Saturday, May 30, 2009

Angels and Demons

So today I saw the movie Angels and Demons, which was surprisingly good considering I didn't really like the Da Vinci Code. Anyway a quote at the end of the movie really struck me: "Religion is flawed because man is flawed." This was said to Tom Hanks by a cardinal.

This of course is applicable to all religions. The minute a human interacts with someone sacred, our negative human characteristics also interact with it. The Qur'an is the perfect example. Reza Aslan once wrote that anyone looking for gender inequality in the Qur'an will find it, and anyone looking for gender equality will find it. So for the past 2000 odd years we've had old Arab men interpreting the Qur'an. I wonder what they were looking for: gender inequality or gender equality? Were they looking for a social system that would treat everyone equally, or one that would value them above others? Were they looking for a strict God that would punish more than reward or one that would be kind? Which type of God would have benefited them more?

Most Muslims don't think about these things, but I feel it is important to consider human nature, especially the nature of the imams and sheikhs who for centuries have been telling us what Islam is.

A lot of Muslims like to copy the Prophet, but they pick and choose. They copy his beard and his dress, but they don't copy his behavior. These same men beat their wives and are unkind to animals and the environment. Don't think that dressing and looking like the Prophet is enough. I think copying his behavior and his compassion towards other people is a little more important. The Prophet was known for never having beat any of his wives. How many Muslim men today do not believe in beating their wives?

An author once wrote that the difference between the way orthodox Muslims and Sufi Muslims see God. Orthodox Muslims see God as a strict father who does not love us but is responsible for us; God is also very unforgiving. Sufis see God as a kind loving father who wants us to be happy, and teaches us lessons that can be harsh; God knows we will make mistakes and forgives us. This really touched me. I feel that most Muslims today see God as distant and unloving. But is this what the Qur'an is telling us? God repeatedly says he is all-forgiving, all-compassionate. So why do we obsess about every little thing and make religion harder than it has to be? In this process we are driving many people away from Islam, and also many people away from happiness. God did not tell us NOT to enjoy life. God did not mention that the rest of humanity has to live like the Prophet and his companions, as if we still live in the desert of 7th century Arabia. Would God want us to suffer unnecessarily? There are many Muslims (too many in my opinion) that say if you aren't constantly suffering, you're not a good Muslim. Of course religion is challenging and you should constantly challenge yourself to do more. But that doesn't mean that you should always be in pain.

Anyway back to the topic of the post. Angels and Demons is a good movie, I recommend it to everyone :D.

20 comments: said...

I don't know which "orthodox" Muslims your might be talking about, but the ones I know totally, never ever said anything about God being "a strict father who does not love us but is responsible for us; God is also very unforgiving."

I don't think that's even Islam as that's gone against His divine characteristics.

ellen557 said...

What a beautiful post (love Angels and Demons!).
I really agree with you. Yes, you can dress like the Prophet and have a beard but with that comes a responsibility. Many men (and many women too) miss that.

I would love to read a Qur'an translated by a female. Do you know if there are any available?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

SirAdib: In the article I'm talking about, this is the distinction the author makes - it's not my own. My point was that we don't seem to see God as forgiving and merciful, even though if you look at the Qur'an, the 99 names etc, God clearly is forgiving. This was definitely not a post about all orthodox/sufi Muslims. What struck me about the article was the way the author said Sufis see God - as a loving, forgiving father.

Ellen: I have heard of translations of the Qur'an by women but I haven't seen any so I'm not sure they exist. I'll look around and let you know!

Thanks for posting!

Aynur said...

ellen - there is one called "The Sublime Quran" translated by Laleh Bakhtiar, it doesn't have the Arabic text, just English, here's a link for the listing on amazon:

I haven't got that one yet but the reviews look good. :)

Sarah the Seeker said...

The balance between God's holiness (and our imperfection) and God's mercy is a difficult one to strike for any religion. I'm interested in finding out how the Qur'an portrays God, I hope to start reading it soon!

xoxo, nadia said...

"A lot of Muslims like to copy the Prophet, but they pick and choose. They copy his beard and his dress, but they don't copy his behavior."

My favourite sentence in this post. I know of some people who pick and choose things in Islam because they say Islam is a way of life, Allah does not inconvenience...etc. They only do things they consider easy, beneficial and satisfying. The next time I hear ANY man say that he's allowed to marry 4 women, I am going to picture kicking him in my head. Yes you can marry 4 but are you able to conduct yourself fairly and treat your wives equally?
But, I have also worked in a religious school where the female teachers, dressed in perfect hijab, were gossiping with one another and laughing like hyenas in the presence of a male colleague.
'nuff said.

