with a Muslim lady the true nature of Allah, I was interested to hear
her say: ‘Allah has no need of form, no need of attributes.’ This,
the orthodox Sunni approach, I found very thoughtful, very instructive.
Considering Allah as maker, His hands are, metaphorically, the agents He
uses to shape and maintain all that is. His will, metaphorically, has
evolved the consciousness of man, and has allowed man to contemplate the
wonder of creation. It is hard to speak of these things without invoking
something akin to anthropomorphism, but, provided we understand the
dangers, we are not at risk of adopting an anthropic image of the
divine. My friend and I had a number of discussions along these lines;
it is a metaphysic which I can understand; Allah is above nature, above
consciousness, perhaps above being: but all is, simply because He is.
Yet, as I sat down to read the Qur’an, in English translations by
Pickthall and Yusufali, it was not long before I realized that my Muslim
friend, well-meaning and intelligent, had gilded a text with a
metaphysic of her own making, and one not intrinsic to the thought of
the book. To be frank, I found that the Qur’an contained little
philosophy other than that borrowed from prior religions.
The revelations of the book clearly serve the need of the
Prophet. Allah comes across
as demanding and vengeful; those who disbelieve the words Mohammed
recited are cast into his hell and remain in that hell for eternity. And
what a hell it is.
— Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to
the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them
for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever
terror is ratcheted up another notch when we find that the torments
actually start in the grave, even before judgement, while the mourners
are still walking away, re-assembling their own lives once more. The
more I reflected on the psychological pressure towards conformity, the
more I saw that Allah was an external projection of Mohammed’s own
ego. I became convinced of this when I found that the distinction
between Allah and his prophet was not always certain. There are passages
in the Qur’an and Hadiths where one is unsure who is speaking —
Allah or his Prophet?
Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Not one of
you has faith unless I become dearer to him than his son and father and
all mankind.” (Bukhari)
is a passage where Allah tells the Prophet’s companions to speak
quietly in front of the Prophet:
— O ye who believe! Put not yourselves forward before Allah and His
Messenger; but fear Allah: for Allah is He Who hears and knows all
things. O ye who believe! Raise not your voices above the voice of the
Prophet, nor speak aloud to him in talk, as ye may speak aloud to one
another, lest your deeds become vain and ye perceive not. Those that
lower their voices in the presence of Allah's Messenger, — their
hearts has Allah tested for piety: for them is Forgiveness and a great
Reward. Those who shout out to thee from without the inner apartments -
most of them lack understanding.
is difficult to tell Allah and his Prophet apart. Or is the Creator and
Sustainer of the Universe really telling people to behave respectfully
in front of the Prophet, a strange (but oddly pragmatic) reversal of
roles? (And, as an aside, we get an impression of what a tumultuous and
noisy establishment the Prophet’s camp was.) In the Hadiths this
becomes darker, not least because these works are certainly intended
literally. A battle has just been won:
(4234) and Muslim (115) narrated that Abu Hurayrah said: "We went
out with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon
him) to Khaybar, and Allah granted us victory. We did not take gold or
silver as booty, but we seized goods, food and clothes, then we set out
for the valley. Along with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings
of Allah be upon him) there was a slave called Rifaa'ah ibn Zayd. When
we camped in the valley, the slave of the Messenger of Allah (peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him) stood up and began to unpack his
saddlebag, when he was struck by a (stray) arrow which proved fatal. We
said, 'Congratulations to him, for he is a martyr, O Messenger of
Allah.' The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon
him) said: 'Not so, by the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad,
for the small garment that he stole from the booty on the day of Khaybar
and which was not part of his share is burning like fire on him.' The
people were very distressed by this. Then a man brought one or two
shoelaces and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, I found (them) on the day of
Khaybar.' The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon
him) said: 'A lace of fire' or 'Two laces of fire.'"
is going on here? Let’s not shy away from what is happening. The
country is not uncivilized; Khaybar was an oasis peopled by Jews.
