Archives for the ‘ Lectures ’ Category

Rumi’s Teachings on Soul Development

By • Mar 5th, 2014 • Category: Lectures, Mysticism

Our contemporary materialistic culture conditions us to view success in terms of wealth, power and status. This preoccupation with external prosperity comes at a price: neglecting our ‘inner’ life and soul. We tend to forget that happiness is ultimately experienced, and takes shape, in our inner space (or soul). It should come as no surprise to us that our materialistic accomplishments and professional advancements do not often translate into a happy state internally; because, we tend to look for happiness in all wrong places. Spiritual masters, such as Rumi, argue that to experience lasting joy and self-fulfillment, we must nourish and enrich our soul. In this presentation we will explore Rumi’s teachings on the promise and perils in soul development.

Jesus Through the Eyes of Muslims

By • Dec 20th, 2013 • Category: Islam, Lectures

Outside Christianity, no culture surpasses Islam in devoting so much loving attention to Jesus. The Quran, Islam’s sacred book, extensively covers the story of Jesus’ life and mission. It confers many honorable titles on him such as the “Spirit of God”, “Word of God”, and “Messenger of God”. It is precisely due to Quran’s characterization of Jesus as the “Word” of God that Muslims became fascinated with the sayings of Jesus. He also became an inspiration to generations of Muslim mystics, such as Rumi, Hafez and Ibne Arabi. In fact, Jesus plays a significant role in Islamic Sufism. In this lecture, we will draw a sketch of the contours of the Muslim perception of Jesus Christ.

Islam and Secularism

By • Nov 21st, 2013 • Category: Islam, Lectures

In the past few decades, the West views Islam largely as a challenge – and a threat- to secular society. The rise of Islamically motivated political movements in the Middle East and Africa has alarmed Western analysts and policy makers. However, the point often overlooked in the discussion is that secularism is largely a product of the West; it has its roots in the Western experience with religion (i.e., Christianity) and the failures of the Christian Church in organizing public life during the Middle Ages. But contrary to popular perception, authentic Islam is not inherently opposed to secularism. In this lecture, we will explore the fundamental teachings of secularism and what authentic Islam has to say about them.

Faith And Social Activism

By • Aug 24th, 2013 • Category: Interfaith, Lectures

Religion has been a powerful force shaping the human history. However, the social impact of world religions has not been uniform. At times, world religions have been a force in the service of compassion, peace, justice and equality; while at other times, they have promoted hatred, fanaticism, discrimination and naked brutality.

Unfortunately today, religion is increasingly becoming a destabilizing force in the life of many nations- and in the international scene. For the sake of world peace and prosperity, it is important to remind ourselves what the founders of world religions aspired to promote in human life, something the Dalai Lama so eloquently summed up: ‘the whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility and forgiveness.”

In this lecture, we will explore the founding principles of world religions, and the challenges facing them in the modern times.

The Path to Inner Perfection

By • Jul 7th, 2013 • Category: Lectures, Mysticism

There is an age-old debate about the source of human happiness and self-fulfillment. Rumi, one of the world’s most renowned mystics, argues that the path to joy and happiness runs through ‘inner perfection’- by looking ‘inward’ to fully realize our humanity. In contrast, the modern lifestyle which is rooted in materialism, defines happiness in terms of finance, luxury and consumption- constantly turning our attention ‘outward’. Yet despite vast increases in material well-being in modern times, most studies show that people do not feel happy. Something is clearly amiss.

Rumi would not be surprised by these modern trends. He would say that the problem lies in our looking ‘outward’, embellishing the external aspects of our life in the vain hope of feeling better inside. This is a wrong prescription.

This lecture will explore Rumi’s teachings on ‘inner perfection’ as a vehicle for attaining joy and happiness.

Salvation: One or Many Paths to God?

