Human intellect cannot fully comprehend the concept of the “Divine” or “God.”
Shamans, healers, ethicists, philosophers, jurists, scientists, transcendentalists, artists, storytellers and other seekers of knowledge have continued to search for this entity far beyond our consciousness.
Our search to understand the intangible entity that brings many balance, peace and meaning, and that reminds them of what they should ultimately aspire to become, is by far the hardest scavenger hunt one will ever embark on.
Faith traditions and other ideologies have different terms for the quest to reach the concept of this divine entity, force or higher power. Some refer to it as a language of religion, a philosophy of life or an ideology. Regardless, many refer to this as an individual’s preferred “way.”
What is this “God” that people eternally seek? Is God the “Great Spirit in the Sky,” “the Omnipotent Ruler” or “the Truth, the Light and the Way”? Could the “Divine” also be the “Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate,” or the “the One with Uncountable Powers”?
Is God “Justice”, “Beauty”, “the Enlightened One”, that ultimate “State of Peace”, the “Redemption of the Soul” that so many crave, as well as being the “Accountant” and the “Ultimate Reckoner” everyone needs?
There are many paths, including twists, turns, crossways and detours one can take when searching for that final destination: an ultimate place of being centered, where one finds that sense of balance, security, warmth, contentment and meaning, and achieves that goal of self-liberation from whatever internalized oppression they may need to be freed from at the moment.
Regardless of nomenclature, everyone needs to find their own direction, or journey, to that desired haven, and the many codes of ethics, faith traditions or routes to the “Divine Entity” include Indigenous and earth-centered traditions, Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Like anything else, these passages through the journey of life are often dictated by simple rules, guidelines, roadmaps or blueprints condensed into a document that should be continuously interpreted and applied towards humanity’s evolving contexts.
Some adherents to an individual path may even refer to the content of their holy book as a set of laws to live by – a way of life that enables one and others to live a life of dignity and well-being for yourself and those around you.
The challenges of using these laws and texts in society often come when some of the written content, stories, edicts and meanings are taken literally – without jurisprudence, thought or evaluation by scholars, teachers or clergy.
When this unsophisticated approach is taken to reading and understanding such open-minded and illuminated content, the applications of its usage and the ramifications can be potent.
Sometimes a religious text or supplication is taken out of context and skewed to fit a specific, political agenda. This results in a shift of the balance of the distribution of the Divine’s graces bestowed onto humans and other life forms by violating the sanctity, integrity and safety of the earth, its resources and its inhabitants.
This “religious extremism” has been one of the leading causes of violence by humankind since the beginning of time. It is a pathetic paradox when considering the magnitude and vital nonviolent edicts embedded within the original content from which these new messages and ideologies are extracted.
All religions suffer from some form of radical “right wing extremism.” No one faith tradition has ever, or will ever, be immune from this fundamentalism.
As long as the human ego, the yearning for dominance, the need for overconsumption, and the insidious need for that rush one may catch from corruption is among us, the manipulation of our scriptures will continue.
And the justification of that twisted scripture will lead to violence as a tactic to solve the ultimate root of any conflict, no matter how big or small: the way to get resources that others have that we either desperately need, or selfishly want for our own personal use.
Radicalization is found, in particular, in the sister faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But none is more highlighted, publicized or deemed more newsworthy than the manipulation of Islam’s Holy Book, the Quran, and the twisting of its guidelines for the “way of life,” also known as “Sharia.”
Possibly one of the best ways to describe Sharia, or Sharia law, is that it is to Islam what biblical law is to Christianity, and what Halakha or Torah law is to Judaism.
Simply put, Sharia law is reading Quranic scripture methodically, evaluating it to the best of your ability, then applying what you learn and understand to the modern-day context of one’s life.
Sharia is a set of standards for how one conducts their life. It enables them to live in a sustainable, just and peaceful manner themselves, alongside the other people that dwell with them regardless of what they believe.
Thus, we should not kill, we should honor our mother and father, we should stand up to an unjust ruler, we should not bear false witness, we should feed the hungry, house the homeless, heal the sick, etc. Sound familiar?
The term “muslim” means someone who submits to the will of a higher power, or “One True God.” So technically, anyone can be a “muslim,” if they submit to the will of a higher power.
Today, in common terms, Muslim, with a capital “M,” most often refers to someone who surrendered to that higher power upon studying the teaching of the Quran and has accepted the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) as God’s final messenger with regards to people of “the book,” or of the Abrahamic traditions.
But again, in reality, if one has surrendered to the one true God, the actual word “muslim” applies to them. The word moemen or moemena (believer) also applies to a fellow brother or sister of faith.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.