Divided Muslims

At about 5 PM yesterday, my power just shut off for no apparent reason. There wasn’t a thunder storm or anything, but everyone else on my block had lost power too. It wouldn’t turn back on until 10 PM! In those 4 or 5 hours, I went out with my mom to a local Halal Pizza & Grill restaurant. I usually like going here, not just because of the delicious food, but also because I have a very friendly relationship with the Egyptian, Palestinian, and Hispanic people who work there. I always feel welcomed, I’m always greeted by name, and it’s just impossible to leave the place without a smile.

But last night, as I was enjoying my pizza and halal buffalo wings (lol), a young Muslim man dressed in traditional Arab garb and fashioning a long black beard stormed into the restaurant loudly, “Asalaam ‘alaykoum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu!” Of course, my mom and I returned the “salaam” and then watched him sit at the table in front of us. He was accompanied by another young man who also had an olive complexion, but was wearing a short-sleeved collar shirt and jeans. The Muslim man walked to the counter and gave his order loudly in Arabic — this doesn’t bother me and it’s nothing new either; I mean we Punjabis are very loud too. I don’t like how non-Arabs or non-Muslims think that the Arabic language is an “angry” language. Just because people speak loudly doesn’t mean they’re “angry,” they’re just very passionate about their language.

Anyway, I just wanted to clear up that stereotype/misconception. So, the two young men take their seats and the Muslim man starts giving his friend a lecture about Islam. My guess is that the second man was a convert to Islam, but I don’t know that for sure. My mom and I were silent while we ate because we were listening to the speech that the Muslim man was giving behind us. At first, I liked the things he was saying. He was talking about how Muslims don’t worship Jesus (peace be upon him) and then he explained why. He also spoke about how Allah is everywhere, sees all things, watches over us, etc. He discussed how Allah has no partners, and that associating partners with Him is the greatest sin (“shirk”). He was very passionate and knowledgeable about what he was saying, but then he started bad-mouthing other Muslims. That’s when I really wanted to leave. Did he forget about this verse?

“Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.”
[Qu’ran,
2:62]

He said, “there are a lot of ignorant Muslims out there. Very few Muslims really follow Islam. They think that just accepting the Oneness of God means you are a Muslim. This is false! This is not true! You can believe in the Oneness of God, but it must be Allah subhanna wa ta’ala.” Ok, that wasn’t too offensive, but I started to detect the arrogance in his voice. He continued, “there was an Arabic Sufi — may Allah bring him back to us — who innovated a lot of things, and innovation is a huge sin in Islam. He tried to unite all the monotheistic religions; obviously this is an innovation!” I really couldn’t believe I was hearing this and I honestly felt the urge to interrupt him and ask him why he was so offended by the Sufis. He spoke about how Christians and Jews are “ignorant” and “misguided” and worship “different gods.” I understand that Christians may argue that they do in fact worship a “different god” by worshiping Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should criticize their faith, especially when teaching a young person. I know I wouldn’t like it if I were in a public place and I heard a priest teaching someone that Muslims are “misguided” or “blind to the Truth.” Then I heard the man talk about the “way of the Salaf,” which is supposedly all about following the way of Muhammad, peace be upon him. The interesting thing is that all the different sects in Islam claim to be following the way of Muhammad!

His complaints against other Muslims continued: “You see so many young Muslims who are ignorant and misguided. They know the stats of Kobe Bryant and other sports players, and they wear their jerseys, when in actuality, when the Day of Judgment comes, those celebrities will want to be in the place of a Muslim.” I think we’re a little unfair to celebrities most of the time; just because they’re famous, does that mean that they’re sinful? Does it mean that they have no spiritual foundation in their lives? Then I heard him speak about the various forms of “polytheism” — one example he provided was someone who prays or gives charity in the Mosque just to show off. This is called “minor polytheism.” I wonder what the man would have thought about me if he saw the black t-shirt I was wearing. The front reads: “I Know My Role Model.” And on the back, it says “He was Merciful, Forgiving, Compassionate, Patient” and the many other attributes of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Would I be accused of “showing off” just for wearing this shirt?

Other than the accusations against other Muslims, this man placed so much emphasis on Islamic scholars. More so than the Holy Qur’an itself. I have read the works of many scholars, but I could never follow every single thing that they preach because I find many things to be innovated. I’m sure I would be accused of blasphemy here by many other Muslims, but God knows what is in my heart. For example, I was debating with a Muslim brother on Facebook, but I was really taken aback about how arrogant he was behaving towards me. Even when I cited other scholars and sources, he would say that their works aren’t “credible.” He gave me a link to the website “SunniPath” where many scholars say the following about Shia and Sufi Muslims: “[They] are without a doubt out of the fold of Islam…therefore, Salat behind a Shia should not be performed. If one did so, it must be repeated, as it may not be valid.”

