Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Dustin DiPernaDustin DiPerna is founder of Bright Alliance ( and Co-Founder of Synergy Forum ( He is an entrepreneur, thought leader, group facilitator, and meditation instructor. For the past decade he has been a student of Integral Theory and has practiced in the spiritual lineages of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Dustin received a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University and a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Religion from Harvard University. His released his first two books, The Coming Waves and Streams of Wisdom, earlier this year. He lives in California with his wife, Amanda, and daughter, Jaya.



The Muslim Ladder

The Infinite Ladder: An Introduction to
Integral Religious Studies, Chapter 9

Dustin DiPerna

Next we explore how our model of types and stages of religious orientation unfolds within the Muslim context. Once again, the evidence to support our model abounds.

Snapshot of Islam

Religious movements are empty vessels waiting to be filled up by individuals with varying degrees of psychological development.

Islam has spread to become the second most populous religious tradition on our planet. Today, there are over 1 billion Muslims and the numbers are on the rise.[1]

Allah (God in Arabic) is the strict center of the Islamic faith. Muslims see their faith as a natural evolution out of the two other monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity that preceded it. As a result, Muslims recognize that Allah, and the God worshiped by the Jews and Christians are one and the same. Not only do Muslims believe in the very same God as the other Abrahamic religions but they too believe in their prophets (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Jesus). [2]

While exploring the first three stages of religious orientation within the Islamic tradition (magic, mythic, and rational) we uncover a telling situation. Islam, as it exists today in several countries in the Middle East, has taken on a repressive form of extreme mythic orientation. Some predominate forms of extreme mythic Islam represent what we would call a pathological holon. Although we discuss this type of holon here with regards to the Islamic faith, such currents can be found in every tradition. In extreme, dominating forms of mythic Islam we find a holon that refuses to evolve to meet the needs of intellectually mature individuals (orange and higher). Simultaneously, this same dominate holon forces those who have lower centers of gravity (red and lower) to abandon any of their magic tendencies to express mythic (amber) levels.

On one side of the street, the current situation in the Middle East parallels circumstances during the Western Renaissance with the Catholic Church. That is, a mythic form of Islam pervades the mainstream, preventing anything that looks like a rational Islam from emerging. On the other side of the street, the present situation faces brand new challenges. Unlike evolving forms of Christianity in the 1500s that could rebel against the Catholic Church, there is not a single governing body within the Islamic faith against which more advanced intellectuals can rebel. This exacerbates the problem. Instead of focusing an orange rebellion on an institution (as did the rational Christians), Islamic rationalists appear, from the perspective of those at mythic stages, to be rebelling against the Qur'an or worse, against Allah. Our integral awareness uncovers that in actuality, rational adherents are rebelling against only mythic forms of the religion and not the faith itself.

In extreme cases, those in the Middle East interested in a more rational expression of Islam are often forced to move to the West, or retreat to small, more liberal pockets within neighboring countries, who are both under the radar and more tolerant in their beliefs.

Regardless of the challenges facing Islam today, the vertical spectrum of stages is entirely visible. We begin with magic orientation, then work our way up the spiral.

Magic Islam

Magical spells in Islam
Magical spells in Islam

Because extreme versions of mythic Islam are strict with their enforcement, repressing lower version (red) and fighting off higher versions (orange, pluralistic, integral), we see very few cases of published material from those at a magic orientation. In almost all cases, magical orientation is entirely forbidden. Mythically oriented groups reject the use of charms, superstitions, and rituals. As a result, those with only magic capacities are forced to use mythic levels of expression (expression > capacity).

In order to uncover the magic variations that do exist, one must dig deeper than published articles and books. For example, we find question and answer sessions on Islamic email threads and websites that specifically address the needs of these individuals at red altitude. One Islamic website dedicated to educating the Islamic population devotes and entire section to “Black Magic”. [7] Other sites address specifically how one might ward off evil spirits. All of these examples show us that a demand does indeed exist for such magic level material.

At a red altitude intuitive-projective faith development causes individuals to think that their own egoic thoughts can actually control the external environment. At this level of orientation one might believe that someone has fallen sick as a direct result of evil spirits or as a result of someone else's malicious spell. Even though mythic Islam stifles most of the magic orientation, those at this altitude turn to specific verses in the Qur'an for help and advise. Some suggest the Qur'an contains passages that when recited can dismantle the powers of others.

