Chatha Akbar Ghulam was born a Pakistani Muslim, a society in which people are discouraged from speaking freely. Although he mentions this only in passing in his book Faith, Not Religions, it’s significant given that this book is a collection of the author’s personal reflections about provocative subjects such as God, religion and prayer, life and death, heaven and hell, war vs. peace, and wisdom vs. ignorance.
Perhaps even more surprising, the overarching message he preaches is more spiritual than religious—what Ghulam calls “universalism.” Universalism, as he describes it, is a non-religious faith based on humanistic values, where humility, gratitude, tolerance, and helping others pave the way: no dogma or adherence required.
Inspired by Punjabi mystic poets, Ghulam calls himself “an outlaw of so-called religions.” Still, he is a sincere and devout believer in The God: “I insist that The God is one, the Almighty and universal justice and equality. This doesn’t hurt anyone. Love is the message.” Each brief and well-written meditation stands alone, and yet there is an underlying theme of inquiry into God’s loving influence on the human condition, particularly relating to self-righteousness vs. true believers.
At times Ghulam’s writing is deeply personal and flavored with the nuances of his native language, such as a poem or prayer of gratitude for God’s blessings; other times it provides more intellectual social commentary, as if he were discoursing late into the wee hours with a learned friend—a freedom Ghulam admits longing for all his life.
Each essay is, ultimately, an invitation into a loving heart: the love that human beings have for God and the love that God has for humankind. Unpretentious yet inspiring, the reflections in Faith, Not Religions are universal in their appeal, and anyone questioning their own spiritual groundings will be engaged and challenged.
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