Islam: The Religion


Hello, could you please explain why it seems many Muslims have a negative viewpoint for almost all who don't follow Islam? What is the spiritual significance of burqa? Why is it that I don't see any spiritual organizations in Muslim countries except those that preach Islam?

—Petals, Spain


Dear Petals,

I can appreciate your frustration and point of view. I’d like to begin with an excerpt from Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter 36, “Babaji’s Interest in the West.” In this excerpt, Swami Sri Yukteswar attends one of India’s largest spiritual gatherings during which he finds himself disillusioned by the seeming superficiality of the circus-like gathering.  He meets for the first time the incomparable sage, Babaji. Sri Yukteswar is asked by Babaji:

“‘What do you think of the Kumbha Mela?’
“‘I was greatly disappointed, sir.’ I added hastily, ‘Up until the time I met you. Somehow saints and this commotion don’t seem to belong together.’
“‘Child,’ the master said, though apparently I was nearly twice his own age, ‘for the faults of the many, judge not the whole. Everything on earth is of mixed character, like a mingling of sand and sugar. Be like the wise ant which seizes only the sugar, and leaves the sand untouched. Though many sadhus here still wander in delusion, yet the mela is blessed by a few men of God-realization.'”

Petals, thus it is also with religion: much bigotry and worse has been committed in the name of religion. Yet have there not also been great saints in every religion (including Islam)? Do all Muslims have a negative view of other religions? No, certainly that is NOT true! I know this from personal experience. Have not Christians, even Popes, manipulated the Bible to justify conquest and butchery–the infamous and so-called Spanish Inquisition, for example?

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was rare to find any other faith traditions existing amidst so-called Christian countries. Look at the Christian persecution of Jews, e.g., over many centuries? Paramhansa Yogananda came from India to America in 1920. He experienced a great deal of prejudice. He said, “You think Hindus are heathens, but you don’t know what they call you” (in fact, “heathens”)!

In all faith traditions in former centuries, women were expected to “cover” themselves in various ways. Even in MY lifetime, there was a time when women were expected to cover their heads with scarfs whenever they came to church (Catholic). So these traditions have existed in other faiths, too.

It may well be fair, however, to say that Islam is somewhat less integrated into world society compared to Christianity. But let’s face it, Christian countries conquered the rest of the non-Christian world: Conquered, exploited, and virtually enslaved! Not only, therefore, have Christians had greater exposure to other faiths and cultures but their very conquest of especially the Islamic countries has generated a strong negative reaction from those countries to such a degree that many of them (but not all!) have withdrawn into a shell of self-protectiveness.

I urge you to be more understanding and compassionate of your Islamic brothers and sisters. Their cultures are going through a very difficult time and western reaction to their anger and hurt and militarism is, while understandable, not helping. Oh, would it have been possible to reach out in friendship and giving! But the karma of nations, faiths, and cultures is such that the old ways and new ways of understanding are pitted one against the other.

Being from Spain, you are steeped in a long cultural tradition of warfare and strife where the boundaries between Islam and Christianity ebbed and flowed across the Spanish plains over the centuries. The tension between these two faiths are deeply rooted, though we are entering into a new era where we must at least try to understand one another from another and new level of wisdom and compassion.

May I make a suggestion? Why don’t you visit a nearby mosque or Islamic center? Introduce yourself and ask to talk to someone who might respond to your concerns.

A dear friend of mine is a Sufi priest and a strong advocate of interfaith harmony: Imam Jamal Rahman (from Seattle). He has written many books. He was inspired to interfaith work as a result of the destruction of the twin towers in New York City, September 11, 2001. Perhaps he, too, might offer some insight.

Finally, Christians say, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” Let us not fall into the ditch of bigotry, for are we not all God’s children, slowly wending our way toward wisdom?

Blessings and Joy to You!

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA