Friday, April 13, 2012

ISLAM: misrepresented and misunderstood

A colleague at work recently told me about a chance encounter with a Muslim man who had shaved his head and had grown his beard very long. According to what this man had told my colleague, that weird appearance was a religious requirement for a Muslim! Knowing little about Islam, my colleague believed all the rubbish he had been told. I laughed and gave a reply along the following lines:

"The man you met was crazy. It is a pity that quite a few people in England base their opinion of Islam and Muslims on the antics of a tiny minority of Muslims. Do I or a majority of Muslims that you see around you look remotely like the specimen you describe? Doesn't a ready willingness to draw general conclusions about Muslims, based on the observation of an unrepresentative minority, indicate the prevalence of prejudice against Muslims in Europe?"

My friend conceded that I had a point. As an atheist he was inclined to believe the worst about religion, any religion. I told him that it was a mistake to think of Islam as a religion. It wasn't a religion in the sense that Christianity or Judasim were. Islam's Book of Guidance, The Qur'an, refers to Islam as Deen, a system to be followed in life, which does not require the services of priests. The existence of a Muslim clergy today is not supported by the Qur'an, which does not recognise an intermediary between God and human beings. A person attains nearness to the Power of God through his/her actions while living in this world of matter. Some points that came up in this pleasant conversation were:

1. Life in this world of matter is a preparation for the next stage of our life's journey in the world of non-matter. If our material existence on earth were the only reality, ending in death, then there was no need for us to follow any moral principles. We should live thoroughly selfish and self-indulgent lives, enjoying the good things of life and trampling other people's "rights" underfoot. 

2. The phrase "the world of non-matter" was a bit much for him. Does it exist or is it a figment of imagination? Take any object, I said, and start breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces, ending up with the sub-atomic universe of Quantum Physics. Where do electrons and photons come from? 

The current theory is that as sub-atomic particles, which have no mass, pass through an invisible energy field, called Higgs field, they pick up mass, forming electrons, protons, atoms, etc. The particle that gives them mass is called Higgs boson, popularly referred to as "God particle", presumably because it gives shape/size/mass, leading to origin of life. 
[It is said the Higgs boson was originally referred to as "god-damned particle" because it explained many things in theoretical physics but physicists couldn't find it through experiment. Hence the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator in Switzerland, to prove the existence of Higgs boson].

So, matter is essentially created out of non-matter - waves of energy, Power of God - which, if anything, is more real than matter. One of the attributes of God given in the Quran is NOOR, heavenly Light. I happen to think that physics is gradually converging into metaphysics.

3. The tragedy of Islam is that the lives of Muslims are being manipulated by an oppressive clergy, which has no place in Islam. These clerics are obsessed with appearances. They ape the dead Arab culture of some 1500 years ago, and they measure piety in terms of the length of a man's beard. Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, lived his life in accordance with the Arab culture of his time. His outward appearance was similar to that of the people around him, and he did not stick out like a sore thumb as do the clerics who have set themselves up as experts on the "Islamic religion". 

4. The Book, Al-Quran, is for all humanity. The lazy Muslims no longer make any attempt to read it, preferring to  indulge in the many "religious" rites and rituals that the priests of their particular sects have laid down for them. This dead religion is a negation of Islam. Just take a long hard look around you. Today Pakistan is a byword for corruption, and Syria is competing with the Americans (in Iraq and Afghanistan) for sheer barbarity. 

This post is simply an account of a general conversation I had with a colleague. People who wish to know about Islam in depth can click on the following links to previous blog posts. 

Islam                               metaphysical aspects

The best book about Islam that I know of is Allama Parwaiz's Urdu book اسلام کیا ہے؟ (What is Islam?). He also wrote a book in English called "Islam: a challenge to religion", which can be read here:


Dennis said...

The world has understood Islamists and what they follow quite well. The books written by different Islamic authors are only to show that Islam has a "not so evil side" to it. Whatever may be the tenets of Islam, the religion will be judged by the behavior of its followers. In that aspect Islam does not fare too well.

Sakib Ahmad said...


I can see the validity of your comments from your point of view. However, this blog post is not concerned with Islam as religion - quite the contrary.

Firstly, I tend to avoid any mention of "tenets of Islam", which often opens up a Pandora's box of an elaborate system of beliefs, rites and rituals (complete with beards and burkas), which the tireless priesthood of so-called "Islamic sects" has spawned over the years. Islam is all about Divine Guidance to mankind - and that includes you! - as given in the Qur'an. Read it for yourself and form your own conclusions. A free version can be downloaded by clicking on the link below. Al-Quran places great emphasis on an individual's actions, the dogma is simply: "There is no god except God (Allah) and Muhammad is His Messenger".

Secondly, I think that the prejudice against Muslims which my friend and I briefly discussed has crept into your brief contribution. Who/what are "Islamists"? Certainly, there are trouble makers among Muslims as well as instances of state terrorism by so-called Muslim countries. Surely, you cannot have been unaware of what has been going on for years in Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Palestine, Sri Lanka (though the long period of internecine violence has mercifully now ended), Iraq and Afghanistan (the atrocities committed by the occupiers)? Should we refer to acts of individual, group and state terrorism committed in these areas as having been carried out by Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists?

