At the time, I was on a spiritual path which I followed for 40 years, one of the rare forms of Christian nondualism. The founder of this movement, a remarkable American metaphysician of the 19th century, claimed that it represented the highest revelation of truth to-date – an affirmation with a heavy burden of proof. The movement, based on a powerful spiritual textbook, was very rigid in its organization and, more importantly, unreceptive to any outside influence.
I was living in Senegal on a beach between two shanty towns. One Sunday, I decided to go and meet my neighbor, Iman Sall, in the shantytown of Hann-Beach and to ask him how Islam defined God. I was so cocksure that I had THE best definition in the world, as given by our founder. As I walked along the beach on the way to the Iman, my frame of mind reflected this Japanese proverb which says: “It is very difficult to describe the vast horizons of the ocean to the little frog sitting at the bottom of his well.” The little frog in me was so comfortably ensconced in its rigid smugness!
Upon arriving at the Iman’s, I was as usual welcomed very courteously and after the customary exchange, I asked him my question: “Iman Sall, how does Islam define God?”
The little frog in me was in for the surprise of his life when he answered softly: “Pierre, if you took all the branches of all the trees on the earth as pens, and all the waters of all the seas and rivers, and of all the oceans, lakes and streams as ink, you would not be able to write all the names (attributes) of God.” The little frog in me was speechless.
Then he added, “you know, Pierre, you are a better Muslim that most of the Muslims who surround me.” By that he meant that I didn’t drink, I didn’t chase women (contrary to most of the young aid workers), and I gave generously. (Islam prescribes Zakat (charity) to all believers who can afford it).
The American poet Edwin Markham wrote a little poem (Outwitted) which reads:
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In”!
I had drawn a fearful circle which excluded the Iman. He drew a more generous one that included me.
Thank you, Iman Sall, for what was an important life lesson in my life.