Sunday, January 4, 2009

Does Religion have a Stupefying Effect of People?

Religion is a mean for God to open the eyes of its creatures, and enlighten them to what is right and what is wrong. He thus teaches us how to handle injustice and oppression, in the hope that this may lead to more equitable, human and just society. In a nutshell, religion teaches us to be smarter human beings, by learning the rule on how to build good societies.

Every time I approach the Quran it feels that a new window is open for me. Reading about the Prophet and his teachings lead me to one feeling: how great his message was, not in a metaphysical sense, but in a very concrete intellectual sense.

And as I am reading about the history of the early great teachers of Islam and the great scholars that established the different schools of thought, iit is striking how liberal, progressive, intellectual and human these teachers and intellectuals were.

How come then when you look at the outcome of many ultra-religious people these days one cannot help but wonder: why would the same message that lead to the lightning-speed evolution of an enlightened culture and civilization, seem to be a gigantic stupefying factor for so many so-called religious people?

In my previous post I talked about a 'joke of a scholar' in Saudi Arabia who denounced demonstrations supporting Gaza citizens at a time of their ongoing slaughter that claimed 450 Palestinian lives so far (Out of one and a half million people of Gaza, that is equivalent to 90000 in a population the size of Europe or the US).

Now, it is touching closer to home. A friend and a Muslim activist in St. Louis received a stupid email that is more upsetting, and decided to share with me that shameful piece of nonsense:

My respected Muslim brothers and sisters, may Allaah shower you with His mercy. We advise all of you to avoid any form of street demonstrations taking place anywhere. They are not from the means of rectification of the hardships that befall the Ummah. Rather, as Shaikh Muhammad ibn Umar al-Bazmool stated, demonstrations are not from the means of rectification, not from the Sunnah of the Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wassallam) and nor from the sunnah of the righteous predecessors.
Then that person goes on to claim that:

Demonstrations are not considered as being from the means of da’wah nor jihaad as the scholars have explained. So beware and warn the muslims from participating in this futile act that is not from the Islamic religion.
He then quotes the 'authority' sheik literally (and many other hyper-conservative sheiks in passing):

Answer: There is no benefit in demonstrations – it is just commotion. It is from the types of disorder. How will it cause harm to the enemy if the people go out and demonstrate in one of the streets, raising their voices? Rather, this is from the things that will only make the enemy pleased and happy. Thus he will say: “This has harmed and hurt them.” So the enemy will rejoice.
Does that sound stupid to you as it sounds to me? would you trust such a brain to make decisions that influences your life?

If you think religion has enlighten or educated these people, you are mistaken. They are lacking the common sense and any understanding of modern culture. They may have memorized a lot of text. But carrying the books (on your back or in your memory) is one thing, and using knowledge in those books is another (See what God said as a parable for such people in Chapter 62:5)

Unfortunately, this is what happens in a culture where how much you memorize sets your stature amongst your peers. The culture of copying and memorizing dominates many hyper-religious individuals and institutions, where the goal is to retain and regurgitate bits of information, not to process knowledge.

I would not even call these people Salafi's or conservatives. Linking any of them to intellectual schools of thought is an insult to those schools, even though I disagree with many of the conclusions of those schools of thought. These fake authorities have no thought process to talk about, therefore they are not part of a 'school of thought'.

And let me give you these examples on how our enlightened teachers and early coreligionists handled communicating messages to leaders:

  • When the prophet wanted to communicate to heads of states and other societies leaders during his years in Medina he sent them letters with messengers.
  • When Muslims disagreed with the prophet on an issue that did not seem like part of Islamic theology, they talked directly to him as it was the case with the military advise he received during the battle of Badr given by a companion who felt the Prophet's plan was not the best. The great Prophet thought about it, and yielded to the man's opinion.
  • When a woman heard an opinion from the Prophet that she did not agree with, she told him that, and gave her opinion. He did not agree with her, so she came the following day arguing her case again, and again. The Quran documented this interesting interaction in the chapter named "The Arguing Woman" (Al-Mujadilah, Chapter 58:1 ), not to reprimand her, but to reveal that actually God agreed with her opinion, the opinion she made publicly and repetitively with the Prophet, peace me upon him.
  • When a woman did not like what Omar, the second great civil leader, said during a Friday sermon, she did not keep her mouth shut. She stood up immediately, confronted him and proved her point by using a reference from the Quran. Omar, the great leader of an extensive Muslim empire, conceded with his famous statement: The woman is right, Omar is wrong, reversing his opinion on the spot.
  • The great scholars of early Islamic centuries never stopped communicating to their heads of state, as well as the provincial and local appointees in charge. That was a time when they could simply go to the king, or province governor, and meet with them. If that was not feasible, they delivered written messages,that the leaders were obliges to receive, read and act upon, sometimes agreeing with the scholars, sometimes rejecting their advice.
That was then.

