Religious Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective

The central premise of Islam, as with most religions, is that we are forever in a relationship with the Spirit that abides within us and within the universe around us. We are not isolated beings in a meaningless universe.

We are essentially in meaningful relationships with the people and beings around us, and with all of the spiritual manifestations we call Nature. The very word ‘religion’ can be traced to the Latin ‘ligare or religare,’ which means to ‘bind together.’ We are knowingly or unknowingly bound to the one Spirit that animates all beings and dwells within all that we perceive, the Spirit that is with us in each and every one of our experiences.

In the Qur’an, the Islamic scripture, the one Spirit is given many different names: Allah, The Light, the Merciful, the Living, the Powerful, the One, the Knowing, the Loving, the Friend, etc.. In that sacred text, we are informed that our most fundamental relationship with the Spirit exists outside of time and space. Our fundamental relationship, fixed in pre-eternity, is described as ‘the Primordial Covenant.’ According to this teaching, each of us has a specific and unique relationship with the Spirit of the universe; and each of us can rekindle the pure experience of that particular relationship with the Divine at the deepest level of our own being.

So we are each, in this world, finite beings limited within time and space, yet essentially infinite and unlimited in origin. No one, particular name or idea we use to describe or define the unlimited and infinite Spirit of the universe can in fact capture or limit that Spirit. Yet in Islam, our individual conceptions and descriptions of the Spirit are valued and described as a ‘mercy.’ By mercy is meant the inherently loving nature of the Spirit of the universe. Ar-rahman, the Mercy in Arabic, a primary name for God in the Qur’an, comes from the root rahima, meaning ‘the mother’s womb.’ Consider the compassionate nurturing of a mother’s womb. There is only acceptance and love. The Mercy that is God graciously adapts Itself towards us as It meets our limited conceptions, just as water meets and fills the shapes and depths of different creeks and pools. The loving Mercy is always there, always in a relationship with each of us, ever nurturing and sustaining us. According to this teaching, we should not renounce our personal feelings and beliefs concerning the Spirit since the Spirit will meet each of us in the personal forms of worship that arise from those beliefs. Pluralism is the recognition and application of this teaching which at the same time recognizes that Spirit cannot be limited by our individual definitions of the Infinite.

The word for ‘human’ in Arabic is insaan, whose root meanings paradoxically include both ‘intimacy,’ [oons], and ‘forgetfulness’, [nasiaan]. Our true and blessed nature is intimacy, being able to feel our relationship with the Spirit and with all beings, to retain an awareness of that intimate relationship. If we do not feel that intimacy, deeply and immediately, it is only because our hearts—meaning our feeling and knowing core—our hearts have become cluttered and veiled from the primordial awareness of our relationship with the Spirit dwelling within all beings.

Humanity is described in the Qur’an as being the recipient of a great and difficult burden, a sacred Trust, bestowed upon our individual spirits by the one vast Spirit. We are informed that even the angels, and the heavens and the earth refused to accept the burden of this Trust. This Trust is the capacity to reflect, within our human nature, all of the physical and spiritual properties of the cosmos. In other words, we are mirrors of awareness, instruments for reflecting the inherent nature and manifestations of the Spirit of the universe. This is said to be the meaning of God’s statement recorded in all the Semitic religions, “We created Adam according to Our own image.” Yet it is only a polished mirror that can faithfully reflect the full grandeur of that image. Otherwise the image will be distorted.

Complex instruments are more likely to break down or to malfunction. The mirror I am referring to is said to fog over, or become covered with the dust of terrestrial suffering, fear and attachment. In the Qur’an, the heart-mirror is described as being either healthy or sick, aware or unaware of its true destiny. The many admonishments and directives found in the various religious traditions exist for the sake of helping us to regain our essential purpose and keep it in the foreground of our lives. The first important step is that we challenge what is spiritually untrue and inauthentic within us in order to begin to restore our inherently authentic perceptions.

I am speaking with you today about heart-awareness which is our true nature. The universe is forever unfolding in the image of divine Awareness, and we are essentially a mirror of heart-awareness. According to Jesus and to Muhammad (May the peace of God be upon them), we can verify the presence of our true nature by wiping away the dust of forgetfulness from the heart’s vision. The aim of Islam and of all religions is to reclaim the spiritual intimacy that is our inherent nature. It is to restore the reflective character of heart-awareness. It is learning to live from our primordial nature as we pass through this stretch of our journey that we call life.

The great Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi wrote in the Interpreter of Desires:

My heart has become capable of every form:
It is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
It is a temple for idols and also the pilgrim’s temple at Mecca.
It is the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur’an.
I follow the religion of Love.
Whatever way Love’s camels take,
that is my religion and my Faith.

Shabistari wrote in The Garden of Mystery:

The universe is human, and the human a universe.
It cannot be made any clearer than this!

Know that the world from end to end is a mirror.
In each atom blaze one hundred shining suns.

If you cleave the heart of a drop of water,
a hundred pure oceans will flow from it.

Each speck of dust, carefully examined,
reveals thousands of humans teeming within.

A gnat’s legs are like those of an elephant.
A drop of water suggests the great River Nile.

From the core of a seed spring a hundred harvests.
A whole world comes out of a seed of grass.

Spirit dwells in a mosquito’s wing,
Heaven’s sphere in the point of its eye.

In the niche of the core of the heart,
the Lord of the Two Worlds makes a home.

Hiding behind the veil of each and every atom
is the enlivening beauty of the Beloved’s face.

Resource Types: Sermons.

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