There’s More to Islam: A Message to Muslims Doubting Their Faith

Recently, an ex-Muslim told me that he knew very little about Islam’s deep, spiritual tradition. And it’s worrying that so many people don’t. It’s one of the reasons why so many people doubt their faith. 

Doubt is a good thing. It enables us to question what we believe and come to stronger convictions about them. Those too scared to doubt can become chained to their views, closed-minded and hostile to those who think differently. Continue reading

About these ads

A journey of a lifetime: reflections on Rihla 2013 in Konya

As soon as the plane touched down on the runway of London Gatwick’s airport, my eyes welled up with tears and I felt a sense of grief. The realization had just dawned on me that I had, once again, been separated from the sacred: from a place where you are continuously reminded of the Divine to a world where the Divine is seemingly absent.

Continue reading

A reply to Richard Dawkin’s ‘make sense’ tweets

Dear Professor Dawkins,

Today you tweeted a lot and also retweeted a lot. Below are my responses to most of those anti-religious tweets.

“God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.”

Continue reading

My rejection of Islam: Why I stopped believing in religion as it’s taught

One dark winter’s night, I was in bed, sitting perfectly erect, completely oblivious to my surroundings, my eyes fixated on the pages of the book I was reading – a book that was to change my life. Continue reading

Understanding Sharia Law

I was talking to a mature Muslim girl yesterday – who prays regularly, reads the Quran and comes across as a good Muslim – who said to me: “One thing I don’t like [about Islam] is Sharia Law.” What she meant by “Sharia Law” was stoning, lashing and chopping off hands, i.e. the corporal punishments and penal codes. I felt compelled to remind her of something: First, the corporal punishments associated with Islam account for a small percentage of Sharia Law. The majority of Sharia is to do with one’s spirituality, like praying, fasting and giving to charity, the Law also encompasses everything from economics to hygiene. Secondly, Sharia Law is profoundly nuanced: not only is it open to interpretation but it is flexible and able to move with the times. According to academic Scott Kugle, Sharia means a “broad pathway”. Continue reading

The Higgs-Boson and why God created the universe

Know your Lord

This is the essential question which lies at the heart of all religious traditions. In the Abrahamic religions, human beings are created in a state of servitude; to glorify, worship and manifest God’s greatness. However, the quintessential, underlying message which runs through all religions, is for human beings to come to know God. Each religion teaches us different ways how to reach the divine, but the goal is one: knowing our Lord. But to come to know God, we must first purify ourselves to reach the level of the “perfected human”. All the religious and spiritual traditions have a head figure – whether it be: Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Muhammad – who ultimately represent human perfection or is used as a role model. Continue reading

Religion for Intellectuals: Redefining Islam

It is easy to say that Islam is a misunderstood religion, but the real problem lies in who interprets it. The Quran, the Muslim holy book, believed to be the word of God, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, are the two authoritative texts in Islam. However, the problem is this: language, by its nature, is open to interpretation and indeed is interpreted differently depending on the reader. The Quran, according to the late Gai Eaton, is like a mirror: one will interpret the book depending on one’s nature and personality.

In his must-read book Islam and the Destiny of Man (1994), Gai Eaton says: If they are by nature superficial they will find it in [the Quran] only superficialities, and if profound, profundities in corresponding measures. If they come arrogantly, they will interpret certain verses as justification for their arrogance…” Likewise if people approach the Quran with no faith and little openness and discernment, it is likely they will leave the Quran just as they started.

Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists suggests that there is much good in religion and its principles can apply to everyone. de Botton, however, refuses to acknowledge the veracity of the metaphysical claims of religion.

But how is the intellectual mind suppose to interpret and grapple with the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad? What people tend to forget is that Islam labels itself as a religion for the whole of humankind – and if this is the case, it must appeal to everyone and speak to everyone, both educated and uneducated.

This is why the Prophet spoke to different people on different levels: to the bedouins, the Prophet often said simple things to appeal to their intellect, and to the highly intelligent, he taught them deeper, more profound things to appeal to their intellect.

According to Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad (Tim Winter), “Britain’s most influential Muslim”, many of the utterances in the Islamic tradition are both “hyperbolic” and “allegorical”.

Gai Eaton adds: “For the Quran to contain more than a thimbleful of the message it must rely upon images, symbols and parables which open windows on to a vast landscape of meaning, but which are inevitably liable to misinterpretation.”

Metaphysical concepts such as heaven and hell are nothing like what we imagine them to be, nor are they anything like how they are described to us. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic and corporeal traditions in Islam, where God is described in human terms, as if He had a human body, are to be interpreted allegorically.

Hell is not so much a place of eternal barbarous torture, but according to Muslim American Intellectual, Hamza Yusuf, it’s a place of “divine alienation”.

