Sunday, June 07, 2009

Who Speaks for Islam?

I know who doesn't speak for Islam. Saudi Arabia.

So who does?

If you ask me: nobody. And everybody.


As a "divinely inspired" religion, Islam needs no followers. Fundamentally, followers need it. Muslims believe in an omniscient, omnipotent God that needs nothing.

So, if nobody in the world followed Islam, nothing would have changed.

But of course, religion doesn't exist in a vacuum: the sacred laws set forth were done so to enrich our lives.

But mankind is imperfect, and God (and by extension, His religion), by Muslim reckoning, is perfect. Using an imperfect metric to measure something perfect will, at best, be merely indicative, but ultimately incorrect.


But the problem with that answer is that it evades the question.

So the nuance that I like to add to the response is that although nobody can really speak for Islam, in reality, everybody does.

In all corners of the world, Muslims have integrated Islam into a massive tapestry of colours, flavours and interpretations. From the Shiites and the Sunnies from Europe to Asia, and even Native American Muslims who are on record when European settlers first moved to the Americas.

As a proselytizing religion, Islam has done a good a job (or bad a job, depending on who you ask) as Christianity to spread its word far and wide to the world.

And that word has been adopted, and mutated, and watered down, and concentrated, and beautified, and mutilated in every possible way imaginable. What results, in effect, is representative of the faith.

It is, and always will be, inextricably bound to the human condition which it was sent to enrich.

I'll Get Down From My Soapbox Now...

I just want people to step away from the idea that Saudi Arabia, in any way, speaks for Islam. Just because it houses the Two Holy Shrines in Mecca and Madinah doesn't mean it's a standard-bearer of 1.5 billion people from almost every nationality and language conceivable.

It's a subliminal conclusion drawn way too easily.

Saudi Arabia speaks for Saudi Arabia. Nobody can truly "represent" Islam. But ultimately, we all do.

Muslims are religious, and irreligious. We are liberal and conservative, left-leaning or right-leaning. We are black, white, brown and yellow. We are ignorant, educated and illiterate, mean-spirited, friendly, helpful, racist, and egalitarian. We are deluded and informed, we lie and we steal and we are helpful and we smile, for even a smile is charity. We love, we hate, we hurt, we bleed, we kill, and we die.

In that sense Muslims, and by extension Islam, are not very different from any of the other peoples and faiths.

We occupy this world among equals.

Now Wait Just A Second...

Oh, so you noticed: all that is a very complex non-answer.

But the question is really a non-question. "Islam" is not a tangible entity, and even by abstract standards, it is amorphous to the extent that you couldn't put an abstract finger on it. My Islam is different from someone else's Islam, based on economic situation, geographical location, personal disposition, age, outlook, etc. So when you ask it questions, you'll wonder whose Islam is actually answering the question?

But that's not really the point. Does anybody ever ask, "Who speaks for Christianity?"

I didn't think so.

This Is Where I Draw The Line

I realize there is a lot of negative backlash against Islam and Muslims because of the pervasive terrorism we tend to breed.

But I'm done apologizing for Muslim terrorists. I am no more associated to Islamic extremists than a Jew in New York is associated to an Israeli soldier sniping an old woman in the Gaza Strip.

I don't need to apologize for them to dissociate myself from them. I am separate from them by definition, from the get-go: I am a law-abiding, peaceful person, and their grievances are political, veiled very thinly with religiosity. And this veil is very easily seen through now that George W. Bush is no longer the leader of the free world, and its moral compass.

"Fixing Islam"

I grow weary of articles and books on "How to Fix Islam," many of which are written by non-Muslims. As if the religion needs an oil change (and that by someone who is not a mechanic).

The discourse that actually matters in Islam, will always remain among the learned Muslims, who will, through the gradual evolution of thought, adapt it, localize it and contextualize it as Muslims have been doing for the millenium and a half past.

In this, Muslims can probably help by encouraging discourse through allowing freedom of expression and not stigmatize dissent with accusations of heresy, violent suppression, and summary judgement. We need to be more tolerant amongst ourselves, something we have never excelled at.

Which is why you can "fix Islam" all you like, but without actually changing cultures, attitudes, and outlooks, all the religious legislation/interpretation in the world won't change a single thing.

Islam doesn't speak, and you can't fix Islam while evading deep prejudices within yourself. It's always easy to look outward when you think something is wrong, not inward.

So, really. Islam doesn't have much to say. If there is anything to say, Muslims will say it, and hopefully it will be through actions and not just words.


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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)