Secularism and Islam by Dilwar Hussain

To many people today Islam, of all the world faiths, is probably the least likely to declare itself compatible
with secularism. Yet a recent publication (British Secularism and Religion: Islam, Society and the State, 2011), that I helped to edit, argues that Islam can be read in precisely that way. In fact, secularism is very important for Muslims in the modern world, as it is the basis for equality, democracy, freedom, human rights and the autonomy of religion itself. These values have a strong resonance with my reading of Islam even though some conservative voices may disregard these as ‘western values.’

Historically, the Muslim world had a very positive relationship between scientific and rational inquiry on the one hand and religion on the other, creating significant innovations in science and mathematic. But while the Enlightenment and the exciting search for emancipation of the human spirit engendered important developments in Europe, intellectual stagnation settled in too much of the Muslim world causing it to lose that creative relationship with rationalism. From the late 19th century one could hear calls for renewed thinking (ijtihad) and reform (islah) in the Muslim world, a movement that only now seems to be gathering momentum.

With the purpose of furthering a conversation among Muslim communities, the basic argument of the above book is for a more nuanced approach to the secular; to move beyond polarised debates on the subject. It is important to distinguish between different forms of secularism: procedural and programmatic, i.e. structural pluralism, neutrality of the state and management of the public sphere-v– more ideological, anti-religious sentiment. The book argues that Muslims could embrace the former, while they may debate and dialogue with the latter.

As such, the British model of secularism (a pragmatic, weak form of establishment) is a good starting point for a democratic society, with a secular public culture that also has a space for faith. While there may be room for improvement of the ‘British model’, the American and French models (which are more secular in constitutional terms) show (differently) that the debate around religion in public life is not easy to resolve by mere constitutional separation.

Despite the fact that some Muslims advocate a return to the ‘Caliphate’, the current tide of public opinion in the Arab world, for example, shows that Muslim masses aspire to freedom and democracy in ways that were not recognised previously. (An argument against disregarding such values as ‘western’. Surely, these are now universal aspirations?) In the early 20th Century pre-occupation with the Caliphate, it was seen as a symbol of Muslim unity and its restoration as vital in defending Muslim interests and procuring justice in a post-colonial context. However, in reality, there has usually been a normative distinction (albeit in pre-modern settings) between the temporal, sovereign authority and institutions of religion in the Muslim world. The latter mainly advocating autonomy and resenting their co-option by the state whenever that did happen. If one adds to the mix, the immense disappointment of Muslims with the various national projects often couched (even if at times with little more than lip-service) in the name of Islam–Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan Afghanistan, etc., there is a growing recognition that a liberal, secular democracy is a good model for ensuring accountable, open, societies that can protect the rights of citizens, all citizens.

However, the story is more complex than that; an absence of religious rule (and ‘on paper’ separation of religion and state) doesn’t automatically imply genuine freedom and liberty, given the role of the military and authoritarian tendencies in many Muslim countries. Furthermore, ‘secularism’ in the Muslim world has, in the past, been associated with forced ‘westernisation’ (Turkey for example) and / or double standards (e.g. support for dictatorships). This means that Muslim publics are often very sceptical of the term ‘secularism’ (though as mentioned above, not necessarily the notion of separation).

While advocating secularism, I am not for the disappearance of religion. Rather, I see secularism as a good way of managing the public debate, especially where multiple religious, ideological and belief arguments may collide. So there is a conversation to be had about the extent, nature and mode of religious presence in the public sphere. Given the plural nature of that presence perhaps the Rawlsian notion of ‘public reason’, can help-especially in a culture of very low religious literacy? But it seems that we also
need to reach a point where (sensible and rationally argued) religious voices can begiven consideration and not automatically disregarded as ‘superstitious’.

The nuanced conversation and reform we are trying to nurture, on all sides, will need time; and yet it often seems like time is running out. But the process of reform cannot be forced, or enforced. For it to be an authentic voice, it needs to be organic. We can, however, catalyse that process by fostering education and critical thinking, by encouraging open, pluralistic and free spaces of debate and by encouraging people to dialogue in safe spaces so they can build meaningful relationships that cut through the polarised impasse of today.

Dilwar Hussain is Founding Chair of New Horizons in British Islam, a charity that works for reform in Muslim thought and practice; a Senior Programme Advisor to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue; a Research Fellow at the Lokahi Foundation; and an Associate of the Centre of Islamic Studies, Cambridge University.




The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zealot and host of Believer explores humanity’s quest to make sense of the divine, and sounds a call to embrace a deeper, more expansive understanding of God.

In Zealot, Reza Aslan replaced the staid, well-worn portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth with a startling new image of the man in all his contradictions. In his new book, Aslan takes on a subject even more immense: God, writ large.

In layered prose and with thoughtful, accessible scholarship, Aslan narrates the history of religion as one long and remarkably cohesive attempt to understand the divine by giving it human traits and emotions. According to Aslan, this innate desire to humanize God is hardwired in our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition. As Aslan writes, “Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves.”