By • Apr 12th, 2013 • Category: Interfaith, Lectures

At some point, every person of faith will ask herself: Is my religion the best and truest? Does my religion provide the only valid path to God? How should I view other religions? Are they completely false, partly true or perhaps different but equally valid for their followers? While it is true that most people around the world tend to view their own religion as better and superior, there are practically 3 distinct views on the preceding questions: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. These viewpoints have adherents in all world religions. Hence, there are Jews, Muslims and Christians who believe that salvation is exclusively available only in their own community, just as there are Jews, Muslims and Christians who reject this notion all-together. Instead, they argue that the observable fruits of faith and spirituality are spread more or less evenly among different cultures and religions. This lecture explores religious exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism, and offers examples from the Muslim community.

Mystical Prayer

By • Mar 23rd, 2013 • Category: Lectures, Mysticism

Prayer is an integral part of all world religions. To the average person, prayer is an appeal to God for a favor- to fix a problem, heal an illness, pass an exam and so forth. In fact, it is precisely this perception that has led most philosophers and scientists to question the validity of prayer on rational grounds (that is, prayer is an appeal to a higher power to intervene and distort the natural order of things). But, there is far more to prayer than this simplistic notion. Prayer is deeply rooted in our soul and psyche; it is a dialogue (not a monologue) with the Divine- an uplifting spiritual experience.

In this lecture, we will examine the mystical conception of prayer; we will focus primarily on Rumi’s teachings about the nature and the various dimensions of prayer.


By • Jan 15th, 2013 • Category: Lectures, Mysticism

Mysticism is an authentic form of spirituality. Although some people incorrectly view mysticism as a rival to religion, it has always been an integral part of world religions. Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, they all have mystical dimensions. The origins of the Jewish mystical tradition, or Kabbalah, can be traced back to the time of Moses. Christianity has always had a strong mystical tradition dating back to Jesus Christ, even though there is not a universally recognized label for its mystical legacy. Islam’s mystical branch, commonly known as Sufism, emerged shortly after the Prophet Mohammad and evolved over the centuries. This lecture introduces mysticism and its major pillars. Even though the lecture draws mainly upon the teachings of Muslim mystics, its content equally applies to the other mystical traditions.

Christ in Islam

By • Dec 21st, 2012 • Category: Islam, Lectures

Outside Christianity, Islam is the only world religion that views Jesus as a sacred personality. The Quran portrays him as literally an “extra-ordinary” person; his birth, mission and death were quite exceptional. The Quran bestows many honorable titles on Jesus such as the “Messiah”, “Word of God” and the “Spirit of God”. Although the story of Jesus in the Quran and the Gospels converge on many points, there is one major point of divergence: the divinity of Jesus (encapsulated in the Christian doctrine of Trinity). Islam refuses to accept Jesus as the literal “Son of God”, on the ground that it is incompatible with monotheism. In this lecture, we explore the story of Jesus in Islam’s sacred scripture.

Islam at the Crossroads: Orthodoxy and Reform

By • Nov 17th, 2012 • Category: Islam, Lectures

The Western media typically portrays the 1.2 billion Muslims as a monolith- a uniform mass with traditional outlook, conservative life-style and extremist political tendencies. Contrary to this inaccurate depiction, Muslims are quite diverse in every respect: theological beliefs, educational level, life-style, outlook and political orientation.

This diversity is quite apparent in Muslims’ response to modernity. In the past few decades, there has been an intense debate within the Muslim scholarly circles on whether Muslims should embrace or reject modernity? Can Islam accommodate the modern norms, life-styles and socio-political institutions?

Two opposing camps have emerged: Traditional-minded conservatives and liberal-minded reformers. These two groups of Muslim scholars have opposing views on the nature and merits of modernity. Conservatives still dominate the Muslim world, but reformers are growing in numbers and social influence (particularly in Iran, Egypt and Turkey).

This lecture examines the theological debate between conservatives and reformers in the contemporary Islamic world- a debate that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of Islam and international relations.