The Gulistan (Rose Garden) is the masterwork of 13th century Persian writer Sa’di (Saadi), a celebrated poet who recently was quoted by President Barack Obama in his 2009 address to the people of Iran. In the Gulistan, Saadi tells a story that goes like this:
A person with a harsh voice was reciting loudly the Koran. A good and holy man went up to him and asked, “How much are you getting paid for that?” The person answered, “Nothing.”
“If that is so,” asked the other, “why give yourself so much trouble?” He answered, “I am reading for the sake of God!” The good and holy man replied, “For God’s sake do not read, for if you chant the Koran in this manner, you are casting a shade over the glory of Islam.
Saadi’s story is an instructive one for Muslims and Progressive Christians alike. All too often we attribute to God human characteristics like jealousy and neediness, which in turn makes us think that God demands that we glorify Him and do things for His sake. By doing so, we paint God in a rather poor light, as if he were akin to an insecure earthly father who demands allegiance and obedience from his adult children.
God (the good heavenly Father) wants us to read scripture and poetry not for His sake, but for our own sake, for the benefit of the Christ seed in us, so that we might grow in our love for one another and the living world around us. It is by realizing our potential as Sons and Daughters of God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, that we honor Islam and Mohammed, Christianity and Jesus, and God the Father, not by appealing to Jehovah’s or Allah’s non-existent vanity.
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