Sunday, February 1, 2015

Are Religion and Spirituality mutually exclusive?

I've so often  heard the expression from friends :I'm spiritual but not really religious.
For many of us-millennial Muslims-religious rituals are an obstacle to claiming our true spirituality. Dry religious texts and adherence to literalism obscures Islam's mystical heart. 
All traditional religion has both esoteric and exoteric dimensions. The esoteric is the dimension of universal truth, while the exoteric is the proper vehicle for that truth specific to a particular civilization or culture.
 A religion that does not recognize the esoteric dimension in its own teaching( Wahabism in Islam or materialism in general) that cannot see that the same truth can be found in other forms, is in danger of losing the living Truth that is the true foundation for the exoteric dimension, and indeed is in danger of losing the foundation of civilization and culture itself.

 Islam had an esoteric core: early saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)  point to an inner spiritual mystery but the orthodox mullahs banned the inner, esoteric aspect of Islam's teachings and the Gnostic sufic treatise became forbidden heresy. 

Sufism is very individualistic: It relies upon an individual's direct, personal connection to God. Its foundation is  -- passion. It is spontaneous, malleable, and paradoxical. It is self-reliant, charismatic, and brilliant. Spiritual experiences are rarely defined because defining them would take one out of the experiencing of the moment, something anathema to the spiritual mind. 

Religion as a social structure, on the other hand, is as thick as it gets. Religion is often so thick, however, that it smothers spontaneity and individuality.It evolves in to dogma and rhetorical quibbling( as it did so tragically with modern Islam) . It struggles to see people as different from one another. Religious doctrine or body of knowledge is meant to be  accessible to anyone. It does not rely upon one's individual inner experience of the divine or what is sacred. 

The term “blind” has been used in the Qur’an, alluding to people who in spite of having eyes, yet cannot see. Indeed they see the forms and the exoteric aspects of things but do not see the esoteric meaning within.
Allah (swt) points to this repeatedly in various verses in the Holy Book, usually after a story, parable or symbolism:
“in this there are lessons for those who can understand” or "there is indeed a lesson for all who have eyes to see" or “if only they could understand” or “if only you could see” or "we detail Our signs for people who understand".

More generally speaking Muslims are reminded in the Koran that humans can experience and speak about God only in symbols. Everything in the world is a sign of God; Ibn al-Arabi argued that humans have a duty to create theophanies for themselves, by means of the creative imagination that pierces the imperfect exterior of mundane reality and glimpses the divine within.

In contrast, Sufism and its occult rituals are usually a way to help the individual have a direct inner experience of the sacred. They are based upon the understanding that there is a world of the spirit that is very different than the purely physical world of the senses. 

Sufism  often involve specific spiritual practices that are quite distinct from religious observances. These practices are a way to access the world of the spirit--leading finally to awaken or be born into this reality that is invisible to our physical eyes.
They remind us that we are not just physical beings in a physical world, but that our lives and also our bodies have a spiritual dimension. We are beings of light as well as flesh and blood. There is a world within and around us to which we can have access that is very different to the physical world.
 In Sufism it is described as a series of chambers within the heart--that just as we have a physical heart we also have a spiritual heart which contains our divine consciousness. 

 Yet the spiritual and physical worlds are not separate, but interpenetrate and nourish each other.
Remember that each of us has two sides to our hearts. Central to human greatness is our capacity to carry two ideas in tension. 
Spiritual life can take us beyond death. In Sufism this is called "to die before you die," to awaken to the world of light while still alive in this world. Then you know that there is no such thing as death, or in Jesus' words in the Gospel of Thomas, "Whoever discovers the interpretations of these sayings will not taste death."

Spirtual truth is at the heart of all religions, and yet it is also beyond the divisions that plague our world. It is about the oneness, the love and the light that is within us all, and to which as human beings we can have access. Spiritual teachings and their practices can give us each our own individual experience of this very human reality, help us to live in the light of this oneness rather than stumbling in the darkness of so many divisions. 



  1. Well said Safoora. Enjoyed your articulation. Shared with a friend who is probably on the same journey as you. I'm assuming you are on a journey as I know my friend is. It's a brightly lit path and with no wrong turns. That's my understanding thus far.

    God's speed !!

  2. Dang!! I wrote a comment and it probably didnt post as I wasn't signed in. So will repeat. Forgives if it decides to post twice.

    I had said- beautifully articulated thoughts. Enjoyed reading it. Shared with a friend who is on a similar journey. I am assuming you are on this journey as I KNOW my friend is. It is a brightly lit path with no wrong turns.

    God's speed !!!

  3. Nice and very interesting. Thank you for your sharing...........

    Indian astrology

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