Liberalizing Islamic Thought: Fracturing Ima'n or Breeding Freethinking?


Jamal Hasan


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The News From Bangladesh  forum produced another of Syed Kamran Mirza's analytical essays that we saw on September 12 (Why We Critique Only Islam!). I want to add some more points on Islamic thoughts that already exist in most of the Muslim countries.

It would delight many non-Muslims to see more than a handful of genuine secular Muslims in Muslim majority nation. To their dismay, they would however find plenty of closet Mullahs or so-called seculars of Islamic heritage. On the contrary, number of Muslims who gave up the religion totally is few far between.

Why is this scenario more common in Islamic scene? Why would the crops of enlightened Muslims abandon their ancestral religion totally? I have a hypothesis. I would like to put forward a few of the salient features of fundamentals of Islamic thinking process.

Islam did not come from another planet, neither has it been transplanted on earth from living species from a distant galaxy. It is a human religion meant to serve people of this planet. So, it has to have a history, it has to have a tradition. Islam has to have connection with other belief systems prior to its arrival. That means Islam must have been indebted not only to Christianity, Judaism or Zoroastrianism, seemingly, it is rooted in Arab Paganism as well.

The problem however is, the basic premise of Islamic belief system seldom acknowledges this truth. What is so wrong acknowledging the mere fact that Islam is a unique amalgamation of Judaism and Pagan teachings? Will it offend someone if we say that the rituals like praying, pilgrimage to Ka’ba mimic age old Pagan practices, while portions of the Islamic jurisprudence resemble ancient Judaic legal mores?

Most Islamic scholars are too embarrassed to admit the historical indebtedness of Islam to other religions that came before Mohammedanism. Although it is often cited that the scriptural similarity of different monotheistic faiths are not accidental by any chance, there is a deliberate effort to portray the Islamic divine book as an independently revealed one. That defines the contextual validity of Qur’an not being successor of prior divinely inspired books.

While the believers of other monotheistic faiths now consider their holy books as divinely inspired, Islam views Qur’an as the direct word from God. And there lies the problem. I think that is the reason when any believer in Islam loosens his/her Ima'n, he or she cannot stay any longer under its fold. In short, either take it one hundred percent or leave it. There is no scope for a weak Ima'n in Islam. In this context I am quoting a scholar’s recent comment about the evolution of religious legal teachings. "No Jew in the world today would follow the commandments in the book of Leviticus that tell us to stone adulterers or homosexuals. But Islam appears stuck in a mindless literalness that keeps it stagnant, and that religious stagnation fuels a much larger cultural and intellectual stagnation."

Present construction of other monotheistic or polytheistic religions depends on a softer ground. That means a typical Christian or a Hindu does not have to be bombarded with such dogmas that in order to practice the religion, the Ima’n or belief system ought to be tightly pure. It is true that the liberalization process in Judaism or Christianity did not occur in a few short years.

It is also true that it took hundreds of years of inner struggle to make the religions more pragmatic, humane, and open. But the inherent problem of Islam – the tendency of keeping it within the fold of a puritanical dogma - the assumed "finality" of the "one god" premise is more than merely rhetoric. The constant imposition of threat and coercion is enough to subdue Islamic dissidents anywhere on earth. The root cause of intolerance and violence is imbedded in Islamic polity.

Other than persecution of heretics or murtaads, even a non-conventional Islamic clergy endangers his life deviating from the altruistic path of traditional Islam. Rashad Khalifa, an Imam in an Arizona mosque was executed here in America. The assassin has not been apprehended until today. Khalifa’s biggest "sin" was that he used numerology to interpret religious dictum. Even a slight deviation is not tolerated in the house of Islam, Dar-ul Islam.

Now, juxtapose this with media mogul Ted Turner’s encounter with the fundamentalist Christians. By the way, Ted is a vocal atheist and he makes no bone about letting others know it. He made, on the record, too many disparaging remarks about Christians and Christianity. I am not aware if any Christian fanatic put any bounty on the head of this flamboyant personality who happens to be an avowed ex-Christian.

