MUSLIM WITH A SMALL ‘M’
“In 1985, I first went to the U.K. to do my diploma. And after the diploma I did my degree. England was always depicted for us as Victorian England but also there was a lot of demonization of the West and the people, their ethics, their values. But when I went there, I was received very well by the family that I befriended, by people of the church, my neighbors. So, I started questioning the epistemological base that I was given. I explored Christianity, I explored Judaism, I explored Islam from a different perspective altogether. Then I realized that God is much greater than all these three; and He can’t be confined in one of these three. I decided then that Islam was perhaps the most appropriate faith, or course, to pursue. But I should, you know, exploit every opportunity to deal with the other manifestations of God; all the ways to God.
I had a lovely garden in the house I was in, in Darby. I was just looking after the house, doing the chores, and thinking. Then I went back to my room and I prayed. And I started thinking about the question, ‘To whom does God belong? Am I on the right track? Am I on the wrong track?’
And then I realized God is more merciful than just to think about Him in terms of Hell, in terms of Heaven. He is much greater than anything that we can think of. And I felt that there is a sense of peace, and also light, that came unto me. I can’t describe the moment, but it was a resurrection perhaps. It was a moment that I felt that God was listening to me. He had come unto me. He told me that, OK, you are on the right track. There is nowhere that can be confining to God. And He asked me to, to follow my heart, to follow beauty, to follow light. And I think that’s it really. I mean, that moment. I remember it was a murky evening in the U.K.—it was a bit rainy, but my room, I’ll always treasure that room—it, the room was filled with light, and I felt amidst it a sense of peace. You know, I felt that I was blessed. I was guided. I was filled with so much joy and happiness, I couldn’t actually hide. I could have almost danced. It was lovely. And from that moment onward I just was filled with the joy of God. Just the joy of God. It was wonderful.
I am a muslim with a simple small ‘m.’ A muslim with a small ‘m,’ a lower case ‘m,’ means a person who submits his or her will to God. A Muslim with a capital M is the Muslim that we know that accepts the five pillars of Islam, accepts Muhammad as a prophet. I’m not denying that I do believe in the faith, the five pillars of Islam. I am a Muslim with a capital M. But I think my role in the world is better defined with a small ‘m.’ I’m a person who can understand others, hopefully, who submit their will to God. So perhaps I would like them to understand that I’m a person who submits his will to God; trusts God. Yeah. And in God we trust.”
I met Ahmed Al Mukhaini in Muscat, Oman where he worked for the Omani legislature as head of research and IT. But Ahmed’s true role in the world is as an ambassador of peace between Islam and other religions, especially Christianity and Judaism.
His own spiritual awakening happened when he went to university in the U.K. Ahmed describes how the U.K. was either romanticized as Victorian England or “demonized as part of the West.” But when he arrived and befriended a family and the community, he had this realization that God was bigger than any religion. One day while in his garden, Ahmed started meditating and praying on these ideas: “To whom does God belong?” and “Am I on the right track?”
And the answer came that, “There is nowhere that can be confining to God,” and, “To follow my heart, to follow beauty, to follow light.” A sense of peace and light came over him that filled him with joy.
To be with Ahmed Al Mukhaini is to be in the presence of joy for life and joy in being connected to the Divine. I have never met someone more enthusiastic for driving the idea that there is no stranger, and that God belongs to all of creation.
The most powerful part of Ahmed’s interview was when he uttered this very simple statement: “I am a muslim with a small ‘m.’” He clarified that, of course, he is also a Muslim with a capital M, meaning someone who adheres to the five pillars of Islam. But the meaning of the word “Islam” is “to be submitted to God.” And, for Ahmed, that is the more important way to be known in the world—as one who is submitted to God.
That got me to reflect that each religion emphasizes a different type of relationship with God, each of which is critical to our total understanding and God-connection. And that as a member of humanity, and one who aspires to have a connection to the Divine, I can and must embrace each of these ideas:
To submit to God (Islam)
To wrestle with God (Judaism)
To let God love us unconditionally (Christianity)
To see God in all of creation especially animals and nature (Indigenous faiths)
To eliminate suffering we cause ourselves and others (Buddhism)
To see God in all internal and external manifestations of his energy (Hinduism)
…and even to not believe and to doubt the existence of God (atheism)
So to Ahmed Al Mukhaini I say, “I, too, am a muslim with a small ‘m.’” What a great reminder that all paths to the Divine that result in human beings being more peaceful and loving are good paths.