A Monolithic Islam? Forget About It!

People trouble me, sometimes. Why are people so judgmental, I often find myself wondering? Perhaps, it is because a judgmental heart lacks introspection. I think that’s it. Yes, lacking introspection!

One of the most troubling trends I see within the Muslim community is the amount of hatred and suspicion towards Muslims who adopt different approaches and interpretations of Islam. With the Takfeeri ideology (ex-communication) on a rise, nearly every Muslim considers himself to be “rightly guided” and others, even if they differ on minor issues, to be “deluded by the devil” or a “Fitnah”, greatly hindering co-existence and mutual respect between Muslims. Sectarianism, which for this very reason has been severely discouraged in the Quran, has destabilized the Muslim community from within, resulting in every group happy with their version while looking down upon others.

We must realize that Islam is not a monolith, and that it’s impossible for nearly 2 billion Muslims to share the same interpretation of it. There is no “true” Islam, I would argue. Rather, what we have are Islams. At best, the “true” Islam, in my opinion, is relative to the person and is the interpretation that allows you to grow and evolve the most as a person, provided—a very important distinction to make–provided that the core of the Quran is not tempered with. And the Quran makes the case for this on the basis of the following verses:

“Who listen to the Word and follow the best of it. Those are the ones Allah has guided, and those are people of understanding.” Quran, 39:18

“And follow the best of that which is sent down to you from your Lord, before the torment comes on you suddenly while you perceive not!” Quran, 39:55

These verses, which definitely demand more attention and pondering from the mainstream Muslims; speak against a monolithic, institutionalized Islam as they ask the reader to follow the “best” from what is revealed. If there was supposed to be one “official interpretation”, there would absolutely be no point in asking us to follow the best therein. How do you follow the best of what’s already best, anyways?

Most people are unaware of this, but the Quran itself talks of a plurality of paths to Islam:

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

This is because God acknowledges our diversity, calling it one of His Signs (30:22); and unlike the clergymen, does not want us all to be identical robots.

Combining these points together, the Quran provides a comprehensive rebuttal to the idea of there being a “true” Islam that is supposed to be shared by all of its adherents.


Dealing with differences

Naturally, when we talk of nearly 2 billion Muslims, there are going to be theological differences. What matters though, is how we deal with these differences. We may have intellectual disagreements within the diverse Islamic thought, but we must not foster hate towards this diversity. Either we can acknowledge our differences and embrace them for the common good, focusing rather on the fundamental values that Islam teaches us, or we could continue with the “my way or the highway” ideology that is the main cause of sectarianism, again – which is severely discouraged in the Quran. (I delve on this further here)

Not being honest and true to ourselves, I believe, is at the root of sectarianism. We condemn others for their views, knowing full well that there was a time when we, ourselves, didn’t know what we know today. The problem, then, is that we’re overly critical of others, and fairly passive of ourselves, when it should totally be the other way around! We are quick to judge others because we only see things from one perspective–our perspective–which is limited and biased. We don’t try to analyze the reasons why people are the way they are because that is a hard task, requiring effort and broad mindedness.


Now, there is this weird idea people have that being blunt is the same as being provocative, insulting, and demeaning. Some people, who like to think of themselves as being “straight-forward” believe that speaking “truth” to a person with a different point of view doesn’t require you to be polite, understanding, and reasonable. No, these characteristics are seen as attempts of “sugar-coating” or being “diplomatic” (as if that’s a bad thing). Well, guess what? Even if you’re right, no one would bother listening to you sincerely if you come off as snobbish and condescending. Doesn’t that negate the whole point of dialogue? If you are so keen on spreading your truth, don’t be in it to praise your ego and making a fool out of others. Because ultimately, you’re only fooling yourself!

There are some ethics of dialogue, and the Quran lays them down most wonderfully:

Invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and good advice, and argue with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord is fully aware of who is misguided from His path, and He is fully aware of the guided ones. Quran, 16:125

Socrates once said, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” In other words, when there are no intellectual points left to make, people resort to ad-hominem attacks to get the impression of superiority. Again and again, we must remind ourselves the purpose of Islam. It is not to look down upon others, but to bring yourself up. It is not to criticize others, but to prime yourself. Islam seeks to suppress the ego, not to magnify it. In fact, the Quran repeatedly reminds the reader that he is not sent as a “guardian” or “watcher” over the people (6:107, 88:22). Why then, is the focus not on ourselves, but on others?


Gradual as it was, I realized over the course of my journey as a Muslim that there are many spiritual paths leading to the same destination: peace and serenity.

Just because I disagree with X and Y on some points, does not mean that I discount their spiritual journey as “invalid”, or that I start calling them other derogatory labels. The important thing, rather, is that you keep on treading the path you have chosen for yourself, growing with each step. Growth should be the priority, not the means by which you grow. Yes, we can all help in correcting each other by having a dialogue on a variety of theological and spiritual aspects, but the only person who’s utterly wasting his time is he who himself won’t move, but will block the way of others; advising them that they’ve taken the wrong path.


As the Quran beautifully puts it:

Each of you chooses the direction to follow; then strive together toward all that is good. Whatever stand you take, God will bring you all together. Indeed, God is Able to do all things. Quran, 2:148


A monolithic Islam? Forget about it!

An inclusive and pluralistic Islam? Yes! And much more Islam will come to you that way!


*If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to our blog and sharing it with your friends!



21 thoughts on “A Monolithic Islam? Forget About It!

