Wednesday, 22 March 2017

We have objective standards for a reason

Commenting on fluff masquerading as intellect

The article in the link was forwarded to me by a dear brother and he asked for my thoughts and comments. Allah knows best, but I think the best way to approach such an article would be to pick it apart paragraph by paragraph or section by section, and with Him alone is every success:

A few weeks back I was in a mosque, decrying the scourge of sectarianism. (I’d been invited to speak, to be clear: I wasn’t just monologuing uninvited.) In too many places, I noted, Sunni and Shia Muslims are not just at odds with each other, they’re at war. To prevent similar conflicts from poisoning our own communities, American Sunnis and Shias would have to learn and work with each other.

This is the typical anecdotal introduction, which you can also see in this article/video. It starts with a feeling, and that feeling is usually some form of frustration regarding something that is an immutable part of human history or the human experience in general. Sectarianism, or the existence of cults and cultists, is part and parcel of Islamic history and will remain as such until the end of time. This is Prophecy. This is as normal as grass growing and cows eating it. It is nothing to decry or be upset about. Rather, you have to look at yourself, you as an individual, and make sure that you are on the right track. Research, study, work hard and try to be the best Muslim that you can be: theologically and spiritually. There is no benefit in stressing about how and why everyone else is messed up. Know what you believe and why you believe it, follow the authorities and help those who are ready and willing to be helped.

After the talk, an older woman approached me. Clutching her purse, looking equal parts nervous and disappointed, she sighed. “I am an Ahmadi Muslim,” she told me. “What about us?”

The plight of Ahmadis had actually already been on my mind for some time. But this woman’s question left me at a loss. She was right. Ahmadi Muslims are often marginalized, regularly (and legally) discriminated against, and even killed. This is, unlike many Sunni and Shia disputes, an entirely one-sided affair. Ahmadis are not warring with other Muslims. They are being aggressed against. There’s no Ahmadi Muslim nation that plays the role of Iran or Saudi Arabia, no Ahmadi faction like the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. Which makes it so much worse.

Why is she an Ahmadi? Has she studied the cult's theology and become convinced of it and thus she would definitely be an Ahmadi even if her family or community were not? Again, it is the duty of every Muslim to ask why he is a Muslim. You have to be convinced. Following your family or your culture or the society around you is not good enough. Islam is revelation, not a culture. People do not deserve sympathy for no other reason than the fact that they follow their culture or religion. If she were being maligned because of her skin colour, for example, that would obviously be abhorrent: a) skin colour is not a choice and b) it does not influence behaviour.

Will such conflicts prevent the West’s very diverse Muslim communities from working together in the face of rising Islamophobia? Is it possible to be true to our beliefs, respect our differences, and yet recognize that we share a common identity? I believe the way forward is to bring about a new definition of Islam that will coexist alongside the ones we already have.

The bogey man called "Islamophobia" rears his head again, and is referred to here in order to justify a step into complete and utter nonsense. How can you be "true to your beliefs" while creating "a new definition of Islam"? What does "alongside the ones we already have" mean? Why is the author using the plural? How many definitions are there? Clearly, this is another move away from objective standards and a plunge into the post-modernist, cultural Marxist world of feelings and emotions over facts and evidence. Just as gender is redefined to suit every mental illness, Islam should now be redefined to suit every blasphemy and heresy.

The majority of Muslims are Sunni, usually following one of four “schools.” Nowadays Wahhabis are counted as Sunnis, although (a) Wahhabism emerged in rebellion against Sunni Islam, and (b) for a long time a lot of Sunnis did not see Wahhabis as part of their tradition. A significant minority of Muslims are Shia, further distinguished by various branches within. Beyond the familiar Sunni and Shia divide, there are also Ibadi Muslims, mostly in Oman. Some Muslims are progressives, liberals, modernists, or Salafis, and may or may not identify with the previous categories. Nowadays I often meet people who call themselves “just” Muslim, “culturally” Muslim, or “secular” Muslim.

This is because Sunnis are the orthodox majority. What they follow is what Allah revealed in His Book and on the tongue of His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Everything else is man-made fluff masquerading as Islam. It is completely irrelevant that cults and cultists refer to themselves as "Islam" and "Muslims"; labels do not change facts. Referring to a pile of sawdust as oatmeal does not mean that you can have it for breakfast.

"Secular Muslim" is an oxymoron. Just like a married bachelor or a four-sided triangle, there is no such thing. Merely identifying as a Muslim does not make you one.

