United Sects Of Islam: A Different Perspective on Unity and Sectarianism

A popular argument employed by atheists (and other like minded people) against people who subscribe to a religion is that religion has split mankind into factions resulting in much violence; therefore religion is evil and must be abolished. Obviously a valid point, though  blaming it all on religion is quite biased, I think. It’s not religion, exclusively, that divides people; rather people fight over all sorts of things, race being an example. Should we, or rather, can we get rid of the diversity of our colors?

I believe things are neutral. Religion, too, is neutral. It’s your attitude towards it that determines whether you choose to unite, or divide with others. Shifting the blame doesn’t solve anything. Therefore, we need to identify the problem and look for solutions.  Education, as with everything else, is required to curb oppressive ideologies like racism and sectarianism, which is what the Quran aspires to do.

The Quran stressing on Unity:

You must hold fast, all of you together, to the Bond of God and be not divided into sects. Quran, 3:103

And do not be like the ones who became divided and differed after the clear proofs had come to them. And those will have a great punishment.Quran, 3:105

Those who break the unity of their Deen and become sects, you have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Their case will go to God and He will then tell them what they had been doing. Quran, 6:159

(And do not be) of those who have divided their Deen and become sects, every faction rejoicing in what it has. Quran, 30:32

Steadfastly uphold the  Deen (Way of Life), and do not break up your unity therein. Quran, 42:13

What went wrong?

Despite these very clear and straight-forward commandments, the “Muslim World” is quite the hub of violent sectarianism that causes much bloodshed within those regions. We have this nasty habit of cherry-picking the verses we choose to follow. So, the verses that call for unity often get ignored and are replaced with scholarly opinions that promote sectarianism. Furthermore, fundamentalism and bigotry play a part as well.

Let me take you through the mindset of a sectarian, as I myself have been through that phase. It is the unshaken belief that my sect is the only ‘right’ version of Islam and worthy of salvation, while all others are misguided and headed for doom. Instead of compassion, there is a strong sense of fear and hate for them. Assuming infallibility for one’s self, religion becomes a tool to satisfy the ego by calling others infidels and other derogatory labels. All in all, it is either my way, or the highway.

If we were to measure spiritual maturity in terms of our biological growth, then fundamentalism is the childhood. A natural phase, but something you must grow from. (You may read my full piece on stages of consciousness here.)

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What a beautiful saying, isn’t it? Unfortunately, a sectarian might even have a problem with why I shared a “Hindu” proverb!  You see? So, forget that. Let me show you verses in the Quran that completely shatter sectarianism. Contrary to popular opinion, there is not only ONE “correct” path to Islam (Peace), rather there are MULTIPLE paths:

Through this Book, God guides to PATHS of Islam (Peace), those who seek His Approval. He brings them out of darkness into the light of His grace, and guides them to the straight path. Quran, 5:16

As for those who sincerely strive for Us, We surely guide them onto PATHS that lead to Us. God is with those who do Good. Quran, 29:69

How can we Unite?

Let me start by clearing a misconception. Unity does not equate to uniformity. Some people have the view that unity can only be achieved among people who have the same (or identical) set of beliefs, cultural practices, and paradigms. This is not only highly improbable, but is also flawed conceptually. See, human beings are complex creatures, having unique experiences that shape their paradigms. Forget billions of Muslims, you would not find two people who are exactly the same.

To me, unity can be achieved regardless of the beliefs of others. It is the internalization that God has created people with a free will of their own, and that they may choose whichever spiritual path which makes them the closest to God, turning them into a better human being. I am not discouraging rational debate, I must add. Indeed, debate is crucial for growth and reform. However, you stop playing God, as you realize that judgment belongs to God alone (13:40). All it takes is spiritual maturity and broad-mindedness from your side.

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Dropping the labels does not solve the problem.

One of the solutions put forward to achieve unity is to identify yourself as only a Muslim instead of a Sunni Muslim, a Shia Muslim, a Quranist Muslim, or a Sufi Muslim. For a long time, I agreed with this notion. However, now I think that it’s superficial at best. Labels don’t create sects; sectarian behavior does.The problem with identifying yourself as only a Muslim is that sectarian behavior may still exist within. You may consider yourself a “true Muslim” and others “not so true Muslims”. I have experienced this first-hand, so I’m convinced that this is not the answer.

