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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why I think that Islam Needs Reform

Like most of the Muslims today, I was born to follow this religion rather than it was a personal choice which I decided upon later in life. The earliest realization of this religious identity came in the first class of "Religion" in school when I was six years old. The teacher asked couple of my other kids to go to another class when it was the time to study religion. When I asked the kid next to me why those other kids had to leave, she said because they were Christians and they didn't have to sit in the Islamic religion class. I knew then of the difference between me and those other kids. My mother explained to me that we were Muslim, and Christians were different from us because they had another prophet other than Mohammed.

I grew up to be Muslim but I could not accept my religion blindly like many others and wished to learn more about it and the more I read, the more questions I had about why and how religious laws developed. These questions were intensified and became more urgent when Quranic verses started to be linguistically clearer as I have advanced in Arabic language study in high school. Language learning and exploring linguistic structures was something I was good at and loved. Thus, when I read Quran, I couldn't escape applying the linguistic rules I had learned of Arabic on the verses I was reading. More questions started to formulate and became more urgent when the linguistic structure refuted the Islamic laws imposed by Sharia.

I couldn't escape noticing that men's taken-for-granted guardianship over women, which is claimed to be stipulated by a Quranic text, was cleared condition in the only verse cited to support this guardianship. Quran says men are guardian of women because of the latter economic and physical dependence. So if these two conditions of dependence didn't exist, would women be free of this guardianship? I wondered. Unfortunately, no sharia book explained this guardianship as conditioned and actually made it part of Sharia followed for centuries that no one question any more.

I found the polygamy verse also conditioned linguistically and with further reading it was given in a specific historic situation, and yet polygamy in Islam is part of Sharia and Islamic culture! I found covering the head is not exactly mentioned in Quran and instead we have one verse that advises decency of clothes rather than strict dress code, but still the latter is inserted as part of our Islamic Sharia. Singing, art, literature, poetry, and many other things that Sharia would label as "haram", or against true religious devotion were not dismissed as such in Quran, yet Sharia would not even reconsider their Prohibition. In two verses, in different chapters, Allah talks to Mohammed telling him that he is given these stories to entertain him in hard times, and find solace in the similar path walked by previous prophets: entertainment and instruction. Yet, authors usually are frowned upon in Islam, unless of course they write about religion!  

When these ideas started to take strong hold of my brain, my alienation from the world increased, and thought there was no one who might walk the same road and became critical of Sharia, which I believe was the first reason why Islam is hated that much today. I saw this Sharia make us miserable and turn us into hated rigid human beings who thought they were the chosen ones (which is quite ironic considering that Muslims reject Jews claim of being the chosen ones as mere human vanity!)

For years I have been nourishing these ideas on my own, but I didn't dare to breathe them out because I knew that people don't separate our faith from Sharia, between Islamic set of believes and Islamic law (the religious institution). For me, Islam as I have learned from Quran is to believe in the maker of the universe (different cultures gave the Maker different names), to believe that through human history there were men who knew that maker, who managed to land on the truth which most of us search for today, there were men who were social reformers, and there were men who were political leaders, and all sought for better life. What people made of them later, that was not their fault. Quran argues that Jesus didn't claim divinity, and didn't ask his follower to worship him as God. It is not his fault that people now called him God, as it was not the fault of Mohammed that his followers believed that all should become Muslims even if it means using force!

I have learned that there were many things in Quran or Islamic history that were bound by the culture and history of Arabia almost 1400 years ago! To judge Mohammed for having many wives, is to judge the Romans or Greeks for having slaves! It is a cultural practice which was unquestionably normal then. However, it is not today's culture, nor it is acceptable with the increase of women's self-empowerment.

Our religion doesn't need reform, but our Sharia need it badly. It is simply ridiculous to regularize the life of 21st c. by laws based on a culture that doesn't exist any more. Today's world is regularized and organized by set of rules and laws that change with every historical and political crisis. With the world as a small village and open communication, a religion that keeps its people enclosed in a world of their own is destined to perish or his followers will do. In today's world, anyone cherish their own vision of life as the only one that is right is stupid vanity. Today, the universe is open and it showed us how small and insignificant we are against the vast existence of worlds that went for thousands of years beyond man's imagination.

Death is still the unconquered territory for man. We can travel into the vast space of the universe, but death will always brings us down and end our vanity. Because of that, throughout our history of existence we may have imagined or we may not a life after death. Can anyone assure its existence? did anyone we know who died and came back to tell us what would happen after that moment when the brain cease to work? Even in the times of complicated medical sets, we can trace when exactly the brain stops to work, but we can't tell how or what is happening inside that brain at that exact moment! Heaven and Hell have always found colorful description that abide by the culture of the time. For me, heaven of leisure life and variety of foods and drinks never interested me: I don't want a heaven that will reduce me into an animal for eternity. To feel the pain of hell need fleshly existence which goes in contradiction with the later eternal life! Heaven and Hell can be something else we need to re-imagine, or we just can't take this description literally.

But the belief in heaven and hell is not related to the essence of Mohammed's or any prophet's messages of social reform: all called for better life, social justice, and more humane conduct. All wanted their people to be kind to each other and don't persecute each other. Yet, their followers, in vanity of being the chosen ones, ruined the teachings of their masters and decided that God is helpless divine entity that needs their worldly help to have his word preside over earth!

Time to re-read our holy books, time to look up and down and place Sharia in its cultural and historical contexts. If someone says "reform your religion", ask them to elaborate and learn to listen to what they have to say. If they made a good point, maybe this would be for the best interest of our faith, if they missed it, explain to them why. Dismissing other's opinions is just vanity which will alienate us further from the world. In the so-called Islamic world people are not happy, not because some conspiracy theory made them so, but because they are now opened to a world that goes beyond them, a world of different cultures and beliefs with people variously happier than they are, the ones who believe they are the best nation. God's chosen ones!

N. F. M.      

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