05.01.08

Why Islamization is unIslamic

Posted in Islam, Islamist, Kuwait, Politics at 8:50 am by Haider

(To read a summary of this post click here)

In my previous post on the Islamization of the law, I explained why the argument for Islamization is both misleading and meaningless. In this article, I would like to explain why Islamization is unIslamic.

The Process

Before I discuss the issue of Islamization thoroughly, we need to remember that Islamization is the process of installing Islamic law as the source of legislation. This means that Islamic law was not the law, and the case is made for its adoption by the country, not in 5 or 10 year’s time, but now.

For the Islamists, it is not part of their vision to see Islamic law being used in the country in the distant future, but this is at the top of their agenda, and they are pushing for it at every chance they get.

The Rise of Islam

While the case is made by the Islamists that Islamic law is the solution we are in desperate need of to tackle our personal, social, economic and political problems, they overlook the fact that the process of Islamization that they are promoting is contrary to the way in which Islam itself was promoted by the Prophet (peace be on him and his family).

Islamists want to make use of the law in order to change people’s moral conduct. But the Prophet never approached morality in this way. Islam did not begin as a government or any other political establishment. It began as a moral movement that promoted a re-evaluation of society’s beliefs and customs, and offered a worldview that promoted individual thought and upright character.

Islamic scholars usually draw a distinction between the verses of the Holy Koran that were revealed in Mecca (i.e. during the early days of Islam) and the ones revealed in Medina (i.e. the later stages of Islam) because the former concentrated more on beliefs, principles and moral virtues, whereas the latter dealt with civil law, warfare, political relations, etc. The process of Islamization reverses the formula, and rather than begin with moral guidance through rational persuasion, they seek to promote morality through political force.

The Law and the Culture

It is important to bear in mind that the rise of Islam demonstrates the Islamic way of bringing about social reform. In other words, it presents us with the process we must use, if we wish to act in accordance with Islam. We cannot simply work towards the end results (Islamic beliefs, upright conduct, etc) while overlooking how these issues are meant to be approached. And we certainly cannot look for shortcuts, which is what the Islamists are looking for.

By using the threat of force, the Islamists hope that they can mould society in any way they wish. They completely ignore the validity of their process, and do not take into consideration the role culture plays in a society.

Islam sought to change the culture before it established the law. The Prophet wanted to change the way people thought, not by intimidation or compulsion, but with reason. He wanted to change their conduct, not by force or with threats, but by setting an example and encouraging others towards the values he was promoting.

The prohibition of intoxicants is usually given as an example of how Islamic law did not immediately demand that alcohol be banned from Muslim society. The Prophet gave the reasons for why people should not drink alcohol, but he did not prevent people from drinking, nor did he punish them for drinking.

Islam came to instill the values that are proper to a prosperous society, and the law came later on to codify the moral values that society upheld and consented to.

Looking at the Islamist approach to politics, we find that the Islamists seek to add more restrictions on people so they can develop in them the values the Islamists associate to Islam. In other words, the less people know, the less choices they have and the less they can do, the more moral they can become.

There is total disregard for the current values that people uphold, no use of reasoning to promote “Islamic” values and no consideration for the consequences their policies will have on people’s personal adoption of Islamic values. Islam has to be obeyed, no matter what people think or how they feel about it.

Is this an Islamic attitude?

Understanding the Law

Apart from the fact that the Islamist agenda ignores the actual process the Prophet used to introduce Islam in Arabia, it also makes unsubstantiated claims about the nature of Islamic law and misinterprets the law through false principles and wrong application of Islamic teachings. We will look at all these issues, and relate them to some positions the Islamists in Kuwait took regarding a couple of issues.

