The Sharing Group Discussion: Islam versus Institutionalised Religion

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Sister San Yee posted this article on The Sharing Group on the 26th April, 2015: Why I am Against Institutionalised Religion by Shafiqah binte Othman Hamzah.  An excerpt of the article states, “The most heart-breaking thing about institutionalised religion for me is that it also teaches us to judge a man not based on his character and how he treats others, but by the way he dresses.  Spirituality has been taken over by superficiality.  Institutionalised religion insists on playing God.”

Brother Colin Turner: She makes some interesting points, but then, so did Hitler.  I am afraid I am as suspicious of the ‘no religion, only spirituality’ brigade as I am of the head-banging death-cultists who go by the name of Salafi or Wahhabi.  I fear both.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: I thought that the Diyn encompasses both religion and spirituality, rather than pitting religion against spirituality.  Maybe there are just not enough adherents who can have a balance of both?

Brother Yahia Ouayah: An institutionalised religion can be led by an institutionalised ignorance.

Brother Cas Confucius: If people used common sense, which is not so common, then, perhaps, we could after all, have sufficient adherents.  Frankly, the subject of this article is old news.  Queen Ann is dead.  People, have drowned themselves into a pit of self-righteousness, because they are Muslims.  This aspect of propaganda only tends to support their path, such as in Malaysia now.  What do we change?  What is easier, the government or ourselves?

Sister Samra Hussain: I am not sure if it is as simple as institutionalised religion teaches us to judge our fellow men.  It is people who that on their own.  Yes, there are some Muslim a’immah or teachers who do that and twist tradition to justify it, but overall, most people understand that we cannot judge a person’s standing with God based on the few outward situations we see someone in.  I have seen so many progressive Muslims be as zealous as conservative Muslims about their interpretations

Brother David W Roesler: Yes I agree with you.  Religion has become a way to identify yourself, augmenting the ego and inadvertently distancing yourself from God.  Identity must be shed if one wishes to become intimate with God.

Brother Yahia Ouayah: I do not know Shafiqa Hamza, but I smell the influence of Arkoun and Bidar in her thinking.  And I like it.

Brother Timothy: Might not the difference between conventional religion and autonomous spirituality be more a matter of the stage of faith development you have reached?

Or with reference to Fowler’s theory of faith development:

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I am intrigued by the stages of faith development.  I would like it to be unpacked further.  Also, who is Fowler?

Brother Timothy: It is James Fowler: Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development.  The Wahhabi mind set is broadly stuck at infantile stage 2 and adolescent stage 3.  I was a fast developer but have been stuck at stage 5 since I was about 8 years old.  Still not ready for stage 6 for some reason.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Upon reflection, most Muslims would be at the infantile stage.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: An article, somewhat related to what the original poster was talking about, from Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes: “Modern man realises the impotence, hypocrisy, superficiality, and destructiveness of religion and has rejected it and wants an escape.  This is one of the reasons why so many people are opting for a customised religion they call ‘spirituality’.  Ultimately, there are only two escapes from religion – atheism or agnosticism, and Islam - the former leads to the gratification and worship of the self and the latter leads to the disciplining and illumination of the self.”

The following is excerpted from the shaykh’s talk at The Middle Way: Freedom from Organised Religion, on the 19th April, 2010: “The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, ‘I have left you on the middle of a bright well-trodden path whose night and day are alike.  No one strays from it after me except he is ruined.’

At the most fundamental level, ‘organised religion’ as we know it today is man-made, theologically anthropomorphic, anti-intellectual, anti-intuitive, isolationist, elitist, exploitive, cultural, reductive, judgmental, and controlling, manipulative; using fear, guilt, and the appeal to authority as its main tools.  In a nutshell, organised religion is submission to man while Islam is submission to the Creator.  In contrast, Islam, if understood from its pure and living Muhammady source, is Revealed, radically monotheistic, rational, intuitive, inclusive, empowering, holistic, non-judgmental, and liberating; using knowledge - transmitted, rational, and inspired - and Gratitude as its main tools to inspire love that blossoms into sincere service of the Creator and Creation.

The Middle Way is a glorious tree with more than seventy branches, each branch bearing its own unique fruit, the most exalted of its branches is realising that there is nothing deserving of your absolute love and devotion except God, your Creator and Sustainer, and the least of its branches is removing harm from a path.  Its root is humility.  It elevates the entire body, mind, and soul of the one who climbs it so that he or she recognises, experiences, and embraces the oneness of the four brotherhoods: the brotherhood of Creation, the brotherhood of humanity, the brotherhood of those who believe in One Indivisible, Unseen, Unique, All-Knowing, Almighty, and Merciful Creator, and the brotherhood of Islam, the Path of the Prophets.

There are those who have attempted to turn Islam into a religion by promoting man-made understandings as Divine Truth while in fact they are not, when this happens this religion is used to ultimately serve man-made interests rather than the six universal human rights, deduced from the Qur’an and teachings of the prophets, that protect and promote faith, life, intelligence, lineage, wealth, and honour for every individual and community.  Wherever you find corruption and tyranny committed in the name of Islam, then it is only because the perpetrators of these crimes practice Islam as a religion serving their egocentric and base desires rather than as the Revealed Path of Service to the Creator and Creation that it is.

