Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moderates Vs. Puritans

I recently read "The Great Theft" by Khaled Abou El-Fadl, and I have to say it is the best book I have ever read. He is amazing. Fabulous. Revolutionary. I can't believe I didn't read him before.

His main argument in the book is that puritans have stolen Islam and that moderates are losing the battle. He gives various arguments for this, all of which I agree with. The book is depressing on the one hand because it shows how Islam is slowly becoming more and more puritanical, and that less and less Muslims are thinking about inner spirituality. It's uplifting on the other hand, because there are so few moderate sheikhs out there that it's always inspirational to find one.

"It is believed by moderates that God rewards those who search for the Divine Will, even if they ultimately reach the wrong conclusions. It would make little sense for God to reward the effort if all God expects of us on most matters is blind obedience."

What do you guys think of this?


bahlool said...

What do you see as moderate or puritans? I mean i have been called all and everything from fundemnetalist, fanatic, moderate to liberal, sekular and so forth. Yesterday they showed a show on swedish tv, about how the organisations that follow the Quran and say that hijab is obligatory and that halalmeat is a demand from Allah on us, are seen as islamists, even though i see them more as religious as they follow the rules of hadith and Quran.
So what is moderate in your view and what is puritan?

marzuki said...

Hi Cairo,

You quoted from the book that "It would make little sense for God to reward the effort if all God expects of us on most matters is blind obedience."

Who would it make little sense to? God? The moderates?

In my view, I think all these sides - fundementalist, fanatic, extremist, moderate, liberal etc as mentioned by bahlool - are merely labels. Our relationship with God is personal. So long as we believe that we're on the right path, then insyaallah, it should suffice. That's what I personally believe. (:

Cait said...

I wonder what it is about these times we are living in.
You wrote that less and less Muslims are thinking about inner spirituality, and that there is more emphasis on "blind obedience" to authority than seeking God's will for yourself. Interestingly enough, I see the same behaviors in Christians where Im from, in middle America. It makes me very frustrated and sad.
I agree completely with the quote at the end of your post. When people stop using their own minds to search for truth... they become terribly lost.
I very much enjoy hearing your thoughts here! I am learning a lot from you!

Mrs. S said...

Without getting into the semantics of "moderate" versus "puritan", in my family's country this has been an ongoing struggle for a while. Youth are looking more towards different aspects of Sufi philosophy to fill the void left between the literal and the spiritual. In many cases it’s as much a political statement as a religious one.

I think no matter where on the spectrum we fall there is a fear in Islam and amongst Muslims regarding our future. I get the sense that we feel our religion is slipping away from us, and we truthfully don’t have a solution despite claims to the contrary.

Candice said...

Man, I really want to read this book now! I think I kind of agree with the quote. I agree that we receive rewards for using our own minds to find the truth. I think anyone who is searching right will reach a "good" conclusion.

marzuki: About labels, I think it's necessary to have them; that's language! They can be very hard to define, but it's part of being human to try... Some people have different definitions for the same label so it can be important to describe it, but at least once things are clear, it's not necessary to always repeat what exactly a "fundamentalist" is or a "liberal"...kwim?

Stephanie said...

I echo Bahool's thoughts on this one and I guess I'd have to read the book to form more of an opionion. On one hand I would tend to agree as the Islam practiced by many today seems harsh and unloving, focused solely on rules and devoid of spirituality. On the other hand, it's a slippery slope to disregard the rules of Islam because we percieve them as being somehow archaic or suffocating to our inner selves. Islam is not soley about sprirituality but also about forming a just and coherent God focused society. I think the problem lies in the lack of dialogue and differing opinions being seen as a genuine and important Islamic academic tradition. Overall, I have the opinion that I'd probably agree with his thesis. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention. I think I'll head over to Amazon now and check it out as it sounds quite interesting.

Laila said...

I want to read the book now too! Thanks for the recommendation.

