Receiving Light by Degrees: Linking the Quran and the Craft
(published here by permission of the author)
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan will begin on October 4 this year (2005), and with so many answers about the world's largest religion being sought these days, it behooves Masons to learn more about Islam. We know the Biblical passages identified with our Symbolic Degrees: Psalm 133 marks the start of the Entered Apprentice's journey with talk of anointment and new community. The Fellowcraft soon to climb the Winding Stairway learns from the prophetic Book of Amos how the Great Architect of the Universe uses a gauge of perpendiculars to assess the uprightness of His people. Thirdly, the Master Mason gains wisdom from Ecclesiastes, a memoir believed written by King Solomon himself in reflection of a long, illustrious life. Likewise, the Holy Quran illumines the Masonic journey of discovery, devotion and deliberation for Muslim brethren.
Before reading the relevant passages, it should be explained that King Solomon is a prophet highly revered in Islam for the wisdom, strength and harmony that characterized his reign. However, the Holy Quran hasn't the originative relationship with Masonic legends and symbols that the Hebrew Bible has, making it unlikely that Muslim brethren uniformly match the same (if any) Quranic passages to their degree work. It also is worth noting that the chapters of the Holy Quran are called "surahs" or degrees, and that the verses of those degrees are called "ayats" or signs.
For the Entered Apprentice's admission into the worshipful lodge, the Great Light could be open to Surah Al-'Imran 3:102. From the Penguin Classics translation of the Holy Quran:
"Believers, fear G-d as you rightly should. . . . Cling one and all to the faith of G-d and let nothing divide you. Remember the favor G-d has bestowed upon you, how . . . He united your hearts so that you are now brothers through His grace. . . . Thus G-d makes plain to you His revelations, so that you may be rightly guided."
With this page of Scripture open on the altar, we can see the initiate entering the lodge in the fear of the Lord, to be united in a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of G-d, and where he'll partake of that first of Masonic privileges: the benefit of prayer. Different English translations of the Quran offer imagery seemingly more attuned to Masonry. That available on the University of Northumbria website recalls the cable-tow, saying "And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah . . . by His grace, you became brethren. . . . Thus Allah makes His signs clear to you, that you may be guided."
In the Fellowcraft Degree, we learn the Masonic significance of the letter G, and upon the altar our Muslim brethren could open the Quran to Surah Al-Baqarah 2:255, also known as the "Throne Verse." This passage is pivotal to Islam for its expression of G-d's inestimable might and mercy, and is sometimes called the heart of the Quran. Again, from the University of Northumbria website:
"From Allah! None has the right to be worshipped but He, the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber, nor sleep overtake Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him except with His Permission? He knows what happens to His creatures in this world, and what will happen to them in the hereafter. And they will never compass anything of His knowledge except that which He wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And He is the Most High, the Most Great."
For the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, the Quran offers a surah with a name reminiscent of the "lodge on high." Often called the "Mansions of the Stars," Surah Al-Buruj is a brief chapter regarding the murder of believers and the justice inflicted by G-d upon the killers, who perish in the same manner as their victims. Consider the virtue and faith of the assassinated Grand Master, the penalties exacted upon his killers, and the Lion's Paw . . . all beneath the ever vigilant All-Seeing Eye:
"Those that persecute believers . . . shall be rewarded with the scourge of Hell. . . . But those that have faith and do good works shall be rewarded. . . . That is the supreme triumph. Stern indeed is the vengeance of your Lord. It is He who brings into being and then restores life. . . ."
Again, other translations paint a picture that Masons can appreciate. That found on the Oregon State University website reads "Truly strong is the grip of thy Lord" in the place of "Stern indeed is the vengeance. . . ."
As stated above, the Holy Quran is not the scriptural basis of Craft Masonry's symbolism, rendering unanimous agreement on verses unlikely. More important however is the universality of Masonic thought that allows acceptance of a diverse collection of holy texts as Volumes of Sacred Law, all equally worthy of our altars, and all lighting our path to the East.
The writer extends his most sincere and fraternal thanks to RW. Bro. Rashied K. Sharrieff Al Bey of New York, without whose help this article would not have been possible.