Friday, October 28, 2016

How I briefly define religion, islam, faith, angels, after-life, etc

This wasn't a very detailed and thoughtful well devised composition, just a fast jotting down of whatever came to mind first,  pretty much as though I was asked the question in real time and was answering in speech, since I was asked to give in short notice some quick answers (which turned a bit long but in perspective of the depth of the matters addressed, really short).

How do you (or followers of your religion) define belief/faith? Could you provide a quick interpretation of your views of things supernatural (spirits, ghosts, the after life, etc.)?

The answers to all these questions are in fact intertwined so you may also find the answers to each question addressing the other questions from one aspect, since I strive to have a complete and all-inclusive perspective whose different aspects do not contradict each other. First, I'll try swiftly addressing the first two questions together:

First of all what I understand of "islam" (without a capital "I") is that it is not an institutionalized religion and it's not something that just Prophet Muhammad taught. I like to focus on revelation rather than religion, but the Qur'anic word for religion is "deen" which I understand to mean: the path we follow in revealing the potentials of our pure baby/child nature with the consciousness of tawheed (the unity of creation and unity of Creator) and living with and according to this consciousness. There are stages in the development of a seed into a tree. When a human makes choices in life with his/her free will to grow the tree in its own seed of the pure baby/child nature, then those choices and whatever is created according to those choices made, are the "deen" of that human.

I understand the word "islam" to denote: surrendering (tasleem) to the will of the Creator by being in peace (salaam) with self, all creation and its Creator. islam tasleem salaam and muslim share the same triliteral root: s-l-m, where muslim is one who surrenders in peace.

By these definitions, as the Qur'an itself proclaims, revelation is a continuous renewal of the same core message from Prophet Adam to Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, peace be upon them all. And the Qur'an specifically mentions Prophet Abraham (pbuh*) to be a "muslim", while he clearly lived well before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh*), being his distant ancestor. This characterization of Abraham (pbuh) as "muslim" is not in the sense of an empty cultural or ethnic identification one blindly assumes, but it refers to the essence of what islam and deen mean.

*pbuh=peace be upon him (or asm= 'alayhis-salaam in Arabic), a prayer repeated upon the mentioning of any prophet's name, as a reminder of the essential pivotal importance of their messages in our lives and our gratitude for their teachings and being role models

Furthermore, according to 13th century Sufi master and poet Yunus Emre (ra) (where Sufism denotes the esoteric wisdom of all revelations and the path to attain this wisdom), all creation which is described in the Qur'an as praising the One All-Beautiful, All-Merciful, All-Wise Absolute Creator who brings a whole new universe into existence from nonexistence every single moment, thus proclaim the core message of unity that all prophets and revelations have taught and they obey the laws of creation devised by the Creator (known as the laws of nature) and as such all creation is "muslim", has surrendered to the Creator and is in peace with the rest of the creation. Each 3-d universe at each moment reveals the potentials of previous 3-d universes at previous moments (a tree reveals the potentials of a seed and  a chicken reveals the potentials of an egg and planet Earth reveals the potentials of what it once was, a cloud of gas and debris and so on) according to God's will and assigned purpose, and so they follow the "deen" of "islam".

*ra=radiallahu 'anh=may God be pleased with him, a prayer for saints and teachers who show us the path to our Sustainor.

