Understanding Islam – Part 13 (Skepticism)

Having just finished the book, Children of Dust- A Memoir of Pakistan, by Ali Eteraz, published 2009, HarperOne, NY, NY., I felt I needed to give some thoughts from the insight I gained, with quotes from this author, in a continuation of my series Understanding Islam.  (Where quotes are used the book is referenced as COD and the page number indicated.)

 This book provides a perspective on Islam that is quite different for most of us in that it is from what I can safely refer to as an insider.  Calling Arabs as the self-labeled élite Muslim, representing but 20% of the Muslim world, the author is Pakistani, non-Arab, yet in many ways he is the Islāmic scholar he at one time sought to be professionally.  The heart of the Muslim world has been suggested is Mecca, located in Saudi Arabia, where the Ka’ba is located and where the pilgrimage of Muslims takes place, the Haij.  Yet my impression is that the heart of Islam lies in those that are objective devotees to the religion, understanding the Quran in modern terms as loving, peaceful and non-militant.  Indeed there are strong family ties to the religion as well as an outline of rules of the laws, from the Quran and teachings from leaders in madrassas (the qaris), and elsewhere, such as from other learned Islāmic faithful and scholars.  For Ali Eteraz, calling himself Amir at the day of 911, the acts of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have undermined any of the good works and positive influence Islam has had on the world and its followers and given Islam a bad name.

On 911 (2001) – on militant Muslims, “I had used to think that while their methods were disreputable, they were simply misguided people trying to rectify undeniable injustices around them. Now having seen their vision of justice, and recognizing how far it was from actual justice, I felt only anger.  What made their actions even more reprehensible was that they had carried out their murders in the name of Islam.  In a singular moment they had destroyed all the hard work – of education and awareness – that Muslims the world over had done over the years….This shows that while the attackers waved the flag of Islam, they care, really, for something else – something that had nothing at all to do with Islam.  They were power-hungry postmodernists.” (COD – pg. 270-271)

On what Ali believed as contrasted to Osama bin Laden who “referred to Muslims as a ‘nation’ that didn’t need to recognize nation-state borders and urged Muslims, all of them, to fight on behalf of God against the United States.” (COD – pg. 169), “I believed in an Islam that was permanent, unchanging, and solid.  Being Muslim wasn’t just a state of mind, as bin Laden argued, but a state of existence.  Islam was all-consuming.  A total condition.  A state of submission to the will of the Almighty.  It wasn’t a system or formula or prescription that one utilized for a little while, in order to gain revenge against one’s enemies.  Islam was way bigger than that; it was the primordial state of being.  Bombing and killing, marauding and murdering, taking up arms against America and Israel – these were a waste of time.  They were childish acts carried out by insecure Muslims, but precisely those Muslims who judged success in life according to worldly terms.” (COD – pg. 171) “What mattered was the afterlife. That was the most important part of living.  Bin Laden was not concerned with the afterlife.” (COD – pg. 171)

 The actions of Al Qaeda and others labeled terrorists have fueled the fire under extremists, fundamentalists, who within Islāmic circles have created differences and conflict, even to the extent of calling American Muslims apostates, as was the case for this author when seeking a bride in his homeland.  Adherence to the strictest interpretation of the Quran, even when viewed by the majority of Muslims as excessive, has been the cry of the fundamentalist, using their weapons, plain-clothed Quran police (as it were), fear tactics, and other oppressive methods to change the ideological thinking of all Muslims, attempting to set up the main stage of Islam to that of their view and interpretation.  The modern world, evolving cultures, has been forgotten in their approach to the religion of Allah and his messenger Muhammad.

The philosophy of postmodernism, referred to earlier, brings into view secularism and possibly the greatest threat to Islam.  “Postmodernism had a singular aim: it threw off the strictures of authority.  It taught you how to unshackle yourself from the discipline and punishment imposed upon you without your consent.  It exposed the myriad ways in which religious forces enchained humans, often without their knowledge.  It was the inverse of bondage….All relationships were power struggles and that duties weren’t inherent in our nature but were imposed by the most powerful….Everything was connected by conflict.”  (COD – pg. 236)  “…that while postmodernists appreciated religion for making advances in ethics and morality, they argued that people no longer needed to rely on religion to know the right way to behave.  Religion was considered nothing more than a ‘personal idiosyncrasy’” (COD – pg. 238) The author also noted: “postmodernism…(was) feared and reviled by Muslims nearly as much as Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.” (COD – pg.235)

As to Salman Rushdie’s, called “a siren of secularism”, The Satanic Verses: (COD – pg. 171) – “the real problem: the part about the Prophet Muhammad and the circumstances surrounding the revelations that became the Quran.  This part suggested that first Satan and then Muhammad’s Persian scribe Salam had both tampered with the Quran, changing words outright.  It was this part that made the book vile to Muslims, because it promoted doubt.  Skepticism opened the door for believers to think there was a chance that revelation wasn’t from God, that the Quran was written by men and thus wasn’t otherworldly.  Widespread skepticism would be the ultimate victory for secularism, which had previously subjected the Torah and the Bible to just the same attack.  What the secularists wanted – Rushdie among them – was to establish the supremacy of reason over and above revelation, something that all religious people had an obligation to resist, because if reason became dominant, the world would fail.” (COD – pg.172)

Eteraz also noted concern for reactions by Muslims to other recent events, most notably the Danish cartoon controversy  (2006 Danish cartoons by Kurt Westergaard): “trivial and badly drawn in an irrelevant newspaper in Denmark, Muslims rioted in multiple locations, killing innocent non-Muslims and making an intimidating show of force.” (COD – pg. 276).  “That such cosmic insecurity could be prompted by such comic absurdity was the final straw (for the author)…Enough!….Islam doesn’t belong to idiots.” (COD – pg. 278).  It, in part, led to his personal resistance to all of Islam.

