My name is Sara and Irshad is my mentor. She’s preparing me to speak my mind and heart, fully and authentically. So let me start by admitting something about my spirituality: I’m lost.
Now let me explain. I believe in God. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve intrinsically known that there’s a force much greater than you and me. I’d like to say that I always had a strong faith in that force, but the truth is, there were cracks in the foundation from the start.
Growing up, I didn’t have real faith. Enrolled in an Islamic school every Sunday, I was taught doctrine – the idea that God is an authoritarian and that, in order to achieve salvation, you must blindly believe. I was told to cover my hair, reject nail polish, speak softly, avoid boys at all costs and replace my jeans with dresses. As a result of this “education,” I’d become a robot who dangerously grew accustomed to nullifying the mind and rational thought. Because I’d been told not to ask questions, I didn’t.
Then I read Khaled Abou El Fadl. In his book, The Search for Beauty in Islam, Dr. El Fadl validated my experience of mainstream Islam. He wrote:
“Muslims roads to knowledge [today] are blocked by dogma, apologetics, laziness and simple idiocy. But most of all, Muslim roads are blocked by a near total disregard for the value of intellect and the role it plays in the pursuit of knowledge… Puritans [have] transformed Islam into a creed for which the purpose is to negate and even spite others, and this risks transforming Islam into a creed that is absorbed in superficialities to the point of becoming frivolous.”
During the month of Ramadan, I reflected on cleansing my soul. I also thought about how much detoxifying is needed in the collective soul of Muslims. My reflections helped me to understand the biggest spiritual question that I’m wrestling with right now: Is Islam, as an organized religion, the only path to the God that the Quran describes as the “most merciful, the most compassionate”?
What I mean is, can I, a Muslim, draw wisdom from other paths – be they religious, philosophical, or even pop cultural – in my journey to encounter the God of love?
Some people will scoff. But I have to ask: Isn’t God bigger than any one religion, any one tradition and any one teaching? Is it not possible that, by seeking knowledge as far as China (a reported saying of the Prophet), I’m paying tribute to the majesty of God’s creation, and therefore of His creative power?
I’m not abandoning Islam, just trying to find God first.
And I know that I’m not alone. So I’d like to invite you into this conversation. What are your biggest questions? Tweet me at @muslims4reform.
Since I’ll be blogging here every week or two, I hope you’ll join me on this journey.
PS: If you want confidential advice, contact the Guidance Team, a network of Muslims and non-Muslims who help all people get through their struggles with faith. Their advice to me is one of the reasons I can now express myself honestly.