My sincere apologies for the delay in writing this. I was supposed to publish this after the end of Ramadan, but I got caught up with other things. Please excuse me and Eid Mubarak!
The fact that I have to explain why I believe what I believe is really annoying. This is an issue that plagues Muslims worldwide, where we constantly have to be spokesmen for Islam but contrary to popular belief, not all Muslims think the same. And for some reason, everyone (including other Muslims) love to judge us based on how we practice or don’t practice. It’s like that scene in the movie Selena:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation where non-Muslims have judged me personally for something and exclaimed, “that’s not what Muslims do” and such a statement will be echoed by other Muslims and say “you’re not a ‘true’ Muslim.” But how do we define what a Muslim is? Because I am trying to make this essay as simple as possible (and because I’m no scholar of Islamic Studies) for the remainder of the essay, Muslim will be defined as simply: a follower of Islam.
Now, let’s try to break that down. How does one follow Islam?
There are several Muslims in the world, and naturally, their way of practice can be arbitrary. Sure, they may share in common certain pillars of Islam i.e., the belief that there is one God, but major (or even trivial) differences based on historical as well as scriptural interpretation hinder any chance of unanimity. The two major sects of Islam: Sunni and Shi’a contain schools of thought within themselves that only exacerbate the disagreements among Muslims. So what I’m trying to say is, there’s no answer that justifiably defines, respectively, what a Muslim is or what they believe. Moreover, Islam is a religion that welcomes diversity, therefore it is challenging to even determine what features a Muslim must adhere too i.e., not many Muslim women wear their hijab or scarves and not all Arabs or South Asians are Muslim.
Prior to the events of 9/11, indifference was the watchword for people in the United States. There was no reason to be afraid or even worry about Muslims and if one thought about Muslim, they probably thought of Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali, who converted due to the teachings from the Nation of Islam, which some will consider more of a political movement as opposed to a religious school of thought. A similar sentiment is felt towards Ahmadiyya Muslims, like Mahershala Ali, whose beliefs I personally am scarcely familiar with. After the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center, it was said that the attackers were followers of Islam, and people wanted to know: What is Islam? And why do its followers hate us?
With Islamophobia on the rise, many Muslims rushed to put out this metaphorical fire on the effigy of Islam as a religion of Terror. Ordinary Muslims, meaning not Scholars of Islam, had to serve as spokesmen for why Islam didn’t promote terrorism and reassure them, we were not the enemy. Furthermore, some even tried to learn about Islam As a young child, I experienced threats from classmates myself until I was 15 and was surrounded by intellectuals at a high school who, although they were ignorant of Islam, they didn’t seem to care much and that indifference carried out until my sophomore year.
It was March 2010 that I started to read basic teachings of religion and started teaching myself how to pray and accepted Islam. I stopped eating pork and prayed five times a day but wasn’t reading the Qur’an nor any other books. Essentially, I was just going by faith but still maintained respect for everyone who didn’t share my beliefs and when having to serve as a spokesman for my religion, I became an apologist because that’s all I knew.
When I started my first semester at University, I started drinking and stopped praying because I refused to be a “hypocritical” Muslim, who tried to hide his party-lifestyle and still go to the Mosque on Fridays. I ended up also just walking away from Islam because there were so many things I started reading on philosophy, ethics, and Islamophobia on the rise combined with terroristic attacks made me frustrated with having to constantly apologize for things I wasn’t even responsible for. I lived this way for a few years and oddly, I would get criticisms from Non-Muslims for walking away from my religion because they felt I was a traitor. I tried to keep my apostasy a secret because I was told that the punishment for leaving Islam was death.