Why does the Qur'an and Yunus Emre define creation as proclaiming the unity of God? The material world consists of a web of causal relationships. However, coexisting with the material world we observe the nonmaterial. There are the petals and the pistil and the stamen of the flower which constitute the material aspect of the flower, but there is also the beauty of the rose which is its nonmaterial aspect. Angels are defined as the nonmaterial/spiritual aspect of all matter (not winged babies). If matter is the hardware of a computer, angels can be likened to its software. The material aspect of rain is that it is the falling water molecule which consists of 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atoms. Its angelic aspect is the provision we observe that comes as a result of living beings absorbing it. We observe that rain brings water to the "feet" (roots) of the plants who cannot go searching for a body of water. Its angelic aspect is that of mercy and wisdom and life. Whereas we observe this we cannot find a source in the material water that will define it to be conscious or merciful or wise or alive or a provider. By their very impotence and ignorance, and by their obedience to the laws of creation, the rain or water display the qualities of a Source that is not part of the material web of being, not a part of the entire universe. Even as conscious beings, we humans know from ourselves that we cannot choose our existence over our nonexistence. We cannot decide "I will disappear for a moment then come back to existence". We cannot even decide to be born as humans or how many fingers we have at the moment or the color of our eyes. Thus every single thing that exists points to a Source who must not only be choosing its existence over its nonexistence (and this choice infers an Intelligent Conscious Willpower as well as Love-because the desire to make something exist denotes the love towards it and the value given to it), but also displays Its Divine Qualities in the mirrors of existence. Taking into account a holistic, intertwined universe, one who can make an atom exist should be the One who can make the entire universe connected to that atom exist. Whoever is the Source of the beauty of the rose, must also be the Source of the beauty of the sunset and the beauty of the Milky Way galaxy and the beauty of people or the art they make. This Source must not be limited in time and space like everything else in the universe, Its existence must be necessary (not contingent), not dependent on the choice of another, it must be Absolute (limitless and unbound by space or time). Its Divine Qualities too must be Absolute, the various reflections of Its Beauty point to an Absolute Limitless Beauty.

Thus belief/faith which is "imaan" in the quranic language or jargon if you will, which comes from the root of "amniyah" "security, certainty" is confirming the message of revelation, through reason, observation and the use of all human intellect, emotions and other qualities, with certainty, without contradicting oneself, one's humanity. The Qur'an repeatedly calls humans to reflect, reason, and observe. It addresses the human conscious awareness. Imaan, faith with certainty, offers a worldview consistent with all human aspects, as well as with all we can observe of the existence, of the universe. It isn't a blind repetition I can only uphold while in a mosque. Wherever we may be, in a labcoat, in a doctor's coat, in an artist's apron, a parent, an observer of the sunset, it is to be able to consistently carry the same worldview without being at odds with our humanity as a whole and with what we are doing. It is to see the unity of God wherever we look and whatever we experience. It is a way of learning to read the messages that the creation and all our experiences of it convey to us.

How did you choose this religion? What has helped you maintain your faith? Has anything ever happened that made you question your beliefs? Is there a scenario in which you could imagine yourself stepping away from your religion?

I was born to muslim-identifying parents who taught me that every child is born pure, and their pure nature is that of islam, and that when I became a teenager, an adolescent, I will have to begin choosing what I believe in or what I would like to follow in my life choices. So my identity as a person who has decided that her struggle should be to be in peace with creation and to submit to my Creator, my Guardian, my Protector, my Provider, is not one that I have simply inherited as a cultural or ethnic identity but one that I continue to question, explore and confirm in different ways.

My questioning began at the age of 3 when I was caught debating with my friend whether chocolate and building constructions were created by God or whether humans could "create" them and when I walked in the middle of the living room where my parents and their friends were conversing and I claimed that I could walk without God's direct creation of me walking. I suppose I was most convinced I couldn't walk just because I wanted to, when I had a spinal injury which prevented me from walking for a few months. There stood my feet and toes and legs and I wanted to move them and I was unable to. My will, choice to walk was necessary but insufficient for the creation of a walking me. Through high-tech surgeries and physical therapy and acupuncture, etc, I had to "pray" with my actions, to the Absolute Source of Health, through appealing to the laws of Its creation, for the healthier functioning of my nerves and thus for the creation of a walking me.

It is only through ongoing questioning and challenging that "imaan" (faith with certainty) can be strengthened. Confirmation without blind obedience requires critical and analytical thinking and seeking answers that will satisfy our humanity as a whole, the mind, the heart (emotions), the soul/spirit (which is our conscious awareness, our aspect that does the "metathinking", our perception and awareness of our thoughts, feelings and actions). Only when the answers are found can we confirm the message of revelation with increasing degrees of certainty, and this is a lifelong process.

The Qur'an itself invites us over and over to question both its message and its authenticity as the Word of the Creator. It identifies itself as the "manual", if you will, of the universe. The books of revelation are translators to the human language of the messages of the great book of the universe, which includes the human too. Revelation unfolds the meaning that accompanies all matter and its purpose, as well as the meaning of being human and its purpose. This means that in order to confirm the authenticity of the revelation, I must explore and question and find out that the action of the Creator (the universe which includes myself) is compatible with the word of the Creator (the revelations). In the "manual" metaphor, this would mean to explore a device and study the manual and confirming that the manual is indeed written by the inventor, builder of the device, that the manual and the device are compatible. Everything that I have learned in natural and social science books or in math or art books, even as they describe the existence in a secular way, brings to me further evidence of the truth of the revelation by describing the mindblowingly amazing and intricate design of the Universe and the human.

