This discussion was extracted from awate.com forum. I put it here as I found it interesting and many of my thoughts on religion issues are put there. It is good therefore to compile my thoughts and share it with people. Discussions was held between 08/03/2017 – 11/03/2017.
Comments were written under article titled by “The New Wave of Muslim Preachers”
Extracted as I found it the starting of the discussion topic that will follow then after
Selam blink and esteemed awatistas
[This is inspired by blink’s reply that I was a Muslim because I was simply born to a Muslim family.]
The short answer is faith is for the believer, but you will be described according to your behaviors and actions.
As in all religions, children are born into the religion of their parents. The formative years are shaped up by the teachings of the institutions of religion in which they are raised. And that is one weak area religious zealots can’t answer when they claim their religion is better than others, which is the beginning of treating others as sub. If we take that as a TRUE statement, that means a child is destined [by his creator, by devine DEFAULT] to remain within a certain religious setting. Now, if one beliefs a certain religion is bad, and if he/she believes any child is predestined to follow a certain religion that the commenter sees as bad, then, is it the fault of the child that the child is following that certain religion? I think if one is after knowledge, he/she needs to go beyond memorizing scriptures and try to unearth the core tenets of a certain religion and the sociopolitical circumstances that had shaped it. For instance: many believe the Holy Scriptures were published somewhere in the heavens and were sent down [in a FedEx] over night. However, when you scrutinize them with open mind, in the name of finding TRUTH, you find the scriptures are results of compilations of oral traditions and fragmented scriptures (tablets), that tell the stories of that time as experienced by the people of that era. They tell history more than they tell divine messages and essences. They get encoded into the societies belief system and become the laws governing their relation with God and their relation among themselves and others. What makes Islam easy to research is that the Quranic verses were written as soon as they were revealed. Each chapter (Aya) came to answer a certain problem.
Their parallel political analogies would be proclamations, decrees and executive orders. Each of them either explains, calls into action, warns against something, etc. Hence, if you don’t check why and on what circumstance an Aya was revealed, and if you can’t understand its background, you may find in it conflicting and contradicting phrases and clauses that were said in other Ayas, where each of them had specific circumstances, in the first place. Muslims accompany the reading of the Quean with another field (tafsir= explanations of the Aya in question). And scholars (and I’m not one of them), explain or rather overcome these contradictions by saying that the latest supplants the oldest. Viewing it from modern viewpoint, some old verses are better than the latest. Different reformers tried to openly challenge the Scholar community, which is really a bunch of deeply conservative men who more than often become instruments of the ruling sect. I encourage you to search for the Sudanese reformer Mahmoud Mohammed Taha who tried to reconcile Islam’s teachings on individual and group rights, and particularly his criticism on how women’s rights were trampled upon. He says, Sharia law was meant””to evolve, assimilate the capabilities of individual and society, and guide such life up the ladder of continuous development” (Wikipedia). I find this quote summarizing the ailments of religions and particularly Islam. If anyone truly believes in the power of God, modern achievements, in all frontiers, would not happen without his guidance. Therefore, it seems to me God is calling for modernity. Our knowledge is advancing, science is cracking open many of the mysteries that many ancient minds boggled. Today we know why volcanoes erupt, why the lightening occurs, why tides rise and fall, the relationship between the heavenly bodies could be explained using provable scientific methods, our understanding of matter and the universe has made great stride just in the past 100 years, we know what it takes to make babies, etc. Today, we are so close to cracking the mystery of life. We are advancing so fast in both the macro and micro cosmos. While modern telescopes are enabling us to see what had happened 13 billion light years back, that’s we are able to see objects that are 13 billion light year away, microscopes and sub-particle labs are enabling us to go deeper and deeper into the micro world. In the micro world, we are entering Nano technology. We are able to chart and edit DNA. On the political frontier we have moved away from political religion. Most nations are adopting constitutions that separate religion from politics. The freedom of individual conscience is taking primacy over group think. Islam needs to modernize itself. Modernists such as Ustaz Mahmoud M.Taha were hanged by politicians who made religion an instrument. Both president Nymeiri and Atturabi, who was Numeiri’s justice minister at the time, saw Ustaz Mahmoud Taha as a political threat, and thus they had to use religion, accusing him of apostasy. The face of conservative Islam, and the father of Muslim Brotherhood, which produced the minds of AlQaeda (Aymen Azzawahiri), and which led to today’s ISIS, was an Egyptian religious scholar by the name, Sayyid QuTb. He called for the overthrow moderate Arab rulers. Jemal Abdulnasser accused him of sedition and of plottting to assassinate him. He was sent to the gallows. In both cases, reformists and conservative elements were hanged by rulers who used religion to some extent in justifying their decisions.
