What is the story of the Shriners, and is it rooted in Islam?

Shriners International, formerly known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine is a Masonic society established in 1870 and has its headquarters in Tampa, Florida. The Shriners is a Masonic organization that bases its membership on the simple principles of fun and fellowship, based upon the fundamental Masonic values of brotherly love, relief, and truth.

The Shriners currently has approximately 350,000 members from various chapters in the US, Canada, and different countries across the world. Let’s take a look at the history of the Shriners and understand their roots and traditions.

Related: Who Are The Shriners?

As always, this writing does not reflect the official views of Freemasons Community, but is merely the views of one Mason.

The story of the Shriners, and is it rooted in Islam

The history of the Shriners

The idea for a fun Masonic branch is thought to have its roots in 1870 Manhattan when several thousand Masons lunched at the Knickerbocker Cottage. Two men in attendance were Walter M. Fleming and William J. Florence who acted upon the idea and took it seriously.

William Florence was a world-renowned actor at the time, and while he was on tour in Marseille, he was invited to a party hosted by an Arab diplomat. At the conclusion of the party, members joined a secret society, and it is thought that from this experience, Florence developed the idea for the Shriners.

Florence and Fleming formally established the Shriners in 1870, and they created the ritual, emblem, and costumes soon after. The following year, they welcomed eleven initiates into their group, and they adopted a Middle Eastern theme through the establishment of several temples across New York City.

By 1875, there were 43 Shriners in the organization, and throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, they grew to reach 55,000 members across 82 temples by 1990.

What is the objective of the Shriners?

Fundamentally, the Shriners has grown to become an active, fun, and socially-oriented organization within Freemasonry. Shriners follow Masonic rituals and ceremonies the same as other Masons, and to become a Shriner; you need to be a Master Mason. Before 2000, you had to complete either the Scottish or York Rite systems, but this has been revised.

Every Shriner temple is decorated in a Middle Eastern style where members meet, and they draw members from all over, as they are less common than traditional Masonic lodges. Calling them ‘temples’ may be a little misleading, as they are more like convention centers formed by several units from within.

Shriners are well-known and highly respected for their incredibly charitable work across North America, Mexico, and Canada. Their charitable arm is the Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of 22 healthcare facilities that are supported by the organization.

The Shriners charitable mission for these facilities is to the point:

“Any child under the age of 18 can be admitted to hospital if, in the opinion of the doctors, the child can be treated.” 

What’s remarkable about the Shriners hospitals is that they are inclusive, and there is no requirement for religion, race, or even relationship to a Shriner for children to be treated within the named hospitals.

Until 2012, care provided at Shriners Hospitals was 100% free, although they had to start charging insurance companies shortly after due to decreases in their endowment. Shriners hospitals can be found all over America, from Portland, Oregon to Tampa, Florida.

What about the fun and social side of the Shriners?

As mentioned, the Shriners exists to facilitate fun and sociable experiences for Masons while focusing on raising money for the Shriners hospitals across North America, Canada, and Mexico.

Central to the ‘fun’ of the Shriners Temples, parade units are responsible for promoting a positive Shriner image to the public by participating in local parades. These parades can look a little odd to outsiders, as they often include grown men traveling the streets in small, lawn-mower motor-powered cars.

While they are fun events for Masons, they are also profile-raising for the organization and help people become aware of their existence and understand the charitable cause they work so tirelessly to support.

In addition to the parades, the Shriners are committed to community service and have contributed to many public projects throughout America. One of their most high-profile events is the annual East-West Shrine Game, a college football all-star game that is played out in front of thousands of spectators every year.

The attire and symbolism of the Shriners

Many people think the Shriners is in some way linked to Islam, primarily as a result of the fact there is some Islam-related symbolism within the Temples and various regalia of the organization. For instance, many of the Shriners can be seen wearing red fezzes that are commonly seen within countries across the Muslim world.

The fez itself long predates the Shriners, originating in Morocco, as far back as the 900s A.D. It was initially a brimless, red, white, or black bonnet over which a turban was wrapped. In its early usage, the fez was a symbol of Ottoman affiliation and religious adherence to Islam. It is curious in this respect that Shriners adopted the fez as a symbol of its membership.

Conclusion: is the Shriners rooted in Islam?

As we have seen in this post, the Shriners originated in New York. It was founded by Masons with the intention of being specifically for fun and charitable objectives.

That being said, much of the Shriners regalia and decorations have Arabic roots, which is best exemplified by the red fezzes worn by Shriners members. Other than that, there is little evidence to suggest that Shriners’ history is rooted within Islam.

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