In the previous chapter, The Christian Ladder, while discussing magic orientations of Christianity, we saw that snake handlers granted all authority to the Holy Spirit when handling snakes. They were steeped in both ritual and superstition. Islam, as expressed at this orientation, is quite similar. As just one example of the deep superstition expressed at this level we look to an Islamic website where one Muslim seeks advice on how to ward off evil spells and spirits.

The concerned Muslim asks: “I just want to say that I have read somewhere that to protect yourself from magic and jinns[ghosts], you should perform ruqayah. Please tell me what is ruqayah and what is procedure for performing it. I really urgently need to know so please if you can answer my question as soon as possible.” [6]

In response the individual's question, the person in charge of the website answers: “The proper performance is to hold the hands in front of the face, blow into them (some say the blowing takes place after the reading), then recite Qur'an into the hands, and then wipe the hands over the entire body.”[6] Adherents to this level of orientation take several of these ideas to heart and recite them with their daily prayers.

When asked the question regarding Islam's views on this type of magical information a scholar on the al Islamic Voice website responds with the standard mythic level response: “Magic is mentioned on several occasions in the Qur'an, but always with disapproval and condemnation.” Despite the curiosity for answers, this is a classic example of how some individuals at mythic levels simply deny any reality to the needs of those at magic orientations. An integral understanding would certainly value and validate the needs of those at every level on the spiral of development.

Grave's values scale places these individuals between the level of kin-spirits and power-gods. Loevinger and Cook-greuter might argue that these individuals rest somewhere around self-protective ego development. Their actions clearly show a desire to avoid punishment and seek reward. Finally, Fowler might argue that these individuals rest at early stages of mythic-literal faith. Despite the dominance of mythic orientation, one might easily recognize that magic orientations are still very real for some Islamic adherents.

Mythic Islam

Mythic Islam is expressed using several different vehicles. First we explore the basics before focusing on one particular kind of Islam called Wahhabism.

The religion of Islam originated near Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Around the year 622 CE, a man named of Muhammad, began having profound spiritual experiences of subtle communion. In these experiences Muhammad entered into a trance and received divine messages. The messages collected over the course of his life have been preserved and transcribed in the holy book of the Muslims called the Qur'an.

If mythic Islam were portrayed in two short and precise sentences from a mythic altitude, it may sound something like the following: 'Find peace in this world through total submission to the will of the one and only God. Gain access to paradise by following the teachings of the Holy Qur'an and the example set forth by God's prophet Muhammad.'

In a more expanded description, adherents to traditional Islam subscribe to five main tenets, also called the five pillars.

  1. First and foremost one must provide a Confession of faith (shahada): to believe and profess there is no God but God (strict monotheism) and that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
  2. One must engage in daily prayer (salat): five daily prayers and a congregational prayer on Friday (jum'ah).
  3. One should give an Alms tax (zakat): this is a portion of income or wealth that is to be donated each year to the poor. The amount, ranging from 2.5 –20 percent, is to be given according to his or her wealth and ability.
  4. One should make Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj): all those who are able and who can afford the trip are to travel to Mecca (the sacred center of the Islamic faith) once in a lifetime. This pilgrimage also has social and cultural implications, “Most importantly, pilgrimage is a symbol of Muslim unity and of the basic equality of all Muslims. All Muslims go on the pilgrimage wearing the same kind of clothing so that there is no distinction between rich and poor.” [2] All are equal in the eyes of God.
  5. The fifth pillar requires fasting during Ramadan (sawm): from sunrise to sundown Muslims “focus on all forms of self discipline. They abstain from eating, drinking, violence, sex, and anger, and any other bad habits. In addition, Muslims are to focus their efforts on self-purification this is called jihad al-nafs or struggle against oneself. This period also requires Muslims to increase the intensity of their relationship with God.[2]

We dive deeper into the mythic level orientation with a look at a splinter sect of Islam called Wahhabism. Wahhabism, or as some prefer it to be called, Salafism, is a strict fundamentalist Sunni movement.