Mohammed and his men have taken Khaybar. Blood has been shed. Mohammed
now presides over the sharing-out of the plundered property.
And Mohammed has double values: it is fine for him and his men to
steal the property of others, but for another to steal from the stolen
hoard means hell-fire. There’s not much of a metaphysic in this.
we read the Qur’an coolly and dispassionately, with the mind of reason
rather than of blind belief, we realize that Allah has a very keen
understanding of human weakness. And
he exploits this understanding to its final limits for his own evolving
purposes. This is not the
nature of a deity. It is the
nature of a human ego.
now know something of the purpose of the Qur’an’s insistence on
hell. It is to keep illiterate people in line by threatening them. The
equally banal heaven, with its cooling streams, shade and physical
pleasures is also to keep illiterate people on side in a time of
uncertainty and hardship. But perhaps the most worrying finding is that
the Prophet, through Allah, commanded his people to live a life of
violence. This was recited on the eve of the battle of
— O Ye who believe! What is the matter with you, then, when ye are
asked to go forth in the Cause of Allah, ye cling heavily to the earth?
Do ye prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the
comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter. Unless ye go
forth, he will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in
your place; but Him ye would not harm in the least. For Allah hath power
over all things.
— Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is
possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love
a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.
context of this passage indicates that this is no metaphor for an inner
struggle. As I read on I became aware that Allah’s Ummah is his only
executive; Allah is able only to will the believer to victory.
The suspicion comes that Allah exists only within the mind of the
believer. We are in the realm, not of a religion, but a cult. The signs
are quite clear — belief comes before understanding, or, to put it
another way, one must believe to understand. There is exclusivity: those
beyond the belief-system are important only if they can be made to join
it, and there is severe punishment for those who leave. There is
harshness for those who exercise their own point of view, from which we
may infer a fear of any democratic process. There is the establishment
of an immutable and often arbitrary rule-based system of government
based on belief rather than reason.
my Muslim friends are not members of a cult; they are kind individuals
who share meals and conversation with me; I certainly prefer their
company to that of those who hanker after status and wealth. They have
exercised discrimination, selecting the innocent and generous portions
of the Qur’an and adding their own metaphysic to understand Allah in a
way which is more cognate with their own intelligence. They have, if you
like, managed to transcend the spirit of the original text. Not, of
course, that they would ever think like this.
thinkers exercise selectivity, too. Abdal-Hakim Murad, in a lecture
given in 2000, says
we take on the Sunna, and reject flawed
patterns of behaviour which have been shaped and guided by the ego and
by fantasies of self-imagining, we declare to our Creator that we accept
and revere the profound revelation of human flourishing exampled by the
Best of Creation. Every act of the Sunna
which we may successfully emulate declares that our role model is the
man who had no ego, and to whom Allah had given a definitive victory
over the forces of darkness.
is fine writing; there is no doubt of it. But it is the direct
antithesis of Qur’anic thought. It
is directed to a Sunna which does not exist.
And yet the Prophet is strangely ego-less in that his ego has
been thrown beyond himself and is projected as the form of a deity. If
this can be made believable by others it is the most dangerous form of
egotism a man can hold: it will result in a spiritual dictatorship.
Orwell, in his book 1984 imagined a community ruled by an
all-embracing and imposed system of belief, justice and government. This
system was at war with all other systems. Thinking for oneself was
perished. However, two laudable virtues warded off secret personal
rebellion; blackwhite, the ability to argue that a truth was
simultaneously its converse, and, beyond this,
doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs
at the same time while denying their contradiction. We all do this to
some extent — it’s a human way of surviving in a contradictory world
— but for a Muslim to hold onto the Sunna and at the same time to be a
thinking, humane, individually responsible person requires constant
mental manoeuvering. In the
end this mental fugue wastes the resources of the mind.
This is the tragedy of Islam, a belief-system long lost outside
must create my own system or else be the slave of
another man - William Blake