The 4 Major Factors That Fuel Religious Fundamentalism

I have a mantra on life that I wish to share with you, dear reader. Ignorance restricts and breeds hatred and extremism; while knowledge liberates, and breeds compassion and understanding. Fundamentalism stems from ignorance, and thus only breeds negativity. It is a venomous disease that kills positivity and growth, and needs to be identified and cured, on a very personal level.

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As a Muslim, who in his earlier days had adopted quite a fundamentalist approach, I have come a long way by internalizing a basic yet painful truth: I definitely do not have all the answers, hence different point of views are not only necessary for my own growth and evolution (which to me, is the prime purpose of life) but also that respecting diversity is the only solution of progress and co-existence. I have come to realize that only those who hold a shallow outlook are afraid of diversity in thought, for it threatens ungrounded and un-researched prejudices and beliefs. Bertrand Russell, very wisely, puts it as:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

  1. Lack of independent study and exposure to different schools of thought

In my humble opinion, the biggest factor of fundamentalism and dogmatism is that most people do not critically examine the philosophy on life they profess to accept and believe in. Naively believing whatever is told to them by their family/friends and scholars, they lack the exposure to different schools of thought that has the tendency of humbling one’s self down. So, when a blind belief is threatened by an opposing point of view, such people, unable to prove their point by reasoning, resort to insults and bad language; or in extreme cases, resort to violence in order to protect that belief and to gain a feeling of supremacy and self-worth. This, in medical terms, is also known as cognitive dissonance.

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  1. Inconsistency in approach

Whether it be theism or atheism, dogmatism and fundamentalism exists on both sides of the coin. This is a bitter truth that I’ve observed over the years. One would expect atheists and “progressive religionists” to be more open-minded towards those who differ from their perspective, but this unfortunately is not the case with all of them. Ironically, they become what they detest the most: hardliner preachers of their “religion”, looking down upon anyone and everyone who differs. Of course, I do not mean to imply that every atheist or theist behaves like that, which brings me to my next point: avoiding generalizations.

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  1. Generalizations and thinking in absolutes

Generalizations play a key role in fundamentalism and dogmatism: All Muslims are terrorists. All atheists are proud and arrogant. All Shias are Kafirs. Every black person is a thug; every white person a racist. Fundamentalists perceive everything in a black and white manner, refusing – or simply uninterested- to observe the many shades of grey within. This, again, brings me back to my point: exposure! The more you are exposed to a diversity of people: their way of living, their way of thinking, their way of worshiping (or the lack thereof), the more you broaden your mind and cease thinking in absolutes.

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  1. Possessing the key to “the sole truth”

Religionists are brought up believing that their path to God is the “only” correct path worthy of salvation, and this brainwashing turns some (if not most) of them into bigots. Atheists believe that atheism is the “only” rational approach, and this brainwashing turns some (if not most) of them into bigots. What needs to be eliminated is the personal belief of having a monopoly on truth, even the idea of there being a sole truth out there. But it’s challenging – it’s challenging because having a monopoly on truth and looking down upon others is a great boost for the ego and a major source of self-worth for some. In addition, this feeling of superiority due to having the key to “the truth” may well be the most defining part of their personality, making it even harder for them to abolish this self-centered belief.

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However, sincere people in all walks of life eventually realize the need for pluralism and tolerance. A sincere person analyzes the contradictions in his own approach and works on continually reforming himself, instead of always finding faults with others. A sincere person strives for consistency in approach. If he detests something in others, he makes it incumbent upon himself that that negative trait is not a part of his own personality. And when he does this, he automatically becomes more tolerant, more compassionate, more humble, and above all, he is able to acquire peace within himself which ultimately is the prime purpose of any philosophy on life. All in all, he is more interested in his own evolution instead of proving others wrong.

As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world!

 

Related article: United Sects of Islam: A different perspective on unity and sectarianism

 

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Music: Forbidden in Islam?

The topic of music is one that is much discussed among Muslims, especially the youth. The web is full of humongous articles outlining the tiniest details of which instruments are allowed (if any), and the forums are full of questions regarding music. At a time when we should be focusing on matters like education, justice, and human rights; we’re still stuck at an almost laughable issue: Whether it is permissible for a Muslim to listen to music or not? But let’s not digress; and get to the heart of the matter.

