by Rashied K. Sharrieff-Al-Bey, PM – Cornerstone Lodge #37
M .·. W .·. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F.·. & A.·. M.·., New York
Over the years, several times the question has arisen about handling the Qur’an for use in a Lodge, and which verses to use for the conferral of degrees upon Muslim candidates and Brethren. In fact, the very first time that this writer ever browsed on-line, he happened upon the Freemasonry.org Welcome Wall, and found posted there the entry of an Australian Brother who had been the last one to post to the Wall before I opened the web site.
The Brother asked about how to handle the Qur’an in Lodge, and this seemed Providential. Being a complete internet novice, and not knowing whether I could even find the web site again the following night, and despite being quite exhausted at the time (it was about 1:30 a.m.), I decided to immediately respond. The Brother later published that response in Harashim, the journal of the Australian & New Zealand Masonic Research Council.1 He was the first Brother with whom I’d had any internet correspondence, and we have remained friends and correspondents to this day.
As to the verses, a brief word. The Qur’an is segregated into 114 sections which are called Surahs, meaning Degrees, and these are the rough equivalent of chapters. The Surahs are separated into ayahs, or signs, which correspond to verses. Thus, one can say quite literally that the Qur’an was revealed in degrees and signs, and this is true not only of the Qur’an, but of the Great Book of Nature whence the observant Mason derives
many of his lessons. Indeed, the Qur’an makes ample and frequent reference to the operations of Nature as proofs of Divine Order, and from which man ought to be learning something of the nature of the Deity.
While the Western reader is accustomed to a progressive reading of a book, the Qur’an reads somewhat differently. The earliest of its verses were revealed in Mecca, and seem primarily to direct their discussion to the cases of the Jewish and Christian communities, of which the Islamic community sees itself as a continuation, and thus the Qur’an refers to these two communities as the People of the Book. The later Surahs are those revealed in Madina, and these initially concern themselves to a greater extent with the early Islamic community as it developed its social system, and then later, with apocalyptic import. These are the very short Surahs occurring at the last portion of the VSL.
In Islam, a Muslim is required to make a journey to Mecca in his lifetime, if his means permit it, to complete the pilgrimage known as Hajj. When the traveler reaches Arabia, he must put off his clothes and wear the ihram, a two-piece garment consisting of linen or cotton. Its white color bears the same emblematic significance to the Muslim as the apron does to the Mason. While wearing the ihram, with its cloth wrapped around the waist and another around the torso leaving one shoulder bare, one cannot tell the tradesman from the captain of industry, nor beggar from king. This resonates with every Mason worth the appellation.
As the first step in Masonry is taken, there is the matter of the peculiar apparel that the candidate must first face. The clothing of wealth and station, or the lack thereof, is removed and replaced. The gold and bejeweled adornments are put off, and for many, this separation from accustomed jewelry and clothing feels like a stripping of identity. Save the peculiar dress adopted for the occasion and the Masonic implement which binds him to his place in the long line of entrants upon the threshold between candidacy and Brotherhood, the candidate wears nothing that will distinguish him to the casual observer. It was this thought that gave rise to the verse chosen for the initiatic moment:
“And hold fast by the Rope (Covenant) which G-d stretches forth for you, all together, and be not disunited. And remember G-d’s favor to you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favor you became Brethren. And you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it. Thus G-d makes clear to you His messages that you may be guided.”
Suratu-l-Imran (The Family of Imran) 3: 103
While this is not the only ayah that could have profitably been used at this starting point in the candidate’s Fraternal career, it seemed too appropriate to pass by.
Maulana Muhammad ‘Ali, a translator and commentator of Qur’an says that the Arabic word for covenant is hahl, which means a rope, or a cord. It signifies, therefore, a bond, a cause of union, a bond of love or friendship, a covenant or compact whereby one becomes responsible for the safety of a person or a thing. Consider deeply the import of this as the new Brother learns the meaning of his own cable tow.2
The newly-made Brother learns the lessons that concern themselves with the outer world, dimensions and nature of Lodge, and the connection to the Natural environment and his place in it. This ultimately turns the Brother’s attention toward himself and the inner world as he is passed a Fellow Craft, and like the winding of the Letter G along an inward-turning spiral, the self-reflection then begins. As the psychic nature of the Craft unfolds for the Brother’s study and the Great Throne is contemplated, the next ayah seems to naturally occur:
“G-d! There is no god but He, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting, by Whom all subsist. Slumber overtakes Him not, nor sleep. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him, but by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them. And they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He pleases. His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of them both tires Him not. And He is the Most High, the Great.”
