February 10, 2010

Cafeteria Muslim

This is the second post in a series on several questions asked by the husband of one of my readers. The first post was "Human-Made" Rules in Islam. This post will focus on the husband's next comment: "Some [rules in Islam] are not necessary in this modern world."

To which I would first say that much of the next-to-last paragraph in my previous post is just as applicable here as it was before:

All these men over the centuries - the scholars, jurists and imams - who created the rules that Muslims follow, the vast majority of them have significant credentials in terms of their ability to render a judgment. To which I would ask you, what are your qualifications? Why should I trust your judgment? What do you bring to the table?

Who are you to decide which rules in Islam are necessary today and which aren't? But rather than rehash previous arguments, let's move on to some other concerns. First, we cannot just pick and choose which parts of the Qur'an and of Islam we're willing to accept and which parts we want to reject. The Qur'an says in verse 3:7:

He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.

The Qur'an is an all-or-nothing proposition: take all of it or you might as well not take any of it. The whole of the Qur'an comes from Allah (swt); if a person is truly a Muslim, he or she will reject nothing of the Qur'an, not one verse, not one word! Muslims believe that the Qur'an is for all mankind and for all time. The human condition has not changed significantly enough to justify creating innovations (bid’ah) in Islam. In fact, bid’ah is to be avoided at all costs; the Prophet (pbuh) said,

So if anyone makes an innovation or accommodates an innovator, the curse of Allah, the angels, and all persons will fall upon him, and Allah will not accept any obligatory or supererogatory act as recompense from them. (Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abu Dawud)

The Qur'an strongly chastised the Arab polytheists who created their own religious innovations. The Arabs had declared some foods to be halal when they were haram, and other foods haram when they were halal (see verses 6:40, 6: 138-39, 6:142-44, and 10:59). (The Arab polytheists then compounded the error by attributing the innovations to Allah (swt); that, at least, does not seem to be the case here.) But when the Qur'an says, This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion (5:4), how can any Muslim possibly justify the notion that "Some [rules in Islam] are not necessary in this modern world"? Our religion has been perfected; there is no need for superfluous changes.

Modern society may be very different from Arabian society at the time of Muhammad (pbuh), but that does not justify the rejection of various rules within Islam that may seem inconvenient to the lifestyle you want to live. The most important thing one must do, if one truly desires to be a Muslim, is to embrace Islam to the fullest extent possible:

O ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one; for he is to you an avowed enemy. (2:208)

Whoever submits his whole self to God, and is a doer of good, has grasped indeed the most trustworthy hand-hold: and with God rests the End and Decision of (all) affairs. (31:22)

The best way to do that is to put aside egotistical wants and desires as much as possible and to strive to be a better Muslim. This is not easy, but it's the most important thing one can do for one's self. Remember, we all face the Day of Judgment.

To be continued, insha'allah.

Update: Several posts by other writers have come out recently that touch on the topic of this post, the false notion that "Some [rules in Islam] are not necessary in this modern world." Yursil in particular has written two very interesting posts about what he terms "Suburban Capitalist Islam," which is the notion that Islam is watered down through its use as a filter of Western culture:

The situation with Muslims today is that the West defines principles (inputs), and we get a culture out of it (western culture), and then Muslims attempt to filter the result through ‘Islam’. The problem with this approach is that Islam is not just a filter of culture. It contains within it the seeds of creating new culture. ... But if Islam remains a filter, that’s all we’ll ever get. A slightly adjusted version of a culture based on un-Islamic principles.

After reading Yursil's two posts (“Suburban Capitalist Islam” – List of Beliefs and “Suburban Capitalist Islam” – Islam is not a Filter of Western Culture) it seems to me that he and I are touching on a similar issue. In both of our posts, I think we are writing about the notion of Muslims modifying Islam to suit their secular lifestyle. Yursil's case seems to be less extreme than the situation I was presented with: in the American Islam he describes, the Muslims are not necessarily rejecting parts of the Qur'an or Islam, whereas the husband of my reader apparently is. Yursil's recommendation, to move away from Western (and Eastern) culture in favor of Islamic culture, is a step in the right direction.

I would also encourage my readers to check out Naeem's Scourge of Secular Capitalist Islam - Part 1, which was written as a response to Yursil's posts.

11 comments:

clement said...

I suppose I don't understand Islam, but I wonder whether your reply does not take note of circumstantial difference or the difference between worldviews - especially those of positive character - when quoting of the Quran. After all, the Human Condition consists of two aspects: the cultural and the moral, and both are not exclusive of each other.

Given the common roots of Arabic and Hebrew grammar, "perfected" could simply mean "completed" with no implication of "forever" attached. In other words, Surah 5:4 is saying:

This day I have completed creating your religion for you in your world, completed my
favour upon you (in your world), and chosen for you Islam (in your world)as your religion.

