Monday, 26 January 2015

Celebrating the Spiritual Republic of India

We forgot to apply our own formula for building a truly free, happy and cultured nation! This Republic Day, let’s amend our mindset and push for a Spiritual Republic.

M Rajaque Rahman

Without being cynical and without undermining patriotic fervour, it will be a befitting tribute to the nation to ask ourselves: Have we measured up to the dreams of those who led India’s freedom struggle? Despite tremendous technological and economic progress, we are not yet fully free, happy and cultured. So what went wrong? We left out a crucial element while drawing up the blueprint of modern India. Though we added the two arms of being socialist and secular, the soul of India continued to crumble without the backbone of spirituality.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Spiritualise Islam to save it from fanaticism

Muslims need to seek spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Quran and the concept of Muhammad. Without such introspection within Islam, fanaticism will continue to rule supreme

M Rajaque Rahman

The tragic Charlie Hebdo massacre has brought Prophet Mohammad into the spotlight, yet again for wrong reasons. Unfortunately, this has happened in a month when Muslims around the world celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohammad.

Prophet Mohammad remains one of the most influential, and at the same time, the most maligned figures in the history. His influence is still powerful and pervasive even after the passage of fourteen hundred years. But, he is also seen as a figure who inspires violence and as the motivation for many Charlie Hebdo-like acts of terror. The religion he founded is often identified with terrorism, barbarism, oppression and fanaticism.

Even within the Muslim world, there is a fierce debate over celebration of his birth with the Wahhabis arguing such practice tantamount to idolatry. So who or what is this enigma?

Just days before the Paris massacre, the Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawky Allam wrote an article, blaming the fanatics and extremists for reducing the prophetic example to a set of rituals, crooked logic that run counter to the true essence and mission of the Prophet. Interestingly, his call for separating the real messages from those bandied about by those who have no competencies in religious interpretation couldn't have come at a more appropriate time when such forces are ruling the Islamic world today.

His allusion of inflammatory rhetorics muzzling thoughtful analysis within Islam is spot on. This phenomenon is exactly what is propelling rogue groups like Islamic Caliphate to prominence. Their fanatical madness is sought to be imposed as a guide for religious sentiment.

It's heartening that a man of his stature has chosen to speak out and call for serious religious leaders who engage the reality of the modern world in order to create an environment of coexistence. The Grand Mufti's contention that a necessary part of any such effort must be a sincere desire to understand what is behind the Muslims reverence for the Prophet is interesting. This is an indirect message to the non-Muslim world to stop maligning Prophet Muhammad for the wrongs that are being perpetrated in the name of Islam. But what is equally needed, but not forthcoming from the Mufti, is a call to the Muslim world to revisit the concept of Muhammad. Without such a spiritual introspection within Islam, fantacism will continue to rule supreme and bring bad name to the Prophet and Islam.

Prophets are the means through which people have been taught about the Truth. They are revered teachers who taught their people the very nature of reality, the purpose of our existence, and how to connect with God. And Prophet Muhammad was no exception. However, the present generation has missed that essence and is clinging on the rituals, symbols and outer orthodoxy.

Contrary to the Mufti's reasoning, it is not so much about the practical impossibility of every Muslim living up to the essence of ideals that the Prophet propagated. It’s more about a failure to understand the essence of Muhammad. If the essence of Muhammad that is repeatedly spoken off in the Quran and by the Prophet of Islam himself were properly understood, there would have been no division as Muslims and non-Muslims, which is the main fodder for modern terror in the world today. If they understand the essence of the omnipotent God for which the Prophet fought, his famous call upon his followers to wage war against the non-believers would have had a different connotation than blowing themselves up to kill the infidel.

The Prophet himself said, “I was Prophet when Adam was between soul and body (that is when Adam's creation was in its preliminary stages). Also, it’s in the Quaran that the first thing ever created is the Noor (Light) of Muhammad. In another Hadith, the Prophet is recorded to have said, I am the first Prophet to be created. If that’s so, then who or what is this Muhammad who existed thousands of astronomical years before the creation of the universe?

