As a physiotherapist and wellness coach I have come to understand that everything is connected. Our body, mind, and soul. Our human experience with each other, and our ability to thrive is intrinsically linked to our natural world. It is only natural that our spiritual frameworks are also linked.
There is a beautiful, wondrous, thread that intertwines spiritual faiths. Imagine a world where three of the worlds major religious groups came to a universal understanding they are ALL cut from the same cloth. Our religious leaders need to be working on creating a more global community with a desire for compassion, sense of curiosity, and understanding that God is for all and works through us all no matter what religious brand we represent or how we define God. Curiosity prevents our minds becoming to fixated, and allows the ability to see things from other points of view.
We need to look first for commonality rather than focus on what divides us. It is an act of human hubris to put the creator of the universe into a definitional box. It is a violation of the expansive "amazingness" to treat God in these narrow ways. Its fundamental that we have one God (loving force, spirit, creator) but all have different paths towards; that we have different expressions of. In every tradition and religion there are different branches within the many groups. The ways that groups make sense of this loving force is different but the force is the same. There are many similarities between Islam and Christianity - Jesus, Mary, and the angel Gabriel are all prominent in the Quran. In fact Mary ("Maryam" in Arabic) has an entire chapter in the Quran and is the only women to be mentioned by name in the entire Quran. Allah refers to the same God of Moses, Abraham, and Mohammad. Muslims call on the same God as Christians and Jews. The Quran talks about speaking to the "people of the book" - this includes all of humanity. Many now understand that the Abrahamic root is the same for followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
I am constantly dismayed by the representation of Islam by the western media. Creating a sense of fear, and division helps self and tribal definition by very negative pathways. I have even heard a Christian pastor "preach" on the evils of Islam. It's often portrayed that Islam oppresses women and is responsible for most of the terror attacks. It's a larger media driven narrative that Islam creates destruction and regression. It has to be remembered that Islam is a 1400 year old religion with peace, and looking after the poor (Zakat - paying charity to benefit the vulnerable in society) as central pillars. Followers of Islam also revere Jesus ("Isa" in Arabic) as a holy prophet. The University of Karueein was the first university in the world. It was founded in 859 AD in Fez, Morocco by a muslim women Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya. The largest muslim country (Indonesia) has elected two women prime ministers. Some of the greatest women scholars have come from the Islam world. When terror attacks are mentioned in the media the first thought that enters most peoples mind is Muslim. Out of the 136 terror attacks in the U.S over a span of 10 years (2006-2015) Muslims committed around 12% of the attacks, yet received over 50% of the news coverage.
Islam has a very clear social justice mission. At it's core it's a liberation theology. It has held appeal to many of the great civil rights leaders and activists. It's very anti racist. The last sermon of the prophet Mohammad - the second sentence of the sermon stated there is NO superiority of a white man over a black man, or an Arab over a non- Arab. There is an over riding tradition of treating people with dignity, honour, compassion, and love even if they don't belong to your faith or way of thinking about spiritual matters. With Judaism, Christianity and Islam there is commonality in the old testament prophets who stood against injustice. People from Christian and Islamic backgrounds have Jesus Christ as common ground. The prophet and/or (I respect the Islamic view on Jesus - peace be upon him) the Son of God lived a life of simplicity, non-violence, and championed the most vulnerable. Jesus was Gods "incarnation" (embodying in the flesh a deity, or spirit) in the world. God used Jesus to be present and act on earth with his will. Gods incarnation happens with each one of us. We all have the power of God in us. We can't lose it. It's an inconvenient truth that God is in everyone because we don't like everyone. We are called to love God and love our neighbour which is one and the same.
Most religious groups over time have focused on differences and not commonalities due to human nature - it's in our nature to define ourselves by comparison to others and look at what they are not. This is NOT a mature way of doing it. There are 100's of different Christian denominations, major branches of Islam (Sunni, Shia, Kharijite, and sub denominations), and several branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, reform, and other sub streams) Often a Church, Temple, or Synagogue splits due to someone thinking "they know whats right" and the others "do not know". People believe their groups interpretation of the scriptures is correct and the other groups are wrong.