Having come back to Islam now, I condemn such critique of Islam by individuals, whose aim is to destroy the religion of Islam off the face of the earth. During my time away from Islam, I didn’t condemn Islam or my lack of faith for profit or to seek sympathy from people simply because I had a bad experience with how the religion was brought up to me. In fact, religion was not forced on me at all. Another reason for me leaving had to do, not with Islam, but with Muslims actually. I will elaborate more on this soon but I don’t want to digress more than I already have. My overall point is that certain writers and critics of Islam, usually do not have a deep understanding on Islam; some will even argue that they’ve only read segments of the Qur’an or have never read it at all. My focus however, is on the critics, who are generally apostates, that tend to attack Islam from an emotional point of view; i.e., their upbringing towards Islam was one that was forced upon them and that is not the religion’s fault, it’s the environment and the ones who forced him who are to blame. Islam, like any religion, is a set of language and symbols that people identify with in order to feel at peace with the world and who they are; to have answers to broad questions and find peace within themselves so that life does not seem meaningless. It’s just a belief. However again, like any religion, there are extremists and people who will try to bastardize scripture because they are looking for political and/or selfish gain. And it is up to ordinary Muslims, such as myself, to speak out against THOSE kind of Muslims.
Critics like Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim, models itself after Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, in its style of explaining why they have the beliefs they have but both authors admittedly, are not scholars of Religion. Ibn Warraq makes this confession in his Acknowledgements and in his Preface, talks about how he was brought up learning Islam by learning how to read the Qur’an in Arabic, with no clear understanding or explanation of the words in the Qur’an. Such an upbringing is not uncommon for young children brought up by their Muslim parents. Nevertheless, this author decides in his adult life to abandon his teachings of religious dogma, which is fine. He is an adult and therefore he can do what he wants. Warraq then goes on to explain his incendiary feeling towards liberal apologists who claim to be speaking on behalf of “all muslims”. Given that Warraq has already revealed to have Islam “forced upon him”, it’s as if he’s assuming the role of being a representative for all Muslims. Perhaps I’m mistaken? Then why, pray tell, did he write an entire book talking about how Muslims are brought up and on the origins of Islam. Warraq does do justice to the reader by explicitly saying he is not a scholar and shamelessly admits utilizing only secondary sources in his work. Therefore, I dismiss any sort of “praise” for this book being “well-researched”.
A similar sentiment is placed on Ali Sina, who wrote Understanding Muhammad, he describes Islam as a violent religion and the Prophet Muhammad is (among other things) a Psychopath. And its quite clear within the first few pages of his book, that his aim is to eradicate Islam as a religion. I’m not sure what kind of fucked up experience this guy had with Islam, but it must have been graphic considering he’s made it his career to talk shit about it and more so, he claims to be a Christian but nowhere in Sina’s biography does it claim that he’s a licensed Psychologists or Scholar of Psychopaths. Therefore, I can make a similar claims about Sina but that doesn’t mean it’s true. And on the other hand, I have a platform to say them so why couldn’t I? Because, I am not one to stoop to people’s low level. In addition to Sina, there is Nabeel Qureshi, a convert of Islam to Christianity whose popular book: Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Qureshi discusses his approach to Christianity after being “such a devout Muslim”. I won’t tear too much into Qureshi because I heard he has stomach cancer, we will be praying for him that he makes a healthy and speedy recovery.
Where he and Ali Sina correlate, is that they both essentially say Islam is bad, Christianity is good; Bible is Peace and Qur’an is Violent. Here’s the thing: everyone has this belief that in Islam, the punishment for leaving the religion is death. My personal opinion: I don’t think so. I really doubt that people automatically find out if you’ve left the religion, they will kill you. Now, if you make a big fuss about it, they won’t be happy. And that’s not an unnatural feeling. How many Christian families do you see jumping for joy when they hear their kid is an atheist? That’s what I thought.
Oh Timothy, you no longer believe in God? Well, that’s okay. We will still keep following the word of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior because that’s what he would want us to.
Get the fuck outta here.
I’m not saying we should condemn people for walking away from their religion. Nor am I advocating for people TO leave their religion. My whole point is, beliefs are personal, they don’t need to be shared with the world. If my brother-in-law divorces my sister, then fine, whatever. But if he then proceeds to harass the family, write books and articles talking ill about her, I’m gonna want to kill him. Does that make me a radical sibling or just someone who really cares about their big sister? Therefore, why is this any different than a religious individual who has murderous thoughts about killing someone who is being a dick. Again, I’m not condoning, I’m empathizing. In the words of Chris Rock talking about the O.J. Simpson Trial, “I’m not saying he should’ve killed her, but I understand.”