In chapter 2 of our book, Tranceding Pluralism, we introduced the concept of a horizontal spectrum of types that exists within each level of religious orientation. As a reminder, types represent a degree of intensity ranging from extremist to moderate. In our exploration of this amber altitude, types are put to use as we contrast two versions of mythic Islam using the lens of Wahhabism.

The first type of Wahhabism we call mythic moderate. This version of Wahhabism is expressed by the movement's founder Ibn Abd al Wahhab. The second type of Wahhabism at this same level, we call mythic extremist. Mythic extremism is the version of Islam we see expressed by Osama bin Laden and members of al Qaeda. Although both types are ethnocentric, with an immediate reliance on the Qur'an, it is important for us for make a distinction between the two types. As we see below, a difference in type can be the difference between a terrorist (Bin Laden) and a reformist (al Wahhab). Distinguishing between types provides a clear example of how precise our new model of religious orientation can be.

It is important to note that some scholars are torn. Khaled Abou al Fadl, for example, claims that the founder of Wahhabism, Ibn al Wahhab, was in fact just as radical as those extremists today. Al Fadl reports that even al Wahhab's own family was disgusted by the radical lengths to which he took his teachings.[4] Other scholars say that the founder al Wahhab has been entirely misunderstood. They contend that extreme Wahhabism, as it is expressed today has been distorted and the extremist versions are directly connected to the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya rather than that of Ibn Abd al Wahhab. With the support of countless others in the Islamic community Natana Delong-Bas dedicates an entire book to this intricate the confusion between the teachings of al Wahhab and the expression of Wahhabism today. She agrees, “although it is often posited that bin Laden's ideology of global jihad has its origins in Ibn Abd al Wahhab's writing because both are Wahhabis, the reality is that bin Laden's ideology owes far more to the writing of the medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya and his contemporary interpreter, Sayyid Qutb, than it does to the writings of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.”[1]

After compiling our sources, and taking both sides of the argument into consideration, we believe Delong-Bas' argument holds more weight. Our new model suggests that the version of mythic Islam expressed by al Wahhab and the version of mythic Islam expressed by Osama bin Laden, were equal in altitude, but different in type.

Ibn Abd al Wahhab

Type: Moderate Stage: Mythic

The expression of Islam originally portrayed by its founder Ibn Abd al Wahhab, in the 18th century is both moderate and insightful when contrasted to those of today's extremists. Most of his teachings moved beyond the mythic-literal stages of faith to slightly more relaxed interpretations of Fowler's synthetic-conventional stages. When describing al Wahhab, Islamic scholar Natana Delong-Bas writes, “looking back at original writings we see a reform movement encouraging more rights for women[and] a turning away from literal interpretation in exchange for conceptual understanding. He pursued the conversion of nonbelievers to Islam through education and debate rather than 'more militant methods, such as conversion by the sword.' [1]

In his time, al Wahhab was surrounded by an Islam that was falling away from its traditional values and into what we describe as more magic interpretations. Not only were people examining the Qur'an with strict literal vengeance, but he also saw a dramatic increase in the use of superstitions.[1] His fight against magic versions of Islam was made in an attempt to restore the virtue of the Islamic faith. He believed things like charms were similar to worshiping false idols, any form of which was forbidden due to the fact that it that took one's central focus off of Allah.

The psychograph of al Wahhab or any other moderate Muslim with a mythic orientation might look something like the following.

Ibn Abd al Wahhab shared characteristics that we would attribute to today's moderate expressions of Islam. “Ibn Abd al Wahhab's vision of jihad was purely defensive in nature. He legitimated jihad only in cases in which Muslims had experienced an actual aggression. He did not glorify martyrdom because he believed that the only intent a person should have in carrying out jihad was defense of God and God's community, not the desire for personal rewards or glory, whether on earth or in the Afterlife.” 1 It appears that despite the reputation that Wahhabism has today, al Wahhab held many beliefs directly in contrast to present day extremist. Delong-Bas writes:

At the dawn of the 21st century it is clear that there is more than one type of Wahhabi Islam. The vision of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was one in which Islam was to be revived and reformed in service of public order and welfare. It especially created public space and a balance of rights for women, as well as a legal methodology for indigenous reform based on Islamic teachings and law. A vision that offers hope for the future. The vision of Bin Laden is one in which global jihad is to define relations between Muslims and the rest of the world… Bin Laden's vision is one that seeks to cause fear and discord. [1]

We now turn directly to Bin laden to uncover how in fact his particular religious orientation might differ to that of al Wahhab.

Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda

Type: Extreme Stage: Mythic

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden (1957-2011)

Obsessed with offensive jihad and literal interpretation, Osama bin Laden and other extremists have taken Wahhabism, a once reformist movement within Islam, and transformed it into a breeding ground for terrorism. How did such a hijacking happen? The answer rests in the major thesis of this book: religious movements are empty vessels waiting to be filled up by individuals with varying degrees of psychological development. Osama bin Laden and other extremists fill up Islam not only with mythic orientations but with an extreme degree of intensity.

Two of the most powerful notions expressed today by those with mythic extremist religious orientation in Islam are martyrdom and jihad. Delong notes:

Bin Laden, like Ibn Taymiyya and Sayyid Qutb before him, envisages the world divided into two absolute and mutually exclusive spheres—the land of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the land of unbelief (dar al-kufr)—a division that results in a necessarily hostile relationship… Because bin laden espouses a vision of a world in which good and evil are engaged in cosmic conflict, he believes that jihad must take on offensive and well as defensive, capabilities and should be a permanent state of being for Muslims. According to this vision, martyrdom should not be feared but actively pursued…Anyone who resists the message of Islam or Muslim domination is to be fought and killed. [1]

Delong-Bas helps us conclude:

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's quest was for broad social order in which Muslims could live peacefully and respectfully with both Muslims and non-Muslims. Bin Laden's vision leaves no space for non-Muslims or those who claim to be Muslims but do not act the part. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's writings have inspired a variety of contemporary reforms, from context- and value-oriented reading of the Qur'an to legislation expanding women's rights and access to public space. Bin Laden's social vision is limited to jihad, suggesting a future of violence and destruction rather than peaceful construction.[1]

Although al Wahhab's version of mythic Islam may be more moderate, it is important to remember that mythic Islam in general still falls into the category of ethno-centric. That is, mythic Muslims are exclusivists. Islam is understood to be the only path to salvation. Those at this level often quote the following passage in the Qur'an in support of their ethnocentric beliefs: “Whoso desires another din[way of conduct] than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers.” (Qur'an 3:85) It must be remembered that authentic tolerance does not emerge until a rational orientation stabilizes. For this reason alone, the ladder of religious orientation must be made clear and explicit across this and every tradition. It is an absolute necessity that adherents have the option to travel the spectrum with freedom and confidence.

Islamic scholar Khalid Abou al Fadl uses the term puritan to describe those like Bin Laden that we would place in category mythic extremist. He explains, “the distinguishing characteristic of this group is the absolutist and uncompromising nature of[their] beliefs.” When these qualities combine with Grave's absolute truth-force values we are left with disastrous consequences. According to al Fadl, puritans are “intolerant of competing points of view and considers pluralist realities to be a form of contamination of the unadultered truth.” [4]

The most significant psychological differences between al Wahhab and bin Laden revolve around moral development. Al Wahhab had an inherent respect for the sanctity of life. According to Delong-Bas, “he called the maximum preservation of life—human, animal, and plant—during jihad, rather than their destruction.”[1]. We would say that al Wahhab's actions and writing tell us that he had at the very least what Kohlberg would call conventional moral development. Bin Laden's psychograph, on the other hand, tells a shockingly different story. With little care for others and with little ability to take the perspective of the thousands who will suffer as a direct result of terror attacks, bin Laden resides at very low levels of pre-conventional moral development. In no other example is the concept of moral development more aptly exemplified than this. Comparing Al Wahhab and bin Laden shows us yet another example of why including several lines of development is crucial for an adequate assessment of religious orientation.

Rational Islam

Just as we saw as we discussed the Christian ladder, most adherents to Islam tend to be moderate types resting at a mythic level of orientation. Few Muslims, regardless of their stage of development subscribe to extremist views. A few Muslims however are fortunate and move further along in their psychological orientation.