People from other religions may not fathom the degree of frustration and hopelessness a Muslim may encounter as he or she knows more about the intricacies of his or her forefathers' faith – which is being taught from the childhood days as the only religion of peace, the ultimate and perfect way of god's wishes, etc. Because the inherent weaknesses of Islam are never exposed to average believer, any rational argument against the tradition usually wins against the forefathers’ blind belief.

While many deities of Hinduism are left in the realm of mythology, Islam exposes an unusual dichotomy since its birth. Rama, Laxmana, Ravana story, or Krishna’s sexual escapades may not leave the cocoons of mythological tapestry. An average Hindu’s Ima’n may be as solid as a sponge.

Islam embraced more than its share of mythology. Story surrounding Noah’s arc, Zamzam fountain, or the Prophet Muhammad’s miraculous Miraj journey, or even Adam and Eve story could be construed as nothing short of mythology or folklore. Muslims simply have to believe in those myths along with the historical epics of war, the rules of the Caliphs and the narratives of Prophet’s disciples as depicted in Ahadiths. The dates and places of those events are interlaced with so much of history that many Muslims tend to feel proud as if they are following a rather modern religion, which is liberated from the mythological mumbo-jumbo and superstition.

Nevertheless, the reality indicates otherwise. The amalgamation of mythology and history in Islamic thinking could be a serious weakness of the religion. Also, the Islamic clergies leave no stone unturned to keep Islam beyond the purview of history.

Any effort to scrutinize Islam through the prism of history is not only discouraged, but is brutally suppressed. That is why, if someone raises the issues of Islam’s linkage with Paganism on the Arab soil or make an effort to analyze the history of Qur’an, he or she would then put his or her life in jeopardy. In essence, then, the religion is kept within a shade of dark ignorance.

When a Muslim loses faith in the religion, he or she faces more of a withdrawal than people of most other faiths do. The fracture of Ima’n demolishes the total belief system. Because of the enormity of propaganda in the house of Islam, the rational thinking leads to skepticism. The gulf of difference between the rhetoric and reality shows the utter hollowness of the religion – as if the religion was nothing but a big hoax.

The deprogramming stage for a Muslim is more arduous and painful than, say, an average moderate Christian. Most Muslim believers’ mindset can be equated with Evangelical, Pentecostal Christian, or Hassidic Jews. In other words, the mainstream Muslims are not as liberal as average people of Christian heritage are. From childhood days, the clergies bombard the innocent child’s mind with lots of misinformation. They are groomed to evolve into adults thinking their religion is the most humane and the most scientific one. They think that Islam had liberated women and slaves. While the humanistic side is grossly misrepresented, there is constant infusion of parochial dogma.

Muslims are programmed to think all Muslims are brothers and sisters, irrespective of race, color, and creed. They also gloat over the false claim that Arabic is a sacred language and Arabian Peninsula is a holy land. In the same vein, they think that the followers of other monotheistic religions are less than human beings. And polytheists are hated to the extreme. Have you also noticed that the anti-Semitism is part and parcel of Islamic teaching? I told one of my Jewish friends not too long ago that even if there were no Israel, Jews would still be considered the eternal enemy of many Muslims of the world.

It is noteworthy that most of the world’s Muslims are certainly very much ignorant about their own religion. The reason for holding such insular view is that a great majority of them live outside the territory of Arab land without any knowledge of the language of that region. Conniving Mullahs know it far too well that many cultures in South Asia do not endorse Arab Bedouins' historical treatment of women and slaves.

Thus, lack of knowledge of Arabic language helps the cause of Islamic Ummah. Otherwise, many adherents would be shocked to know that the situation surrounding Prophet’s marriage to his adopted son’s divorced wife became a Qur’anic ayah. Also, the Prophet’s marriage to a young girl Ai’sha may sound repugnant to many. Although the time and context were not the same as today, the emphasis on literal interpretation of holy text imposes a moral dilemma on the enlightened devotees.