In traditional Islamic thought, it is widely believed that music is forbidden in Islam as it is considered a mere waste of time that may have negative effects on the listener, and thus deter people from practicing Islam. The Hadith contain contradictory rulings on the subject of music, with some allowing it and others forbidding it. Hence, both the proponents and opponents of music justify their position by quoting Hadith that support their viewpoint.

To judge whether a thing is forbidden in Islam from a contradictory secondary source would not be a very wise choice. Let us then explore this topic from the Quran, as it acts as a Furqan (Criterion) over any other secondary source.

But before we do that, I feel it is vital for the reader to understand that things are neither positive, nor negative; they’re neutral in nature. It is how you use it that deems it beneficial or detrimental. A knife, for example, is a neutral object. Just because a knife could be used to harm another being does not mean that we should ban it and forego its positive uses.

With that being said, the same idea applies to music. Music that encourages positivity is a very useful means to uplift your mood, and motivate you. It is nourishment for the soul and counts among the many blessings of God to us humans. However, music that promotes negativity such as promiscuousness and lewdness should simply be avoided, just as you would avoid any other detrimental thing. After all, the whole point of Islam is to make responsible decisions in life. Is it not?

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Coming to the Quran, it does not specifically refer to music in its discourse. What that means is that this is an unimportant subject, for which you get to make the judgment call based on reason and experience. However, although the majority of conventional scholars on Islam quote two verses to justify the prohibition on music, a careful reading of the Quran serves to dismiss this. Let us then analyze these two verses:

 

“Tempt and allure them with your voice such of them as you can. You may prompt them into armed conflicts, have a share in their resources and children, and give them (false) promises. And whatever Satan promises them is but meant to delude the mind.” Quran, 17:64

I find that the reasoning that goes behind prohibiting music is very simplistic indeed; for it demonizes music, as a whole, based on some songs that encourage immorality. Not staying true to the Quran holistically, traditional scholars would have you believe that the voice of Shaitan used to tempt, and allure you refers to music. Again, what about the music that promotes justice, equality, and peace? The argument falls flat on the face.

As a matter of fact, this “voice” is clearly defined in the last chapter of the Quran:

 

“(I seek refuge) From the evil of the sneaking whisperer who whispers (evil) in the hearts of people.” Quran, 114:4-5

The Shaitan deludes you in only one way: evil inclinations and suggestions that suddenly prompt up within yourself, acting counter to your nature. This is how it misleads us, and gives us “false promises of hope.”

 

Among the people, there are those who uphold baseless narratives (Lahwal Hadith), and thus divert others from the path of God without knowledge, and take it in vain. These have incurred a shameful retribution. Quran, 31:6

However you define and interpret “Hadith”, the purpose it plays is that it diverts people from the path of God – this is the defining phrase. This actually cements my point that good music, which in no way diverts you from godly virtues, is perfectly suitable and does not fall into the category of “baseless Hadith”.

 

A piece of advice:

And do not utter falsehoods by letting your tongues determine [at your own discretion], “This is lawful and that is forbidden”, thus attributing your own lying inventions to God: for, behold, they who attribute their own lying inventions to God will never prosper. Quran, 16:116

Conclusion

Forbidding things that are not explicitly referred to in the Quran is an act that is severely condemned by God as it leads to the misuse of religion to enslave people in the name of Islam by the “holy men.” It is revealing to observe that the scholars who forbid music in the name of Islam suddenly deem singing and *some* instruments to be permissible when it comes to religious songs, songs that overly praise Prophet Mohammad (which is risky business). Eh, double standards? Where is the consistency in approach that one would expect from a scholar?

It becomes highly problematic when additional laws and regulations are added on top of the word of God, as this leads to the complication of Islam and thus deters Muslims from practicing it. It’s not like the masses have adhered to this supposed commandment of God to not indulge in music, rather what it may do is that it may give a Muslim, who enjoys music, the impression of not being a “good Muslim”. Once you’ve established this, you have no incentive left to guard yourself from the things that are actually forbidden in the Quran, and may end up right in the midst of them.

Oh, the painful irony of it all.

 

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