Author Archives: Ikram Hawramani

About Ikram Hawramani

The creator of IslamicArtDB.

Learning to love God again

I want to know how to heal from the religious abuse I’ve been through in my life. I can’t find any resources online for Muslims. Most people I have read had issue with religious abuse have left. I don’t know how to heal that part. Maybe if I seek a professional they might tell me to leave the religion entirely. I’m not at ease, and I have been thinking a lot about leaving.

I am not an expert on abuse, so it is up to you to judge whether my suggestions are good or not. What you referred to as ‘religious abuse’ is actually the abuse of religion. Islam is a small religion that asks very few things of us; it asks to believe in God and the Day of Judgment, and to pray and to fast, and it asks us to be kind and forgiving. Beyond these, it leaves most aspects of life to our own judgment.

If you look at actual Muslims, you will find that among them are certain extremely cruel people, and others who are extremely kind, lenient and forgiving, and both groups may claim to represent ‘true’ Islam. Instead of letting people tell you what Islam is and is not, read the Quran for yourself and come up with a version of Islam that is as kind and civilized as you wish it to be.

As for getting over past abuse, the best solution I can recommend is to read books. Read the Victorian classics like Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice. Think of the kindest and most admirable people portrayed in these books, and you will discover that these people could have been Muslim without becoming any worse. There are Muslims who are the same way, so if there is a problem, it is not with Islam, it is with humans and their cruelty and selfishness.

As soon as you get out of the small core of Islam (as defined in the Quran), everything gets fuzzy and contradictory. Almost anything negative you hear about Islam from this and that hadith narration or anecdote about the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his companions is counterbalanced by other narrations that often directly contradict it. There is an ‘authentic’ hadith narration that says a woman, dog or donkey passing in front of a man who is praying will nullify his prayer. There is another ‘authentic’ hadtih narration in which Aisha (wife of the Prophet) gets angry when she hears this hadith, she thinks it is nonsense and is not afraid to say so.

Instead of thinking of Islam as a burden that is placed on you, think of it as a tool for worshiping God. Imagine if you are not Muslim and do not belong to any religion, but you believe in God and wish to worship Him in the best way possible and gain His approval. What would be the best way to do this? Read the Quran and you will find the answer in it. The Quran says in chapter 20:

2. We have not send down this Quran to distress you.
3. Only a remembrance for the one who fears.
4. Something sent down from the One who created the earth and the high heavens.
5. The Most Gracious established Himself upon the Throne.
6. For Him is what is in the heavens, and what is on the earth, and what is beneath the soils.
7. If you speak aloud, then He knows what is secret and what is hidden.
8 God, there is no god except Him, for Him are the most beautiful names.

Instead of thinking about leaving Islam, imagine that you are an irreligious person who believes in God. Approach the Quran this way and do the minimum it asks of you. As for Muslims who are abusive in the name of religion, they have nothing to do with you, and you have nothing to do with them. This is your own business and your own journey. Find your own meaning in the Quran.

If you believe in God in your heart, then there is nothing to ‘leave’. Islam is here merely to help you improve your relationship with God. If you have been taught that God is cruel, harsh and demanding, think of your favorite characters from the films and novels you have read, and know that God is kinder and more understanding than them. When a negative thought about God enters your head, think of Dumbledore, Gandalf, Aragorn or any other imaginary or real-life character you love and admire, and remind yourself that God is better than them. In this way perhaps you can slowly be healed.

It is easy to think the best of God once you compare Him to your favorite humans and remind yourself than He is even better than these people. If these people could never hurt you, if you think they would show you infinite love and respect if you were around them, then think of God the same way, and in this way heal your relationship with Him.

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis by Robert R. Reilly

In The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, Robert R. Reilly argues that the Islamic theological doctrine of predestination (your fate is sealed even before you are born) and other Ash’arite principles have driven Muslims to a fatalistic, anti-intellectual dead-end, a “suicide” as Reilly quotes Fazlur Rahman as having described it.

Reilly makes the error, that I too have made, of thinking that the ulema (religious scholars) are somehow largely responsible for what Muslims think, what they value and how they behave. Reilly’s thesis is that scholarly theological positions hamper Muslim curiosity and intellectual openness. He thinks that religious scholars and their doctrines have the power to put a damper on the freedom of thought of Muslims. In his dystopian vision, intelligent Muslims are almost mind-controlled by a fatalistic Islam, and if only they would abandon this version of Islam, they would, as if by magic, acquire the ability to stop being closed-minded.

As is typical of Western discourses on Islam, Reilly compares the very worst examples of the people of the Middle East with the best of the West, and from this highly skewed comparison he concludes that Islam must be the reason why the Middle East is not doing as well as the West. Taking apart the many unfounded premises of his thesis to show why his conclusions are fatally flawed will take some doing, and I will attempt it in this review.

We must first take an important source of confusion out of the way; that the majority of people in Europe and the Middle East are not interested in intellectual achievement. Construction workers and truckers are not interesting in reading books and talking about philosophy whether they are European or Egyptian. Such people judge things according to their own senses, and it would be the height of fantasy to think that a Baghdad street grocer is going to be any less cynical and world-weary than a European one due to some theological doctrine.

It is only a minority of people who have libraries in their homes, who are interested in philosophical discussions, who think of the long-term good of their societies and come up with ways of achieving said good. The majority are happy to spend their time watching football and films and engaging in other non-intellectual pursuits. It is the intellectual minority, to whom I will refer as the “elite”, who are responsible for a country’s intellectual progress. These are middle and upper class people whose children go on to work in medicine, engineering, science and other demanding fields.

If Reilly is right that the presently dominant version of Islam causes closed-mindedness and is tantamount to “intellectual suicide”, then we’d expect this most important demographic when it comes to intellectual progress, this elite, to be severely affected by this suicidal doctrine. Men and women who would have been scientists and inventors in a different reality would instead be closed-minded and anti-intellectual worshipers at the feet of the religious scholars.

It sounds like the set-up for a good novel to be the one to free this neglected intellectual capital from the yokes of religious unreason to  cause an explosion in creativity and genius that should cause seismic changes in the fabric of the Middle East. But is there any reality to this scenario? The question to ask is:

Are the elite of the Muslim world hampered in their intellectual curiosity by Ash’ari doctrine?

Reilly’s answer should be yes. These people would be responsible for intellectual progress; but there is supposedly little intellectual progress, therefore these people are instead closed-minded anti-intellectuals who need to be freed from harmful Islamic doctrines.

But the answer, in my experience of Muslims in various countries, seems to be a resounding “No!” The Muslim elite either create their own personal theological syntheses that are as rationalist, humanist and intellectually curious as that of any Westerner, or they become secular if they cannot find a way to reconcile the version of Islam they have received with their intellect and conscience.

Throughout the world, the religious scholars have very little power over actual, living and breathing Muslims. In the Western imagination, Muslim hordes listen to their religious scholars then zealously go on to implement whatever backward thing said scholars recommend. In the world of reality, Muslims politely listen to the preachers at the Friday sermons, then go out to think whatever they themselves choose to think. For over a thousand years generations of scholars have complained about how little power they have to enforce right-thinking over their populations.

Reilly writes:

There are people in Saudi Arabia today who still do not believe man has been on the moon. This is not because they are ignorant; it is because accepting the fact that man was on the moon would mean also accepting the chain of causal relationships that put him there, which is simply theologically unacceptable to them.

Reilly keeps quoting things like the above, thinking that they are somehow representative of Muslims, when in reality 1. the majority of Saudi’s educated Muslims find that laughably stupid, and 2. there are perhaps tens of thousands of Americans who do not believe the moon landings ever happened; is this because of Christianity’s incompatibility with science? and 3. Saudi Arabia, this supposed capital of Islamic backwardness, now produces more scientific research1 than Hungary, Thailand, New Zealand, Israel or Romania.2

A good illustration of this independence of the Muslim mind from religious scholars is the way Iran’s middle class reject the Shiite practice of temporary marriage, rightly recognizing it as legalized prostitution3despite scholarly approval of it.

The Quran says:

There is no compulsion in religion… (The Quran, verse 2:256)

That is not just a prescription, but a prediction. In Islam, religious scholars universally have no power to prescribe, they only have the power to persuade, and failing to persuade, they get nowhere with the people. Regardless of what the religious scholars say, cosmopolitan Muslims continue to think what they consider to be correct and sensible, as best seen in Iranian middle class’s rejection of temporary marriages.

I respect Reilly’s valiant effort to explain an important issue within Islamic theology, but his error, that the religious scholars and their prescriptions and ideas make up the core of Islam and determine Muslim thought, is a very much fatal error, because it does not accord with reality. It sounds very sensible, it just doesn’t explain Muslim experience. This error is thoroughly critiqued by Shahab Ahmed in his What is Islam? He calls Reilly’s position (which is also that of many Western and Eastern scholars and intellectuals) the “legal-supremacist” position, the idea that the religious scholars somehow control Islam and the Muslim mind. While this sounds natural from the way we tend to conceptualize how a religion functions, it fails to explain the reality of Islam, in which religious scholars have little power and the Muslim elite only think and act after being persuaded by reasoned argument.

Most Muslims come from low-IQ nations and their thinking reflects this. But if you want to verify my view, simply talk to Muslims working in high-IQ fields; doctors, engineers, mathematicians. Talk to them, to these real-life Muslims, and you will find that they are just as rational and intellectually curious as the Europeans next door.

This does not fit with the way most Europeans envision Muslims simply because their (often negligible) experience of Muslims has been of low-IQ immigrants and news reports and documentaries about the horrors of the third world. These low-IQ immigrants are not interested in pursuits of the intellect similar to low-IQ Europeans. Philosophy is that last thing in the minds of the low-IQ populations of America’s Appalachian country. The error of considering Muslims closed-minded is very much the error of comparing high-IQ Europeans to low-IQ Muslims, an invalid comparison.

Compare high-IQ Europeans to high-IQ Muslims, and then tell me about closed-mindedness and other problems that Muslims supposedly suffer from, which they do not.

Islam has real theological problems, but these problems are largely limited to the religious scholars, who have little power over their cultures compared to the non-scholarly Muslim elite, who are often adept at Islamic reasoning and can argue with and critique what religious scholars say. These high-IQ Muslims rarely challenge the religious scholars in public, since this always leads to unpleasantness, therefore instead, Muslims by and large think whatever they want, practice Islam according to their own personal syntheses and the syntheses of their better educated relations, and let the preachers continue preaching what they preach unchallenged.

This situation is not ideal, but it is a far cry from the intellectual captivity of Muslim minds imagined by Reilly and others. Egypt is a very conservative country, yet its scientific output has increased from 4515 scientific papers published in 2005 to 17300 in 2016. It is common to brush such data aside by saying this progress is happening despite Islam. But have you actually visited the research institutions of Cairo and Alexandria and talked to the devout Muslims who work at these institutions and love and appreciate science and scholarship for their own sake? The next step in brushing these data aside is to say that these Muslims are suffering from some horrible cognitive dissonance as their faith and reason fight wars of attrition inside their heads, but are you a Muslim yourself or do you just really like psychological thrillers?

Among the Muslim elite there is no conflict. They dislike what they are told by the preachers when it contradicts reason, but they are perfectly capable of ignoring it and, again, creating their own personal syntheses; they read the Quran and see the vast room for interpretation contained therein; they pray and fast and follow Islam to the best of their ability, then maintain their own intellectual independence and love for reason despite what the scholar say, but not despite Islam, because their Islam has no conflict with reason.

This is a very complex sociological situation and unfortunately very few people have the sophistication to appreciate it the way it is instead of forcing their own Hollywood-inspired dystopian visions onto it.

And as is so common for Western scholars (and secular Middle Eastern scholars), he considers Wahhabism somehow a natural form of Islam that has the danger of spreading to all Muslim minds, despite the fact it is only practiced by a few percentage points of Muslims, largely sponsored by Saudi Arabia due its usefulness in justifying the Saudi family’s rule, and despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims consider it a limiting and unrespectable form of Islam. Wahhabism has no attraction for the majority of Muslims. The reason why Reilly has to focus on Wahhabism is that he is trying to explain why Islam is causing so much terrorism. Like almost all those who try to answer this question, he tries to find the reasons for Islamic terrorism within Islamic cultures and societies, when Islamic terrorism is always a political tool for different groups that seek power. Islam is not the cause for terrorism but the pretext for it, the way that “national security”, “democracy” and “freedom” are the pretext for the CIA’s murder of innocent people and its toppling of democratically elected governments. And the proof for that is that most devout Muslims are not terrorists and find terrorism repulsive.

Another reason for Reilly’s and other scholars’ mistaken understanding of the way Islam-the-sociological-phenomenon functions is the need to explain why Islamic science flourished for a few centuries then died out. The rise of the rationalist Mu’tazilites coincided with the rise of Islamic science, and the fall of the Mu’tazilites and the rise of Ash’arites coincided with the fall of Islamic science, and this correlation is taken as causation by such scholars.

It is just as likely that the rise of the Mu’tazilites was due to demand for it and its fall due to the end of that demand and the rise of demand for Ash’arite thought. The true start of the Islamic golden age was with al-Ma’mun, as is recognized by Reilly, who was a half-Persian surrounded by Persians, and who recreated the Persianate court culture of the non-Muslim Persian emperors before him. Al-Ma’mun started the process of the Indo-Europeanization of the Abbasid Empire, so that for over a century the caliphate was ruled by emperors who were over 90% Indo-European (Greek and Persian).