But this projection is not without consequences. We bestow upon God not just all that is good in human nature—our compassion, our thirst for justice—but all that is bad in it: our greed, our bigotry, our penchant for violence. All these qualities inform our religions, cultures, and governments.

More than just a history of our understanding of God, this book is an attempt to get to the root of this humanizing impulse in order to develop a more universal spirituality. Whether you believe in one God, many gods, or no god at all, God: A Human History will challenge the way you think about the divine and its role in our everyday lives.

Photo: © Hilary Jones

Reza Aslan is an acclaimed writer and scholar of religions whose books include No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. He is also the author of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror (published in paperback as Beyond Fundamentalism), as well as the editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three sons.

Reza Aslan – Talk to Al Jazeera

Reza Aslan is an Iranian-American scholar of world religions and the author of several books on faith. His most recent book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”, is a best-seller — and controversial.

He sat down with Tony Harris to talk about how he became acquainted with the subject of his latest book, as well as converting from Islam to evangelical Christianity before returning to the religion of his birth.

The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Author)

The headlines are filled with the politics of Islam, but there is another side to the world’s fastest-growing religion. Sufism is the poetry and mysticism of Islam. This mystical movement from the early ninth century rejects worship motivated by the desire for heavenly reward or the fear of punishment, insisting rather on the love of God as the only valid form of adoration. Sufism has made significant contributions to Islamic civilization in music and philosophy, dance and literature. The Sufi poet Rumi is the bestselling poet in America. But in recent centuries Sufism has been a target for some extremist Islamic movements as well as many modernists. The Garden of Truth presents the beliefs and vision of the mystical heart of Islam, along with a history of Sufi saints and schools of thought.

In a world threatened by religious wars, depleting natural resources, a crumbling ecosystem, and alienation and isolation, what has happened to our humanity? Who are we and what are we doing here? The Sufi path offers a journey toward truth, to a knowledge that transcends our mundane concerns, selfish desires, and fears. In Sufism we find a wisdom that brings peace and a relationship with God that nurtures the best in us and in others.

Noted scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr helps you learn the secret wisdom tradition of Islam and enter what the ancient mystics call the “garden of truth.” Here, liberate your mind, experience peace, discover your purpose, fall in love with the Divine, and find your true, best self.

Photo by Ibrahim Kalin

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is university professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Author of over fifty books, Professor Nasr is a well-known and highly respected intellectual figure both in the West and in the Islamic world. Born in Tehran, raised from the age of twelve in the United States, and a graduate of MIT and Harvard University, Nasr is well qualified to explain Islam to a Western audience. He appears frequently on Meet the Press, as well as other national news shows.

Look Inside

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Sacred Silence in Sufism and the Vedanta

Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer: By Sarah Conover; Foreword By: Eboo Patel

In the pages of Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer, young readers will encounter a man very different from the figure often presented in Western popular culture. Drawing from biographies, the Quran, and hadith, Sarah Conover, co-author of Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs: A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents, relates the story of a radical prophet who challenged the rich and powerful, guided his community of followers through a dangerous time of persecution and exile, formed alliances with people of different beliefs, and preached “love for humanity what you love for yourself.”

Before he became one of the most venerated, and most misunderstood, religious leaders in history, Muhammad was an orphaned child and a shepherd….

Written for readers 12 and up, and with a foreword by Eboo Patel (founder of Interfaith Youth Core and a member of the President’s Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships), Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer will educate and inspire youth and adults of all faiths.

Spokane author and educator Sarah Conover’s inspiration for her books comes from her travels and a commitment to share with children and adults the richness of the world’s traditions of wisdom and spirituality.

As a teacher and public TV journalist, she has helped connect people of different cultures and has fostered open media.

Through her books, she engages children, young adults, educators, and parents to look beyond their own understandings of life so they consult and profit from the wisdom traditions of humankind.

After earning a master’s in fine arts and creative writing at Eastern Washington University in 1998 and a teaching certificate from Gonzaga University in 2000, she worked from 2001 to 2008 writing books and teaching honors humanities, American studies, radio journalism and a writers’ workshop at the West Valley School District.

Sarah grew up outside New York City, reared with her sister, Aileen, by an aunt after their parents and grandparents were lost in 1957 sailing off Key West when Sarah was 13 months old.

In her teens, she began exploring spiritual options outside her Presbyterian roots. She attended friends’ bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs and attended Catholic and Episcopal services.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in religious studies at the University of Colorado, she studied martial arts with an Aikido master in Japan. She sampled various churches as an adult while living in Northern California.

“I have been a seeker from the get go,” Sarah said.

Read an Excerpt

The number of Believers grew by a handful of converts each week. They called themselves Muhammad’s Companions. Through the revelations, God was their educator, their Rabb. Muhammad told them, “Seeking knowledge is the duty of every Believer. It will enable you to be your own friend in the desert, it will be your mainstay in solitude, your companion in loneliness, your guide to happiness, your sustainer in misery.”

Twice a day now, in the morning and in the evening, small groups met in secret for worship. Some walked in groups of two or three into the desert so they would not be seen; some met with Muhammad in the house of a Companion where a new revelation could be memorized and explained.