Personally what I struggled the most as a teenager was not really about whether the existence requires One that will choose its existence (due to the kinds of logic I have already very briefly tried to summarize), but about whether this was a Benevolent and Just Creator. I was very much overwhelmed by the potential of evil and of selfishness of the human ego and I was angry that this world is not Paradise, I wasn't at peace with the creation and its Creator. Here Paradise denotes the unveiled manifestation of all Divine Qualities at their utmost degrees and not in relative degrees as they exist in this world, i.e. in this world health coexists with sickness and light with darkness and beauty with ugliness and purity with dirtiness. I thought if the Creator is Merciful why would It deprive me of Its Qualities I have been made to love so much (we are designed to love health, beauty, cleanliness, orderliness, etc)? It was an awesome struggle I suffered from greatly for years until I started being guided in discovering the answers.

In my 20s I began to realize that I first needed a shift in attitude, that I needed to grow a grateful attitude through conscious awareness, without taking all the bounties I was blessed with for granted. I needed first to acknowledge them: that every moment I am given a new breath and my heart pumps and I am given sight with my eyes who see the beauty of nature and my gazing of the stars or the sunset or a squirrel and I am given pleasure from contemplating them, and that these are all blessings which beg nothing else but acknowledgment and gratefulness. Thus the more I began to see my existence in this way, the more I began to see and be consciously aware of the Divine Qualities of God reflected everywhere and it led me to being increasingly more grateful. I realized I had a choice to make between focusing on what I didn't like and complaining, versus focusing on all the other blessings I am given at every moment and being grateful for them and being positive. And I began to realize the choice stood right there, with my point of view. No matter where I was or in which situation I was, I could choose to sulk and complain or I could choose to be grateful and pray (where I define prayer as being proactive through creativity and spontaneity by appealing to and struggling to reflect the Beautiful Qualities).

Then I began to understand that it was in fact through the graded reflections of the Absolute Qualities I was made to love so much (and that I was made to dislike as the reflection is more and more obscure, as in deteriorating health or beauty etc and love more as the reflection was clearer, brighter, as in improving health etc) that I was able to recognize and discern those qualities in order to find their Absolute Source. I wasn't the one who decided to dislike being dirty, I was given this dislike and it was given to me with a purpose, with the purpose of discerning the existence of cleanliness, and the message of choosing to act in ways to seek cleanliness and to recognize and choose to reflect the Absolute Source of cleanliness who continuously cleans the universe and my bodily systems (think kidney, lungs, intestines, liver in humans or the atmosphere which cleans out the debris of space in a beautiful show of "shooting stars" and at the same time protects life on earth, reflecting the Divine Qualities of the Purifier, Cleaner, Beautiful, Protector). I could now be grateful not just for light but also for the darkness that teaches me of the existence of light, not just for health, but also for illness which teaches me and makes me aware of the health, for it weren't for illnesses we wouldn't even have the concept of "health", if it weren't for darkness, we wouldn't realize there is light, and I couldn't connect in a grateful, loving, intimate relationship with the One who not only gives me health but also teaches me that It is the Healer through the observation and experience of various degrees of health. 