Think of almost any great “Islamic” scientist, thinker or scholar and there is a 95% chance or higher that they are Persian. Persians demand philosophy and rationality. The greatest patrons of Islamic intellectual efforts were the Indo-European Abbasid caliphs, their rich Pesian viziers (such as the Barmakids, who would be billionaires in today’s US dollars), and the Persian Samanid and Buyid rulers. The fall of Islamic intellectual culture started from around the year 1000, just as the Islamic world’s Persian elite were replaced by a Turkic military elite. The Turkic Mahmud of Ghazni started the trend of Muslim rulers ruling by force of arms and depending on war booty to survive rather than on economic development. Reading the history of the Medieval Islamic world, it can be seen that the Turkics demanded orthodoxy and promoted it; the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks, the Khwarezmians, the Mamluks, the Timurids, the Mughals, the Safavids, the Ottomans, the Qajars, all of these Turkic dynasties were staunch defenders of orthodoxy as a matter of national security, while also being patrons of the aesthetic and sensual arts (architecture, calligraphy, poetry, music) but ignoring intellectual pursuits. The Turkic military elite had little interest in philosophy while loving wine, poetry, massive buildings and sex with male concubines.

Therefore the story of the “closing of the Muslim mind” may actually be a story of the collapse of the demand for intellectual pursuits caused by an increasingly Turkic elite. The slaughter of perhaps more  than half of the world’s Persian Muslims by the Mongols in the 13th century may have put the final nail in the coffin, preventing the rise of Persian dynasties or elites within the ruling Turkic Muslim dynasties.4

And things are changing. History has not stood still. The Turkic stagnation continued until 1799 when Napoleon crushed the Turkic Mamlukes, it also continued in the Turkic Ottoman Empire until some time later when the superiority of the Europeans in most areas become undeniable and painful enough to require change. The Turkic Qajars of Iran and the Turkic Mughals of India continued to staunchly defend their backwardness until, again, external forces caused their collapse.

And now that the Turkic control over the Islamic world is finally gone, we can see what instead is happening; throughout the Muslim world there is vast interest in philosophy, in science, in literature. Iran now publishes more scientific papers than Sweden, Poland or Belgium. Muslims, actual living and breathing Muslims, have thoroughly embraced the modern world and everything it offers. It is true that the religious scholars have yet to update their thinking, that their frameworks and paradigms are in some ways thoroughly out of date and clash with the modern world, but that is a problem for the religious scholars, not for Muslims. It is only a problem or crisis for Muslims if one buys into the falsehood that religious scholars have the power to prescribe and control culture. They have no such power. The only thing they can do is persuade, and faced with the Muslim elite, they very much fail at persuasion when what they say is unreasonable.

Reilly and many others make the error of reading the Islamic texts and listening to what the religious scholars say then going on to conclude that this explains Muslim behavior. It does not. It is time we abandoned this myth. Make an actual sociological study of the determiners of Islamic culture (the elite) and you will find that reason and common sense abound, and that the religious scholars and preachers are not taken seriously whenever they do not make sense—whenever they clash with the very-European modes of thinking of educated high IQ Muslims, whether in Malaysia or Morocco.

Misunderstanding simulations

Reilly and many others have blamed people like al-Ghazali for their denial of causality; that causes do not necessarily lead to effects, as in the following passage that he quotes from al-Ghazali:

The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. For example, there is no causal connection between the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire.

Al-Ghazali and others were doing their best to describe what a simulation is; they were in fact amazingly ahead of their time. They reconciled theology and science through this concept. Think of this universe as a simulation, similar to the universe inside a video game. In a video game, a tree does not burn because the fire touched it, it burns because the video game engine decided to run the tree-burning sequence when the apparent cause for the burning happened (The fire touching it). This is an incredibly advanced thinking that teaches that this universe, like the universe inside the film The Matrix, is entirely under the control of a higher power that can do with it whatever He wishes, but who maintains its integrity for His own purposes. Thinking of the universe as a simulation is in no way anti-science, and in fact is a hobby of certain advanced scientists and thinkers. Al-Ghazali goes on to say:

…it is within [divine] power to create satiety without eating, to create death without decapitation, to continue life after decapitation, and so on to all connected things…

What he is saying is that the one who is in control of this simulation can make any change to any variable from the outside, without having to follow the rules of causality within the simulation, the way that a video game engine can cause a tree to burst into flame without a fire touching it. What al-Ghazali was reaffirming was God’s absolute power; the theological idea that God is not limited by the laws of physics or any other limits existing within our universe, because our universe is like a simulation, and the One in charge of it is outside of it, not limited by it. This in no way discourages one from studying the world and appreciating it; one merely appreciates that there is a God beyond it all who has absolute power over it. Al-Ghazali was vastly ahead of his rationalist competition who couldn’t think outside of the box of the universe, imagining that God would have to obey the laws of physics.

The rationalist Mu’tazilites said that God cannot be unjust, that He is incapable of it. The Ash’arites said that God is capable of willing anything. This argument was a product of the limits of the imagination of the time; God can will anything, and He can make it obligatory upon Himself to be just even though He can be unjust if He wants. The Quran, in fact, gives us a clear pointer on this matter:

…He has prescribed mercy upon Himself… (The Quran, verse 6:12)

God can make things obligatory upon Himself, and reading the Quran, we get the sense that God has made a perfectly rational and logical universe, ruled by a perfectly just God who is capable of willing anything, but who, inside our simulation is the way He has described Himself in the Quran.

Reilly thinks that al-Ghazali’s doctrine impeded reason and rationality. He uses the example of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami’s criticism of the acknowledgment of causality in science textbooks as an example of its “profound effect”, when this is a political party who only has a minor following in Pakistan and whose opinions are not taken seriously by the majority of Muslims. This is very much like saying that the attack of certain Christians on Darwin’s theory proves that Christianity is anti-science. Reilly says:

The elimination of cause and effect makes prediction epistemologically impossible and theologically undesirable. This can result in some unusual behavior affecting everyday matters. Thus, points out Hoodbhoy, “Many, if not most, orthodox ulema contend that prediction of rain lies outside of what can be lawfully known to man, and infringes on the supernatural domain. Consequently, between 1983 and 1984, weather forecasts were quietly suspended by the Pakistani media, although they were later reinstated.

The above passage actually disproves Reilly’s thinking; even in a traditional and supposedly backward country like Pakistan, the ulema couldn’t get predictions banned for more than a year. What does that tell you? That Muslims by and large respect their own reason far more than scholary abuses of theology. The scholars won for one year and consistently lost every single year before and after that, despite Pakistan remaining a very much Muslim country.

Reilly takes side with Averroes (Ibn Rushd)’s misunderstanding of al-Ghazali, who says “whoever repudiates causes actually repudiates reason.” That’s only true if you cannot imagine what a simulation is. God is perfectly capable of maintaining a simulation that functions according to reason without Himself being bound by the simulation, and that is al-Ghazali’s point, and it is only the failure of Averroes’ and Reilly’s imagination that they cannot get this point.

Again, he [Averroes] points out that if causality is denied, “there is no fixed knowledge of anything,” because “true knowledge is the knowledge of the thing according to what it is in itself.”

Not necessarily. True knowledge can be an accurate description of how the simulation functions, and that is science. You can have exact knowledge of the functioning of a simulation without requiring the simulation to be “real”, realness is not necessary.

In this way, Ash‘arite metaphysics makes epistemology impossible and closes off its adherents from knowledge of reality.

Absolutely not at all.

I do not deny that Ash’arite ideas have been used to discourage and discredit science, but that is merely the pretext for it, it is done by anti-intellectual people, and their thinking is easily rejected by upper class Muslims who are the determinants of culture. In fact, whenever there has been a need for science and technology, the Ash’arite anti-intellectuals were summarily dismissed, as in the use of the cutting-edge of European thought in the development of guns and cannons in all modern Islamic empires (Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals).

When religious scholars abuse Islamic theology to attack science, the majority of Muslims will not say “They have the right idea, let’s turn back the clocks!”, they will instead exasperatedly say “God save us from your stupidity!” and in this way nearly the whole population will decidedly not abide by the unreasonable requests of the religious scholars, while remaining authentic, pious Muslims.

My point here is not to defend Ash’arite theology, which I believe needs updating, but it should be criticized for real faults rather than supposed faults. Reilly continually uses the excesses of certain minor sects and political groups in their support for unreasonable policies using Ash’arite theology as proof of its extreme influence on Muslim thought, despite the fact that the majority of Muslims consider these groups unrespectable and unworthy of being taken seriously. He ignores the opinion of the majority in favor of the minority, then considers the minority representative of the majority.

What will happen if Islam’s theological problems were resolved?

The sense one gets from Reilly and other writers is that if Islam’s theological problems were to be resolved, this would open wonderful new vistas to the minds of us limited Muslims. In reality, those vistas are already totally open to us, and all that would be accomplished by solving Islam’s theological problems would be the removal of an annoyance. We would hopefully hear fewer things at the Friday sermon that make us want to cringe.

It is very tempting for an intellectual, especially a Westerner, to think of himself or herself as a knight in shining armor chosen to rid the Muslim world of its backwardness, chosen to bring the Muslims out of the darkness of faith into the light of reason. But such a person, if they were to go to a cosmopolitan place like Cairo or Tehran, and if they were to have dinner at a devout upper middle class Muslim’s home, they will find that there is no need for the battering ram of reason and rationality they brought with themselves to break the closed gates of the Muslim mind, because there are no such gates. This can be quite disappointing, since it is so pleasurable to our egos to be knights and saviors.

Look at the books sold on the streets of Cairo, Tehran or Baghdad. The openness of the Islamic world of today to ideas from around the world would shock Medieval Islamic theologians (and Medieval Christian theologians). In the Islamic theocracy of Iran the books of freethinkers like al-Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Western thinkers like Nietzsche and Weber are read and talked about and no one bats an eye. This alone should be sufficient to show that the idea of “closed” Muslim societies and minds is uninformed fantasizing.

Islamic Egypt vs. Latin Christendom

Reilly quotes many Arab intellectuals lamenting the way Ash’arite theology caused backwardness and stagnation. Arab intellectuals, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, seem to be invariably almost Marxist in their trust in the infinite malleability of human nature. If only we could plant the correct ideas in the heads of the Arabs, we could create such a utopia! Islamic scholars share a similar belief; thinking that with indoctrination comes utopia.

What these Arab intellectuals are actually lamenting is that most Arabs are not as smart and skeptical as themselves, then, searching for the reason for this, they conclude that it is Islam’s teachings. This amateurish sociology of Muslims is emblematic of 20th century Arab thought, every Arab intellectual seems to consider himself or herself qualified to diagnose society’s ills and prescribe cures.

Human nature is not infinitely malleable, and a person’s IQ, which is largely genetically-mediated, is crucial to their patterns of thought and their ability to receive and adopt new knowledge.5 Arab intellectual achievement is in line with non-Muslim populations of similar IQ, therefore a professional sociologist who does not willfully choose to ignore IQ will see that the issue likely lies more with genetics than culture.

Arab intellectuals compare Egypt (IQ 81) with Sweden (IQ 100), then say that it must be some problem within Islam that is causing Arabs to not be like the Swedes in their intelligence and accomplishments. But if we were to actually make a fair comparison, we’d compare Egypt with countries of similar IQ, such as Nicaragua (IQ 81). In 2016 Egypt’s scientific output was one paper for every 5531 citizens, while for Nicaragua it was one paper for every 54166 citizens (according to SJR). Nicaraguans, despite not being limited by Ash’arite theology, despite being blessed with Christianity, are performing ten times worse than Egyptians at this important measure of intellectual achievement, despite similar IQ. If we were amateur sociologists like Reilly and the Arab intellectuals he quotes, we could conclude that Ash’arite theology improves intellectual output; Egypt, with its Ash’arite theological beliefs, is ten times more productive intellectually compared to a Christian country of equal intelligence. Should I write a book calling Nicaraguans to embrace Ash’arism so that they end their Christian closed-mindedness?

In fact, there isn’t a single non-Muslim country in the world that has an IQ similar to that of Egypt that is doing better intellectually from that data that I have looked at. Egypt, with all of its supposed Arab-Islamic mentality/backwardness, is outdoing all non-Muslim competitors of equal intelligence. Egypt is even outdoing Venezuala, Paraguay and Peru despite these countries’ higher IQs.

Iran’s average IQ is 84. Christian Armenia’s average is is 94. Guess who is outdoing who in intellectual achievement? Iran publishes 41% more scientific researcher per capita than Armenia6, despite its Islam and despite its IQ being lower by 10 points!

A hasty look at these data would suggest that Islam improves intellectual creativity. Egyptians are Muslims, yet they are outdoing non-Muslims of equal or higher intelligence at producing peer-reviewed scientific papers, a very difficult and intellectually demanding task. These data should be sufficient to show that Reilly and the Arab intellectuals’ belief that Islamic beliefs are holding Arabs back is likely all in their imagination; it is a hasty jump to conclusions that ignores the science of intelligence and its effects on intellectual outcomes.

