It is said that on the Day of Judgement, the Prophet Muhammad will open the gates of heaven to his Ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims united in faith. However, for a religion whose followers cannot even agree on a date to celebrate Eid, universal solidarity is a tough call. In its essence, Islam is simple. The one sentence you hold dear defines your identity as a Muslim for life. You testify that there is no other God but Allah and with that utterance and belief are granted access into the Ummah. The universal in Islam does not run much further than this. Culture and politics, context and circumstance step in as mediums for interpreting the religion.
Some view Islam as a culture into which they were born, and others see it as a rigid set of rules, but there are so many in between. There are fanatics, liberals, secularists and even atheists who identify as Muslim, not to mention the many who do not neatly conform to any labels. We disown radical terror outfits, dismissing them as not Muslim but are they not Muslim or does their interpretation of Islam not correspond with ours? Do we have the right to question their faith when we denounce their actions? What makes a believer if not self-identification?
Over the last few years, I have been travelling around the world asking – mostly, but not exclusively, young – Muslims how they see Islam and how Muslim do they feel. Here are some of my encounters.