Anytime one makes a move that transcend one's current level of religious orientation in favor of a higher version, challenges are inevitable. In both Christianity and Islam, a rational stance may be one of the most difficult places to abide. Al Fadl tells us that “a considerable number of Muslims believe whole heartedly that fellow Muslims who attempt to adopt a critical stance toward the Islamic tradition are nothing more than self-promoters seeking to placate the West at Islam's expense.”[4] This is, to say the least, an unfortunate situation; especially because we now know that rational (orange) levels of orientation are simply the next appropriate rung on the ladder. Wilber calls this steel ceiling preventing individual's from moving from amber to orange levels of development the pressure cooker lid.

Al Fadl sums up a description of a Muslim at an orange altitude in the following quote. We add the word rational after moderate to clarify that he is referring to what we would consider a moderate orange altitude:

Moderate[rational] Muslims are individuals who believe in Islam as the true faith, who practice and believe in the five pillars of Islam, and who modify certain aspects of that tradition in order to fulfill the ultimate moral objectives of the faith in the modern age…[Those at a rational orientation] do not treat their religion as if it were a fossilized monument, but treat it as a dynamic and active faith…Moderate[rational] Muslims honor the past achievements of their fellow Muslims, but they live in the present. The reforms that they advocate are not intended to ignore or subvert the will of God, but are intended to realize the Divine Will more fully while respecting the integrity and coherence of the faith. [4]

One can sense how carefully Al Fadl chooses his words in the above quote. His caution is a direct result of the dominating forms of mythic Islam breath down his neck.

Khaled Abou al Fadl

Type: Moderate Stage: Rational

Khaled Abou al Fadl
Khaled Abou al Fadl

Examining the life and work of Khaled Abou al Fadl in detail we see a perfect expression of rational Islam. Al Fadl uses the terms moderate and puritan to refer to what we would classify as rational and mythic respectively (see Integral Islam below for an explanation). Al Fadl explains the difficultly of this distinct split between rational and mythic Islam: “Although the schism between moderate[rational] and puritan[mythic] Muslims has become distinct, pronounced, and real, this division is still not explicitly recognized in the Muslim world.” The distinction is not acknowledged precisely because all Muslims believe that there is a straight path to God. All Muslims are taught, as al Fadl explains to “unite in pursuit of the Lord's path and not divide.” This leaves adherents uncertain whether or not they should admit that such a divide exists.[4]

At the rational level, human rights and tolerance come on board in a major way. When such qualities arrive through authentic capacity it usually results in laws that protect the sanctity of all human beings regardless of race or color or religion. Digging into the heart of rational Islam, we ask several questions: What might a democratic constitution include in a predominately Muslim country? What human rights would be protected? Using the Qur'an for support, al Fadl attempts to provide several answers:

The Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad's traditions make clear that human beings have a right to certain entitlements and safeguards in life. In the Islamic jurisprudential tradition, the classical scholars…identified five protected interests: life, intellect, lineage, reputation, and property…Therefore, the Islamic political and legal systems must protect and promote the lives of people (life); the ability of people to think and reflect (intellect); their right to marry, procreate, and raise their children (lineage); their right not to be slandered, defamed, or maligned (reputation); and their right to own property and not to have their property taken without fair and just compensation (property). [4]

In other words, al Fadl sees many of the same rights that are protected in Western countries as valuable rights within Islam that can and should be preserved. Embracing rational values does not mean that one has to abandon the tradition of Islam, as some at mythic levels might fear. In addition, rational values are certainly not the hegemony of the West. According to al Fadl, rational values are not only congruent with, but supported by the teachings in the Qur'an.

Mythic levels of orientation demonstrate several specific characteristics. They cherish structure, authority, and absolute notions of right and wrong. Because the very heart of Islam involves a complete surrender to the will of God, it is unlikely that one still resting at a mythic altitude could find it reasonable to declare any sovereignty as an individual. The individual at mythic levels would prefer external authority to internal decision making. Once at a rational capacity, however, adherents find a way to reconcile the divide between human sovereignty and submission to the will of Allah. Al Fadl explains one such rational attempt: “Some moderates have argued that final authority rests with God, and so God is sovereign. However, God has delegated total authority to human beings to conduct their affairs according to their freewill” [4]

A rational interpretation of Islam recognizes that God has no direct way of intervening in human lives while on earth except through the actions of others. Because God has delegated the authority to us, it is our duty to uphold that duty to the best of our ability to create Godliness on earth. This rational interpretation strips away the mythic baggage dependent on external authority, while preserving the credibility of Islam with honor and integrity.

