I’m no stranger to contemplating the world (as well as what’s beyond it) and my faith and posting it on this page and there’s no doubt that those posts are how some people got here so I’ve decided to write this page in response to a tiny paragraph I once had on the homepage back when this blog was solely about social and interfaith issues and not my life all jumbled up. My little introduction read as followed:
“I prefer to call myself a Universalist since I don’t like labels and the close-mindedness that come with them, but my religious beliefs are primarily influenced by the Zaidiyyah thought within Shia Islam but with several other influences as well. More than anything I rely on my own ijtihad and independent reasoning in all matters and I’m quite liberal and include both religious and secular concepts of human rights and social justice into my personal philosophy. My faith is the center of my life and everything I do is motivated by the love I have for God and for humanity.”
I encourage you to read my Disclaimer On Religious Posts for more information on the content that is posted here. 🙂
A lot of people ask me why I call myself a Universalist Muslim since that’s not an actual denomination and not just a Muslim, but that’s precisely the reason why. In the beginning I did simply call myself Muslim but then I came faced with the “Are you a Sunni or a Shia?” question and answering simply “Muslim” didn’t seem to cut it. I use the word Universalist because it’s universal; it encompasses all. While that may be considered a label in itself, I would really hate to limit myself to only a single side of a very vast and diverse faith or discount different opinions just because they don’t come from my own school of thought.
In Islam we’re not supposed to be divided into sects but that’s the unfortunate reality of the Muslim community today. This group issues fatwas against that group, declares this group heretics and yet another group as non-Muslim. It’s all about legalism, literal interpretations and outdated traditions. How can we find wisdom for modern life in an ancient text? Where has the true spirit of Islam gone? It’s estimated that there are over a hundred different sects today, each believing that they follow the true teachings of Islam and the Quran.
“Well you’re obviously a Shia,” people say when they see my tattoos and my Imam Ali sword necklaces that I have in several different colors. And I would be lying if I said these people were wrong, because my primary influence is the Zaidiyyah school of thought on the Shia side. It’s very similar to the Hanafi school of thought on the Sunni side and you’ll see that throughout the pages of this blog I’ve quoted many Sunni scholars such as Tariq Ramadan and Ali Gomaa among many others because I still consider their opinions valid even if we don’t belong to the same school. An alternate or minority opinion doesn’t make it a bad one, and a different interpretation doesn’t make it a wrong one. That’s what I mean by embracing the universality of Islam and not just limiting myself to one “brand” of Islam, be it that my own definition of Zaidism may be too narrow.
Once I started exploring the various Muslim communities seeking to fuel that passionate fire that discovering Islam had ignited in me I felt considerably disappointed precisely because of those limits being imposed on me from different schools of thought I looked into. That kind of Islam wasn’t liberating the way reading the Quran was, it was more like being an oppressed caged animal. Well, I’m just going to be a Quranist, I thought to myself, discouraged that the flame inside of me was dying out. It’s by happenstance (well, probably fate actually) that I came across Imam Ali and the Zaidiyyah school of thought one day. It didn’t take long for me to feel that passionate fire again. I had at last found where I truly belonged.
I naturally gravitated towards this school because they believe in liberal and moderate teachings, they are modern, inclusive and ijtihad (independent reasoning) is of utmost importance. To me that resonated as being the true spirit of Islam, the same one that I fell in love with the first time I read the Quran. That doesn’t at all mean that other schools aren’t good because Islam loves diversity and inclusivity, plus who are we to judge others? Who are we to say that is person or that person is Muslim or not Muslim? My faith is very much still a work in progress and my mind is constantly open to accepting new opinions and changing my own. Faith is a lifelong walk with God and not just a single side of an issue.
I may have found a home with the Zaidis, but my definition of True Islam includes all people who consider themselves to be Muslim. A Muslim is a Muslim is a Muslim. Why not open your heart and your mind to the universality and totality of the true message of Islam?
Lastly, I feel that it’s important to mention that as much as my faith is a huge part of my life, this blog seeks only to represent my personal life and is not meant to preach to the world or convert masses of people. You’ll never find me imposing anything on you, but I fully plan on exercising my right to freely express myself and the things that are important to me and relevant in my life. My faith is one of those many things.