Saturday, March 29, 2008

Intolerance: The basic tenet of today's Islam

There seems to be much violence associated with Islam: beheading, stoning, suicide bombings, honor crimes, all are common in Muslim societies. But is Islam unique in this sense?
A look back at Middle Age Europe suggests that the answer is No. At one point Christianity ruled Europe; Dissenting voices were accused of heresy and sentenced to death by cruel medieval methods. I see many similarities between Middle Age Europe and today's Muslim societies. Critics of Islam are called infidels (كفار). They face being murdered (either officially by the state or unofficially by the people). Salman Rushdie is a famous example because of the infamous fatwa (religious verdict) calling for his death, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini. But Salman Rushdie is a well known example because he is a Westerner (British). Many Arabic and Muslim thinkers who publicly criticized Islam or questioned some of its practices were assassinated without getting much media coverage. To put this into perspective, just think of this society that was outraged at some silly cartoons in a Danish newspaper. What would be the reaction of this society say if someone within it questioned the authenticity of a certain Quranic verse - even from an academic viewpoint? So in some sense Islam is today what Christianity was 500 years ago. Except that today we live in a global world. The problems of Islam aren’t confined to the Muslim world. We see these problems around us to some extent wherever we live. The ease of travel (migration) and advances in telecommunication have caused these problems to be more visible to the outside world and as a result have accelerated the clash of cultures.
What is the solution?
Again a look back at history… Christianity did not give up its power voluntarily. It took centuries of struggle and blood shed for Europe to become secular. Islam is no different. Change is not simple. There has to be a struggle initiated by Muslims themselves against Islamic dogma. The struggle begins with a serious critic of the Quran not as a holy book but as a script written by man. This is something no Muslim person dares to tackle even the very moderate and open minded. But truth has to be told that the Quran is man's creation… and just like the bible, it preaches love and hate at the same time. It is up to Muslims to do without the hateful verses that preach violence. Muslims have to realize that this script was written by and for people who lived 1500 years ago in the Arabic peninsula. It is therefore no longer compatible with our times. If they wish to keep their faith they have to reinvent it… just as Christians did to some extent (or more accurately were forced to do).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Early memories of a nonbeleiver

As a child, my dad taught me Arabic through recitation of the Quran. One of my most vivid memories of this experience was reading surat al-naba’ سورة النبأ (chapter 78), which contains some descriptive verses on Hell and the suffering facing nonbelievers there. My immediate reaction was “God must be bluffing, such place does not exist”. I did not hesitate in sharing these thoughts with my dad, who being an atheist (I did not know this fact at the time) was proud of my reaction.
Today, as a grown up who long declared himself a nonbeliever, I still find myself linked to Islam. I am linked to Islam through my Middle Eastern features, my culture and most important, through the Arabic language that I love and that I find inseparable from Islam (after all Islam is responsible for preserving the Arabic language in it original form for over 1500 years). I am also linked to Islam as a global citizen who is witnessing the ongoing conflicts in the world... one of which is the so called “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West.
The intent of this Blog is to discuss social/political/religious issues from the perspective of a person who is tied to both Western and Islamic cultures. Many of the topics that I will address are considered taboos in Islamic societies. They are unchallenged beliefs that are central to the faith and accepted as truths. Since the path to enlightenment begins with questioning the givens, there will be no taboos here.