[Note that saying Arabs have a lower IQ than Swedes does not mean that all Arabs have lower IQs than Swedes. It means that the frequency of high IQ people among Arabs is lower than among Swedes. If out of every fifty Arabs you meet, only one is interested in reading books, out of every 20 or 10 Swedes you meet, you will be able to find a similarly intellectually motivated person. Higher IQ nations have more high IQ individuals, lower IQ nations have fewer high IQ individuals, but they still have them.]

Reilly delves into the typical discussion of how Islam and democracy are incompatible, apparently totally unaware that Christian countries of similar IQ have equally dysfunctional systems of governance. He quotes Arab poets making fun of the Arab trust in God, unaware that Latin Americans have been saying very much the same things about their own countries and cultures, despite their being overwhelmingly Christian (see Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 for criticisms of Latin American culture).

The fact that Malaysians have a proper democracy and legislature has nothing to do with Islam, it must be despite Islam. It is almost as if all negatives are of Islam and all positives despite it. There is no way that Muslims, as intelligent humans, could make up their own minds about the proper way to organize their societies to maximize the good of the whole.

When Latin America’s problems are talked about by Western pundits, problems such as child brides and very high crime rates, they are treated as complex sociological problems; Christianity is never even considered as a potential contributor. Christians are treated as humans and their problems are treated as sophisticated human problems. Muslims are extended no such kindness; they are Muslim, this is more than enough to explain everything that is wrong with them. The reason for this bias is likely the fact that Westerners never compare like for like, instead of comparing a Muslim country to a non-Muslim country of similar IQ, they compare it to a Western European country, and of course the Muslim country always falls short, and from this, being amateur sociologists, they conclude that Islam must be the reason why these countries are not similar to Western Europe, not realizing that Muslim countries are actually outdoing many non-Muslim countries of similar IQ when it comes to intellectual achievement, and that these “backward” Arab countries totally put Christian Latin America to shame when it comes to crime; Brazil’s homicide rate is 26 per 100,000, Egypt’s is 3. Should we call Brazil to abandon their homicide-promoting Catholic Christianity for Islam?7

The presence of petroleum gives credence to the Saudi claim that its Wahhabi form of Islam is the legitimate one. It is because of the oil that other Muslims are willing to give this claim consideration. This is why Wahhabism has spread so significantly, even in parts of the world like Indonesia that would seem, from their cultural backgrounds, to have little sympathy with its radical literalism. Therefore, it is not only through Saudi oil largess but also because of where the oil is that Wahhabism enjoys such prominence.

Wahhabism does not enjoy “prominence” except in the heads of Western pundits (and Middle Easterners who have something against Islam), who love having such a convenient straw man. The majority of the world’s Muslims likely do not know a single Wahhabi except from TV where they are always given prime time due to their usefulness for pushing agendas about Islam. And not just that, but among the Muslim elite, Wahhabis are almost entirely non-existent; you cannot have a high IQ and be a Wahhabi unless someone is paying you. There has never been an organic Wahhabi growth anywhere in the world as far as I know, wherever they exist, it is because someone sponsored them, starting with the original sponsorship of the Saudi family for the founder of Wahhabism. Saying they are somehow representative of Muslims is one of the most ignorant things a person can say about Islam, it is like saying some crazy West Virginia Christian sect represents Christianity; it is breathtakingly out of touch with the realities of life for the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

Conclusion

It is very easy to blame Islam for the problems of Muslims. Non-Muslims almost invariably conceive of Muslims as automatons having swallowed books of scripture. This naive sociology is a disease that infests almost all discussions of Islam; real-life Muslims are ignored in favor of imaginary Muslims existing entirely in the heads of the speakers. We Muslims are often given the nonsensical choice of either choosing to be human or choosing to be Muslim, and in Western works like S. Frederick Starr’s Lost Enlightenment and Christopher de Bellaigue’s The Islamic Enlightenment, the writers make it amply clear that they could never see eye-to-eye with a faithful and devout Muslim, who is invariably an enemy of rationality and intellectual progress, they cannot conceive of someone as intelligent as themselves (or God forbid, more intelligent) being a faithful Muslim. The more secular a Muslim is, the more human they are.

With the increasing participation of Muslims in Western discourses about Islam, there is hope that this reductionist view of Muslims will be corrected.

Islamic scholars are no more in charge of the minds of the Muslim elite than novelists are. High IQ humans take their knowledge from diverse sources then make up their own minds, creating their own personal syntheses. Every Western scholar admits this about themselves and their own personal way of life (that they read from a vast selection of sources and reserve the right to act according to what their reason and conscience finds to be best), it is time they admitted it of Muslims as well. Humans are not blank slates and they cannot be controlled by ideas; they are agents who think, reason and decide, and this power cannot be taken from them. The Marxists thought that humans were blank slates who could be beaten into becoming communist creatures, but they failed. Communist propaganda could not override human nature. In the same way, unreasonable theological ideas cannot be forced upon Muslims despite the best efforts of scholars.

Caught between Western scholarly and casual discussions of often imaginary Muslims are actual, living and breathing Muslims who are experiencing no crisis, who are perfectly happy to engage in intellectual pursuits, and who while respecting the religious scholars, do not take them seriously when what they say goes against reason and conscience. Are Muslim doctors systematically avoiding studying philosophical ideas because of their Ash’ari indoctrination? Are Muslim parents systematically forbidding their children from reading Western classics and studying the humanities at Western universities because of their theological beliefs? No. They see no conflict between intellectual pursuits and Islam because to them there is no conflict, and it is their opinion that matters; it is they who make Islam’s history. What the religious scholars think in their ivory towers is of little concern to them when there are Quranic verses that sound more reasonable and better fitted to their own experience of the world than scholarly doctrines.

Imaginary Muslims live in Muslim “no-go zones”, do not read except strict religious literature, do everything the scholars tell them, and keep their women in cages. Real Muslims live wherever they want, read whatever they like, are respectful but inwardly skeptical toward the religious scholars and treat their women according to whatever is their human instincts and culture. It is time that we started considering real Muslims in our discussions of Islam.

Robert R. Reilly’s thesis is flawed due to the fact that it does not fit the observable facts of actual, lived Muslim experience, which is vastly more sophisticated, and far less dependent on or derivative of scholastic theology, than Reilly believes.

The crisis that Reilly talks about is largely a theological war between ivory towers that has little bearing on the lives and motivations of modern Muslims, especially the educated elite, who moved on to embrace the virtues of the intellect and philosophical inquiry long ago. What remains is for the traditional Islamic scholars to catch up, but whether they do or do not is of little historical importance; the train of reason left long ago, the cat is out of the bag, and the entire elite of the Muslim world lives and acts as if science and philosophical inquiry are worthy pursuits. Imaginary Muslims need to be taught reason, rationality and humanism. Actual Muslims do not, they have already embraced these ideas and integrated them into their own lives.

In just a single century the Islamic world’s scientific output has increased by orders of magnitude, nearly all Muslim families have started to send their children to secular universities that have popped up all over the Muslim lands, and almost all Muslim countries have adopted some form of constitutional democracy. Isn’t this sufficient progress for just one century? Isn’t it the height of injustice to blame Islam for the problems of the Middle East when Christian Latin America suffers from the exact same problems?

Intelligence: All That Matters by Stuart Ritchie

IQ and intelligence, as a topic of study in themselves, no longer interest me very much because they are largely a foregone conclusion for me. Long ago I was convinced of the very realness and importance of IQ and of the fact that it is largely a genetically-mediated trait. What interests me these days is applying the knowledge gleaned from this field to other areas of inquiry that interest me.

I made an exception for the very short book Intelligence: All That Matters by the young researcher Stuart Ritchie, hoping that it would b an authoritative summary of the field that I can refer other people to in my work, those who inevitably come along in all discussions of intelligence to enlighten us about how it is all in our heads. And the book serves this function reasonably well, hopefully it will help enlighten our enlighteners that there may be more to humans than they assume.

Despite mentioning the emptiness of the IQ-increasing promises of Mozard CDs and brain training games, he is still what may be described as a little overly optimistic about the prospects of improving people’s intelligence, though perhaps he has to be considering the commonly held views of many of the people who are going to be reading his book.

Yoga is permissible in Islam if it is done for health

Is yoga haram? lets say my intention is not to pray like they do only to relax my mind etc?

According to the Azhar-educated scholar Dr. Ujail Al-Nashami1 if yoga is done for health (exercise and meditation) then it is permissible, while the mystical and religious parts of it should be avoided. He says that once the health-related parts of yoga are isolated then it becomes merely a sport like other sports.

Due to its association with Hinduism and Buddhism most scholars appear to have a very negative view of yoga. But there is no reason why a Muslim cannot take the beneficial parts of yoga and make use of them while rejecting the prohibited parts of it. Mosque architecture was largely inspired by pre-Islamic religious architecture from Central Asia, but Muslims took it, avoided the anti-Islamic elements of it (such as statues of gods) and made it part of their own architecture. There is no reason why Muslims cannot do the same with yoga.

Islam and cruelty-free products

Should we as Muslims go for cruelty free products? because I know its haram that animals are harmed, but I haven’t heard anyone speak against it

Sure, the moral and ethical teachings of the Quran should inform our day-to-day decisions wherever possible. Companies known for cruelty to animals, pollution, anti-consumer practices and other unethical behavior should be shunned whenever it is possible in favor of better companies.

Makeup is permissible in Islam (with conditions)

I want to know if makeup is permissible? If you apply as natural and light as possible?

According to Ali Gomaa (Egypt’s former chief mufti), makeup is permissible as long as it is not overdone.

From a scientific perspective there are two ways of applying makeup. One of them is to enhance one’s appearance, this is the type of makeup that cannot be easily noticed, and I guess this is what you might call “natural”. The other type of makeup simulates ovulation and sexual arousal by making the pupils appear dilated (through thick eye shadow) and the lips bright read. This is a signal that is not unique to humans, it also exists among other primate species. For a longer discussion of this see my book review Conflicts of Fitness: Islam, America, and Evolutionary Psychology.

The first type of makeup is the permissible one, the second type is not (if worn in public, it is permissible in private), the second type is similar to wearing tight clothes, it is designed to attract the sexual interest of random males. For more on this see my previous answer The purpose of hijab in Islam.

The chaining of Satan and difficulties with Islam’s metaphysics

I have an issue when it comes to believing in metaphysical entities such as devil or angels. Sometimes I don’t understand why Allah had these conversations with them. I think that if people do evil it’s rooted in their psyche. Also the fact that I had depression and suicidal thoughts and was told that it was shaytan enforced this. Because there’s no shaytan during Ramadan for instance but these thoughts didn’t cease

The idea of shaytan being “chained” during Ramadan is questionable because it comes to us only through one Companion of the Prophet ﷺ (Abu Hurairah). According to Maliki and Hanafi legal theory such narrations are doubtful and cannot be used as a basis for establishing principles. We can also reinterpret the narration as saying that Satan is less powerful in Ramadan thanks to the fact that people are fasting and worshiping God more often, i.e. when the Prophet ﷺ says Satan is chained, he may simply mean that he is made less capable of doing what he does.

The idea that depression and suicidal thoughts are from Satan is nonsense, it is cultural superstition that is given an Islamic appearance and has no basis in Islam’s scripture. There are drugs (such as cholinergic drugs) that will make a person suicidal soon after taking them. For more on depression see my answer “I always feel depressed. What should I do?”.

As for believing in metaphysical entities, as a skeptic and lover of science I would be the first person to question them. But since the Quran is extraordinary, it can prove other extraordinary things. I explain this in my essay God, Evolution and Abiogenesis. You don’t have to understand the reason for God’s interactions with these characters. In a way they are more real than us; they existed before us and will exist after the world ends. They are characters in a story that started long before us, and we might be just a small part of it.

As for the issue of humans doing evil deeds, see my essays Islam’s theory of free will versus physical determinism and Why God Allows Evil to Exist, and Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Will my past sins count against me after having returned to Islam?

I was born in a Muslim Asian family and wasn’t brought up with much islam and I left my religion as I never understood anything and now that I’m 19 I took my shahada again and I’m more on my deen now, will it be counted as a sin, I mean my past?

Not at all. In fact, the Quran says that those who repent and come back to faithfully worshiping God will have their past sins written as good deeds for them.

Except for those who repent, and believe, and do good deeds. These—God will replace their bad deeds with good deeds. God is ever Forgiving and Merciful. (The Quran, verse 25:70)

Getting over guilt from sinning

It all happened out of nowhere and I happened to commit zina and I eventually fell in love with that guy and that guy loves someone else and I’m unable to move on. I repent all I could. I tried to distant myself and tried everything possible. I’m really guilty and I don’t know how do I get over it. Can you please suggest me something. I’m unable to love myself, I’ve lost my self worth. I feel like ending it all but I know I’ll be commenting another sin. Please help.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Read 100 books, either non-fiction or fiction written before 1960, and once you are done you will be a completely different person with a different view of yourself and life, and you will be far better able to make sense of your situation and get beyond it (inshaAllah).

Please also check out my answer God has not abandoned you.

How and why does God seal people’s hearts?

How and why does Allah seal people’s hearts?

From the Quran it appears that once a person crosses a certain line of evil, God blocks them from coming back to the good side.