When Mecca slipped out of the sun’s grasp and stars freckled the eastern horizon, the first soft knock on a Companion’s door opened it just enough to let in a single person at a time. “As-salaam alaykum, peace be upon you,” said Ali, entering. He was Muhammad’s first cousin and one of the first Companions.

“Wa alaykum as-salaam, and with you also,” replied the host, smiling-this was the greeting of peace that Gabriel taught Muhammad. The last of a small group arriving for worship, Ali locked the door behind himself. In the wandering light of the courtyard, unseen and unheard from the street, Muhammad’s Companions formed lines and knelt on palm mats in order to pray.

Muhammad and Khadija needed to be watchful. The revelations would spin the world of the powerful in Mecca upside down. Not only had Muhammad declared a belief in one God-the statues at the Kaaba were nothing more than statues he said-but also the money from religious pilgrims for food, water, and housing while in Mecca kept the large and powerful Quraysh tribe, the guardians of the shrine, very rich.

Additionally, Muhammad taught that all people, wealthy or poor, were equal before God, “as equal as the teeth of a comb,” he said, and the rich had a duty to share their wealth with the poor. A revelation that would further upset the powerful stated that the oppressed must be freed: Women were men’s partners, not property; infant girls must not be killed; slaves must be able to earn their freedom.

Click here to browse inside.

Eboo Patel on Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer

Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) founder Eboo Patel talks about why Muhammad: The Story of a Prophet and Reformer is just the kind of rich literature he will share with his young Muslim sons and use in his work at IFYC–and why he’s not surprised that a Unitarian Universalist Association publisher, Skinner House Books, published such a wonderful book for fostering interfaith understanding.

Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the 99 Names of Allah by Wali Ali Meyer (Author) , Bilal Hyde (Author) , Faisal Muqaddam (Author) , Shabda Kahn (Author)

This book takes the reader into the heart of the mystery of the 99 sacred Names of Allah. It is a vehicle for understanding the infinite nature of God, and for discovering the divine potential in every soul. It is also a guidebook for progressing through the stages of the spiritual path and an instruction manual for teachers on how to work with students more wisely, as physicians of the heart.

In the process of this voyage to discovery, the reader is systematically exposed to the universal mysticism encoded in the Qur’an and in the classical Sufi traditions, as well as to a modern psychological approach that works with the 99 Names to achieve individuation and wholeness.

Shabda Kahn, a direct disciple of the American Sufi Master, Murshid Samuel Lewis, has been practicing Sufism since 1969 and since 2001, is the Pir (Spiritual Director) of the Sufi Ruhaniat International , the lineage tracing from Hazrat Inayat Khan and Murshid Samuel Lewis. He has studied and performed North Indian Classical Vocal Music under the guidance of the late Master Singer, Pandit Pran Nath, since 1972. He is also a disciple of the illustrious Tibetan Master, the 12th TaiSitu Rinpoche. Shabda leads retreats and camps in Sufism with an emphasis on the mysticism of breath; the science and art of wazifa and zikr; music; the walking meditations of Murshid Samuel Lewis and opening the heart . He brings compassion and humor in transmitting the rich lineage of Sufism.

Wali Ali Meyer was chosen, as the principal editor of Physicians of the Heart, to put the conversation of the four authors into a single voice.

In 1963 he was named the college newspaper editor of the year for his editorial stance against racial segregation while the Editor of the University of Alabama newspaper. He received his M.A. in Philosophy and Theology from Vanderbilt University. He went in search of the reality behind the academic words and became a student of the Sufi Master Samuel L. Lewis of San Francisco, lived with him as his assistant and esoteric secretary, and was initiated as a Sheikh by him in 1970.

Since that time he has edited for publication a number of Murshid Samuel Lewis’ works including The Jerusalem Trilogy ; and has written articles for books and publications. This includes a chapter in A Pearl in Wine, an anthology on Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was the first teacher to bring Sufism to the Western World more than 100 years ago. [SB1]

Wali Ali is the head of the Esoteric School of the Sufi Ruhaniat International, and the Spiritual Director of Khankah SAM, a residential community in San Francisco. He is one of the lead teachers in the Suluk Academy founded by Pir Zia Inayat Khan. Wali Ali has functioned as a guide for Sufi students for more than 40 years, and has formulated many systematic programs of spiritual study and practice. He has been a teacher of Sufism in workshops and seminars around the world.

Click here to browse inside.

Faisal Muqaddam ‘Enlightenment Happens In The Heart’ Interview by Iain McNay

Malala Yousafzai’s address to the UN

Malala Yousefzai, who was shot by Pakistani Taliban last year, addressed the UN Youth Assembly on her 16th birthday and called for improvements in global education.
The UN has declared her birthday, July 12, as “Malala Day”.

She started the speech with a prayer.
Some of history’s greatest statesmen have spoken there. Today, the Assembly listened spellbound to a 16-year-old schoolgirl.

Published on Jul 12, 2013

The full text: Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the UN General Assembly

Honourable UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon, respected president of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, honourable UN envoy for global education Mr Gordon Brown, respected elders and my dear brothers and sisters: Assalamu alaikum.