Wow. Masha’Allah. This is our Ummah (Nation/Community). This is what our Imams and “leaders” teach to build a better, stronger, and united Muslim society. This kind of close-minded attitude is what ruins our Ummah and tears it apart. I would condemn Shia and Sufi scholars who said the same thing about Sunni Muslims. How could I follow a scholar who teaches this kind of separation? I was born Sunni, so does that automatically make me better or superior to another Muslim from a different denomination? I Love the writings of Rumi and I follow much of what he teaches, but even he says things I don’t agree with. Why should I be expected to follow everything that a human scholar teaches? What happened to following the Word of God: The Qur’an?

Just this morning, i saw a shirt on Zazzle.com, and it says “Discrimination against Muslims is racism. Muslim discrimination against others is religion.” Of course this upsets me, but then I think about these scholars and the Muslim man who I saw last night. Are we surprised that non-Muslim people feel this way? What saddens me is that we don’t know how to accept one another. I would rather just call myself “Muslim,” not Sunni, Shia, or Sufi. I can’t swear allegiance to one school of thought, however I believe I can learn a lot from all schools of thought.

Last night, when the power turned back on, I picked up my Islamic book “The Ultimate Action,” which my mother brought from Pakistan, and read something completely related to what happened in the restaurant! Sobhan’Allah! I decided to share an excerpt from the book, but before you read it, keep in mind that this is from a Sufi scholar, and Sufis are often associated with drinking alcholol and using intoxicants. Although this scholar mentions alcohol, he condemns it throughout the book (because it has been declared impermissible in the Qur’an) . He only brings up alcohol to make a point. He first cites a poet and then delivers his commentary:

Ostentation as permissible you consider, while wine as impermissible.
Is this the code of the nation, is this the action
prescribed on the Path?

“He is referring to the dry ascetics who consider intoxicants to be impermissible while a reprehensible sin like show, which has been referred to as minor polytheism, they consider to be permissible and are constantly involved therein and it does not even cause them to flinch even the slightest. Do not be fooled by this self-claim to obedience. Our condition is such that outwardly, we appear to be the epitomes of purity and abstention from sin, we are scholars and men of letters, we are spiritual guides and all else to boot, but our inner state is known to Allah alone. Far greater than our outward accomplishments and capabilities are our souls plagued with spiritual ills.”

I just wish we could learn to accept one another for who we are. We may interpret the Qur’an differently from each other, but does that mean we should be divided and bad-mouth each other? I feel very uncomfortable around fellow Muslims who behave as if they will determine whether or not I go to Heaven. I find myself inclined to Sufi texts, not because I’m Sufi, but because of how spiritually moved I feel after reading. The book I mentioned above asks: “How is salat (prayer) not an act of Love?” It reminds me of how the Universe was created and why Allah created all of us. How is that not Love?

Salaam/Peace

~ Broken Mystic ~

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A Call for Unity in Islam

“You shall hold fast to the rope of GOD, all of you, and do not be divided. Recall GOD’s blessings upon you – you used to be enemies and He reconciled your hearts. By His grace, you became brethren. You were at the brink of a pit of fire, and He saved you therefrom. GOD thus explains His revelations for you, that you may be guided.

Holy Qur’an (3:103)

I’m sure that Muslims and non-Muslims alike would agree that the verse above teaches a beautiful and valuable lesson that could benefit all of humankind if followed wholeheartedly. Many times when I have discussions with other Muslims, we tend to emphasize on how there is a serious lack of unity in Islam. Whether it’s about Sunnis versus Shias, Salafis versus Sufis, or Arabs versus Persians, these are problems that are very prevalent in today’s world and they need to be addressed in our communities. However, the ridiculous sectarian violence that ensues throughout the Muslim world isn’t the only issue that needs to be examined, but also the way we treat our fellow Muslims in our own communities. Conflicts are never solved through name calling, slandering, condemning, or hating one another based upon faulty generalizations and misunderstandings, they are solved when there is mutual respect and acceptance of one another.