Hell is a very human problem. It’s hard to fathom the idea that some people will be in hell for eternity. Gai Eaton has suggested that nobody will be in hell for eternity and cites a Prophetic tradition where the Prophet Muhammad reminds us that eventually God’s ‘hand’ will pull people out from hell – and His ‘hand’ is infinite so we can expect that everyone will be saved.

Martin Lings narrates a tradition about the inhabitants of hell, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, in his biography: Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources. The jist of the [long] hadith is that after the Prophets, Angels and believers have interceded for the people of hell, God, in his infinite mercy, will “take out from the fire those who did no good and will cast them into a river at the entrance of Paradise which is called the River of Life.” (1)

One of the most knowledgable scholars of our time, who emailed me in confidentiality said: The doctrine of infernal felicity [the idea that the flames of hell will eventually become a source of pleasure] indicates that those who remain in Hell after the Prophetic Intercession either have their punishment remitted or enter Paradise. And the scholars agree that the Prophetic Intercession will embrace every sinner.

The only sin which is deemed as “unforgivable” if a person dies without repenting for it, is shirk, associating partners with God. Islam, by its nature, is an iconoclastic faith – it breaks both the outward idols as well as the inward idols. Islam’s aim is not just to stop people from prostrating to man-made idols, but is to stop us from worshipping ourselves. Our egos and desires need to either be annihilated or harmonised so that they are in conformity with the divine Order.

One of the criticisms of religious people is that they only do good because they expect reward and only avoid sin because they expect punishment. Human beings are often emotionally driven – and reward and punishment are emotional drives which make us incline towards that which is good.

Islam also shares many similarities with the Aristotelian philosophy – Aristotle once said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” The purpose of doing good and avoiding evil in Islam is for it to become habitual and natural to us; we should reach a level where our heart becomes saturated by goodness and only good emanates from us. This is known as Ihsan.

Hamza Yusuf reports a saying in Islamic thought: “Amongst the people and their purposes there are two stations: the purpose of common people is to gain rewards…but the end or purpose for the people of distinction is nearness and presence, to feel near to God and feel his Presence.”

So, we must now ask: What is Islam? In Islam and the Destiny of Man it says: “Islam presents itself as the synthesis of all that came before. The final brick has been put in the great edifice of the divine Revelation, and for this very reason, the Muslim must expect his truth to be confirmed in other religions.” In other words, it is the completion of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity.

The world or the dunya is viewed as something which veils the Divine from us. And this veil is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of disbelief or kufr. Linguistically, kufr means to “cover up” so what many disbelievers do is cover up the Truth and, in turn, justify it to themselves. There are some who incessantly ridicule or attack religion and/or those with a belief in God, perhaps so that they feel better about their disbelief. Others, however, have valid reasons why they disbelieve. Perhaps they can’t explain the problem of evil, or maybe they have only looked into one religion and have painted all the others with the same brush or it could be that they have never been properly introduced to the esoteric dimension of religion. The veil, which hides the Divine, is harder to penetrate when one is in a state of kufr but easier to see through when one has faith or Iman, as one’s heart has greater spiritual insight

One of the most important things Gai Eaton says in the book is: “Muslims are under an obligation to deepen and develop the intellectual bases of their faith and have no excuse for relying on unthinking obedience and emotional fervor to protect it against the searching questions of our time.”

Muslims need to put to aside their sanctimonious claims; we are all equal. Ali (R.A.) the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad said: “You are either my brother [or sister] in faith or my equal in humanity.”

How and why some people believe and others don’t does not always make sense to us, but it shouldn’t be our concern – the final judgement lies with God.

“Re-define Islam but do not de-refine it,” Abdul Hakim Murad.

1) Martin Lings, Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources, page 94.

Atheism is The Answer: Why I Reject The Existence of God

I’d first like to tell you a bit about my past. I grew up in a middle class family: I went to a private school, received a good education and lived with my parents. My upbringing was a bit confusing though. My dad is an atheist but my mother is a Christian, albeit not a very practising one. On the one hand, my father told me there is no God and on the other, my mother told me Jesus is God. I felt a bit confused growing up but ,when I was 17, I made a decision for myself: I decided there isn’t a God, He is made up. In the same way there isn’t — as far as we know — unicorns, werewolves or pixies, what reason is their to believe in a God?

Let’s face it: the universe is far too complex and mysterious for us to say there is a ‘God’. A few hundred years ago, way before the recent developments in modern-day science, a belief in God would have seemed plausible. However, due to the rapid advancements in society, we no longer have any reasons to believe in a Supernatural Being. If I have any belief, it is in science; one day we will eliminate God from the equation. It’s foolish and, in fact damaging to our society to believe in such a mysterious Being when, really, we should be concentrating on the here and now.

