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 an article titled by “The New Wave of Muslim Preachers”
Selam tes and all
[Forgive me for this rather lengthy comment, the engagement level tes presented needs it. If you feel it’s too long, please skip it; you are not required to read it. Thank you]
Thank you tes. Like wise, I too really enjoyed your rejoinder, and found it to be full of helpful material. I was trying to restrain myself from commenting in area which I feel am not qualified to comment on, because your questions are specific and have unusual depth. I would want other informed folks who study the field to answer them. It’s a quite different matter to be a follower of a certain religion versus someone who is versed in the history of that religion. In Islam we say something in good faith and end it by saying “wo Allahu AElem”, meaning “and God knows better”. This is to mark the emphasis that man is fallible and makes mistakes in his endeavor. However, when you: a/ try your best in good faith; b/ you are aware of your fallibility and weakness, you are forgiven. Because the Quran says (and please excuse me for appearing to have seized the pulpit), anyway, the Quran says ” La yukelefu Allahu nafsen illa wes’Aaha” translation: Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear; that’s similar to the Tigrigna saying that goes “Chru b’AQma tGhgom”. Therefore, consider this an amateurish attempt to repay your expanded reply. It may not meet your expectation, it may not answer your questions fully, but it’s worth considering it.
I. Terminology and brief introductory notes
Islam= submission to Allah (God)
I. a. Faith (Aiman); the ideation of the presence of God with all his describing qualities (not different from the other Abrahamic religions). This includes the belief in AlQaib (that which can’t be seen or comprehended by the human faculty).
1.b. The first part of your question related to the relationship between religion and faith in Islam. Let me put it this way, and this is based on my feeble understanding. To a Muslim: Islam=Aiman=deen; the argument is that if you have become a Muslim, you have already believed in the essence of Islam (faith), and you would not be able to do that if you were not Mutadayn (religious). Becoming a Muslim, therefore is becoming a faithful, and to become a faithful, you will have to have tied a knot with your creator through the belief systems, languages, statements, texts, practices(Aqida/creed). Muslims pay more attention on individual endeavors and practices.
So, Islam comprises faith (Aiman), and practices (religious activities, some are duty-bound, others are additional.
1.c. The following points could summarize the religion:
1. Believing in Allah (God)- la sheriku lahu; no co-partner, no associate
2. Believing in angels (All previous Abrahamic religions’ angels)
3. Believing in the Holly scriptures, Jewish, Christian, and the last one Quran, which is believed to be the last Holy Scripture
4. Believing in all messengers that came before Islam, Mohammed (PBUH) is the last messenger
5. Believing in the day of judgement
6. Believing in Qadar (fate and destiny); however, man is bestowed with will and he is responsible for his actions.
II: A brief note on Islamic history
II.a. How the religion took form (I will avoid the vast history of the sociopolitical components that resulted in the dominance of the first Muslim community) = Once the revelation came to the prophet, he started talking about it, lecturing in market places and relatives. Slowly he garnered followers; those followers started writing his verses and sermons. Therefore the religion took shape through:
(i) compiling verses that were revealed to the prophet specifically from Allah through the agent of Angel Gebril (Gabriel), in different occasions. This resulted into the Quran. The Quran is believed to be the word of Allah.
(ii) The other component of the religion comprises Ahadith (Hadith for sing) which contains speeches of the prophet, some are confirmed as correct (saHiH) other are not confirmed (weak). These speeches, conversations, responses to inquirers, etc., were compiled in the years that followed his death. Also his daily practices (Suna) are considered part of this category.
(iii) The last part comprises individual scholars endeavor and contributions, opinions, deliberations, provisions….that don’t contradict the Quran and the confirmed Ahadith.
III. From a simple community of believers to conflicts/confusions and the rise of religious State.
From the start, there was a problem in designating as to who should be the successor of the prophet. That led to the Shia and Suna. That’s an area unto itself and I’m skipping it. The years following the death of the prophet saw fervent debates between the followers in exact intent of some verses, or Ahadith or practices/actions of the prophet, etc. These heated arguments deepened the knowledge of the religion, it spread it and gave it a solid foundation. However, in the process, it devolved into bickering and inner-fighting, which in turn led sects/dominions, doctrines (mezahb). In Islam there are about 5 major Schools of thoughts/doctrines). The conflicts eventually took the forms of congregations and led to wars and the desire to muzzle and subjugate opponents. Here comes the merging of State and religion, because each sect would need to defend its position, subdue the other side, and dominate lands and resources. The rest, we discussed it yesterday.
