Thursday, February 14, 2008

Attainable personal growth [thoughts on intellectual/spiritual develpment]

Every religious tradition has at least one shared commonality, despite the obvious and undeniable differences in theology, and that is ritual.For Muslims, it would be the communal prayers [Salaah], for Christians Choir singing in Church may serve this purpose, or a solemn reading of the Torah in the Jewish Synagogue. It can reasonably observed that all religions have at least the performance of a certain rite in common.

Ritual usually involved a group, in a religious place, a Mosque, Church, Temple, etc..where practitioners gather to perform these acts together. None can deny the power of such communal activity.

However, the presence of a building should not be an end goal, nor should the mere performance of ritual be seen as sufficient evidence to prove the "superiority" of one group over another! Group ritual worship that is devoid of thought, performed in a spirit of blind obedience, is actually quite useless.

The believer must be willing to always scrutinize their own ideology, values and surroundings. This is not rhetoric. This is accomplished by reading, study and the desire to take practical steps to learn and understand necessary information.

As an example of the problem facing the religious communities, I was recently invited to a local Mosque to conduct Arabic/Qur'an lessons. I arrived a bit early to prepare for the lesson, and while doing so I encountered two persons there at the Mosque for something else. I was told by one person in clear terms that if I was to be teaching there, I should "become a member". This person attempted to interrogate me as to what particular mosque I attend! Another person expressed interest in learning, but "only in my community"!

Putting aside the fact that I was asked by the Mosque staff to give these lessons, this attitude or mindset expressed in the incident reflects a horrible situation. From what I can tell, this is a good example of placing group sentiment above religious/spiritual interest. The Qur'an repeatedly gives quotations from its detractors, or the detractors of God's messengers as given in Quranic narratives, showing that this sort of problem has existed throughout human history. One such statement given by the detractors is that they "follow the ways of our fathers" [2:170].

For a Muslim, the issue of personal growth should be seen in the manner in which communal prayers are performed. The Muslim is to offer five daily obligatory [Fard] prayers. In Muslim societies, these prayers are done with a congregation in a Mosque. The Muslim also is obligated to offer congregational prayers, which is preceded by a sermon, in a Mosque on Fridays [Salaat-al -jumu'ah]. These prayers are conducted following the movements of the Imam, or prayer leader. Those following the Imam in the prayer have to listen to the Quranic texts he chooses to recite.

While this is very important, there is also the Nawaafil ["voluntary"] prayers, and the Sunnah prayers. These prayers are done alone, without a congregation. The one observing prayer can recite any text desired, and can do the prayers for whatever amount of time desired. This, in my view, is symbolic of the personal effort one must do in order to have any level of growth at all. It's a spiritual Jihad of great importance. Perhaps another analogy is that of schoolwork. The instructor tells the students to do such and such assignment, and read X amount of a certain book and understand its contents. However, if the student reads more and attempts to master all the texts related to the subject, undoubtedly the student will be successful in the subject, will master the subject, perhaps even greater than the teacher!

This article proposes the following steps in spiritual/intellectual evolution:

[A] Faith in God as the ultimate guide, as well as self-confidence.

[B] Accessing needed information wherever/whenever possible.

[C] Willingness to reject concepts, ideas or situations which clearly hinder happiness and growth.

[D] A consistent dedication to worship and supplication of God Almighty.

[E] Inquisitive mind, asking questions.

[F] Sincerity. This means being a serious student! As the Qur'an itself teaches, one cannot expect to gain from it while being insincere or flaky. [ Q 56:78]

[G] Discarding of bad habits and characteristics such as backbiting, Gossip, and hatred. This requires constant self-examination. For the Muslim, I would humbly recommend using the month of Ramadan to engage in this internal exam.

[H] Adoption of a moral base upon which one's spiritual experience can be constructed and eventually flourish. Some practical steps are given in the Qur'an 2:177, 17:23-39.

With the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise is due to God, the Cherisher and sustainer of the Worlds. The Compassionate,The Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. It is you we worship, and it is you we seek assistance from. Guide us on the straight path. The path of those on whom you have bestowed blessings, not that of those you are angered with, nor of those misled” [ Qur’an 1:1-7]