02.08.08

Islamism – A Topic to Discuss

Posted in Blog, Islamist at 9:11 am by Haider

Islamists are gaining greater attention in the global arena, as well as the local stage, which is why I have decided to add a new category to this blog called Islamist. I take particular interest in Islamism because I used to believe in it, but have since changed my outlook.

When I first became religious, I believed that Islam is a comprehensive religion that should deal with all aspects of life. And since politics is no small matter in our lives, I did not understand why many Muslim scholars did not talk about politics or aspire to implement Islam on a national or international level. I felt that Islam wasn’t being given the role it was meant to take if it is only confined to rituals and supplications. Islam is more than that, and limiting it to such issues was very confusing to me, which is why I was drawn to scholars and groups that aspired to base civil law on Sharia law. After all, God knows how we should run our affairs better than us. The Creator is more acquainted with his creation than his creation are acquainted with themselves and the world they live in. It simply made sense that Islam should govern political affairs, and not be governed by politics.

The three primary reasons why I have abandoned this outlook are:

1) It’s too simplistic: The idea that Islamic law is the unadulterated word of God is a far-fetched claim. For one thing, Islamic scholars can hardly reach an agreement on any matter related to Islamic law. The very fact that there are differences of interpretation should get us to ask: Which interpretation is correct? How important is interpretation to the understanding of the law? In other words, if our interpretation of God’s law is incorrect, no matter how perfectly preserved the text is, we cannot claim that the message we are preaching is the word of God, or the law we are promoting is what God wants us to act on. If the interpretation is incorrect, the message loses its divinity.

It is interesting to note that during the caliphate of Imam Ali (peace be on him), an Islamist group known as the Khawarij (dissenters) opposed Imam Ali’s authority, and called for a government based on the teachings of the Holy Koran. Their slogan was: “Dominion belongs to God,” (Ar. la hukma illa lillah) which Imam Ali referred to as “a true statement with which they mean a falsehood” (Ar. kalimatan yuradu biha batil). This group believed that the Holy Koran was sufficient, and they began committing heinous crimes in the name of implementing the authority and teachings of the Holy Koran.
2) The Islamist mindset: Many Islamists embraced Islamism because it offers them the certainty that they desire, without introducing any complications that they don’t want to consider. Their opinion is correct, and anyone who disagrees is either ignorant, or a coward or a sinner who does not wish to give up his sinful ways. Understanding human nature, or considering the consequences of their policies do not appeal to their mindset. They don’t want to doubt their beliefs. If their policies don’t work it’s because they were implemented incorrectly, or that people are not ready for their policies yet. I am willing to entertain doubt rather than block out information or accept a belief with conviction, but only out of ignorance. Just as I expect people of different faiths to re-evaluate their beliefs, and to assess them from an objective point of view, I am willing to re-evaluate my beliefs and to look at them objectively. Of course Islam is the greatest religion according to Islam, and Christianity is the greatest religion according to Christianity. But what do our experiences tell us? Many Islamists seek the comfort that clear-cut beliefs bring. They don’t want to have the responsibility of thinking and can rest assured that what they are taught and have come to accept are absolute truths. This is an assumption I’m not willing to make. My loyalty, ultimately, is to the truth, and it’s not in my character to look for shortcuts or to evade facts in order to maintain a sense of certainty.

3) Shift in focus: When I was an Islamist, my primary concern was on promoting moral conduct and establishing Islamic teachings to their fullest extent. However, I have come to realise that morality is meaningless without the freedom to exercise choice. If people are forced to pray, forced to fast, forced to express the opinions and “convictions” an Islamic government approves of, forced to suppress their doubts, forced to live according to the dictates of Islam (or Islam, according to the interpretation of the Islamic government), then should people really be rewarded for their actions? If their conduct is not a reflection of their beliefs and character, then what is the point of the actions they perform? Rather than focusing on how people behave, my focus turned to why they behave the way they do and if they have adopted their behaviours out of personal choice. Free will is central to morality, and there can be no morality without it.

Islamists also tend to focus on our duty to follow Islamic edicts, without any concern for the purpose of these edicts and who they should serve. I now believe that the beneficiary of Islam is not God, but us. God doesn’t benefit from our worship, but we do. Therefore, our focus shouldn’t be how to serve Islam, but to discover how Islam can serve us. This is a massive shift in outlook, which many Islamists might consider blasphemy for even contemplating.

I find two narrations to be very interesting in this respect:

- When Imam Ali was asked to become a caliph, he refused to do so, asking: “How can I enforce a government, which the hearts are not willing to accept?” In other words, Imam Ali wasn’t prepared to establish an Islamic government if people didn’t want it. Today’s Islamists would say: “You will have an Islamic government, whether you like it or not!

- There is a saying by one of the Imams that you cannot assume that a person is religious if he was never put in a situation where he is able to sin (paraphrasing). This is because being religious does not simply mean behaving in a certain way. It means holding convictions and acting according to them, regardless of the situation. And where one is offered the opportunity to commit a sin, he will not do so, out of his own choice, because it clashes with his values. To enforce behaviours or to prevent people from making choices does not promote morality, it obliterates it from the picture.

I believe that honesty and knowledge are the key components to understand Islam the way it should be understood. We cannot make claims that we support only by our ignorance. We should be prepared to re-evaluate what we know based on the new information that we receive. We must be willing to change our beliefs if they are not true, rather than insist that they are true out of fear of falling into doubt. Islamism is a broad topic that deserves further discussion and deliberation, which is why I have introduced this new category, in the hope of discussing this topic further.

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