Aynur said...

Hey cairo - this is off topic, but what happened to hijabwoes' blog??? Any idea??

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: I like the way you put it: striking a balance between God's holiness and our imperfection. I think that's also each individual's goal in their religious life.
Good luck with reading the Qur'an :) Do you already know which translation you will use? It makes a huge difference.

xoxo, nadia: I totally agree: a lot of people pick what's easy and beneficial, like growing a beard but then not treating people fairly.
About polygamy, the Qur'an said men CANNOT treat 4 women fairly and so my interpretation is that polygamy isn't really allowed. The hijab is another example of picking and choosing. Here in Cairo where 80% of women are veiled, you can't really assume a veiled woman is a good Muslim because so many of them drink, have premarital sex, etc etc.

Aynur: I have no idea...I checked now and it's not there. Hopefully it'll be back soon.

Thanks for posting!

Aynur said...

@ xoxo - women laughing like hyenas ... what a picture. :)) said...

Can you cite the verse in the Qur'an where Allah says men cannot treat 4 woman fairly? I haven't yet stumbled upon one yet, or maybe I didn't notice. JazakAllah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

SirAdib: there is the verse that is well known:

"And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice between them, then marry only one or what your right hands possess: this is more proper that you may not deviate from the right course" (4:3).

And then there is this verse (4:129): (different translations given here)

Ahmed Raza Khan: Mohammed Aqib Qadri:
And you will never be able to deal equally between women however much you may desire - therefore do not be totally inclined towards one leaving the other in uncertainty; and if you do good and practice piety, then (know that) Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Yusuf Ali:
Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire: But turn not away (from a woman) altogether, so as to leave her (as it were) hanging (in the air). If ye come to a friendly understanding, and practise self-restraint, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

Ye will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, however much ye wish (to do so). But turn not altogether away (from one), leaving her as in suspense. If ye do good and keep from evil, lo! Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.

MY own interpretation is that God is not banning polygamy but is trying to say that it is not possible to deal equally with all 4 wives. My own opinion. said...

JazakAllah khair for taking your time to answer.

However, there are actually different forms of fair treatment such as what a husband spends, the clothing that he gives, spending the night, material things given and fairness in terms of love.

What I learned is that although we aren't able to give perfect justice, the condition for plural marriage to be permissible is justice in terms of spending, clothing, spending the night and other material things.

Whereas justice or fairness in terms of love, the husband is not held accountable for that, and that is not required of him because he has no control over that. This is what is meant by the other verse in surah 4: 129.

“You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives even if it is your ardent desire” (ibn kathir translation)

"And you will never be able to be equal [in feeling] between wives, even if you should strive [to do so]. So do not incline completely [toward one] and leave another hanging. And if you amend [your affairs] and fear Allah - then indeed, Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful." (Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Ph.D. and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan or Saheeh International. )

Allah knows best. :)

Jasmine said...

I live in a very multicultural area of London. Our Mosque has Somalias, Indians, Pakistani’s, Arabs, Turks, English, Jamaican, you name it: we got it.
So this Friday, I am at mosque and there is a new imam. Like brown colour, shaven face, young – maximum age 34. He has his little daughter with him, and se is running around behind him, aged around 5-6 years old wearing a little dress, hair in pig tails. As we are all preparing for the prayer, a man with an incredibly long beard walks in, and then walks off. Some brothers run behind him and we can hear shouting in the parking lot: “I’m not praying with that bald faced Imam!”. Our Imam laughs, and this spreads through the congregation. Only one man returns to join us.

The Imam then begins to speak and the first thing he says is: “On the day of judgement, do you honestly think that Allah is going to get out a ruler and measure the length of your beard? Do you honestly think the length of your beard compares in importance to the size of your heart? This man has missed his prayer for the sake of my beard – what is happening to us?”

He spoke of the history of Islam and how the Muslim’s were pioneers, and people who inspired nations and nations. What’s happened to us? He says that everything we need to know is in the Quran and we have forgotten that. We spend too much time debating things outside of the Quran – and in doing so we ignore the words of Allah in preference for other words. He is calling for a “return to the Quran” and an end to sects which worship in different ways. “We are the same” he kept saying. “We are the same”.

