By Sara, @Muslims4Reform
I’m 21 years old – the same age as Muslims who are fighting for “Islamic State,” the terror group that’s spreading its brutal tentacles in Iraq and Syria. But count me out as a member of IS. My spiritual journey may have started from a point similar to theirs – a crisis of identity – but I’m taking a far different path.
For a long time in my journey, I thought I needed to have all the answers. I thought I needed to understand the “correct” way to pray, what clothing would or would not be acceptable to wear, whether I would be Muslim or agnostic, and which doctrinal beliefs I would and would not adhere to if I was either.
Initially, I thought that knowing clearly what I believed would give me a sense of control. Instead, my personal desire for an iron-clad identity robbed me of seeing a great deal of beauty, both in my own faith and in that of others.
When I finally veered away from the dogma of current-day Islam and started doing my own research, I came to develop a greater understanding of faith – not the Wahhabi/Salafist shenanigans that are infiltrating much of our world, but a strong pluralistic tradition derived from the Qur’an itself.
Diversity is repeatedly emphasized in the Qur’an as a sign of God’s creative majesty, symbolic of His many attributes. Case in point:
“And we have sent down to thee the Book with the truth, confirming the book that was before it, and assuring it… If God had willed, He would have made you all one nation; but he has done otherwise that He may try you in what has come to you. So be forward in your good works; unto God shall you return, all together…” (Qur’an 5:48)
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Qur’an 49:13)
The historian of religion, Karen Armstrong, echoes this idea of the Qur’an as a pluralistic document in her own book, The Case for God:
“In [the] early days, Muslims did not see Islam as a new, exclusive religion but as a continuation of the primordial faith of the ‘People of the Book,’ the Jews and Christians… Nobody must be forced to accept Islam because each of these faith traditions had its own din [religion]; the divine light belonged neither to the East or to the West, but enlightened all human beings.”
Learning about Allah’s pluralistic vision for us has given me the strength to dwell in the question, and not rush to find an answer. It has given me the confidence to know that each and every path is a valid path to understanding our Creator – as long as that path is sincere (based on conscience, not ego) and humble (tolerant of other routes to God).
That’s exactly the opposite of the ideology practiced by Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other criminal thugs who wield their swords in the name of God. They’ll never tell us about the diversity-loving passages of the Qur’an. They, themselves, may not know about such passages. How fitting for Orwellian gangsters who twist ignorance into righteousness (or, more accurately, self-righteousness).
I, for one, will not despair in the face of their dogma. Knowing that God supports diversity of thought allows me to confidently express my opinions, and act on them. The Qur’an’s own wisdom gives me the inner strength to search for wisdom in every spiritual tradition. To quote 109:6, “To you be your way, and to me be mine.”
Muslims typically call Islam the Straight Path. Turns out, it’s the Wide Path, too.