Islam is distorted into a religion when it is taught and lived as a straight and narrow doctrine as opposed to a straight and wide living faith.  Islam becomes a religion when it is limited to this or that person’s ‘aqidah, madzhab, thariqa’, ideology, philosophy, culture, or organisation.  Islam is loving submission of your body, mind, and soul to the Creator according to the sublime teachings elucidated in the Final Divine Communication Revealed to a prophet, the Glorious Qur’an.  The Qur’an encompasses, distills, and clarifies the truths and universal principles of all Revealed Scriptures and every authentic spiritual tradition known to humanity.

The greatest and most liberating of these truths is that God is neither man nor woman, neither black nor white, neither spirit nor body, neither exists within space-time nor outside of it nor in the heavens nor in the earth, but that God is a Unique, Eternal, Everlasting, All-Knowing, Almighty, Loving, Just, and Merciful Being Existing Independent of time and space, Who is Absolutely Distinct from us, yet Closer to us than our own consciousness.  And that God Alone is Deserving of your unconditional allegiance, love, and devotion; not because He needs you but because you need Him.  The doors to authentic knowledge of God, Allah, are through the invocation, meditation, and internalisation of His Ninety-Nine Names of Beauty, Power, and Perfection.

Islam literally means ‘to enter a state of inner peace through willing surrender and submission to the Creator’.  It is primordial because it began with the first humans Adam (a.s.) and Eve, then it was the path of Noah (a.s.), Abraham (a.s.), Sarah (r.a.), Moses (a.s.), Asiyah (r.a.), Mary (a.s.), Jesus Christ (a.s.), and finally of Muhammad (s.a.w.), the Last of the infallible prophets.  Islam both encompasses and transcends what we know as religion.  Islam is, at its core, the science of being human, the science of reconciling your physical self with your spiritual self by living a life in harmony with Reality and nature.  This alignment enables you to experience and manifest the spiritual bliss of the next life before death, and realise experientially that the spiritual universe is both the foundation and root of what we perceive in the physical realm.  It is at this moment, that the ocean of wisdom and spiritual insight that is carried within every human being begins to flow from you for the benefit and service of Creation.  The challenge for us all is not to practice Islam as Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) practiced it over 1,400 years ago.  Our challenge is to discover how he would practice Islam today, in our time and place with our particular people.  Our primary task is not to translate books from Arabic or Urdu or Persian into English, although there is immense benefit in this, but to translate the Universal Truth of Islam into the lived reality of our respective communities.

There is a jewel of a book I read almost two decades ago titled, “The Natural Form of Man: Islam” by Sidi Abdal-Haqq Bewley, that eloquently explains this reality: if you seek it out you shall find it, Allah willing.  Truly, Islam is just that, the natural form of Man.  Just as plants and animals instinctively know how to ‘be’ and manifest their essence, Islam is the Way to purify and illuminate the soul so that it realises and manifests this intuitive, instinctive state of being, anything less than this is a deficient and distorted Islam, anything less runs the risk of presenting Islam as just another religion on the menu of major and minor world religions, with its rites, rules, and regulations.

After all, is not Islam described as Diyn al-Fithrah in the Qur’an and teachings of the Master of Masters, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)?  Literally, ‘the Faith of the human's instinctual nature’.  These are profound meanings that are like pearls dispersed throughout the Qur’an, Muhammady Wisdom, and the teachings of our glorious spiritual luminaries throughout the ages that we must share with humanity.  The point is not that Islam should be practiced without its rites, rules, and regulations; on the contrary.  The point is that when these are stripped of their spiritual significance, lofty objectives, and deeper meanings, our experience of Islam will not lead to this state of elevated being and awareness that is our inheritance as descendants of at least two great prophets, Adam (a.s.) and Noah (a.s.).  The point is that the river of your madzhab or thariqa’ not stop with your spiritual guide or leader but that it return you to the shore-less and floor-less Muhammady Ocean so that you too may cleanse, drink, swim, and dive for untold treasures in it as they did.  Too often, we present Islam as merely the five pillars of declaring faith, prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage and nothing else.  No mention of the illuminating sciences of iman, islam, ihsan, and the signs of the finality of time elucidated in the quintessence of all prophetic narrations, the narration of the archangel, Gabriel (a.s.).  This four dimensional understanding of Islam is what resonates with those who are seeking authentic spirituality and true self-knowledge.

At this point you may ask, ‘How does one learn and live this path of the prophets, Islam, as a living and empowering faith as opposed to an anachronistic and suffocating religion?’  In order to build the home of inner peace and authentic spirituality that has been elucidated in these words you need a foundation, a frame, and a finishing.