Today is it an honour for me to be speaking again after a long time. Being here with such honourable people is a great moment in my life and it is an honour for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto. I don’t know where to begin my speech. I don’t know what people would be expecting me to say, but first of all thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me. I have received thousands of good-wish cards and gifts from all over the world. Thank you to all of them. Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me. Thank you to my elders whose prayers strengthened me. I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and the staff of the hospitals in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government who have helped me to get better and recover my strength.

I fully support UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his Global Education First Initiative and the work of UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and the respectful president of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic. I thank them for the leadership they continue to give. They continue to inspire all of us to action. Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing: Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.

There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them. So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.

Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me.

Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear sisters and brothers, we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. This is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they kill female teachers. That is why they are blasting schools every day because they were and they are afraid of change and equality that we will bring to our society. And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist: “Why are the Taliban against education?”He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said: “A Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book.”

They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people’s heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefit. Pakistan is a peace-loving, democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. It is the duty and responsibility to get education for each child, that is what it says. Peace is a necessity for education. In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflicts stop children from going to schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many ways in many parts of the world.

In India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labour. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by extremism. Young girls have to do domestic child labour and are forced to get married at an early age. Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems, faced by both men and women.

Today, I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable.

We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education all over the world for every child. We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism and violence. To protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, colour, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.

Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty and injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of their schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright, peaceful future.

So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you.

Understanding Islam and Christianity Beliefs That Separate Us and How to Talk About Them ~ Josh McDowell & Jim Walker

Release Date: October 2013

For years, international apologist Josh McDowell has been alert to the challenge of Islam—and how Muslims’ objections to Christianity can raise deep doubts in believers’ minds. His recent on-the-ground research with Muslims in the Middle East has crystallized into this practical resource focusing on Jesus and the gospel. Aided by Islam expert Jim Walker, McDowell lays out the evidence on the crucial issues:

  • What kind of prophet was Jesus? Was he the Messiah?
  • “Son of God”? “Son of Man”? What’s that about?
  • How are God and Jesus related? Can they both be God?
  • The gospel—how could God dishonor his Son by letting him die horribly? What good did his death do?
  • Aren’t the Bible’s accounts of Jesus corrupt?

With all this, as well as backgrounder appendixes on the basics, believers will have authoritative evidence from Scripture and history to intelligently deal with Muslims’ questions about and challenges to Christianity.

Josh McDowell has been reaching the spiritually skeptical for more than five decades. Since beginning ministry in 1961, Josh has delivered more than 24,000 talks to over 10 million young people in 118 countries. He is the author or coauthor of 130 books, with over 51 million copies distributed worldwide, including Straight Talk with Your Kids About Sex, Experience Your Bible, Evidence for the Historical Jesus, More Than a Carpenter (over 15 million copies printed in 85 languages), and The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, recognized by World magazine as one of the twentieth century’s top 40 books. Josh continues to travel throughout the United States and countries around the world, helping young people and adults strengthen their faith and understanding of Scripture. Josh will tell you that his family is his ministry. He and his wife, Dottie, have been married for over 40 years and have four children and numerous grandchildren.

Jim Walker has been involved in Islamic ministry and research for over 20 years. He has led and taught numerous seminars for Christians interested in learning about Muslims’ faith.

Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet (Hardcover) – Deepak Chopra [updated June 13, 2013]

Product Description
Born into the factious world of war-torn Arabia, Muhammad’s life is a gripping and inspiring story of one man’s tireless fight for unity and peace. In a world where greed and injustice ruled, Muhammad created change by affecting hearts and minds. Just as the story of Jesus embodies the message of Christianity, Muhammad’s life reveals the core of Islam. Deepak Chopra shares the life of Muhammad as never before, putting his teachings in a new light. Following the historical record but offering a unique perspective, Chopra shows us why his teachings are more important now than ever before.

This title will be released on September 21, 2010.

Those interested can attend an evening lecture, Q & A and Book signing on Tuesday, September 21, 7-9pm at the New York Open Center. $35 ( Includes Book)

About the Author
Deepak Chopra is a world-renowned authority in the field of mind-body healing, a New York Times bestselling author, and the founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Heralded by Time as the “poet-prophet of alternative medicine,” he is also the host of the popular weekly Wellness Radio program on Sirius/XM Stars.

Click here to browse inside.

Deepak Chopra about his new novel on the life of Muhammad

Full interview with Alan Steinfeld and Deepak Chopra about his latest book Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet

The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad by Lesley Hazleton

The extraordinary life of the man who founded Islam, and the world he inhabited—and remade.

Muhammad’s was a life of almost unparalleled historical importance; yet for all the iconic power of his name, the intensely dramatic story of the prophet of Islam is not well known. In The First Muslim, Lesley Hazleton brings him vibrantly to life. Drawing on early eyewitness sources and on history, politics, religion, and psychology, she renders him as a man in full, in all his complexity and vitality.
Hazleton’s account follows the arc of Muhammad’s rise from powerlessness to power, from anonymity to renown, from insignificance to lasting significance. How did a child shunted to the margins end up revolutionizing his world? How did a merchant come to challenge the established order with a new vision of social justice? How did the pariah hounded out of Mecca turn exile into a new and victorious beginning? How did the outsider become the ultimate insider?
Impeccably researched and thrillingly readable, Hazleton’s narrative creates vivid insight into a man navigating between idealism and pragmatism, faith and politics, nonviolence and violence, rejection and acclaim. The First Muslim illuminates not only an immensely significant figure but his lastingly relevant legacy.

