What I’ll Be Thinking About This Ramadan

 

By Yahiya Emerick

 

I wasn’t always a Muslim.  There was a time when I prayed in Jesus’ name and worried about getting baptized so I could get into heaven.  I remember vividly my life as a Christian, though it is so alien to me now.  No one but a convert to Islam can appreciate the differences between our way of life and whatever else is out there.  Be of good cheer, though, for a ‘born’ Muslim can also experience the same thing in that they can continually renew their faith through acts of piety and 'Ibadah such as reflection, learning, fasting in Ramadan and in doing works of service to humanity.

            Muslims often wonder about other ways of life.  I’ve had so many students ask me about this that it doesn’t surprise me anymore.  It seems they want to compare what they have now to what others are doing to either reaffirm in their hearts that what they are doing is right or to see “the other side” and determine if it might not sound better.  It is not unheard of that a Muslim will convert to Christianity even as it is normal for Christians to become Muslims.  I feel pity for those who leave Islam.  Not because the size of our Ummah was decreased by one, but because I know that the one who left Islam didn’t know anything about it to begin with.  I also shake my head sadly for the alternative to Islam is definitely not the intelligent choice.

            We have four kinds of Islam out there: Cultural, Habitual, Invisible and Original.  Cultural Islam as a phenomenon is well-known.  We all talk about it.  We all complain about it.  Whenever we hear about some incredibly backward or ignorant custom from Muslim country X, Y, Z, we say, “Oh, that’s cultural Islam.”  But I believe this label is a misnomer and a disservice.  How can an ignorant custom ever be equated with Islam?  Is it simply because the people perpetrating it happen to have Muslim sounding names?  In the Middle East “good” Muslim men murder their daughters for even a whiff of dishonor.  In India “good” Muslim families demand that the girl pay a dowry to the man.  In Nigeria “good” Muslim women perform circumcision on unwilling young girls.  I ask you, why do we ever even mention the word “Muslim” when describing these ignorant customs?  They’re not in the Qur’an.  The people aren’t even “good”.  By mislabeling these cultural customs as “Islamic” cultural customs we do ourselves a disservice.  We set ourselves up for failure for no reason.

            I recently read a book named, “The Trouble with Islam” by Irshad Manji.  IT was quite a piece of work.  She is basically a self-professed lesbian Muslim “Refusenik”.  Her premise was that she was questioning the validity of Islam because some Muslims have done bad things.  I’m not kidding.  This is the entire crux of her argument.  In chapter after chapter she berated one ignorant cultural custom after another, cited terrorist activities here and there and traced a meandering path through the ideology of the Wahhabis and came away saying that she was almost stepping out of Islam and that Islam was darn lucky she was giving it one thread of a last chance.

            Conversely, she had nothing but praise for the Western world.  Nothing bad ever happened.  Western religions are noble and kind.  Everyone is a free thinker and savvy human rights pacifist.  Women are well respected and they have complete freedom and equality and the civil liberties and rights of all are sacred.  So, in her conclusion, Islam had better shape up or she would leave it.  There is a word for arguments such as hers and anyone who has ever taken a course in logic and rhetoric will know it: fallacy.  A fallacy is an argument that is not only not proved but ill-conceived.  It is contradictory, disingenuous and easily disproved with logic that will uncover where the mistakes in reasoning occurred.  Sadly, however, Ms. Manji is not the first to use this odd type of logic.

            If we turned her logic on its head we can make the case for every Christian to leave Christianity and convert to Islam.  She, and others like her, point to ignorant customs in the Muslim world as a sign of Islam’s invalidity, well then, let’s look at the opposite side of the mirror.  Let us judge the West in as likewise a shallow fashion.  Hmmm.  Let’s see.  Where do we begin?  I know, let’s start with ignorant superstitious customs.  In the modern Western world, a huge percentage of the population believes in astrology.  They look for their horoscopes in the newspapers and even call “psychics” to get their future predicted.  Each year millions of rabbits lose their feet so Americans can carry “lucky charms” in their pockets.  In all American urban centers one can find storefront Tarot card readers, crystal ball gazers and even places to go to get a spell put on someone.  Oh my gosh! Westerners are backward, superstitious fools.  (Don’t even get me started on the billion dollar drug trade or gambling.)