III. Is it possible to be a Muslim and secular.
This is my take and I would say yes, it is possible. Secular does not mean nonbeliever. Becoming a secular is a necessity, particularly in countries of diverse constituents. Secular, to me, means accommodating all adherents of diverse faiths in equal footing. Citizenship overrides all other identities. Citizenship demands that the political system becomes impartial to all sects. Secularism actually ensures that citizens will exercise their religious rights without the tempering of the state. Secularism ties the hands of the state from interfering in or favoring religions.
As I said earlier, considering its history, Christianity moved from State religion to secularism in recent past. Most constitutions of the Muslim countries are hybrid of Sharia and secular principles, but there is a heated debate going on in the Muslim world and the direction is promising. Already women are challenging openly Saudi authorities. Women were elected as prime ministers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India with the second Muslim majority .
VI. In Eritrean context:
We have no choice but to fight for a secular political system.
Selam Mahmud Saleh,
This is an enlightening and very deep. In fact more than I ever expected. It is very educationa. More than that it has answered most of quest and contemplation about Islam.
Just to share,
1. I grew – up near a mosque. I need to thank to the morning call for prayer that was aired from the mosque as my family were using it as an alarm. And luckily it is the most pleasant voice I ever used listen during all theses days.
Allahu Akbar, meaning God is Great!
2. During my visit to Cairo, I got to know an Egyptian whom we developed good friendship. He is a graduate from Al-Azhar University and his family are religious and decent. He introduced me to all his family. We spent good time to discuss about Islamic teachings, very basic but very insightful. We went together to a mosque and I joined him in his salat. He introduced me on how to make salat. It was great experience.
But some of his talk continued to resonate in my mind and that is – Islam is the last religion of humanity. I was always fascinated about world religions but this particular incidence had enforced my quest about Islamic teachings and beliefs.
My fellow up questions are therefore all dimensional. Enough about sharing.
Now, I would like to ask you further based on your equation.
You wrote, “To a Muslim: Islam=Aiman=deen; the argument is that if you have become a Muslim, you have already believed in the essence of Islam (faith), and you would not be able to do that if you were not Mudayn (religious).”. this is very important equation and the argument that goes with it is much stronger.
Here is then what I see the problem with Islam and I believe it is the source of all problems surrounding Islamic teachings.
The time one can not differentiate faith/belief from religion, there is a strong attachment of the beliefs and daily life. And since daily life is all influenced by politics, either the belief affects politics or politics affects beliefs. In Islam, I see both cases.
If so, can we conclude that it is hard to separate politics from Islam?
You have understood me correctly. And the argument that some Muslims make, particularly, the Selefists, is exactly the problem you mentioned. Now here are the silver lining (and please continue discussing this with your Muslim friends), these are just personal observations:
- Muslims are as diverse. There are very conservative portion and there are moderate ones. Since rulers like to have the backing of the conservatives, for now they possess the means. But they are being challenged everywhere.
- There is a pressure from the modern world, cultural, political, economic pressures. Saudi Arabia may claim to be a strictly Islamic Kingdom. It may be domestically Islamic (in order to continue the reign of the royal family), but its ties with the world is based on capitalist principles. Today, you can’t survive and prosper in the world if you are to apply strict Islamic principles in economics and what it entails of transactions. Saudi Arabia is investing in the Western markets. Western capital is sustaining its economy.
- The majority of the youth and the middle class are calling for liberalized political system, i.e., democratic system.
- There are already moves towards that direction as I have mentioned in my earlier posting.
- There is a debate* among scholars on how to make the religion more progressive. Therefore, the current struggle is between reformist elements and the strongly entrenched conservative ones. As both of us have mentioned it, Islam needs reformation, and I think it’s entering that phase.
* What’s interesting is: if you can tune in on Sudanese TV, you watch a lively debate of citizens about their government policies, about civic issues, human rights, they do elections (does not matter how clean they are, but the conception of “elected government is there”). Compare that with some openly secular governments, starting from our own PFDJ!! Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia have multi-party democracy. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania have somewhat secular forms of governments; both Morocco and Jordan are ruled by constitutional monarchies, but they have elections, Unions, private newspapers…etc. All of the above are not admissible in the “selefist” definition of state. Iran, despite its Revolutionary Guard with its Supreme leader, does enjoy a fairly reasonable degree of openness.
Anyway, also some purport the notion that there is Islamic State, in the truest sense, there is none. But rulers and their hardcore conservative elements who benefit from the states quo are using religion to stay in power.
- The feasibility and viability of Islamic State in countries of diverse constituencies, like ours, is of course out of the picture.
