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An Open Letter from Dr. Stephen G. Post to the Young Members of ISIS

May you find a higher calling than brutality and killing, for these are contrary to true Islam, to the very nature of Allah, and to the Holy Quran. While the Prophet Muhammad was among many things a brilliant military strategist, he was less interested in violence than in peace. The principles of “just war” found in the Shariah and Islamic traditions condemn the deaths of innocents and noncombatants, protect those who adhere to other religions, and reluctantly permit violence only as a last resort and with careful justification.

The world listens to the reports of your killing fellow Muslims who disagree with your brutal misinterpretation of noble Islam, of your mandates to Christians to deny their faith and convert to Islam or die, and of your extreme methods of slaughter. As one who has studied Islam with care over the years going back to the great Fazlur Rahman, I am saddened by distortions of Islam that create such a terrible impression of a great spiritual tradition. I took some time this weekend to review some wonderful books by three of the world’s leading Islamic scholars, all of whom argue persuasively that true Islam is a religion of love and peace, rather than of hatred and atrocity.

One book is by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the Sufi master, and is entitled The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002). In a magnificent chapter five, Compassion and Love, Peace and Beauty, he begins with these four passages:

  • “My Mercy and Compassion embrace all things.” Quran 7:156
  • “Those who believe and do good works, the Infinitely Good will appoint for them love.” Quran 19:96
  • “God is He than Whom there is no god, the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One, Peace.” Quran 59:23
  • “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” Hadith

This great Islamic mind shows how Divine Love is at the absolute center of the thought of the Prophet and in the holy words that he revealed.

A second book, by HRH Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad, with a “Foreword” by Dr. Nasr, is entitled Love in the Holy Quran (7th edition) (The Prince Ghazi Trust for Islamic Thought, 2011), which has been downloaded over 485,000 times on the internet. This book is a brilliant celebration of Divine Love in Islamic thought based entirely on the Quran, and it cites over one fifth of the Quran.

A third book is Professor William C. Chittick’s Divine Love: Islamic Literature and the Path to God (Yale University Press, 2013), also with a “Foreword” by Nasr. Dr. Chittick shows convincingly that the very heart of the Islamic tradition is Divine Love, and that no other concept captures the quest for transformation that lies at its center. Chittick bases his work on an extensive analysis of the Quran, and of classic Persian and Arabic texts from the beginning of Islam through the twelfth century.

This concept of Divine Love as the essence of Allah (God, Ultimate Reality, and the Holy) is common to all the great spiritual traditions. My colleague Jeff Levin and I edited a book entitled Divine Love: Perspectives from the World’s Religious Traditions (Templeton Press, 2010), with a “Foreword” by Dr. Nasr. We included a major contribution from scholars of Divine Love in Islam, African religions, Vedic Hindu Thought, Classical Judaism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, and others. One of my beloved professors at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Don S. Browning, who passed away several years ago, wrote a jacket comment for this collection: “These essays not only beautifully define divine love in each of the world religions – a gift in itself – but show why it is the answer to the crisis of modern life, an answer that secularism, fundamentalism, and the new therapeutic religions cannot themselves convey.”

This idea of Divine Love forms the core thinking of another mentor, John M. Templeton, who developed a branch of theology called “humility theology” largely in response to religious arrogance and the violence that it inspires. He wrote of spiritual and theological humility, of tolerance and appreciation between the religions, and of the Ultimate Reality of Pure Unlimited that underlies them all. He greatly appreciated the insights of Dr. Nasr, who he quotes. He thought that the single greatest obstacle to a new dawn of human creativity, prosperity, and spirituality is religious arrogance and related violence. He recommended a very friendly “Unlimited Love” competition between world religions, and he would have wished that young people like yourselves might participate.

Let us make no mistake about it: the extreme and unrestrained violence you perpetrate is a violation of the Prophet and his legacy, and of all spirituality East and West, North and South. If you do not recognize this now, you will do so later in life should you survive these early violent years.

