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 The views expressed are perosnal)

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