And all Awatistas are cordially invited to drop your opinion or take.
Very much appreciated. You know I have a thousand questions when it comes on solution oriented discussion. Therefore be patient and kind with me.
I am coming now to the Eritrean problems.
I do have an open qualms with Jeberti political movement, the Al-Nahda Party. I do not have any right to interfer on what they want to be as I believe it is their ultimate right to call themselves who they are. I am a strong supporter of rights to Identity, be it at individual level or group of people, as Amanual Hidrat prefers to call it social groupings.
My problem with Al-Nahda Party is on their aspiration that pushed them to form this party and their advocacy for political power by forming identity based political party.
The problem is:
1. They are basically identity based political party that wants to be recognized as such and compete like any other political parties for controling the government. This is OK as far it remains political. But I do understand that religion is also injected as part of the recognition process. This might give us a clue on religious inspired political program. I have watched some youtube video which are really worrisome. And I am afraid it might lead to ethnic based conflicts as political power is established to advance their primary agenda.
What is your understanding on this subjct matter.
2. I do understand that Jeberti people have a full right to be who they are. In fact, every Eritrean knows who they are. And if they believe that their rights is denied, is their struggle political right or human right issue?
If, it is political right, as they are working under Al-Nahda Party, it is OK but it might have some reactions that might lead into ethnic conflicts.
If it is human rights issue, I do believe that no matter what type of resistance they encountered, it is their absolute right to call themselves as they wanted and no one can take it that away. And if they really want to fight a good fight, I do believe that A Civic organization that promotes Jeberti Identity could be the best mechanism to break all barriers. and I don’t see any challenges to be faced.
I am bringing this because it is a political movement that has combined, religion/faith (according to a Muslim’s take as you testified), human rights issue and politics. And has a potential of creating political conflicts.
My basic assumptions are:
a. A political party is a is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government.
b. A human rights group, or human rights organization, is a non-governmental organization which advocates for human rights through identification of their violation, collecting incident data, its analysis and publication, promotion of public awareness while conducting institutional advocacy, and lobbying to halt these violations.
c. Civil society is the “aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens.
d. Civil rights include the ensuring of peoples’ physical and mental integrity, life, and safety; protection from discrimination on grounds such as race, gender, national origin, colour, age, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion, or disability; and individual rights such as privacy and the freedoms of thought, speech, religion, press, assembly, and movement.
e. Political rights include natural justice (procedural fairness) in law, such as the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial; due process; the right to seek redress or a legal remedy; and rights of participation in civil society and politics such as freedom of association, the right to assemble, the right to petition, the right of self-defense, and the right to vote.
I do believe that Jeberti people have civic and political rights like any other Eritrean citizen. But I believe there is a difference between civic rights and politcal rights.
To conclude, Al-Nahda Party is a party that has a complex formation that has merged identity issue, religious(as per their claims) issue and political power. This might have a never ending conflict of political struggle.
These are my understanding.
My question is:
How far is religion separated from the Eritrean power struggle?
Of course, there are many cases that need similar synthesis but for today, I think this can give us a general take.
I thank you.
I will skip issues related to AlnaHda party. Honestly, I don’t know it. As far as Jeberti identity question is concerned, you have the best understanding compared to other non-Jeber citizens that I have read or heard about. Most articles, comments and opinions are dismissal and patronizing. My take is simple. As citizens they have every right to raise and frame any issue that is pertinent to them as a community. If identity is one of them so be it. I have confidence in the community that the majority are as reasonable as I think I am and they are not going to let few militants to hijack their cause. I may continue later but for now, forgive, I will be busy. I hope others will help in educating us about Alnahda, and the Alnahda-Jeber link. The point you made regarding Civic vis-à-vis political is important. I’m sure there are better versed folks who could enlighten us.
You asked:How far is religion separated from the Eritrean power struggle?
I had it in my mind that I should give it a try, but then forgot to answer that question as I was rushing out.
How far, I am not sure. But from the configurations of the organizations, it is evident that religion is playing a great deal in Eritrean politics. It has always been there, from the political parties of the 40s-50-s, to the parliament, to the frictions between the leaders of Eritrean organizations, to today’s opposition parties. There are already parties formed on religious agendas. I think raising religious demands is not bad, But they will need to be propagated within the national discourse. When someone sticks to his religious demands, he should not forget that others will also do the same, which will lead to suspicion and stalemate. The other fact of Eritrean politics which, I think, is stronger than religion is regional, and ethnical demands. All these aspects will continue to be the defining characters of Eritrean politics for the near future. We need a national democratic framework that mitigate them.
End of Part IV