Lesley Hazleton reported on the Middle East from Jerusalem for more than a dozen years, and has written for Time, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other publications. Her last book, After the Prophet, was a finalist for the PEN-USA book Award. Hazleton lives in Seattle.

Lesley Hazleton: “Prophet Muhammad [s]: Where did Humanity Go Wrong?”

World renowned speaker Lesley Hazleton speaking at the Young Muslim Association’s annual Birth of the Holy Prophet [s] Celebration. She covers a range of topics focusing around Islam and Muslims in this age, including history and beliefs, media perceptions, to radicalization, and even insight into human nature. A must see!

The Fragrance of Faith: The Enlightened Heart of Islam by Jamal Rahman

In this heartfelt book, the essence of Islamic wisdom is shared with the reader through teaching stories, Rumi poetry, and sacred verses from the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of Muhammad). It expresses a deeply compassionate view of the world along with simple spiritual practices that have a profound effect on integrating this wisdom into everyday living.

On Transformation
(from The Fragrance of Faith, by Jamal Rahman)

The Qur’an was revealed over a period of twenty-three years. It was sent down, little by little, stage by stage, in order that it might “strengthen the heart.”

There is sacredness in the words “little by little.” God could have sent full-blown perfect beings, flying through the cosmos, to arrive here in one instant. Gradualness, it seems, is favored by that mysterious Intelligence.

The marvelous creation of a child takes nine months. A great task is often accomplished by a series of small acts. A skillful cook lets the pot boil slowly. Night by night the new moon gives a lesson in gradualness. The Qur’an says that “God only commands when willing anything is saying to it, ‘Be!’—and it is” [Surah Ya Sin 36:82]. But even the Universe took a few days to be in place! Gradualness, indeed, is a characteristic of the action of the Sustainer of the Universe.

Do your work of transformation little by little. Rumi says: “Little by little, wean yourself. This is the gist of what I have to say. From an embryo, whose nourishment comes through the blood, move to an infant drinking milk, to a child on solid food, to a searcher after wisdom, to a hunter of more invisible game.”

Grandfather said that by doing the work of inner growth, little by little you make progress, increment by increment and again, a big jump! The big jump happens because of the little-by-little application. It’s a law. Truly, it pays to persist, little by little.

Grandfather enjoyed telling the following story. The Mullah was enamored of Indian classical music. He eagerly sought out a teacher to take private lessons. “How much will it cost?” asked the Mullah.

“Three pieces of silver the first month and one piece of silver from the second month onward,” replied the teacher.

“Excellent!” replied the Mullah. “Sign me up from the second month!”

Spiritual Directors International learns from Jamal Rahman

Spiritual Directors International learns from Jamal Rahman, a Muslim Sufi, speaks about prayer, the Qur’an, and describes how spiritual teachers and spiritual directors in the Muslim tradition provide support for learning how to be at peace with yourself and offer service in the world. Jamal answers the question, How do I find a spiritual director? He is co-host of Interfaith Talk Radio, author of Out of Darkness into Light, and co-minister of Interfaith Community Church.

Irshad Manji on Allah, Liberty and Love

Irshad Manji, director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, talks to Timothy Garton Ash about her new book, Allah, Liberty and Love.

Irshad Manji – Confessions of a Muslim Dissident

Irshad Manji is the author of the controversial bestseller, “The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith”. [events] [glopubaffairs] [gspp] Credits: producers:UC Berkeley Educational Technology Services

Pure Consciousness

The Reality of Consciousness

The word “consciousness” comes from the Latin root scio, which means “to know.” Consequently, consciousness can be defined as that abstract and mysterious something that has the potential to know.

Without consciousness there would be no knowledge at all—whether philosophical, religious, or scientific. In other words, knowledge is structured in consciousness. This is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of common experience.

However, there are two different perspectives about the reality of consciousness, which amount to fundamentally different paradigms, or ways of thinking, about the world.

The objective paradigm, which provides the basis for modern scientific thinking, suggests that everything that exists, including all forms of consciousness, arise from complex interactions among fundamental fields of force and matter.

From this perspective, consciousness is nothing fundamental to nature. It is a mere epiphenomenon produced in the brains and nervous systems of biological organisms.

The subjective paradigm, which provides the basis for ancient spiritual thinking, presents a very different view. It suggests that everything that exists, including all forms of force and matter, arise from complex interactions among fundamental fields of consciousness. In this case, the brain must be viewed as product of consciousness, and not the other way around.

The Field of Pure Consciousness

In the ancient wisdom traditions, the fundamental fields of consciousness were called the gods, and the unity of these fields was called God, the Supreme Being. Alternately, in some traditions, the fundamental fields of consciousness were called selves, and the unity of these fields was called the Supreme Self.