When a person dies, their fate is sealed, they can no longer repent and do good deeds to change their fate. It appears that when a person commits certain acts of evil, it is as if they have died. One such act is premeditated murder, which “rips the soul apart” (as it is described by some people) so that it cannot be made whole again, and the person who commits it becomes irreparably evil and broken.

This does not happen by accident. A person has to make evil choices day in and day out for years on end, until the point of no return is reached. Murder is not an ordinary crime, a person has to be already really evil to commit it, and committing it puts them beyond the point of no return so that their hearts are sealed and they are not allowed to return to the good side again.

“Will the Sunni and Shia killing ever stop?”

Will the Sunni and Shia killing ever stop? I don’t understand why we Muslims cant accept each sects differences. You can choose to not agree with what they say but I don’t understand the killing between these sects. Beside that nothing historical will change. We Muslims today are so quite on this subject, the only time someone brings it up is when they want to slander the other.

Sunni and Shia Muslims generally live peacefully together throughout the world, there is actually very little violence, and the cases of violence are almost always due to foreign influence. US, Israeli and Saudi intelligence arm and train Sunni terrorists in Iraq in order to weaken their political rival (Iran), and Iran does the same for the Shiite in Iraq in order to fight back against its enemies. It is nearly always about politics, not religion.

Religion is one of the favorite tools used by intelligence agencies when they want to attack their enemies. The United States funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Sunni jihadists in Afghanistan in order to weaken the Soviet Union, as I explain in my essay Why Most Terrorists are Muslim.

In my experience most educated Shia and Sunni Muslims do not care about sectarian differences and are quite happy to live peacefully together. I grew up in Iran and speak Farsi so I am familiar with Iranian Shia Muslims and their culture.

Why Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslims

Why are Muslim men allowed to marry a non-Muslim but Muslim women are not allowed?

One theory is due to genetic and psychological differences between men and women, Muslim men will be better able to  remain practicing Muslims and to bring up devout Muslim children even if their wives are Christian or Jewish, while Muslim women will be less likely to accomplish these.

Scientific studies are needed to prove whether the above is true, but it seems to be true from anecdotal evidence. It is probably true that some Muslim women will be perfectly capable of remaining practicing Muslims and bringing up practicing Muslim children when married to non-Muslims, but these will be the exceptions, not the rule. It is similar to drinking wine; some people are able to enjoy it without becoming drunkards, but Islam forbids it to all Muslims since this is better for everyone. So that fact that I or you can drink wine without it causing us noticeable harm does not mean that it is halal for us and haram for others. It is haram for everyone.

If Muslim women who are married to non-Muslims are twice as likely to stop practicing Islam compared to Muslim women married to Muslim husbands, and/or if their children are twice as likely to abandon Islam, then these can be considered sufficient justification for prohibiting it.

So in this case, as in the case of wine-drinking, a person has to refrain from it for the sake of the greater good.

There might be many other reasons for forbidding such marriages, I’m mentioning only two potential explanations.

In Islam, everything is allowed unless explicitly forbidden. In the matter of sex, however, the Quran reverses matters; everything is forbidden, as numerous verses say, unless explicitly allowed. The Quran commands the believers to “guard their privates” (abstain from sex) in five places (23:5, 24:30, 24:31, 33:35, 70:29), then in the contexts of two of these verses it makes exceptions for cases of lawful relationships (23:6, 70:30). The picture that the Quran draws is that all sexual activity is forbidden, except when it is expressly allowed. Since the Quran expressly allows men to marry non-Muslim women belonging to God’s other religions, while it does not expressly allow women to do its counterpart, this can be considered strong evidence for considering the latter forbidden.

Those who want to legalize marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men say that such marriages are in a gray area, even though they are not expressly allowed, they are not expressly forbidden either. The reasoning offered by such people is that it is in the best interests of Muslim women to be allowed to marry outside the faith, that this is more likely to ensure their long-term good, and that the prohibition may have made sense in certain societies, but does not make sense in Western-style diverse and multi-religious societies.

But as I mentioned above, if such women and their potential children are more likely to abandon Islam, then that is a very good reason for prohibiting such marriages, and it is a weak argument to say that it is materially better for women to marry outside the faith if their spiritual and eternal life is harmed by this.

Islam is not forced on people, so a Muslim woman should be free to marry outside the faith from a civic law perspective, so it is ultimately a matter between the woman and God. Marriage is one of the most important decisions in life, and a Muslim woman who truly fears God and wishes to please Him will never base her marriage on what is at best in a gray area, since she cannot be sure if God will be pleased with her.

The Early Development of Hanafi Usul al-Fiqh by Murteza Bedir

Download [PDF – 23 MB]

Murteza Bedir’s PhD thesis The Early Development of Hanafi Usul al-Fiqh is an interesting study of the development of usul al-fiqh in the Hanafi school. It describes a process of slowly eliminating the freedom of intellect of the early Hanafi school as succeeding generations tried to reform the school to fit more with Shafi`i style orthodoxy. The earliest studied scholar is the Persian Hanafi legal theorist al-Jassas, whose writings provide the foundations for Hanafi legal theory, perhaps in large part due to his preservation of the opinions of earlier legal theorists like Isa ibn Aban.

The above is a download link to the study I am placing it on my site since currently it is available for free on the rent-seeking site Scribd, which makes it difficult to download it. I am guessing Dr. Bedir couldn’t find a better way of offering it on the internet.

Daughter wants to distance herself from her abusive parents

What has made my emaan weaker is that I became traumatisied from a bad childhood. My parents played part in this. Sometimes they used islam against me to manipullate me. Also I wasn’t allowed to get help, and my mom labelled my depression as kufr, which made me feel bad and try to suppress the despair . All scholars and everything I’ve read is about parental rights, and that it is a huge sin (akbar kabair) to cut family ties. I am not an adult and much better but I still want distance from them

Do not let other people’s mistakes affect your relationship with God. Read the Quran as if it was sent down to you personally, and follow its teachings and philosophy wherever you can in your life. If people misuse Islam to attack you, ignore it, knowing that God is better than them.

Regarding cutting family ties, that refers to treating family members as strangers, i.e. permanent estrangement where a child treats their disliked parent as if there is no relationship between them.

If your parents mistreat you, you have the right to keep your distance. What you do not have the right to do is cut off your relationship with them completely. Remain in their lives, help them where necessary, and be dutiful as much as you can, Islam doesn’t ask you to do more than this, it does not ask you to subject yourself to them if they constantly mistreat and humiliate you. Both you and your parents have your human rights, and if they neglect your human rights, they have sinned.

Salam . I’m the one who wrote that I’m traumatized and that I need to distance myself from my parents. I made a typo last time, its supposed to be I am now* an adult. You said that I will still have to stay with them. But I told you I am traumatised and I’m not allowed to get any help. Having PTSD has been beyond hell, and I don’t understand why Allah wants me to stay in touch with them. Its easier said than done that my relationship with God shouldn’t be affected. Even Quran is triggering

Even when I pray Its a struggle, because It feels like I am giving up to something evil. Being abused through religion is not easy. I won’t cut ties with them permanently, maybe few years until I recover fully and can find myself again. Every sensible person has told me to do it. I don’t understand the reason for keeping in touch with them, I feel as if death is much easier than keeping conntact with people who ruined me

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

At its root, this is a matter of conscience between you and God. Can you in good conscience cut off ties with them for this bad things they have done? Isn’t it a higher ideal, more admirable, more honorable, to be kind and forgiving toward them?

Islam does not ask you to do more than you can bear. If today the pain of contact with them is unbearable, and you decide to avoid contact, then that’s forgivable. But what about tomorrow, or next year? What matters above all is to not harden your heart against people. If you maintain a soft heart, if you are aware of the Quran’s teachings, and you reexamine your decision to avoid contact ever day, and you keep reaching the same conclusion that avoiding contact is best, then perhaps you are right. But there is always also the great danger of being harder on people and less kind than we can be. So you would be walking a fine line.

The reason why God wants us to not cut ties with our relatives is the same reason why God prohibits us from lying. Maintaining relations and telling the truth ensure that society functions well. Cutting ties and lying causes breakdown. In exceptional circumstances one can justify lying, for example to save their lives or the life of someone they love. And in exceptional circumstances, one can justify cutting ties.

So it is part of your social responsibility to tell the truth and to maintain ties. Doing the opposite requires great justification, and it is for this reason that scholars speak strongly against cutting ties. You would be doing something that goes against your social responsibility. Is it justifiable? No one can answer this question except yourself. It is something between you and God. And if it is justifiable today, it may not be next week or next year.

In the West people will simplify your decision for you by saying that you can do whatever you want, since it is how you feel that matters. Social responsibility is something that very few people worry about. So I understand that people will be telling you to do it, to cut ties, since you need it and your parents deserve it. Islam doesn’t say this is necessarily wrong. It however says to take your social responsibility seriously.

Reply from a reader:

I thought you were more rational but when you told that anon to accept to stay with her parents although she clarified that she’s traumatisized you’re not so far from the salaf you condemn. How far do we have to go with social responsibility? Isn’t emotional trauma enough? Or sexual trauma? What about a woman who’s abused by her husband? Does she have to have a social responsibility to stay? How do we make sure that children can grow up functioning with the idea of social responsibility?

If you read the answer again you will see that I did not tell her to stay with her parents, but to make up her own mind. You have your own human rights, and you have social responsibility. The two concerns must be balanced. You shouldn’t let people abuse you, but you shouldn’t neglect your responsibilities toward them either.

People, using their intellect and conscience, and guided by the Quran’s moral philosophy, can decide what is the best course of action in each situation.

The idea of social responsibility simply means that one shouldn’t selfishly focus on their own rights to the exclusion of other people’s rights. “Don’t be selfish” is something that all good parents teach their children. But they should also teach them to resist abuse and injustice.

Are men allowed to show their emotions in Islam?

Can a man according to Islam show his emotions?

Prophet Yaqoub cried when he lost both his sons. Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him cried when his son Ibrahim died. There is no general prohibition on showing emotions. Harmful shows of emotion, such as breaking things out of anger or sadness, are forbidden, but you don’t need religion to tell you that. Islam teaches us to aim for the greatest good and avoid things that are harmful to ourselves and humanity, using this principle, you can determine which shows of emotion are acceptable, which ones are disliked and which ones are clearly forbidden.

Can prayer change your destiny in Islam?

Is that true that dua has so much power that it can also change what’s written in your destiny (I read it somewhere).

The Quran says that if Prophet Yunus, peace be upon him, had not been among the musabbiheen (those who make it a habit to perform God’s remembrance), God would have not have saved him from the belly of the whale (verses 37:142-144 of the Quran).

This story suggests that what you do now can affect what destiny God chooses for you. If you do good, God will cause more good to come to you, and if you do evil, God can punish you with bad things happening in your life:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do. (The Quran, verse 16:97)

But whoever turns away from My Remembrance, for him is a constricted life. And We will raise him on the Day of Resurrection blind.” (The Quran, verse 20:124)

The Quran mentions that God helped prophet Musa (Moses) acquire knowledge and wisdom as a reward for being a virtuous person, meaning that if he had not been virtuous, he would not have had this reward:

And when he reached his maturity, and became established, We gave him wisdom and knowledge. Thus do We reward the virtuous. (The Quran, verse 28:14)

The same would apply to dua/supplication in its ability to change what future God enables us to have. If you pray for knowledge, God can arrange the circumstances for you to acquire it, but if you had not prayed, perhaps you wouldn’t have acquired that knowledge.

There are various schools of thought on these issues and you will get very different answers depending on who you ask. There is the Ash’ari creed, the Maturidi creed, the Mutazilite creed, the Hanbali literalist creed (traditionalist Salafis), each has its own theory of free will and destiny.

Did God destroy the People of Lot for rape instead of homosexuality?

According to science human sexuality is on a spectrum and same can be said about gender identity. As you answered someone’s question here and advised them to read the Quran . You said that we have different psychology. I wonder then why Allah said in the Qur’an that people of Lot were approaching men instead of woman (if they are wired differently, then it makes sense that they would approach men). I find many Muslim blogs giving really simplistic answers and many of them have no background in gender studies. My second question about the topic is why do everyone interpret it as same-sex what lot’s people did? It’s obvious that’s it’s rape, because the angels were hiding at his house ? Why did he tell them to approach woman or the fact that he wanted to give his daughter in marriage. Rape is wrong regardless if it’s same or opposite sex. Tbh I feel very confused. What I’ve noticed here on Tumblr is that the only ones who sees it for what it is (rape) are Muslim lgbt

The understanding that the People of Lot’s chief sin was homosexuality comes from the Quran. In the places where their sins are mentioned, the main one is clearly stated as homosexual acts:

54. And Lot, when he said to his people, “Do you commit vile obscenity in full awareness?

55. Do you approach men sexually instead of women? You are truly ignorant people.”

56. But the only response of his people was to say, “Expel the family of Lot from your town. They are purist people.” (The Quran, verses 27:54-56)

And in other chapter:

80. And Lot, when he said to his people, “Do you commit vile obscenity no people anywhere have ever committed before you?”

81. “You approach men sexually rather than women. You are an excessive people.”