Selam Mahmud Saleh,
Though science may reveal what is secret, there will still be unanswered questions about beliefs and religious doctrines. I agree with you on the Scriptures. Those Holy Books are written and compiled by human being. But the power that let these words to be written will still continue to be mysterious.
And the search for this mystery will continue to enforce religious faiths of all beliefs. The more human being delves into scientific research related to faith, the more religions will continue to be produced. We can look into spirit Science today, it became a religion.
You said “I agree with you on the Scriptures. Those Holy Books are written and compiled by human being. But the power that let these words to be written will still continue to be mysterious.” I totally agree. And no doubt that there will continue to exist faiths. What’s funny is the more we know about the natural world and our place in it (including our bodies’ biochemical processes that sustain life , defend it, and terminate it in a predictable way) things get more interesting and point towards oneness. A naturalist may say that oneness could be explained using natural laws. A religious believer may ask who made those laws, and the debate will continue. Albert Einstein for instance put it this way: A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
I would like to comment on your effort to try to understand the difference between religion and faith in Islam. Firstly, you are absolutely right that separating faith and religion simplifies the problem, and makes us grounded in reason rather than in blind dogma and prejudice. However, it may also get us in a deadlock if we try to analyze other religions from the vantage points of our own religious structures. In other words, if a Muslim tries to explain Christianity based on his understanding of Islam, and if he/she uses his understanding of the Islamic faith and its institutions as a yardstick to measure Christianity, he may be misled. Conversely, if a Christian sets out to tackle Islamic problems from his own understanding of how the relationship of the Church and the faith (religion/faith) co-exist and sustain each other, he/she will have difficulties in understanding Islam. Therefore, the solution is studying the religion in consideration on its own and defining it using its own properties. And I’m similar to you on this issue. I try to read the forces that shaped any social phenomena.
Now, to the point: As you know, Christianity has passed through phases of reformation. Today’s democratic principles and Bills of Rights, Universal Human Right Declarations, etc., are mostly the products of the evolution of Christianity. There are Schools in Islam. During the Golden days, there were many Schools of Thought that underwent heated debates in areas of faith and religion. As the State became religious and religion became politicized, rulers and the Scholars (Ulamae) who served them started going back to the early days of Islam and the life of the prophet (PBUH)cherry-picking, AHADITH (lectures, statements, replies, practices, etc) of the prophet that would suite the purpose of keeping the states quo of the ruler under whom they are serving. They started merging faith and religion where the religious institutions became the institutions of the state, and the State became the institution of advancing the religion.
The belief is straight forward: any one who recites the Shahada (witness)”There is no god but God (Allah) and Mohamed is the messenger of Allah” will be accepted as a Muslim. Then you have five basic pillars that uphold the faith:
The Shahada, as explained above, salat (five times prayers, paying alms (charity) to the poor (zakat), fasting during the month of Ramadan (if unable due to health, you are excused), and Hajj (if financially and health-wise possible).
A Sudanese Scholar (Anna’im, who was a disciple of Ustaz Mahmoud M. Taha) says that Muslim believers should call for secular state because they can only practice their faith freely under secular state, otherwise, he says, they will be forced to follow what the religious state or the politicized religion say they should follow. I’m free therefore I’m discussing this freely. If I were in one of these religious States, I would be accused of blasphemy. Many moderate and secular Muslims have been accused of blasphemy. In Indonesia, a country that had elected a female President, a Christian politician was accused of blasphemy when he told his constituents that “…politicians who quoted from the Quran to say they should not vote for a non-Muslim were lying to them. But he also told the fishermen to vote their conscience.” I have not followed the process but it was unlikely he would be jailed because he had a formidable Muslim support.
