An Explanation to my Muslim Friends
An Explanation to my Muslim Friends
This is especially a response (because they took the time and effort to make public statements) to brothers Jabreel , Yahya and Colin. Peace be unto you.
There are many individuals who live a layman’s life and are content with what has been passed down to them. There are Muslims and adherents of other traditions that exhibit this. Are they at fault for not searching for truth beyond their inheritance? Are they at an advantage if they happen to land into the right religion? Throughout the Qur’an the disbelievers of Mecca were questioned about being content with following what their Fathers passed down to them. Yet most of us inherit our religious traditions. Another way of looking at the levels of subjective knowledge that appear throughout our species is if you go to the average Church or Masjid and survey the congregations with complicated theological or philosophical questions, how well do you think people will actually know what they are supposed to believe? How well immersed are the majority of Muslims in terms of understanding Usool, Fiqh, Qur’an, Sunnah, Ahadith, Aqeeda, Shariah, Tasawwuf and on top of that comparative religion and philosophy? On one hand blind faith is irresponsible and on the other hand I do not think one has to be a scholar of Islam to be a Muslim. I sure was not a scholar. But I was a Muslim who took the time, effort and energy to learn as much as I could. At the same time I have come across scholars of Islam (those who have been schooled in Usool, Fiqh, Aqeeda, Qur’an, Sunnah, Ahadith, Shariah, Tasawwuf) who had minimal knowledge when it came to science, philosophy and comparative religion (they had not understood Christianity as Christian theologians have understood their theology). I do not judge them due to their lack of knowledge. I do not think I should be judged for leaving Islam without knowing it inside and out either. Additionally I’ve felt that it is not always a matter of knowing information and concepts either. Taking the time and energy to experience Islam is altogether a unique source of subjective knowledge. In any event, the way that I have always looked at it is if I have a perspective on life I should know what it is and know why I have that perspective. Thus I became a student of knowledge. In this pursuit of knowledge I engaged people who claimed to have knowledge so that I may learn from them.
I want to make myself absolutely clear from the very outset: I do not claim to have had any authority in Islam whatsoever. It is not in my place to dishonor a tradition by trying to act as an authority simply because I have read a few books and understood some arguments. My participation in comparative religious studies and apologetics was based on wanting to explore and stand up for what I believed was the truth. I became passionate about discovering truth when I was an Ahmadi and it continued as I evolved my perspective to mainstream Islam. My story is like that of so many others who have explored the possibilities behind life, reality and existence. I am merely an insect who has entered into the time/space continuum and is in search for meaning.
At the same time, as a student of knowledge, I think it would be proper for me to have a perspective on life, wouldn’t it? Do we need to be scholars in any field to be able to have a perspective on life? If one perceives an apparent reality or truth and yet it seems to contradict what one has previously learned and believed, when such a cognitive dissonance occurs, what should one do? Would it be proper for me to interpret it myself? No, because I’m not an authority, right? What if scholarly opinions do not settle in the Qalb (heart) and the Aql (intellect) in terms of relieving this cognitive dissonance? Should I embrace the apparent reality or interpret what I previously believed? Quite honestly I found it improper and unethical to interpret the theology myself and gave in to what appeared to me to be reality and truth. According to my limited knowledge and perception I feel that I am making the right choice otherwise I would not make this choice.
If it makes sense for anyone else to formulate a perspective based on the knowledge that they have then I stand as an individual in that crowd of people with subjective knowledge, experience and perspective. I think it is completely proper for me to share my perspective in order to gain and retain insight. I have often found this mentality to be reciprocal with those I have engaged with.
