Finding God and a spiritual path

December 28, 2014

I found myself watching a clip yesterday on the net. It was about spirituality and the question was posed to the panel, “What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?” Answers like “finding your own path… personal experience” for spirituality and “rules… someone else’s spiritual path… dogmatic” defined religion. I’m not sure where or when religion got such a bad wrap (actually on second thought, I am) or when spirituality became something people desired -but without religion. One of my teachers told me (us, it was in a class) a story about a man who came to the prophet, peace to him, when he was dividing the spoils of war. The prophet, in his wisdom, gave more to the newcomers of Islam. A man who’s eyes were weary and beard was long from his apparent religiosity -weary eyes from staying up and praying at night, came to the prophet, peace to him, during this time and said “be fair Muhammad” to which he responded “Who will be fair if I won’t?”

So being religious and being heartless is not a new phenomena. Here the man was praying at night until the signs of it showed on his body but he didn’t have love in his heart for the person most deserving of love. So at first I thought, as I begun this post, why is there such a divide between religion and spirituality? Well firstly there does’t have to be a divide, the question posed assumes that there is (“What is the difference between religion and spirituality?”). It’s true that a person can be religious and not spiritual.

And, to my own surprise, it’s also true that you can be spiritual without being religious. As my teacher explained to us, spiritual reality is reality so why should we be surprised that others know it without being on the straight path. The oneness of the world, the value of love, seeing your brother as your own self are universal truths. If doesn’t take being a believer to discover this. It only take insight God gives to whoever he chooses. So why not be “spiritual” and not “religious”? I use to laugh at such a thing “You can’t be spiritual whiteout being religious” but in fact you can for the above mentioned reasons. And it will give you a good, more insightful, more meaningful life.

So again, what’t the point of religion? Well it’s an odd question. It reminds me of people who say we don’t need religion because we have science. Or why do we need religion to tell us right and wrong when we have logic. There’s a fundamental link that’s missing in these kinds of questions which is, “What do you believe?” Whether or not you think humanity can come to universal truths or have good lives without religion doesn’t really matter. Plato doesn’t share the same religion with me but I think he was quite right about a lot of things. But do I for a second, may God preserve me, think I could forget about Islam and use Platonic principles to have a good life, no not for a second. Because that’s not the point. I believe in God, I believe his prophet’s were true and I believe he sent the final version of monotheism through his prophet, peace and blessing to him. This is what I believe and when you believe something, even if you often fall short, you act on it. You stay on the path and you keep going. What people don’t realize when they throw out religion for spirituality is they are turning away from the messengers and saints of the past. Did Mary spend her whole life in devotion and becoming an icon for humanity so we could turn away from her way and just accept the spirit of the message?

The message of love and peace and hope is extremely valuable but it wasn’t everything. Jesus set down the law and devoted himself to God. It wasn’t just about spiritual truths but about hard work and devotion that brings one close to God. Do we somehow think we’re smarter than the saints and messengers, that they were wasting their time in nightly pray and now we can throw away the law and only live the spirit. In an excellent lecture by Conor Neil he says, how does a child spell love? T-I-M-E. Adutls spell it much the same and what about God? So we give time for everything we love in own lives except God? And only devout ourselves to God in the way we want to? How is that just for the one who gives everything? Real love=time. Time doing what? That is the next question, what does God want from me. Five devotional prayers daily, modesty in dress, fasting one month a yearly, charity to the poor and pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible. A way of doing things that is befitting of his majesty. God says in the Koran, “I created you not except for worship”. This is our job here and this is why one who is considered the lowest by others but accepts God as her Lord is better than the most well loved woman who denies her Lord. Because our promise is to God alone. That’s our job. And we all do a pretty lousy job but if we don’t even put in the application, whatever we do thereafter won’t matter for very long.

When you really love something you give your life to it. You’re willing to do anything for it. So why is it that when God asks anything of us through what we call religion it makes us feels uneasy? Maybe it’s because religion has been used to abuse many. And this is where I see the value of having a personal relationship with God. One that goes beyond the religious authority. One that is direct. Because people will hurt you, take advantage of you and even use the name of religion to do so but that’s their problem. It has nothing to do with God, religion or one’s personal relationship with God.

I watched a while ago with my niece a documentary about people who where “unmosqued” these are people who for whatever reason felt unwelcome to the mosque and either stopped going or formed their own third space. I sympathized with them and realized how much harm people do when they focus on the rules too heavily for someone who is not ready to hear it (especially new Muslims) but the fault is also of the people who walked away. The masjid (mosque) is God’s house. It doesn’t being to the board or the people who show up the most, it is devoted to Allah, don’t let anyone kick you out of God’s house. Of course there is the other part of me that worries women will show up in miniskirts and asked to be welcomed but then I remember when a man came in to the masjid where the prophet, peace to him and some of his companions were and peed (yes peed openly!) in the masjid. You can only imagine how angry his companions were, but what about the prophet? He wasn’t, he told them to wait until he was done and only thereafter did he (himself or allow the companions) speak to him. This was the prophet of God, this is our example yet we get heated when people come in the masjid wearing the wrong clothes.

Religion gets a bad wrap often because of the people who do the yelling. Spitting out the rules to anyone who crosses them. I don’t know that they’re a big group but their dogmatic ways spread an impression on those outside and inside the religion making many want stay away. I think this new spirituality movement is an attempt to connect with God without crossing the path of those people. And understandable so. But these rules aren’t arbitrary, they are God’s rules for us so we can live our best life. We have to strive and we will fail often. I always encouraged my new Muslim students to do their best. If you can’t wear a scarf now try to dress more modestly, if you can’t wake up for Fajr (often around 4am) pray when you wake up, not because it’s a-ok to do less than what’s asked of us but because we will always be striving to do better, that’s the point. Today we strive to stop wearing miniskirts tomorrow we strive to wear a scarf. But we don’t look down on people who are still struggling with the mini skirt you advise and tell them to keep striving. And most of all make it your intention. My sheikh tells us to intend to do good things so we will get the reward, this is because it is out of our control whether or not we actually do it (this is God’s realm) but we can intend to do it. We don’t close the door on religion because some people are bigoted, or because it’s hard and close our selves off to only being spiritual. Make a space for God and he will make it easy for you. But more than that if you believe in God know he didn’t put us her idly, we have a chance, just one chance, to make it count.

Book: Love, Life & Faith coming this summer, 2015


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