March 2, 2009

The Illustrated "Plain Vanilla Islam"

I thought I'd try to go through the idea of "plain vanilla Islam" once more, incorporating some of my responses to BamBam's comments from the other day (see here and here), but illustrating my points in a simple way that, insha'allah, will make everything more clear.

For me, Islam is like plain vanilla ice cream. The fundamentals of the religion are simple and easy to understand. And in my travels around the world, I've met Muslims from about two dozen countries so far: North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia. What I find remarkable is that the vast majority of these Muslims have the same understanding of the religion, despite the decentralized nature of the Islamic "hierarchy" (if you can call it that), the differences between cultures and ethnicities, and the distances between people.

Of course there are some differences, but these are primarily in the details. The different madhahib (schools of thought), especially among the Sunni, all have the same basic understanding of Islam, regardless of whether one is Shafi'i...

...or Maliki...

...or any other madhahib. The essence of Islam remains the same.

Likewise, those among the Shia, the Ja'fari and the Zaydi...

...and those who practice real Tasawwuf (Sufism), also have the same basic understanding of Islam.

The questions that arose, that triggered the various posts and comments I've written, were: "What do you think of the label “western Islam”? Do you think it exists or will exist?" And my original response (part of it, anyway) was:

Does “Western Islam” exist or could it exist in the future, insha’allah? I would certainly hope not! Islam doesn’t need any innovations of that sort, especially if it’s along the lines of the disaster that was “progressive Islam.” Islam, as it was created and continues to be practiced, serves the needs of Muslims worldwide best without any need for bida. I know that for some people, the temptation to meddle with Islam by attaching other man-made doctrines is strong, but a desire to create a westernized version of Islam is not only wrong, it’s irrelevant.

"Progressive Islam," which has mostly died a merciful death, was a perversion along the lines of Fish Ice Cream: sure you can make it like that, but who would want to eat it? (The classic joke about Clamato, told by the late Richard Jeni, also comes to mind.)

Likewise, BamBam's suggestion that perhaps the Nation of Islam (NOI) might be considered "Western Islam" is, to me, also a misguided idea. No orthodox Muslim whom I know of would consider the NOI (or the Submitters, the Ahmadiyya, etc.) to be within the fold of Islam. In economic terms, these groups are comparable to inferior goods, goods that serve a similar purpose to normal goods, but aren't the genuine article.


Anonymous said...

lol Good analogy!

Kay said...

Absolutely love the use of the pictures ;-)

bambam said...

gotta say this is cute :)

Naeem: said...


What an amazing post! How did I miss this one??

You really need to sack your publicist.

JDsg said...

Wa 'alaikum salaam, Naeem.

Are you volunteering to be my new publicist? ;) Unfortunately, this has been the story of my blog: write, be ignored, write, be ignored. Even among what seems to be a fairly tight knit circle of Muslim bloggers I'm ignored. I comment on others' blogs, I'm on a few blogrolls, I've been writing among the Muslim bloggers for a few years now, and I'm still ignored. I'm tempted to say "A plague o' both your houses," but I doubt if most would care, even if they understood the reference.