Q: Gurudev, Sometimes I feel like there is a conflict between being in The Art of Living and practicing Islam. Especially when I chant 'Shiva' or 'Ram'. Unfortunately, Islam has gained a bad reputation.
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See, you should know the history of Islam. How Islam was born, when it was written, and how it changed over period of time. What was said then and why; what is practical and what is not practical. In those days the women population was more, so a man was allowed to marry four women because the male population was very less. You don’t need to follow that today.
Similarly in those days, at a particular point, Mohammad said all the string instruments should be done away with; no music. There was a ban on music. But today, tell me of any one country where music is banned today; even Islamic countries? So the puritarian Muslims say, 'If you sing or if you dance this is haram, this is against Islam. You should never do that'. Second, Islam bans taking pictures of any human faces. It is haram in Islam. But tell me, how can you even make your passport without your picture being taken? It is impossible.
I was invited to Bahrain, the king of Bahrain had invited me as they had a conference in the palace. We had the top scholars of Islam there and when they were talking to me, they said it is prohibited to take pictures of the kaaba (black stone) when one goes for the haj pilgrimage. But today, people come with their cell phone and everybody is taking pictures. They are taking pictures of the kaaba stone and even themselves. That is why you will see, in Islam there are no human face sculptures at all. There are no sculptures, no photography, no paintings of anybody because it is prohibited in the puritarian Islam. But today, is it possible? Some Imams gave a fatwa against television. They said the devil has entered the television. You know, in a particular village in India, on one day, everybody was asked to dump their televisions. In one day 5,000 households brought their televisions and dumped it in a pit and stoned them saying this is all haram, because one is not allowed to see human faces and pictures.
So, what is Islam today, and what was the intended aim of Islam? They have grown so far apart. Islam says that all those who do not believe in my god are infidels, and infidels have no right to exist. This is what is happening with ISIS, this is the puritarian Islamists, the real Islam. They think that Sufis are bad because they adopt music, and they chant. When aSufi saint died, and a tomb was made, they said these tombs are un-Islamic. They say tombs have to be erased. They did the same to even Mohammad’s tomb because they said it is Un-Islamic. That is why the Shia sect has been declared un-Islamic because theShias honor these tombs.
So these ideological fights in Islam have caused so many problems. If you steal anything, according to Islam your hands should be cut off. Just imagine a child goes and steals something, you cut off his hand, is it practical today? Is it practical to cut off the hand of anybody? Should a child's hands be chopped off. Music should be done away with, no photography should be allowed; are these rules practical? There are diverse people everywhere, you have to adjust with everybody. The so-called puritarian Islam creates such conflicts with everybody.
There is another thought of Islam also, that which says that we have created many different tribes and different knowledge, and it is all to be honored. This is one thing said by the Prophet. So there is diversity in the world, honor the diversity. When you honor the diversity, you are not disregarding your faith.
Once in South Africa, one teacher was teaching a course. In our Sudarshan Kriya, we say 'Om'. One person said that he cannot chant 'Om' because it was against his religion. So the teacher said, 'Is your faith in your religion so weak that if you chant 'Om' you will lose your faith? I don’t think so. I can chant 'Hallelujah', or 'Allah-Hu-Akbar', or ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachami’, but I still maintain my faith. I still honor whatever faith I am in'. These words opened his eyes. Just by saying 'Om' you are not going to lose anything. In fact, you will gain.
In the same way, if you sing Christmas carols you are not converted immediately into Christians. God will not get angry with you because you are singing Christmas carols. If you sing bhajans God is not going to punish you. Shiva means what? That is which is so beautiful, which is so benevolent. The energy or the divinity which is so benevolent. Narayan means what? That energy which is present in all the nervous systems, in all of creation. Anything that sparkles in living beings is called Narayan. The word 'nervous system' comes from the Sanskrit word 'Nara', which also means 'human beings'. Narayan means that which is housed in the beautiful and amazing nervous system. Just imagine a human being without a nervous system, he will not be alive. It is because of your nervous system that you are able to express yourself. That energy which perceives and which expresses in the whole universe is Narayan.
So, singing songs in different languages of different traditions is not against any god or particular tradition. It is just the perception. This is how the fundamentalists train themselves and others. They tell you that if you chant some other God's name you become an infidel or something like that.
Today just before coming here I read about a suicide car bombing in Iraq. So many people died. Every day there are suicide bombings, every day there is violence in Pakistan, all in the name of peace. Islam means peace. Yet all that there is in the name of Islam is so much violence; unimaginable violence.
Yazidis in Iraq, they have been following a tradition from thousands of years, but now they are being tortured, killed and massacred and being told they are against Allah, against god. If god was against them he would have done something to them. God is all powerful, if he did not want them to live he would have extinguished them like dinosaurs. We don’t need to do that for god. Let god do his job, let us do our job. So much violence in the world in the name of religion is very unfortunate. That is why we need to break these barriers between religions.
In Islam there are some great things, like the belief that everybody is same. There are mass prayers – everybody prays together. Keep these great things and drop those other things which promote division, violence and superiority – that I am superior and everyone else is inferior. Those things should be done away with. And I tell you,there are a lot of enlightened Muslims. There are so many good Muslims on this planet, but just because of these few people and their fanaticism it has brought such a bad name to their religion today that is so unfortunate. The Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, never wore a burkha. She never even wore a hijab. She was given full rights. I think that later on the male dominated society somewhere snatched the rights of women. They don’t need to do that now.