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WWMDWhat Would Muhammad Do?

By the Rev. Dick Weston-Jones


at the Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship, Raleigh, NC
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Opening Words
A lot of people are having a Muhammad problem these days.
Its nothing new. People have been attacking Muhammad for 1,100 years, some because of their
religious beliefs and others because of their political convictions. Muslims today are exceedingly
concerned, even defensive, about what others say regarding their Prophet.
We live in an interconnected world. Yet it is not just goods, people and ideas that now flow
freely across the world; it is also the religious insights, sensitivities, and prejudices of our fellow human
beings. This is particularly relevant to the case of Muhammad, probably the least known and most
misunderstood of all the founders of the major world religions.
Safi, Omad Memories of Muhammad; Why the Prophet Matters 2009, HarperOne. pp. 1-2.

Sermon
WWM D What Would M uhammad Do?
Unitarian Universalists often speak of our Judeo-Christian heritage, leaving out Muslims as if we dont
belong to the same family. But we do! The bridge to our Muslim cousins (in our Judeo-Christian-Muslim
heritage) is Abraham who is like a great-great-great-great uncle whom wed rather didnt keep coming around,
telling the same old tales that he cant forget and wed rather not hear again.
Abraham is from that long list of begats. You know, Abraham begat Isaac who begat . . . By-the-way
that was the same Abraham who nearly killed the kid, his son Isaac because God told him to. You know the
knife and the angel who saved Isaac, and the ram who got killed instead. Child abuse I say.
There was an earlier son in there who we sometimes forget, Ishmael. Abraham begat him first, before
Isaac. Muslims know about him because hes their great-great-great-great grandfather whose religion
Muhammad taught.
Some of us wish the codger would leave us alone but Abraham keeps showing up just when were
getting used to being thoroughly modern people who dont need such geriatric throwbacks. Besides, with all
the bad behavior people blame on Islam, perhaps we should be cautious.
But is Islam responsible for that bad behavior? Wed rather not talk about our neighbors religions.
Bad form and all. Someone might get mad at us. So we keep silent and grit our teeth. Still someones
responsible. Who do we hold accountable? How do we judge them? Should we judge our neighbors by our
ethical standards? How about their ethical standards? I certainly think its okay to judge them by their own.
While were at it maybe we should judge ourselves by our own UU standards, first.
Okay, I say we UUs are a little blind, maybe even a little racist in the Statement of our Living Tradition
that avoids Islam in honoring Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to Gods love by loving
our neighbors as ourselves. What about Islamic teachings? Islam takes the same position on brotherly love
when it says, No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
(40th Hadith of an-Nawawi 13).
Our UU Statement of Purposes and Principles ignores the fact that Islam and its scriptures are solidly
within the Abrahamic heritage that we UUs share with Christians and Jews. For fourteen hundred years Islam
has called the prophets of Judaism and Christianity their prophets too. The Quran refers to Jesus by name

2012 Copyright Dick Weston-Jones all rights reserved

Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship, Raleigh, NC


WWMD-What Would Muhammad Do?