82. And his people’s only answer was to say, “Expel them from your town; they are purist people.” (The Quran, verses 7:80-82)

The above two passages do not mention anything about rape or other crimes they may have committed. Prophet Lot’s main criticism of them them is that they “approach men sexually”.

This third passage expands on their sins:

28. And Lot, when he said to his people, “You are committing a vile obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in the whole world.

29. You approach men sexually, and cut off the way, and commit vile obscenity in your gatherings.” But the only response from his people was to say, “Bring upon us God’s punishment, if you are truthful.” (The Quran, verses 29:28-29)

If you do a fair-minded reading of the Quran, you cannot escape the conclusion that the vile obscenity referred to is the fact that they were men who had sex with other men. A strong piece of evidence in this regard is the verse you referred to:

And his people came rushing towards him—they were in the habit of committing sins. He said, “O my people, these are my daughters; they are purer for you. So fear God, and do not embarrass me before my guests. Is there not one reasonable man among you?” (The Quran, verse 11:78)

Most interpreters give this verse and similar ones a polite reading, saying that Lot is offering to marry his daughters to them. The Quran mentions that it was the people of the town who had come to rape the men in his house, so even if he had 10 daughters, they would likely not have sufficed for the town men. What Lot is actually saying is that if you are going to violate us, do it to my daughters, since this is less evil than doing it to my male guests.

This will naturally sound shocking to a modern reader, since our thinking is based on the rights of individuals. Lot’s thinking, however, is that ordinary male-female rape is one type of crime, and sex between males is a different, and far more serious crime, because it is a premeditated insult against God (not just against the rights of other people), it is similar to defacing a sacred place (such as a mosque or church).

In other words, Lot is not thinking of this issue from the point of view of humans. He is thinking of it from God’s point of view. He thinks that God may forgive rape, but that He may not forgive being insulted.

Note that the angels tell Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) that they have been commanded to destroy Lot’s people before they actually enter Lot’s city. So their destruction is not something decided on the spur of the moment by God for trying to rape these male-like angels, their destruction had been decreed before the angels enter the city (The Quran, verses 51:32 and after). It is true that Lot’s people are rapists, but since the Quran’s main criticism of these people centers around the fact that “they approach men sexually instead of women”, it is natural to conclude that they were destroyed for this, rather than for rape alone.

The obvious conclusion is that they were destroyed for consensual homosexual sex, rather than for rape. I know that there is a strong desire to interpret these verses as saying the destruction was due to rape, but this is a very far-fetched interpretation, especially if you take into account the fact that Lot offers his daughters to these rapists. He gives preference to this crime against his daughters over what he considers to be the far more serious crime against God and His honor.

I am aware that gender identity issues exist and I have every sympathy for a person who feels they were born into the wrong sex or who feel that they do not fit into the traditionally accepted roles that society determines for them. Islam does not say that these issues do not exist; it says that one should give preference to God’s laws as opposed to their own personal fulfillment, because God has the best interests of humanity at heart. It is true that psychology and genetics plays a part in making a person homosexual, but this does not make it OK. I explain the reasons why in detail in my essay On Islam, Homosexuality and Homosexual Muslims.

Dealing with sexist hadith narrations as a woman

There are endless of hadiths that ridicules us woman. That says that we aren’t rational, intellectual etc. Many of them are of sahih. For instance the hadith in which asmaa bint Yazid was talking to the prophet sws and he and his companions were amazed that a woman could express herself as she did (which means that they normally doubt woman’s intellect). Then you got the straightforward ones that says woman are stupid, inferior etc…

Our conceptualization of Islam comes from the Quran. The Quran is our program and our guide in life, and it doesn’t contain any of the things you describe.

As for hadith, hadith exists on a second tier, it is there to provide us with an example of the Prophet’s efforts to follow the Quran. Everything in hadith is considered z̧anni, meaning of doubtful certitude. Imam Malik and Abu Hanifa recommend skepticism toward hadith, including authentic ones, whenever they deviate from the Quran or from well-established practices of the Sunna. Therefore, for example, Imam Malik refuses to act by various hadith narrations even though they were considered authentic, because the narrations go against the well-established practices of the people of Medina (see The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta’ and Madinan Amal by Yasin Dutton).

Imam al-Bukhari himself rejects an authentic hadith because it contains a prophesy that does not come true (the Prophet peace be upon him says this thing will happen, but 200 years have passed and it has not happened, so al-Bukhari concludes the hadith is false). For more examples of scholars rejecting authentic narrations see the (freely available) paper How We Know Early Ḥadīth Critics Did Matn Criticism and Why It’s So Hard to Find by Jonathan Brown.

There is an authentic narration (in Sahih Muslim) that says if a woman, black dog or donkey passes in front of a person praying, their prayer is invalidated. In a different narration, also in Sahih Muslim, it is recorded that when Aisha (wife of the Prophet peace be upon him), may God have mercy on her, hears this hadith (this is after the Prophet’s death), she angrily retorts “You have compared us to dogs!” Instead of sitting quietly and accepting the hadith, she challenges it because she finds it ridiculous and insulting.

You can do the same. Instead of submitting to other people’s visions about what Islam should be, do your own research and build your own vision of Islam based on a wide variety of sources. If someone uses some random hadith to belittle you, challenge them using the Quran’s principles, or research the hadith and you will usually find that there are other hadith narrations that contradict it.

It is permissible to celebrate Mawlid of the Prophet ﷺ

Neither rasool Allah pbuh, nor the companions, nooooor the predecessors congratulated for Mawlid ! Bidaaaaah bro, bidaah

What you are saying is based on the idea (mostly propounded by Wahhabis) that any type of worship or Islamic celebration that was not performed by the early Muslims is automatically an evil and forbidden thing. People who disagree with the Wahhabis and believe that celebrating the Mawlid is acceptable include: Yusuf al-Qaradawi (al-Azhar scholar), Imam al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, al-Suyuti, Muhammad al-Hadhrami (Shafi`i jurist), Sadr al-Din al-Jazari (Shafi`i jurist).

I don’t celebrate the Prophet’s birthday myself ﷺ, but since some people enjoy it and get something out of it, I have no problem with them doing it. They have a desire to feel close to the Prophet and the mawlid celebrations fulfill that desire for them, and as the above list of scholars should show, there is no consensus on forbidding such celebrations. You are free to not celebrate it yourself, but you have no right to ruin it for others. If someone says mawlid mubarak, it is politeness to reply to them in the same kind.

“I always feel depressed. What should I do?”

I always feel depressed. What should I do?

Depression could be due to physiological causes (high blood sugar, for example), or life situation, or mental/psychological problems. There are also conditions like bipolar which cause recurring episodes of depression without end, and the person has to do their best to cope.

If possible, you should get medical hope, maybe the cause of your depression is curable or manageable.

As for the Islamic/spiritual side, please see my article God and depression.

House husbands in Islam

/ No Comments on House husbands in Islam

Your thoughts on House Husbands? I read that it is Haraam, unless the husband faces health difficulties, but then Islam is a religion that emphasized on “niaat”, so what if they both agree to let the wife to be the breadwinner, and it wasn’t a decision made because the husband is simply lazy?

I do not know of any clear Islamic principle that would forbid that. For example the wife may get a very good job while the husband stays at home to work on some project that does not earn him any immediate income, such as writing or scholarly research.

I guess those who oppose such arrangements fear that society will come crumbling down if every single husband decided to stay at home. But in reality the vast majority of men will not be content to stay at home, they will want to work regardless of religious considerations, so I don’t consider their critique valid, since it is based on an invalid slippery slope argument. Not all slippery slope arguments are invalid, but this one is, because it ignores the very important fact that men are genetically programmed to seek to gain wealth and status, and for most men this means they have a strong desire to work. So allowing men to be house husbands will not affect the fact that the majority of men will not want such a lifestyle.

How to pray on an airplane when you do not know the qibla

How do we actually perform our salah in the airplane without knowing the qibla?

You can pray in your seat facing directly ahead, since it is often difficult and inconvenient to pray out of the seat. And if it is possible and convenient, you can face in the direction of the qibla if you can determine where you are on the globe (some airplanes have a screen that shows your current location). If you know where you are, you’d face in the general direction of Mecca from that location.

Source: Ibn Baaz, fatwa 6293.

 

Should Islam and politics mix or not?

I am a Muslim but my personal opinion is that politics and Islam shouldn’t mix. The living examples of this are Muslim countries. I am not saying by any means that democracy is better, God knows how many people have died in the name of secular democracy. Although I know that the original intention and purpose were to stop corruption but this has bred more corruption and ignorance and hate etc. I am not a modernist that think we need to re-interpret what Allah perfected for us nor am I putting(1)

myself in a position in which I think I know better than Allah SWT. I’m just saying that clerics are getting enormous money in KSA to issue their own made up fatwas that cause corruption,that they are following weak hadith on purpose and that they try to deprive certain people of their rights in society. The shia sunni conflict has been going on for centuries and arab-arab &muslim-muslim & government-civilian Muslim war still hasn’t ceased because of disagreement. (2)

(3) muslims still want a Muslim government, and so much blood has been spilt over this and no one uses their minds nor can they think critically. Whoever speaks up against this gets called an apostate. I don’t know really if apostaty is a muslim thing or not because( some muslim intellectuals have opposed this but scholars are pro- apostasy law) but it sounds like a political tool to keep the government still operating and under control. (3)

myself in a position in which I think I know better than Allah SWT. I’m just saying that clerics are getting enormous money in KSA to issue their own made up fatwas that cause corruption,that they are following weak hadith on purpose and that they try to deprive certain people of their rights in society. The shia sunni conflict has been going on for centuries and arab-arab &muslim-muslim & government-civilian Muslim war still hasn’t ceased because of disagreement. (2)

(3) muslims still want a Muslim government, and so much blood has been spilt over this and no one uses their minds nor can they think critically. Whoever speaks up against this gets called an apostate. I don’t know really if apostaty is a muslim thing or not because( some muslim intellectuals have opposed this but scholars are pro- apostasy law) but it sounds like a political tool to keep the government still operating and under control. (3)

I am against seeking power in the name of Islam the way Islamist political parties do. I explain the problems with political Islam in my essay The Last Mufti of Iranian Kurdistan (And a Critique of Political Islam).

A government is just a tool for ensuring the good of the people and the Quran does not provide any clear indications for what type of government is best or most “Islamic”. The most “Islamic” government is the one that best reflects the Quranic ideals of justice and mercy regardless of its structure (whether it is a good king in charge or a parliament).

This does not mean that Islam should have no role in government. Islam will always have a role, since its teachings will affect the thinking and behavior of Muslims who are involved with politics and law-making. The secular “morality” of American diplomacy allows the United States to spy on its closest allies and stab them in the back wherever it fits its interests. If more Muslims become involved with American politics, then their morality will affect American politics so that the government may start to act less like a barbarian savage and more like a civilized human who respects other humans.

In my view there is no conflict between Islam and democracy. If the majority of the people of the country are Muslim, they can democratically vote for the inclusion of more Islamic ideas into their politics and laws. This is what the Quran teaches, that the state of the government reflects the state of the people; if the people are greedy and selfish, their government will be like that too, and if the people are good and honorable, their government will be too. A large government like that of the United States needs the help of millions of its citizens to function. It is through the involvement of millions of ordinary Americans that the United States government gets away with destroying and bombing country after country. If these Americans had the moral courage of their ancestors, they would have refused to support their government and their politicians in these acts. But they would rather keep their comfortable jobs rather than take risks with their finances and lives. And in this way everyone’s moral cowardice is reflected in their government.

Now, since so many people hunger for power, there are Muslims who think that the best way to manage a country is for them to gain power in the name of Islam and force their ideas on everyone else. This is never going to work, Islam is not meant to be forced on people. These people think that “we will seize power then do good with it” while what Islam teaches is to do good right now and leave power to God. The Prophet ﷺ did not seize power, he was invited by the people of Medina to become their ruler and law-maker. He was very much democratically elected to become the ruler and he lived up to this role by managing and defending his new country.

I am not saying that Muslims should be docile sheep who let their governments do whatever they want. I fully support political activism by Muslims, such as through critiquing their governments and politicians. What I am against is seeking power in the name of Islam. One can do all kinds of political activism without seeking power. I am also not against individual Muslims being involved with politics, that’s their own personal business. What I am against is Muslims banding together to gain power in the name of Islam, this always leads to more evil than good, as I describe in the essay linked above.

The proper way to approach hadith with its many contradictory and pseudo-scientific claims

I hope you are doing well. I have a question regarding hadith. When it comes to Quran we know the verse is true however there might be a different interpretation, this is difficult to know the most true interpretation. When it comes to hadith it’s even harder. The majority says go for sahih but even with sahih you find contradictions and pseudo-scientific claims. How should we do to read hadiths?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

When dealing with hadith you have to take what is known as epistemological grading into account. All hadith narrations are dhanni al-dalalah, meaning that they are of doubtful reliability when it comes to establishing any fact of law or ritual in Islam. It is only when you combine authentic narrations from various sources that you reach something that approaches certainty.

What this means is that when it comes to the vast majority of (authentic) hadith, it is the practice of scholars to not treat them as established fact, but as probable pointers to the truth. When you hear a hadith that sounds ridiculous and unreasonable, you are not required to believe in it, you can withhold judgment and study the matter more deeply and you will often find other hadith narrations that go against it.