Dennis said...

As far as your second part is concerned, the conflicts really are political in nature. However, when it comes to Islamic nations, the resistance groups to forces whom you refer to as occupiers or imperialists , etc generally appeal in a religious tone like carrying out some kind of holy war of liberation. In fact the so-called resistance groups operating in many of these countries are themselves guilty of war crimes. The conflicts mentioned by you have distinct characteristics and cannot be treated on the same footing. The only commonality in these conflicts are their violent nature. The Lankan issue was very much political in nature but was give an ethnic overtone. I hope I am trying to make myself clear. As I see it, all conflicts are essentially political in nature, capturing of power through violence.

Sakib Ahmad said...

"As I see it, all conflicts are essentially political in nature, capturing of power through violence." Yes!

This is so in all the areas I mentioned, and elsewhere in the world. Take Afghanistan as an example. For all their savagery and anti-Islamic practices which make a mockery of the Qur'an, the Taliban do still command support among the Pushtun people because they are a potent symbol of resistance against foreign invaders of Afghanistan. They are seen as a lesser evil compared to the humiliation of being ruled over by greedy foreigners neck-deep in their power games.

The limp body of a lifeless religion is being dragged on to the battlefield for cheap propaganda purposes by practically all the parties involved. The Taliban find it convenient to camouflage their savagery as an inevitable consequence of a "holy war" while the Americans have found it very useful to hide their insatiable hunger for precious natural resources by presenting their butchery as a necessary response to the actions of "Islamists" and suchlike.

Jahan e Ghayer said...

Good talk. I agree. I'd like to add my two bits as well.

Quote: The Qur'an, refers to Islam as Deen, a system to be followed in life, which does not require the services of priests. The existence of a Muslim clergy today is not supported by the Qur'an, which does not recognise an intermediary between God and human beings.

I myself was of the same view until a few months ago. Then after a series of events I realized something very crucial.

Not all of the people have good opportunities to get an education, learn Quran, learn Islam, learn history and value of Islam etc.. Those opportunities are hindered by various deficits such as financial, intellectual, geographical, institutional and so on.. This exact scenario was what had happened here in South East Asia. That's why Allah did a marvelous thing. He sent his greatest of the greatest Sufiya (Hazrat Nizam R.A., Hazrat Datta R.A., Hazrat Chishti R.A., etc.. tens of them..) from all over the continent to here, in sub-continent of India. Now those Sufiya were firm and strong believers of the Islam and Quran; lead their lives according to the true religion. But there was something more..

They appealed to the emotional, psychological, intellectual senses of the backward/illiterate people of sub-continent of India. They; with the strength of their character, moral and worthiness, impressed upon the people the need of having a true religion to lead their lives.

They presented a living model of a perfect, harmonious life, lead by Quran and Sunnah, and this model was much more human-friendly and understandable to them then learning Arabic and then reading Quran, which again, most people didn't have money, IQ or passion to do that. Even if they learned Arabic, would they even have a conviction to follow the teachings of Islam? I don't think so, because they didn't see a real example of what Quran and Islam achieve, until they met those Ouliyaa of Allah!

Moreover the great conquerors, such as M. bin Qasim, Mehmod Ghaznavi, they came and liberated this continent from the clutches of imperialist and unjust rulers, but then? They returned back to their own regions. How did people embraced Islam then?

If you read the history, you'll come to the realization that, indeed, it was the mechanism, the methodology of Sufiya-Allah, the spiritual Scholars of Islam, who lead people to the true religion by being a living role model!
Now what the followers did to those Sufia after their deaths is a whole different story..

Neither I say that the self-pursuit of understanding of Quran / Islam can be substituted with anything else. But we have to understand, everyone does not have the same opportunities as you and I!

Sakib Ahmad said...

@Jahan e Ghayer

Your references to Auliaye Karaam reminded me of Mumtaz Mufti. Are you familiar with his writings? You would love his descriptions of the influence of Auliya ("saints") on the spread of Islam in India. Offhand, I can recall two of his books where this subject is mentioned at some length: Hind Yatra (ہند یاترا ) and Talaash (تلاش ). Do read them if you haven't already.

You appear to be giving the impression that these Auliya can be equated to priests. They were men of God, far removed from organised religion. They were equally accessible to Muslims and non-Muslims alike whereas priests/mullahs/clergy only serve a function within an organised religion. Auliya were special people who transcended the narrow confines of organised religion obsessed with sectarian differences.

Our knowledge comes in various ways. Some acquire it through hearing, others through reading, still others through harsh experiences in life. In all cases, contact with wise, knowledgeable people is of immense benefit. This is particularly important for those with limited literacy who tend to fall into the clutches of fake clergy. However we receive our knowledge, we retain the primary responsibility to ponder on that knowledge and be accountable to our Maker for our actions.

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