Uniting Under a Common Word

Those who were given the Scripture did not divide, until there had come to them the Clear Evidence. Quran, 98:4

But they were not ordained, except to 1) serve God, 2) being devoted to His System, 3) inclining to truth, and that they 4) establish connection (Salat), and 5) contribute towards purity/growth (Zakat). Such is the establishing religion. Quran, 98:5

Do you see any mention of the trivialities in the description of the establishing religion over which sects erupt, fueling hatred & violence? Instead of fighting over differences, Muslims should build upon the foundation of Islam as outlined above, and simply agree to disagree on secondary issues.

Unity is what makes us strong. Who cares whether you place your hands on your belly or on your chest, while praying?

We mustn’t be penny wise, pound foolish. It is extremely important to open our eyes to the bigger picture, folks.

For a detailed analysis, read: United Sects of Islam

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A Monolithic Islam? Forget About It!

People trouble me, sometimes. Why are people so judgmental, I often find myself wondering? Perhaps, it is because a judgmental heart lacks introspection. I think that’s it. Yes, lacking introspection!

One of the most troubling trends I see within the Muslim community is the amount of hatred and suspicion towards Muslims who adopt different approaches and interpretations of Islam. With the Takfeeri ideology (ex-communication) on a rise, nearly every Muslim considers himself to be “rightly guided” and others, even if they differ on minor issues, to be “deluded by the devil” or a “Fitnah”, greatly hindering co-existence and mutual respect between Muslims. Sectarianism, which for this very reason has been severely discouraged in the Quran, has destabilized the Muslim community from within, resulting in every group happy with their version while looking down upon others.

We must realize that Islam is not a monolith, and that it’s impossible for nearly 2 billion Muslims to share the same interpretation of it. There is no “true” Islam, I would argue. Rather, what we have are Islams. At best, the “true” Islam, in my opinion, is relative to the person and is the interpretation that allows you to grow and evolve the most as a person, provided—a very important distinction to make–provided that the core of the Quran is not tempered with. And the Quran makes the case for this on the basis of the following verses:

“Who listen to the Word and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding.” Quran, 39:18

“And follow the best of that which is sent down to you from your Lord, before the torment comes on you suddenly while you perceive not!” Quran, 39:55

These verses, which definitely demand more attention and pondering from the mainstream Muslims; speak against a monolithic, institutionalized Islam as they ask the reader to follow the “best” from what is revealed. If there was supposed to be one “official interpretation”, there would absolutely be no point in asking us to follow the best therein. How do you follow the best of what’s already best, anyways?

Most people are unaware of this, but the Quran itself talks of a plurality of paths to Islam:

Through this Book, God guides to paths of Islam (peace), those who seek His Approval. He brings them out of darkness into the light of His grace, and guides them to the straight path. Quran, 5:16

This is because God acknowledges our diversity, calling it one of His Signs (30:22); and unlike the clergymen, does not want us all to be identical robots.

Combining these points together, the Quran provides a comprehensive rebuttal to the idea of there being a “true” Islam that is supposed to be shared by all of its adherents.

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Dealing with differences

Naturally, when we talk of nearly 2 billion Muslims, there are going to be theological differences. What matters though, is how we deal with these differences. We may have intellectual disagreements within the diverse Islamic thought, but we must not foster hate towards this diversity. Either we can acknowledge our differences and embrace them for the common good, focusing rather on the fundamental values that Islam teaches us, or we could continue with the “my way or the highway” ideology that is the main cause of sectarianism, again – which is severely discouraged in the Quran. (I delve on this further here)

Not being honest and true to ourselves, I believe, is at the root of sectarianism. We condemn others for their views, knowing full well that there was a time when we, ourselves, didn’t know what we know today. The problem, then, is that we’re overly critical of others, and fairly passive of ourselves, when it should totally be the other way around! We are quick to judge others because we only see things from one perspective–our perspective–which is limited and biased. We don’t try to analyze the reasons why people are the way they are because that is a hard task, requiring effort and broad mindedness.