Let’s face the reality here. You simply can’t expect every Muslim to share the same interpretation of the Quran. Therefore, labels help us identify one another. And, identification is a crucial factor in dialogue. Let’s take an example. If you were to ask me about my country of origin, and I responded by saying that I am a “citizen of the world”, would you expect the conversation to evolve from there? Possibly not. There is a lack of information, so it might stop there and then. However, if I say I’m an American, you may share your personal stories that are relevant, and the dialogue furthers.

So, the problem doesn’t lie in the labels, it lies in sectarian behavior which is a psychological construct and can be eradicated through education. The sectarian ideology is the real culprit here, which needs to be addressed. The ideology that since X and Y are different from me, they must be my enemies. Different approaches to Islam are not a threat to unity, bigotry is!

The key word in those verses, as we saw above, is to “not divide into sects”. You can be a Sunni Muslim who does not discriminate against Shias, for example. In this case, you find that Sunni Islam makes the most sense to you, but for others, it might be Shia Islam or Quranist Islam. Realizing that freedom of belief is a gift of God, you not only unite with other Muslims, but also free yourself from the negative energy of hate.

In a nutshell, sectarianism causes division. Division causes hate. Hate causes extremism. Extremism causes bloodshed. Hence, this becomes the perfect recipe for an unstable society and precisely why sectarianism has been severely discouraged in the Quran.

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Final Thoughts

O Muslims! We must stop dividing over petty issues and instead unite to fight the power-mongering psychopaths that seek to cause disharmony between us.  Disunity can never bring about any good! Let us put all the barriers of race, gender, sex orientation, religion, and politics to rest and respect people for what they are, provided they are not harming another human being. I call for unity! I call for Islam (Peace)!

The question is, will you respond?

 

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“Salih”: One Of The Least Understood Attributes Of A Muslim

You open up a traditional translation of the Quran, and you will find that it would usually translate characteristics of believers such as “Saliheen” (For ex. 2:62) and “Muttaqeen” (For ex. 2:2) as “Righteous people”. My problem with “righteous” is that it is too bland – too generic. Righteousness is a broad term. What aspect of righteousness, I would ask?

Just as God has several attributes, each attribute revealing a specific characteristic; similarly there are also numerous attributes of a Muslim. These diverse attributes are provided in the Quran to act as a checklist for those who seek to live by the Quran as a moral code on life. For ex: Muttaqeen, Mohsineen, Musalleen, Mufliheen, Musliheen etc.

For this post, I’d like to focus on the attribute of being a “Salih”.

A concordance of the word Salih reveals that it means to reform/amend. This attribute is of such vital importance, that it is used 100+ times in the Quran! “Those who believed (aamanu) and do acts of reformation (amallan Salihan)” is a very repetitive phrase in the Quran. As I said, brushing it off as “righteous” robs itself off the defining characteristic that God wants us to develop and fails to do justice to these words, linguistically.

As an exercise, try substituting righteousness in place of Sa-la-ha in the following verses. It just doesn’t fit:

So We responded to him, and We gave to him Yahya, and amended (Aslahna) for him his wife. Indeed, they used to hasten to good deeds and supplicate Us in hope and fear, and they were to Us humbly submissive. Quran 21:90

If one sees gross injustice or bias on the part of a testator, and takes corrective action (Aslaha) to restore justice to the will, he commits no sin. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. Quran 2:182

 

Therefore, Saliheen are the reformers who set things right.  Reformation is a vital part of faith as faith should never be static. This is because anything that doesn’t grow is dead. If I have the same outlook on the world 10 years from now, I have failed to utilize the time to help me grow as a person. Muslims are encouraged to continually make reforms in their beliefs, whenever better information presents itself. That alone should make us more humble and compassionate towards each other, as the “I know it all” mindset gets suppressed.

In a broader sense, Saliheen also strive for reform in their community. Musa and Ibrahim (Salutes and respect to them) are prime examples of this. We have come to the point where we believe Islam to be a set of rituals only. All the while, the core message of the Quran which is all about activism and reformation gets ignored and sidetracked.

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God likes reformers, not zealots.

I leave you with one of my favorite verses:

Surely, those who believe and do acts of reformation, the Almighty will shower them with love and affection. Quran 19:96

*Concordance of Salih as used in the Quran: http://corpus.quran.com/qurandictionary.jsp?q=SlH#(2:62:14)

Blasphemy And Apostasy Laws: Islam or Hislam?