Just recently, although I've taken a break from blogging, I found myself compelled to argue on a forum because someone posted an article that greatly offended me - there was all this rigid, harsh talk of not congratulating the kuffar on their festivals and so on. I was on such a downer at the time that I almost felt like chucking in the towel with Islam, UNTIL I worked out, you know what? I don't believe for a minute the early Muslims had this kind of fearful, self-protective attitude. They would not have successfully united tribal Arabia or spread to a third of the world if they did. And what about when they gathered and preserved knowledge from every corner of the earth? They weren't so frightened of losing their essence then, were they? They weren't so closed-minded and separatist. Reason alone tells me this. It was like an epiphany or something. ;)

Your post just confims this to me - this "puritanical" approach as you call it is not original, not what Islam was when it was at its best.

This whole episode has made me even more grateful for people like you. God bless you for writing this wonderful blog. <3

Aynur said...

That's one of the books at the top of my list to read. ;)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: unfortunately, I don't have Fadl's book with me right now, otherwise I could post how he defined moderate and puritan. As soon as I have it I will do so.

I remember that one mark of being a puritan is that you don't believe in changing anything from the Qur'an or Sunna. For example, one Saudi sheikh called for a return to slavery since it is in the Qur'an.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Marzuki: it would make little sense to us. The Qur'an is a very logical and rational text, and thus it would be strange for it to diverge from logic on this one issue.

Our relationship with God is definitely personal, but as a social scientists, I need to work with labels to understand broad phenomena. Otherwise how can we say anything about Muslims today?
I think Fadl's labeling is very accurate and he defends it very well, which is why I've accepted it.

Being a Muslim has a personal side but also a public one - the kind of Muslim you're mother/father was will impact the kind of Muslim you are, etc. So it is important to understand the different types of Islam we have today.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Cait: thanks for the lovely comment :)

It's so interesting that you see the same thing in your community! I wonder if it is a global rather than Islamic trend.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mrs S: like you said, I think many Muslims feel there is nothing between the literal and the spiritual. Most literalists refuse to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of Islam, while many extreme spiritual Muslims refuse to practice the 5 pillars. Sufism does seem to offer a good middle ground, although it is rejected by many ulama.

I agree: I think most Muslims are scared of the future, me included.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Candice: you should definitely check out the book!
I've always believed that if you are honest and truthful in your search for Islamic knowledge and spirituality, then there is no "wrong" answer. God says intentions are important. What about someone with bad intentions who listens to the ulama and prays all the time - will he be rewarded while we won't be?
Btw I think your blog is the perfect example of someone with good intentions searching for the truth :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stephanie: that's what I like about Fadl's argument: he is not saying we should disregard any rules, only the ones that come from unreliable hadith. He also demonstrates how many rules have NO basis in the Qur'an OR Sunna, or if they do, they were meant for certain people in certain contexts. So we need to be more critical of the rules we accept, instead of just assuming everything is true.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Laila: great comment! When I think about the first Muslims, I see no relation between them and the Wahhabis in Saudi, for example. I don't see compassion, forgiveness, or space for different ideas. Instead I see a complete monopoly on Islamic knowledge that has somehow spread to the internet and the rest of the Islamic world (excl. some countries).

Thanks for your compliment, it really touched me :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: you'll love it!

marzuki said...

Hey Candice,

Thanks for ur reply. I totally agree with you that it’s necessary to have labels to differentiate the different categories of Muslims that exist. As mentioned by Cairo in her reply to me, “Otherwise how can we say anything about Muslims today?” There’s so many different kinds of Muslims these days that labeling each one of them helps distinguish one from the rest.

I’m all for the labeling from a purely scientific view but it seems that Im not so fine when individuals begin to wonder which one of those labels they (should) fall under. As to the reasons why, Im figuring it out myself. So I my reply was purely from a personal perspective of religion. I never thought of it from a social scientist’s point of view. Nice!

When I read the part "It would make little sense for God to reward the effort if all God expects of us on most matters is blind obedience", the first thing that came to my mind was: How can anyone possibly try to imagine what would or would not make sense for God? Hence my questions. I just feel that what makes little sense to us might not be so in His eyes.

Stephanie said...

Have you ever checked out Sh. Hamza Yusef and the others at zaytuna.org? They're probably the most well known in the US and are starting an Islamic University here. There is also Suhaib Webb and Yusef Estes here in the States. I really like some of the voices coming from American scholars. So I would say there are other voices out there.

mezba said...

I believe there are some things we have to rigidly obey, such as we have to pray during the 5 times as taught by the Prophet and we have to fast in Ramadan the way we are told to in Islam.