The words in parentheses are naturally implied, to avoid verbosity. Since after all, the Koran is supposed to be poetic as well, and verse has certain structural constraints.

So the real question is: How much has the modern world changed culturally from the 7th Century World? It has changed a great deal to be sure, but we must see which aspects have changed for the better, which for the worse, and which have not changed at all.

Peace.

(P.S.: Are you particularly sure that "Islam" is used in the proper-name sense; or could it just be referring to the attitude that Muslims are supposed to take?)

JDsg said...

@ Clement:

...but I wonder whether your reply does not take note of circumstantial difference or the difference between worldviews - especially those of positive character - when quoting of the Quran.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by this.

After all, the Human Condition consists of two aspects: the cultural and the moral, and both are not exclusive of each other.

Actually, I would say that there is a great deal more to the "Human Condition" than simply these two aspects; I'll discuss this further below.

..."perfected" could simply mean "completed" with no implication of "forever" attached.

You're not the first person who has suggested this, and there is some truth to it; however, I would bring up two points: If Allah (swt) had simply "completed" the Qur'an and Islam at this point in time (the revelation of this sentence), why would He leave an imperfect message? Secondly, in the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir (one of the most important volumes of exegesis on the Qur'an in Sunni Islam), there is the following hadith regarding this sentence:

"Ibn Jarir recorded that Harun bin 'Antarah said that his father said, 'When the Ayah, (This day, I have perfected your religion for you...) was revealed, during the great day of Hajj (the Day of 'Arafah, the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah) 'Umar cried. The Prophet said, "What makes you cry?" He said, "What made me cry is that our religion is being perfected for us. Now it is perfect, nothing is perfect, but it is bound to deteriorate." The Prophet said, "You have said the truth."'"

It has changed a great deal to be sure, but we must see which aspects have changed for the better, which for the worse, and which have not changed at all.

The problem with this simply is that we moderns would never be able to know much of this due to imperfect knowledge. Moreover, what we may think of as being better or worse is a subjective measure. For example, is Christmas as it is celebrated now "better" or "worse" than it was from the 1600s through the 1800s, when it was a relatively minor Christian holiday (to the point where certain Christians began to worry that Christmas was dying out)?

But my thought regarding the "Human Condition" is that although culture changes, the essential nature of humanity doesn't (or, at least, since history began to be recorded). This is why we can read some of humanity's oldest texts and understand their messages very well; for example, we can still feel the grief of Andromache, the wife of Hector in The Iliad (lines 546-642), as she learns of the death of her husband (even though, if Andromache was a real person, the event described happened at least 3200 years ago). To me, the physical and psychological (including cognition, emotions and behavior) aspects are just as important as the cultural and moral aspects for understanding the human condition.

What needs to be considered, then, about the Qur'an is that 1) humanity hasn't changed terribly much in the past 1600 years, despite the various cultural and technological changes over the centuries, and 2) we, humanity, seem to get into the same problems over and over. The Qur'an seeks to minimize these problems by either modifying human behavior (e.g.: channeling human sexuality into limited, acceptable forms; i.e., within the framework of marriage) or eliminating certain human behaviors altogether (e.g.: totally shunning the consumption of alcohol or the wasting of money through gambling).

(Continued below.)

JDsg said...

My comment was too long, so I've had to break it into a second part:

Are you particularly sure that "Islam" is used in the proper-name sense; or could it just be referring to the attitude that Muslims are supposed to take?

It's both, actually, the name of the religion and the attitude of submission toward Allah (swt).

Thanks for the comment!

clement said...

JDsg,

First an admission: I am a Christian, so I admit I have an incomplete knowledge of Islam, although not as incomplete to know nothing at all. I have read through an English translation of the Koran from cover to cover, and pondered over it.

But back to the point:-

(1) I meant that God/Allah might have been saying that I have perfected Islam for you in your world, rather than that He has perfected Islam for all people in all worlds. "World" in this sense is the broader sense that encompasses human culture, not the narrow sense that science uses nowadays.

(2) Ok...

(3-4) The key issue here is whether "religion" is meant in a physical sense or in a spiritual sense. I would be the last to argue that the two senses are entirely diseparate, but I don't think that the physical sense totally overlaps with the spiritual sense, because the spiritual sense is eternal whilst the physical sense is limited by time.

(5) I should ask why you are (implicitly) endorsing a relativist appraisal view, given that you are a Muslim. As for Christmas, assuming that the 1600s-1800s people placed a larger importance on religion, their attitude towards the celebration of Christmas was better than moderns who have reduced Christmas to a commercial festival.

