Aug 4, 2011

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Islam – is this the Message the Messenger Brought?

                                                                                                                         Salim Sachedina

         February 15, 2009

             At a series of lectures organized by the Organization for Islamic Learning (“OIL”) in February of 2009, we were given an insight to the life of this great man Muhammad, who was the Prophet of God. The distinguished speaker recounted the life of this great man from sources no other than the Holy Qur’an as well as those based on the earliest written ones as covered by Martin Lings in his book entitled “Muhammad”. There were also other reference text books that the speaker used.

We were told about the great contributions Muslims have made towards human progress (Algebra, Alchemy, et al); we were told about the Constitution of Medina or the Charter of Medina which defined one community – the Ummah – inclusive of various Arab clans, the Jews as well as pagans; we were told about the Prophet’s last proclamation where he spoke about the divine mandate which was entrusted upon him by the Almighty and asked to attestation from the crowd that had gathered on the occasion of Hajj that he had delivered the message that was entrusted upon him.

We were also told about the Prophet’s masterpiece when he defined what a good human being was, in the eyes of God: that Islam was egalitarian, it was classless; Arabs were equal to non-Arab Muslims; black was equal to white; poor was equal to rich; that favorites in the eyes of God, we were told, were only those who excelled in their piety.

We were also told by the distinguished speaker that we Muslims, collectively, did not capture the principles put through by our Prophet. Others – non-Muslims – collectively were living their lives by following on the footsteps of our Prophet. The speaker then produced a newspaper cutting which talked about a Christian Church group which announced its intention to rehabilitate some detainees (all Muslims) from theGuantanamoBaydetention centre.

I don’t know if the Prophet would recognize Islam as practiced by Muslims today. All I know is that there is a lack of correlation between what the Prophet preached and what the adherents are practicing. The speaker tried to isolate this disconnect by putting the blame on the “collective” behavior (in response to my question) and he asserted that individually, the adherents were following the message.

To do anything meaningful at a collective level, one has to believe in the ideal at an individual level. The group belief is only as good as the beliefs of the individuals that make up the group. Therefore, contrary to what the speaker asserted, our lack of collective pursuit of the principles promulgated by the Prophet is directly based on the lack of our commitment to them at our personal level.

Was it not this Prophet who said (to paraphrase) that we should travel to the end of the world (China) to seek knowledge? There is no correlation between this emphasis to pursue knowledge and the study of the state of Arab literacy published last year by the Arab League. The study mentioned that one in every 3 Arab male was illiterate and 6 out of 10 Arab female were functional illiterate. This situation does not sound too promising in the Arab world for the near future.

We were told about the egalitarian nature of Islam: that all Muslims are equal without class, colour or creed. We Muslims like to recount Malcolm X’s visit to Hajj and how he, for the first time, saw a blond, blue-eyed, Muslim stand next to a brown and a black Muslim in the worldly brotherhood of Islam, all equal in the eyes of God. That may be correct – I mean, in the eyes of God – but certainly not correct in real life experience. There is an Arab arrogance that reminds the rest of us that they are the superior Muslims and the rest of us are treated like second or third class citizens in this God’s religion.

The Arab Muslim’s abuse of the non-Arab Muslim is clearly evident if one lived in theMiddle East. They treat non-Arabs with disdain and scorn. They call us, the Indian Muslims, “faqirs” (beggars). They are lazy, ignorant and arrogant. All they have is oil and they squander the revenues earned from the gift of God into gambling, womanizing, consumption of alcohol, building beautiful mosques, and marbled skyscrapers. Their prosperity is totally based on migrant workers they bring from the Indian sub-continent and they treat these timid people (Muslims and non-Muslims) very poorly, like they were slaves. Instead of putting up those lofty marbled palaces and other structures, perhaps they will serve the Islamic message better if they put up schools and rid themselves of illiteracy.

So all this poses a serious question in my little simple mind. If the original source of this message (Islam) is God; and the Messenger did his job in conveying it to his followers; and the followers wrote all this down and put together in a book form (the Qur’an), supported by the actions of the Messenger himself and his infallible descendants which were recorded properly and promptly; why the immense shortfall between the call to action and the action itself?

So my simple mind tells me that one of the two things is wrong. Either both the message and the messenger are wrong or the modern conveyors (and the safeguards) of the message, the Mullahs, are wrong. Either way, we are doomed.

The problem with us is that everything has been capsulated in a sacred state. You can’t question the premise on which the religion is based. If I can question the existence of God (which I do from time to time) then I can certainly question the integrity and motives of His Prophet and also the validity of the Book of Guidance that the Messenger has supposedly brought with him.

Take for example, the Qur’an. Here’s the book that rules every aspect of my life and yet I have no right to challenge any of its content. Its interpretation is strongly guarded by the experts. Why in heavens name should it be sacred? The terrorists read its certain verses and justify their atrocities directed on other human beings. The Muslim men read its certain verses and justify their domination and abuses of women. Some Muslim men use the verses of the book to treat their women unfairly and as chattels. Why should this book be held sacred? Why should we not challenge it?

We are told to be careful (not by the speaker, but by other Mullahs) when we read the Qur’an and we are warned not to make our own conclusions from its verses and that we are cautioned to refer to experts who have spent a good deal of their lives in studying its various supporting sources. In other words, they throw a net of sacredness about it and they want to control its interpretation to make sure it conforms to the party line.

So here is the Book of Guidance (not of dictate) whose burden I as an ordinary Muslim must carry throughout my life but I am discouraged to challenge it, let alone understand it on my own.

I can tell you without any reservation that one of the things that Prophet of Islam would be shocked with the present day Islam and the state of Muslims is that the way the authorities have had a stranglehold on this wonderful, insightful and humanistic spiritual message.

There is absolutely no room for any intellectual discourse among the Muslims. It is totally absurd when we announce our lectures as “inter-active” or “seminar”(discussion group) because in effect they are monologues. There is no room for discussion as both the moderators as well the audience throw the net of sacredness into the discussion: God said this; or the Prophet said that; or the 6th Imam said that; or the Ayatullah said that. The end of discussion!

It is amazing how often we cite the Almighty God as if we have a direct line to Him.

If Islam wishes to enter modernity, then nothing about it should be held sacred. We should be able to question everything about it, its book and its personalities, including those whom we tend to adore and worship even greater than the God Almighty himself.

  1. Pat Hurley says:

    May l send this along to some of my more enlightened friends?


    • Of course, you may, Pat. That’s the very purpose of putting them all on the internet – to share with others!

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