The Egyptian-Dutch author Nahed Selim is someone who criticises aspects of Islam and the Koran that no mere human is supposed to touch. In her book “The Prophet’s Wives”, she calls for a fresh interpretation of the holy scripture, in order to fully incorporate contemporary realities. Certain verses of the Koran are no longer regarded as valid and Selim argues that the same should apply to verses with a misogynistic message.
She compares it to the institution of slavery: “The Koran disapproves of slavery and strengthens the rights of the slave, but did not actually abolish slavery. Nowadays, no one demands the reintroduction of slavery just because it’s mentioned in the Koran. The same principle should apply to the situation of women”.
Without discounting Nahed Selim’s bravery or the merit in her intellectual argument, her critique is still operating from within the framework of a religious constitution, founded 1400 years ago in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, this is not a criticism of Islam itself, nor a look at the Muslim cosmology in terms of “right or wrong”. It is a contemplation from the perspective of transcendental wisdom, using as a reference the example, work and words of a Living Spiritual Adept, Sri YanchiGuruji.
The cosmology* of Islam (an Arabic word meaning surrender to God, or submission) is a human marvel, constructed to make sense out of life and create meaning, using a combination of scriptures and imagination together with establishing rules for life. These are much needed while we remain bewildered or fearful of the inevitable death of our body/minds.
In that sense, Islam is no different from any other cosmology/religion. It survived through many ages, shaped the lives of innumerable humans and has resulted in a myriad of both beautiful and brutal outward expressions. But the insight that every philosophy and all orthodox religious texts are a confession of our unhappiness, is part of the initial Study of Life, or Wisdom – – for the sake of living life from the point of view of expansion-into-the-unknown rather than a fitting-into framework- with-answers-and-behavioural-rules.
The Prophet Mohammed grew up in an era in which women were considered the lowest of the low. The hierarchy of power was divided as follows: 1) idol gods, 2) slave drivers, 3) big merchants, 4) jews, 5) camels, 6) men, 7) male slaves, 8) female slaves, 9) goats, 10) women. Baby girls were routinely murdered and Mohammed put a stop to it. He installed inheritance for women in a time when they didn’t have any economic power.
Mohammed also restored women back to equality by stating that in the relationship with God, men and women are equal. He was a visionary who helped improve conditions for his fellow human beings. However, in doing so he remained a messenger or “middle man” between God and others, perpetuating the presumption that God is “another” whom we need to somehow please.
This presumption prevents great self-responsibility, based on the tacit, intuitive understanding inherent in every human being, which is the basis of God- Realisation. To awaken humans to that great self-responsibility is a radical, revolutionary act. It is the work of living spiritual masters. As the Living Spiritual Adept Bhagavan Yanchiji explains:
“Ordinary life supports the religious god, the long-gone-dead god, the god in heaven, the creator god. Ordinary life does not allow You to be Divine. You are required to devote your energy and attention to the machine, to seeking, to methods, to all those conventionally socially acceptable things. Your Guru, yes, your Guru is allowed to be Divine. The president-priest, the political scientist and the master rabbi are allowed to say something.
In New Zealand, even an outstanding All Black footballer is also allowed to say something. And maybe a woman, once in a while, is allowed to say something. But overall what is expected of you is to be a good woman, be a good man. In the meantime, you are allowed to think about spiritual things and have all sorts of ideas about it – as long as it does not disturb the conventional order of things, as long as you do not start behaving in a most erratic and profound way. ”
Within the framework of every denomination, living spiritual adepts appear. They are human beings who transcend the circumstances they find themselves in and live God-realisation, often for the sake of awakening others to the same self-transcending process. Both men and women of this ilk also appear in Muslim societies. For example, Hazrat Babajan (pictured. B. 1806 – D. 1931), whose students, disciples and devotees recognized her as a Sat-Guru or Qutub. She seems to have been teaching mostly in the vein of silence, which was likely determined by the temperament of the people who sought her wisdom and guidance.
Another example is Mansur al-Hallaj, who was considered an anomaly even among Sufis**. While many Sufi masters felt it inappropriate to share mysticism with the masses, Mansur openly did so in his writings and through his teachings. He began to make enemies. Sometimes he would fall into trances and on one occasion he uttered: “I am The Truth”, which was taken as a claim to be God (“The Truth” is one of the 99 names of Allah). Another one of Mansur’s controversial statements was: “There is nothing wrapped in my turban but God, ” and sometimes he would point to his cloak and say, “There is nothing in my cloak but God.”
These utterances led to a long trial, followed by eleven years in a Baghdad prison. Mansur was publicly crucified on March 26, 922. His death has been described as a heroic act. When his hands were cut off he paints his face with his own blood, when asked why, he says: “I have lost a lot of blood, and I know my face has turned yellow, I don’t want to look pale-faced (as of fear)… .”
Male and female heroes of the true wisdom life are an inspiration for anyone intent on realising Life during their bodily lifetime. But without a Living Inspiration who may teach and “kick bums” and live natural and spontaneous realisation by example, people interpret any Religious Instruction to their own liking. And after a while, there are so many variations of the cosmology as there are individuals abiding by it. Rather than accepting and remaining with the understanding that everything is a mysterious mystery, and to make love and science and money and life out of that.
© Sitara Morgenster
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**) Sufism is an esoteric religious order within Islam, although Muslims may regard it as non-Muslim