Gretta Vosper, who has been dubbed as the atheist minister, recently expressed on CTV that people "are not in search of doctrinal beliefs that are dictated by religious organizations" but rather "want to find ways to create meaning in their lives, ... improve their own well-being and their engagement in the community beyond themselves."
Vosper's incisive observations holds true for many Canadians like Rob Wells of Southminster Steinhauer United, who passionately believes:
"My god is not a being; not an old bearded man with winged cherubs; not someone who loves us but casts us into eternal damnation whenever his mood swings; not an old man who plays favourites by granting prayers for some and not for others. ... I will be more than content with the gift of life and love, joyfully celebrating the blessings of this life and, when the time comes, making space for those who come after me with a big HALLELUJAH!"
Vosper's words also hold true for Muslims, despite some conservative Muslims touting Islam as the fastest growing religion imbued with "the truth." Indeed, for many Muslims, God is not a stingy merchant engaged in debit-credit accounting or a partisan bully that enforces hollow rituals by threats of eternal damnation. For them ritual prayer is not about seeking material gains from a stern taskmaster but having an undying trust in the power of hope, mercy and compassion.
Many Muslims are more concerned about ethical living instead of doctrinal differences, which have wreaked much suffering in the Muslim world. It is important to showcase such Muslim voices, including those of the unmosqued, to affirm the reality that Islam and Muslims are not a monolith. The following is a kaleidoscope of such Muslim views.
Islam is often defined as submission, which for me amounts to being in a state of sanctuary that no matter how bleak things are they will sort out, if not now then in the infinite future. As such, to know God is a move towards this state of inner peace.
The Director of Universalist Muslims, Shahla Khan Salter captures this essence of Islam as submission in the following words.
"Islam means to submit. But to what? To dogma? No. I feel as Muslims we can reflect on the 99 names of Allah - The Merciful, The Compassionate, The Loving, The Just, The Nourisher, The Light ... Personally, I ask myself how can I get through each day by being more loving, forgiving, nourishing - notwithstanding any difficulties I may face. To me surrendering to those qualities and making them part of you is not easy but may be a way to create a life with fewer regrets and hopefully a better world. To me that is submission. One's ego must be set aside and pride must be swallowed to embrace those qualities sometimes, particularly when life gets hard."
Suroor Ali emphasizes religious pluralism, which is often echoed through Rumi as "the lamps are different but the light is the same," as follows.
"For me, God is one Reality ... This Truth shines through each uniquely coloured window (religion) into the Universe with us perceiving the eternally cloaked Light as best as we can. ... For me, accepting that different truths merge to contemplate one Truth is what makes my Islam an accepting and tolerating truth."
On the other hand, Dr. Asma Sayed at MacEwan University, emphasizes constant reflection as the hallmark of Islam through the following words.
"A constant search - within and without; in nature; in living things; on planet Earth. A constant process of learning. Being able to question: - and yes, that means questioning his/her/its existence as well."
For Jamila Tharp, who is an Imam, spiritual guide and a Unitarian Universalist candidate for ministry, the essence of Islam lies in its cardinal teaching of Oneness, which affirms the golden rule. She writes:
"My orienting guide is the most fundamental concept in Islam, Tawhid meaning the oneness [of creation], the Unity of One. My faith is a verb, a practice of remembrance of this indivisible oneness, the reality that we all come from one source, love, and that we all return to the source, love. Islam teaches me that it is not enough that we want or strive for ourselves good health, security, prosperity and deep connections, but instead we must want for and strive for each other what we want and have for our self."
To reiterate, for many Muslims, Islam is about having inner peace, acknowledging multiple paths to the Sacred, having constant reflection and nurturing community based on Oneness.
It is probable that hardliners may unabashedly view such viewpoints as heretical. However, just as we cannot pry into the hearts of others, it is only through our deepest recesses that we can try to fathom the unknowable.
As Director of Muslims for Progressive Values in Columbus, Ohio - Frank Parmir, poetically expresses:
The Pure and Perfect Resonance
of The One Eternal Presence
is all there is for us to see.
And It is our seeing too.
In essence, Vosper is right in her observation that for many Canadians, and to this I shall add Muslims, organized religion is not as important as seeking community and sharing social values, norms and engagement.
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