“Islamic law is unchanging”

The most popular claim Islamists make regarding the nature of Islamic law is that it is unchanging, and is suitable for all times and all places. This is a claim Islamists find difficult to think beyond or without. It forms the framework of their thinking, and they cannot understand Islam in any other way. They view change as something negative (which is one of the reasons why they are conservatives) and think that it creates uncertainty and undermines Islamic teachings. Besides, God knows the nature of man and his needs, and God’s knowledge cannot become outdated.

But this is a claim that the Prophet neither made nor acted on. Islamic law went through several changes during the time of the Prophet, and the study of Islamic law takes into account the abrogated verses (Ar. mansukh, i.e. the verses whose application is replaced) and the abrogating verses (Ar. nasikh, i.e. the verses that came to replace the abrogated verses). This is something stated in the Holy Koran, and Islamic teachings don’t hide this fact.

So if Islamic law went through several changes during the time of the Prophet, is it appropriate for us to say that from the Prophet’s death onward, Islamic law cannot be changed?

For us to answer this question appropriately, we must take into account why Islamic law should be open to change.

It is narrated that Imam Ali (peace be on him) was asked about the Prophet’s instruction for the Muslims to dye their hair, and whether Muslims were still obliged to do so. Imam Ali replied that, during the early days of Islam, the Muslims were a minority and subject to abuse. The Prophet encouraged the Muslims to dye their hair so that they can appear more youthful in relation to the rest of society, and thereby presenting themselves as a strong community. But after the Muslims became powerful, it is no longer necessary to give such an impression.

It is also recorded that the second caliph, Caliph Umar, suspended corporal punishments during a drought.

What both incidents show is, at least, an understanding of Islam amongst prominent Muslim figures that Islamic law was open to change, given the conditions in which the Muslims live. And not only do Islamists overlook conditions (conditions are subject to change, and Islamists do not like change), they also ignore the context in which Islamic law was implemented during the time of the Prophet. “Why did the Prophet give such a ruling?” is not a question Islamists tend to ask, which distorts their understanding and, therefore, implementation of Islamic law.

Islam in Context

In a lengthy narration on the abrogated and abrogating verses, Imam Ali pointed out that many Islamic rulings were not based on universal laws, but were an extension of the existing customs of Arabia. This, Imam Ali explained, was part of God’s mercy in that He did not introduce laws to a people that they were unable to cope with, or which strongly conflicted with their expectations.

And while Islamists may rationalize the universal applicability of Islamic law, they must be aware of the rulings which are bound by the society in which Islam was born, and which prominent Islamic figures, such as Imam Ali, who is regarded as one of the key interpreters of Islam, did not claim to be universal.

Distorted Teachings

As I have already mentioned in the article “the Islamization of the Law,” the interpretation of Islamic law is a crucial element that we need to address before we can claim that the law we are promoting is actually Islamic (i.e. in accordance with God’s message).

There are many principles that need to be taken into consideration when interpreting Islamic law, and I have only touched on some of them. But to help explain the Islamist interpretation of Islamic law, I would like to look at two issues that were raised in Kuwait by Islamists:

Banning Valentine’s: Apart from the fact that this is a top-down approach to promoting Islam, the Islamists wanted to ban the celebration of Valentine’s because they considered it indecent, and because it is a celebration that Islam does not recognize. Not every interpretation of Islam would accept these arguments. For one thing, celebrating Valentine’s is only indecent depending on the individuals celebrating it. No one can claim that it is indecent for a married couple to celebrate Valentine’s.

As for Valentine’s being a non-Muslim celebration does not immediately cast it off as forbidden for the Muslims to celebrate. Islamists have low tolerance for celebrations and occasions that do not belong in the Islamic calendar. Some even object to celebrating birthdays, including the Prophet’s birthday, because it’s a day that the Prophet himself did not observe.

But, again, the interpretation of Islamic teachings does not make it clear whether the Islamist interpretation is justified or not, and it certainly cannot speak on behalf of all Muslims.

