Dave Andrews

I define spirituality as the experience and expression of compassion for the Other. I define religion as the ideation of that experience and institutionalisation of that expression which simultaneously affirms and negates the spirit of compassion for the Other. 

Religious eldering, at its worst, encourages subordination of the self to concepts and practices that restrict our experience and expression of compassion for the Other outside our religion.  However religious eldering, at its best, encourages emancipation of the self from constructs and structures that restrict our experience and expression of compassion for the Other outside our religion.

Spiritual eldering is about encouraging people in all religions to get in touch with what they think and how they feel ‘in-the-depths of their soul’ as persons made in the image of a compassionate God  

Recently I was invited to help Moulavis in Sri Lanka, whose Muslim communities are facing pers-ecution from Buddhist extremists, to get in touch with ‘the depths of their souls’ made in the image of a compassionate God, to find the spiritual resources they needed to respond constructively rather than react violently to their oppression and so avoid another Rohingya-like genocide in South Asia.

I was asked to help them to reflect on what it means to be faithful Muslims in a confronting world; how to respond sincerely as Muslims to criticisms nonMuslims have of them; how to get spiritual guidance from the Qur’an in a way that avoids the pitfalls in a literalist salafist approach; and how to enable co-religionists to develop the capacity to create partnerships with people of other religions

I encourage them to answer these questions for themselves in the light of the Bismillah. The ‘Bismillah’ is short for Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim’ which means every surah (or every chapter) in the Qur’an (except one) starts ‘In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Compassionate.’ 

I tell them our world is in trouble; and religion, which was meant to make things better, has often made things worse. We do not suffer from the lack of religion, but from the lack of compassion. So, if we are to have any hope of survival, we need to find a way to be able to care for ourselves and for others once again. The spirituality of compassion we recall when we recite the Bismillah is not merely our best hope for true peace on the planet; it is our only hope for real peace on the planet.

I ask them how it would affect the way they interpreted the Qur’an if they understood the Bismillah not merely as an invocation but the key to the interpretation of the text itself? What if they made sure they approached the text humbly and vulnerably in the spirit of the Bismillah, interpreting the text sympathetically and sensitively in the spirit of the Bismillah, carefully making sure all their interpretations of the text reflected the mercy, grace and compassion of the God in the Bismillah

And I ask them what difference would it make if they not only began and ended the day praying the Bismillah, but prayed the Bismillah as the prayer of their heart, between actions and reactions, in the stressful moments they face each day? What if they actually prayed the Bismillah as the prayer of their heart and acted out of the spirituality of the Bismillah, responding to pain with compassion, responding to hatred with love, responding to violence with the nonviolence of Rahman and Rahim

‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim!’ 

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