After prayer on the way out, there were loads, and I mean LOADS of people standing around in the car park, speaking with smiles on their faces and generally being a lot nicer to each other than usual. People were just more….together. Long beards, short beards, hijabs in different styles, different ways.

They were inspired.
I was inspired too.

Aynur said...

Jasmine - I think the imam had a great point. I wish I was there!! One thing that strikes me HARD is what Prophet Muhammad (saw) is going to say - the ONLY thing the Qur'an says he will say on the day of Judgement:

[al-Furqan 25:30] "And (on that Day) the Apostle will say: "O my Sustainer! Behold (some of) my people have come to regard this Qur'an as something (that ought to be) discarded!"
& a different translation of that verse is:
"The messenger said, "My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran."

I don't believe it's not because we don't own Qur'ans, and maybe have multiples in our house - but how many people sit down and READ it in a language they understand? Other things have become more important and overshadow the Qur'an, IMO.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

SirAdib: there are definitely different types of treatment. It is easy to be equal in terms of material things, but impossible in terms of emotional things.

The 3 translations I posted all do not say "perfect" before justice - they simply say you will not be able to be equal, thus meaning equal in everything - material or emotional. If God meant only material things I'm sure this would have been mentioned, as the Qur'an left nothing out.

Either way, the idea that God meant only material things is also an interpretation, so as you said, Allah knows best.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: great comment mashallah. It shows how obsessed we have become about appearance in Islam (beards, hijabs, niqabs) as opposed to inner spirituality and behaviour. The imam sounds great, and it sounds like he gave a great speech that inspired a lot of people (unlike many imams today, who choose to focus on hatred and fear).
Like the imam said, the man missed his prayer for the sake of his beard. Similarly, many Muslims are wasting time they could be spending on prayer or good deeds judging each other and thinking they are a better Muslim than their neighbour. said...

Interesting, but I do believe that interpretations of the Qur'an should go according to the Sunnah of the Prophet and agreed upon the decisions Ijma of the Ummah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: interesting point about the Qur'an...I think it means that we may have a physical Qur'an, but we aren't really using it or thinking about what we read, and so we have in a sense "discarded" it. Like you said, other things have now overshadowed the Qur'an, like culture, conservatism, and the hadith (even ones that are ridiculous).

SirAdib: thanks for the discussion :D it made me think a lot!

Umm Omar said...

Interesting post & discussion going on here. I'd like to respond to so much, but my kids are gone only for another few minutes or so, so I'll just stick to a couple of things.

You said:
"I feel that most Muslims today see God as distant and unloving. But is this what the Qur'an is telling us? God repeatedly says he is all-forgiving, all-compassionate. So why do we obsess about every little thing and make religion harder than it has to be?"

I actually think the opposite! We know God's forgiveness outweighs his wrath, but I feel that Muslims have stopped fearing God and have just taken everything in stride. A sister actually said to me once (jokingly) that she was going to wait to make hajj until the end of her lifetime, so she could wipe out all the sins she committed in her life. Again, she was joking, but that's the problem. We all think life is a joke, that we can do what we want and act as irresponsible as we want, and it's no big deal (I say this to myself, first). Making religion harder on ourselves and each other (by judging others, etc) has nothing to do with our own personal levels of faith. That all has to do with our inferiority complexes and ignorance; it's just masked in noble piety-that way, no one can argue.
Also, I'd like to suggest for anyone who isn't satisfied with a translation of the Quran they're reading-learn Arabic and read the Quran yourself in the original language God revealed it in. I know that's no easy task, but it can be done. And just as easily as a male translation and interpretation of the Quran could be inaccurate/incorrect/biased/subjective in some spots, so could a female's. I hope that didn't sound offensive.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar: that's interesting, a lot of Muslims I've met focus completely on God being wrathful and focus on hell, and thus don't enjoy life and take Islam to an extreme. Of course I have met Muslims like the one you mentioned, who sin and think doing Hajj at the end of their lifetime will make everything okay, but I've met more of the above type.
I think a balance between the two is ideal: religion should be a challenge and we should continually challenge ourselves but also remember that God is forgiving and we will not go to hell for every small thing we do.
I love what you said about how when we make religion harder on ourselves and each other it has nothing to do with our faith but out inferiority complexes and ignorance. This is probably especially true when we find Muslims judging one another.