The hatred, fear, and violence that we see manifesting in the world will cause us to ask many questions. What meaning shall we read in these events? What are the root causes of evil? What should our response be? Where shall we turn to find answers and guidance?
Anyone who takes Islam seriously can expect to be stigmatized in the eyes of many in the prevailing society. The current situation presents us with a challenge.
What wisdom and guidance can we receive from the Quran and the words of the Prophet? How can we deal with the reactivity now directed toward Muslims and Islam itself? How do we avoid adopting reactive or defensive postures? And how can we protect ourselves from the contagion of ignorance and human negativity?
The essential insight and consistent point of view of Islam is tawhid: the fundamental Oneness underlying all of existence. From the perspective of tawhid, everything is emerging from God, being sustained by God, and ultimately returning to God. This has profound significance for all of our experience within this existence. All areas of human knowledge are related to this fundamental, unifying Truth.
Sufism is the science, the objective knowledge, of the souls relationship to God. This science describes an Origin, a downward arc of manifestation, and an upward arc of return. In the arc of manifestation, everything is coming down from God into successive levels of ever denser realities. In the arc of return, we recognize our Origin and begin the journey back toward its light. This essentially means that we ourselves must become more conscious of the light within ourselves.
Another fundamental proposition of Islam is that of Prophethood, or Messengership. Namely that God, through the manifestation of Divine Intelligence symbolized by the Archangel Gabriel, has communicated countless times the principles of self-perfection to humankind.
From the perspective of Islam, the Quran is the earthly reflection in human language of a heavenly Book. This revelation contains the objective principles and guiding insights by which our humanness can reach its fulfillment, both on a personal and on a universal scale. In other words, the revealed book offers guidance not only in metaphysics and cosmology, but in social justice, economics, psychology, and spiritual practice, as well.
To summarize, so far, we are saying that the Divine Intelligence has communicated to humankind through revelation. The core of this revelation emphasizes an underlying Oneness which is of more than theoretical importance in all areas of life. The souls relationship to God and the journey of return are the most fundamental and important matters before us.
The Quran, as final revelation to mankind, acknowledges previous revelations to every community and in every language, although it also proposes that what we inherit from these earlier revelations is received in distorted form to varying degrees, and even including the Holy Books explicitly referred to in the Quran: namely the Torah, the Psalms of David, the Gospel of Jesus. While these and other divine revelations, which theoretically include even the teachings of various native peoples, contain shreds of truth, no other revelation has occurred so definitively in the clear light of historical time.
This brings us inevitably to the possibility of understanding and acting upon this revelation. We have as our models some of the greatest human beings of all time, people, such as Muhyiddin Ibn al Arabi and Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, whose hearts and minds became luminous reflectors of the Divine Truth. These two spiritual giants alone have together contributed tens of thousands of pages of spiritual reflection of the highest order, all of it testifying to an organic relationship with the Quran and hadith. We have in hand an immense stream of literature, all of it unified in itself, as the Quran can be seen to be a unified metaphysical, spiritual, and moral teaching.
The significance of this fourteen centuries long tradition of unified spiritual reflection cannot be overestimated. Its breadth and depth overwhelms all merely self-serving, parochial, and fundamentalist uses to which this revelation had been degraded.
The real and engaging questions will be seen to lie in the area of honest differences of interpretation and their resulting religious orientations. There are hard and soft interpretations, stringent and merciful interpretations. There are various positions (makams) and the Truth may appear in different aspects from these different perspectives. The Quran itself warns us, I believe, that we are in danger if we fixate upon any single interpretation, or absolutize a single approach or point of view.
On the one hand, what we mean by Islam is far removed from the “anything goes” relativism of the post modern age. It is a razor thin straight path, demanding fastidious awareness. On the other hand it is not an exclusive, legalistic, preoccupation with form at the expense of meaning. The Quran itself continually asks us to reflect on the signs of nature. It points to an essential proposition within a very wide context. Islam presents itself as the Way of Surrender, a way of being in harmony with the natural order of the universe:
Do they seek something other than the religion of God,
While all creatures in the heavens and earth submit,
Willingly or uwillingly, and to Him will be brought back.
Say: We believe in Allah and in what has been revealed
To Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes,
And in the books of Moses, Jesus, and the prophets,
From their Lord.
We make no distinction between one and another
And to God do we surrender our will.
If anyone desires a religion other than surrender,[3:83]
It will never be accepted, and in the hereafter
Such a person will be in the ranks of those at a loss.
It would seem clear that we are being invited to a kind of submission which is the message brought by previous prophets and as broad as the natural order itself. It is telling us that religion cannot be an expression of our individual ego. In other words, true religion does not serve anyones’ exclusive sense of entitlement or superiority, nor can it be motivated by any hatred or fear, nor any of the forces of separation. The authentic, primordial religion can only be about perfecting our human nature (fitra), becoming conscious of God, and not allowing ourselves to be dispersed into following the false gods which are the creations of human negativity. The idols of self-righteousness, power, and greed are what corrupt our human nature.
Turn your face toward the primordial religion (Dini Hanifaa),
according to the innate nature (fitra) with which He has made humankind;
do not allow what God has made to be corrupted.
That is authentic religion (Dinul Qayyim),
but most people do not understand.
Turn in repentance to Him and remain conscious of Him:[30:30-32]
sustain prayer (salaah)
and do not be among those (mushrikin) who worship false gods in place of God,
those who split apart their religion
and create sects each group separately rejoicing in what it has!
The perspective of Islam is the perspective that puts the Divine Reality, not the human ego, at the center. We live within a reality that is sustained by God, and our own human nature will find its fulfillment only in relation with God. We are asked simply to turn and remain conscious of God, establish regular prayer, and not promote divisiveness in the name of religion.
The arc of return calls us to make a journey from darkness and toward the light. The immediate darkness we face around us is the imaginary world created by human ignorance, fear, self-righteousness, and hatred. We must not succumb to the mass heedlessness and self-hypnotism which presents itself to us, mostly through the mass media, as the so-called real world.
It is our responsibility to find and act upon the knowledge that can guide us in that journey. This means establishing the truth of tawhid within our own minds and hearts.