Opposing the weekend shift: When Kuwait wanted to shift its weekend from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday, the Islamists opposed the move, and claimed that regarding Saturday a holiday is Islamically forbidden, because it imitates the Jews, which the Prophet has warned the Muslims about.

What the Islamists failed to recognize is what sort of imitation the Prophet has warned the Muslims about. The Jews worship a single God, but does that mean the Muslims have to be different, and worship two gods? The Jews observe a day of rest, so does this mean the Muslims cannot regard Friday a day of rest?

The imitation the Prophet warned us about is not in their observance of the Sabbath, or any other religious ritual, but it is in the ways they have deviated from God’s instructions. The Islamists have incorrectly applied an Islamic teaching to an issue to which the teaching did not apply.

We, therefore, see that the Islamist call for Islamization is not what the Islamists make it out to be. It is not a pure application of Islamic law, since they have dismissed the Islamic process of promoting Islam, they do not understand the nature of Islamic law, nor interpret its teachings correctly. Rather than be drawn towards Islamization by judging the call from a distant, we must try to understand exactly what is meant by it, and to listen carefully to what is being called for.

Summary of "Why Islamization is unIslamic"

The call for the Islamization of the law is unIslamic, for a number of reasons.

As a process, Islamization fails to apply the actual process the Prophet (peace be on him and his family) used to promote Islam. While the Prophet sought to change the people’s values and culture before fulfilling a political role, the Islamists seek to mould society with the threat of the law.

Islamization is based on an understanding of the nature of Islamic law that conflicts with what the Prophet taught. Islamists claim that Islamic law is unchanging, and that it is applicable in every place at every time. However, Islamic law went through several changes during the time of the Prophet. Prominent Muslim figures, such as Imam Ali and Caliph Umar, recognized that Islamic law was open to change, and Islamic laws can be suspended, given the circumstances the Muslims find themselves in.

The Islamists have incorrectly applied some Islamic teachings to contemporary issues. For example, the week-end shift in Kuwait, from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday was rejected by Islamists because they considered it imitation of the Jews (by observing Saturday a day of rest), and that the Prophet has warned us about imitating the Jews. What the Islamists overlooked is what sort of imitation the Prophet warned us about. It was not in their religious observances, but in the ways in which they disobeyed God’s instructions.

We cannot assume that Islamization is the implementation of Islamic law, as is, while ignoring the degree to which it has been distorted by Islamists, in their approach and understanding of Islam.