In the case of rational Islam this shift of authority allows individuals to move into post conventional levels of moral development. “The only way that Muslims can remain true to the moral message of their religion and at the same time discharge their covenant with God is through introspective self-criticism and reform.”[4] This ability to self reflect also allows all Muslims who reach this level of development to express individuative-reflective faith development and Piaget's formal operational cognitive development. Al Fadl concludes that at the moment of creation God entrusts humanity with a deeply profound responsibility. Because God endowed humans with the capacity for self-reflection and rationality, God simultaneously gave each human the ability to reflect on right and wrong.

Recall that development is often a process of transcend and include. Even if we transcend mythic notions of authority as described above, submission to the will of God still remains a central feature of the Islamic faith. How might this same central feature of submission look as we move up the spiral to orange levels of interpretation? In a beautiful passage Al Fadl directly contrasts what we would call a rational orientation with interpretations from lower altitudes:

Obeying God out of fear of punishment[red] or out of desire for a reward[red] keeps one vested in the paradigm of self-interest and the artificiality of the mundane physical world…To submit to the divine in a genuine and meaningful way is to elevate oneself to the transcendental and the sublime. To overcome the artificial physical world and to seek union with the Ultimate Beauty…Submission to God through fear and obedience[to those at a rational level] is considered a primitive and even vulgar stage of submission. Submitting to God through fear means that the worshiper has a tenuous relationship with God—a relationship that is driven by human self-interest or by primitive desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure.[From a higher altitude], submission to God means to have a relationship with God that is marked by absolute trust and confidence in God…It is a surrender in which one is in complete tranquility and peace with that who is the object of surrender.” [4]

In one final sweep, al Fadl expresses even higher levels of orientation as he explains the ultimate type of submission:

“The highest stage of submission is to love God more than any other, even more than oneself, and for those who achieve this lofty position of loving God absolutely and completely, they become God's beloved, endowed with true perception, wisdom and compassion. For human beings to love God necessarily means that they must love all that God has created and represents. It would make little sense to love God but hate God's creatures and creation. To truly love God, one must love all human beings, whether Muslims or not, and love all living beings as well as all of God's nature…In short, it is impossible to love God or be beloved by God and not exhibit the characteristics of Godliness.” [4]

In short, it is by fully loving God and all creation that we as individual human beings are to share the most divine of all qualities.

Pluralistic Islam

In order to support pluralistic notions to those of lower (often mythic) orientations, verses directly from the Qur'an need to be cited. Two such verses are listed below:

O'humankind, God has created you from male and female and made you into diverse nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous. (Qur'an 49:13)

Unto every one of you we have appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if Allah had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has given you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto Allah you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ. (Qu'ran 5:48 )
Abdulaziz Sachedina
Abdulaziz Sachedina

We explore pluralistic Islam from the perspective of Islamic scholar Abdulaziz Sachedina. All quotes are taken from his book The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism.

Sachedina contends, “there is ample evidence to suggest substantial worldwide growth of a religious consciousness that points beyond particular religious traditions to embrace a pluralistic and tolerant attitude toward other faiths.” [3] Sachedina's point supports our idea of evolution and development. The overall momentum of evolution means that with time, despite the fits and starts that are bound to arise, humanity is moving in a positive direction. Pluralistic and even integral interpretations will continue to grow and flourish as time continues to unfold.

Sachedina believes that many Muslims have the capacity for higher levels of expression, unfortunately their current expressions are limited by dominating and repressive levels of interpretation. If higher expressions were made available, Muslims would not stand for the inefficiencies and violence with which they are confronted. In his own words he explains, “I firmly believe that if Muslims were made aware of the centrality of Qu'ranic teachings about religious and cultural pluralism as a divinely ordained principle of peaceful coexistence among human societies, then they would spurn violence in challenging their repressive and grossly inefficient governments.” [3]

Even if it is not explicitly stated, Sachedina has an intuitive understanding that with higher levels of religious interpretation, improved relationships are inevitable. Higher levels of religious interpretation will help to unfold pluralistic communities throughout the world. Conversely, the “lack of interest in religious pluralism and its intrinsic connection with democratic governance has helped to prevent a healthy restoration of interpersonal and intercommunal relations in the Muslim world.” [3] Sachedina feels the values of the human bond meme pulsing through his veins.