In January 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down by one of his own security guards over a controversial move — opposing the blasphemy law in Pakistan. Although thousands of Pakistanis condemned this by attending his funeral and showing support on social media, religious fanatics hailed his murderer as a hero, recently naming a mosque after him.

As a Muslim, I stand firmly against blasphemy laws. My faith demands that I do so, for it repeatedly asks me to stand for justice and fight oppression.

The Quran shows us that even though God’s prophets were mocked and threatened, they never killed their accusers for hurting their “religious sentiments.” In fact, the Quran opposes any laws that restrain freedom of speech or would have someone killed over differences in belief. Rather, Quran 73:10 says, “Be patient over what they say, and leave them graciously.”

So how did these blasphemy and apostasy laws come to be associated with Islam?

The blasphemy and apostasy laws are found in the Hadeeth, sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammad, which were compiled two-three centuries after his death. Muslims know that no Hadeeth should contradict the Quran if they are to be accepted, given their subjective nature and reliance on the Quran for authenticity.

But early scholars intentionally overlooked this to protect the interests of clergymen and political leaders. These oppressive laws allow them to exercise complete control over people, punishing anyone who threatens their position by declaring them apostates — enemies of Islam. To so many clergymen, religion is nothing but a means to gain power and control people. To keep out competition and force their monopoly, they invent laws in the name of God so “consumers” have no choice but to keep buying their “product.” Or else, face persecution.

Religious leaders like Tahir-ul-Qadri, a staunch proponent of blasphemy laws, rule people by fear. Add to that the fact that the average Muslim is unaware of the Quran’s teachings, which makes them likely to believe whatever the clergy tells them about Islam. Of these leaders, the Qur’an asks us to be weary: “O You who have believed! A great many religious leaders: rabbis, priests, monks, Mullahs, yogis, and mystics devour the wealth of people in falsehood, and bar them from the path of God” (Quran 9:34).

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So what exactly does the Quran say about blasphemy and apostasy?

Quite frankly, blasphemy and apostasy laws are themselves blasphemous to the teachings of the Qur’an. Not in the traditional sense, but because they violate the very instructions the scripture gives regarding freedom of belief.

Regarding apostasy, in Quran 2:256 God says, “There is no compulsion in matters of faith. The right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces false authorities and becomes at peace with God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Knower.”

In a similar vein, verse 109:6 instructs adherents to end a debate by saying: “To you, your belief system. And to me, mine.”

If all that isn’t convincing enough, Quran 10:99 should seal the deal: “If your Lord willed, all who are on earth, would have believed (by not providing free will). Would you then, compel people to become believers?”

When it comes to blasphemy, I often hear some version of, “Hold on. If someone mocks my religion, it prompts me to act violently. You see, it makes me very emotional.”

But this statement only shows an ignorance of the Quran, which says in verse 6:68, “When you see them engaged in vain discourse about Our verses, turn away from them unless they engage in a different subject. If Satan ever makes you forget (i.e. your mind gets engrossed in their discourse,) then as soon as you recollect, no longer sit in the company of the people who confound the truth with falsehood.”

Here, Muslims are instructed to engage with these people if they change the topic. Certainly that means we’re not to have enmity towards them, let alone kill them!

And, again, Quran 28:55 instructs, “Whenever they (believers) hear vain talk of ridicule, they withdraw from it decently and say, ‘“To us our deeds and to you yours; Peace be upon you, we do not seek to join the ignorant.”

Those verses are practically shouting freedom of expression at the top of their lungs! Islam is a very progressive path to God, one in which differences in opinions and beliefs are accepted, not punished (Quran 39:18). On the other hand, blasphemy and apostasy laws lead to negative misconceptions about Islam being an oppressive faith.

But what are we Muslims to do? By not voicing our disapproval, we stand for these anti-Quranic laws and call them Islam. Is that not like setting your own house on fire? There is not a single verse that encourages Muslims to act violently toward those who leave Islam, or even mock the Quran. After all, shouldn’t truth be able to defend itself on its own merit? What good is a forced belief?

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We can even take it a step further by noting how rejecters treated the prophets.

Of Prophet Nooh: “They said, ‘If you do not desist, O Noah, you will surely be of those who are stoned’” (Quran 26:116).

Prophet Ibrahim’s father said, ”Do you dislike my gods, O Abraham? If you cease not, I will certainly cause you to be stoned to death! Now get away from me for good” (Quran 19:46). Similarly, the priesthood said of Ibrahim, “Burn him alive and uphold your gods if you are going to take any action” (Quran 21:68).