Others have heard me say this before, but I often wonder that if the Prophet (peace be upon him) were alive today, would he recognize this Ummah that we’ve become? The Wahabbi extremists that govern the Holy City of Mecca are delivering fatwas for Sunni Muslims to kill Shia Muslims, destroy their Mosques and Shrines, and call them “kaffir” (infidel). The Palestinians continue to suffer at the hands of the brutal Israeli occupation and yet the so-called Muslim nations have done nothing to help carve out a Palestinian state for their brothers/sisters in Islam. Would the Prophet neglect fellow Muslims killing one another, would he tolerate the way Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Taliban are oppressing women, would he remain silent whenever Muslims kill innocent people vengefully? The disturbing truth is that there are extremist Muslims out there who really believe that oppressing women, vengeance, and killing Shias or Sufis is actually what the Prophet would do. Their arguments are based on the fact that the Prophet engaged in battles, but the reason why this argument is weak is because they ignore how fighting in Islam is only permitted out of self-defense. There are strict rules regarding fighting that these extremists obviously don’t adhere to (i.e. innocent men, women, and children shall not be killed). The tragic part is that most Muslims who align themselves with this kind of mentality have never even read the Qur’an in its entirety. Instead, they just take the Mullah or Sheikh’s word for it. I don’t have a problem with listening to elders, but when these elders preach arrogantly and pompously about Islam, I cannot help but feel like this is completely contradictory to the peaceful teachings of Islam. I remember one Imam was literally screaming at us for not waking up on time for Fajr and how we will burn in hellfire for it. He was shouting so much that spit would fly out of his mouth and his face would turn red. I chose to ignore his khutbah (speech) and read the Qur’an instead. After the prayer, I decided that I would never return to that Masjid again, and I haven’t. Why do we focus so much on the negative? Why always about hellfire, punishment, and torture when the Qur’an is mostly about Mercy and Compassion? As the Qur’an says:

Don’t you see how God sets forth a parable? A Good Word is like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches reach to the Heavens, it brings forth its fruits at all times by the leave of its Lord. So God sets forth parables for men in order that they may receive admonition (Ibrahim, 14:24-25).

Unfortunately, this type of mentality makes a huge impact upon the Muslim youth. They develop this belief that anyone who doesn’t follow their religion to a “t” is a deviant or even an “infidel”. I’ve known some of these people who won’t even allow themselves to befriend Christians, Jews, or other non-Muslims. When they speak to other Muslims, they are very quick to criticize them on things like praying five times a day, memorizing Surahs (chapters), and learning the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet). While these are honorable and important practices that all Muslims should aspire to do, the beauty of it can get lost when individuals use them as a measure of another’s person’s faith. Is a person really a bad Muslim if they don’t pray five times a day or doesn’t memorize enough Surahs as you do? Is Islam really about who is better and who is not? Is it really about competition and seeing who has a stronger Iman (Faith)? This kind of separation not only distracts us from larger issues that concern our community, such as improving our relations and image in the eyes of the non-Muslim world, but also from learning about Islam, ourselves, and from each other.

The Faith part draws a lot of confusion, at least to my mind, because its certainly not something you can measure. Consider the body and the mind; they both can be measured with time because they have limitations. The body ages, physical beauty fades, bones become weak, people lose their hair and get bald (that’s a scary thought), etc. The mind also grows old and loses its storage capacities, people’s memories start to fade, they forget things, etc., but what about the Soul? What about the Heart and other Unseen qualities, including Faith? How do you measure such intangible things? I certainly can’t look into the Soul of another human being and say he/she doesn’t believe in God, or he/she is a good or bad Muslim. Can you?

Of course there is nothing wrong with praying five times a day or memorizing Surahs as I mentioned above, but when one turns these traits into a form of competition (i.e. annoying, condemning, and judging other people for not doing the same), then what is the value or purpose of those prayers and practices? If you pray five times a day on a consistent level, then masha’Allah, may Allah reward you, but why remove this Beautiful quality from yourself and hurt a fellow brother/sister just because they don’t do the same thing you do. Sadly, many young Muslims think too outwardly and less inwardly; they forget about how these things should purify their internal qualities, they forget about self-cleansing, purification of heart, modesty, humbleness, kindness, generosity, and the many other qualities that made up the Prophet Muhammad’s true character, peace be upon him. If you are praying steadfastly, then please make sure that your outward actions reflect that. Don’t you think the Beauty of what you do gets drained when your faith becomes competition?? Think about what Prophet Muhammad said, “He who lets the people hear of his good deeds intentionally, to win their praise, Allah will let the people know his real intention (on the Day of Ressurection) and he who does good things in public to show off and win the praise of the people, Allah will disclose his real intention and humiliate him.”

The Holy Qur’an says: “And swell not your cheek for pride at men, nor walk in insolence through the Earth, for Allah Loves not any arrogant boaster(Luqman, 31:18-19).

