Can a Muslim be a Panentheist?
Dear Farhan Shah,
Recently I discovered a way of thinking about God called pan-en-theism. I found it plausible and attractive: it spoke to my mind and my heart.
I am wondering if, in your view, we Muslims can be pan-en-theists. I realize that we have often emphasized the absolute sovereignty of God, as if God is a monarch or political ruler whose sole preoccupation is with being flattered. It can seem as if we ourselves are almost exclusively concerned with receiving rewards and avoiding punishments. I have friends who worry that we are locked into this form of spirituality.
But surely God is more than a monarch: more tender, more loving. And surely our way of being with God is more intimate than seeking rewards and fearing punishments. Aren't we faithful to God by being kind to others, by using our minds creatively and critically, by loving the world as well as God? Your writings so often point in this direction.
Might pan-en-theism offer a better model? I respect your opinions and am learning from them. But I'm still searching. Can you help me here?
Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt question.
Yes, in my view we Muslims can be pan-en-theists. I co-wrote an article with a Christian, Jay McDaniel, explaining how it looks to me. I'll share it with you below.
We best remember that God is always more than our models of God. When we are in God's presence, we are in the presence of a deep and wonderful Mystery, filled with beauty. We respond with awe.
Still, it is also true that we inevitably bring models to our understanding of this Mystery. There are many different ways that we can think about God. The monarchical image has had too much influence over us.
What is most important is that we Muslims -- and others as well -- find ways that are truthful to the best our lights and consistent with the best aspects of our traditions. For us Muslims, the best of our tradition is its invitation that we live a life of love, in which we respect the dignity of all people and the value of the earth as well. Pan-en-theism is a model that can help us live into this invitation and be faithful to it. We can be panentheistic, humanistic Muslims for the sake of Islam and the sake of the world.