In other words, while contemporary Islam is often portrayed as a monolith, we are anything but.

Nevertheless, there has historically been a kind of lowest common denominator definition of Islam, which may go something like this: A Muslim is any person who believes God is One, the Qur’an is the literal and unchanged word of God revealed to Muhammad, and Muhammad is the last Prophet. Muslims also believe Jesus was the Messiah, who shall eventually return to the world and fill it with justice and harmony.

Sunni Islam is not a monolith. We have four schools of fiqh and three schools of theology. Again, everything else is artificial fluff masquerading as Islam.

Orthodox Muslims believe that Allah is One, Pre-Eternal, Everlasting, Self-Sustaining and that He bears no resemblance whatsoever to His creation.

In contrast, Ahmadis believe in the prophetic status of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a late-19th century religious reformer from the Indian subcontinent. Ahmad also told followers that Jesus had lived out his life in Kashmir, and therefore wasn’t going to literally come back—the Messiah was present as Mirza Ghulam Ahmad himself.

And that's why Ahmadis are wrong: artificial fluff masquerading as Islam. What they believe is not what Allah revealed in His Book or on the tongue of His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. To put it differently, we could say that their beliefs do not meet the objective standards.

This is not the first time a community has been torn apart by Jesus, of course. A similar division caused Christianity to separate out of Judaism. And just as most Jews’ refusal to accept Jesus’ divinity eventually led to their persecution, so too are Ahmadi beliefs met with discrimination and even violence.

In some circumstances, Ahmadi mosques cannot even be called mosques. This is not the case in the United States, but even here many Muslim groups overlook Ahmadi Muslims (for all kinds of reasons). That simply can’t hold going forward, which means Western Muslims will have to ask themselves: How do we deal with significant, even incompatible, disputes?

Violence is not the answer to theological disputes. Presenting evidence and facts is the way forward.

Ahmadi beliefs contradict our beliefs, which means that they can't both be true. If Ahmadis have to be accepted as part of the Muslim community then anyone who calls himself a Muslim has to be accepted, regardless of their beliefs. This is the demolition of objective standards, and the author alluded to this above when he mentioned "secular" and "cultural" Muslims. Why doesn't the author save himself the time and effort and just join Muslims for Progressive Values? Their first principle is: "We accept as Muslim anyone who identifies as such."

Once you've reached that point, what is the benefit of being a Muslim? What does Islam even mean?

By my estimation, American Muslim communities have made great progress in opening their institutions to diversity of thought and representation. We’re not nearly as far along as we should be, but we’re also not where we were five years ago.

"Diversity of thought" means the destructive of objective standards.

But Ahmadi Muslims remain something of a blind spot. As a Sunni Muslim, for example, I don’t recognize Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s claims to prophethood, or that Jesus is gone forever. The first of these is more challenging: I have been taught that belief in the conclusion of prophecy with Muhammad is fundamental to my faith. Certain core Ahmadi beliefs stand at odds with my own, and yet they consider themselves part of the same tradition. (It’s worth pointing out, of course, that this runs in both directions.)

What do you make of people who claim to be in your community, even as their theology appears at odds with your own? American Muslims are going to have to figure out an answer.

That's easy. You disregard and refute their claims. What would you do if a man who appears to be your age, whom you've never met and looks nothing like you walks up to you and claims to be your son? Would you take him seriously or would you dismiss him because the facts clearly prove that he's a liar? Remember, facts are useful.

A recent and exciting development in American Muslim life is the creation of college chaplaincy. Chaplains are religious authority figures who serve campus Muslim life in all its diversity. A chaplain, which can be male or female, has to be comfortable with Islamic customs and practices, but doesn’t get to pick and choose who is ministered to. If someone calls herself Muslim, she’s part of the constituency.

There are simply not enough resources to build separate Sunni, Shi’a or Ahmadi institutions—nor is it clear that we should. After all, no university would allow a chaplain to simply dismiss a group of people who want to be part of her congregation.

Just a side note: why the feminine pronouns?

Why worry about chaplaincies? Is such a worry connected to the greater worry about being accepted and liked in Anglosphere culture and society? Why can't Muslims have their own organisations that cater to their own people? Jews and Christians and others that "don't identify as Muslim" don't care about what defines a Muslim and thus they would expect the "Muslim chaplain" at their university to cater to anyone who says they're a Muslim. However, how is that an argument that Muslims themselves should stop caring about what defines a Muslim?