The other issue at large is the superiority complex among various ethnic groups. One mistake people generally make is that they associate Islam with a particular culture, namely Arabic culture. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, finds its home in the hearts of people with many different backgrounds. A Korean Christian, for example, will differ culturally from an American Christian, and the same can be said about the cultural diversity that exists in Islam. A Moroccan Muslim and an Indonesian Muslim will differ in many areas in respect to culture, but it doesn’t mean one is a “better” Muslim. Although there are different cultures in Islam, no matter what part of the world they’re from, all Muslims read their prayers in Arabic. I think this is where the association with Islam being a “non-white” religion comes from (along with other reasons of course). As some of my other fellow bloggers pointed out, there is an Arabization of Islam, i.e. most Muslims follow the dress code and cultural practices that are distinctly Middle-Eastern. It’s almost as if being Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian, Nigerian, or Bosnian doesn’t have any value anymore because those cultures “distort” the religion of Islam. Sadly, I’ve met many Pakistani Muslims who don’t find anything special about being Pakistani, but they’ve adopted to a culture that is either Egyptian, Palestinian, or Saudi (I’m aware that these cultures are different from one another too). Being Pakistani myself, there are certain practices in my culture that are different than Middle-Eastern cultures, but being Muslim doesn’t mean I have to give up being Pakistani or the language of Urdu. The beauty about Islam is that it is compatible with all cultures and all human beings. As the Qur’an says: Among His proofs are the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors. In these, there are signs for the knowledgeable (Al-Rum, 30:22).

I remember being criticized by a fellow Arabic-speaking Muslim brother just because I cannot speak Arabic. I was really insulted and offended by his words because all it made me think afterwards was: do I have to speak Arabic to be a good Muslim? Thankfully, this experience didn’t stop me from learning Arabic, it just made me more aware of how Muslims of different cultures perceive one another. I personally want to learn Arabic, but I don’t believe that speaking Arabic fluently is going to make someone a better Muslim. To say that God only speaks Arabic is not only insulting, but also a very prejudice and backwards way of thinking. During the time of Jesus (peace be upon him), the extremist Rabbis would say that Angels only understand Hebrew, and not Aramaic (the language spoken by Jesus as his followers). This kind of ethnocentrism tears our community apart and it can be very frustrating that people don’t learn from their history. The Ummayad dynasty was known for this kind of ethnocentrism and their unfair treatment of non-Arab Muslims like the Persians and Turks. The Abbassid dynasty which reigned in Baghdad would eliminate Arab nationalism from their empire and was very tolerant towards the non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities. They also displayed more tolerance towards Shia Muslims. Those who are familiar with their Islamic history know that civilization and achievements in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy, and medicine flourished. Now look at the state of the Muslim Ummah and look at how much Muslim nations have “accomplished” from fighting and discriminating against one another.

I think we would all agree that non-Arab Muslims at least take the effort to understand Arabic, and a large portion of them actually end up learning how to speak it fluently, but how many times do we see Arab Muslims learning the languages of Urdu/Hindi, Farsi, Turkish, Kurdish, Senegalese, or Bahasa? Just because the Qur’an was not written in these languages, must we think that Arabic is the only Divine language? I know that the guards in Saudi Arabia will familiarize themselves with some Urdu in order to speak with the South Asian immigrants, but they’re not doing it out of personal interest. This is the same problem I have with American soldiers who take Arabic classes in the United States; they’re not doing it out of personal interest, they’re doing it so they can speak the “enemy’s” language. Non-Arab Muslims learn Arabic so that they can attain a better and richer understanding of the Qur’an, but the way extremist Mullahs and Sheikhs perceive this is that the non-Arab Muslims are inferior.

We need to eliminate the divide that exists between Muslims – whether it’s about who is the “better” Muslim or who hails from a “better” culture/civilization. It doesn’t matter in the eyes of God. God is not going to judge you differently just because you descend from a group of people who invented algebra or built some of the world’s first hospitals and universities, He’s going to look at you as the individual. I also believe that we should speak to our fellow Muslims (and ultimately, all human beings) in a respectful and mature manner. I was on someone else’s blog recently and was really outraged at the way we speak to one another. It’s a horrible feeling when someone comes along and says you’re not worthy enough of being a Muslim just because you don’t pray five times a day, memorize Surahs, speak Arabic, or descend from an honorable family. Who are we to say that we are better when no one can ever possibly be better than God? Who are we to judge when that power only belongs to God?

Let’s start building unity in our communities. Let’s stop separating ourselves in the Mosque. Get to know the Pakistanis, the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Nigerians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Indonesians, the Europeans, or whatever nationality your fellow brother/sister in Islam belongs to. In Truth, we are born with different cultures, in different countries, but we all come from the same place, and that is from God. Is that really so hard to see?

By the way, the beautiful picture in this post was created by ~Proama, you can see more of his work on Deviant Art!