Posted by: Dawud Israel | September 12, 2007

The Unity of Religions?

I’ve just finished reading this book King of the Castle by Gai Eaton (go out and buy it…NOW!) and I’m going to be posting some reflections and Insha Allah some notes as well. I realize that my previous post Obedience was also a reflection off of this book. So the plan is to do a part 2 of ‘Obedience’ which is from the earlier part of the book. Then something related to science as Eaton absolutely schools the ideology of science today (science is good but ‘scientific tradition’ isn’t)…I’m still thinking as to what this will be, but I am hoping to make a short film regarding this. I will then hopefully, turn my attention to how Islam can reform science today. All of this is inspired from this book so I find some of my thoughts to be Eaton’s now which is kind of…different.

My first reflection has to do with something that bothered me throughout this book. Being a open-minded, although very orthodox Muslim I found this unusual and new. But I agreed with most of it because I had observed these as well. However, in reflecting on the Islamic concept of Tawhid, that is Unity of God (God being One and the only one worthy of worship) I realized this made total sense in Islam. So here goes…read slowly because it’s hard to express myself at times.

In dealing with any person of a differing religion-the Muslim finds the same amount of trouble as does the disbeliever. Why is this so?

We have a tendency to see things as true or else not. It is either black or white. This is a trait that is rooted in the desire for certainty which is indeed a praise-worthy action-the only issue being that in seeing the world as black and white we allow the shadow of doubt to follow us, accepting it as an acceptable fact. There are certain beliefs of disbelievers that Muslims accept, saying, “We are all fumbling in the dark.” However, this is something which may placate the immediate appetite with a sense of righteous satisfaction-it is not lasting and soon we find ourselves arguing with the man of other beliefs tomorrow. A question mark replaces the period at the end of the Shahadah and we find ourselves staring at the question mark rather than inspecting the Shahadah.

I had the same misgivings. I imagined that one is only true and all else are false. But at the same time, I could not accept the man who said, “It is all the same” or “It is all good.” This I now realize is deception, which is a vice-not a virtue, especially when pushed upon religion.

But now I see things in a different light that I had not seen them in before. The question to me now is not which is the truth-because they all are, but which is the best manifestation of truth. A Muslim will hastily dismiss the notion that any other religion may possess an ounce of truth to it. But it is as much an insult to Islam as to the other religions to think as such.

What I am hinting at is something that can most readily be understood in light of the Qur’an and the Prophets (as). We see that each Prophet had a distinct personality that distinguished him. We see Moses (as) as the Law-Giver, strong and powerful-while Jesus (as) is the Spirit of God and Abraham (as) is the Friend of God. These personalities were not mere chance occurrences-but each Prophet was sent with the notion that they would suit the needs and the personality of their people.

“Even as We have sent unto you a messenger from among you, who reciteth unto you Our revelations and causeth you to grow, and teacheth you the Scripture and wisdom, and teacheth you that which ye knew not.” (Qur’an 2:151)

This opens the door to something which is often ignored-the multiple faces of Islam. It is equally valid to say that Moses was as correct as Jesus in their preaching-but they preached in a different manner so would this difference amount to conflict? What is interesting to note is that the Qur’an (18: 65-82) does show that indeed these Prophets would conflict in the example of Khidr and Musa (as). And we see that neither was incorrect, but both were correct. The Prophets in the eyes of Allah are all equal-it is only in the eyes of men do they appear to be different. In the example of the Isra and Miraj, you see Muhammad (saaws) leading the Prophets (as) in prayer. His status is similar to the basic structure of a building or the basics of any science–the top may be the ‘pinacle’ or the ‘cutting edge’, but what came before it is the basis, the foundation and in this respect it is equally important.

This possibility that is addressed is mentioned for reflection. We do indeed encounter those of different beliefs and we are commanded to give them respect (Jews and Christians in particular). But their beliefs go hand-in-hand against ours…what do we then do?

In King of the Castle, Eaton discusses a known as the Transcendent Unity of Religions. It isn’t very easy to grasp and can be a bone of contention. I disagree with it at one level and agree with it at another because I don’t feel it has lead to the correct conclusion, especially in respect to how disbelievers see religion and specifically Islam. I will explain it and then take it in a different direction which I believe, as I do all Muslims do, is the truest conclusion. In short the religions are bridges and all the bridges go to God as their final destination-this is the nature of all religions and cannot be denied by anyone and is deserving of respect. In one way or another, the Truth is recognized. But the methods of how this conclusion is reached may differ-for these are different paths. It is well that they are all true, but it is a problem that they may not indeed be “straight paths”. They may curve or whiter away in their parts and because of this it is of no doubt that some religions are more readily accepted by the heart than others. There is no equality in religions in the sense that they are all different.

