Nearly a decade ago, I argued with the Islamophobes that there is only one Islam, period. But today, I see two Islams; mangled and the pristine one.
The intention of this essay is to create constructive discussions to get us out of the nasty quagmire.
The Islam that I have studied is based on the belief that God has created the entire universe in balance and harmony (Quran 55:4-13), and that each one of us has the responsibility to manage that balance between life and environment, and the balance within (physical and spiritual) through moderation, and balance with others (religious guidance and or civil laws). Anytime that balance is off, we will witness difficulties with our body, family, society and the environment.
The Islam that I continue to learn is about respecting God and his creation, indeed, the diversity is purposeful. God has made everything to be unique with its own sustainable equilibrium. He says he has created all of us from the same couple, and has made us into many tribes, nations, faiths, races and other distinctions. He tells us that the best ones among us are those who help rather than hinder others in all that is good. He expects us to respect the otherness of others and accept the given uniqueness to each one of us; Pluralism is the word.
He wisely guides us not to compel others to think and act likes us, then says, had he wanted, he would have created all of us alike.
The Islam I have come to adore is about building cohesive societies where no human has to live in fear of the other, and if there are individuals who oppress others, we have to speak up for the sake of restoring that elusive balance, Islam is about harmony with the self, others and what surrounds us.
This is another expression of Islam from Muhammad Yunus, and Islamic scholar, "The essence of Islamic message lies in deeds, righteousness, moral awareness, community service, attaining excellence in lawful pursuit, dealing justly with all, forgiving the past enemies, and so forth."
The Islam that I have come to admire is the humility and sense of parity it imparts through its rituals. I salute God when he says, and Muhammad (pbuh) reiterates, that no prophet is above the other and no human is above the other. That alone is good for me to be a Muslim, remember arrogance kills the relationships and humility builds it. Arrogance is the root cause of all conflicts, and hence God gives a Zero to the arrogant ones until they become humble.
This concept may be difficult for Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others alike, but we have start somewhere, and as a Muslim, I humbly submit that my religion is not superior to any religion, and all the pathways to God are beautiful and help each believer earn his grace, balance and equilibrium through it.
Mangled up Islam.
We may deny it, but the mangled up Islam exists in tandem with the pristine one, and is carried out by a tiny minority of self-proclaimed ideologues who are reckless, powerful and vocal to create a false impression that all Muslims are like them. I am sure the Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and others experience similar misrepresentations of their religions.
Where did we go wrong?
When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) initiated the inclusive Madinah Treaty, he showed us the way -- a spiritual leader can also be a civic leader and work with the people of other faiths with respect and dignity. He would not have invited Jews, Christians and others to sign the treaty, had he believed that Islam was the only way. We need to study how much of that separation between belief and state was carried forward by the rightly guided Caliphs. After them, most certainly someone mangled up the pristine Islam of inclusiveness.
The only thing our faith requires from us is to believe in the word of God and to emulate the lofty principles and conduct of the Prophet (uswatun hasana 33:21). God repeatedly asks us to use reason and gives us the freedom to question everything. Thus, we should be sane enough to question the interpretations of every one including the major Sunni and Shia Imams, scholars, jurists and their traditions (madhabs). We have never questioned them due to fears of persecution and the punitive fatwas. It is time to question all that has been dished out to us.
The authoritarian circumstances created a need to interpret the faith to suit them - a phenomenon that is intrinsic to all faiths. Scholars like Ibn Tamiyah, Ibn Kathir at the time of great violence like the Crusades and Mongol attacks and other social and political upheavals gave their personal views on civil, political and military aspects of the era. The mistake we have made is to give their word a near equivalence of Quran and the Prophet; we can judge them against historical relativism but should not regard their work as integral component of Islamic teachings. All said, we must admit that whatever their intentions might have been, the medieval scholars messed up the interpretation of Quran. Instead of building cohesive societies, they were inclined to forge exclusive authoritarian societies. A lot of their work is good, but it takes only a single drop of poison to endanger a pot full of water.
The sad interpretations
'Islam is the only way acceptable to God', while negating God's repeated guarantees that no matter what faith you follow, if you are good to your fellow beings, you'll earn his grace. 'Don't make friends with Jews and Christians' was such a blunderous interpretation, and goes against prophet's practices when he married a Jewish and a Christian woman without converting them. 'Death to anyone (apostate) who abandons Islam' goes against the very essence of Islam; that there is no compulsion in faith. There is a lot more that is not in Quran and Prophets Practices, but has crept in through a few wrong Sharia laws crippling the inclusive nature and giving birth to political Islam.
We addressed 10 out o 60 such verses in a conference that have been misinterpreted by Christian and Muslims scholars, sadly a few Muslims believe in the exclusive interpretations.
The Neocons feast on those verses, and most certainly they have not pulled the 'hateful citations' out of thin air, they are quoting the interpretations of men like ibn Wahhab, Maududi, Banna and others. Each one of them was a product of history, in some cases they were control freaks, and ignored the Quranic teachings of no compulsion, but advocated authoritarianism, they did not believe in individual's God-given rights, and suggested the state to kill those who differed. This is another instance we have gone wrong by not denouncing their misinterpretations.
It is time to clearly understand the pristine message of the Quran rather than reading it with the eye of its medieval era jurists, scholars and ideologues. There is an urgent need to understand the core message of Islam that remains buried under layers of medieval interpretation.
Muhammad Yunus, is a dedicated researcher of Quran, and his work is published in a German Web portal; Qantara.de
"There is a dichotomy of Islamic faith between its primary scripture, the Quran and its theological corpus (traditions and Sharia laws): one appearing at a point in time in history as an epicenter of faith, and the other evolving in its second century onwards -- as the ripples of the initial surge of faith. The former is constant, eternal and independent of history. The latter inevitably shaped by historical factors: pre-Islamic faith of the incoming converts, state of civilization, theological orientation and scholastic methods of the era. If Islam is equated with the 'religion' (or worldview) espoused by the Quran -- regardless of whether it came from God or Muhammad made it up, it is universal, tolerant, balanced, gender-neutral, inclusive, non-political, pluralistic, flexible and open ended -- albeit within broad boundaries, and emblematic of justice, liberty, equality, and other universal secular values."
In an article "You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia," Alastair Crooke rightly points out that the political greed of the founder of Saudi Arabia took Ibn Wahab's ideology to suit his personal ambition to own the land and control its resources, in contrast to Islam that teaches that we are trustees of public properties and not usurpers.
It is easy for us to blame Bush, had he not invaded Iraq, would all of this have happened? The Shia-Sunni strife, the civil war, Syria, and the birth of ISIS have all stemmed from that one singular misadventure.
Well, what Bush did is not the issue, but what are Muslims going to do about it -- fix it, or keep blaming? Let's fix it. I invite research articles for publications at www.WorldMuslimCongress.com. Insha Allah, we plan to hold a conference based on the theme that "Muslims should be inclusive universal beings (Mukhlooqul Aalameen) to honor God's word in Q49:13. This is based on Quran that God is God of all humanity (Rabbul Aalameen), Prophet is a mercy to mankind (Rahmatul Aalameen) and it follows that we have to embrace full humanity with its God given diversity. We have to build cohesive well functioning societies that are good for Muslims and good for the world.
To be a Muslim is to be a peace-maker who seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence of humanity. World Muslim congress is a think tank and a forum with the express goal of nurturing pluralistic values embedded in Islam to build cohesive societies. If we can learn to respect the otherness of others and accept each other's uniqueness, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. Mike Ghouse is a Muslim Speaker thinker, writer, organizer and an activist.