  1. Excellent article – very well put and timely..
    ” There is no “true” Islam, I would argue. Rather, what we have are Islams. At best, the “true” Islam, in my opinion, is relative to the person and is the interpretation that allows you to grow and evolve the most as a person, provided—a very important distinction to make–provided that the core of the Quran is not tempered with.”
    Keep it up.


  2. Well written. We do not need a monolithic Islam. However, in my educated opinion, we certainly do need interpretations without the tainted lens of narrations and histories written centuries later. That’s the material which has led to much irrational conclusions; a counterfeit Islam which Taliban, Boko Haram, and their ilk thrive upon.


    • Thanks Fawad. I agree with your observation, and I feel we have got to challenge it vocally, but in an educated and wise manner.
      Too often, I see religious people bad mouthing each other just because of different interpretations and beliefs.


  3. Wonderful article. I am a spiritual eclectic who is just starting to seriously learn about Islam. And every day I learn something and am very pleased. Keep up the good work. (And yes, I subscribed)


  4. Pingback: Ramadan Reflections! Quran: The Book That Weeps, Hidden Inside Its Shelf! | Social Dashboard

  5. Pingback: A Monolithic Islam? Forget About It! | Muslim Reformation | Follow the quran

  6. Pingback: Quran: The Book That Weeps, Hidden Inside Its Shelf! | Muslim Reformation

  7. Salam,
    It is good to encounter with Muslims who use their own brains to think about Islam.
    I have always found it hard to believe why most Muslims read the Quran without understanding the meaning of it. (In my context, here we don’t speak Arabic but translations are aplenty).
    They have always relied on people who are apparently more “qualified” than them to interpret the Quran for them. To me this severely degrades one self and the Creator of that self. Furthermore, God mentioned in the Quran that only God gives the guidance.
    This is despite many who claimed that being a Muslim is their utmost priority. But the thinking of and about Islam itself is outsourced to a third party.
    Do write more.
    Thank you


    • Yeah, I can’t agree more Zulkarnain. What you say is music to my ears.
      There’s plenty of articles here on the website. Please do check them out.

      Best wishes.


  8. I don’t understand. You’re not an alim, just an ordinary Muslim who thinks he can have “his” reading of the Quran as though he’s analysing the themes of the Harry Potter series? Why is the sophisticated scholarship of Islam, that has upheld the dynamic nature of the deen for 1400 years, being reduced down to a game for every laymen to play with? Also, given your utter respect for those who hold to their own version of Islam, I would assume you also believe the spiritual journey of members of Al Qaeda are equally valid as yours? If anyone’s interpretation goes, who are you to claim every other “version” as a mere misconception in need of being clarified? There’s nothing unorthodox or revolutionary about multiple opinions, the scholars took care of that long before you were conceived. But there’s something certainly off-putting about having the words of Allah being “interpreted” and “taught” by ignoramuses in the name of producing a more palatable Islam. First world problems of the liberal Muslim.


    • Ordinary Muslims are not supposed to read and analyse the Quran? Wow what a scholarly position to hold! No, but seriously, you expect Muslims to just take the scholar’s word for it, no matter how silly and ridiculous it may sound? No matter how contradictory to the Quran it is? Come on. Afala taqiloon? 🙂

      Actually, if you’d read the article, I do make a very important distinction of an interpretation NOT going against the core message of the Quran to be accepted as valid. Al Qaeda’s interpretation violate the fundamental rule of fighting only in self defense. So…

      Again, any interpretation doesnt “go”. If it contradicts the Quran, I’ll speak against it. Yes, I will not call them derogatory labels.

      I think you really need to read the Quran for yourself, and keep the scholarly brainwashing aside while you’re at it. Sure, scholars are great if what they say is in tune to the Quran. Ah, but let’s not take them as Gods and give them infallibility. 🙂


    • This is exactly the kind of thinking that brought the Muslims to where it is now. Most can’t accept thoughts that goes against their own. Supposedly only an Alim can interpret the Quran. Well, Osama must be an Alim to his group. His group certainly thinks so. It seems you think he is in the wrong but to his follower he is not.
      However, the same logic can’t be applied to you and your leaders/alims apparently. In the current form of institutionalized Islam, this is the malady. Only approved thinking is allowed any others are misguided.
      Think think think and look around you at the current situation most Muslims are in. Does it even compare to the glory of the past? Something must have gone wrong somewhere with the ummah.


    • Haj ‘might’ have had a point if the “sophisticated scholars of Islam” (alims) were all in complete agreement – they’re not. But the premise of his post is itself nonsensical. If I as an “ordinary Muslim” am not supposed to engage in analysis (and conclusions) of the Quran and Islam, then what is the purpose of, and method for following, God’s instruction to all Muslims to acquire knowledge? And what is the process for “ordinary Muslims” to discern between various interpretations? Is it just to follow scholars? Which ones? And will the “I was just following what they told me” defence be valid on the day of judgement?

      The point is not that the spiritual journey of the members of Al Qaeda is as equally valid as others. Rather, it is that their right to choose their journey (interpret Islam) is as valid as that of every other Muslim. Respect for this right is not the same as respect for the reasoning or conclusions which led them on their particular journey. Whether an interpretation is valid or not can be determined and argued on the basis of rationalising evidence from recognised Islamic sources, i.e. Quran, Sunnah and Hadith. Alims can be authoritative interpreters of Islamic sources but, in this context, they are not Islamic sources themselves. Rationalising and interpreting is not just the right of every “ordinary Muslim” – it’s their obligation.


Please have your say...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s