"If It didn't want to give, It wouldn't give the wanting" says Imam Nursi (ra*), a 20th century Quranic commentator heavily influenced by Sufism. As I mentioned earlier, imaan, faith with certainty, is to not contradict oneself, our humanity as a whole (mind, heart and spirit and eventually even the ego). Our desires, as they do not originate from us, are given to us. When we desire and love perfection in all beautiful qualities, our desire indicates a Divine desire to fulfill our desire, as Nursi puts it. The human yearning for eternal bliss and dislike of transience is a sign of the impending union of the human with the Perfect Beautiful Qualities. It is a sign that all the beauty we have loved and passed away from our lives, like the baby version of our children, or a happy moment we had with a friend or a loving moment shared with a partner or a moment of gratefulness upon enjoying a decadent chocolate, have not disappeared in to an abyss of nothingness, but our union with the Beautiful Qualities reflected in them in the special way they reflected in this world is simply impending in a universe where our experience of time is that of fleeting mere moments. Rumi (ra*), a 13th century Sufi master, calls his death, the "shab 'aruz", the wedding night, the night of the union with the Beloved God and all Its beautiful beloved reflections. Just as thepurpose of the 9 months life of a fetus in the womb is to prepare for her average 70 years of life in this world, the purpose of our average 70 years of life in this world is to prepare for our eternal after-life by the means of getting to know, love and reflect our Creator, the reflection of whose Divine Names and Attributes of Perfection in various degrees is the Universe.

*ra=radiallahu 'anh=may God be pleased with him

Thus through both the liking of the clearer reflections and the disliking of the manifestations in lesser degrees, we are taught of the Divine Attributes, Qualities for which we yearn and we are prepared for our eternal union with them. In this way suffering from separation and transience becomes something to be grateful too, because it prepares and leads us towards our ultimate desire.

As to the scenario in which I could imagine myself stepping away from this understanding or path is if someone or something or some writing etc convinced me that there is a more meaningful way to interpret my existence in congruence with my human qualities.

So far every religion or spiritual tradition I have looked into, I found what the Qur'an claims, that the Qur'an is sent to confirm the messages of all previous revelations in their authentic forms, whether it is the teachings of Cherokee spirituality or the beliefs of a hunter-gatherer tribe in New Zealand or Hinduism or Christianity. I feel I can usually see the authentic message carried in other revelations amidst the human intervention, modification, translation, interpretation and most importantly the deliberate corruption in the hands of power, states and empires, that have accumulated over centuries or millennia. The further back I go in the history of each religion, the closer I find the message to match with that of the Qur'an.

The secular or atheistic or naturalistic views are typically taught systematically in schools and media across the globe, and when questioned rigorously do not stand up to the standards of neither my reason nor other aspects of my humanity nor do they address my need for existential meaning and purpose in life. I cannot wrap my mind around how natural causes can in fact bring to existence their natural consequences. How can water and earth and sun create the beauty and eloquence of a flower, the provision of a fruit who seems to know the inner workings of my body and my needs perfectly? How can the seemingly ignorant and unconscious nature be the creator of itself with all its amazing perfections and mathematical order and artistic designs?

The existentialist movement I was heavily exposed to through literary reading of Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche during secondary school was at complete odds with being at peace with my self and all existence. It taught that existence was meaningless, that we were only living this life to eventually perish and disappear, that we had no purpose and nor did anything else. It was a dark, negative, complaining, depressing, and at times even suicidal point of view which offered no peace, no happiness, no meaning, no guidance. It contradicted my human qualities. It was as if it was saying that a complex computer was merely a stupid purposeless box deserving to be crushed and thrown away. Not only did it not make sense to my logic, but it also made my heart revolt.

My inner world was only lightened from the darkness of existentialism through the messages of revelations which timelessly affirm each other, unlike philosophical movements who use reasoning without accepting any guidance from revelation, who view the reason as a source of the truth not as a confirmer of the truth, and who all tend to contradict each other on very fundamental levels.

How does your religion view nonbelief/nonbelievers?

The central tenant of imaan/faith with certainty in the Qur'anic teaching is the testimony (which inherently requires observation, confirmation and certainty in order to be called a testimony) that "la ilaha illa Allah" "there is no deity but God". Notice this begins with a negative statement "la ilaha" "there is no deity". Prophet Abraham was born to a polytheistic society, in a way similar to the modern global naturalist movement: we are told the stars "make" the particles in our bodies, instead of telling the particles are "cooked up" in the stars by the Creator of the stars and the humans and of the entirety of the universe; we are taught in school that the Sun gives life and energy, instead of being taught that we are given life and energy by The One Absolute Provider who gives life and energy to us "through" the Sun and water etc. As recounted in the Qur'an, Abraham began his path to monotheism by questioning whether the stars, the moon, or the Sun could be his Sustainor. Each time he turned away from them stating "I love not those that set" meaning he doesn't like transience and thus transient beings cannot be his Sustainor. He observed this in the setting of the sun at night or of the moon in the morning, today we observe this in the death or destruction of stars and other celestial bodies. He began by rejecting false "gods" (or false representations of a creator) before he was guided in finding the One Absolute True Source with all its Beautiful Divine Attributes of Perfection. In this sense, rejection and nonbelief are the first steps towards confirming belief, instead of blindly following faith, which has little to no meaning and doesn't offer true guidance in one's life.