And, is it permissible to limit ourselves to the person whom the world saw for a brief period among primitive tribes in the Arabia when we think and talk of Muhammad? Is it Islamic to exclude any being from Ummat (community) of Muhammad when we talk about those being the only ones on the right path? The Quran has already passed the judgment that all human beings who have appeared on earth from the beginning and those who are currently present and those who will come until the Day of Judgment, will be counted as part of that Divine Light.

Seen from this perspective, the true concept of Muhammad has two aspects. One is the outward manifestation as a human being and another is the inward principle (tatva). Meta-physically speaking, this light which was created before anything else was created is what one refers to as Consciousness. There is also an Islamic tradition that believes the truth of Muhammad will only be revealed in meditation to the one who search deeply with perfect faith and an open heart. Without such a spiritual seeking, Muhammad will appear to be just an illiterate son of Aminah and 'Abdullah who founded Islam in the Arabai. And this is exactly what’s happening today.

That a realization of that Consciousness alone is the only differentiation in the eyes of the Divine is captured in a popular Islamic legend. When Iblees refused to prostrate to that eternal light, he became Satan, the accursed. And those who prostrated became angels.

Even the gross manifestation that the world saw was a microcosm in the form of a human being, sent to manifest the macrocosm. To do justice to him, one needs to realize that he preached about one omnipotent God rulling the entire universe to people of a very backward area, far from the centers of trade, art and learning. The apparent crudeness of some of his injunctions could find their roots to the hostile settings.

These teachings of the Quaran and the Prophet confirm beyond any doubt that all created beings and objects have come out of the same single source. This message of unity of creation needs to be interpreted spiritually. This realization of the vastness of the concept of Muhammad is the only way to save the world from the wrongs being perpetrated in the name of Islam! Unfortunately, self-proclaimed leaders of Islam has manupilated this by interpreating it communally. That the lack of this spiritual education among Muslims is the main cause of the rising fanaticism is borne by the fact that it has coincided with the rise of Wahhabism as the more vocal and dominant brand of Islam. The ultra-conservative philosophy robbed Islam of its rich spiritual facets and propagated a one-dimensional interpretation of the Quran and Hadith.

This limited understanding has corrupted the minds of many. The time has come for some serious and authentic sermons on peace and co-existence from the pulpit. The time has come to tell the mainsteam Muslim world that it’s a bigger insult to the Prophet to kill in his name than a blasphemous cartoon! 


(A former journalist and a devout Muslim, the author teaches spiritual-based progammes of the Art of Living of His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He can be contacted on rajaque@gmail.com. The views expressed are perosnal)

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Spiritual Doctors = Best Treatment

As the concerns grow that doctors' financial incentives play at least some role in their treatment decisions, there is a strong case for choosing spiritual and frugal doctors who want to bring wellness rather than the ones who want to defeat death at any cost.

M Rajaque Rahman
I recently read an online article that compared our experience of taking a patient to a modern hospital with that of driving a car into a garage for a routine maintenance.  Interestingly, the analogy was not on the parameter that they both fix critical problems in what are essentially complex machines. It was on the basis of the frazzling feeling we go through in both the situations not knowing whether the suggested fixes are actually necessary.

However outrageous it may sound to compare the noble pursuit of healing the sick with the crude one of fixing lifeless machines, the comparison is not without merit. It's a taken that mechanics tend to take advantage of uninformed consumers to boost their own incomes. The emerging trends suggest some doctors are fishing in the same pond of clueless customers. Very much like the one who takes the car to garage, the patient or his attender has no knowledge to judge whether the prescribed tests and procedures are necessary or done just to inflate the bill. But unlike the advice of the mechanic, the risk of ignoring the advice of the doctor could be as serious as a matter of life and death. That way, unscrupulous doctors are better placed for a ripoff. And the harsh reality is that a large majority of today's doctors are not as godly or saintly as we would believe them to be!

A mere Google search will throw up sufficient evidence that supports the claim that doctors' financial incentives play at least some role in their treatment of uninformed patients. Most of them would be about cases in the US or other developed countries,  but that doesn't mean that such unscrupulous practices are not prevalent in India. It's just that there have been not much organized activism in this area.