In both cases, the Supreme Being or the Supreme Self was viewed as the ultimate origin of creation—the one thing from which everything originates.
The Supreme Being or Supreme Self can thus be equated with an unbounded and all-pervading field of pure consciousness, which operates non-locally on the basis of self-conception and free will choice.

The field of pure consciousness can be understood as the subjective essence of the unified field, which acts as the ultimate origin of creation. It not only acts as the origin of all individual thoughts, but also all of the forms and phenomena in nature.

In Sanskrit the word for pure consciousness is chit. The ancient Vedic texts tell us that pure consciousness is capable of knowing itself, by itself, through itself alone. without any dependence upon the empirical world, and that all subject-object relations arise as mere vibrations of consciousness.

“This duality, which consists of subject and object, is a mere vibration of consciousness. Pure consciousness is ultimately objectless; hence, it is declared to be eternally without relations.” (Mandukya Karika IV.72)

In Greek pure consciousness is denoted by the term nous, a term that is often translated as “intellect” or “intelligence” or “mind.” However, Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, born about 500 BC, defined this term as follows:

“All other things partake in a portion of everything, while nous is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone, itself by itself. For if it were not by itself, but were mixed with anything else, it would partake in all things if it were mixed with any…For it is the thinnest of all things and the purest, and it has all knowledge about everything and the greatest strength; and nous has power over all things, both greater and smaller, that have soul.” (Anaxagoras, DK B 12, trans. by J. Burnet)

That which is infinite, self-ruled, and mixed with nothing but itself, is none other than the field of pure consciousness. That field, which is the one eternal Self of all beings, is also the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Ruler, the Supreme Being, who acts as the ultimate origin of all things by merely knowing itself—that is, by merely vibrating within itself.

This is the essential teaching of the perennial wisdom, which has been bestowed upon mankind by the divine messengers since time immemorial.

Empirical Consciousness and Pure Consciousness

To more fully understand this teaching a distinction must be drawn between two different types of consciousness and two distinct types of knowledge, which can be called empirical and pure.

Empirical consciousness refers to the type of consciousness whose knowledge is born of empirical experience. This can be called empirical knowledge. It pertains to the phenomenal forms of created existence that abide within the physical Cosmos.

Pure consciousness refers to the type of consciousness whose knowledge is born from pure intuition. This can be called pure knowledge. It pertains to the non-phenomenal forms of uncreated existence that abide within the metaphysical Logos.

Whereas empirical consciousness depends upon the created existence of the physical Cosmos, pure consciousness does not. The field of pure consciousness has the potential to know itself, by itself, through itself alone, whether the physical Cosmos exists or not.

When pure consciousness knows itself in the absence of the physical Cosmos, it conceives itself as the metaphysical Logos—the imperishable field of pure knowledge that underlies all things in creation.

Human Consciousness and Divine Consciousness

Human consciousness is a manifestation of the field of pure consciousness. It is but an expression of universal divine consciousness. Prior to enlightenment, human consciousness is restricted to empirical consciousness and the forms of empirical knowledge that are born from it.

To obtain the state of pure consciousness, one must transcend the process of thinking. One must transcend the activity of the mind, body, and senses and experience the underlying basis of the mind.

This can be compared to a wave settling down on the ocean. In this analogy, the wave corresponds to a thought. When a wave settles down in the ocean, it expands and becomes indistinguishable from the ocean.

Similarly, when a thought settles down in the mind, it expands and becomes indistinguishable from the unbounded field of pure consciousness, which lies at the basis of the mind, and is infinite and eternal.

By experiencing the field of pure consciousness, directly and intuitively, without any active involvement on the part of the individual mind and intellect, one comes to know the one eternal Self—which is the very essence of God, the Supreme Being. The Scriptures thus state:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46.10)

This type of Self-knowledge, rooted in pure consciousness, is called gnosis. Those who obtain it more closely resemble immortal gods than mortal men. In this regard, the Hermetic sages declared:

“These men got a share of gnosis; they received nous, and so became complete men…these, my son, in comparison with the others, are as immortal gods to mortal men. They embrace in their own mind all things that are, the things on earth and the things in heaven, and even what is above heaven, if there is aught above heaven, and raising themselves to that height, they see the Good….Such, my son, is the work that mind does; it throws open the way to knowledge of things divine, and enables us to apprehend God.” (Corpus Hermeticum, translated by Walter Scott, Shambala, 1993, p. 151-3)

This type of all-embracing knowledge (gnosis), rooted in the experience of pure consciousness (nous), is required to make the journey back Home. It is required to obtain the mystical visions of the starry heavens, and of what lies above the heavens, deep in the bosom of the infinite.

Before one can even begin the journey, one must come to know the Self—the universal field of pure consciousness that lies at the basis of the individual mind. The Self is the one thing by knowing which everything else becomes known, because it is the universal Knower.

Hence, we should seek to know the Self—by transcending thought and becoming one with the field of pure consciousness. That is the Portal to worlds unknown, horizons unseen, and possibilities undreamt.