The foundation is laid by studying and applying the sciences of iman, islam, and ihsan with teachers who are connected outwardly to a historical chain of transmission through their teachers and grand-teachers to the last of the infallible prophets, Muhammad (s.a.w.), and who are connected inwardly to the spiritual reality of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  The signs of this inward connection include but are not limited to consistent outward and inward adherence to the prophetic way, preferring the everlasting life of the Hereafter over the ephemeral life of this world, dollars not being of greater value than dirt in one’s estimation, and indifference towards the praise and blame of people.

The frame is erected by consistently purifying the self with mandatory and voluntary acts of service, seeking spiritual proximity to God, coupled with studying and meditating on the principles, rational proofs, and sources of Islam, again with the guidance of teachers.  The finishing is manifested in two ways: firstly, by adorning your heart and limbs with the praiseworthy prophetic traits of repentance, sincerity, patient perseverance, indifference towards material things, acting with total trust in God, leaving matters ultimately to God, pleasure with the Decree of God, devout obedience, fear of God’s Justice, and hope in God’s Mercy; and secondly, when your soul has been directly inspired with Knowledge of God’s Absolute Beauty and Power so that you serve God and His creatures as if you are always beholding Him or at least cognisant that He is always Aware of you.  This is the stage at which one realises the Saying of God in the Qur’an: ‘Obey God and God will Teach you.’

This vast Middle Way safeguards the warding off of every clear material and spiritual harm and the attainment of every clear material and spiritual benefit.  The Middle Way is what is in harmony with the unambiguous and definitive verses of the Qur’an and narrations of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), the consensus of the community of Islam, and sound reason.  The Middle Way preserves and promotes the sanctity of faith, life, the intellect, lineage, personal wealth, and individual honour for every human being, humbly accepting that our Salvation and Sanctification in this life and the Hereafter is solely by the Mercy and Grace of Allah, the Nurturer of all that exists.  This Middle Way has always existed, but it is often buried under the weeds of extremist paths some attempt to mask as Islam.  But like a new lotus flower it blossoms in every age out of the muck and mire of religiosity for the sake of those seeking a way to unearth the mine of Wisdom within their very souls.  As the most widely read poet in the English language and one of the greatest spiritual masters who ever walked the Earth, Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (q.s.), wrote, ‘The Middle Path is the way to wisdom.’

In sum, Islam, when understood and internalised from its pure and living Muhammady source, cannot be limited to one particular school of understanding or methodology.  Rather, it is truly universal, holistic, and comprehensive, and this is what the great awaited spiritual masters, Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.) and Jesus Christ (a.s.), and those connected with them will revive in the coming years.  May Allah Make us amongst those who prepare the people, time, and clime for them and are amongst their beloved companions and servants.  And Allah Knows best.”

Brother Timothy: Yes, but if many a’immah and other Muslim religious representatives are not spiritually mature, they will be limiting Islam to their own level of faith development which is equivalent to worshiping their self.  Those who ‘customise their religion’ are often spiritually mature enough to do so.  Though I would agree a rejection of institutional religion per se is not a guarantee of such maturity, it is more likely an example of stage 4 realisation of your own reflective spirituality for which you alone are accountable.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Are not all humans concerned with what other dress?  If I walk into a more secular based ‘spiritual’ meeting place wearing the clothes of institutionalised religion, would I not be judged?  If I walk to any formal engagement wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown, would I be taken seriously?  What we wear is an aspect of what we say about ourselves.  People judge us on the entire message we communicate not just the words we speak.  Clothing reveals so much about who we are, people are, therefore, making judgements on the message as a whole.  It is human nature to have differing believes and values and these are transmitted to a large extent through our clothes.

Brother Colin Turner: We should not be concerned with what others wear; only with what we wear, namely that it is respectable from the point of view of modesty.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: It is natural to be discern and judge others by what they do and say.  Clothing in a way bridges both action and speech.  To be unconcerned about others goes against our nature as social creatures.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) himself commented on the appearances of people, criticising some of their specific features.  I feel, in this day, we tend too much to live in our heads.  To paraphrase Goethe, the hardest thing to see is what is right in front of us.  Pay close attention to others and allow yourself to ‘feel’ your reaction to them.  Listen carefully and observe others.  Do you like this person?  We, by our nature, form opinions about others.  We have to learn to trust the natural intuition again.

Brother James Harris: This would be relevant: Please Leave Us Muslims Alone.

Brother Mingda Sun: Wonderful piece!  My favourite bit is towards the end: “I would advise the self-appointed ‘protectors’ to take a step back, and reflect on their actions.  Because if Islam does not advocate moral policing, who are the moral police policing and why?”

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: When the knowledge of the religion is inadequate, this is what happens.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: Which one is more pervasive: the groups that see the need to defend Islam or Muslims, or do the lay Muslims there continuously expect to be protected?  Consider this: Do Malays Expect to be Spoon-Fed until Eternity?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: We are having a serious problem in Malaysia, and to an extent, Singapore, where the state of religious discourse has been tied to the political status of the Malay community.  It is exclusivist and creates a barrier for rest of the ummah since it touts assimilation as part of unity.


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