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Now, there is this weird idea people have that being blunt is the same as being provocative, insulting, and demeaning. Some people, who like to think of themselves as being “straight-forward” believe that speaking “truth” to a person with a different point of view doesn’t require you to be polite, understanding, and reasonable. No, these characteristics are seen as attempts of “sugar-coating” or being “diplomatic” (as if that’s a bad thing). Well, guess what? Even if you’re right, no one would bother listening to you sincerely if you come off as snobbish and condescending. Doesn’t that negate the whole point of dialogue? If you are so keen on spreading your truth, don’t be in it to praise your ego and making a fool out of others. Because ultimately, you’re only fooling yourself!

There are some ethics of dialogue, and the Quran lays them down most wonderfully:

Invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and good advice, and argue with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord is fully aware of who is misguided from His path, and He is fully aware of the guided ones. Quran, 16:125

Socrates once said, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” In other words, when there are no intellectual points left to make, people resort to ad-hominem attacks to get the impression of superiority. Again and again, we must remind ourselves the purpose of Islam. It is not to look down upon others, but to bring yourself up. It is not to criticize others, but to prime yourself. Islam seeks to suppress the ego, not to magnify it. In fact, the Quran repeatedly reminds the reader that he is not sent as a “guardian” or “watcher” over the people (6:107, 88:22). Why then, is the focus not on ourselves, but on others?

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Conclusion

Gradual as it was, I realized over the course of my journey as a Muslim that there are many spiritual paths leading to the same destination: peace and serenity.

Just because I disagree with X and Y on some points, does not mean that I discount their spiritual journey as “invalid”, or that I start calling them other derogatory labels. The important thing, rather, is that you keep on treading the path you have chosen for yourself, growing with each step. Growth should be the priority, not the means by which you grow. Yes, we can all help in correcting each other by having a dialogue on a variety of theological and spiritual aspects, but the only person who’s utterly wasting his time is he who himself won’t move, but will block the way of others; advising them that they’ve taken the wrong path.

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As the Quran beautifully puts it:

Each of you chooses the direction to follow; then strive together toward all that is good. Whatever stand you take, God will bring you all together. Indeed, God is Able to do all things. Quran, 2:148

 

A monolithic Islam? Forget about it!

An inclusive and pluralistic Islam? Yes! And much more Islam will come to you that way!

 

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United Sects Of Islam: A Different Perspective on Unity and Sectarianism

A popular argument employed by atheists (and other like minded people) against people who subscribe to a religion is that religion has split mankind into factions resulting in much violence; therefore religion is evil and must be abolished. Obviously a valid point, though  blaming it all on religion is quite biased, I think. It’s not religion, exclusively, that divides people; rather people fight over all sorts of things, race being an example. Should we, or rather, can we get rid of the diversity of our colors?

I believe things are neutral. Religion, too, is neutral. It’s your attitude towards it that determines whether you choose to unite, or divide with others. Shifting the blame doesn’t solve anything. Therefore, we need to identify the problem and look for solutions.  Education, as with everything else, is required to curb oppressive ideologies like racism and sectarianism, which is what the Quran aspires to do.

The Quran stressing on Unity:

You must hold fast, all of you together, to the Bond of God and be not divided into sects. Quran, 3:103

And do not be like the ones who became divided and differed after the clear proofs had come to them. And those will have a great punishment.Quran, 3:105

Those who break the unity of their Deen and become sects, you have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Their case will go to God and He will then tell them what they had been doing. Quran, 6:159

(And do not be) of those who have divided their Deen and become sects, every faction rejoicing in what it has. Quran, 30:32

Steadfastly uphold the  Deen (Way of Life), and do not break up your unity therein. Quran, 42:13

What went wrong?

Despite these very clear and straight-forward commandments, the “Muslim World” is quite the hub of violent sectarianism that causes much bloodshed within those regions. We have this nasty habit of cherry-picking the verses we choose to follow. So, the verses that call for unity often get ignored and are replaced with scholarly opinions that promote sectarianism. Furthermore, fundamentalism and bigotry play a part as well.