Imaan/ faith with certainty is not a static state, it is a state which fluctuates throughout life from one moment to another, depending on our level of conscious awareness and our level of questioning and confirming, the degree to which we take it seriously to investigate and live according to the messages of the universe and revelations. Thus, I may be a believer in one moment of awareness and awakening and a nonbeliever in a moment of ignorance where I exclaim the fire cooked the potato, instead of the Creator of the fire and the potato and me cooked the potato with the fire. Every moment where I choose to uphold the awareness of the unity of the creation and of the Creator, I am being brought closer to my Sustainor, the Source of the Beautiful Qualities I love, and their unveiled expression in Paradise. Every moment when I choose to be ignorant of my truth or when I reject the truth after I have understood it, I walk away from my Sustainor, the Source of the Beautiful Attributes I yearn for, and imprison myself in hell (Hell is defined as the lesser reflection of the Attributes of Perfection, it still -out of the Mercy of our Sustainor- is not an absence of these attributes, for the complete absence of these attributes is nonexistence). The better I polish my mirror to reflect the Beautiful Divine Qualities in my actions, the more prepared I am for the union with the lesser veiled attributes, expressed as a higher degree in Paradise. The more I clog and break my mirror by going against what I am made to love and against my conscience, as in when I choose conflict over peace, destruction and oppression over proactive striving for beauty, health and justice, instead of allowing my seed of the pure baby nature to unfold and flourish, I go against my pure nature and destroy it, becoming less and less compatible with the unveiled reflections of the Beautiful Qualities, described as a lower degree in Hell, since the soul desires its Beloved and suffers from separation from the Beloved. The afterlife is but an organic consequence of my intentions, chosen perspectives, actions and striving in this world. I am building my afterlife right now right here in this world. If I completely destroy my seed, I cannot become a tree. If I water and tend to my seed, I can grow into an ever stronger tree.

What is the most important message or goal of your religion? What is your "golden rule"? 

The goal of the teachings of revelation, as the current-me understands, is to find peace with ourselves, with others and the entire creation in this world and the next. It is to teach the meaning and purpose of my existence which is to uphold conscious awareness of the unity of the creation and of the Creator to attain peace, harmony, to build an intimate relationship with our Sustainor Who brings us anew into existence each new moment, Who is closer to us than our jugular vein (as expressed in the Qur'an), Who is all that we love and desire, by knowing It, by loving It and learning to love all that It creates (even when at first we don't like somethings, as mentioned above, we can learn to love them because of the beautiful messages they carry, because they make the Beautiful God known to me, because they teach me wisdom), by being in a state of constant gratefulness and to learn to act accordingly in ways to reflect the Beautiful Attributes of Love, Mercy, Justice, Wisdom etc.

We are intentionally designed to err and to do wrong, we are given a selfish ego who disregards the unity of creation, and considers itself or a group, as separate from the creation and in its greed, considers its benefits to be against what is beneficial for all of humanity or the universe (such is the case of nationalism or the global capitalistic system). However, the ego can be trained to purification, it is not evil in its creation, its existence. It only leads us to evil if we succumb to it, or as Rumi metaphorizes, if we become donkeys letting our egos ride us. On the other hand, if we turn the ego into a horse and learn to ride it instead, i.e. if we learn how to use the ego correctly, it becomes an important, and in fact a necessary and crucial tool in learning and in our spiritual development, in our positive transformation, in our preparing to an eternal life through this transient life which is composed of mere passing moments. This is a path. If death hasn't found me yet, it is because my path of discoveries and learning and training is not over yet.

I struggle to uphold my constant striving towards beautiful perfection while accepting that I can never be perfect (this is the meaning of the Qur'anic word jihad). It is through recognition and acceptance of my weakness and impotence, through knowing that all I can truly do is to exercise my free will and make choices in my perspectives, thoughts, efforts and actions, that I discover the limitless treasures of Beautiful Qualities and only then can I truly be empowered.