What then becomes the issue is not which is going in the right direction–for they all are-but which is the safest and soundest path to travel; which is the “Straight Path”? The Qur’an responds “Show us the straight path.”(Qur’an 1:6) This is where Islam is recognized, not by Muslims but by the nature of human beings as the choice. When a Muslim is asked by a non-Muslim, if his religion is true-he may say with confidence, “The truest of all and the best path of all.”

What then of the other religions? In King of the Castle it is likened to those who have a view of a mountain-only their view is from a different place and a different time. Some may see only the peak of the mountain, some may see all of it. (For Muslims it is similar to how we see the Kaaba around the world, and it is part culture and part Islam that make us each of us stand out amongst the Ummah). In this view, it is not that one is telling the truth or else lying, but that everyone is simply saying what they can verify. The Muslim is seen as the one who can see the mountain in it’s entirety, because he sees everything that the others see. This is about as far as Eaton takes this discussion and maybe this is because it is enough for the reader to understand. I want to take it a little deeper.

In Islam, the aspect of Unity is so profoundly stressed only because of it’s overwhelming truth. In all things we see a connectedness which can only emphasize a Unity because nothing is outside the ‘connectedness’. This connectedness may seem irrelevant or a victim of chance-but it is with a purpose. When we see the blossoming of a flower we will naturally compare it to the birth of child and these analogies are there with purpose.

“Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and (in) the difference of night and day are tokens (of His Sovereignty) for men of understanding. Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and contemplate the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire. “(Qur’an 3:190-191)

It is in this esoteric splendor that you can come to know and sees that in the creation there is a thought-out Unity underlying everything and it is present witnessing to the Divine Unity. This Unity of God is precisely because what it is because in a Unity we see all. In this we see the whole picture, there are no hidden gods unknown to us, disjointed from our reality or acting ‘apart’ from our own world. All that needs to be known is known to us, (including the history of the great religions) moreover in clear terms and in knowing that–the shadows which have developed over the other religions have not been able to penetrate Islam.

This then places a special importance on the Muslim. He knows that there is fault in what the ‘dis-believer’ may say-and that is precisely why he is a disbeliever-but there may also be some ‘truth’. For one thing, the human experience is the same; we all feel love and we all recognize it’s power and this does have a place in religious tradition, finding that place is now the difficulty. The Muslim knows that when the Buddhist monk hints to the aspect of nothing existing-that this is true, for the world is an illusion. When the Hindu tells him of the concept of karma, the Muslim knows that this is also true-for an Imam is to have said when harm befell him that this was a result (or an expiation) of a particular sin he had committed many years before. The believer knows that the concept of sacrifice in Christianity is one that cannot be denied-as it is in fasting and in the Hajj. More than this he knows that all that is good in these religions-can never be fully shared to all. And this is why he finds comfort in Islam because he has tasted all the fruits of heaven in Islam. And perhaps this is why the Qur’an says, “You are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind.” (Qur’an 3:110)

It is recognized by Muslims who have studied the scriptures of other religions that there exists more than enough proof that the founders of the religions of the world (today which may be different than their original form) did indeed, invoke the same Unity found in Islam. And one must ask-if this is the only way in which one can achieve spiritual success? Do other possibilities exist? There is only one way to travel, in one direction to the One. A seeker will look at the monks of Christianity and the monks of Buddhism only to see similarities. It is a point that the term ‘monk’ is applied to totally different belief systems, yet it applies completely with truth simply because it is referring to the common goal of these beliefs. They are all members of the same reality-they may use different terms or different truths to highlight this reality, but they will all share some common traits because the goal is still the same. And because they all live in the same reality–they must have the same destiny for all their followers. There is only one Earth–not two.

The Muslim who is gifted with true understanding of his religion and with imaan in his heart does not see any problems in these. But he knows that he is privileged because his view is comprehensive. Whereas the Christian is taught to abstain from sex simply because Jesus (as) never engaged in it, the Muslims is enlightened in knowing how this act can bridge the next world with the present one. And in this privilege there is a special duty on the Muslims shoulders. The previous religions were meant for their time and place, with the nations being isolated and the world yet to be fully discovered and so they have eroded under time’s harrowing stare. What now exist are the old men and women of religion-religions as well as followers who are simply too old and too out of touch to teach the masses whatever truth they may have unearthed. And so the need for a revival is needed. A religion must be brought about that will never age and that will fulfill and spread the truths of the great religions of the past. A religion that will make all the truths, found in all religions, known and valued to their deserving proportion and in such a way that one truth will cast light upon each other in such a way as to illuminate to the brightest potential.

