I don’t claim to know the answer to these questions.
But, maybe creating a distinction between both could make this very complex and vague picture a bit clearer. One way to define the difference is to say, “Religion is the belief in someone else’s experience; spirituality is having your own.”
Religion, as we observe it today, is all about the decisions of the institution. There is always a higher body that decides what is right and wrong. Of course, in a vast religion like Islam there are several higher bodies, whether in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Iran, which means they are more likely to disagree than agree. The same applies for churches that still hold on to centralized systems like that of the Catholic Church.
Muslims tend to believe in the institution of religion more than religion itself. They are more likely to believe what their imam/mullah is telling them, and sometimes they even approach the ones who would give them the answers they want to hear. It resonates a lot with the same dilemma that Western Christianity had to deal with during the dark ages in Europe.
This system of interdependence has turned many to follow the European and American lifestyles which totally abandon what they believe to be a broken system.
But the main questions that comes to mind, whenever we are faced with suffering, dilemmas or questions of our existence: Are the common sense and the power of the mind enough to find the answers? Did Europe and America find their salvation in capitalism, for example?
Institutions, especially the big ones, are all about politics. The desires of the individuals will always clash with the need to develop and go forward. I’m still fascinated by the fact that in all the major religions in the world, you will never find any woman reaching a high position. Why?!
The reason the Catholic institution lost a lot of power was not because Martin Luther was an influential man. We could even say he was part of the extreme right, a “salafi” in today’s Islamic terminology. But his thoughts of abandoning the absolute power of the pope synced deeply with the desires of England and France at the time.
We probably had many Martin Luther(s) in Islam, and even more open minded ones, but the political situation was never in favour of their success. The emergence of the petro-dollar created a central form of religion decided by those in power, unlike the openness we once had with the different schools of thought in the Islamic tradition (Shafi, Maliki, Hanbali and Hanafi). Today however, if someone has other views than the centralized ones we totally abandon him/her, loath them and in many cases kill them!
This has deeply influenced our inability to accept the “other” opinion. We have been taught in both the educational and religious institutions in the Arab countries that the “other is ALWAYS wrong, and what we see today is the result of these teachings!
So, how can we find salvation on an individual level?
If we consider the definition of spirituality as forming your own belief system, then the Quran clearly distinguishes between the Believer and the Muslim.
The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not yet believed,” but say instead, “We have submitted,” for faith has not yet entered your hearts. Quran 49:14
The believer creates his/her own belief system on issues of God and the purpose of life. You cannot be a true believer if you are a follower, because you are simply following the rules of other humans, not the divine! When the test of patience or suffering knocks your door, you’ll be the first to doubt all of your beliefs.
Humans, as we discussed earlier, are driven by politics and the benefits of the immortal lives. Just because they have devoted their lives to any religious institution doesn’t mean they are incorruptible. It actually implies the extreme opposite in most cases.
A path of self-belief and the creation of a system that accepts the power of God, with the realization of the limits of man, is not an easy task. However, the path has never been clearer in the world of chaos we live in today.
Those who believe they were saved simply for being born into a certain religion (whether Muslims, Christians or Jews) are dangerously delusional. There are many paths up the mountain, and the institutionalized Islam today is not leading anywhere. It’s not about believing in God any longer, but about following the institutional form. The path is not about seeking the spirit of Islam, but about the political powers and their aspirations.
And those who say that God will always protect their house fail to realize that it’s already gone! You cannot even see the Ka’aba in the middle of the huge structures surrounding it. They are luxurious hotels and towers built on the resources of the petro-dollar itself.
Next time, when you apply for your Hajj, you could choose between Hajj Standard or Hajj Extra! Is this what you expect spirituality to be like?
Do you think I’m sounding like an “infidel” just because I’m speaking my mind?
Good! That means you are angry, and maybe thinking, for once! Thinking is not favourable among such deeply-rooted institutions.
* Ahmad Damen is a musician, soundtrack composer and an award-winning film director from Ramallah, Palestine.