For example, 32 per cent of all babies born in the US today come out through C-Sections. Fifteen years ago, the figure was just 13 per cent. Reinforcing the thinking that such cuts may not always be inevitable and might possibly be driven by greed, a study revealed mothers who are doctors were 9 per cent less likely to have unscheduled C-Sections compared to non-physician mothers with similar characteristics. The bottomline is that C-Sections are typically more profitable for doctors than vaginal deliveries.

Feeding the fear that doctors are becoming more money minded is a recent study reported by Bloomberg. It reported that urologists who buy their own equipment to provide expensive radiation treatment are more likely to use it to treat prostate cancer than those who don't own such facilities. Confirming that profits urologists make from referring patients to their own radiation facilities play an outsized role in the treatment decisions, the study found that the same doctors prescribed, for example what's called intensity-modulated radiation therapy for just 13 per cent of their patients before they had their own equipment as against 33 per cent after.

The same logic also explains the rapid rise in the rate of spinal fusion surgeries in the US. Experts say that more than half of the 465,000 odd spinal fusions performed in the US in 2011 could have been without good reason.

But it's not just money though. There is a huge problem of approach and orientation. As doctors become more and more specialised, the sphere of possibilities have been curtailed. To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Like that, surgeons like to solve medical problems by cutting, just as physicians first seek solutions with drugs. And they don't see anything beyond. Their vision become so narrowed that they can't see illness beyond the problem of pain. They end up becoming problem fixers rather than healers.

The scale of suspicion might be exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the lure for money is making doctors happy when they see sickness! The patient becomes almost like an ATM machine, with the doctors extracting as much revenue as they can.

But it will be too cruel to cast all doctors in one mold. There are doctors who heal. There are doctors who consider a pep-talk session with the patient equally, if not more, important as the medicine they prescribe. For me, there are two types of doctors. One spiritual and other non-spiritual. The first type honours the power of the spirit and aspire to become a part of its healing mechanism. They aren't rigid and procedure-driven. They take a holistic view of the patient's condition and adopt a multidimensional approach to heal it.

The other type sees illness as their opponents that needed to be outsmarted or out-procedured. If their will be done, nobody will ever die. They call it alive as long as they are breathing, even if it's ventilator induced. Sometimes, they conduct emergency surgeries on "dead bodies". They care very little about wellness. They just love to handle interesting cases. They often forget no patient ever wants to be an interesting case. Surely, interesting cases pay more.

So the wise action is to opt for the one who wants to bring good health and wellness, not the one who wants to defeat death at any cost. Remember, almost always it's the patient party who pays the cost!

Another fact about spiritual people is that they have a very strong intuitive power, a very vital quality for a doctor. They are more likely to arrive at a more precise diagnosis, and with less tests and imaging.

And there is also a curious equation. The equation of karma. And only a spiritual one can understand this equation. If we care to look, we will notice that dedicated and holistic doctors often lead a very frugal life. They understand that to keep them happy and provide for their needs, god has to make someone sick. If everyone got healthy, doctors will struggle for survival. This also means that if their needs are more, more have to fall sick. So spiritual doctors lead a frugal life as part of their holistic mission to bring down sickness.

And for doctors who lead a lavish life, and have a big loan to repay, anything that would help patients get healthy stands against their financial well-being. So they become happy when they see more sickness and when wards are full. I am not saying all doctors use this sickening logic while treating patients, but for money-minded ones, sickness is an incentive, and wellness a penalty.

Thankfully, the former tribe is not extinct yet. We have to just do a scan of the doctor before he could wheel you in for an expensive scan! 

My Nation, My Prayers

It’s time to be proud of being an Indian, time to wear the badge of patriotism on our sleeves. Though she is yet to reclaim her glorious past, India is confidently shaking off the onslaught of years of foreign occupation. Today, she is the global repository of all values that the world cherishes.

The list of her profound contribution to the world is endless and unparalleled. But everything else will pale in front of one gift she has given to the world: prayer.

Am I A Good Muslim?

There is an unfounded fear among Christians and Muslims that yogic practices will lead them away from their religion. Wisdom from across cultures and times reassures that there is nothing in these practices that will make one an unfaithful.