This is where Islam makes her timely entrance as God was not ignoring the decline of the soul. Islam came and Muhammad (saaws) declared that he is indeed the Last Prophet and he has come to revive the true Unity of the past. And it should be noted that as it is precisely because it is the Last Religion that it shall be the most lasting religion. And rightly so because it expresses that undeniable Unity of God and thus of all the religions: Islam is the Unifier of all the religions-the Religion of religions.

And Islam shines forth today blinding her viewers and it is not difficult to see the Hand of God at play in Islam and it’s place in world events. Perhaps it is because Islam has preserved that Unity, unlike any other religion, that it remains strong (for men work best in unity; as a team of warriors they find themselves ‘operating as one’ or in peace they feel ‘one with themselves.’) Islam has grown in the thousands and not simply for the namesake but with sincerity often shown in tears. Is it any wonder that the Muslim feels guilty with all he has and wishes to invite those who trek indirect or astray paths to his “Straight Path”? This sincerity is expressed more powerfully than any other religion because Islam makes priority of the pre-condition of all truth: submission. This is vital as it opens the door for truths to achieve a full effect on the soul. A Muslim must agree that he will accept all that is ‘true,’ whereas in the other religions it is merely an option or something that can be done in your spare time. And this is why it is the Muslims who still pray 5 times a day. It is they who master the Qur’an unlike any other book. It is they who refuse to back down when society frowns upon them. And as Christianity slowly withers away, whipped into slavery by the cold hands of secularism Muslims prepare themselves to die for the Prophets of Islam-Christ, as well as Muhammad. From this view one can’t deny the active presence of the All-Embracing as if He is peering down from Heaven, operating upon the Earth in it’s entirety all at once-we come to know that He is truly present and has not forgotten about the world.

It is a fact and there is no point in being falsely generous about the state of the previous religions. The ‘old’ religions are precisely that and because of this they will never be able to survive. It is only a statement of unbiased fact to recognize that Islam is the only religion which still remains a religion-everything else has degraded to something lower. The disbeliever may not recognize this and they stick to their religion choosing their partial truth instead of whatever unknown truth the Muslim may possess. But oftentimes it is the Muslim who knows more about the beliefs of other religions and so the disbeliever may wonder, “Can this Muslim be truthful, when they have rejected the truth they know is there in my religion?” And it is often in not understanding that a person may reject one truth all on it’s own simply because he already possess it along with countless thousands. So when a disbeliever argues with a believer it is as if a Muslim is arguing with a Muslim; or put in another light as if ‘truth that is partial’ is arguing with ‘truth that is whole’ and ‘truth that is whole’ is caught unable to explain to ‘truth that is partial’, that it is wrong and yet right, merely because it has not reached recognized it’s place in the scheme of things. Only in Islam can all the truths ‘co-exist’ peacefully and never clash. The Qur’an says, “By the heaven full of paths” (51:7) and yet, “It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in their own orbit.” (21:33)

To the disbeliever it must be said: We, as human beings are meant to make a choice as to what we wish to follow as a religion. A man who follows his own desires is as pointless as a dog that chases its own tail. And it is the nature of men and of choices for that choice to be a final choice–for death may strike at any moment. He cannot jump between religions everyday because this will leave his soul ravaged. He must conclude his decision at some point and ensure he will be able to heal from the confusion. What we do know is that whatever conclusion he reaches, it will be one, as it always is and in this is a hint to what that conclusion actually is. It is exactly because the human condition is always striving to that one conclusion that will fit all our needs, answer all our questions and will not leave us questioning when we see other religions, that Islam is the ‘true religion.’

The Muslim knows that there are no alternatives to the truth. He knows that whatever is ‘true’, he must accept it, even if it manifests itself in awkward forms. It is of little surprise that one finds the Muslim praying his salah quite comfortably in churches and chapels, when no mosque is found. He knows that the reality of God being One is as much true in the world of the Hindu as it is to himself. It, being a universal concept present in all religions and all creation and due to the fact that there is no other alternative in our world and nothing is apart from this evident truth. And in this light the Shahadah with which any man of any religion can read with certainty (knowing ‘all truth’ is being expressed all at once and it is nothing but ‘all the truth’) and he can end with a genuine period and a sigh of relief in God rather than a inquisitive question mark: I bear witness that there is no God except for God and Muhammad is His Messenger.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdik ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk. Ameen.

–Dawud Israel


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