Path to Extremism – A Personal Account 4: The Detachment

Posted in Extremism, Islam at 8:40 am by Haider

(To read Part 1 of this article, visit the following link: Part 1. To read the previous part of this article, visit the following link: Part 3)

A friend of mine pointed out that the “first step” that I took in trying to resolve my inner conflict, by observing Islam fully, is not an objective approach, because it didn’t involve me detaching myself from my existing beliefs (Islam). Therefore, if I truly wished to be objective, I should have abandoned my existing beliefs, and started from scratch.

While I accept that it seems odd to say: “In order to find the truth, I committed myself to my existing religion,” I wish to point out the reasoning behind this conclusion, and what I was intending to achieve.

There are two elements involved in pursuing the truth: the intellect and the character.

The Intellect

The intellect deals with concepts, and uses reason to distinguish between different beliefs, finds the contradictions, evaluate the reasoning behind the beliefs, etc. Its domain is ideas and their validity. From the beginning, I was aware that many people wanted to be objective, and were willing to re-evaluate their existing beliefs, but they seek to find the positives in other religions, and the negatives in their own! After all, since they had spent most of their lives finding the negatives in other religions and the positives in theirs, they figure that a role-reversal could add a balance to their outlook.

However, this often translates to one’s existing religion being treated unjustly. Many Muslims are able to offer an explanation for why the Christians took part in the Crusades – from the point of view of the Christians – but they cannot explain why the early Muslims engaged in warfare. And if they do attempt to explain it, they do not do so from the point of view of the Muslims, but from the point of view of non-Muslims! This approach is considered objective, because the Muslim isn’t applying an Islamic standard to the study of Islam, and assumes that any other standard would be objective.

I knew that Islam could very well be the true religion, but I wanted to accept it based on shared human values. I wanted to find out what these human values are, and then to evaluate religions based on these values. But this didn’t mean that I had to begin with references external to Islam in order to be objective. In fact, I used the Holy Koran and several narrations in my quest for the truth. I didn’t rely on their authority, but on their validity.

For example, Imam Ali (peace be on him) is narrated to have said: “If two armies fought against each other, at least one of them is in the wrong.” I didn’t know what the law of non-contradiction was at the time, but it seemed rational to me that what is right, and what is true, cannot contradict itself. I didn’t accept it because Imam Ali said it, but because what he said was reasonable.

I didn’t cast doubt on all my Islamic beliefs so that I can begin from the point of complete doubt. I wanted to re-evaluate Islam from an objective standard. I didn’t, nor do I think, that one has to completely abandon his religion before he can assess it objectively. He must certainly be exposed to different beliefs, but there is no need for complete detachment.

The Character

The inner conflict I was experiencing wasn’t doubt, but hypocrisy. The first step I took wasn’t to resolve a confusion, but a contradiction. I wanted to make sure that I can follow the truth, no matter what it demanded of me. At that point, I didn’t have anything against Islam. In fact, I didn’t know Islam that well to decide whether it was true or not. I had accepted many beliefs as part of my heritage, but did not evaluate them for myself. This doesn’t mean that I must first forsake them in order for me to re-consider them.

At that point I simply wanted to ensure that I can fulfill whatever is expected of me. To abandon the prayer wasn’t a sign that I was being objective. In fact, it could be a sign that I was being lazy. To stop praying is more appealing than to pray on time. But I wasn’t going for what was appealing. In fact, I wanted the exact opposite. What appealed to my emotions I viewed with disdain.

I wanted to be able to commit myself to what I believed is true, and still be willing to consider other religions. I used to think about those who reached high ranks in their respective religions and used to ask myself: if I was to reach a high status in any religion, would I be unwilling to accept that I was wrong, simply because of my status? This is something I took into consideration and was adamant not to attach any significance to my status or reputation. This didn’t mean that I cannot be devoted while I accepted that the religion I am following is true.

The first step I took was to overcome a character defect and not an intellectual one, and I didn’t want to detach myself completely from Islam, but didn’t want to feel attached to it emotionally or socially. I wanted to develop the willingness to abandon it, but still evaluate it objectively

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