Members of a Jewish adult study group at B’nai Emunah Congregation got an inside look at an American convert to Islam last week.
John Ederer, the new imam at the Tulsa Islamic Society, told his story.
It was the first time Ederer had addressed the Adult Institute since he became the spiritual leader of the mosque last fall, and he said before his talk that he wanted to focus on what the two faiths had in common, and not on more controversial subjects.
Islam and Judaism are the two most similar religions on Earth, he said, “and that’s something to build on.”
Among the similarities, both Islam and Judaism are: monotheistic; look to Abraham as the father of their faith; have dietary laws, kosher and halal; have a legal system, halakhah and shariah; and practice circumcision.
Ederer told the class that he was born and raised in Oklahoma in a Catholic home, but he could never accept the idea that God sent his son to Earth to become a man and die for the sins of the world.
“You don’t kill people for God, so surely he wouldn’t do that to his own son,” he said.
He said Christians are the most dedicated people on Earth in spreading the mercy of God and helping the poor.
“I’m jealous of them for that level of spirituality, but theologically, I have to disagree with them,” he said.
Ederer said he was a latch-key kid who got in with the wrong crowd and got into trouble as a teenager, was kicked out of Bishop Kelley High School for fighting, got in more trouble at Will Rogers High School and then moved to Norman to live with his father. He was kicked out of the house at the beginning of his senior year, but he still went on to graduate.
“My whole life I had trouble with someone exerting authoritative power over me,” he said.
He returned to Tulsa, where he again got into trouble, and was arrested.
“At that point, I prayed to God. I got on my knees in the jail cell: … ‘I know you have absolute authority and control over in this universe. I’m submitting to authority.’ “
Ederer got out of jail, and he began to study the holy books of many faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism.
“Let’s dig deep and come to a conclusion about what I’m doing,” he said.
He went to Christians who told him to “Love God … if Christ is in your heart, you’ll do just fine. … I got saved,” he said.
He said a Muslim co-worker at the Olive Garden got him interested in the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and as he read it, he was captivated.
“I felt that all of my assumptions and broken understandings were being systematically solved.”
He struggled for about a year, but things improved when he got involved with the Islamic Society of Tulsa mosque, he said. He became a physical education teacher at Peace Academy, the Islamic Society’s school. He went on to study Islam in Michigan for two years, and then in Egypt for a year and Kuwait for four years.
He returned to the United States in 2009, served as imam at a mosque in south Florida for two years, and then in Charlotte, N.C. for four years before coming back to Tulsa to be the spiritual leader of the mosque where he got his start in the Muslim faith.
In answer to questions, Ederer said violence and hatred of Jews comes out of the socio-political realities of the Middle East and not the teachings of Islam.
“If you study in Saudi Arabia, you’re going to come out extreme, because that’s the teaching they got.”
“There’s like a dark age going on, where the Muslim world is very confused spiritually, and that’s because (of) the dictatorships that are over there,” he said.
“If you go to Indonesia or Malaysia, … and in many places in Turkey, … you’ll see a much more balanced, proper” expression of Islam.
He said Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia grew naturally from the influence of Muslim traders, without a caliphate, or a war, and without issues over political control.