Like most other pluralistic Muslims, Sachedina knows the strength and authority that the Qur'an holds for all Muslims at lower levels of religious orientation. Without it's backing, persuading others to embrace (or at least conform to) pluralistic expressions would be next to impossible. Using the following verse from the holy Qur'an, Sachedina explains the ideas he believes to be “fundamental to the Qu'ranic conception of religious pluralism”:

The People were one community (umma); then God sent forth the Prophets, good tidings to bear and warning, and He sent down with them the Book with the truth, that He might decide the people touching their differences. (Qur'an 2:213)

From Sachedina's viewpoint the preceding verse contains three points crucial to Islamic pluralism: (1) the unity of humankind under One God; (2) the particularity of religions brought by the prophets; and (3) the role of revelation (The Book) in resolving the differences that touch communities of faith. He believes that any “Muslim government must acknowledge and protect the divinely ordained right of each person to determine his or her spiritual destiny without coercion. The recognition of freedom of conscience in matters of faith is the cornerstone of the Qu'ranic notion of religious pluralism, both inter-religious and intra-religious.” [3]

In our discussion regarding mythic Islam, we quoted the Qu'ranic verse 3:85, “Whoso desires another din than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world he shall be among the losers.” From a mythic orientation this verse is used to support ethno-centric beliefs. However, from a pluralistic altitude a quite different understanding comes to fruition.

As explained in chapter 1, Preserving Pluralism, one important aspect of pluralism is to take into account both context and interpretation. Because the individual at a pluralistic stage has the ability to examine text more carefully, we find that the ethno-centric interpretation of this verse falls apart when studied in the context of the preceding verses. In fact, as Sachedina explains, Islam is actually the name of the religion as well as the 'act of surrendering'. In this specific verse “the word Islam refers to the act of surrender rather than to the name of a specific religion”. With this contextual understanding, the translation reads follows: 'Whoso desires to behave in any other way than surrendering[to God], it shall not be accepted of him[by God], who will punish the individual by making him among the losers in the world to come.” Sachedina, concludes that this new interpretation is correct because of the fact that the two verses preceding it also use the term, he submitted or surrendered in the “literal sense rather than in the technical sense as derivatives of the name Islam.” [3]

Perhaps one of the most significant developments of this pluralistic stage is the cognitive ability to take all perspectives without privileging one. This is what Wilber calls vision logic. In his own words Wilber contrasts vision logic to the previous stage of cognitive development: “Where[formal operational] privileges the exclusive perspective of the particular subject, vision-logic adds up all the perspectives, privileging none, and thus attempts to grasp the integral, the whole, the multiple contexts within contexts that endlessly disclose the kosmos, not in a ridged or absolute fashion, but in a fluidly holonic and multidimensional tapestry.”[8] Without the ability to hold multiple perspective simultaneously, one would have a difficult time inhabiting green altitudes with any stability. Authentic expressions of Islamic pluralism will take hold as soon as the current oppressive version of mythic Islam loosens its grip.

Integral Islam

The very same type of divine union experienced by Christ and the Buddha is available to all humans.

How might an integral orientation help to clarify some of the above ideas?

First and foremost, an integral version of Islam would take into consideration our knowledge of states of consciousness. This knowledge directly effects how adherents relate to other traditions. For example, many lower levels of orientation believe Jesus to be a prophet, but they do not believe that Jesus ever made any claims that he was divine. This, among other important ideas, is one concept considered corrupted since prior revelation. Some claim “the Qur'an contends that some of the followers of Christ misunderstood or misrepresented his teachings by claiming that he was divine or that he was God's begotten son.”[4] In other words, mainstream followers of the Islamic faith fully endorse subtle realm state experiences (Deity Mysticism), such as those experience by Moses and their own founder Muhammad but have trouble accepting the experiences like Christ's or the Buddha's causal union (Formless Mysticism) in which Godhead and Self are recognized as one and the same. For the exoteric Muslim population, causal state experiences are one state-stage above their realm of familiarity. (This is also true for all Christians who maintain that only Christ can experience union with Godhead). Those of Islamic faith who do acknowledge causal state-stages are often drawn to Sufism, Islam's mystic tradition.

