Sisters and brothers, lets push things forward. Towards peace and progress for us all. At a time of conflict and division it is more important than ever to combine our competence, courage and compassion to address global shortages of each.
When I examine our condition as a doctor, aware of both facts and faith, I conclude that our health as a planet depends on its stewards, us. And if all else has and will continue to evolve, so must our ideas. As states grow towards freedom and pluralistic democracy, so it benefits religions to evolve towards cooperation and benevolence but it is only with a message of embrace and inclusion that this elevation can be achieved.
Fourteen hundred years ago, a man named Muhammad ibn Abdallah was witnessing a changing Mecca. Expanding trade created myriad opportunities for individuals and shifted the focus from warring close-knit tribes to thriving personal economic success. While the wealth brought greater comforts and reduced tribal violence, Muhammad was concerned about the potential for the poorer and more vulnerable (his own tribe included) to be discarded. It was in this Dickensian climate that he began reciting what is now known as The Recitation (The Qur'an). The recitation continued for over 20 years and resulted in a sonorous lyrical poem that encouraged the health of the collective over individual excess. This was and should be seen as its primary objective, an unassailable tenet of togetherness triumphant over greed and neglect.
Islam would benefit to return to its true reason for existence, for the furthering of a just, empathic collective welcoming of all innovation and reason. The Qur'an's inclusion of rituals, applicable axioms and lessons doesn't make it, or any religious text for that matter, an absolute manual for modernity. To be governed by its strict interpretation is to miss the more important point of why Muhammad considered it necessary: that man would affirm his responsibility for his fellow man and the Earth bequeathed to him rather than fall prey to ungratefulness or the worship self interest. As the most sentient beings known, this is as much our scientific obligation as sacred covenant. The layers above this point must be adjusted or completely removed to better execute the true mission of Muhammad. The culture of gender, art, sexuality, science, politics and even intoxicants are all fair aspects to evolve.
To push forward the culture of progress that previously advanced mathematics and architecture may be the highest manner of honoring prophet Muhammad. This is true martyrdom: to sacrifice one's time for a constructive goal via determination rather than a destructive one via detonation.
It is congruous that a work of such sonic art should only encourage the creation and appreciation of all forms of art from the pedestrian to the breathtaking and even the blasphemous. In light of the controversy of depicting Muhammad's likeness, we can consider the concept of idolatry in Islam. His goal of community unification required a funneling of devotion from paganism and materialism to the worship of one ineffable God. But whether an image or effigy of Muhammad is seen as an object of worship vs. adulation is a matter of perspective and even if it was worshipped, it is not relevant to the primary objective. To be affronted by a depiction of him, respectful or not, ultimately distracts from putting forth effort into creating the kind of society he imagined.
A society that was progressively feminist at the time. Where legal rights of inheritance, divorce (rights denied to women in the west until the 19th century) were included in addition to their active participation in community affairs. The Qur'an itself emphasizes the moral and spiritual equality (33:35) of women yet their separation and subjugation throughout modern Islam undermines this fundamental and universal concept. Even the hijab, once a fashion option to anoint and adorn (much like a bridal veil) is now an instrument of control and fear. Once we can accept the science that masculinity and femininity, as all traits, are more dimensional (on a spectrum) than categorical then we can apply this to sexuality in order to ensure that all of us, despite whom we are designed to love are seen as innately valuable.
The arbitrary and vacillating forbiddance of alcohol (unlike opium, nicotine, hookah, caffeine etc.) in Islam was likely related to both its initial scarcity and abuse. We are in a time where the boundaries of responsible intoxicant use are being formed. To soothe and celebrate, to know the space between abstinence and addiction are freedoms worth appreciating, more so for a population to whom they have been denied for centuries.
Even the divisions that began after Muhammad's sudden death were more political than doctrinal in nature, complicated by his not having a male heir. Because of this an election was held with his close friend Abu Bakr defeating Muhammad's son-in-law (and cousin) Ali ibn Abi Talib for the title of Caliph. Accepted graciously by Ali but not by his supporters (Shiah-i-ali), he would eventually become the fourth Caliph but not before the seeds of protest had been sown and grown. This gap between Shiah and Sunni widened further with the murder of Ali's son who had seized the title after Ali's death. Reductionistic perhaps but the love of power and hunger for the control of an empire had clouded, and still does, the true mission of Muhammad.
Much of the above is not novel but it would be naïve to not consider institutional mistreatment via politics. Authoritarian states, with tacit or active support from the West, have hijacked Islam to prevent its people from enjoying the complete progress of modernity. Their power is derived from control of resources in the ground and the resources of humanity atop it. The latter is only enabled by the people's acceptance and surrender to the state's flavor of dogma. Without this, in an environment of collective civil disobedience in lieu of violent unrest, such theocracies would only become symbolic.
Considering the tight weave between mosque and state it is even more important to reform each separately and simultaneously. Without a reformation of the interpretation of Islam and evolution of methods of governance, the possibilities of Muslim people to achieve will remain restricted and less secure.
All religions (and the act of not believing) have united us and divided us but it is high time to distill from them the core of cooperation and creation rather than stay lost on the edge. There is evidence of great potential on our planet and like any organism, it thrives best when healthy but our self-infliction upon old scars is preventing our continued ascension.
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