My solution to this confusion of sources and opinions is what I call Quran-focused Islam. For any topic under discussion, we build a Quran model for it (a view of the topic that solely derived from the Quran), then we build a hadith model (a view of the topic derived from hadith), then we compare the two, and in cases of conflict and contradiction, we give preference to the Quran’s opinion over the opinion of hadith.

The above process effortlessly solves almost everything that is wrong with Islamic thinking today. Some hadith narrations seem to recommend killing people who leave Islam, while the Quran guarantees religious freedom. So we give preference to the Quran. Hadith narrations support slavery, but the Quran is neutral on the matter and gives us the freedom to ban it, so we do so. Hadith narrations consider Christians and Jews “infidels” who will go to Hell, but the Quran says they will go to Paradise, therefore we give preference to the Quran’s view. I explain these issues in detail in my essay Quran-Focused Islam: A Rationalist, Always-Modern and Orthodox Alternative to Salafism.

And if a hadith says something that is clearly against science, feel free to reject that hadith. An important issue with the science of hadith is that the criteria used for judging the authenticity of hadtih narrations are very strict for legal hadith narrations (hadiths that have something to do with the practice of Islamic law), while they are lax when dealing with non-legal narrations. This means that a law-related “authentic” narration is generally far more “authentic” than a non-legal “authentic” hadith narration.

For more details on these issues please see Jonathan Brown’s book Misquoting Muhammad.  And if you have the time and energy to read it, his other book The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim explains in detail how at the beginning it was common to question the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim until the collections were slowly canonized so that skepticism toward them was made politically incorrect.

Another interesting read is professor Yasin Dutton’s The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta and Madinan Amal where he explains in detail how Imam Malik reserved the right to question and even reject authentic hadith narrations in his legal reasoning. An even better read is Shaykh Umar Faruq Abdullah’s Malik and Medina if you have $269 to spend on a book.

What to do if you cannot read the Quran very well

I want to read the Qur’an to get hasanat but my Arabic is bad and I might read wrong and I don’t understand most of what I’m reading. What can I do?

You can listen to it from beginning to end many times, in this way you will get used to its proper reading. Afterwards you can start reading along while listening to it, and in this way you reading may improve.

Some people (including many jurists) say that listening to it does not bring the same rewards as reading, but there is no clear evidence for this opinion. Personally I prefer to listen to it with the voice of Mishary al-Afasi. I use an audiobook listening android app (Listen Audiobook Player) that keeps track of my place. It also allows me to speed up the recitation, I generally listen to it at 2.5x speed since this is the most comfortable for me.

As for improving your Arabic comprehension, that requires hundreds of hours of practice. One way you could do it is by using a book of Quran that has the Arabic and the English side by side, in that way you could read one Arabic sentence, then reading the English translation, then read the next sentence. In this way your brain will pick up the meanings of the words even if you do not formally try to memorize the meanings.

Who goes to hell in Islam?

First of all I want to thank you for all the effort you make on this blog clearing up misconceptions etc. May Allah SWT reward you. I’m wondering whether it’s true that all non-muslims count as kafir. Many Muslims have told me this but it sounds like a logical fallacy to me. If they don’t know that Islam is the true religion then why should they be punished.

The most logical explanation I’ve heard so far is from NAK. He said that kafir were people who got Islam in it’s pure form, knew it made sense , had prophets coming to them, knew the scriptures, and knew it was part of their fitrah yet chose to not follow it. This explanation makes much more sense than that Muslims will get paradise and non-muslims hell. However many are criticising this view and saying that it goes against the scholar consensus. Could you explain the issue better.

Please see the section “A Clarification on Kufr (Disbelief / Infidelity) and God’s Justice” in my essay God, Evolution and Abiogenesis. I also deal with this question in my essay Quran-Focused Islam.

In short, the Quranic view is that kufr refers to rejecting God while having the capacity to believe in Him. In other words, committing kufr is an act against one’s own conscience. The person believes in God and in the truth of the religion that has been presented to them, but they reject it out of greed, hatred, selfishness and other motivations. I haven’t studied NAK’s view but from what you described it appears that he has the same view as the one I described.

The purpose of hijab in Islam

So recently, I found out about the Quran being vague about the hijab. This person was saying many scholars argue that it’s left vague so that it can fit into any culture. But I heard many sheikhs say that it’s haram to not wear the hijab, even if it’s uncommon in your society.I don’t have any problems with my hijab, but my parents more or less force me to wear maxi skirts and dresses, which makes me sad because I end up being a cast out at school

I’m an extremely shy person and I don’t wish to be so ‘different’ that I end up on the foreground. I don’t want to wear any skinny jeans or anything but I wish I could wear loose trousers because almost all hijabis at my school do that. And sometimes, I get the question why I always wear skirts and I don’t know what to answer since it’s something from my parents. Personally, I think it’s something cultural because it’s worn a lot in my home country. Could you tell me more about this?

(Part 2)I’m an extremely shy person and I don’t wish to be so ‘different’ that I end up on the foreground. I don’t want to wear any skinny jeans or anything but I wish I could wear loose trousers because almost all hijabis at my school do that. And sometimes, I get the question why I always wear skirts and I don’t know what to answer since it’s something from my parents. Personally, I think it’s something cultural because it’s worn a lot in my home country. Could you tell me more about this?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are many differing ways of interpreting the Islamic texts (Quran, hadith and post-Prophetic reports) on the issue of hijab. The two verses on hijab in the Quran are:

And say to the female believers to lower their gaze, and preserve their private parts, and not display their adornment except such as is outward, and let them fix closely their head-coverings over their bosoms… (The Quran, verse 24:31)

O you Prophet, say to your spouses and your daughters and the women of believers, that they draw their outer garments closer to them; that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognized and so will not be hurt. And Allah has been Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful. (The Quran, verse 33:59)

These two verses define the hijab the way it is worn throughout the Islamic world. The first one mentions a “head-covering”, therefore we know from that that hijab involves covering the head, and it also mentions that the head-covering should cover the chest, therefore the image of hijab that we get is a head-covering that is large enough to be wrapped in a way that also covers the neck and chest. The part that says “not display their adornment except such as is outward” provides a great room for maneuvering, allowing women to wear various styles of dress as long as it includes hijab and it is considered modest and appropriate by the Muslim society around them.

The second verse provides the rationale behind the Islamic dress code. According to Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s commentary on the Quran, where it says “that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognized”, it means that women dressed as such will be likely to be recognized as modest, i.e. as women who are not interested in flirtation and being admired by men.

If you look at the way nuns dress, the meaning of this verse becomes very clear. When men see nuns, they immediately know that these are women who should not be approached or admired as sex objects. Even the most rude and lecherous men often become quiet and respectful when faced with a nun. Hijab is meant to do the same for Muslim women, signalling to such men that these are women who are not interesting in being sexually admired or flirted with.

Some say that it is “unfair” that Islam puts the burden on women to dress modestly instead of asking men to stop looking. That’s a typically simple-minded understanding of Islam. Islam does ask men to “lower their graze”, and looking at the context of the second verse above, you see that the hijab is not intended for the benefit of devout Muslim men, but for the benefit of irreligious and lecherous men who are found in all societies. The verse after 33:59 says:

If the hypocrites, the sick at heart, and those who spread lies in the city do not desist, We shall rouse you [Prophet] against them, and then they will only be your neighbours in this city for a short while. (33:60)

It was these “hypocrites, the sick at heart” who were sexually harassing Muslim women. As it is mentioned in hadith narrations, some Muslim women did not use to wear hijab (this included some of the Prophet’s wives), and the Muslim men had no problem with this nor did they harass them. But once the irreligious hypocrites in Medina started the harassment, these verses came down to deal with them, telling the Muslim women to dress in a way that would cause such men to ignore them.

As for wearing loose trousers, there is no issue with it as long as it is part of a modest costume that does not hug your body tightly. The point is to dress in such a way that does not attract admiring glances from men.

While some Muslims are very harsh and strict about hijab, the Quran only dedicates two verses to it and never mentions any punishment or threats toward women who do not wear hijab. The command to wear hijab is softened by other verses like:

And fear God to the best of your ability… (The Quran, verse 64:16)

While it is very easy for some women to wear hijab, for others it can be very difficult. The Quran contains many commandments that many Muslims do not follow fully, such as the command to provide income for one’s close relatives. Hijab is obligatory, but we are not meant to force religion on people, and people should be free to choose to wear it if and when they are ready for it, they way they are free to choose to start taking care of their close relatives.

Most people judge things by appearances, so it will always be a fact that many Muslims will not consider a woman really Muslim until she wears hijab. Similarly it is seen that in democratic countries people vote for the politicians that belong to their own race without caring about the politician’s principles. It is only more intelligent and better educated people who can go beyond appearances.

The Indo-Europeanization of the Abbasid Caliphate

It is easy to think that the Abbasid caliphate was an “Arab” empire. The emperors themselves were proud to trace their lineage back to Abbas, uncle of Prophet Muhammad. Yet within 150 years of its founding, Arab genes made up less than 1% of the genetic makeup of the emperors, and this remained so until the very end.

The first significant emperor with Indo-European genes was the half-Persian al-Ma’mun, who had his capital at the Persian city of Merv in Central Asia for ten years before moving to Baghdad. During his reign a trend started for preferring Greek and Persian concubines for producing the next generation of emperors, so that the amount of Arab genes declined to insignificant amounts. Al-Muqtadir, who reigned from 908 – 929 CE was 99.38% Indo-European.

It can be seen from the table below that the Abbasid caliphate was an Arab empire at its beginning, transformed into an Indo-European empire (with four successive emperors having 97%+ Indo-European genes!) during its Golden Age, then started to increasingly mix with Turkic genes during its decline.

Reign Name Father Mother Race Indo-European Percentage*
750 – 754 Al-Saffah Muhammad (Arab) Raita (Arab) 100% Arab 0%
754 – 775 Al-Mansur Muhammad b. Ali (Arab) Sallamah (Berber slave) 50% Arab, 50% Berber 0%
775 – 785 Al-Mahdi Al-Mansur Arwi (Yemeni Arab) 75% Arab, 25% Berber 0%
786 – 809 Harun al-Rashid Al-Mahdi Al-Khayzuran (Arab slave) 87.5% Arab, 12.5 Berber 0%
813 – 833 Al-Ma’mun Harun al-Rashid Marajil (Persian slave) 50% Persian, 43.75% Arab, 6.25% Berber 50%
833 – 842 Al-Mu’tasim Harun al-Rashid Marida (Turkic slave) 50% Turkic, 25% Persian,  21.875% Arab, 3.125 Berber 25%
842 – 847 Al-Wathiq Al-Mu’tasim Qaratis (Byzantine Greek slave) 50% Greek, 12.5% Persian, 10.9375% Arab, 1.5625% Berber 62.5%
847 – 861 Al-Mutawakkil Al-Mu’tasim Shuja (Persian slave) 56.25% Persian, 25% Greek, 5.46875% Arab, 0.78125% Berber 81.25%
870 – 892 Al-Mu’tamid Al-Mutawakkil Fityan (Persian slave) 78.125% Persian, 12.5 Greek, 2.734375% Arab, 0.390625% Berber 90.625%
892 – 902 Al-Mu’tadid al-Muwaffaq, son of Al-Mutawakkil and Umm Ishaq, a Greek slave. Race: 56.25% Greek, 39.0625% Persian, 1.3671875% Arab, 0.1953125% Berber) Dirar (Greek slave) 78.125 Greek, 19.53125% Persian, 0.68359375% Arab, 0.09765625% Berber 97.655%
902-908 Al-Muktafi Al-Mu’tadid Jijak (Greek slave) 89% Greek, 9.7% Persian, 0.34% Arab, 0.04% Berber 98%
908 – 929 Al-Muqtadir Al-Mu’tadid Shaghab (Greek slave) 94.5% Greek, 4.88% Persian, 0.17% Arab, 0.02% Berber 98%
946 – 974 Al-Muti Al-Muqtadir Slavic slave 50% Slavic, 47.26% Greek, 2.44% Persian, 0.08% Arab, 0.01% Berber 98%
974 – 991 Al-Ta’i Al-Muti’ Unknown 50% Unknown, 25% Slavic, 23.6% Greek, 1.22% Persian 49.82%
991 – 1031 Al-Qadir Al-Muttaqi, son of al-Muqtadir. Race: 50% Unknown, 47.2% Greek, 2.44% Persian, 0.08% Arab Slave of uknown origin 75% Unknown, 23.6% Greek, 1.2% Persian (Al-Qadir is described as being “white” in history books, therefore it is likely that his mother was Greek or Persian) 24.8%
1031 – 1075 Al-Qa’im Al-Qadir Badr al-Daji (Armenian slave) 50% Armenian, 37.5% Unknown, 11.8% Greek, 0.6% Persian 62.4%
1075 – 1094 Al-Muqtadi Al-Qa’im Urjuman (Armenian slave) 75% Armenian, 18.75% Unknown, 5.9% Greek 80.9%
1094 – 1118 Al-Mustazhir Al-Muqtadi Altun Khatun (Turkic woman, prob. Seljuk princess) 50% Turkic, 37.5 Armenian, 9% Unknown, 2.95% Greek 40.45%
1118 – 1135 Al-Mustarshid Al-Mustazhir Kumush Khatun (Turkic woman, probably Seljuk princess) 75% Turkic, 18.75% Armenian, 4.8% Unknown, 1.47% Greek 20.22%
1136 – 1159 Al-Muqtafi Al-Mustazhir Fatima Khatun (Turkic woman, probably Seljuk princess) 87.5% Turkic, 9.375% Armenian, 2.34% Unknown, 0.73% Greek 10.1%
1160 – 1170 Al-Mustanjid Al-Muqtafi Tawus (“Thawus”) al-Karaji, slave (Most likely Persian, al-Karaji refers to the city of Karaj in Iran in Medieval last names) 50.019% Persian, 43.75% Turkic, 4.68% Armenian, 1.1% Unknown, 0.3% Greek 55%
1170 – 1180 Al-Mustadi Al-Mustanjid Ghaddah (Armenian slave) 52.3% Armenian, 25% Persian, 21.8% Turkic 77.3%
1180 – 1225 Al-Nasir Al-Mustadi Zumurrud (Turkic slave) 60.9% Turkic, 26.1% Armenian, 12.5% Persian 38.6%
1226 – 1242 Al-Mustansir Az-Zahir, son of al-Nasir and unknown mother. Race: 50.14% Unknown, 30.4% Turkic, 13.08% Armenian, 6.25% Persian) Turk Khatun (Turkic slave) 65.2% Turkic, 25% Unknown, 6.5% Armenian, 3.1% Persian 9.6%
1242 – 1258 Al-Mustansir Al-Mustansir Concubine of unknown origin 62.5% Unknown, 32.6% Turkic, 3.2% Armenian, 1.5% Persian 4.7%

Sources: Wikipedia, The Slave Girls of Baghdad by F. Matthew Caswell, Islam in History by Bernard Lewis, Islamic Culture, Volume 2 (1928), various Arabic-language sources.

