Religion has given us many things. It gave us the beautiful verses that bind us together in times of happiness and crises, but it also laid the foundation for war through its verses spewing hatred against the “others”. It gave us the often necessary rules of moral and social conduct but it also laid clear limits on how to bend those rules in certain circumstances. It gave us a feeling of community and brethren among our fellow human beings but it was within such a steep criteria that this feeling was allowed to nurture, that it is often wondered if it was indeed true.
I come from a traditional Islamic family in India, which follows all the injunctions mentioned in the Quran down to the last ḥurūf (letter). Namaz (prayers), roza (fasting) zakat (charity) and other directives are obeyed with complete sincerity and devotion. Consequently what is also obeyed are the sweeping revelations of hell being reserved for all non-Muslims, of marriage being void between a Muslim and non-Muslim, of economic interest being a instrument of the Devil, of the of the concept of “just” war, and many more.
My sister, though born and brought up in such an environment, fell in a love with a person born in the Hindu faith. Even after being together for eleven years, my extended family did not allow the marriage to take place and in the end she had to go settle in Africa following the marriage, which is where she still lives. She was forcefully made to relocate and cut her relations with all the people she had grown up with only because she made the mistake of marrying a person a different faith, based entirely upon something as arbitrary as your birth.
The person she married was a “good” person. My sister truly loved him. He had a sound moral upbringing, was earning more than average, had a decent family that welcomed my sister despite the religious difference, yes, he even looked handsome; but yet, my family did not accept him only due to his being born in another faith.
Why did my family do this? Despite all logical reasoning given to explain the righteousness of my sister’s marriage, why did they refuse to accept the groom? They were relatively moderate Muslims not given to fundamentalism of Islam, often reiterating their anger of against the “fringe” of Islam terrorising the world. But when it came, to applying this moderation in their daily lives, why did they stop at mere lip service?
The answer, painful, came to me eventually. Religion by default is a divisive force. All religions are based upon the idea of fear – fear from the unknown, fear from the omnipotence of God, fear from the enmity of the “other” groups et al. Fear does not make for a good basis as your life doctrine. You know what does? Love.
Amor Spiritual Center started as a brainchild of the convivial Rev. S. Allen Mosley in December 2010. His objective was to create a safe space for all people irrespective of their religion, beliefs, sex, race, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity, etc. Amor means ‘love’ in French, and according to Mosley represents the philosophy of the Center. He believes that “love” should be the basis of our lives. It is “love” that will bring a shift in the consciousness of religious people as well as fill the spiritual void in the lives of atheists and agnostics. He strongly adheres to the philosophy of Karma, and the axiom “You get what you sow” is oft-reiterated in his sermons. Well-versed in many world religions including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism; he feels the exclusionism practiced by them is inhibiting the development of human beings.
Tucked in the quaint streets of Beacon Hill, Amor Spiritual Center is a small area of not more than one acre. Mosley plays the role of the main spiritual leader, while there is a group of rotating spiritual partners who help him in the infrastructural set-up, or as Mosley puts in “ensure that there is toilet paper after poop”. The Center conducts activities like meditation, choir, yoga sessions, reiki healing, free Hug Days, intending on helping the community in any way they can. Everyone is welcome at their service, and Center houses symbols from every faith. Recently after the Supreme Court verdict legalising homosexual marriage, they held an inter-faith service attended by a Jewish rabbi, Sikh clerics, Buddhist monks and a Christian speaker.
Not just theological issues, Amor Spiritual Center is radical in its handling of political issues like abortion rights as well. Mosley shares an example – “There was a young lady who was really tensed about her impending pregnancy. She was already the mother of a large brood and was worried about the burden of another child.” On being prodded upon his course of action, he said, “Well, there is no right or wrong action. I only created a safe space for the woman to explore all the possibilities and then make an aware decision.” “So what did she choose?” “She chose to abort it.”
Mosley’s mission to create Love Centers all over the world espousing his philosophy may not be achieved soon, but it is a noble mission that deserves our attention. Set in our “unchurched” city, as he puts it, Amor Spiritual Center is a small initiative making big changes in the lives of its 150 followers, and thousands more virtually. With church attendance declining in 16 of the 20 developed countries, spiritual centers like this are filling the gap and quite necessarily so. As more and more people are realising the ambiguity of holy scriptures, it is the influence of such inclusive spaces that is growing. A system of belief that supports hatred for a person solely due to her/his being born in a different belief system marks the epitome of injustice. It is time that our world religions learn that jitihad (innovation) is the need of the hour lest they be awashed in the rising tide of alternative spirituality.
This story was produced in the 2015 SUSI program.