Leaving Islam



Approaching the end  

By: James Byrne  


At some stage in our life we find an apprehension of our own mortality.  Well, in several stages, from the first obstruction of our sovereign will, early in childhood, to our final quiescence in the face of death.  It is the way of things.  There is no escaping death.  If we are open with ourselves, each stage of understanding must be more profound than the one that came before it. 

Our grandparents and then our parents die: graves begin to open up in our lives.  We want to make some sense of what we see.  If we are born into a society which acknowledges a god of creation and judgment, belief may become a part of our reality before we are able to reason, and, from that belief, an external god stands before us when we pray.  From a time which came before our independence our mortality is allowed.  Such a god may be closer to us than our heart’s pulse, but it will not share our mortality (1).  Our dying is beyond its experience.   

Deeper thought goes beyond belief.  My understanding of what I am is as a facet of a conscious whole: I was born in first-light, and when the shadows deepen, I have to depart.  In the intervening hours I must learn, in quietness, the wisdom of what it means to be here, and then to understand that I must go. 

Belief systems, too, are mortal.  Communism could not comprehend mortality, and, together with its prophet, is laid to rest in Highgate, London.  Christianity, since its eighteenth century, has had an apprehension of the mortality of belief, and is adapting: many know Jesus through the humanity of his teaching rather than through belief in the literality of a later creed. Hinduism knew the mortality of belief long ago; in its development of the concept of karma, it saw that karma applies to cultures and systems just as much as it does to lives of persons.  Furthermore, Hinduism explores the nature of mortality: indeed, one of the Upanishads contains a parable in which Death himself teaches self-realization (2). 

If a belief-system cannot comprehend its own mortality, it must die. 

Where does this leave Islam?  We are living in times when Islam is feeling the first inklings of its mortality as a system of belief.  And it is in denial.  This denial is manifest in the resurgence of extremism; in the hardening of attitudes; in the recrudescence of jihad in its original offensive sense.  It is manifest in the extreme sensitivity which orthodox Muslims exhibit when even the smallest aspect of their faith is examined.  This anger is the result of fear, and fear always has — at its heart — an unresolved apprehension of mortality. 

Mortality is already present in the new-sown seed, even though we do not see it.  Mohammed was fearful of death from the very beginning: his own death, that of his young child, that of his nascent Ummah.  Criticism made him angry: those who criticised were killed, yes, even the scribe who began to suspect that the evolving Qur’an was mortal. 

Reason, science, information, a need for individual expression, an exploration of both the world and oneself, true freedom of women, an understanding of the legitimacy of other cultures:  if Islam cannot adapt to meet these, it will die.  And I mean adapt — not pretend to adapt.  At the moment moderate Muslims (good, fine people) are beginning to question — but their adaptation must not be one of pretence.  The Qur’an must be read in its completeness, in one’s one birth-language, to understand.  The major Ahadith must be read in their completeness, again, in one’s own birth-language, to understand. Then the question must be asked: are these remote and often barbaric texts something by which I wish to live my life?  The question must be asked: is this the literal word of God, true for all time?  Can we find no direction but towards Makkah?  These questions have to be faced.   

Yes, these questions have to be asked, and real changes must be made.  And it has to be said that so far the efforts made have not been good.  If true, the Qur’an should stand for itself; it should not have to be bolstered by specious reasoning  which, however fervently swallowed by the believer, merely serves to weaken.  The arguments used are similar to those used by young-earth creationists (3): they are thesis-led, often circular, tautological, prone to partiality: they tend to touch upon minor matters — usually self-evident truths — and inflate them (4).   

Truth should stand for itself: it shouldn’t have to be propped up with facile numerological games in order to ‘prove’ the divinity of the text.  It shouldn’t have to be preserved in an ancient language.  It should be accessible and understandable to all.  Otherwise it is merely opinion. 

A scripture is not a theorem to be proved.  Of itself it has no value.  Its value depends on the human understanding it allows to those who read it.  It recognises the limitation inherent in the language in which it is written, for it sees that language is a minor part of consciousness; it cannot encode or contain the consciousness which made it. 

Consider the following story.  There was once an illiterate tribesman born in a time of brutalizing conflict; he was seized with a sudden conviction that God was close to him, speaking divine truths to him.  He would go into a trance and, when he woke up, he would recite.  His words were written down by those close to him.  He became convinced that the Word of his solitary God should prevail in the world.  Largely by chance, he was able to begin a series of conquests, terrible in their onslaught.  He was a capable military commander.  Does this sound familiar?  The name of this man was Temugin.  He was later known as Genghiz Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, which was to reach from Poland to Vietnam, Iraq to China — the largest empire, in terms of area, the world has ever seen, and, in terms of time, one of the shortest lived. 