Now that I’m done emphasizing where I stand in terms of contributing a perspective, and before I get into the specifics of what lead me to my current beliefs, I want to discuss why I chose Faith Freedom. I conversed with Dr. Ali Sina and felt that my approach could bring about a breath of fresh air in the midst of animosity, hostility and negativity. I informed Dr. Sina that I would continue to honor the spirituality, moral stability, character development and discipline that can absolutely be derived from Islam (or other traditions for that matter). I informed him that my perspective on Muhammad ibn Abdullah (sa) and the Qur’an is quite different than his. My perspective on the Qur’an and Muhammad considers their seventh century circumstances. They appeared during a period of antiquity and traditional Islam should be viewed as a primitive attempt at understanding and implementing social, ethical, spiritual and religious standards. The feedback that I’ve gotten from my Muslim friends was that they were offended by my use of ‘primitive’ to describe traditional Islam’s rituals and implementation of Shariah on its societies. Personally, I do not understand how a viewpoint that stoning and lashes for example are primitive methods of punishment and that this viewpoint should somehow be perceived as insult to Islam and Muslims? My intention was not to insult anyone and I apologize for having offended my dearest brothers in humanity. My intention was rather to assertively demonstrate a viewpoint. This was another reason I chose Faith Freedom, because I wanted to be assertive. If something is apparently detrimental to humanity then it makes complete sense for me or anyone else to make assertive statements in order to challenge the source of detriment. I recall the Prophet (sa) encouraging Muslims to change what is wrong with our societies, if not then to speak out against what is wrong and the weakest form of faith is disliking it in one’s heart. Faith Freedom was an opportunity to be assertive, an opportunity to cool down some unnecessary negativity between people who hardly even know each other, and an opportunity to engage people with unique experiences and knowledge in order to learn from them and evolve my own perspective as I gain more knowledge.
The association fallacy is a common known red herring that attempts to appeal to the emotions of an audience.
I’ve often cited certain individuals and their thoughts and positions concerning a wide range of issues and as a result of such a citation people automatically assume that I am therefore associating and identifying myself with that person or their group. For example, I can be impressed by Maudoodi’s thoughts concerning a particular issue, or I can support George W. Bush on any particular given policy he enforced, but does that necessitate that I consider myself a part of Jamaat Islami (Maudoodi’s political movement) or in the case of George W. Bush, that I am a Republican who now supports his war in Iraq? No, it should not necessitate that at all.
In my debate with Sam Shamoun I cited a QUESTION that Rabbi Singer asked in one of his lectures and Sam had pointed out in his rebuttal that I was quoting a person who disagrees theologically with both of us. However, in this case, I never cited his opinion nor did I fall for the ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy, but I only reiterated a question that the Rabbi asked in one of his lectures. I wanted to give credit to him for raising the important question and so I mentioned his name and the question he asked. Now I am not concerned with Sam Shamoun’s misunderstanding of my utilization of Rabbi Singer. Sam and I get along wonderfully. I simply want to demonstrate that quoting a scholarly individual does not necessitate that I must agree with him on everything that he stands for. I believe that knowledge is valuable, no matter where it comes from.
Likewise, I believe there is an inherent good in the worst among us and there is also a dark side to the best among us. There are scholars who are right about a lot of things, and wrong about a lot of other things. The Fuqaha (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali) often clarified their fallibility saying that they could come to one conclusion today and to an opposite conclusion the next day. This demonstrates, at least to the Muslim world, that the most notable scholars are still limited in their knowledge and perspective.
Apart from quoting people, I’ve often attended conventions, workshops, and gatherings ran by groups that I may agree with on certain issues, and then disagree with on other issues. This is because if I agree with anyone on any given fundamental issue, I believe we can and should agree to disagree on the peripheral issues in order that commonality should build a more constructive environment. As an example, I’ve associated with the Muslims for Progressive Values. While I agree with progression, I do not agree with many of their conclusions. At the same time, I think that the goal to get Muslims to be progressive instead of regressive is something that should be supported. I agree with their progressive attitude and yet I completely disagree with their attempts to change the sacred traditions of the traditionalists, such as having a Woman lead the congregational Salah which has never been done in the past 1400 years. Rather than tampering with a consistent sacred tradition that will inevitably bring about fitna (mischief) perhaps it would make more sense to allow Woman to lead in other capacities. The point is that my association with the MPV should not cloud the perceptions of others to the point where I am viewed as sharing their beliefs simply because I chose to indulge in their activities in order to learn, experience and promote the ideas I consider are valuable from them.
I’ve also attended many Bible Study groups, MSA meetings, ISNA conventions, Naqshbandi and Sufi worship circles etc. but attendance and supporting people does not necessarily affiliate me with their broader views. I participate in groups and organizations in order to observe, learn, experience, and offer whatever I can to those who are interested. I should not be found guilty however, of conceivable mistakes or controversial stands that any given group makes. I am a student of knowledge and I am heavily interested in what people from any given background have to offer to humanity. I am interested in the meaning of our reality and so discourse and participation in groups is necessary, for me anyways, to experience and learn the possibilities.
The ‘straw man’ fallacy occurs when one accuses a person of having a position that they really do not have. It is possible that you inadvertently misunderstood a person’s actions or utterances, but it remains a fallacy to attempt to refute them on a position that they do not hold in actuality. It is therefore always better to ask one to clarify their position. Likewise, my participation with Faith Freedom should be viewed in a similar light.
