For as long as I’ve been studying Islam, I know that 'salam' means peace and that the word ‘Islam’ comes from the same root (more specifically, the consonants ‘s’, ‘l’ and ‘m’). I also learned, however, that, literally translated, ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender’ or ‘submission’. Those that want to show Islam at its most beautiful emphasize the underlying root of peace. Yet critics put the focus on the word ‘submission’ because it arouses a sense of distrust or even disgust in the ears of many secular westerners. For the word ‘submission’ seems to indicate that this religion is indeed some sort of opium of the people.
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Om is a basic symbol of Hinduism. Often it is also called 'Aum'. But the precise transcription does not matter for the important part is the sound: a long stretched vowel that floats between the 'ooh' and 'auw' and that ends with a murmuring 'mmmm...'. And that sound is expressed with a specific symbol: a round 'three' with an elegant curl in the middle and, on the top, a moon shape lying down with a determined dot within. The sign is omnipresent in India, is visible on many amulets you can buy on festivals and is a recurrent theme in stores with exotic material for interior decoration. Yet no matter how present it might be in spiritual and so called 'alternative' circles, often it isn't comprehended correctly.
Every spiritual reality can be described in many different ways. I often write about the necessity of ego removal, for example, and I always describe how it implies that we should get rid of egoism and egocentrism in our lives. But just as well I could describe this principle as the necessity to 'untangle' the soul. For the ego is not a seperate entity that suddenly 'overtakes us' or 'gets a hold of us' and like a little inner devil attaches our existence to temptation and desire. The ego isn't an 'evil inner spirit' that tries to blind or limit our 'good soul' as much as it can. On the contrary the ego stems from the soul – the two are fundamentally connected with each other.
In February 2012 I attended a lecture by professor Gerrie ter Haar, who had devoted many years of her career on the topic of ‘religion and development’. She started her lecture with a comparison between the workings of religion and our present day dealing with economics.