Permit me to explain what all our great faith traditions have in common with Islam. What is the single idea that all belief systems, including Islam, have at their essence? According to what scholars the world over refer to as the Perennial Tradition, this single idea is that there is an Original Mind (known variously as Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being, Nous, God, Allah) that precedes all of the created matter, forces and laws of the universe. This Original Mind is completely nonmaterial, eternal, infinite, beyond time and space, and is the constantly sustaining source of all that exists in its underlying matrix energy of creative love. Anyone who has a hard time grasping the idea that a Divine Mind or “nous” precedes all matter (rather than being derived from it) might benefit from reading philosopher Thomas Nagel’s recent book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The Perennial Tradition clarifies that across all religions and spiritualities of lasting significance, each precious and unique human being includes within himself or herself a small drop of this Divine Mind that is not derived from matter, brain cells, or material of any kind. This is what we see referred to as “the soul,” “the inner light,” “atman,” “God within,” and “the image of God in each of us.” Now, this eternal spiritual aspect of the mind is not the naturally evolved mind but that part of the mind through which God connects with us by inspiration, revelation, and experiences of Divine Presence, usually in the form of Pure Unlimited Love that invades our consciousness and transforms our lives in the direction of healing and compassion. Because we have this small drop of the Eternal within us, we are to be honored and respected, and free from fear, coercion, and threat.

Why are we created? We exist as free extensions of God’s loving creativity and we experience joy in reuniting with God through prayer, meditation, and worship. Allah’s joy lies in seeing us extend this perfect Divine Love to all people without exception in every encounter and worldwide because we are each equally in God’s image. That we are all interlinked with the Divine Mind explains spiritual intuitions, premonitions, creative visions, and even underlies all ethics because at the level of spiritual mind we are One as well as individual, equal and of eternal value, and therefore worthy of love and respect.

The Perennial Tradition recognizes that this single essential truth is expressed in many different ways through various religions and spiritualities, and through various messengers. Dr. Nasr’s Islamic values of Compassion and Love, Peace and Beauty are grounded in the universal truth within all particular expressions. Moreover, the Perennialist understands that the greatest threat to world peace today is the religious arrogance that sets aside the universal message of Pure Unlimited Love for everyone in favor of an exclusionary limited love for some small fragment of humanity that demonizes and destroys all others as mere “infidels.”

One of my mentors asked “What is the Essence of Our Purpose in Life?” He answered, “Might a purpose of infinite intellect be to express itself in increasing varieties of lesser intellects? Is it possible that we may be here to become servants of creation or even helpers in divine creativity? Were human beings created to be agents of God’s accelerating creativity? Can humans discover larger fractions of infinite intellect?” Choose creation rather than destruction.

I know that this newsletter is read widely in the Middle East because I get emails from individuals in virtually every nation in that region, and our website analysis indicates this. Many of your fellow Muslims are very deeply concerned about you. Please know that Allah always accepts “U-turns” in our spiritual lives, especially when we give up violent arrogance for a celebration of our shared divine image. This will make you true Muslims.

There is a Hindustani word of greeting, “Namaste.” It means “I honor the divinity in you.” The divinity in your neighbor is the same as the divinity in you, and there is within each of you in ISIS a place of light, peace and of truth. I invite you to honor that place, and not let it be overwhelmed by hatred. Allah loves you without exception despite what you do. Iman Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, who is respected by Sunni and Shi’I, was one of the greatest of Muslim sages. He wrote something that I would prescribe for you members of ISIS and for everyone looking for meaning in life:
Your remedy is within you, but you do not sense it.
Your sickness is from you, but you do not perceive it.

Let me return now to Dr. Browning, who asserted that a deep spiritual awareness of Divine Love is “the answer to the crisis of modern life, an answer that secularism, fundamentalism, and the new therapeutic religions cannot themselves convey.” I pray that any ISIS members will one day become aware of Unlimited Love as Ultimate Reality, and creatively rejoice in it. This is the core Islamic idea. May the love of Allah invade and surround each of you, uplifting your spiritual minds, healing your emotions and bodies, and calling you to higher purposes than wanton killing.

Stephen G. Post, PhD
Sunday, August 10, 2014