Suratu-l-Baqarah (The Cow) 2: 255
The same spirit of genuflection that the Preston-Webb ritual enjoins on the Brethren who gather in the Middle Chamber is felt by the Muslim listening to the oft-quoted and famous Ayatu-l-Kursi, or Sign of the Throne, here quoted. In this frame of mind, the meanings of the Plumb and Level are made more clear.
‘Ali states that kursi means chair or throne, but that the implication is the all-comprehensive knowledge of G-d. The word is freely used to indicate knowledge or learning, and an Arabic proverb states that “the best of men are the men of learning.” Because the verse refers to knowledge with a word that means throne, it connects the idea of power and sovereignty to knowledge, so that we may understand the relation of our self-mastery to our self-rule, and that our authority in our lives increases in direct proportion to our knowledge. An ignorant Mason is thus an oxymoron, and in breach of his own Obligation.3
Finally, the Brother comes face to face with the tests of his integrity that his declaration of commitment to a Straight Path will surely bring his way. Once a commitment is given and a Way embarked upon, there are countless insistent obstructions to try that commitment; the “thousand natural shocks to which the flesh is heir,” as it were. In the ensuing degree, a profound example of personal integrity firmly and forcefully grasps the Brother’s attention, but he is given a reminder to bear him up for his task.
“Surely the Grip of thy Lord is strong. Surely He it is Who creates first (most initially) and then reproduces; And He is the Forgiving, the Loving. Lord of the Throne of Power, the Glorious, Doer of what He intends.”
Suratu-l-Buruj (The Stars, or The Zodiac) 85: 12 – 16
Here the Brother is brought to consider the immutable Laws of the Universe, alluded to in the title of the Surah. Unlike the codes written by men which pass under color of law, the Universal Law cannot be abrogated, repudiated, nor lain aside. We may learn to use the existence of these laws to do that which seems to breach them, just as an airplane seems to defy gravity, nonetheless it is the fact of gravity that makes the operation of the airplane possible. So too is the effect of Law upon men.
That Law dictates that we are first created in the natural mind, but that there is yet another creation – a regeneration – in which we are involved, and that we must be first Raised from one level of life and awareness so as to Enter in upon another. One commentator states that the immediately preceding verses refer to the casting of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into a furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, and the action of G-d in their protection.4 While other commentators disagree, all seem to favor an implication that the upright are bound to face hardships brought to bear on them on account of their faithfulness, and that integrity in the face of that hardship then becomes the hallmark of worthy men.
There are several interesting parallels between Freemasonry and Islam. While it is naturally ordained that some must lead while others follow, both Freemasonry and Islam insist that there is a rule of equality between human beings, so that their authority comes from their office and that they are otherwise on the Level. For its part, Islam recognizes no priesthood, and Freemasonry has a similar regard for the role of the Past Master. While his knowledge permits him to be a useful advisor, he returns to the Craft that he previously served from the East, even immediately serving as Tiler in some jurisdictions.
Both Freemasonry and Islam both regard the covenant or bond of fraternity as a rope that binds us together. Both Freemasonry and Islam consider that the integrity of one’s word is paramount, even in the face of abuses and hardship. One can almost imagine Shadrach, Mechach, and Abed-nego saying, “My life you may have; my Integrity, never.”
© 2005 .·. Rashied K. Sharrieff-Al-Bey, PM
Cornerstone Lodge #37
Grand Lodge Committee on Work and Lectures
M .·. W .·. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F.·. & A.·. M.·., New York
Member, Scottish Rite Research Society
Member, Phylaxis Society – Masonic Research
Member, Philalethes Society – Masonic Research
Member, Masonic Research Society of Maryland
Member, Charles H. Wesley Masonic Research Society
Member, Masonic Brotherhood of the Blue Forget-Me-Not #407 (Authors, Educators)