It was the judgement from so many people left and right by Muslims and Non-Muslims one can potentially receive either if they change religions, or walk away from religions that made me just walk away from it all at the age of 18. I got tired of being an apologist, I got tired of people judging me for not eating pork, and I got tired of Muslims being hypocrites in how they practiced (or didn’t practice) but were still judging me for how I practiced. Finally, at the age of 21, I was brought to a mosque by a girl, who eventually became my beloved fiancé, for a lecture she wanted to attend before the first night of Ramadan. I felt so out of place at the mosque, having not stepped foot in one for 3 years. I sat outside, alone, thinking to myself about everything going on in my life. I wasn’t in a good place financially or emotionally. I decided to go inside and perform wudu, the purifying ritual a muslim does before prayer and I felt clean, and immediately, I was transported back into my 18 year old mindset; before all the bullshit, before I left home and went off to University to fuck up my first and second year of my undergrad career, before I started questioning things, and before I started just hating everyone and everything. Later, I came across a gentleman who was my former Sunday school teacher. He liked me a lot and I really liked him because he wasn’t judgmental and he taught me how to pray and his genuine positive attitude, made me look up to him. He came up to me and said, “Asalamualaikum! You’re back in town? How have you been? Will you be volunteering to teach at the Sunday School now that you’re back?” I’ll admit, I was afraid when my mom found out I left Islam about what she would say, but I was ashamed, at what he might think of how everything he taught me, I just discarded.
Since then, I slowly began the transition into coming back into Islam. I am reading the Qur’an (in English) and the more I read it, the more it makes sense to me. I have read the bible a bit and I have a copy of the Bhagvad Gita, but honestly, Islam just seems like the right religion for me. Not because it’s more true or anything, it just makes me happy. And its something I identify with. It’s a personal belief that is inexplicable and moreover, I don’t need to explain it because it’s not anyone’s business why I am a Muslim. Moreover, I’m Non-Denominational Muslim, in that, I claim no loyalty to any particular sect of Islam, because I feel that people tend to have arguments as a result of these differences in how they practice.
I honestly cannot fathom why other Muslims are fighting one another simply because they do not share the same interpretation. And that is another thing, when people say Islam is a violent religion and they try to cherry pick quotes from the Qur’an. All scripture is a matter of interpretation; “we come as human beings with our pre-conceptions, prejudices, experiences, and ‘pre understandings.’ Our minds and hearts are already full of concepts and ideas…that we bring to the text before we even open its pages and pronounce its words.” (Dr. Scott Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle, Progressive Muslims, P.203)
Also, I consider myself a Progressive Muslim, as opposed to a Moderate Muslim, because I feel that Progressive Muslims show respect to the classical Muslim thought but leave room for contemporary interpretation. Furthermore, I believe that Islam is in no need of reformation, if anything its Muslims and Shari’ah Law (created by Muslims after the death of the prophet) that need to be put in check. According to Amina Wadud in her essay on American Muslim Identity in the book: Progressive Muslims, she states that Malcolm X, and subsequently other black Muslims that turned to Sunni Islam, did so with the mindset that Islam and Muslims were colorblind. I have my reservations about the latter statement. Surely, I get a lot of compliments from elder Muslim ladies that my fiancé is fair-skinned and resembles a Pashtun (an ethnic group in Pakistan that is generally fair-skinned and well-respected, arguably because they are fair-skinned). Never mind that she is actually Mexican (and a Tejana/Chicana orgullosa!) but also, the kind of condemnation against other dark-skinned South Asians in general, make me reluctant to say Muslims are colorblind. Muslims are still human beings with flaws nonetheless, so I digress.
There are also Muslims that pray differently or don’t practice at all but still identify as Muslim or will protest when people will proclaim Islam to be a violent religion. The honesty that stems from these individuals is respectable. I do however, have a problem with Muslims that will not practice Islam but judge other Muslims on how they p\actice or try to serve as a representative of Islam, when they clearly don’t believe in it. I don’t have an issue with anyone else worshipping a different way.
“O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” (Qur’an: 109; Surat Al-Kafirun)
Written on the 5th of July, 2017 at 1:07 A.M.