The Shriners is a fraternal organization that grew out of the Masonic movement in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century. The organization is predicated on principles of philanthropy, brotherly love, peace and strong family values. The Shriners are not a religious organization as such, even though spiritual belief is a fundamental principle for the group -- Shriners are Freemasons, who must profess a belief in a supreme being in some form, and who make use of Bibles in their rituals.

Origins of the Shriners

The Shriners organization was created in 1870 in New York City, by a small group of Masons who were interested in starting a new fraternity, dedicated to "fun and fellowship" within the brotherhood. This group chose an Arabian theme for its new fraternity, naming it the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine; it also adopted the Turkish fez as part of its uniform and created an emblem comprised of Arabic and Ottoman symbolism, including the face of the Sphinx, a scimitar, a crescent and a five-pointed star. The first official meeting of the Shriners was held in New York City in 1872.

Shriners, Masons and Religious Beliefs

All Shriners are Masons, though not all Masons are Shriners. Masons trace the roots of their organization back to the Middle Ages, with possible connections to medieval craft guilds and to the religious order of the Knights Templar. To become a Mason, and likewise a Shriner, a person must have a belief in God; Masons and Shriners also meet in temples and may use the Bible as part of their rituals.

Shriners as Christians?

While Shriners insist that they are not part of a religious organization, some of their rituals are quasi-religious, combining aspects of Protestantism, Islam and other spiritual practices. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that Masons -- and by extension Shriners -- are not Christians; moreover, Masons and Shriners are opposed not only to "Christianity, but also to the whole system of supernatural truth." Conservative Christian groups reject the notion of Shriners as Christians and see them as practicing an "alternative religion."

Shriners and Islam?

The apparent connections between Shriners and Islam also challenge the notion of Shriners as Christians. As a recent Vancouver Sun article observes, Shriners have traditionally prayed facing towards Mecca, and swear a blood oath to the Shrine that invokes "Allah, the god of Arab, Moslem and Mohammedan, the god of our fathers." Some Muslims object to what they perceive as the Shriners parodying Arabic culture and the Muslim religion (see Reference 4).