Rev. Dick Weston-Jones, Guest Speaker

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numerous times. It says he was a man who was one of their prophets too. Im the only UU I know who speaks
of our Judeo-Christian-Muslim heritage and yet our three world religions share the same roots.
Who cares? I do! If we wont admit our Muslim cousins belong to our religious family in spite of the
obvious fact that they do, we cant speak to them as family. We shove them outside and act as if they are
foreigners. Foreigners? Soon Islam will be the second largest religion in America. Wed better get used to
having them in the family. And having Muhammad in our family, too.
Of all the founders of the major religious traditionsMuhammad is simultaneously the least
understood and the most mistrusted by many non-Muslims said Omid Safi in Memories of Muhammad.
(Safi, p. 296) He was as progressive as any Judeo-Christian-Muslim prophet. Actually, more than most.
Reform-minded Muslim women consider him the first Muslim feminist. He was a liberated husband
who did his own household chores and helped with housework such as preparing food, sewing clothes and
repairing shoes. He also encouraged his wives to dialogue and he listened to their advice. They debated and
even argued with him! He was really progressive, a liberal!
How about our UU heritage? Some of you may think weve always been progressive. Hardly. I grew up
in a UU church whose minister, my father, called it a white supremacist church in his autobiography. I think
most southern Unitarian churches were before the Second World War. The elders of that Unitarian Church in
Louisville told my father one day to stop letting African Americans attend services. One may join us some day
if you dont stop it, they said. Dad refused and posted my mother at the front door of the church to make
sure that people of color would always feel welcome. The elders gave in, but they were right. Maxine
Whedbee, a vivacious black woman, joined the church in the late 50s. Unfortunately few other African
Americans did.
I once wrote a talk titled My Mother Was a Bouncer for the Church. My brother, now a good
Presbyterian, objected to the word bouncer. Thats not true, he said. Okay Bob, she wasnt really a
bouncer, just an old lady security guard.
There are many other powerful examples of UU racism in our history. The man most influential in
providing the philosophical and political underpinnings for slavery in Congress before the Civil War was
Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a Unitarian who also gave the land for Clemson University.
So when now we look at the blatantly sexist policies of many mosques, its helpful to remember the
heritage that we UUs had to overcome. Having arrived at the Progressive Promised Land, we all know we
UUs have no more barriers to overcome. Right? Of course theres that pesky item, the UUA Presidency to
which we have never elected a woman, while a woman is always elected to our number two UUA position of
Moderator. Hmmmm.
Having huffed and puffed about UU blindness I think I can say to our Muslim cousins, Muhammad
would be ashamed, furious about this. I think hed rail against terrorists who have sullied his heritage, and at
some peaceful Muslim men too, who refuse to honor Muslim women, who wont let them even enter
mosques by the same doors as men and pray and eat with them, who treat women as less than worthy and
human than men. That was not Muhammads way.
If you were Muslim youd know that Muhammad was a man, a Prophet and no more. Muslims say
that. You might be offended by pictures of him that could tempt people to worship him. Muslims dont do
that. Hes not like Jesus to Christians who worship him.
So who was he? He was a preacher and a fighter, just like others who have fought for what they
believe necessary for the survival of freedom in the world. He fought because others tried to kill his followers
and him. He was born six centuries after Jesus, orphaned as a child and raised by an uncle in Mecca. Some say
that childhood led to his call for equal treatment of all and sharing wealth with the poor.

2012 Copyright Dick Weston-Jones all rights reserved

Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship, Raleigh, NC


WWMD-What Would Muhammad Do?

Rev. Dick Weston-Jones, Guest Speaker

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When he was 25, Khadija, a businesswoman 15 years older than him, proposed. What a rarity! They
stayed monogamous until she died 25 years later. She was his first religious follower. Others from his family
became his core group of followers. After Khadijas death he married a dozen women, mostly elderly widows
and a couple of young women. He seems to have enjoyed sex. He said it good and encouraged others to enjoy
it too, but only in marriage.
His followers grew when he condemned idol worship and the rulers of Mecca until he became a
political threat to them and he had to get out of town. The people of Medina asked him to come help mediate
problems. Later when they were attacked by Meccans he led Medina in a war against Mecca. When
Muhammad won he taught his people to pray to God in Meccas direction five times daily. Allah first told him
he wanted 50 prayers daily but Muhammad negotiated him down to five each day. He also told his followers
to make hajj or pilgrimage to the Kaaba shrine in Mecca at least once during their lives. Supposedly the Kaaba
was built originally by Adam, and later rebuilt by old Abraham.
Muslims say the Quran was spoken through him in trances for 23 years. His followers memorized his
words and wrote them down each time. It was gathered as a single text shortly after his death in 632 at his
age of 63. After he died, there were fierce struggles over succession. Two groups emerged, one following
members of his family as a living community. They became the Shia. The other group, the Sunni, followed his
companions in taking his life as a guide and commentary on the Quran, or the word of Allah. Omid Safi, a
Muslim teacher at UNCs Religious Studies Department, says
The differences between Sunnis and Shia should not be overestimated: they believe in the same
God [called Allah], have the same cycle of prophets, read the same Quran and perform the same
religious rituals. Theologically there is often as much internal variation among the various Sunni
(and Shii) schools as there is between the dominant Sunni and Shii schools. (p. 220)
WWMD? What Would Muhammad Do today? I think hed be disgusted at attacks that dont
distinguish between warriors and those warred against, prisoners being tortured and murdered, no matter
who does it. I think hed call America on our willingness to slaughter innocent people in the Middle East and
our aggression against them under the rubric of fighting terrorism, as we destroy their culture and lives.
Omid Safi says
In Mecca, Muhammad had preached nonviolence and resistance vis--vis Meccan religious
practices. The teachings of Muhammad at [the] later phase of his life, however, turned away
from pacifism and recognized that there was a time for peace and a time for waras the Bible
had recognized. The Quran attests that Muhammad was predisposed by nature to despise
war, but that God commanded him to undertake it when necessary: Fighting is ordained for
you, even though it be hateful to you (Quran 2:216). The Quran emphasizes that when one
has to confront the enemythose who, in the words of scripture, have driven one from ones
home and oppressed a whole communitythen the fighting must be undertaken in a noble
fashion, with set bounds not to be exceeded. (Safi, p 129)
Theres a story about Muhammads early days when he was mistreated by the priests of Mecca,
before the wars between the Meccans who hated him and his followers from the town of Medina. Mocked
by his neighbors in Mecca and threatened by attempts to kill him, he persisted in walking freely around the
town. Yet, time and again, said Safi, Muhammad forgave those who persecuted him, even famously
refusing to take revenge on them when he had the chance to do so after the conquest of Mecca. (Safi, 16)
On one street he walked below the window of a woman who hated him. Every morning she greeted
him by dumping garbage on his head. One day when he came by nothing happened. No trash was dumped
on him. He knew something must be wrong, so he went inside the house to ask if she was okay. He learned
that the woman indeed was very sick. The Muslim tradition says when she saw how he cared about her in
spite of all her attacks on him, she wept and became one of his earliest followers. She knew that if someone