The point: Unlike Christianity, which went through reformations and revivals/enlightenment, Islam has primarily been insulated from huge earthquakes simply because it wrapped itself around the State. The state and the religion have merged. Even moderate Muslim States base their constitution on Islamic jurisprudence. The only Muslim country I’m aware of becoming secular was Turkey. For years, Turkey remained secular, however, under the current party, there is a real threat it might relapse.
Selam Mahmud Saleh,
It is the first time that I came to agree with almost all what you said except very few lines. But these lines will not hinder us from discussing further as we have agreed on strong points. Lets move on therefore.
As you have revealed perfectly, the merging of:
1. Faith and religion
2. Religion with State
Are the two common problems. I strongly believe as such. What I like most about secular world is that ordinary people have complete freedom to practice whatever faith they have or in whatever religious group they belong. The time a state declares its constituent based on religion or religious doctrine, the more it becomes conservative. And this conservative attitude blocks any type of evolution or transformation. More than that there is intolerance towards other groups.
For example, all the Islamic States have problem in this aspect. It is hard to swallow what is going on in Saudi Arabia. The state being Islamic, no other religion is accepted there.
The awareness that we need to develop in our Eritrean fellow is therefore differentiating faith and religion. I think Turkey’s modernization is good example.
A follow-up question:
1. Do you think it is possible for a Muslim to differentiate his/her faith from religion?
2. Can we categorize the different branches of Islam as religion? Like -Sunni, Shia and all other divisions?
My interest is the relations between religion and politics.The questions you posed are interesting. My knowledge in the area is limited. They need educated answers. I hope others will join in. As far as the political side of it is concerned, I have no problem discussing it. Someone who believes in another religion does not hurt me. A nonbeliever does not hurt me. A sinner does not hurt me. The person that hurts me is someone who tries to impose his/her interpretations of religion on me, it does not matter if that person is from my religion or from other religions. That’s why looking at faith as a personal choice is more competent with the 21st century.
I am also more interested on the political side. My approach is trying to be more methodological at its best. And so far so good.
Not mixing again between a Muslim politician and Muslim’s politics, I understand that there are Muslims who manipulate Qur’an to build their own fanatic political agenda. For example, ISIS uses exploited for a known ended objective of Qur’anic teachings to hire and control recruited* memebers.
Don’t mind me if I sound naive. I have ample references when I am delving into this subject matter: politics and religion.
For example, Eritrean Orthodox Church was and is an active instrument exploited by PFDJ to suppress religious freedom in Eritrea. I remember attendants of Sunday Schools, in Tigrigna, Bet- Timhrti Senbet aggressively attacking Pentecost adherents and to some extent against Catholic church. These attendants use a term, “Menafikan”, one who doesn’t believe on the core teachings of the church, and is considered an enemy. The politics of such labelling is beyond one can imagine. I was closely observing such bad politics and I think I have a lot to say in the future. But its effect is still alive and is affecting to a large extent Eritrean diaspora community. Let me address it in the future.
Saying that my curiousity of differentiating faith from religion is purely politics. In my opinion, if we are able to develop a wider understanding on the notion of faith and religio and there by able to differentiate them well, the probability of creating peaceful atmosphere is fairly easy.
I might not be knowledgeable enough but I could have categorized Islam as a faith and Sunni, Shia and other branches and school of though under Islamic faith as “Religions”. Doing this can help us to clearly differentiate their doctrine and teaching methodology. So far they are under the cover of Islam as a glo al religion and people are in a constant confusion.
For example, in Christianity, there are different churches pr religions. Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant, Jehovah Witness, etc. And further, just like Islamic school of though, each religion is further divided into sub religions.
FOR EXAMPLE, ORthodox Church is divided into Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Russian, Armenian, etc. Though the term ‘Orthodox’ put them in one religion based on their interpretation of Jesus Christ, the way they practice their rituals and way of life is different. For example, eating habits of porc meat.
As I can see in the discussions and from what I read, I think simimar conclusions can be made. Hence we might treat different branches of Islam as religions. And each religion to have different sects. Doing this can help us creating public awareness and develop a reconciliatory system that can minimize conflicts of continuous misunderstanding.
To conclude, my approach is purely political and searching a solution on what Saleh Johar has brought for us.
* I said recruited because no one believes on their teachings except exploited for different reasons.
End of Part III