The table omits emperors who ruled for very short periods of time and/or who did not contribute to the genes of succeeding emperors.

* The values in this column are capped to 98%: Due to the fact that the Y-chromosome can only be inherited from one’s male relatives, and due to the fact that it makes up 2% of the genome, the Y-chromosome of the emperors would have been necessarily Arab, and therefore their percentage “Arab-ness” couldn’t have fallen below 2%, so that the most Indo-European that an Abbasid emperor could be would have been 98% realistically.

On the Christianness of the non-Christian origins of Christmas

It feels good to be clever and edgy, so everywhere people can be found who pleasure themselves by pointing out that Christmas is not really “Christian” or that the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday was not done by early Muslims so it is not really “Islamic” and so on and so forth.

The fact that Christmas shares much of its symbology with pre-Christian religions does not in any way take away from it is Christianness. All of these symbols can be thought of as remnants of religions that were originally religions of some of God’s prophets that were changed over time, or as celebrations of natural human desires for growth, rebirth, renewal and light. There is absolutely nothing wrong with merging all of these symbols together and giving it a Christian meaning. What matters is whether Christians find in such symbols meaning and satisfaction.

Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers had probably never seen a dome in their lives, yet today domes are a central feature of Islamic architecture. Feel free to keep pointing out that domes were originally taken from non-Muslim Persians, the point remains is that today Muslims find domes pretty, familiar and useful parts of their culture, therefore they are Islamic. In the same way, if Christians today find the Christmas tree and related items pretty, familiar and useful parts of their culture, then these are very much Christian. Saying they are not Christian is like saying that the paper the Bible is printed on is “secular”, or that the alphabet they use was taken from pagan Romans, therefore we should make fun of Christians for reading a book printed on secular paper in pagan Roman letters.

If it feels meaningfully Christian to Christians, then it is Christian.

It is permissible for Muslims to say “Merry Christmas” to non-Muslims

Hi. So I was wondering if it’s okay for us as Moslems to say “Merry christmas” to our Christian friends. There’s a lot of people around me, including my parents, who told me to not say it because it’s haram. If it’s not okay, how do we explain it to our Christian friends without offending them?

It is perfectly fine to say “merry Christmas” to non-Muslims. The Quran does not forbid us from being kind and civil to non-Muslims, and there is no clear evidence in the Quran or the sunnah to forbid such greetings.

Source: European Council for Fatwa and Research (which includes the famous scholars Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Abdullah bin Bayyah).

Answer from a reader:

“Congratulating (on Christmas) is worse of a sin than congratulating drinking alcohol, killing, zina etc.” Ibn al Qayyim| Al Ahkaam Ahl Al Dimmah (1/441)

We worship God, not Ibn al-Qayyim and Ibn Taymiyyah (who are the main inspiration for today’s Wahhabis). To Wahhabis, non-Muslims are not really humans, so all of our interactions with them should be done through the lens of power and politics. Any kindness shown to non-Muslims (and to Muslims who disagree with Wahhabism) is a way of “supporting the enemy”.

Thankfully only a tiny minority of Muslims follow that way of thinking. The way of thinking of ordinary Muslims, who number in the hundreds of millions, is that all humans are worthy, and that it is perfectly possible to have a close relationship with a non-Muslim. We are humans guided by Islam, we are not robots programmed to view everything through some dim-witted and hateful ideology that considers all humans enemies until proven otherwise.

Wishing a Christian a merry Christmas is a way of saying that despite our differences, we recognize worth in these people and wish that they have a good time. This is of course unacceptable to Wahhabis, since to them Christians are “infidels” who are worthless. Wahhabis, exactly like Marxists, neo-Marxists and radical feminists, do not believe in the transcendent worth of human life, to them if you disagree with them, you are a non-human who deserves to die. I explain this in detail in my essay The Psychology of Radical Leftists: GamerGate, SJWs and the War on Post-Modernism.

As for those of us with some common sense and conscience, we read the Quran and are guided by its ethics, and we see that it leaves the door wide open for us to act according to the intellect and conscience in most scenarios, so that we have a million choices in how we interact with non-Muslims as long as no evil is involved.

So the difference is not about whether we follow Islam or not. It is about whether we see the world through the lens of a rigid and inhuman ideology that has zero empathy for fellow humans, or through a Quran-guided humanism that is kind and understanding toward everyone. I do not go out of my way to say “merry Christmas”, but if a situation requires it, then I have no problem with saying it. It is a very small act of respect that barely matters in the big scheme of things–if you have an intelligent understanding of Islam.

As for a Wahhabi, being a normal human with common sense and conscience is unacceptable, since one is instead always required to follow the Wahhabi party line on everything (the same is expected of Marxists and neo-Marxists).

To me and many other Muslims the acceptability of saying “merry Christmas” when needed is so obvious as to not be worth talking about. If the Quran allows it, if there is no clear command of the Prophet ﷺ forbidding it, and if my intellect and conscience have no problem with it, then it is not your business or the business of any cleric to tell me I cannot say it.

Question from a reader:

is it fine if muslims give christmas presents to christian friends with the intention of giving them a little treat of kindness (not exchanging gifts)?

According to Dr. Abdul Sattar Fathullah Saeed (professor of tafseer and the Quranic sciences at al-Azhar University) it is acceptable to give presents when congratulating Christians on their holidays, since there is nothing in the Islamic texts to prohibit this.

What is prohibited is taking part in the celebrations as if you yourself are a Christian, such as attending church on Christmas Eve.

Source: Islamonline.net

Question from a reader:

I don’t want to come of as rude but wishing someone a merry Christmas while knowing its based on a pagan belief that has been bent to fit the Christian standards as a Muslim that knows that its illogical to say them to have a lot of fun sinning.If someone tells you happy holidays and you reply with you too or something is another thing. But in my opinion you shouldn’t start it. Not congratulating a celebration we don’t celebrate isn’t rude. Its not our religion,so we should act as every other day

It very much depends on context. A Muslim convert to Islam who still lives with his or her non-Muslim family can set a good tone on Christmas day by saying “merry Christmas” to his/her family. There are circumstances where a Muslim is moved by some feeling to say “merry Christmas” to a non-Muslim, Wahhabis will say that is a sin since to them the personal is always political, I am saying that it is not a sin and that it is a matter of personal choice.

If for you it would be strange to say “merry Christmas” because you do not live in such a context, then it is perfectly fine for you not to say it. The point is that instead of holding to a rigid “it is haram” line, a Muslim can instead use their own judgment to decide if it is appropriate to say it.

I agree with you that in most cases a Muslim can simply say “you too” and that would be the end of it.

Jordan Peterson causes a tripling of interest in The Gulag Archipelago

It has been just a little over a year that Jordan Peterson gained fame from his opposition to a Canadian compelled-speech law (Bill C-16). One of the topics he keeps coming back to is the evil done in the Soviet Union (to the chagrin of so many neo-Marxist leftists), and he often recommends that people read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Google Trends shows that just as Peterson’s fame took off in November 2016, interest in The Gulag Archipelago increased by a factor of around 3.5 and has remained high since.

And in case you thought this may be accidental, Google Trends suggests “Jordan Peterson” as one of the related topics and queries for The Gulag Archipelago, which shows that there is a high correlation between searches for The Gulag Archipelago and searches for Peterson:

This is something to be slightly happy about since reading The Gulag Archipelago should inculcate people with some revulsion for Marxism and its latter day mutations, although the effect is probably still quite small.

The cancer of valorization

I am reading the late Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam?, and I keep running into the modern abomination that is the word “to valorize” (meaning: “to assign higher value to something”).

The word is an expression, a manifestation, a condensation of everything that is rotten, scummy, hollow and dead boring about today’s humanities departments. It is no surprise that the usage of the word has increased by a factor of ten since 1974, just as the postmodernist infestation took root.

For those not in the know, the word “to valorize” takes the postmodernist (and Voldemortian) principle that “there is only power and those too weak to seek it” for granted, acting as if all human ideas about value are nothing but sociological expressions of a desire to maintain a certain power structure at the expense of others. If you think that Western civilization has value or is superior to any other civilization, it is not because you as an intelligent, rational and worthy human have found this civilization worthy, it is because you are a member of a power structure that benefits from considering Western civilization worthy and enjoys stamping on other civilizations. If you complain that this is unfair, you are wrong, since the first law of postmodernism is that “the postmodernists always know”, similar to how Lord Voldemort likes to say “Lord Voldemort always knows.”

Of course, Ahmed is not necessarily upholding such principles in their entirety. Perhaps by seeing postmodernism upheld everywhere he looked at Harvard, he started to consider its tenets scientific fact, similar to Newton’s Laws of Gravitation.

Dealing with abusive parents in Islam

What has made my emaan weaker is that I became traumatisied from a bad childhood. My parents played part in this. Sometimes they used islam against me to manipullate me. Also I wasn’t allowed to get help, and my mom labelled my depression as kufr, which made me feel bad and try to suppress the despair . All scholars and everything I’ve read is about parental rights, and that it is a huge sin (akbar kabair) to cut family ties. I am not an adult and much better but I still want distance from them

Do not let other people’s mistakes affect your relationship with God. Read the Quran as if it was sent down to you personally, and follow its teachings and philosophy wherever you can in your life. If people misuse Islam to attack you, ignore it, knowing that God is better than them.

Regarding cutting family ties, that refers to treating family members as strangers, i.e. permanent estrangement where a child treats their disliked parent as if there is no relationship between them.

If your parents mistreat you, you have the right to keep your distance. What you do not have the right to do is cut off your relationship with them completely. Remain in their lives, help them where necessary, and be dutiful as much as you can, Islam doesn’t ask you to do more than this, it does not ask you to subject yourself to them if they constantly mistreat and humiliate you. Both you and your parents have your human rights, and if they neglect your human rights, they have sinned.

“Am I a fake Muslim if I feel guilty at what other Muslims are doing?”

I feel guilty sometimes because I feel because I’m muslim I am responsible for the bad acts of Muslims. Because a lot of muslims do sometimes bad stuff and justify them with Islam. Can I be a Muslim and not think or agree with them? I don’t want to be seen as someone who’s a fake Muslim because I don’t agree on all bad acts and geo-polical issues that are done in the name of Islam.

That’s understandable. It is similar to how some Americans feel guilt at the actions of other Americans or the US government, even though they themselves do not have anything to do with those actions.

The majority of Muslims have rejected the beliefs and actions of those Muslims not because we are fake Muslims, but because to us religion is about doing what is right and just and kind. If a religion asks you to do something that goes against your conscience, that religion is not worth following.

We read the Quran with our intellect and conscience, we build a vision of a way of life, of a moral philosophy, that always pushes us to be the best possible humans we can be, that teaches us to aim for the highest good of humanity.

That is the religion that the majority of Muslim thinkers and intellectuals follow throughout the world. You don’t have to be a fake Muslim to believe this, this is the most authentic Islam we have, that the majority of the world follows, coming from an unbroken tradition that goes back over 1000 years. So if a tiny minority of extremists do barbaric things in the name of Islam, instead of feeling guilty about their actions, we consider them criminals, outsiders, nobodies who have nothing to do with our religion.

Islamic terrorists are in the majority of cases funded and trained by different governments and intelligence agencies for their own political purposes, as I explain in my essay Why Most Terrorists are Muslim: An Introduction to the Origins of Modern Islamic Terrorism. It is not we who are guilty. it is those who fund them and train them.