BY Robert E. Cox

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? ~ Miroslav Volf

Muslims and Christians can work together to depose dictators and assert the power of the people. We’ve seen it happen on the Tahrir Square in Cairo during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, with devout Muslims and Coptic Christians protesting side by side. But can Muslims and Christians work together to build a democratic society in which rights of all are respected, the rights of minority Coptic Christians no less than the rights of majority Muslims? They can, if they have a common set of fundamental values. But do they? They do, if they, both monotheists, have a common God.

Ever since 9/11, the most common question I am asked when I speak about these two religions is whether or not Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Muslims don’t push the question. But Christians do, vigorously — in Europe, Asia and Africa no less than in North America. Maybe that’s not surprising. In the manual of the terrorists who flew the planes on a suicidal mission it read: “Remember, this is a battle for the sake of God.” In the name of God and with expectations of glory in this world and rewards in the next, they killed themselves and thousands of innocent civilians. To many Christians it seems obvious that the God who spills the blood of the innocent and rewards suicidal missions with paradisiacal pleasures can’t be the God they worship.

The question, however, isn’t mainly about the terrorists and their God. It’s about Muslims generally. It draws its energy from a deep concern. To ask: “Do we have a common God?” is to worry: “Can we live together without bloodshed?” That’s why whether a given community worships the same god as another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one.

Here are the realities we all face:

* Christianity and Islam are today the most numerous and fastest growing religions globally. Together they encompass more than half of humanity. Consequence: both are here to stay.

* As a result of globalization, ours is an interconnected and interdependent world. Religions are intermingled within single states and across their boundaries. Consequence: Muslims and Christians will increasingly share common spaces.

* Since both religions are by their very nature “socially engaged” and since their followers mostly embrace democratic ideals, they will continue to push for their vision of the good life in the public square. Consequence: tensions between Muslims and Christians are unavoidable.

Growing, intertwined and assertive — communities of Muslims and Christians will live together. But can they live in peace building together a common future?

At the height of the Iraq War in 2004, influential TV evangelist and former U.S. presidential candidate Pat Robertson said: “The entire world is being convulsed by a religious struggle. The fight is not about money or territory; it is not about poverty versus wealth; it is not about ancient customs versus modernity. No. The struggle is whether Hubal, the Moon God of Mecca, known as Allah, is supreme, or whether the Judeo-Christian Jehovah God of the Bible is supreme.” Fighting words these are! Two supreme divine beings always means war.

The fact of the matter is this: fearful people bent on domination have created the contest for supremacy between Yahweh, the God of the Bible, and Allah, the God of the Quran. The two are one God, albeit differently understood. Arab Christians have for centuries worshiped God under the name “Allah.” Most Christians through the centuries, saints and teachers of undisputed orthodoxy, have believed that Muslims worship the same God as they do. They did so even in times of Muslim cultural ascendency and military conquests, when they represented a grave threat to Christianity in the whole of Europe.

After the fall of Constantinople (1453), the city named after the first Christian emperor and a seat of Christendom for more than 1,000 years, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, a towering intellect and an experienced church diplomat, affirmed unambiguously that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, albeit partly differently understood. Significantly, in response to the fall of Constantinople and the Muslim threat, Nicholas of Cusa advocated “conversation” rather than “crusade,” a strategy pursued doggedly though unsuccessfully by his friend, Pope Pius II. For Nicholas believed that war could never solve the issue between Christendom and Islam.

We live in a different world than Nicholas and Pius II did, but our options are roughly the same. We should resolutely follow Nicholas. The terrorists must be stopped. As to the 1.6 billion Muslims, with them we must build a common future, one based on equal dignity of each person, economic opportunity and justice for all and freedom to govern common affairs through democratic institutions. Muslims and Christians have a set of shared fundamental values that can guide such a vision partly because they have a common God.

On Feb. 18, during the “Day of Celebration,” Sheik al-Qaradawi — one of the most influential Muslim clerics in the world, exiled from Egypt since 1961 — addressed the crowd of over one million. He began by noting that he is discarding the customary opening “Oh, Muslims.” In favor of “Oh, Muslims and Copts.” He praised both for bringing about the revolution together. And he added, “I invite you to bow down in prayer together.” Such prayer, addressed to the common God in distinct ways, lies at the foundation of hope for a new Egypt.

Whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God is also the driving question for the relation between these two religions globally. Does the one God of Islam stand in contrast to the three-personal God of Christianity? Does the Muslim God issue fierce, unbending laws and demand submission, whereas the Christian God stands for love, equal dignity and the right of every individual to be different? Answer these questions the one way, and you have a justification for cultural and military wars. Answer them the other way, and you have a foundation for a shared future marked by peace rather than violence.

Miroslav Volf is the author of ‘Allah: A Christian Response’ (HarperOne; February 2011), the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School, and the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

The Hijra: Movement of God’s People ~ Omid Safi

The Islamic calendar does not begin with the year of Muhammad’s birth (as the Christian calendar begins with the birth of Christ), nor does it begin with the commencement of revelation to Muhammad. Rather, it begins with this purposeful move of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to what became known as Medina. This migration, the Muslim Exodus, established the model community under Muhammad’s rule and care. This was the emigration to Yathrib, the city that would be renamed Madina al-nabi (“the City of the Prophet”) and forever after known simply as Medina (“the City”).