At this stage of clarifying where I stand and what my motives are I feel as though it would do justice to explain to the Muslims who are agitated or saddened by my choice in life as to what experiences and knowledge lead me to evolve my perspective. Therefore I will posit two scenarios that overwhelmed me to the point where I personally felt I had to make a decision otherwise I would be dwelling in hypocrisy. A situation where I truly see an apparent reality within the depths of me and yet I am saying that I believe in something else because I identify with and profess the consistent theology that encompasses Islam.
Psychologists will posit that our subjective experience is impacted by our environment and genetics. What does this mean exactly? The nature and nurture discussion will inevitably lead to realizations about subjective experiences and human behavior. Let us start with the obvious observations each of us can make. When we think about our situation we realize that we have absolutely no choice whatsoever in terms of whether we would be male or female, what time period we have been born in (whether we were born a thousand years ago or a thousand years from now), what part of the world we would be born in, what culture, society, religious upbringing or the lack thereof we would endure, what socioeconomic status and brainwashing we would endure, what experiences we would have, what others would do to us directly or the actions of others that would somehow indirectly effect us and our environment as we know it would inevitably condition us over several years from childhood to adolescence when our brains and bodies are not fully developed well into our adulthood and deterioration. All of this is beyond our control. Now when we think about all of these predetermined factors we realize how significantly each one of these factors impacts our perception of reality and impacts the decisions we make. If it is still not apparent to you how significantly one’s environment impacts our perception and choices, let us try to take this to the next level. If you are born into a Muslim family and have had positive experiences growing up, then it is likely that attachment will surface in your behavior as you identify with being Muslim. The consequences of this identity attachment could lead one to confirmation bias where one is constantly seeking information to confirm one’s preconceived notions. Now hypothetically if Christianity were true and yet one is conditioned over long periods of time to view reality with a Muslim lens, when a Christian attempts to proselytize them the reaction of the Muslim could easily be to think, perceive and behave adversely. Likewise if a Biology major attempts to demonstrate evidence to a Christian concerning evolution, the Christian, due to his or her faith, may make every effort to deny evolution no matter how convincing the evidence may seem. This occurs because the individual sustains and maintains their conditioning impulsively. These scenarios are simply hypothetical situations to demonstrate confirmation bias and not to start a debate about whether Christianity or evolution is true. Now if you think about being born in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s or the Confederate States in America during the 1860’s, you can imagine how that environment conditioned its people as well but not only that but clearly issues that are derived from the specific time period in which one is born in plays a significant role in conditioning the mind as well. We realize that the mentality of the people that is derived from the social constructs of these environments severely impacts the perceptions of reality for these individuals. I want to make very clear that each and every one of us is conditioned and brainwashed including yours truly. I am not trying to say most people are brainwashed but I am enlightened. Rather I too have been conditioned by my environment every bit as anyone else has been conditioned. The idea is to raise our levels of awareness and consciousness in order to undo as much bias as we possibly can. Inevitably the unconscious parts of our mind (per the psychodynamic perspective) will influence our cognitions with experiences and perceptions from our past.
Now notice that I have only written about the influences on our behavior from the environment. There are also a plethora of issues that come about when it comes to genetics. The genes we inherit from our parents not only impact what we physically look like on the outside (which is beyond our control) but also impacts the internal mechanisms of our bodies and brains which in turn impact our perception of reality and the decisions we make. Our brain chemistry for example will influence our mood. If our mood is affected then that our perception of what’s going on in the world is likewise affected and our choices are also affected by our mood. Levels of testosterone and estrogen can impact how “masculine” or “feminine” one appears to be. How prone one becomes to certain physical and psychological illnesses such as Cancer, Hypertension, Sickle Cell, Bi-Polar mood disorder, attention deficiency and hyperactivity, and susceptibility to many other abnormal illnesses can be inherited through genetics. These illnesses impact one’s perception of reality as well. We notice numerous levels of intelligence throughout our species. Our IQ (intelligence quotient) is impacted by inherited genes. Therefore how well we are able to comprehend and decipher evidence will depend on how intelligent we are. How intelligent we are is beyond our control. We may inherit genes that allow us from very early childhood to develop certain talents on extraordinary levels. This too is a gift and beyond anyone’s control. I could literally go on and on about predetermined circumstances that completely alter one’s perception of reality.