How about the custom of uttering religious books, persona, etc.? The mullahs inject in the innocent minds of Muslims that the word Allah should be followed by SWT, a term to enhance divineness of Supreme God. Similarly, Prophet Muhammad should not be called without PBUH (peace be upon him in unadulterated Arabic).

Not only that, many Muslims in South Asia calls Mecca the Makkah Sharif (a simple Makkah won’t do), In the same vein you have Ka'ba Sharif, Qur'an Sharif, Hadis Sharif, Medina Sharif, and even Azmir Sharif. That means a shroud of sacredness is deliberately coated with the terminology. Now, if a Muslim fails to address Muhammad without PBUH, immediately he could be considered a heretic or outcast. Definitely, he would be ostracized in no time.

In some countries, he may even be sent to a jail (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, for instance). Do you know that it is prohibited to touch the Holy Qur’an without ablution? Followers of no other religions exaggerate the status of their deities or holy books like those that the Muslims do. It seems that the piousness can be found only in the tent of Islam.

It could be clearly seen that the religion of Islam is built on layers of multiple political agenda. Here contradictory goals are knitted into the layers. When any western media shows the innocent faces of hijab-clad Muslim girls with the comment "Islam is a religion of peace," any ignorant westerner might mistake the religion as just another innocuous conservative religion something closer to the Amish community.

But that doesn’t tell all the stories. Buried beneath a innocent scarf-covered sweet faces of young Muslim girls lay the agenda setters like bin Laden, Mullah Omar et al. Muslim societies all over the world are very much throttled by Sha’ria (Law) supporter mullahs. They are nothing more than a bunch of unabashed crooks with above average intelligence in most cases.

In pure theological sense, Islam has serious vulnerability and fragility. Thousands of years ago, a geo-centric or Arabian Peninsula-centric religion was not a far-fetched idea. So, it was not difficult to pray in the direction of Makkah and go for pilgrimage in that city. Who could think then some day man would go to the moon or roam around this planet on a spaceship? Today, a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu or a Buddhist would have no trouble practicing his or her religion on the planet Mars.

A Muslim however will have a fit because he or she will lose his or her Muslimness if the person ever decided to settle on the red planet. Similar situation applies about living on Moon or on a zero gravity structure 300-400 miles high above the earth (similar to Skylab). Why so? Because the basic tenet of Islam is based on facing the Kiblah and performing Hajj. If somebody forgoes those, he or she may not be considered a bonafide or pucca Muslim. Without the presence of the Holy Ka’ba, the traditional Islam can hardly survive. What a bizarre situation!

How about the improbability of fasting during the Ramadan in a place outside the blue planet of ours? Many Hadiths say to break the fast during the month of Ramadan somebody has to wait until the sun sets in the horizon. In Scandinavian countries and in

Russia, the Sun hardly sets at night in some seasons. The so-called White Night is a common celestial phenomenon in polar region. In such circumstance, how many hours does someone have to starve to practice this "scientific religion"? Also, the five times a day prayer has serious practical problems.

If someone follows the sunrise and sunset for the prayer time, then living in Antarctic or in the North or South Pole would be an impossibility. Again, who would guarantee a clear Arctic sky during Eid-ul Fitr so that a devotee can view the crescent moon with naked eyes? Aren’t these the underlying weaknesses of a religion that is professed to be relevant for all ages of mankind? In this day and age, a medieval religion ought to be recast even if that deviates from the strings of old and threadbare teachings. Otherwise, someday, there would be an exodus of freethinkers coming out of this religion. And they would not be inclined to call themselves Muslims under any pretext.

In summary, in this write-up I tried to bring certain inanities that are very prevalent in Islamic belief system. These are not quite obvious to eyes of believers. In Islam, dissension are not only allowed but are dealt with very summarily. As probing of Islam becomes an ordinary and mundane exercises in this day of openness (thanks to the Internet!), more of Islam’s inanities will be revealed and one day not too far from now, Islam will also join the ranks of other faiths and in the process it will become a benign religion. In the meanwhile let us hope that Islam will shed its Jihadism to make our earth a place where people belonging to all faiths could live harmoniously.







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