(6) And what is the "Human Condition" in your opinion? Is it something chosen by humans, or something that God/Allah creates us with?

(7) Are you treating the Koran as some kind of band-aid or panadol? The Koran prescribes certain behaviours to prevent certain physical effects. I would think that God/Allah, being God/Allah, would mean the Koran to be something deeper than just a placebo handbook.

My point-of-view is that both the Bible and the Koran, as well as the Non-Synoptics and the Hadith, prescribe certain behaviours to certain people operating in a specific physical and cultural world, in order to illustrate universal attitudes that God/Allah desires in all human people. (Non-Synoptics are spiritually-accurate texts that were left out of the compilation of the Bible in 325 AD.)

God/Allah bless you!

bambam said...

JD actually i completely disagree with this notion. actually some might say that this notion is a bid'ah of the modern age. this thought of an islam that has been the same since the days of the prophet is a salafiya view and goes against the history of islam in general.
The modern day quran is not exactly the same as the quran that was present at the time of the prophet. actually one of the reason the caliphate Uthman was despised and murdered for was that he choose one quran over the other 6 and what we have nowadays is Uthman's quran.
Arabic itself wasn't the same from 1400 years ago, it was written differently and if you look at some of the older qurans at musuems you would notice that they had no tashkeel (the dots and accentuation on the words) which would change the meanings.
Moving on from quran, which contains only a limited number of rules that govern a muslim life, The sunnah itself is not exactly holy, entirely accurate, or wasn't used at as a political tool at the time. So sunnah was even more discretionary used than it is being used nowadays, and actually sharia was established at its core as a tool to discredit muslim caliphates and to refute their rule as unislamic. The whole concept of Imam's and futwa's was a political tool as well !
So this whole notion of islam (sharia, quran, and sunna) being monolithic and static since the days of the prophet is entirely not true historically.

The only Static part of islam are the 5 pillars of islam ... thats the core of islam. The rest of islam as we see it today has been view with many different lenses and with drastically different understandings than what we have today.

While you have the right- and you don't need anyone's permission in the first place- to hold to such an idea being that you hold salafi sunni islamic views, but that's just a salafi sunni view and doesn't speak to the entirety of the sunni muslim's nevermind islam as a whole.
then again thats just my opinion

JDsg said...

@ BamBam: I'm not quite sure where you're getting the notion that I think Islam has been "monolithic and static" throughout history. For example, I'm well aware that the Qur'an was revealed in the seven forms and why the Qureyshi dialect was chosen over the other six; likewise, I'm also very familiar with the reasons behind the introduction of the tashkeel. In fact, in the original draft of this post, I referred to the issue of the tashkeel before deciding to remove that section.

But I don't bring up these other issues, the historical aspects of how Islam has changed over time, because I'm not trying to muddy the water! This series of posts is for a woman whose husband is not very knowledgeable about Islam, even though he himself is a Muslim. She wants to be able to answer his questions about Islam. We're dealing with the here-and-now. A discussion about the history of Islam is a nice topic, but it's irrelevant for the purpose at hand. She and I are trying to get him to become more pious now. If you read her original e-mail in the first post, you'll see that the first two sentences were concerns about Islam in a general manner, whereas the remaining posts in this series will be about specific topics.

Finally, please don't call me a salafi. I don't hold such views, and I think you're misinterpreting what I have written.

JDsg said...

@ Clement: I'll try to get back to your comment tomorrow, insha'allah. I have a couple things going on both tonight and tomorrow, but I wanted to let you know that I've started writing a response. Another great comment, by the way!

Anonymous said...

May Allah reward you for this beautiful reminder! =)

I really needed to read it.p

JDsg said...

Clement: Thanks for being patient with my response; the last few days have been busy. My comment is, once again, rather long, so I've broken it into several pieces; this is part one.

(1) I meant that God/Allah might have been saying that I have perfected Islam for you in your world, rather than that He has perfected Islam for all people in all worlds. "World" in this sense is the broader sense that encompasses human culture, not the narrow sense that science uses nowadays.

No, the Qur'an and Sunnah are quite clear in that Muhammad (pbuh) was a messenger for all mankind. To give one example from each:

Whatever good, (O man!) happens to thee, is from God; but whatever evil happens to thee, is from thy (own) soul, and We have sent thee as an apostle to (instruct) mankind. And enough is God for a witness. (4:79 [The "Thee" addressed to is Muhammad (pbuh).]

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: "The Prophet said, 'I have been given five things which were not given to any one else before me. ...

5. Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind.'"
(Sahih Bukhari, 1.7.331)


(3-4) The key issue here is whether "religion" is meant in a physical sense or in a spiritual sense. I would be the last to argue that the two senses are entirely diseparate, but I don't think that the physical sense totally overlaps with the spiritual sense, because the spiritual sense is eternal whilst the physical sense is limited by time.

