A while ago, a wonderful work colleague asked me this question. I appreciated the candour, instead of vexation. I didn’t answer the question back then, because I felt it required something far more comprehensive than superficial rhetoric. Below is my attempt at answering the question.
Navigating my way through the maelstrom of fractured thoughts, I was left wondering, after all this why are you still Muslim? Indeed, why are so many of us stubbornly Muslim? The burning magnifying glass of the worlds eyes is on us, every slight movement is burned into the the worlds media. Constantly trying to assess if we are as human as the rest of humanity. Do we share their grief? Do we cry? Do we laugh? Do we share the same graces of human love as they do? This constant gaslighting has made the collective Muslim consciousness second guess its own motives. We are constantly trying to dance the tune of those same people who want to dehumanise us into just an object that pleases, a thing is what we are.
Two polarised views formed post-9/11;
One was an ultra-defensive wall that just negated every criticism, cloaked in hagiography, deifying fossilised personalities and a rejection of everything that came to challenge medieval norms. Meaning, the more hard line you are, the more Muslim you are.
Like many others, I chose a second path. We dived into the pool of information available to us today within Islamic history, methodology and philosophy. What we found was a rich tapestry of freedom of thought, outstanding philosophy and brazen opinions throughout Islamic history. No topic was off the table, everything was open to scrutiny. We found an Islam that wasn’t a closed canvas, indeed it was an open canvas where much of what we have is just guidelines, very little rules, very little codification and few answers. Whilst this empowers others, it bothers some. Islam was not the solution to all the problems of the world, that was down to you to solve. Indeed, I find it a strange thing to say that Islam is the resolution to the worlds problems. It is not. It is a complimentary tool that is amazing for personal development, spatially and spiritually. It will help you develop into the evolution of what God wants you to become; a complete rounded human being. Not a tribal cult full of elite clerics, with a thousand rules such as entering with the right foot or saying this prayer when entering the bathroom. Not an institution that the Qur’an has fought in its very message. I am quite happy for an interpretive, reasoned, non codified Islam to accept. What seems like chaos to others, is freedom to another.
Lastly, you may still even struggle with the usual contentious concepts of punishments and acts within our texts. Even if you have situated them historically and come to terms with them through trajectory hermeneutics and critical thought. The specifics are irrelevant, the maqasid (purpose) remains static. More acutely, the one anchor that leads to apostasy are the horrors that are carried out in the name of Islam. It is the nail on the coffin.
Horror can have adverse effects. The violence that is carried out in the name of Islam should act as an deterrent to faith. In fact, I would say it does. However, the effect it has on the Muslim mind is one of introspection. Does Islam warrant paedophilia? Offensive war? War crimes? Barbaric punishments? Misogyny? For many of us a deconstruction en masse took place. Unhappy with the simplistically reductive things we learned as youth from our ‘leaders’, we went looking for more nuanced answers.
As I navigate my way around the relics in our texts and various interpretations, the frenzied zest of restlessness takes over. It is a bug. I wouldn’t say I am an expert in philosophy, theology or fiqh (Islamic legalese). But I am well versed enough to know my way around. It is confusing for some people, and very frustrating. Why can’t we just have one leadership, one voice, and agree upon the various strands of theology and philosophy. To me the answer to that question is simple. Many of us have found peace in the absence of absolutes. We are a religion of deliberate vagueness when it needs to be. Meaning that we don’t have a consensus on the idea of God, the idea of the Shariah, the nature of the universe etc. These are things left for discovery. Mainly because it’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because those of who remain Muslim, have consensus on one thing that holds firm in our hearts. That is the taste of the precise sweet air of peace we feel together, in this collective consciousness of prayer and remembrance of the Almighty. The rest is background noise, trivial.
But, there is a problem. What if the background noise leads to an interpretation that is antithetical to the values of peace, harmony and seeking justice? The likes of terror, ISIS and other Jihadi groups? How do we correlate our belief system with that of those who also claim equal legitimacy of interpretation? Do we negate them by declaring them ‘non-Muslim’ or not ‘Islamic’? We should not declare them ‘non Muslim’. We cannot be complicit in the same takfiri (declaring other Muslims apostates) ideas of those we criticise. Without delving into too much detail at this point, excommunicating someone on faith, is practically impossible in Islamic law.
In the end, we are left with this acute problem of interpretation and polysemy. Therefore, we need to start to deconstruct our whole legacy and then reconstruct it. It’s the only way to understand why such stark polarisations have occurred. They are Muslim, and their acts have come out of Islam, albeit a misaligned understanding of Islam. The deconstruction part is to find out where it went wrong, why and what we can do to correct this. This is the collective attempt at speaking out, not singing and hugging people on the street to justify we’re human as well.
In the end, I am still a Muslim because it provides me the answers I want to live my life, it creates a powerful structure for myself, reflection and poise. Can’t most good systems do that? Indeed they can, in the end the reason I am still Muslim is because of love. It is not rational thought that leads us to awakenings and closeness to creation. It is the act of surrendering yourself to the Almighty. And that is the essence of Islam. Both intellect and love must work in unison, in symbiosis to achieve the balance required to live life at your optimum. Body and spirit.
There are issues we need to tackle, this post is a slow introduction to the contentious issues surrounding Muslims today. The spotlight is on us on issues like slavery, polygamy, stoning, criminal punishments, age of Aisha. I shall be tackling these cases one by one every month. Starting in this order;
- Kaffir (Infidel) what does it really mean?
- Age of Aisha – how old was she when she married the Prophet?
- Slavery in Islam – manumission or abolition?
- Stoning in Islam
- Homosexuality in Islam
- Apostasy punishments in Islam
- Banu Qurayza episode
- Hijab – compulsory or not?
- Wife beating and womens rights.
- Taqiya (to hide, or lie about something within the islamic faith)
I must emphasis, that I will be making a case, as opposed to a legal ruling. I am not qualified from a ‘traditionalist’ viewpoint to make a legal ruling on the above. However, at the same time I reject the notion from other Muslims that I shouldn’t tackle these issues at all. I don’t believe there is a hierarchy within Islam that can stop me or discourage me from stating my case. That is the protectionist racket that I am trying to break.
I am also not going into the usual liberal western apologetics of aligning the above issues to some form of an agenda. I genuinely believe the above issues are not within Islam. I will try to be as objective as possible.
I have been on a long journey within Islam. Almost every iteration of Islam you can think of. Shia, Quranist, HT and all the way to atheism. On the latter part regarding atheism, I veered into a complete rejection of Islam because of the constant toxic mix of culture and Islam in my growing up, the violence of terrorism, the treatment of women and general misconceptions of Islam that were informed by ill educated mosque Imams and the Wahhabi petrodollar Islamic industry, which is propagated around the world through billions of dollars. I gradually found out that none of this was the case. We listen to people who shout the loudest, not the the silent majority who are too busy to speak. The time to speak has come, the time to challenge this hijacking of Islam has come. We all need to come together and speak up against it.
I believe I have found the answers to the above that might help fellow muslims and non muslims alike navigate through this huge chaos.
So, stay tuned for more work coming on this site. My next article will be on the term ‘Kaffir‘ (Infidel). How it used today, what it actually means and why it is used.