The parallels are uncanny (5). Temugin’s God was the Creator God of the Mongols. Temugin, a monotheist, singled down the Mongol pantheon to a solitary God, much as Mohammed singled down the Makkan pantheon to Allah.  Was Temugin a prophet?   Was his God, Tengri, an analogue of Allah?  Do Temugin’s words abrogate those of Mohammed?  We shall never know.  His writing has not survived, even though it is recorded that ‘All human sons are born to die in time, as determined by Tengri’.  

And what of Allah?  Was he, like Temugin’s Tengri, the externalized ego of a stressed man (6)?  When Mohammed died, Allah died too.  But the writing (7) and the body of the faithful remained.   



(1) The inability of a creator-god to experience mortality was, perhaps, the necessary beginning of the Christ and Krishna myths.  God took on human form to experience mortality.  Christians explain this in terms of the Trinity — three aspects of one God.  Christ, having lived and died, knows what it is like to live and to die.  The third aspect remains as an spiritual guide.  God is personal and momentary as well as impersonal and timeless.  This is a kind of way of looking at the compassion of God.  Ossification into dogma did nothing for this allegory. 

(2) The Katha Upanishad. 

(3)  ‘Young earth creationists’ are those, mostly fundamentalist Christians, who say that the earth is no more than six thousand years old.  This age is derived by biblical genealogy.  Their argument is flawed — driven by thesis and relying on selective evidence — and is scientifically nonsensical. 

(4)   Maurice Bucaille, in his book The Bible, Qur’an and Science uses a similar thesis-driven reasoning.  Let’s consider a little of it.  My comments are in square brackets.

 --sura 31, verse 10:
"(God) created the heavens without any pillars that you can see..."

--sura 13, verse 2:
"God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see, then He firmly established Himself on the throne and He subjected the sun and moon . . ."

Bucaille: These two verses refute the belief that the vault of the heavens was held up by pillars, the only things preventing the former from crushing the earth.

[These two verses do no such thing.  They were not written to refute.  Why should a creator need to refute?  A creator should hardly need to convince his creation.  The verses certainly go against the notion that the heavens might be held up by visible pillars.  But the very invocation of the notion of ‘pillars’ is of its time.  Heaven and earth are regarded in architectural terms.  The heavens are ‘raised’ from the earth.  The heavens are an entablature: to stand over the earth, they must be supported.  By what?  By pillars.  But we see no evidence of these pillars.  It follows that the heavens must be supported on unseen pillars.

The overall impression is that of a man speculating upon what he sees; not a maker giving an account of what he has done.

Bucaille sees in these verses an argument for a Newtonian idea of planetary motion.  Such a leap is  unwarranted.  He himself uses the term ‘the vault of the heavens.’  What does he mean by this expression?  The sky?

There is no understanding of a heliocentric system in the Qur’an.  The very verse Bucaille chooses (but does not quote in its completeness) describes a sun and moon which travel above a stationary earth.  Solar and lunar traverse of day and night is solely for the benefit of mankind.  The point of view is always strictly anthropic.

All Bucaille’s arguments could probably be deconstructed thus, but it isn’t really necessary.  One example is enough.  Life is short.]

(5)  The parallels between Mohammad and Temugin are pointed out in Sita Ram Goel’s online book  The Calcutta Qur’an Petition.  http://www.bharatvani.org/books/tcqp/index.htm

(6)  Repeated psychological stress in childhood can lead to the phenomenon of an apparently externalized ego.  This seems to be an unconscious attempt to put oneself beyond the reach of further hurt.  It is a strategy not without cost, for the externalization is, of course, illusory.  Such an ego finds love and commitment (and even dialogue) next to impossible: the risks of any approach would be too great.  This ego’s preoccupation is with survival and control.  It is fearful that, should it forget itself, it would no longer exist.  Psychosis is never far away.  (I’ve seen this in my medical practice.) 

It is pertinent here to consider that Islam regards shirk — the association of other entities with Allah — as the greatest sin.  If committed consciously it results in damnation.  If Allah is omnipotent, why is he afraid of this? 

(7)  Even the casual reader of the Qur’an will notice that there are two distinct styles.  One is written in an involved explicatory tone; it claims to be a God revealing himself, demanding (and needing, and even pleading for) belief.  The second style is very different in its mode of thinking; these verses are directed towards God in praise; even in translation they have a very beautiful, pacific quality.  This poetic beauty cannot be gainsaid.  Perhaps a closer attendance to the second style may allow the way into a true Islamic future. 


I must create my own system, or else be a slave to that of another.’  William Blake  

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