Personality development, personality disorders, types of personalities are also a huge topic within psychology. Many celebrities exhibit narcissistic personality traits (arrogance). Serial killers are usually diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality disorder where there is an absence of conscience and empathy. And this is what my argument comes to: Had you been born as Abu Jahl, the enemy of Muhammad (sa), or had you been born as Adolph Hitler, with his brain chemistry, his genetics, in his time period, with his experiences, with his upbringing in his environment that YOU would have done everything that he did and if not exactly what he did then a close variation to what he did. Think about that for a moment.
Now there are probably a bunch of questions still going on in your mind about predetermination and rightfully so. My perspective is that any person who commits any crime did so because their circumstances significantly impacted their perception of reality and overwhelmed them to the point of committing that crime. Any isolated incident that we involve ourselves in is never as simple as what it seems on the surface rather there are a plethora of predetermined circumstances that lead any human to make any such irrational, unethical and criminal “decisions”. Therefore our choices are so tainted by predetermined factors that the little bit of free-choice that we do seem to have is in reality obsolete. There are other factors to consider when it comes to free-choice as well such as the phenomenon known as TIME. What we did ten minutes ago we cannot go back and change. Therefore our “choices” are equally affected by the restraints of time.
Before I continue I want to go back to the criminal and say that I do not believe the criminal should be punished or tortured rather I believe the criminal should be taken away in order to protect society from them and likewise to rehabilitate the criminal because they are a product of their conditioning, brainwashing, environment, social construct, genetics, level of intelligence, overall circumstances and psychological disturbance.
Hence when I came to this realization within the depths of me I rejected the doctrine of Hell altogether and could no longer believe that God would torture anyone in Hellfire for eternity let alone even temporarily. Anyone who follows any particular religion, any criminal, any sinner, any talented person, any attractive person, basically any human being that exists on this planet or has ever existed on this planet bar none is a product of their circumstances. Beyond having no control over our circumstances God created stimuli within the world that tempts us to sin against Him and God even went as far as creating a metaphysical being called “shaytaan” to further tempt us to respond to that stimuli! Basically all odds are against us and yet we deserve to be tortured (emphasis on tortured) in Hell for it? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t believe in punishments. I believe in consequences.
Before I continue I want to emphasize that my rejection of the Hell doctrine took me out of 1400 years worth of consistent Islamic theology. I did not leave Islam rather theologically consistent traditional Islam left me. I have nothing but admiration for the discipline, spirituality, moral stability and character development that can be derived from traditional Islam. However I am compelled to look beyond it for answers concerning reality and existence. There is more to reality and existence than what the limitations of traditional Islam can offer.
In order to wrap up my spiel about predetermination I want to discuss one last thing that has come up in my conversations. Certainly there are individuals who demonstrate resilience. There are those who are born and raised in one particular tradition or religion and are able to show resilience and evolve from their previous beliefs. There are also those who endure molestation who are able to overcome the traumatic experience. But my concern, both in trying to formulate my perspective and as a student of Psychology and practitioner of Mental Health concerns those who are not able to overcome their conditioning and/or trauma. Those who are molested and become a part of the vicious cycle, in other words they too grow up to molest as a result of the trauma that they experienced. Those who are so brainwashed/conditioned/programmed that they are willing to kill and torture people from opposing belief systems. What about them? Certainly what they are doing can objectively be observed as evil, and I agree, their actions are certainly unethical, evil and wrong and there are consequences to this type behavior. But is it really their fault that they unfortunately got sucked into such an ideology or is it their fault that they endured so much trauma that they became a part of a vicious cycle and turned into killers, rapists, molesters etc? When someone commits a crime, what do you see? Do you see “just” the crime: an isolated incident from its surface, or can you appreciate the plethora of issues that must have gotten the person to a point in their lives where they demonstrated irrational, psychotic or criminal behavior? What if that person was YOU? The idea is this: God knows each and every person and their circumstances. No person deserves to be tortured in Hell for eternity.
