What is your operating system for life? For those of us practicing a religion, the answer is bound to involve religious values – the precepts and principles that form the backbone of a faith. My recent conversations with Wajahat Ali and Dr. Mona Islam, both Sunni Muslims, included their top Islamic values and how these values are active in their lives.
Wajahat and Mona noted or implied ten values all together, with only one (generosity) in common. Wajahat referred to intentionality (being aware and purposeful), strength, confidence, love, humility, and generosity; while Mona listed sincerity, giving full measure (honoring rights), honesty, generosity, and obedience. How to make sense of such a list?
Broadly speaking, these values fall into three groups: one’s own comportment or attitude (intentionality, strength, confidence, humility); how one treats others (love, generosity, sincerity, giving full measure, and honesty); and one’s relationship with Allah (obedience and sincerity). From this perspective, all the bases of one’s relationships are covered. After all, what is beyond self, the other, and the Divine?
Looking more closely, Wajahat and Mona each have different primary values. For Wajahat, it is intentionality, and for Mona it is sincerity. While these are not terribly differing values, I wonder if this difference reflects personal priorities, context of life and work, or particularities of Islamic communities. While both Wajahat and Mona are Sunni, and I believe roughly the same age as well as married with children, their professions and work environments are quite different. Perhaps this is an influence.
Wajahat is a journalist writing for the New York Times and the Daily Beast, focused heavily on politics and religion. He operates in a predominantly secular environment with adult colleagues and subjects of his articles. Mona, on the other hand, creates and teaches mostly Islamic curricula for middle and high school children in Houston Texas. She has been steeped in the world of religious instruction for decades, honing her teaching skills with children.
Those differences aside, they are both sensitive to their obligations towards personal character development, a commitment to awareness of the world around them, not to mention spiritual obligations and attunement to Allah. It is refreshing to hear these priorities based on care, rather than wealth creation or dominance.
Moreover, both guests stated Islamic values easily before expanding on their choices. Wajahat grounded intentionality as his primary value by saying: “If we can reformat our intentions to be more selfless and to be more aware of what's happening outside of ourselves, maybe inshallah, it can inspire more selfless actions. And if it inspires more selfless actions, maybe that will engender more empathy and more community and more love.”
Bringing values into the public square
As for many people who practice a religion, their faith and beliefs are expressed publicly in less demonstrably religious terms. According to Wajahat, by living the values,
“you become truly a servant and a means, a vessel in your own self, but a self that you have voluntarily chosen. Now this is a choice to selflessly surrender to a higher purpose. ... It means you fulfill that purpose by serving the needs of the people and the needs of the people are always numerous.”
Mona spoke of being aware of her difference as the only veiled Muslim student throughout much of her early schooling. She noted: “My beliefs and my practices were constantly questioned. I questioned how I would apply my religion.” Being marked as different challenged her, which proved a powerful engine for reflection and clarity of purpose. A recent example was her response to the refugees in the Houston area. Noticing the needs, she facilitated various responses, including accessible courses free-of-charge, as well as money, clothing, and blankets. Such action does not need to be from a religious impetus, but it is an expression that grew from her Islamic values.
Comparing my Jewish beliefs and practice to others is a driver for me. Wajahat’s comment about “imbibing the characteristics ... of the Divine” echoes my efforts to increase the holiness in daily life. For example, by following the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), a pedestrian activity is raised slightly towards the Divine, bringing a little holiness into my daily life. More broadly, when I think of Jewish values, a few things come to mind: tikkun olam (repairing the world), honoring my spark of God, learning, observance, and giving tzedakah (charity).
How do these values compare with values you live by? Do you share (some of) these values? Let me know!
Click here to listen to Wajahat’s Bonus episode (#48).
Click here to listen to Mona’s Bonus episode (#49).
Thoughts? Send comments and questions to me at email@example.com or write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! Méli