But those are acts of worship.

I also believe in that if God didn't want us to think he wouldn't have given us a brain. Many times in the Quran we are told to reflect on something. The first verse is Read.

So I believe in not only letter of the law, but more importantly, spirit.

LK said...

Oooo new book for my list. My list is so long LOL.

Aneesah said...

This question can not be only viwe from a theological viewpoint but also a social and political one. I personally feel that due to the influence of Western culture being more prominent in Islamic states and information being more freely available between ideaologies then it ever has before is making all the islamic scholars freak out . They feel the need to perserve oriental identity and ideology, also since the fall of the ottoman empire and the introduction of colonial powers the whole divide and conquer laws set up, pitting muslims against eachother each with their own set of ideology and know how. Might be a bit off topic but I believe it has alot to do with the variations of idealogies within our community.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stephanie: I've heard about that institute. I love Sheikh Hamza, at least from what I know of his opinions. I will def. check out the institute again.

There are voices out there but I would say the puritanical ones are much louder and much more well-funded.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mezba: I completely agree. I think it comes down to a balance between letter and spirit. There are acts of worship that we should commit to completely, but we should also focus on our inner spirituality and the compassion, forgiveness, and mercy of God.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

LK: lol so is mine!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aneesah: that's a good point. I think many conservative/puritanical Muslims are freaking out about Westernization. But the type of Islam they are putting forward is not necessarily the Islam that existed during the time of the Prophet, like they claim.

It's interesting to see how Islam is being used and manipulated by many political parties across the Arab world today.

Hicham Maged said...

CLA: I saw an interview with him few years ago and I liked the way he presents many points although I have not read this book yet.

But in general, I see some kind of bigotry and fanatasicm that is increasing in many sects worldwide in many religions and ideologies and Muslims are among this trend in the past few decades.

Your post have many things happen on the ground and we'll be blind if we deny them. On the other hand, the last paragraph I agree with simply because Allah (god) grant us with minds to use and this is a core practice in Islam.

Jasmine said...

Puritans will not win in the end, because action with no sincerity, no true desire or will will never result in a population that will willfully resist dissent when the time comes. Therefore a puritanical society is incredibly weak.

Better than the puritans, are the sincere moderates who are born, raised and grown up in a society with temptation, sin, offers of disbelief, sex, gambling, alcohol all around them on a daily basis - and still resist out of sincerity and true devotion.

If the discipline and purity of a society relies on the lack of temptations to function - then the society is not pure, but sheltered. Therefore the discplines, or statistics resulting from such societies are not real - they are manufactured. Of course divorce rates will be lower when women are invisible, of course domestic violence will be lower when they cannot be reported - etc etc etc.

If someone is not willfully moral - then they are not moral.

So the moderates will win in the end - because not only is the puritan way at risk of being false and erasing sincerity of action, but it is also oppressive against it's people and no one will flourish under oppression.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hicham: "I see some kind of bigotry and fanatasicm that is increasing in many sects worldwide."

I totally agree that this tendency towards fanaticism is happening in numerous religions, but it seems to be more widespread amongst Muslims for some reason.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: amazing comment! (again :P)

Better than the puritans, are the sincere moderates who are born, raised and grown up in a society with temptation, sin, offers of disbelief, sex, gambling, alcohol all around them on a daily basis - and still resist out of sincerity and true devotion."

I AGREE! I don't think making everything illegal is the way to go, at all. If someone is a believing Muslim, they will ALWAYS reject sin and temptation, no matter how available they are. In Holland I was surrounded by people who drank, smoked, had sex, etc, and not once was I tempted to do any of it.

Saudi and all these countries that ban everything are not encouraging people to be sincere Muslims because they are not giving them the chance to choose. At the bottom of these oppressive ideologies is a lack of trust in human beings. If God trusts us, then why don't Muslim men/countries/sheikhs/ etc?

Candice said...

CLA: Thank you for the comment you made about me and my blog. So sweet and encouraging for me. :)

marzuki: I understand what you mean though... As much as I believe labels are necessary, it's only for their usefulness. I don't label myself a "moderate Muslim", a "puritanical Muslim", a "Qur'an alone Muslim", a "Sunni" or "Shia". I am just a Muslim. And I think everyone else should be too.