Second Thoughts

Having started down a path toward Orthodoxy, you’re now having “second thoughts” and are thinking instead of a return to Islam. Do I know of any “similar cases”?

It’s a strange coincidence—or so it would seem from our perspective in time—but I received another email, the very same day your most recent message arrived, from a correspondent who had also written me for the first time several months ago, in fact just a day or two after I first heard from you. You, a Muslim, were at that point feeling the “call of Christianity”, whereas she, a Catholic, found herself “drawn by the magnet of Sufism”. Now, only a short time later, I hear again from both of you, only to learn that while you’re rediscovering the beauties of Islam, she’s finding this tradition increasingly “dry” and “juridical”, whereas her heart has started to “open again to Christ”.

I know nothing about either of you beyond these brief exchanges, and offering specific advice is therefore clearly out of the question. There are, however, four general principles that should inform any final decision.

1. All things considered, it’s always advisable for serious seekers to remain within the tradition in which they were raised, provided of course they have access within that framework to authentic spiritual guidance. As Schuon said, changing religions is much more like changing planets than like moving to a different country, and one must anticipate, and take very seriously, the scale and degree of disequilibrium such a change can involve.

2. On the other hand, questions of personal affinity are by no means without significance. Indeed they can sometimes serve as signposts pointing the seeker in a direction that will eventuate in his finding a master. The path of gnosis is obviously not the same as the path of love; nonetheless the gnostic must still “love” the barakah or “spiritual climate” of the Path he is following, and this includes its art, its symbols, its saints, its liturgies. And just as obviously different souls may legitimately love different things.

3. Reading one or two books is hardly enough, and of course if one is endeavoring to make an informed choice, as you are, between two traditional worlds, it’s essential to read books that are on the same “level” in order to avoid an “apples and oranges” comparison. You speak of having “plunged” in recent weeks into a study of Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Niffari, and other Sufi authorities. Well and good. But in that case you will need to give “equal time” to the works of Christian contemplative masters, including Dionysius, Maximos, Eckhart, and Silesius.

4. In the final analysis, choosing a religion really means keeping oneself open to the “choice of Heaven”, and this in turn means that while religious background, spiritual affinity, and thorough study are all extremely important, personal prayer is the key. Given the decision you and my other correspondent are faced with, I would strongly urge both of you to open your hearts to the Blessed Virgin, the “Mother of God” (Orthodoxy) and “Mother of All the Prophets” (Sufism). You will not be the first Christians and Muslims she has guided. See, for example, the introductory, autobiographical chapter—”How Did I Come to Put First Things First?”—in Martin Lings’s book A Return to the Spirit (Fons Vitae, 2005).

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