I have said in my blog articles and comments, as well as in comments on other blogs, that I consider myself “small ‘m’ muslim” as opposed to “capital ‘M’ Muslim”; and “muslim in spirit but not in letter”. I’ve also said that I imitate Mohandas (“Mahatma”) Gandhi in considering myself hindu-muslim-buddhist-jewish-christian. Some people have asked what I mean by such statements, and I have tried to give an understandable answer. Today I have decided to devote a blog post to seeking to answer that question, hoping it will be clear enough that others can understand “where I’m coming from” even if they don’t agree with my position and perhaps believe I’m advocating “soul endangering error”. 😀
In the first place, it means that I believe in One God – or “the One” – Who/Which is the Causeless Cause of all else. In particular, this means that God is the Source of all humankind, and is therefore “the God of all the earth”. The One has no favorites racially, ethnically, religiously, or in any other way – except to say He ‘favors’ all those in all races, nations, religions, etc. who believe in and obey Him.
Secondly, and following from that first point, it means that the Beneficent and Merciful One makes Himself known to all branches of humanity throughout all times, using various ways according to their ability to comprehend. Every religion of mankind has its origin in the God of all the earth, and Prophets and religious leaders have been raised up and sent by God to all human communities. This does not mean that all religions in their present states are “pure” and equally correct. On the contrary, distortions and corruptions have entered into each one; but their Prophetic origins were all with the One, and all of the Prophets are equally worthy of honor.
Third, again following from the previous points, I believe that there is a central and inner message which is common to all religions. There are obvious differences in the concepts, forms, and rituals used to express this message; but the underlying message is the same: there is One God; being conscious of Him, ‘knowing’ Him, and obeying Him is to our advantage – while disobedience to Him is definitely detrimental to us. God’s laws and ‘ways’ are the best, and He is the Best of Judges.
This is why I say I am “hindu-muslim-buddhist-jewish-christian”. I say in particular that I am “muslim in spirit” because this is precisely what the Revelation given to and through Muhammad (God’s blessings to him and his family), known as the Qur’an (Koran), explicitly teaches.
Now I know, of course, that it is common in some circles to consider Islam to be the most ‘exclusive’ of religions; it is even asserted that Islam teaches its adherents to kill everyone who won’t embrace that religion. However, as I’ve attempted to show in a number of blog articles, this is simply not true.
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of the teaching of the Qur’an that God is the source of the Revelations given to other religions (if we consider each ‘branch’ of the one ‘Religion of God’ as a separate ‘religion’) can be found in relation to the Qur’an’s views specifically of the Jews and Christians in Sura 5. Verses 41-45 concern the Jews. Certain of the Jews had come to the Prophet Muhammad (God’s blessings on him and his family) to ask him to judge for them about a matter; but they came with the reservation that if he didn’t give them the judgment they wanted to hear, they would reject his judgment.
Traditionally this is said to refer to an instance when a prominent Jewish man and woman had committed adultery. They were well aware that Jewish law called for them to be stoned to death, but they weren’t willing to accept that penalty. So representatives were sent to Muhammad for judgment because they knew that the Islamic law called for 100 lashes rather than death – and they were of course hoping that he would rule according to that law rather than the law of the Torah.
In verse 42, the Prophet is told that he can make his own decision about whether to render judgment in the matter; but if he did, he was to judge justly. Then verses 43 and 44 make this significant statement (from the Abdel Haleem version): but why do they come to you for judgment when they have the Torah with God’s judgment, and even then they still turn away? These are not believers. (44) We revealed the Torah with guidance and light, and the prophets, who had submitted to God, judged according to it for the Jews. So did the rabbis and the scholars in accordance with that part of God’s Scripture which they were entrusted to preserve, and to which they were witnesses. So [rabbis and scholars] do not fear people, fear Me; do not barter away my messages for a small price; those who do not judge according to what God has sent down are rejecting [God’s teachings].
The significant thing here – so far as my subject is concerned – is that according to the ‘Shariah’ given through Muhammad, the Jewish community could live right along side of the Muslim community in Medina and were free to judge according to their Torah – indeed, were even expected to. This Torah was recognized as given by God (Allah), and the Jews were not even expected to abandon it in favor of the new revelation through Muhammad (where there were differences). They were told by Muhammad to judge according to the law God had given them.
The very same thing was said concerning the Christians in verses 46 and 47: We sent Jesus, son of Mary, in their footsteps, to confirm the Torah that had been sent before him: We gave him the Gospel with guidance, light, and confirmation of the Torah already revealed – a guide and lesson for those who take heed of God. (47) So let the followers of the Gospel judge according to what God has sent down in it. Those who do not judge according to what God has sent down are lawbreakers.