Regarding Prophet Musa, “[Pharaoh] said, ‘If you take a god/authority other than me, I will surely place you among those imprisoned’” (Quran 26:29). To Musa’s followers, Pharaoh also said, “I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will surely crucify you all” (Quran 26:49).”

These verses should reveal to us a different perspective: all prophets were seen as blasphemers and apostates to the prevalent religion of their time. To condone the oppressive laws of religious leaders today is to support ill treatment of the prophets. After all, you would’ve done the same!

And that’s the most ironic part. If a messenger were to come today, these clergymen and their ardent followers would utter the same threats to him. They have fabricated their own laws in the name of God, so when you ask them to reform, they either consider you a blasphemer or an apostate and have a fatwa issued to kill you.  That’s the scary thing about truth: it doesn’t warrant aggression but is always met with it.

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This is not a matter of interpretation, as some would call it. The Quran condemns forced belief in numerous verses. Rather, this is a matter of giving preference to the Hadeeth over the Quran to justify bigotry and extremism in the name of Islam. Having said that, it’s up to you whether you want to rethink your stance or keep blindly following what you have been taught — whether you want to follow Islam or Hislam. Because unlike misguided religious fanatics, sincere believers never force their beliefs on others.

What’s the Golden Rule, again? “Any secondary source on Islam that goes against the Quran should be rejected.”

Often said, but seldom followed.

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Musings on Chapter 1 of the Quran: The Perfect Introduction?

Chapter 1 (Fatiha) is possibly the most read chapter of the Quran. It is an integral part of Muslim prayers and is repeated tens of times in a day. Yet, we must ask ourselves, what purpose does it serve? Why is it the very first chapter of the Quran?

For some reason, I just did;  and had an epiphany!

I think the answers to those questions lie in Ch2 V2: Quran as a revealed message will only serve as a guide for the Muttaqeen (those who are conscious of God). This is because everyone else wouldn’t embrace the message holistically to allow it to have a meaningful and drastic impact in their life.

So, to me,  Chapter 1 demonstrates the attributes of a person who has metaphorically awoken from sleep, suddenly becoming conscious of God (Muttaqi). These 6 verses could be considered as universal truths of a spiritual awakening, regardless of the faith one subscribes to. They immediately grab the attention of the reader, and go onto demonstrate Islam in a nutshell.

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Ready?  Let’s  dissect it!

(Note: I am not referring to the bismillah as verse 1.)

 

Verses 1-4 deal with the symptoms of a spiritual awakening. What are they?

 1st symptom: An immense feeling of praise and gratefulness for God, who is:

The Nourisher-Sustainer of the universe.

The Almighty (Rahman), and at the same time, The Merciful (Raheem).

Since both of the above words come from Rahm (literally: womb), these attributes outline the protective and evolusionizing aspect of The Beloved. The Muttaqi has experienced these attributes on a personal level. (V1-2)

2nd symptom: The realization of being dependent on a Higher Being (Maalik), and the fact that he is accountable for his actions. Therefore, it is ONLY Him that he would seek to serve and ONLY His aid that he would seek. (V3-4)

V5-6 is the prayer of the Muttaqi. What does he ask for?

He ONLY implores God for guidance towards the straight path:  A path on which there is positivity (favor and blessings); not a path involving negativity (wrath) and misguided people.

This, again, signifies the utmost importance given to God, while moving away from human authorities (idols). Furthermore, Islam is defined:

It is a straight path (without contradictions)

It is path on which you encounter positivity

It is a path devoid of negativity and misguidance

This short chapter includes much repeated key words in the Quran such as deen, ibadah, rabb and includes major themes of the Quran such as:

  1. Being grateful.
  2. The oneness and other predominant attributes of God.
  3.  Accountability for our actions.
  4. Dependence on a higher power.
  5. Avoiding Shirk (Association).
  6. Monotheism.
  7. Seeking guidance and aid.
  8. What Islam is as a system.

Conclusion

A grandeur introduction, isn’t it? So rich with detail, despite its briefness! Needless to say, I am completely awed!

At the risk of repeating myself, I would say that Chapter 1 is the Quran in a nutshell! If your Quran reading can be considered a spiritual workout, then Fatiha is the nutrient-dense pre-workout snack.