I took a mental note of something that was written by the phenomenally popular Sunni religious leader, Abu Eesa Niamatullah (Blog, Facebook, Twitter). At the time I was busy finishing up Part I of Revival of Reason and a little more interested in the evolution conference going on at the time, but I’d like to revisit and discuss what was said before I forget because it’s extremely relevant to what’s been discussed here so far. Here’s what he posted:
When we reflect on those Muslims that deviated in our times, we find that it was their desire for a pseudo-secular brand of Islamic humanism that took them astray, whereas all they needed was to have been more *human* with their strand of Islam in the first place.
If you look at most of the usual suspects today, they were all extreme Muslims in one way or the other. Extreme Salafis, extreme Sufis, extreme with Islamic politics, extreme at takfeer, extreme in partisanship etc.
It’s such total rejection of the madha-hib, or total unquestioning obedience to the madha-hib, or the obsession with tariqah, or the infatuation with the Islamic State, or the love of exclusivity, the love of authority and the self, or the jealous ownership of salvation for oneself only and so on, which causes people to crash. And such crashes are psychologically devastating, leading to disturbing counter-reactions which can only be found at the altar of secular humanism: the worship of one’s intellect, the obsession with rationale, the abandoning of tradition, the fixation with human rights over the rights of Allah, the insistence on finding non-existent plurality in matters which have been divinely decided, and all that monkey business that we all know too well.
And so it comes back to the beginning: if only Muslim were more natural, balanced and thus *human* about Islam, they wouldn’t eventually end up trying to change Islam to secular humanism.
We seek Allah’s protection. Guide us, ya Latif.
There’s a lot of context in this post that one has to understand. He’s criticizing Islamic reformists and modernists that are popping up more and more in Islamic discourse. Although he hasn’t named specific people, if you understand the context you can figure out who he’s referring to. When he refers to people who used to be “extreme salafis” and people who promoted “total rejection of the madha-hib (traditional schools of Sunni Law)”, he’s talking about people like the former die-hard Salafi Usama Hassan. When he refers to people who were “extreme with Islamic politics, extreme at takfeer” who had an “infatuation with the Islamic State”, he’s talking about people like the former Hizb-u-Tahrir proponent Majid Nawaz. Both of these two have since become very reformist/modernist in their thinking.
What’s the argument Abu Eesa is trying to make? Well it sounds like he himself is trying to make sense of what the hell is going on with all of these changes. As far as he’s concerned, people leaving traditional understandings of Islam is a manifestation of reactionary extremism, jumping between two different fringe ends of the spectrum. According to him, if these people didn’t have hyper-zealous pasts, they would have been more than comfortable with traditional Islam because it’s balanced enough for reform to be unnecessary in the first place.
Here’s where he’s wrong. He’s making the mistake of thinking high-profile speakers are representative of the trend as a whole. Stories of people who “used to be extreme but have seen the light” are going to attract much more attention, but that by no means insinuates that everyone who challenges traditional paradigms used to be extreme or have misunderstood traditional Islam. This is, by the way, a manifestation of the psychological bias, the availability heuristic (hey look I connected it to Part II!).
This is very analogous to the way religious people often brand all atheists as those who simply had a “bad experience” with religion. Some have, some haven’t. Maybe it helps you go to sleep at night to dismiss all those who disagree as “psychologically devastated”, but I’m sorry, that’s not the real world my friend.
It’s very difficult to accept that those who are not convinced of your religious views have intelligent, calm and rational reasoning to justify their positions. That puts one in quite the uncomfortable position of questioning one’s own faith, lifestyle choices and sacrifices. The thought that “maybe I’m wrong about religion” can be very troubling, but if Abu Eesa ever managed to put himself in that spot he would see that the answer he’s looking for is already in what he wrote:
which can only be found at the altar of secular humanism: the worship of one’s intellect, the obsession with rationale, the abandoning of tradition, the fixation with human rights over the rights of Allah, the insistence on finding non-existent plurality in matters which have been divinely decided, and all that monkey business that we all know too well.
Despite his use of rhetoric to make secular humanism sound bad, he’s actually implying in here that traditional understandings of Islam are not always comfortably compatible with a) rationalism, b) human rights, c) pluralism and d) science. This is something I’ve discussed in the last post.
Side note: I’ve gotten requests to provide scriptural/scholarly references for everything I’ve mentioned in that post. Two things: 1) These are not “secrets” that need exposing, they’re corroborated by traditional scholars and can be seen even with cursory glances at their work, albeit probably with more apologetics that you have to sift through. 2) Because I like you, I’ll write up a more complete and comprehensive reference for these issues in the future anyway, but likely not until after Part II is finished.
Anyways, what’s really happening in our time that Abu Eesa will have to confront sooner or later is that more and more calm, happy and reasonable Muslims are stepping out of the traditionally religious box, either for reformism or rejection of religion as a whole because things are simply not making any sense to them.
The solution for these incompatibilities that Abu Eesa is proposing is a more “human” and ultimately holistic understanding of Islam. Maybe if they cracked as much jokes and had as much fun as he does (and Abu Eesa totally is hilarious), they wouldn’t have a problem right? Maybe if they weren’t polarizing, promoted more neighborliness and positive engagement with the wider community like he does (and Abu Eesa is definitely strong in this regard), they wouldn’t have a problem right? Maybe if they discussed more spirituality and self-improvement like he does there wouldn’t be a problem right? No, not for everyone. This “focusing on the happy stuff” version of traditional Islam may spend most of its time in positive aspects, but it still ultimately does nothing more than sweep the enormously consequential intellectual difficulties under the rug. People realize this, and it bothers them. It bothers them that such understandings of Islam are still, in certain issues, fundamentally incompatible with rationalism, human rights, pluralism and science. Divinity demands 100% perfection, period. Even 99.9% falls short of the enormous standard one has to reach when claiming Divine ordinance.
People don’t have to be “psychologically devastated” to see problems with religion. But maybe, in an effort to prevent one’s own psychologically devastating questioning of faith, you have to convince yourself that they must be.
The times are changing AE, it’s about time to catch up with them because they’re sure as hell catching up with you.