Ramadan 2018 has begun, according to the way it is calculated today. It starts this year at Golden Egg 26, the Day of Shaolin (Action Meditation) and will end on White Horse 13, the Day of God. May it be a blessed time for all Muslims and an inspiration to the entire world to bring us into greater holiness and reverence for Allah.

Although I am a baptized and confirmed Roman Catholic and haven’t proclaimed a public Testimony of Faith (Shahada) — that’s the usual way one is said to have converted to Islam — I am walking a path alongside of Islam in my own interspiritual journey.

I believe that God spoke through the Prophet Muhammad and that the Koran is a holy book with unique and indispensable spiritual gifts. Regrettably, many Muslims would say that that isn’t enough to be Islamic; they would say I need to hold a fundamentalist interpretation of the Book, which I cannot do.

I believe that the Judgment Day (Resurrection Day) is an eschatological reality in the past, present, and future, and that we are co-participants in the Judgment process. But some Muslims would say that I have to think of it as strictly a future event, which I cannot do.

I believe in the prophets that God sent — as testified by the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Koran, and other works of sacred literature, each offering uniquely valuable insights like puzzle-pieces without which the entire puzzle cannot be assembled — and I believe in God’s angels, a few of whom have spoken to me and forged relationships with me. But I can’t believe that the Abrahamic Traditions have a monopoly on God’s holy servants, saints, seers, sages, and revealers of wisdom. That just isn’t true.

I call myself an “Integralist”, but that’s not a religion. It’s an interspiritual way of appropriating religious ideas and practices from more than one tradition in an intellectually rigorous way so that it’s not merely “picking and choosing” what to believe in a manner that can easily become a narcissistic and haphazard hodge-podge. Islam is one of the spiritual traditions that I befriend and which mentors my soul and spirit, but it’s not the only one.

I won’t pick and choose favorites from among the Great Traditions either, saying that one and only one is my favorite. I think my work in the world demands a certain degree of impartiality and objectivity that would make such favoritism regrettable. But that’s just my vocation, as I see it. It’s not an approach that will work for most people.

I believe that the theological distinction between monotheism and polytheism is one which can be resolved in a manner satisfactory with the dictates of the Abrahamic faiths through a deeper and very “catholic” understanding that the (holy) Spirit is working through the diversity of the many religions and secular orientations. I believe idolatry is not the practice of using a Divine Name that differs from the Divine Names that I choose to use; I believe idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone that distorts our relationship to the whole of Reality.

Good people can agree or disagree regarding whether what I have said makes me “truly Muslim” or not. Rather than debate with them at a time when the most powerful influences in Islam today come from fundamentalist and traditionalist worshipers, I simply choose not to debate about it.

Joe Perez
Joe Perez

If I sometimes wear a kufi, it’s not because I want to appropriate something that doesn’t belong to me. The kufi, after all, is a sort of cap worn not only among some Muslims but also in the African world as well by people of diverse cultures. Wearing it on occasion helps to connect me to the Divine Name of Allah and the sacred experiences that I have had as I struggled to understand God’s mysterious ways. The kufi is an interspiritual symbol to me.

Call me an interspiritual practitioner or a translineage mystic. Call me an Integralist. If the way that I honor God and the traditions of Islam pleases some Muslims, I would be honored to hear of it, but I don’t require their approval to see God manifest in the words of Muhammad or the Sufis or Islamic faith.

Famously, Mahatma Gandhi once said when asked if he was a Hindu, “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.”

I honor him for the depths of his appropriation of these faiths and am certain that he did so from a genuine and beautiful spiritual realization of wholeness. He was a model for many people on the way to becoming global citizens and opening their eyes up to the possibility of a spiritual unity contained within the plurality of apparent differences.

At the same time, it is not a stance that many people can take with 100% conviction and sincerity, and personally I don’t claim to. I am on a walk with the Great Traditions, and personally I feel degrees of attraction and difference from each of them, and could not imagine my life as complete without the wisdom I have gained from several of them, or the wounds some of them have inflicted upon my soul … as well as the indigenous spirituality of my Mesoamerican ancestors. (I am about one-third Native American in ancestry.)

I am at a place today where I want to respect BOTH my deeply felt impulses to include and transcend. Ironically, the way I see it, one historical figure who modeled this attitude very clearly was the Prophet Muhammad himself — praise be His Name — who appropriated the entirety of the Abrahamic Tradition as he knew it alongside some outside elements of language and cultural traditions and brought them all — praise be to Allah — into a holy and integrative synthesis.

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