological beliefs are irreconcilable," said Mahmoud Ayoub, professor ofIslamic studies and comparative religion at TempleUniversity in Philadelphia. Islam holds that God is one,unique, indivisible. "For Muslims to say Jesus is God would beblasphemy."


FrankSpina, an Episcopal priest and also a professor of Old Testament and biblicaltheology at Seattle Pacific University,puts it bluntly.


"Ijust do not think this sort of thing works," he said. "I think youhave to give up what is essential to Christianity to make the moves that shehas done.


"Theessence of Christianity was not that Jesus was a great rabbi or even a greatprophet, but that he is the very incarnation of the God that created theworld.... Christianity stands or falls on who Jesus is."


Spinaalso says that as priests, he and Reddinghave taken vows of commitment to the doctrines of the church. "That meansnone of us get to work out what we think all by ourselves."


Reddingknows there are many Christians and Muslims who will not accept her as both.


"Idon't care," she says. "They can't take away my baptism." And asshe understands it, once she's made her profession of faith to become a Muslim,no one can say she isn't that, either.


Whileshe doesn't rule out that one day she may choose one or the other, it's morelikely "that I'm going to be 100 percent Christian and 100 percent Muslimwhen I die."


Deepened spirituality


Thesedays, Reddingusually carries a headscarf with her wherever she goes so she can pray fivetimes a day.


OnFridays, she prays with about 20 others at the Al-Islam Center.On Sundays, she prays in church, usually at St. Clement's of Romein the Mount Baker neighborhood.


Onething she prays for every day: "I pray not to cause scandal or bring shameupon either of my traditions."


BeingMuslim has given her insights into Christianity, she said. For instance,because Islam regards Jesus as human, not divine, it reinforces for her that"we can be like Jesus. There are no excuses."


DougThorpe, who served on St. Mark's faith-formation committee with Redding, said he's tryingto understand all the dimensions of her faith choices. But he saw how itdeepened her spirituality. And it spurred him to read the Quran and think moredeeply about his own faith.


Hebelieves Reddingis being called. She is, "by her very presence, a bridge person,"Thorpe said. "And we desperately need those bridge persons."


InRedding's car,she has hung up a cross she made of clear crystal beads. Next to it, she hasdangled a heart-shaped leather object etched with the Arabic symbol for Allah.


"Forme, that symbolizes who I am," Reddingsaid. "I look through Jesus and I see Allah."

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Im Christentum wurde das Wort Gottes ein Mensch (Jesus) und im Islam kam es als Qur'an herab. Beide lehren dass der Mensch letztlich völlig von der Gnade Gottes abhängig ist. Rein dogmatisch ist es praktisch unmöglich beiden Religionen gleichzeitig anzugehören aber von der inneren Lehre her sind sie nicht sonderlich verschieden. Das Christentum sagt Glaube ohne Taten sei tot, was der Islam genauso sieht (5 Säulen, Shari'a).


Der Weg zum Paradies führt in beiden Religionen über die Reinhaltung der Seele und den Kampf gegen das Ego. Warum also nicht? Wie gesagt formal, dogmatisch darf man das nicht sehen.

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