By Junaid Jahangir
24 December 2015
Some Muslim leaders have expressed “grave concerns” over the Study Qur’an, a recent translation and commentary of the Qur’an because of its promotion of salvific pluralism and universalism. Such Muslim leaders promote exclusivism and supremacism and also bully fellow Muslims, who uphold inclusive values, through social ostracism. Preaching of such strong views has led to the immense persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and the marginalization of LGBT Muslims. Indeed, taking this exclusivism to its logical conclusion, groups like ISIS and the Taliban execute fellow Muslims with the approval of their own conscience.
Undeterred by such spiritual bullying, progressive, inclusive and Universalist Muslims stand their ground and fully support religiously plural, gender equal and LGBT affirming safe spaces. Exclusivists wish to assert monopoly over what constitutes teachings of the Islamic faith. But we cannot in good conscience abandon the faith we espouse and cherish to those who seek to control the immensely personal decisions on spirituality and sexuality.
Given the press on Islam about draconian punishments, face coverings, supremacist ideologies, Caliphates, etc. it is ever so important for us to assert our voice on Islam. It is important for us to speak out for religion is too powerful to be left to the hands of those who seek to usurp it for their nefarious purposes. It is also important for us to explain why faith is relevant beyond the universal golden rule.
In affirming the golden rule, Muhammad echoed the teachings of Jesus. Where Jesus had stated to love your neighbour as you love yourself, Muhammad taught to love for humanity what you love for yourself. However, in either faith, another teaching precedes the golden rule. Where Christianity instructs to love your God with all your heart, Islam confirms that the purpose of a human being is to worship God. On the surface this teaching may seem to emphasize mindless rituals over social justice, and support unthinking dogma over empathy with the other. However, faith is not as simplistic as adoring and praising an anthropomorphized egotistical deity.
Through verse 2:177, the Qur’an clearly teaches that righteousness does not lie in facing East or West, but in works of social justice. It mentions belief in God with caring for the orphans and juxtaposes prayer with freeing slaves. A Hadith echoes Matthew 25, for it shows that God is within the hungry, thirsty and sick and clearly teaches that human beings can find God by caring for the vulnerable and the poor. In verse 7:33 the Qur’an warns against speaking about God without knowledge, a clear admonition against fashioning a deity in one’s own image. All of this affirms that worshipping God goes beyond simplistic rituals. However, worship also precedes the golden rule and actually starts with the relationship we have with ourselves.
In Islam, God is recognized as beyond human comprehension. So when Muslims are taught that the primary essence of Islam is to submit to the one true God, it means to recognize the great mystery of the unknown, and to voluntarily submit that so much is beyond one’s grasp. To be a Muslim then is to live with the consciousness of having safety and security even while life is fraught with uncertainty. In other words, having faith is to be at peace with oneself.
It is because we are not at peace with our ownselves that we look out for external sources to help address our insecurities and fears. In contrast, through verse 9:31, the Qur’an clearly teaches against making Lords out of scholars and monks. In other words, Islam adopts an uncompromising position on Tawhid (Oneness of God). As the 20th century Indian poet Muhammad Iqbal versified, “this one prostration sets you free from the bonds of men.”
Radicalization and fanaticism emerge when we feel unsafe. They result from not recognizing the fundamental corollary of Tawhid (Oneness of God) that one God created all humanity and enjoined kindness upon one another. They emerge from a fractured soul, which tries to fracture the unity of humanity through wanton acts of senseless destruction. This is why the first teaching of faith on worship is coupled with the golden rule. When one is at peace with oneself and with others around him, then one does not fall prey to the calls of supremacist ideologues, who are deeply fractured themselves.
We believe that faith is about living with humility, awe and gratitude. It is about being grateful for the faculties and attributes one possesses instead of complaining about what one does not have. Indeed, chapter 55 of the Qur’an is replete with the refrain, “which of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?” Faith is not about controlling others but encountering the divine spark within others. It is not about converting others but about Husn Khalq – perfecting our own characters. As the Qur’an states in chapter 107, it is about the small kindnesses. It is recognizing that the one who rejects accountability is the one who rejects the vulnerable and the poor. It is about a stern admonition about those who pray, but are unmindful of their prayers, for they withhold small kindnesses from others.
According to Hassan Radwan, there are many Muslims, for whom Islam is not about frozen texts but about “charity, helping others, seeking comfort and strength from prayer, sharing in festivals and celebrations.” As such, in the current climate of fear and hate, we can collectively reclaim authority from celebrity preachers and render their threats of apostasy and heresy charges as moot. We can collectively show courage in the face of such petty charges.
To echo the 11th century polymath Ibn Sina, it is not so easy and trifling to call us heretics, and if this makes us disbelievers then there is not a single Muslim in the whole wide world.