By Hazrat Inayat Khan
In life everybody follows either the way of free choice of action, or the way of Dharma, of duty. For example we may take a child who sees the fire, wants to touch it, and does so; this action will produce a certain disagreeable result which teaches the child something. This same teaching might also have come to the child as a warning from the parents, telling it that the result of its action would be painful. The child may thus refrain from a certain action because it accepts the warning of the parents before burning its hand.
Every child is born a pupil, one who is willing to learn and willing to believe. As the Prophet Muhammad has said, every soul is born on earth a believer, and it is only later that a man turns into an unbeliever. If he had not been born a believer he would never have learned the language of his country, for if someone had tried to teach him the words and he had refused to accept the teaching as true, he would never have learned the names and characteristics of beings and things. A child is born with the tendency to believe and to learn what it is taught.
The divine life has the ability to give life; and it gives this life as teaching to the children of the earth; it is this teaching that is Dharma, which means both duty and religion. Religions are many and differ from each other, but only in form, like water which is always the same element and formless: it only takes the shape of the channel or vessel that holds it and that it uses for its accommodation. Thus the water changes its name to river, lake, sea, stream, or pond; and it is the same with religion: the essential truth is one, but its aspects are different. Those who fight about external forms will always continue to fight, but those who recognize the inner truth will not disagree and will thus be able to harmonize the people of all religions.
Dharma has been given from time to time to the world, sometimes quietly and unobtrusively and sometimes in a loud voice; but always it is a continual outpouring of the inner knowledge, of life, and of divine blessing. Those who stick to the old forms, closing their eyes to the inner truth, paralyze their Dharma by holding on to an old form and refusing the present stream, which is sent. In so far as life is the source of activity, such people lose their activity; they remain where they stand as if dead. And when a man has been thus paralyzed and shut out from further spiritual progress, he clings to outer forms which do not help him to progress. There was a time when the message was given while the people were waiting for a messenger to come, as happened in the time of Jesus Christ, when there were thousands and thousands waiting for a messenger from above. The Master came, and gave his service to the world, and left again. Some realized what had happened then, and some are still waiting. But the one who claimed to be Alpha and Omega is never absent; sometimes he shows himself, sometimes he keeps in the background.
The Sufi message, in its utter infancy, strikes the note of the day, and promises the fulfillment of the purpose for which now and then the blessing descends from above, the purpose of spreading love and peace on earth and among mankind. […]
A person may belong to the best religion in the world; he does not live it, perhaps, but merely belongs to it. He says that he is a Muslim, or a Christian, or a Jew. He is sure it is the best religion, but at the same time he does not care to live it; he just belongs to it and thinks that belonging to a certain accepted religion is all that is needed. And people of all the different religions have made this to appear to be so, owing to their enthusiasm and forced by their mission in life. For they have made facilities for those who belong to their particular religion, saying that by the very fact of their belonging to it they will be saved on the Day of Judgment. While the others, with all their good actions, will not be saved because they do not belong to that particular faith.
This is a man-made idea, not God-made. God is not the Father of one sect; God is the Father of the whole world, and all are entitled to be called His children, whether worthy or unworthy. In fact it is man's attitude towards God and truth which can bring him closer to God, who is the ideal of every soul. And if this attitude is not developed, then whatever man's religion be he has failed to live it. Therefore what is important in life is to try and live the religion to which one belongs, or that one esteems, or that one believes to be one's religion.
[…] [O]n the path of religion, the dispute about who is right and who is wrong is not necessary. We do not know what is in the heart of a man. If outwardly he seems to be a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, or a Buddhist, we cannot be the judge of his religion, for every soul has a religion peculiar to itself, and no one else is entitled to judge it. There may be a person in a very humble garb, without any appearance of belief in God, or of piety or orthodoxy, and he may have a religion hidden in his heart, which not everybody can understand. And there may be another person who is highly evolved, and yet his outward conduct, which alone manifests to people's view, may appear to be altogether contrary to their own way of looking at things. They may accuse him of being a materialist or an unbeliever, or someone who is far from God and truth. And yet we do not know; sometimes appearances are merely illusions; behind them there may be hidden the deepest religious devotion or the highest ideal, of which we know very little.
For the Sufi, therefore, the best thing is to respect a man's belief, his idea, his way of looking at life, whatever it may be, even if it is quite different from his own way of looking at it. It is this spirit of tolerance which, when developed, will bring about the brotherhood which is the essence of religion and the need of the present day.
To say, 'You are different and I am different, your religion is different and my religion is different, your belief is different and my belief is different,' will not unite, it will only divide humanity. Those who, with the excuse of their great faith in their own religion, hurt the feelings of another and divide humanity which has the same source and goal, abuse religion, whatever be their faith. The message, at whatever period it came to the world, did not come just to a certain section of humanity; it did not come to raise only some few people who perhaps accepted the faith, the message, or a particular organized Church. No, all these things came afterwards. The rain does not fall in a certain land only; the sun does not shine only on a particular country. All that comes from God is for all souls. If they are worthy, they deserve it; it is their reward; if they are unworthy, they are the more entitled to it. Verily, blessing is for every soul; for every soul, whatever be his faith or belief, belongs to God.
[Extracted from the section titled ‘Religion’ in Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]
URL of Part 2: http://newageislam.com/books-and-documents/hazrat-inayat-khan/the-sufi-message--excerpts-from-hazrat-inayat-khan’s-discourses-on-the-unity-of-religious-ideals--on-belief-in-god-as-natural-–-2/d/11506