            In 2004 the Catholic church put out the figure that 3,900 priests (these are representatives” of the religion) have been convicted of being child molesters.  United States government crime statistics report that a very large number of children are molested by non-priests every year as well.  Incest is also widespread.  Oh my gosh!  Does Christian culture teach, or condone or tacitly support child molestation?  Every few minutes a woman is raped in the United States by fellow Christian and Jewish citizens.  It is so pervasive that it has been called an epidemic.  Are Christian values really that depraved?  And let’s not forget the thousands of annual beatings, murders and abuse of women and girls by spouses and boyfriends.  It is an everyday fact of life.  Does Christian culture encourage spousal abuse?  The Bible does say that women must submit to their husbands.  The Bible also says to kill all the men, women, children and even babies of your captured enemies, (but to save the virgin girls as slaves).

            Then we turn to the real shocker: slavery.  Christianity (and Judaism) explicitly encourage slavery in their holy books.  It was just 150 years ago that slavery was perfectly legal here.  But that was the past.  What about today?  There is still a lively slave trade in America with over 20,000 men, women and children sold yearly as slaves in the United States, according to the United States government.  They are mostly involved in the sex trade…what!  What kind of trade?  Oh, pornography, prostitution, nude art, public sex, nude beaches, vulgar rap music promoting images of violence towards women…Oh the West is quite a depraved place!  How else do you explain the conduct of “professional” American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?  And hey, weren’t they all Christians, the Germans who killed 6 million Jews?  How about the French killing 1 million Algerian civilians or the Italians killing the Libyans or the British massacring people in India or the Crusaders who killed everyone in Jerusalem in Jesus’ name?  (I could list many more examples of Christian atrocities and even many where the Bible was used and clergy encouraged violence.  Hey, the Catholic priests in Rwanda actually directed massacres!)

            Now, if I were to follow Irshad Manji’s kind of reasoning, I would have to say Christian culture is backward, women are oppressed, the Bible is flawed and filled with human rights problems and that Christianity better feel pretty darned lucky that we haven’t given up on it yet.  We could examine the extremist views of the Christian Right as an example of how the religion was “hijacked” and we could cite the enlightened attitude of Islam on all the above listed issues.  Now I know the world is not so simplistic as to say I don’t want to stay on the team because a few players are lousy, but a lot of people are just not that aware that they are making that kind of fallacious leap.

            Are Muslim cultures stifling?  Yes, but don’t call them Muslim cultures.  Call them Pakistani culture, Arab culture, Sudanese culture, or whatever, but call a spade a spade.  When people from those cultures see another way of thinking, like when an Indian family moves from a traditional village in India to cosmopolitan Toronto or Los Angeles, of course they will begin to make comparisons.  But to blame their own culture’s shortcomings and failings on a religion is ludicrous.  I didn’t leave Christianity simply because I saw so much drug abuse, alcoholism and immorality all around me.  I left it because intellectually it couldn’t stand up. 

Sadly, what I’ve found when a “Muslim” leaves Islam, it is not because Christianity was intellectually better, but because the “Muslim” could not differentiate between what is culture and what is Islam.  In other words, the “Muslim” didn’t know much about authentic Islam.  They just didn’t know much about it.  It’s like asking the average American non-Muslim to explain something about Christianity.  Beyond a few items related to Jesus they don’t know too much.  Most Muslims are in the same condition.  The simple fact is that most people, whatever their “born” religion is, they don’t really know much about it.  I don’t feel threatened anymore when I occasionally hear that someone left Islam, for I know now that they were never a part of Islam.

            Now that we can understand that the words culture and Islam cannot rightly be joined together (any more than one can say “cultural Judaism” or “cultural Christianity”,) we turn to Habitual Islam.  In part two of this essay I will be exploring the phenomenon of Muslims practicing their faith without ever even giving any thought to what they are doing.  I will describe the causes and the remedies as well. 

 

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