I think most Muslims would say that "religion" from an Islamic perspective is both the physical and spiritual sense. The Qur'an emphasizes that "salvation" (not a word most Muslims use) requires both a sense of spirituality (e.g., belief in Allah (swt) and in the Day of Judgment) and a physical sense (both in terms of doing good works and applying Islam as best one can in their daily life). The two may even be connected in the afterlife as Muslims believe in a bodily resurrection.

With respect to the one sentence in verse 5:4 (This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion"), my own personal interpretation is that "perfected your religion" does indeed mean that religion as it was revealed is indeed perfect, and that "completed my favor" indicates that this is the completion of all revelations as mentioned earlier by Allah (swt) when he indicated in verse 33:40 ("Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Apostle of God, and the Seal of the Prophets: and God has full knowledge of all things"; i.e., Muhammad is the last Prophet whom Allah (swt) will send forth verbal revelations (wahy); non-verbal revelations (called ayah (sing.)/ayat (pl.)), which come in the form of natural phenomenon, continue unabated). Of course, just because the revelation that was sent to Muhammad (pbuh) in the form of the Qur'an was perfect at that time doesn't mean that Islam hasn't changed over time, as BamBam correctly pointed out in his comment. Indeed, the temptation in the human heart is to innovate, including in religious matters (bid'ah), and most Muslims try to avoid this temptation as strenuously as possible. This is why attitudes like that of the reader's husband are so frowned upon in Islam. The person who gives wrong guidance not only incurs his or her own sin but the sin committed by any person who followed that bad advice.

JDsg said...

Part 2:

(5) I should ask why you are (implicitly) endorsing a relativist appraisal view, given that you are a Muslim.

Relativist? Or simply pragmatic? ;) One of the subjects I enjoy reading is ancient history (primarily Roman, but also Greek and other cultures). There are just too many unanswered questions regarding ancient history and culture to ever know fully what any given culture was like, let alone all the differences between their cultures and ours. Granted, recorded history and archeology have helped tremendously to fill in the pieces, but there are and will always be gaps.

As for Christmas, assuming that the 1600s-1800s people placed a larger importance on religion, their attitude towards the celebration of Christmas was better than moderns who have reduced Christmas to a commercial festival.

I would agree.

(6) And what is the "Human Condition" in your opinion? Is it something chosen by humans, or something that God/Allah creates us with?

I normally think of the human condition as that which is innate within us, whether it is the body, mind or soul. I'm not sure I could provide you a decent definition at this time (I'll have to give this some thought), but it is normally that with which we are born with. (I say normally because obviously people try to change certain aspects of themselves, especially their bodies. I'm not just thinking here of minor plastic surgery, but major operations that would transform one's self, such as trans-gender surgery.)

(7) Are you treating the Koran as some kind of band-aid or panadol? The Koran prescribes certain behaviours to prevent certain physical effects. I would think that God/Allah, being God/Allah, would mean the Koran to be something deeper than just a placebo handbook.

Oh, the Qur'an is something deeper; much, much deeper. I was only discussing one broad theme within the Qur'an. Generally speaking, there are three broad themes that are discussed in the Qur'an: what one might call theology (Allah (swt), the concept of Tauhid (the oneness of Allah (swt)), the angels, the revelations (both the Qur'an and previous books), the Day of Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and so on), moral lessons (frequently involving the lives of previous prophets (pbut), but also non-prophetical figures, historical events, parables, etc.), and legislation (covering a wide range of topics, including health, wealth, business, and family issues), all of which are the initial basis for shari'ah. Of course, there are many other topics that are discussed within the Qur'an, but these three broad categories cover probably most of the text. The legislation within the text of the Qur'an does indeed seek to modify or eliminate certain behaviors, but that segment of the Qur'an is certainly not the whole of the Qur'an.

My point-of-view is that both the Bible and the Koran, as well as the Non-Synoptics and the Hadith, prescribe certain behaviours to certain people operating in a specific physical and cultural world, in order to illustrate universal attitudes that God/Allah desires in all human people. (Non-Synoptics are spiritually-accurate texts that were left out of the compilation of the Bible in 325 AD.)

Those aspects, the "universal attitudes," are discussed and illustrated in the other two segments of the Qur'an, the theology and the moral lessons. The legislation is really just that, legislation. Some of it can be quite detailed ("If the situation is 'A,' then do 1 otherwise do 2"; that sort of thing). It's not a "placebo handbook" by any stretch of the imagination. The Qur'an covers both attitudes and behavior, as Islam is a strongly orthopraxic (correct practice) religion in addition to asking believers to follow orthodoxy.

Yursil said...

MashAllah, I enjoyed your post