As I was bought up in the Christian faith I can only personally comment on Christian splits. Over my life time I have seen people leave churches for ridiculous reasons (having a women deacon for example) that is based on interpretation of theology that's NOT based in the gospels. Jesus was radically inclusive and caused consternation with the religious leaders of the time. So when groups break apart due to being unable to agree on certain ideals they are going against what is central to Jesus - he stood for sitting with division and discomfort as that is what creates growth towards an attitude of commonality. We can't start off with the premise that we have to agree on everything. God is ALWAYS bigger than everything we try to understand. To try and take into account differences of opinion helps shape us over time. To surround yourself with people that think the same, act the same, and want to fit in with the group creates comfort and a stagnant state of being. No growth occurs in comfort. To presume that we have "figured out God" and that definition fits in our comfortable little box is farcical and against the very nature of God himself.
We need to treasure difference and distinctiveness while searching for commonality across groups. We have to affirm difference without letting that drift into hostility.
In Islam there are different layers of brotherhood. First there is the brother and sisterhood of Adam - a universal togetherness. Then there is the Abrahamic layer, another distinction. Those that claim the father Abraham (As my Sunday school songs stated - he had many sons). Then there are those that follow Jesus Christ, and lastly there is Mohammad followers - both of these prophets represented the same God. Different religious groupings have the same origin or root beginnings and if you look deep enough there is commonality between ALL. There is a verse in the Quran that states "We have honoured and dignified the sons of Adam." (Verse 17:70) The children of Adam are to be dignified - EVERYONE needs to be treated with dignity. Can we say that our actions are based in this universal rule? We need to start treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated. It doesn't matter if you pray facing a particular direction, wearing particular headgear, or through a particular spiritual leader of your particular tribe - what matters is what is in your heart and how you act towards your fellow human's. More reverence needs to be placed on love as an action rather than religious protocol.
When political agenda is in play, division is the tool used to distract us from focusing on whats keeping society down. This makes it very easy to point to someone who is different to you, and blame them for your difficulties. They are the problem NOT me - so if we get that problem sorted then everything will be OK. This is a comfortable way of thinking as it means we don't have the discomfort of looking at our own short comings and making sometimes painful changes. Sectarianism and division thrives during times of trouble as does the requirement for community, compassion, and the looking for commonality. Extremist groups of different flavour's all benefit due to the idea that civilisation is in constant strife, and different groups are not getting along.
Differences are thought to be problematic and many want to distill things down so we can be the same. Striving for the lowest common denominator limits of ability to fully understand each other. We need to be working with differences and seeking to understand them. A lack of understanding causes distrust and intolerance. Disagreement can be a healthy engine when part of a healthy society. Deep conversation that creates disagreement should be treasured as a chance to clarify positions and understand other points of view. When used correctly disagreement can be used to develop empathy. Don't be afraid of disagreement as it allows us to grow together as a cohesive society.
"You shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Recognising the divinity of the other is at the core of the Jewish covenant with God. Wouldn't it be incredible to have more healthy examples of Jews and Arabs living together in harmony. After all brothers and cousins should get along. Both groups have interwoven histories, beliefs, even blood. Showing the world that thousands of years of division and hatred can be turned into unity and love would be a hopeful beacon to the world rather than the first point of EVERY argument against organised religion and God.
There has been a sanitising of the great prophets to make their message more palatable to a society that likes to be comfortable. Jesus was a man, the son of God, or a divine prophet (your definition does not deter from the overarching message) who was radically committed to social justice; as was Moses and the old testament prophets who raged against the growing gap between the ruling elite and the poor. There was the example of turning the other cheek, but there was also righteous anger against injustice. The prophets did not take a passive view to social justice - they were not just people of faith - they had deeds to back up the talk. They were NEVER popular with power structures of their time.
Imagine a world where followers of God/Yahweh/Allah looked for what unites, rather than what divides. Imagine if there was more than tolerance but a desire to live and work together so that all thrived. Imagine if all treated land as stewards for the next generations to come rather than fencing off and defending with military force to the detriment of our brothers and sisters across the border. Imagine if we didn't take the advice of the ruling elite to hate and "wipe them out" and tried to build meaningful relationships instead? The prophets we all revere were not popular with the power structures. Rather than waiting for peace in the next life how about using your God given attributes to pivot towards peace in this life? Lets ALL start to build heaven/paradise/shamayim on earth NOW.
Written by Brad Dixon, a physiotherapist, coach, athlete and environmentalist who has NO religious qualifications whatsoever
My book 'Holistic Human - Expansive Wellness Habits for thriving humans on a healthy planet' has a chapter on SPIRITUALITY. It is available through my site for NZ and Australia https://everfit.co.nz/Store/holistic-human-book