Again, although a new revelation had come from God, the followers of the old (the Christians, in this case) were not called upon to abandon that revelation in favor of the new one. They were specifically told to judge according to the Gospel which God had given Jesus.
Finally, in verse 48 Muhammad was told: We sent to you [Muhammad] the Scripture with the truth, confirming the Scriptures that came before it, and with final authority over them: so judge between them according to what God has sent down. Do not follow their whims, which deviate from the truth that has come to you. We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good: you will all return to God and He will make clear to you the matters you differed about.
Each community of believers had its own “law and path”, and they could live side by side observing their own laws in those points wherein they differed. Certainly the Jews and Christians were called upon to recognize and believe in this new Prophet, just as they believed in their own Prophets; it was expected that those whose hearts were truly open to God would recognize God’s voice in the new Prophet, just as they recognized God’s voice through Moses and Jesus (peace be with them all). This, for instance, is maintained in verses 68 and 69 of Sura 5:
Say, ‘People of the Book, you have no true basis [for your religion] unless you uphold the Torah, the Gospel, and that which has been sent down to you from your Lord,’ but what has been sent down to you [Prophet] from your Lord is sure to increase many of them in their insolence and defiance: do not worry about those who defy [God]. (69) For the [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Sabians, and the Christians – those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good deeds – there is no fear: they will not grieve.
Those who truly believed in and ‘knew’ God in each ‘community’ would recognize God’s voice in the other communities’ Prophets, and would believe in them. Those who rejected the Prophet Muhammad’s message were in fact not even true believers in their own Scriptures; they were rejecters of God. But for those who were true believers in God, and therefore recognized the message of God through this new Prophet (Muhammad), there was no fear and no ‘grief’ in store.
Nevertheless it was completely okay that each maintained its own “community” and continued to observe its own distinctive laws and rituals. The call of Islam to the “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) was this (3:64): Say, ‘People of the Book, let us arrive at a statement that is common to us all: we worship God alone, we ascribe no partner to Him, and none of us takes others beside God as lords.’ If they turn away, say, ‘Witness our devotion to Him.’ They could remain distinct, while agreeing to a common ‘confession of faith’ – because there was one common message which they all shared.
What the Qur’an teaches about the common ground between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (or rather, the “Muhammadan” revelation of Islam – each of the others is also considered to be a revelation of ‘Islam’), it also maintains about the other religions of the earth (or ‘branches’ in the one Religion of God – Islam): (16:36) We sent a messenger to every community, saying, ‘Worship God and shun false Gods’… This is why I say that my religious pluralism in fact makes me “muslim in spirit” in a particular way.
Now why do I say that I am not a “capital ‘M’ Muslim”, and that I’m not “muslim in letter”? I believe that in the Qur’an (and in fact in the other Scriptures as well) there are at least 2 sorts of revelation given. There is the primary message, shared by all the ‘branches’ in God’s religion; and there is supportive revelation: laws and rituals meant to enforce the primary message, impressing it on the minds, hearts, and lives of the believers. These are the laws and paths which the Qur’an says are given to each community, which make each one distinct. They are among the things that constitute the ‘packaging’, as it were, in which the primary message is delivered to each branch in God’s Religion.
Just as these laws and rituals differ from one ‘religion’ to another, so it is possible for a person to meditate on the various rituals and perceive the truth they are intended to express – and then dispense with the rituals and forms themselves while expressing the truth contained in those rituals in thought, word, and action. This is the path I have chosen – indeed, I believe it is the path on which God has placed me. I don’t seek to follow the rituals of Jewish Islam, Christian Islam, or “Muhammadan” Islam. I dispense with all ritual, while seeking to keep to “the heart of the matter”. At most, I’ll sit quietly in my chair in “meditation”, and perhaps chant “Hu” (a very old name for God, chanted in the same way as Buddhists chant “Om”). But I don’t even do the chanting very often.
But at the same time, I’m not “evangelistic” in seeking to persuade anyone else to follow my path. I certainly don’t believe the rituals are wrong, ‘backward’, or evil; and I don’t look on those who practice them as ‘less’ than me. I don’t consider that my rejection of all rituals makes me ‘more spiritual’ in a superior sort of way. I believe each person should follow that path on which he/she is comfortable and can maintain a good conscience before God. And if anyone wishes to say that I’m in serious error, it will not make me angry at him/her. 🙂