Furthermore, I don’t need a moral code or a religious scripture to dictate to me how to behave, I can rely on my own moral compass, thank you.

Karl Marx once said that his idea of misery is “submission“. And it’s true, why should I worship and obey this ‘God’ when, not only is there no evidence for ‘His’ existence, but I have no knowledge of this mystical entity. Why does ‘He’ want us to worship Him anyway, is He that greedy for praise? I once heard someone say: ‘When we worship Him, it doesn’t benefit Him, it benefits us’. Well, that makes no sense, how exactly does it benefit us? All it does is keep us in a state of heedlessness and delusion. It benefits us in that it helps to dismiss our deep-rooted, psychological need for a father-figure and provide us comfort from the inevitable: death.

If ‘God’ really does exist, why can’t He just come down and show himself to us, is He not able to? And the very reason we say ‘He’, shows the inherent sexism indelibly marked in our Judeo-Christian heritage and, in particular, religious scriptures.

Why would God put restrictions on us and tell us what to do if He gave us free will? Why would I believe in a God who tells me that I can’t go out and drink alcohol or eat pork but then implores me to kill non-believers and accept his other barbaric codes of living?

I am not perfect, but who is? I am sometimes accused of being arrogant and having a bit too much pride, but I would like to think I’m a good person. I don’t go round killing or hurting anyone – religious extremists and suicide bombers, however, can’t exactly say the same, can they? But then they are the ones who go to ‘Heaven’? I remember reading the Bible years ago and thinking: what a pile of tripe; the Old Testament in particular is so vociferously condemning of anyone who opposes the Law, and the New Testament is riddled with contradictions. And, if Christians can’t even explain the concept of the Trinity to me, why should I believe it? Admittedly, I agree with the great man himself, Richard Dawkins, when he says Jesus was a great moral preacher. While Jesus may have been a nice person, what reason is there to believe any of his metaphysical theories? I’ve read the Quran too, well half of it, I felt uncomfortable reading it and it was too incoherent to bother with. Muslims sometimes say to me: ‘Look at all these scientific miracles in the Quran, look how amazing linguistically it is’, or worse, ‘look how amazing the Prophet Muhammad’s life was: his kindness, humility and sincerity’ – yeah, he was pretty amazing, at being a war Lord, I’ll give him that.

I don’t need a ‘God’ to make me happy: I have women and money; I live in a big house and I’ve got a great car – I’m happy with all the things I’ve got in life; although I feel a bit disquieted when I’m alone sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever believe in ‘God’, in fact, I’m willing to place a pretty large bet that I’ll never believe in ‘Him’.

If you have taken what I said at face value, you have not understood this – read it again, think and look at the italicised words.

Understanding the Muslim festival of Eid-Al-Adha

Millions of Muslims in this country will be celebrating the festival of Eid-Al-Adha today, but what is its significance? And what can Muslims and non-Muslims learn from this special day?

The Quran expounds the story of Prophet Abraham who was told in a dream to sacrifice his one and only beloved son, Ismaeel. After much confusion, doubts and inner disquiet, Abraham decided to surrender to the call – which he knew was from his Lord. But those who are familiar with the Biblical and Quranic story will know that God was not interested in the sacrifice: He wanted to test Abraham and provide humanity with an invaluable lesson.

The Quran differs from the Biblical narrative in that Abraham first told his son that he was going to sacrifice him. However, what is fascinating is Ismaeel’s response, the young boy said: “Oh my father! Do as you have been commanded. You will find me, God willing, amongst the patient and steadfast.” This highlights that both Abraham and Ismaeel were in complete submission to the Divine.

However, God is not a Shylock. Upon raising the knife to sacrifice his son, God made the knife blunt, Abraham received a lamb instead and the test was complete. Abraham, according to Muslims, is our exemplar and the spiritual father of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All the prophets of Islam: Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad et al, where all given great tests, but the test given to Abraham is unparalleled. Tests are an inevitable part of life, whether it be the death of a loved one, the loss of wealth or being betrayed by someone you trusted – we all go through hardships. But every test and vicissitude can be seen through, and often, the outcome benefits us. “Verily God is with those who are patient”- as the saying goes

Eid-Al-Adha also commences the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims who are financially, physically and mentally able to do so. Hajj is the single biggest human gathering in the world, it is believed that more than 3 million Muslims gather together in Mecca in unity. The pilgrimage, which Malcolm X famously went on, is unlike any other human event.

Malcolm X said: “During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.”

And:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures.

Islam is thus the continuation of the messages brought by Moses and Jesus and all the other prophets of God. It is not merely a religion but more a way of life; practising the faith in a purely perfunctory manner misses the point and understanding the profoundly nuanced traditions within the faith is essential.

Eid Mubarak!