4 Comments »

  1. Ahmed Al-Ruhaimi said,

    May 1, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Excellent!
    I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long while, glad to see your views.
    One very important point you raised, I hadnt actually realised before. The prophet (pbuh) introduced Islam in a way that it made the people absorb it of their own will, and wholeheartedly..
    I have always been troubled by the question of what should an Islamic state or society look like, and while many of my questions remain unanswered, there is one conclusion that I always seem to arrive at. It is simply that if a society FULLY understood the teachings of Islam, there would be a natura drift towards their implementation ( there will always be forces of fitna and evil trying to disrupt this of course).
    I get extremely angry with “muslims” at protests, chanting threats of how they will force people and societies to submission and how they will take over the world. They couldnt take over a farmyard because of how flawed their thinking is. but more importantly, it amazes me why they never realise that they dont need to force anything, they only need to set an example. If this example is one that appeals to human’s innate desire for justice, sooner or later people will gravitate towards it. this, as you point out, will take time.. to cite a relevant example, the islamic thoughts on interest… i think in the current climate people may very well be inclined to have an open mind towards what islam has to say about interest…
    We have to shock people and societies with the benefits of what islam has to offer. we should be patient. We may be belittled and ridiculed for not drinking, for example, but if we give our reasons in a gentle way and let people go away with what we have told them, there will come a day when they are throwing up on a street corner and they will remember you.. there will come a day when they make drunken comments to their boss at a party and when they get fired, they will remember you..
    but as people of logic, we should understand that when they are relaxing at home with a beer, they may very well overlook us as extremist in our views. We have to show understanding of theirs too. this terrible habit of ours to find blasphemy in someone enjoying a drink is misguided. even islam recognises that alcohol has benefits! wine is somethin we are told we will enjoy in the afterlife !!!! i know it wont make you drunk then, but the point remains valid. it can most certainly be enjoyable, but it carries too many risks an the harmful effects completely overshadow the small enjoyment and benefit we can protract from it.
    There are endless examples I have seen with my own eyes of muslims shunning people and writing them off as animals for doing certain things. but if those people have never had the privelage of the knowledge and teachings we have, how can we expect them to understand us…we have to set the example of why our choice is better, and it has to be done in a way that THEY will see it with their own eyes..
    I may have misunderstood something from the Quran which states that there are three kinds/levels of faith & belief.. and one of them is belief through things we have SEEN…it needs looking into to verify my vague memory, but i think this is an important Quranic statement very relevant to this topic..
    Finally, this reminds me of something I read in one of the best books I have ever read (stephen covey, 7 habits of highly effective people). The author recalls an incident where a father is complaining that his son doesnt understand him. the father repeatedly says “i dont understand my son, he wont listen to me”… eventually it dawns on the father.. he is complaining of not understanding his son because his son wont listen to him.. but, and this is something that has stayed with me for years, how can HE understand HIS son, if his chief complaint that his son is not listening.. if HE wants to understand HIS son, then HE needs to listen.. and in the same way, if we truly and genuinely care for others, and if we genuinely believe in what we preach, then our best hope is to try and understand why people do what they do, to understand why we do the opposite, and most importantly to let them SEE why our way is better…

  2. Haider said,

    May 1, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Dear Ahmed,

    Thank you for your comment. To elaborate further on the issue of considering what non-Muslims think in order to promote Islam, it is very important to at least acknowledge their point of view, and to admit where they are right. At times people do things for the wrong reasons, but they hold their reasons as important. Some drink to socialise with others. Rather than condemn them and their intentions, we should accept the need to socialise but then ask: at what cost? and to what degree?

    We often word our arguments as polar opposites to what other people’s views are, but there is usually an overlap between them.

    This overlap can act as a common ground between us, and rather than focus on where we disagree, we should move from our point of agreement towards the more controversial matters.

  3. meq8 said,

    April 26, 2009 at 4:04 am

    its all belief in the supernatural, superstitions and the make belief/hocus pokus.. that was copied from the jews/ i blame the jews for all this. all based on no evidence what so ever… yet we allow the religious to control our lives, thinking they have the monopoly on morals and ethics…..
    what kind of morality comes from a man called abraham willing to slash the throat of his own son.. its sick.. people have become blinded, the ability to think rationally about these issues has been successfully frightened out of you by the religious “faith-heads”.

  4. Haider said,

    April 28, 2009 at 9:20 am

    meq8, you raise some very interesting points.

    I am of the opinion that things we cannot rationally understand, we shouldn’t absorb into our lives. A lot of people admit that they consider their beliefs and actions irrational, but as long as God has instructed them, then they must be true and correct.

    This is something I don’t agree with at all.

    I am certainly against the religious monopoly on morals, especially since what some religious groups promote isn’t moral at all! Islamists are a good example of such groups. Intimidating people to accept your beliefs or silencing them when speaking out against your beliefs isn’t exactly moral.

    Having said all that, it’s important to be aware of possible interpretations of scripture, and not to mistake common interpretations for the intended message.

    I don’t believe in obedience for the sake of obedience, and I don’t believe that God would test people’s “faith” by asking them to do crazy things. Which is why the story of Abraham is problematic.

    However, in interpreting this story I go by Professor Thomas McElwain’s take on the matter. He sees the incident as a rite of passage, where Ishmael (and Isaac) went through this ritual to mark their move to adulthood. Therefore, Abraham didn’t really intend to sacrifice either of them.

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