Let me take you through the mindset of a sectarian, as I myself have been through that phase. It is the unshaken belief that my sect is the only ‘right’ version of Islam and worthy of salvation, while all others are misguided and headed for doom. Instead of compassion, there is a strong sense of fear and hate for them. Assuming infallibility for one’s self, religion becomes a tool to satisfy the ego by calling others infidels and other derogatory labels. All in all, it is either my way, or the highway.

If we were to measure spiritual maturity in terms of our biological growth, then fundamentalism is the childhood. A natural phase, but something you must grow from. (You may read my full piece on stages of consciousness here.)

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What a beautiful saying, isn’t it? Unfortunately, a sectarian might even have a problem with why I shared a “Hindu” proverb!  You see? So, forget that. Let me show you verses in the Quran that completely shatter sectarianism. Contrary to popular opinion, there is not only ONE “correct” path to Islam (Peace), rather there are MULTIPLE paths:

Through this Book, God guides to PATHS of Islam (Peace), those who seek His Approval. He brings them out of darkness into the light of His grace, and guides them to the straight path. Quran, 5:16

As for those who sincerely strive for Us, We surely guide them onto PATHS that lead to Us. God is with those who do Good. Quran, 29:69

How can we Unite?

Let me start by clearing a misconception. Unity does not equate to uniformity. Some people have the view that unity can only be achieved among people who have the same (or identical) set of beliefs, cultural practices, and paradigms. This is not only highly improbable, but is also flawed conceptually. See, human beings are complex creatures, having unique experiences that shape their paradigms. Forget billions of Muslims, you would not find two people who are exactly the same.

To me, unity can be achieved regardless of the beliefs of others. It is the internalization that God has created people with a free will of their own, and that they may choose whichever spiritual path which makes them the closest to God, turning them into a better human being. I am not discouraging rational debate, I must add. Indeed, debate is crucial for growth and reform. However, you stop playing God, as you realize that judgment belongs to God alone (13:40). All it takes is spiritual maturity and broad-mindedness from your side.

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Dropping the labels does not solve the problem.

One of the solutions put forward to achieve unity is to identify yourself as only a Muslim instead of a Sunni Muslim, a Shia Muslim, a Quranist Muslim, or a Sufi Muslim. For a long time, I agreed with this notion. However, now I think that it’s superficial at best. Labels don’t create sects; sectarian behavior does.The problem with identifying yourself as only a Muslim is that sectarian behavior may still exist within. You may consider yourself a “true Muslim” and others “not so true Muslims”. I have experienced this first-hand, so I’m convinced that this is not the answer.

Let’s face the reality here. You simply can’t expect every Muslim to share the same interpretation of the Quran. Therefore, labels help us identify one another. And, identification is a crucial factor in dialogue. Let’s take an example. If you were to ask me about my country of origin, and I responded by saying that I am a “citizen of the world”, would you expect the conversation to evolve from there? Possibly not. There is a lack of information, so it might stop there and then. However, if I say I’m an American, you may share your personal stories that are relevant, and the dialogue furthers.

So, the problem doesn’t lie in the labels, it lies in sectarian behavior which is a psychological construct and can be eradicated through education. The sectarian ideology is the real culprit here, which needs to be addressed. The ideology that since X and Y are different from me, they must be my enemies. Different approaches to Islam are not a threat to unity, bigotry is!

The key word in those verses, as we saw above, is to “not divide into sects”. You can be a Sunni Muslim who does not discriminate against Shias, for example. In this case, you find that Sunni Islam makes the most sense to you, but for others, it might be Shia Islam or Quranist Islam. Realizing that freedom of belief is a gift of God, you not only unite with other Muslims, but also free yourself from the negative energy of hate.

In a nutshell, sectarianism causes division. Division causes hate. Hate causes extremism. Extremism causes bloodshed. Hence, this becomes the perfect recipe for an unstable society and precisely why sectarianism has been severely discouraged in the Quran.

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Final Thoughts

O Muslims! We must stop dividing over petty issues and instead unite to fight the power-mongering psychopaths that seek to cause disharmony between us.  Disunity can never bring about any good! Let us put all the barriers of race, gender, sex orientation, religion, and politics to rest and respect people for what they are, provided they are not harming another human being. I call for unity! I call for Islam (Peace)!

The question is, will you respond?

 

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