Most Muslim communities are still relatively small, struggling against Islamophobia, and just beginning to institutionalize. In this context, forced cooperation between diverse sects might be a good thing. We can’t and shouldn’t deny our differences. But we don’t have to let them consume us. When you hitch your politics to your theology, you don’t just go backwards. You end up in some very bad places.

One option is for American Muslims to acknowledge a second definition of Islam, which might be called Cartesian: “I think I’m Muslim, therefore I am.” Call yourself a Muslim, and you are. I might not agree with how you define Islam, but I can acknowledge your right to define yourself as Muslim, not least because the wider world treats you the same way. When Ben Carson says Muslims are “schizophrenic,” he’s branding Muslims generally.

This is just more of the same. "We accept as Muslim anyone who identifies as such." Muslims for Progressive Values have beaten the author to it, by several years. His bold, new definition of Islam is nothing bold or new at all.

And here's a question: who, exactly, would force this cooperation?

As for politics and theology, they are linked because theology affects behaviour. This is not something that should be difficult to understand.

If Ben Carson is talking about Muslims in the US, he's spot on again.

But I also know what happens when we allow our disagreements to interrupt our cooperation. After all, many Sunnis believe Shi’a Muslims aren’t Muslim, and though I strongly disagree, I know what happens when we begin to concede to these kinds of perspectives. That doesn’t mean all Muslims have to subsume their differences, or share their institutions. But we must also cooperate across differences.

How else are organizations that represent Muslims politically, or fight back against hate crimes, going to function? Are we going to hold inquisitions over whether or not the mosque attacked for being a mosque has any right to call itself a mosque?

You don't have to cooperate with the complete stranger who claims to be your son. Just because he says he says he's your son, it does not mean you have to feed him, clothe him and pay for his university tuition fees.

Even if that argument doesn’t move many Muslims, the moral calling of this moment should. We are calling for solidarity. Should we not show some?

US president Barack Obama recently stood under an unmistakable “Allah” medallion at the Islamic Society of Baltimore and defended Muslim rights with eloquence and passion. Meanwhile, outraged by presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Islamophobia, Michael Moore stood outside Trump tower, declaring himself Muslim, too. He’s not Muslim by theology, of course, or even by self-definition. But he was rhetorically—to make a point. That’s another kind of identity. Professor Larycia Hawkins donned a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women, and nearly got fired for claiming Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Incidentally, she’s not Muslim either.

What moral calling? How can you have solidarity if it's not based on anything objective?

Barack Obama is not the president anymore, and does his eloquence and passion in defense of Islam match his relentless bombing of Muslim countries?

The author has saved the best bit for last. How is that Michael Moore is not a Muslim by theology or even by self-definition? Here we are at the end of the article, in which the author has repeatedly stated that Muslims should accept anyone who identifies as Muslim as part of their community and that theology should be put to the side, and the author is saying that Michael Moore, after calling himself a Muslim, is not actually a Muslim because of his theology and therefore his self-definition should not be taken seriously.

So are there objective standards for defining a Muslim or are there not?

All of which is to say that when Muslims ask me whether Ahmadis are part of our community, I am increasingly compelled to answer in the affirmative. At a time when people are being persecuted for these same beliefs, the right answer isn’t to look for reasons to exclude them–but to go out of our way to insist on their inclusion.

In other words, the author is saying that you should disregard objective standards and take people's claims seriously. If a complete stranger claims to be your son, go out of your way and do everything you can to make him a part of your family.

And Allah knows best.

Related Post:
The Importance of Objective Standards


Anonymous said...

>"We have four schools of fiqh and three schools of theology."

I know you obviously mean ashari and maturidi for two of those three schools. But who is the third school? The "atharis" I presume?

By "athari" do we mean those who practice tafweed? Or those who argue for taking the zahir meaning "without asking how" (bi la kayf) as promoted by salafis, Ibn Taymiyya, and many hanbalis.

As I'm sure you know, Asharis/Maturidis tend to consider atharis (the literalist kind, not the tafweed kind) to be non-sunni and basically hashwiyya. I just want to make sure here what your position is.

Mahdi Lock said...

Dear Anonymous,

If you are familiar with my blog and my writings then you should know the answer to that question. I'm talking about the orthodox Hanbalis, i.e. the people of tafweed.