In recent times I’ve contemplated what it means to identify yourself as a Muslim. Is there a bare minimum that one must adhere to in order to be within the fold of Islam. We know that the word Muslim describes an adherent to Islam. Islam meaning submission and Muslim meaning one who submits. But what exactly does it mean to submit to God? Specifically, what acts and beliefs must one hold to be considered fully Muslim. Is Shahadda enough? Following the 5 pillars? Is it only a label? Does one have to identify with the organized religion of Islam to be a Muslim?
The Shahadda is the declaration of faith, a statement that one believes in the existence of only one God and that Muhammad was his messenger. Is monotheism and the belief in the prophets, specifically Muhammad, enough? Does one have to believe in the hadith, or at least the one’s that the early collectors deemed sahih . Is that part of believing in the messenger? Is it enough to acknowledge that Muhammad brought the message of monotheism, or do you have to believe in the prophetic tradition, or at least the accounts that have been transmitted to us through time?
If find myself far outside of the orthodoxy. The proper way to eat or use the bathroom doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I don’t consider black dogs to be the devil. I don’t obey my husband or feel the need to find another female witness when signing a contract. I don’t believe non-Muslims will burn in hell simply for their belief system. I don’t believe the Quran is meant to be taken literally in many, many cases. I believe it is a text of divine origin, as are many. I don’t believe the prophet was infallible. I don’t believe the mandates found within the Quran and Sunnah are applicable to all people in all times.
And yet I still consider myself Muslim.
Islam has become a way to express my spirituality, but I don’t believe it is the only way. All of the organized religions have flaws and truth. Islam is no different but I do find a certain superiority in certain acts of Islamic worship. I find the salat to be a wholly appropriate and fitting way to ritually worship God. I also thoroughly respect the purity of the fast and the depletion of the self it inspires. Even ordinary Muslims can deprive themselves as a means of finding spiritual enlightenment, much in the way of the yogi’s and Buddhist monks. Naturally, the giving of charity, as is required of many belief systems, is a merciful and rightly guided way to live and share our earthly bounties. I do hope to make hajj one day.
So I’ve covered the basics. Am I still Muslim, despite that which I don’t believe?
The idea of submission does suggest something more than purely the act of believing. It connotes a yielding of something greater and more powerful than ourselves. It’s an understanding that our reality is molded and formed by something above and beyond our knowledge of existence.
But, does submission include the laws and seemingly endless rules that accompany the tradition? I find it frustrating that so much of what makes up Islam does not consist of ideas about God, so much as a code of living. However, in so many ways this code doesn’t serve to increase my God consciousness or even make my life any better.
If religion is supposed to be easy, why does it seem so hard?