Surely the understanding and subtleties of what is the most important message or goal of revelation is also something that evolves parallel to my efforts in studying, understanding and living according to the revelation.

What is something that followers of your religion are misjudged for, or what is one misconception about your religion?

The problem begins at how to define "followers of my religion". People who self-identify as "Muslim" (capital "M" since it usually denotes a simple ethnic or cultural, familial identity) usually don't even know the first thing about what islam, muslim, deen (meaning path as discussed above or translated as religion) or even God means. Street interviews in majority Muslim societies show people who are completely appalled speechless, like a bunny in front of a headlight or a frozen computer screen, when asked as simple a question as "what can you say about God?" It is the atheists and agnostics who tend to think more about what or who God is and isn't, more so than the people who claim they believe in God without having any idea what they believe in, let alone why they believe it. Perhaps the questioning, struggling, researching atheists and agnostics can be described to be more muslim than the Muslims, because they seek truth (Truth is also a name of God). 

We live at a time when the states and other power positions, who also shape the secular media and education system, have actively and brutally in the bloodiest ways killed almost all Sufi masters and destroyed almost all venues (Sufi homes/centers) where people were trained to discover the esoteric wisdom of revelation. When the colonialist oppression ceased with the gradual withdrawal of the colonialists, the neocolonial local states took over the task of oppression. In most countries where the majority of people self-identify as "Muslim", a form of so-called "Islam" (with the capital "I" this time) has emerged in the last few centuries (mainly out of Saudi Arabia) which actively fights the millennium-old Sufi teachings and the Sufi way of life. Again in most of these countries, during the 20th century, armies and police forces have been deployed to even oppress anyone who has the "audacity" to gather with a few friends to discuss the teachings of revelation as explained by Sufi masters. When Hafez Assad was alive in Syria, such attempts tended to end in the "disappearance" (or "evaporation" as the Syrians called it), of the people involved. In Turkey, the police used to raid homes where a Qur'anic study discussion was taking place and those involved could be imprisoned. Mosques were and still are locked after prayer times, for fear people would gather to discuss matters pertaining to the revelation. Students were hunted by principals and teachers for performing the obligatory ritual prayers (salat) between classes at schools. Education as offered by many states is obligatory; its model, style and content are not open to discussion, alternatives such as homeschooling or even education in a nonofficial language are not allowed, with the threat of parents or attempting educators to be imprisoned.

As a result of these despotic and persistent widespread policies in keeping people ignorant of their own religion, people who identify as Muslim now at times think like a secularist (as taught in the media), at other times like a naturalist (as taught in school), and at other times they blindly follow a version of Islam corrupted by sultans, kings, politicians and tend to be utterly ignorant of the true teachings of the Qur'an in a concoction of confusion, contradiction, disinformation and lies; most people find it easier to deal with this mess by dismissing questioning, researching or pondering, reflection, meditation, even though the prophet Muhammad (pbuh*) is reported to have said "an hour of reflection is better than a year spent praying". Through societal engineering, most people also have widely been stripped of their abilities of critical and analytical thinking and meditation, as they have been molded into obedient worker-slaves and consumers supporting the capitalist machine of war, destruction, wasteful abuse of resources and social and economic inequality and injustice.   

*pbuh=peace be upon him

There are many misconceptions about the teachings of revelations, and these begin among the Muslim populations themselves, because first of all most Muslims do not take the time and effort to understand how the revelation defines key concepts or the correct methods by which the revelation is to be analyzed and the way of thinking and living that the revelation teaches us. Most people take their blind faith for granted, never questioning and thus confirming their faith and seeking to either survive or, if they find the means, to flourish in power, wealth or fame even if and usually, at the expense of taking active part in and supporting the current global capitalist system.

Before even addressing how the media tends to demonize the followers of Abrahamic religions and especially Muslims in violent portrayals and repeated associations, with its usual brainwashing tactics, I think we first need to address the baffling degree of ignorance among societies who identify as Muslims. I pray that humanity as a whole starts taking the teachings of revelation seriously and study and examine them thoroughly and shred them to pieces with detailed questioning in order to understand and grasp their messages before deciding to either confirm or reject them.

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