2012 Copyright Dick Weston-Jones all rights reserved

Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship, Raleigh, NC


WWMD-What Would Muhammad Do?

Rev. Dick Weston-Jones, Guest Speaker

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would act as he did, wanting to help her, he must be the one who was her true friend rather than the
people who told her to hate him. What would you think?
Said Safi, Since one of the tasks the Quran sets for Muslims is to engage in ethical self-critique and
to critique their own families and communities in the sight of God, (Quran 4:135) one has to admit that
spiritually all is not well today in the community of Muhammad. (Safi, 17)
All is not well spiritually in much of the world where poverty is increasing and the gap between the
rich and the poor is growing, where wars hurt so many. What Would Muhammad Do about it? I think hed
call on us to submit to God and His way, to make the world a more just and loving place for all people, to
bring poverty to an end and to care, care for one another.
Islam is based in complete submission to God, but not in a way exclusive to it, or claiming that it
has priority over other religions. He led his people for years to live in peace with Jews who lived in peace
with him. I think hed tell them the same thing today.
How would Muhammad deal with Unitarian Universalists? I think wed be confusing, but that he
would accept our right to exist as a free religion. Safi says that recently pluralistically oriented Muslims
have pondered the possibility of venturing beyond an explicitly theistic realm and recognizing the teachings
of Tibetan Buddhism as part of sacred guidance. (Safi, p. 198) Wow! Buddhism! If the faithful could do
that, WWMD?
I think the right question is not how Muhammad would deal with us, but how we Unitarian
Universalists and the rest of our religious family will learn to deal with our Muslim cousins as rightfully part
of our religious neighborhood, all of us grandchildren of that old curmudgeon Abraham, and members of
the same family.
Rev. Dick Weston-Jones1

Reading for March 13, 2011 service, WWMD


Standing Alone in Mecca, An American Womans Struggle for the Soul of Islam by Asra Nomani

This reading is from a speech that Asra Nomani, a Muslim woman and former Wall Street Journal reporter,
delivered in 2005 to the annual meeting of the Islamic Society of North America, in Chicago. It was met with
heckling from a few people, a torrent of questions from many delegates and overwhelming support by most
men and women there, all of them Muslims.
********
Islam is at a crossroads much like the place where the prophet Muhammad found himself when he was on the
cusp of a new dawn with his migration to Medina from Mecca. The Muslim world has the opportunity to rise
to a place of deep and sincere enlightenment, inspired by the greatest teachings of Islam. It is our choice which
path we take.
There are many model mosques that affirm womens rights. Yet women are systematically denied rights that
Islam granted them in the seventh century, in mosques throughout America. Islam grants all people inalienable
rights to respect, dignity, participation, leadership, voice, knowledge, and worship. These rights must be
granted to women, as well as men. Excluding women ignores the rights the prophet Muhammad gave them
in the seventh century.
It is time for our communities to embody the essential principles of equity, tolerance and inclusion within
1

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2012 Copyright Dick Weston-Jones all rights reserved

Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship, Raleigh, NC


WWMD-What Would Muhammad Do?

Rev. Dick Weston-Jones, Guest Speaker

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Islam. And it is incumbent upon each of us as Muslims to stand up for those principles. Terrorists
transformed our world into a more dangerous place when they attacked the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Before we knew it, a minority of Islamic fundamentalists who preached hatred of the West were defining
Islam in the world. Alas, moderates, including myself, have been a silent majority, remaining largely quiet.
Moderate Muslims have a great responsibility to define Islam and their communities in the world.
The journey is never complete, and a long road remains in front of us, but we have as inspiration a time in the
seventh century when a new day lay ahead of a caravan trader who had as much to fear as we do today but
nonetheless transcended his doubts and fears to create an ummah [a community] to which we all belong today.
Allow us all to rise to our highest potential.
Nomani, Asra Q. Standing Alone in Mecca; An American Womans Struggle for the Soul of Islam Harper San Francisco, 2005 pp. 269-271.

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2012 Copyright Dick Weston-Jones all rights reserved