“Practicing Islam in Short Shorts” was the title of the article. As I read through it, I could feel the sincerity of the sister’s words and how much her heart may have been in the right place, but in contrast to her opinion on intentions being the main things that matter, I have a few points to mention. With all my respect to those Muslims who may not follow all God tells us to, or those who aren’t Muslim in the first place, this is a very sensitive topic and should be discussed maturely and without emotion, rather, with intellect.
No doubt many people suffer from this same type of judgement the sister complains about in the article. The fact that she is a Muslim is true; no one can take that away from her. By Islamic law the one who is born to a Muslim is also a Muslim, whether they practice or not. Now coming to Islamic theology the way a person who is a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim is for them to deny an asl (important principle) of the important principles of religion, i.e. to deny the prophethood of Muhammad (S) or tawheed (Oneness of God). She obviously has not done this, and that would mean she is a Muslim, but not necessarily a mo’mina (true believer). The Quran states you can be one without the other. ‘You have your own Islam… and I have my own Islam!’’
I’ve come across this statement so many times, and in the past I’m sure I must have said it too. I often try to remember myself 4 years ago and look at things in the way I would have then, in order to understand how and why I thought that way. I still see my old thought process in many people around me, some haven’t had the same opportunities and access that I have, and I also understand what they mean when they say statements like this. Though ultimately I realise now that it’s true; I had my own Islam and I was a Muslim, but I was hardly ever a believer.
And that made all the difference.
“Faith (belief) is talk with action, Islam is talk without action.” – Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (as)
الاِيمان إقرار وعمل والاِسلام إقرار بلا عمل- إمام محمد الباقر
“The Bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not yet believed; but say instead, ‘We have submitted,’ for faith has not yet entered your hearts.” – Quran, Surat Al Hujairat, verse 14.
The sister goes on to claim that scholars are hypocritical which, unfortunately in many cases is true; but she generalises this view to the extent that she denies the hadiths she does not like, as well as Fiqh (Islamic law) and Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) due to these scholars whom she sees as filters in a negative light. It could be said that these are the pillars that modern day Islam is based on, and we simply cannot have Islam without them or we would know nothing of it. ‘Taking some rather than none’ is better than nothing but it is not yet true Islam, and not acknowledging these Islamic sciences can hardly be deemed as ‘taking some’ as there is not much left to take. A main issue with the way so many people understand Islam is that they cannot differentiate between law, theology, philosophy, and so their questions are all over the place. Does it make any sense for me to disregard all of this as untrue as if it doesn’t exist, simply because of my experiences and that it is my opinion?
For us to understand Islam properly we must know its aims. The Muslim belief is that the aim of life for the human being is to reach his/her perfection through proximity to God, and through the Prophet. God sent down the way of life in which this is achieved. This includes the spiritual as well as the physical laws that one MUST abide by to be considered a practicing Muslim. God has given us free will to choose whether or not we will abide by these laws, that’s up to us, otherwise he would have forced everyone Himself… but if I want to represent Islam or claim I am a practicing Muslim, that is a different story. For me to say I am a practicing Muslim yet I commit those acts forbidden by Islam and I sometimes perform the obligatory actions, means one is contradicting themselves. The Quran is very clear in this, and the use of the word hypocrite becomes ironic.
The need for spirituality in our materialistic world is growing tremendously as people realise this is not enough, and that they want more. They want that ‘something’ and that is why people are flocking to all these religions which seem to tend to their spiritual needs. The fact is that attractive spiritual phrases, ideas, and sentences in order to please ourselves by having a momentary sense of spirituality, is in fact no truth at all. Appreciating wisdom in religions is great, but mixing up a bit from here and there and then using a Quranic verse to defend myself and say ‘that is your religion, and this is mine’ whilst spreading information which very clearly contradicts God’s words in the Quran – yet claiming I am a practicing Muslim – makes no sense.
There are many of those who will not judge her just as there are many that will. There are many scholars who are hypocrites whilst there are many who are wise saints of God. I feel that in her well intentioned attempt at defending herself against judgement, she has judged the part of Islam that she does not like as being an ‘inflexible and fossilized way of life’. A very inaccurate picture of Islam was painted and a very distorted view of its sciences were offered, as to throw away over a thousand years of scholarly work after coming across Wahabi material and judgement during her life – is not fair in the slightest. The Islam that was presented is Not my Islam, no. Not the Islam of the saints and mystics and scholars who gave their lives to pass on the message of the Prophets, no. Not these books, which cost blood to have reached me, no. Not my Islam. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, their own choices. But to claim a thing when it is not concerning God’s word and knowledge of the Prophets, and spread it to the people as a truth – that, a true Muslim cannot stand for. I will not judge you for the choices you make or for the clothes you like to buy, just like I will not stand for when falsehood about Islam is spread – however well-intentioned it may be.