This is basically what led me to the second idea that I want to posit: Universalism. The idea that God consciousness/awareness, spirituality, prosperity and salvation from suffering is available to each and every person regardless of what dogma they profess. Jabreel said something along the lines of seeing a lot of sadness in Mental Health. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And when I look into the eyes of the patients and clients I have work with, especially the kids and teenagers, and I get to know them and see past their circumstances, traumas, addictions and behaviors, when I see them smile, cry, sing, dance, and express themselves I simply cannot deny them of their dignity and worth. I cannot fathom God punishing them further for eternity. I cannot fathom that God does not consider their circumstances and weaknesses and challenges in life. We aren’t talking about MR people suffering from Autism or Down Syndrome, rather we are talking about normal day to day people who are suffering from the circumstances of life itself. I also cannot fathom that the solution is repetitions of up and down motions that involve utterances in a foreign language and making circuits around a black cube in Mecca either. There is more to life than dogma. Spirituality, discipline and rationality are solutions, not religion/theology/dogma in my worldview. And yet people from numerous dogmas and religions are equally beautiful and equally spiritual. People from all religious backgrounds have mystical and spiritual experiences. I acknowledge this and see it for what it is now. Jabreel said something along the lines of being a Buddhist. Ha! I’m already there. The life of Siddhartha (sa), his meditations, his nobles truths and his eightfold path are absolutely a source of inspiration and guidance for me. But he isn’t the only Mystic or thinker I embrace. However completely dedicating your entire life to monastery and meditation is not what this life is about either. We are social beings living in a pluralistic and diverse world. We should experience that plurality and diversity and fall in love with it, embrace it and learn from it.
In response to Colin, based on my Universalism, I do consider myself Muslim, but most Muslims due to their consistent theology do not consider me as one of them. They see me as a heretic and apostate. However I do embrace the rationalism of the Mu’tazilah and the mysticism of the Sufi and Irfaniy. I believe in submitting oneself to Divine guidance which I believe is subjective and relative, which is obviously different than the traditionalist who says the letter of the Qur’an and Sunnah must last until the last day. I also continue to honor the traditions of orthodox Islam by practicing them however my honoring the traditions of Muhammad (sa) is not out of necessity, rather out of admiration for an ancient tradition that has transformed the lives of many including my own life, the lives of my family and of my ancestors. I also acknowledge that rituals can help lead one to spiritual transformation and transcendentalism, and so numerous traditions, whether Muhammad’s salah, Buddha’s meditation, Chakra meditation or Rumi’s whirling trance can equally be sources for mysticism and spirituality. However I do not think that we are limited to those ancient and primitive but certainly beautiful methods. We are a species constantly evolving not just in terms of natural selection but in terms of knowledge, technology, and methodology.
In reponse to Jabreel, although I respect you, the hour long rant was full of ad hominem and condescending remarks and boisterous debate challenges. I’d have to see an attitude adjustment to find it a worthwhile investment to dialogue with you.
In response to brother Yahya Snow, who I respect and honor as my brother in Islam, if not Islam, then at least in humanity. As far as to whom I was praying to, obviously as a Muslim I prayed to Allah (swt). The deity I had in my mind and heart was the Author of the Qur’an. However, I feel as if this question is unnecessary because if God exists then it is God who created reality and it is the same God that each and every human has ever pursued. We each are in pursuit of the Divine and any conceptualization of the Divine proceeds that pursuit. As far as whether FFI is my new crew and what their psyche and mentality and agenda is, that’s not how I am viewing my participation in the ongoing discussion at FFI. Rather my team is humanity. I stand up for humanity, our species. Do I realize that there is obviously a mentality/psyche/agenda at FFI and in opponents of Islam in general? Yes, sure. We are all human’s, so naturally we all have a mentality. By trying to be a voice that calms the negativity, animosity and hostility between my brethren in humanity and yet being assertive wherever I feel I should be assertive, I think I am doing a noble thing. However I am absolutely prone to mistakes and will be humbled to receive and consider your advice, your corrections, your insight, you knowledge, and your perspective on account of anything I may posit.
Speaking of corrections, I realized that I did make a mistake in my declaration of apostasy. I said that coming to these realizations/conclusions would lead to the death penalty under the Shariah system. However I personally knew and should have clarified that a simple change of beliefs is not what gets you in trouble rather a change in beliefs coupled by expressing those beliefs openly is what gets one into trouble under the Shariah system. This continues to disturb me to the core, but I did not represent the position of the Shariah accurately.
Again Yahya and Colin, I love Islam, I really do. I did get spirituality from my experiences in the masjid, and on top of that a Salafi masjid! And I will never ever forget that. I did and still do get spirituality from being in sajood and reciting Subhana Rabi al Ala. This has not changed for me. However I realized that my beliefs were heretical. I had plenty of Muslims tell me that my beliefs were heretical. What choice did I have but to come to terms with the apparent reality I was witnessing.
Your brother in Humanity,
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