Like much of the Prophet’s actions, this movement has been remembered both for itself, and also for the larger symbolism of the need to spiritually and politically move to a state of emancipation. There are other similar moves in other traditions, whether it is the Exodus of the Hebrews, or the Rastafarian tradition remembering, as Bob Marley put it, the Movement of Jah People. Muhammad’s migration to Medina would be known as the Hijra, and it is the quintessential marking point of Islamic history.

The context was urgent, and timely: The pagans of Mecca were stepping up their persecution of Muhammad and his followers. Whereas in the beginning of Muhammad’s prophetic career the persecution was directed at the marginalized members of the Prophet’s community, now there were clear indications that Muhammad’s own life was in grave danger. In fact, the Meccans were planning the imminent assassination of the Prophet. It was at this time that providential grace provided an opening: a community of people from Yathrib, a city two hundred miles away from Mecca came to Muhammad, offering their allegiance to him and asking him to come to their city to help them settle their tribal disputes. They had been long impressed by Muhammad’s qualities as the Amin (“the Trustworthy”) and saw him as having the Solomonic wisdom to arbitrate among them.

After Muhammad’s dear wife, Khadija, passed away, his two closest friends were Ali and Abu Bakr, a respected elder of the community. Both would play crucial roles in this migration. Muhammad had Ali assume the dangerous task of sleeping in his stead in his bed while the band of assassins waited outside the Prophet’s house. Muhammad covered Ali in his green shawl and had him repeat a verse of Surah Ya-Sin as protection. Meanwhile, Muhammad and Abu Bakr took to the road, heading toward Yathrib. Standing outside the city, Muhammad looked back lovingly on Mecca and said: “Of all God’s earth, you are the dearest place unto me, and the dearest unto God. Had not my people driven me out from you, I would not have left you.”

The Hijra was neither an abandonment of Mecca nor the forgetting of where one had come from. It was the determination to rise up from oppression, with the intention of returning eventually to redeem even the oppressor. This Muhammad would accomplish at the end of his life through his triumphant return home. But before he could liberate Mecca, he had to move to the city where the Muslim community would become established.

Muhammad and Abu Bakr eventually arrived in Yathrib and were received with joy and beautiful poetry composed in honor of the Prophet. Ali too would join them in a few days. It had taken him three full days to disperse all the goods that Muhammad’s enemies and others had entrusted him with, a further indication of the level of trust all had had in the very soul they were persecuting.

When Muhammad arrived in Medina, his address there was simple, and a reminder of the need to connect acts of worship with care for the poor:

O people, give unto one another greetings of Peace; feed food unto the hungry; honor the ties of kinship; pray in the hours when men sleep. Thus shall you enter Paradise in peace.

The first communal action in Medina was establishing the Mosque, truly the first Muslim mosque. Muhammad himself joined in the building task, and he was fond of reciting a line of poetry as he worked:

No life there is but the life of the Hereafter,
O God, have mercy on the Helpers and the Migrants.

One of the ways in which God’s mercy rained down on the Helpers (the Ansar, those from Medina who received the Prophet) and the Migrants (the Muhajirs, those who accompanied Muhammad from Mecca) was through a bond of brotherhood. Muhammad’s first declaration was to alter the social fabric of the Yathrib (now Medina) community. He had each member of the Helpers pair up with a member of the Migrants, establishing a bond of faith that bypassed, transcended and inverted tribal connections and socioeconomic class status. Muhammad’s own faith-brother would be none other than Ali.

In one of his first speeches, Muhammad preached the following sermon:

Praise belongs to God whom I praise and whose praise I implore. We take refuge in God from our own sins and from the evil of our acts. He whom God guides none can lead astray; and whom He leads astray none can guide. I testify that there is no God but He alone, and He is without comparison… Love what God loves. Love God with your hearts, and weary not of the word of God and its mention. Harden not your hearts from it… Love one another in the spirit of God. Verily God is angry when His covenant is broken. Peace be upon you.

This community was one based on faith in God and love for one another “in the spirit of God,” as this speech enjoined them to do. It was in Medina that the general moral outlines of Muhammad’s teachings became linked with a full set of ethical, legal and social injunctions. In Mecca, Muhammad received the Divine call that placed him in the footsteps of Abraham, and in the line of Biblical prophets. It was that purposeful movement from Mecca to Medina that established the Muslim community, one that would remain rooted in the spirit of God, carrying the fragrance of the Prophet.

As the Prophet moved from Mecca to Medina, Muslims today, and every day, hope to leave behind and beyond the state of injustice, heedlessness and tyranny, to move to the higher spiritual ground of a community rooted in the spirit of God and the love of one another, and then to come back to redeem that very state of tyranny and injustice. That is the loftiest way to remember and honor the movement of God’s people.

Omid Safi is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. The above essay draws on his newly published Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters (HarperOne).

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: