Jamal Rahman, New Age Islam
28 May 2021
There Are New Ways In Which People Are Expressing Their Religious Affiliation
can be rooted in one religious tradition and open to the wisdom and beauty of
other religious traditions.
can be ‘Spiritual but not religious’, like a bee collecting nectar from
atheists and agnostics are very spiritual people.
I am a Muslim Imam at the Interfaith Community
Sanctuary, a house of worship in Seattle, USA. In our house of worship, we have
different kinds of congregants. What is exciting is that these congregants
reflect new and emerging kinds of congregants all over America.
example, there is one type of congregant like myself—someone who is rooted in
one religious tradition but is open to the wisdom and beauty of other religious
traditions. I am a Muslim, but I am open to wisdom in other religions. And when
I learn from the insights and practices of other religious traditions, this
waters my Islamic roots. I become a better Muslim and a more developed human
being. In my personal experience I am now able to understand ‘my’ holy book
more deeply. As a Muslim, I look at the Quran from the perspective of a Muslim.
But if I look at the Quran from other perspectives also, it gives me a more
complete understanding of ‘my’ holy book. Learning from other religious
traditions and their scriptures has
enriched my own understanding of the Quran.
We have a
second type of congregant in our house of worship, the fastest growing category
in America: ‘Spiritual but not religious’, or, as is jokingly said, ‘None of
the above’. They can be described in a metaphorical way—as bees collecting
nectar from different flowers.
Now, in the
past, this category was criticized by some people as being akin to digging
wells in many places. You dig in one place to a certain depth and then give up
and go to another place to dig, and then to a third place, and so on. As a result,
it was said, you never really reach the water level. To achieve depth and reach
the level of where the water exists, it was said, you need to be steadfastly
dedicated to digging one specific well—that is, to remain committed to one
religious tradition. According to the critics, exploring and affiliating with
multiple religious traditions is like digging in many places and, alas, not
getting rewarded by the gift of water.
metaphor has been countered by another metaphor. The person who is spiritual but not religious
and who benefits from the wisdom and beauty of many different religious
traditions is actually digging one well, but is using more than one instrument
for this purpose. They may be using two, three or four ‘instruments’. Maybe,
they actually have a better chance of being able to achieve the required depth
and discover water!
type of congregant is someone who follows and practices more than one religious
tradition. This is sometimes called “multiple belonging.” To use a term from
the American academic system, it is like a student who is studying and
graduating with a double major. Some people might respond to this by likening
it to a person having more than one spouse. If you have more than one spouse,
it is not humanly possible for you to give all of them your attention equally.
But this metaphor can be countered by another one. Identifying with more than
one religious tradition can be said to be like a mother who has more than one
child. Mothers who have more than one child know that it is indeed possible to
divide their attention equally among all their children and to love them all
yet a fourth type of congregant in our house of worship. This also constitutes
a growing number in the USA—secular humanists, agnostics and atheists.
Personally, I find them to be very religious, or better put, very spiritual
people. In my understanding, they do indeed believe in God, but they just call
God by a different name— for example, ‘Compassion’, Truth, or ‘Justice—any quality
higher than human personality or human institutions.
atheists and agnostics in our congregation are eager to learn spiritual
practices such as meditation, which is
universal and not determined by, or limited to, any one particular
religion. Take, for instance, the practice of silence. There is no such thing
as ‘Muslim silence’ or ‘Jewish silence’. It is just silence. The same holds
true for practices of forgiveness or cultivating compassion. These spiritual
practices are found in every major tradition, and one can gain benefits from
them without identifying with any one particular religious tradition.
my point, let me share this simple story. An atheist father tells his son,
“Son, there is no God.” The son, who is trained to question, says, “Father, how
do you know?” And the father replies, “Son, you’ve got to take it on faith”!
the USA, Jamal Rahman is a popular speaker and author on Islam, Sufi
spirituality, and interfaith relations.
Along with his Interfaith Amigos, he has been featured in The New York
Times, CBS News, BBC, and various NPR programs.
Jamal is co-founder and Muslim Sufi Imam at Interfaith Community
Sanctuary and adjunct faculty at Seattle University. He travels nationally and internationally,
presenting at retreats and workshops.
Jamal’s passion lies in interfaith community building and activism.
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