An integral version of Islam would see no need to deny Jesus, or any other prophet (or person) their divinity. With an understanding of Causal Union one realizes that the very same type of divine union experienced by Christ and the Buddha is available to all humans. Furthermore, with an understanding of the Witness, one recognizes that the higher self, described by mystics, has the ability to transcend the separate self sense altogether. Such realizations are not limited to one particular individual and therefore need not be denied. Christ recognized a Self that was one and the same as God, uncovering a universal fact that has shown itself to countless other individuals having experienced a similar state experience.

Second, an integral scholar would surely look at al Fadl's version of rational Islam with a closer lens, pointing out where it is partial and adding to it several new insights. Although acknowledging that his division into two groups is an “inadequate oversimplification”, al Fadl makes one crucial error that only an integral interpretation can mend. Al Fadl speaks of two opposing groups of people, puritans and moderates. This is a clear and concise distinction but it can be taken a step further using our integral model.

Due to a lack of knowledge about developmental levels, al Fadl places his types on a horizontal spectrum. A spectrum similar to the one we described in chapter 2, Transcending Pluralism. Pictorially al Fadl's spectrum is represented in the graphic below.

Al Fadl's horizontal understanding is reiterated when he claims, “few Muslims are going to be thoroughly moderate or thoroughly puritan. Most will fall somewhere between the two extremes, with a majority leaning toward moderation.” This ability to 'lean' one way or the other implies that everyone has the capacity for both of his versions of moderate and puritan alike.

Using our new understanding of psychological maturity we find that this is not necessarily the case. As we learned, not all human have the capacity for higher levels of religious orientation. Not only are his two poles separated by a horizontal spectrum of types (extremist and moderate) as he assumes, but they are also separated by a vertical spectrum of levels (mythic and rational).

The type al Fadl calls puritans we would place at stage: mythic, type: extremist. The type he calls moderate we would place at stage: rational, type: moderate. For example, Al Fadl contends that moderate Muslims must use reason and rational to make choices for themselves. We learned however, that those at mythic levels of expression look to authority and do not have the capacity for internally directed decisions. The capacity for interiorized reason does not arise until rational altitudes; a concept that al Fadl is clearly unfamiliar with. Those with only mythic levels of development cannot lean toward the rational mode of moderation that al Fadl proposes. Amber adherents simply do not have the capacity to authentically express such levels of orientation. The best they can do is express mythic moderation with is still ethnocentric and conformist at best. Adding the distinction between different altitudes may seem small but it is absolutely crucial if we are to have a clear understanding of a world embedded in perpetual evolution and development.

For example, let's pretend we are conducting a case study on an Islamic terrorist. Al Fadl would classify the terrorist as a Puritan whereas an integral scholar would classify the terrorist as mythic extremist. In the case of al Fadl the puritan has only one horizontal direction in which to move: from puritan to moderate. According to al Fadl's horizontal spectrum, every terrorist has the capacity to spontaneously change their degree of intensity and move from extreme to moderate. With our new integral distinction we now know that a terrorist actually has two directions for possible movement; horizontal translation or vertical transformation. A horizontal translation from extremist to moderate, although perhaps less violent, would still mean that an individual possesses ethno-centric, exclusive, conformist beliefs; still lacking any sort of internal moral compass. It is only through positive vertical transformation, from a mythic to rational altitude that one gains the capacity to express authentic tolerance. It is only when authentic tolerance emerges that one will express true universal respect. Recognizing developmental levels allows us to insert healthy value judgments. It is better for a terrorist to vertically transform to rational levels of awareness than to simply translate horizontally to more healthy moderate expressions of mythic faith.


[1] Delong-Bas, Natana J. Wahhabi Islam : From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004..

[2] Accessed 9/27/06

[3] Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein. The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001

[4] Abou. El Fadl, Khaled. The Great Theft : Wrestling Islam From the Extremists, 1st ed ed., New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

[5] Accessed: 5/15/07



[8] Wilber, Ken. The Collected Works of Ken Wilber: Volume Eight. The marriage of sense and soul. Pg 194-195 Shambhala, Boston, 2000.

© Dustin DiPerna 2007

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