Speaking of intentions, much importance was given to this notion, as well as how our actions make us feel. But unfortunately this is not enough; it was proved above how something well intentioned may still cause harm. Good intentions are not enough. One must know, and one must apply. Concerning feelings; sometimes you feel low, but you still have your obligations to perform and your temptations to restrain from. Sometimes you’re doing all of this yet you still don’t feel that closeness to God, as if something is missing. ‘What am I doing wrong?’ you may ask. This is a mistake I and many like me have made in the past, trying to attain that spiritual feeling in prayer. But that means I am not truly praying to God. I am praying for that feeling, and if we want to talk spirituality, then in esoteric terms and on a high level of God-consciousness that would be deemed shirk. Anything served in your intention apart from God, even that special feeling of being close to Him, is taking away from His Oneness. It’s not about the feeling. It’s about being a true servant in submission.
A few months back I found myself reading the first three pages of Surat Maryam of the Quran (the chapter of the Lady Mary mother of Jesus) over and over again every day for over a week. If you had asked me why, I couldn’t have told you, but it was the same every morning. It just spoke to me. Around about the same time, I was thinking over an issue in my head, the question of identity, ‘Who am I?’ I’d ask myself. People may call me a student, but that’s not who I am, it’s just what I do. I study. But what of me when I’m no longer a student, then who am I? A police man is not a police man, it is what he does, not who he is. You are not what you do, so if I was to ask you who you were, what would you tell me? What is your identity? Who are you?
After some time, going back and forth in my head, struggling to find the answer, it hit me. I had been reading the answer every single day on the third page of that chapter. It was right in front of me the whole time. The chapter tells of how Lady Mary gave birth to Jesus under a tree, away from the people, and on her return she was ridiculed for having a baby without a husband. She was told by the Lord to keep silent, and only to point to her baby son as the people ridiculed her. The people asked ‘how can we talk to a baby in the cradle?’. Then, in verse 30, he replied:
قال إني عبدالله
‘He said: I am the servant of God.’
My reaction at the time: Wow. I was so taken aback by it. It was right in front of me this whole time. Out of all the things he could have said as a miracle baby, out of all the things he could have said as his first words, he faces the hostile crowd and tells them he is the servant of God. How profound is that?
I believe that the sister’s heart is in the right place and I hope mine is too. For all I know this sister is a better person than I am, I merely have a problem with some of her views as they contradict the religion she claims to practice, and my main objection is that these views (which are not backed up by any source rather it is the opinion of the said individual) may influence others who don’t know better. The religion of Islam is a deep ocean and we remain on sea level, but we are human beings. Our capacity is greater than that of the ships. We must dive deep into this ocean to find its pearls and claim true proximity. As humans our potential is unbound, perfection is in our grasp. Why settle?
As a person who is so in love with spirituality it upsets me when I find some who think that it has to be either spirit or law, when in fact, whilst there are those people who make Islam nothing but a list of do’s and don’t’s which is not at all the objective of the religion, you cannot be truly spiritual in Islam without following it’s law. It’s one and the same. Sheikh Bahjat, one of the greatest mystics of the past century was always approached by those who were looking for the answer; the spiritual key to success in this life and the next. ‘How can we be with God?!’ ‘How can I know God?’ ‘How do I get close to God?’ – the Sheikh would reply: “Follow the book of law”. For what benefit is it to the human who wants to get close to God to speak about the seven heavens and all that is within it, when they still perform the actions God hates and do not perform the actions that God loves. Law isn’t everything, no. It is the minimal standard if we want to talk about being an Abd, a true servant in love with his Lord, like Jesus. If we want to talk about love, we are talking so much more than do’s and don’ts. When talking about religion we are talking about the fate of man (if we believe in the said religion), the most important thing in our life – our eternal state of affairs. On this basis, we should be very careful where our opinions take us if there is no solid proof for it, as we should really have knowledge on what we are saying and not just take what we like. It’s very convenient, I understand that, but it’s not the way God wants it, and you must trust God wants it that way because that is the way that is best for you. He doesn’t gain anything from everything we do, all of it is merely for our own self development and growth. And if my sister who wrote this article truly wants to submit, as she says she learnt from Buddhism, then it begins in wanting what God wants, not what our selves want, because I trust Him. And He knows.
(by the way, in truth all we want from life is God, but that’s a different discussion)
“Some people worshipped Allah being desirous of His reward – so this is the worship of traders; and some people worshipped Allah fearing His punishment – so it is the worship of slaves, and a group worshipped Allah in gratitude (to Him) so this is the worship of the free.” – Imam Ali (as)
Love in servitude for God and true submission to all he has given us, is so available for one who truly seeks. I recommend anyone who somehow had the patience to read all of this and is still interested, to read the English or Arabic version of Alsahifa Alsajadiya – Prayers of Imam Sajjad. Find out what Islam truly is. Islam. Love. My brothers and sisters in Islam who are struggling in their journey to reach God, know that this beautiful struggle will determine the outcome of your eternal life. Be patient. Patience is the sword in which you will battle the demons of this world. Patience does not mean to accept your circumstances; it means to never give up. You were made for heaven, you were made for love, don’t settle for anything less. And whenever you get confused about yourself, your life, who you are and who you aren’t, remember the miracle baby’s answer to the ultimate question of ‘who am I?’ and you will find yourself once more. In your worship, be free.