Today, the common sense and the prevalent culture teaches us that a message written to a leader will not reach them (especially in our 'lucky' Muslim countries). It also teaches us that requesting a meeting with the king, the president, or the head of a foreign state to express an opposing opinion will at best get people to laugh at you. At worst, it may get you midnight visitors to teach you a lesson on how to behave properly as a citizen.

And contrary to the women that publicly argued and opposed
the Prophet and his second successor Omar, opposing you modern day Muslim leader face to face, or arguing with them in public using evidence from the Quran will not fare well for your survival or your future welfare.

The modern and prevalent culture teaches us that demonstrations in the street (without violence) are one effective way to deliver our messages to rulers - locally and abroad - and to fellow citizens as well as the whole world. Different times need different communication tools.

Why would that simple fact of life appear so difficult to grasp for those fancy 'scholarly' Sheiks, also commonly known in Arab cultures as 'the government scholars'?

One answer would be that they are integral parts of ruling regimes that do not like protests by citizen. Protests and 'noisy and messy', where people 'raise their voices' (to quote the email sheik literally), and call for change. And why would sheiks want to change anything when their patron leaders, and their highly paid scholars are happy with the way things are for them?

But another answer may be more important, especially with the large number of self-proclaimed scholars who do not have strong association with ruling hierarchy in their countries, yet they come up with equally stupid edicts .

A hall mark of our early true scholars that I mentioned above is that they lived as an integrated part of their societies. Their knowledge was more useful and durable because it was a result of the 'textbook knowledge' interacting with common sense and proper knowledge of the world around them.

Of special note in this respect is the high esteem for Abu Hanifa's jurisprudence on contracts and market transactions which is attributed to his profound knowledge of market operations of his time, being a tradesman himself. Another great scholar like Ibn Hazm showed comprehensive and creative way of approaching religious analysis that is at least attributed to the diverse and eclectic nature of the prevalent culture of Spain in his lifetime.

These examples contrast with the way many 'hyper-pious' individuals and scholars handle life today. They live in shells, isolated from everyday life, with little or no cultural or intellectual interactions with anyone even slightly different from themselves. These so-called scholars know little about modern day life, society, culture, communication skills, politics or modern physical and social sciences. Yet, they feel comfortable telling us what to do with our everyday life.

How arrogant!!

As for the fact the 'email scholar' mentioned that the Prophet and his honorable companions did not demonstrate on the streets: that is not much of an argument. According to widely accepted jurisprudence rules, the original ruling for all things is that they are permitted. So, unless they prove that street demonstrations are religiously forbidden by the Holy Quran or the authenticated Prophetic narrations, those fake scholars better keep their mouths shut.

And, if they need an explicit permission from the The Prophet's teachings or the Quran for everything they do, then please ask them stop using
running water, indoor bathrooms, computers, air conditioning, TV and eyeglasses.

And while we are at it, let us all pray they stop using
emails, internet, cars, cellular phones and airplanes.

That way they may vanish from our view and from our life while they continue to live in the caves that they are intellectually living in.

An that would be a blessing for the rest of us.



  1. Thank you Khaled. Yours is a refreshing voice to hear.


  2. Very refreshing... keep up the strong work. We need scholars with practical knowledge and understanding, now more than ever. In these challenging times your article does encourage us, the so called educated people , who are still in the kidergarden when it comes to understanding of Islam, to think and reflect on the most beautiful book on the face of this earth... the Quran...and live the most beautiful way humanly possible, the islam...