Ali Eteraz attempted to establish an Association for reforming Islam thinking to becoming more moderate, accepting and understanding other world religions and cultures, bordering indeed on freedom in the post-modern sense.  As knowledgeable as he is on the history of Islam, its leader and his companions; as knowledgeable as he is on the Quran, his training established in the most intolerant learning centers of Islam; he has become disillusioned by the terrorist acts in the name of the religion he grew to revere and adhere to adamantly.  From his youth through his college years, even beyond, he subjected himself to guilt from considering any relationship, association, or action that was not condoned by his upbringing and education.  Even when he had doubts he relied on his foundation in the religion to maintain his purity and convictions.  Even when he observed others failing to keep the tenants of the religion, calling themselves Muslim but acting according to their personal desires when not otherwise in view of strident believers, he maintained the discipline of his culture and religion.  The actions of others, especially the fundamentalist, finally wore him down and he, today, no longer takes comfort in Islam.

He has not converted to another religion (as far as I can discern), nor would I say he was an atheist, and labeling him a non-believer could bring the fire of Allah on him (from those that make judgments and take the actions according to their view of the Quran), so I will simply call him a “questioning believer” of extremist beliefs that have impacted all of Islam.  His doubts were caused too by direct personal affronts on him; a Muslim who always conducted himself in a way that he felt would make any Muslim comfortable.  He now seems to wonder how to restore critical thinking, logical thinking, to the despots of Islam.  He is currently a non-practicing Muslim enjoying freedom and wanting to encourage others to understand what freedom enables them to be and to become.  He has been exposed to philosophical thinking (non-Muslim), Jewish thinking and Christian thinking and considers none of this an abomination, but a form of enlightenment.  He sees the need for a Martin Luther for Islam, a Martin Luther than can emerge from the Arab world and live to reform others within Islam. As to reformed thinking in Islam he wrote, “the symbol of Islam is now the Ka’ba, and as you’re well aware, it’s the Arabs who guard it.  So if there is going to be anything that will sway Muslims in the rest of the world, it’s going to have to be stamped by the Arabs….” (COD – pg. 283)  Any tolerance towards non-believers, from the view most today feel is the reality, or the distortion engendered by the militants, will need to come from the seat of Wahhabism – Saudi Arabia.

 Reform may require, in my mind, the current Quran being the Old Covenant of Islam and a New Covenant of Islam established for future generations.  Or it may require Muslims leaving their religion all-together.  It may require Muslims to learn more about “Isa” – a reference to Christ and his more liberal nature as the one who has forgiven the sins of mankind negating any further need to kiss the Black Stone (the Ka’ba in Mecca) for one’s sins to be absorbed. 

Christ has been misinterpreted by Muhammad and his companions.  He was crucified, it was not faked, he ascended into heaven, he took the punishment we all deserve for our sins, whether caused by secular society or not, the blame is all ours, the forgiveness all His.  It is not postmodernism that allows for freedom, it was Christ, as it was “for freedom that he set us free.”  Believers in the way of Christ are sinners, must deal with temptations and resist, they are human, but they have as their authority the Triune God, with the Holy Spirit as assurance of their eternal future and Christ as the example of a perfect life lived.  That perfect life is not attainable, nor are those that believe then required to be perfect or even measured as to their good deeds (adding blessings such as those gained from reciting letters of the Quran) out-weighing their bad (sins of the flesh, for example).  Relationships are important for men and women.  A husband’s love for his wife (his one wife) and gaining her respect is important.

What were once Laws (Old Testament Laws) are guidelines towards happiness.  For if not followed most often for the believer anguish, guilt, unhappiness follows on earth; without repentance punishment is meted in heaven.  The Laws provide the ethical and moral concepts to be observed in society that when conducted by individuals in a community enable harmony, love, and trust.  Yet there will be transgressions and the earthly judge is not a theocratic despot.  The judge will be God or government authorities, depending on the nature of the crime.  When the transgressions befall a member of society, be they secular, Judaic, Mormon, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, or whatever religion you wish to give as a label the one harmed, then the authority, the government (non-theocratic), decides the punishment.  However crimes committed against God, the authority of one, the believer knowing his sins, having repented or not, having been sincere or not, having obeyed or not, having submitted or not, having surrendered or not, remains to be judged by God on Judgment Day – when our physical bodies no longer function. 

You are free to live a life on earth as you choose – free will.  But you have knowledge, possibly wisdom, and by knowing God, know also that which will provide the pathway to the Celestial City.  You can determine the likelihood of an afterlife in God’s kingdom, but as we all know there are no guarantees, only faith, and that faith can only be in the Risen Lord.  He will not return to a mosque in Damascus and partner with Muhammad and tell Jews and Christians he is Muslim.  Christ is everyone’s savior if they heed his call to “Come, follow me.”  Even the Quran provides assurances that the Bible is true. 

Follow your heart.  Be confident in your intellect and the consciousness God provided that enabled all humans to develop, to learn, to grow in knowledge and wisdom and to at one point make their own choices, without threat of coercion, but with the embodiment of freedom.  Do not allow the threats of others dispel your beliefs or desire to leave one religion for another.  If you do, do so objectively, be a modern progressive thinker.  Be open to opinions of others, but be discerning and find your path.  If you believe in an afterlife, then the path you must find should be towards refuge with the one true God.  Take the hand of the Father that wants a relationship with you and as a parent is patient, a teacher, a disciplinarian, yet desires obedience and love.  His love for you will always be there, even if you leave him for another – at least until Judgment Day. 

 We are all Children of Dust.  Thanks be to God.

Grace and Peace.

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