Is Salafism the correct form of Islam since it is strict?

Are Salafism the correct islam? They are strict in their islam, but does that make them more true than others?

Salafism is an oversimplification of Islam that thinks the best way to be Muslim is to re-enact history. Mainstream Islam is superior because it is more focused on moral philosophy (following the Quranic ideals of truth and justice) rather than on secondary technicalities like dress code, etc.

For a version of Islam that is far superior to Salafism, please see my essay Quran-Focused Islam.

For a discussion of how Salafism oversimplifies Islam, please see my new essay How Islam Can Adapt to the Modern World: The Persian versus the Arabian Approach to Handling Complexity.

What is the Islamic way to treat cruel and repugnant relatives?

I have relatives (we’re all Muslims) who have mercilessly beaten the poor and vulnerable, mocked and treated the poor like they’re sub-human, and just overall have vile character. As a result, I have no respect for them. I can’t help but be filled with a degree of bitterness and scorn towards them. Is that considered a flaw in my character? Islamically, how are we expected to navigate such sentiments towards people like that? How far are Muslims obligated to take their compassion and humility?

When dealing with a complex issue like that, your best guide is the Quran. The Quran does not ask you to see such situations in black-and-white terms, forcing yourself to behave a certain way even if it goes against your nature. It tells you try to follow its moral philosophy in your life while continuing to use your intellect and conscience.

Therefore if you find their behavior repulsive, the Quran does not ask to continue treating them like they are close and beloved friends. It asks you to continue being nice and just toward everyone, even those who are mean and unjust toward you. But that is the limit of it. The Quran does not invalidate your thoughts and feelings, so you are free to think of them the way you described.

Umar ibn al-Khattab may God be pleased with him gave the job of governor to someone, and this person came to visit Umar the night before his departure to the area he was supposed to govern. He saw that Umar was playing with his children, who were riding him like a horse. He expressed wonder at how the ruler of the Islamic world allowed his children to do that to him. Umar asked him how he treated his own children, and the man said that when he goes home, his children all retreat to distant corners out of fear for him. Umar immediately sacks him, saying that a man who is not merciful toward his children cannot be merciful toward the people he governs.

So you see, Umar felt free to judge that man for his treatment of his children. His thinking wasn’t that he should love his fellow Muslim brother no matter what. If he sees someone being unkind, he feels free to criticize them and even takes action against them (by firing them from their job).

Life is complicated, so it is difficult to navigate certain situations. The best thing to do is to read the Quran constantly until its moral philosophy becomes second nature to you. In this way you will be able to use its teachings and your own intellect and conscience to come up with sophisticated solutions for each problem without oversimplifying things and without ignoring your own humanity and the humanity of those around you.

Do women make up the majority of people in Hell?

I read a hadith (that’s sahih) that says the majority of people in hell are woman. Is that true?

According to the scholar Qadi Iyad, “women are the majority of humanity” (not sure how he concluded this), so that they make up the majority in both Hell and Paradise.

There is another hadith narration in which the Prophet (pbuh) says that he looked into heaven and saw that the least of its inhabitants were women. Ibn Hajar says that it is likely that one of the narrators of this hadith had heard the other narration that the majority of those in Hell are women, so they messed up this one so that it says less women would be in Paradise, mistakenly thinking that if there are more women in Hell, there would be fewer in Paradise.

There is nothing in the Quran to suggest that women are less virtuous than men or that they are more likely to enter Hell, so this is the unshakable foundation upon which our beliefs are based.

Serving God when dependent on your parents

Does offering prayer, reciting Quran and being nice to people around me complete my deen? Because I don’t have opportunities to grow more than this, I’m totally dependent on my parents. So I cannot contribute any more to improve deen. JazakAllah!

Read the Quran and follow its principles and ideals in your life, that is all you have to do. Islam doesn’t ask you to do more than you are able, we are all required to do what we can with what we have, whether we are young or old, free or in prison.

Part of being Muslim is the seeking of knowledge, therefore if you are able, you should try to read or watch lectures, whether they are about Islamic topics or anything else that may benefit you. You should never sit content with how you are but always aim higher, always trying to become better than you are now.

“Why are Muslims so judgmental? Muslim men’s expectations of women are too high.”

Why are many Muslims so close minded and judgmental. I feel like I can’t keep it up. The expectations (especially from Muslim men) is way too high. Sometimes I feel like giving up . Especially the issue of modesty etc I don’t feel like we are being given the space and time and freedom to make our decisions. I’ve gotten many cruel comments and it’s hard.

Whether the Muslims around you are judgmental or open-minded depends very much on the society and culture in which you love. I grew up among my Hawrami relatives (a Western Iranian Sunni minority) and most of the people around me were extremely kind and open-minded.

Each race and culture has its own flavor of Islam, if you find a certain Muslim demographic not to your liking, try to connect with a different one if possible.

Many British converts do not find the cultures of their mosque communities satisfying and may end up mistakenly thinking that the problem is with born Muslims vs. converts or with Middle Eastern Muslims vs. converts. The problem in reality is that each race, culture, class and personality type practices Islam in the way that makes the most sense to it. You just have to find the right people to socialize with, as I mention in my answer What to do if you cannot find interesting and like-minded Muslims to befriend.

Regarding modesty, you are right, it is that way because people judge things by culture, not by lines of scripture. If you dress in a way that is culturally inappropriate, people may condemn you even if Islam does not condemn you, and in fact you will find that devout, spiritual Muslims are the least judgmental.

The Quran’s greatest focus is on spirituality, on developing the proper relationship with God, and on being kind and constructive when dealing with people. A person who is cruel toward you because of how you dress has not understood the first thing about the Quran’s teachings.

Read the Quran and develop your relationship with God. This is Islam’s first priority, and it has nothing to do with other Muslims. It is between you and God. Do not let other people define Islam for you or ruin your relationship with God.

As for dealing with other Muslims, you can act in a way that they find culturally appropriate to avoid their judgmentalism, many of them focus on appearances and do not care about what is in your heart. But if you wish to be able to make your own choices without being judged for it, then this unlikely, because most humans are judgmental and prefer cultural practices to spiritual ideals.

It is a choice between either fitting in and getting people’s approval, or being different and being judged for it. This applies to most things in life, not just dress code. If you wish things were different, that Muslim men saw you as a human and did not reduce you to how you dress, then such men exist, but they are more common in some places and cultures than in others.

If your idea about how Muslim men think comes from the internet (tumblr, Facebook, Islamic sites, etc.) and not real life, then that idea may not be accurate, since extremist Muslims are often a lot more active on the internet compared to moderates.

Dealing with an overly emotional mother

I know a mother who whenever there is a conflict between her boys (18,20,24 ages) she will exhaust her soul and torture it until she fells down just to make them stop fighting. Usually that will end the fight but it sends horror and complicates the situation. She uses the power of emotions this way because she doesn’t have any other way to stop the fights. Her children wish to know how to stop this. One time they even had to send her to a hospital because her mind stopped functioning right. I sometimes even get the feeling that she enjoys the pain. I know it’s weird and I apologize for disturbing anyone who is reading this. But she’s very religious and used to be much stronger and very wise. At some point in her life alot of shocking events kept happening which I think is the reason why she lost control over her problem solving abilities. Please help and thank you.

That seems like a problem for a psychologist to look into, perhaps what she needs is more love, attention and respect from the rest of the family, maybe in this way she can start to feel more balanced and at peace again. And her sons should do their best to avoid giving her cause to be distressed. Instead of saying that she is overreacting and that she is wrong to be like that, they should go out of their way to avoid doing anything that upsets her, even if this is a lot of work and even if she is being unreasonable. Mothers have to deal with unreasonable children all the time, so if the roles are reversed, if the mother is being unreasonable, the children should try to repay the favor.

What is a good prayer (dua) for fear?

I finally got a job hamdullah. But I finish late and I have to walk through some secluded places to go back home. Is there any dua i can say for protection?

Surat al-Falaq (chapter 113 of the Quran) is meant to be used as a prayer for God’s protection. That’s probably the best prayer you can recite. Prayers are not meant to be used like magic spells for achieving certain things (like some Muslims use them), they are simply conversations with God, so you can actually say whatever comes into your mind.

The best way to pray is to do it in a way that praises God and that acknowledges your reliance on Him, such as in Surat al-Fatihah, which starts with various praises of God, then acknowledges the human reliance on God, then goes on to pray for God’s guidance.

Can Muslims marry but never have children?

I (a female) want to get married but I am also not okay with the idea of having children, nor do I like children. Is having a child a must when one gets married or do we have a choice? My family always say that we must have children and it makes me feel totally anxious with marriage. Even though I’m still single, there’s a lot of reasons to why I want to get married, of course. Thank you!

According to Imam al-Ghazali in his Revival of the Islamic Sciences it is permissible for a husband and wife to agree to not have children. It is considered a good thing to have children, but there is no clear evidence to make it obligatory, so you have a choice. This is a complicated matter with many different opinions about it.

You could get married to someone who has an opinion similar to yours about children. Maybe you will feel differently about children down the road.

How Islam Can Adapt to the Modern World: The Persian versus the Arabian Approach to Handling Complexity

Review of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam by Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan’s Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, written in 2003, is a visionary book on reconciling Islam with the West, advocating for a truly Western Islam that does not consider itself a stranger in the West, and that does not have an inferiority complex with regards to the Middle East’s Islam.

An important part of my review focuses on the way IQ affects the way Islam is interpreted, and how this goes on to lead to very different approaches to reform; a “Persian” approach the uses the intellect and conscience to renew Islam, and an “Arabian” (Salafi) approach that rejects the intellect and conscience because of its inability to handle complexity.

An adaptable Islam: The Persian versus the Arabian approach

A key effort within this book is to show that Islam must be a constantly updated derivation of the ancient texts and the modern context. Instead of trying to emulate the Prophet’s dress, we must emulate the choices that lead to him to dress that way (respecting decency, cleanliness, aesthetics and modesty).

The Shariah rests on three sources: The Quran, the Sunnah and the state of the world (the environmental context), and all three must be used as inputs to determine our practice of Islam.

Ramadan mentions that the Hanafi school acknowledges that a new consensus can be reached by jurists that cancels out an older consensus. This is something of a radical view, since it admits that our understanding and practice of Islam can improve with time. This was the view of the Hanafi jurist Abu al-Yusr al-Bazdawi in his book Usul al-Fiqh.

I have noticed that Abu Hanifah and al-Ghazali, being Persians, had a top-down approach to religion, deriving principles, then using them to reinterpret Islam. The approach of the Arabian scholars, however, has usually been to have a bottom-up approach (Salafism taking it to its logical extreme), where you gather a million individual facts about early Islam and try to follow them accurately all at the same time, even if this leads to clear philosophical contradictions.

These are different approaches to handling complexity, and I think it has a great deal to do with IQ. Persians, with their higher IQs, were comfortable with complexity and embraced it within their thinking, believing that following Islam in each age was about reviving the Islamic spirit through applying Islamic principles to new eras. The Persian approach is therefore:

The Islamic texts -> Principles derived from them -> The modern context, intellect and conscience -> Islam

The Arabian approach, however, is to avoid complexity by strictly sticking to the texts, thus their approach is (to simplify):

The Islamic texts -> Islam

Instead of dealing with complexity, it gathers individual facts from the texts and tries to apply them all, and that is Islam. If you think about, to someone who is desperate to stay true to God’s way, while being challenged from all sides by a harsh and unforgiving world, this approach makes complete sense, if you are unable to do anything more.

The Persian, multi-step approach to Islam (later adopted by Egyptians after Western colonization) requires a massive amount of intellectual work; one must first understand the literal meaning of the texts, then do pattern analysis on them to derive overarching principles, a “philosophy of Islam” that tries to find out what Islam’s mission and priorities are, and when this is achieved, this philosophy of Islam feeds back into the texts, qualifying one’s understanding of them and sometimes leading to completely new interpretations. This work is not for the faint of heart, and a lower IQ person is likely to reject it all and call it misguided, being unable to appreciate the rationale behind it.

Enabling the human intellect and conscience to have an active role in our understanding and application of Islam causes an explosion in complexity that the Arabian approach does not like and is incapable of handling. Salafism avoids this complexity by denying the intellect and conscience any role whatsoever. If Salafi Islam leads to an Islam that conflicts with one’s intellect or conscience, it is one’s intellect, or one’s conscience, that are at fault. For someone struggling to handle complexity, this allows them to live in a peaceful comfort zone; follow the texts no matter where they lead you, even if your intellect and conscience occasionally object, even if you notice glaring contradictions, it is all for the greater good, and you will be safe no matter what happens, since who can blame you for trying to strictly follow the Quran and the Prophetic traditions?

The Persian approach revolts at this way of thinking, because Persians are not desperate for a comfort zone, and they have a deep, Western-style (Indo-European?) appreciation for the human intellect and conscience. If Islam recommends something that seriously goes against one’s intellect and conscience, the Persian approach sees this as a sign for the existence of a problem within Islam; there has been a misinterpretation or a mistake made somewhere, and it must be corrected by building a better model.

The Persian approach comes from a genetic propensity (I believe) to have extremely high respect for the human intellect and conscience, and a very good ability among the elite to appreciate and handle complexity. Islam must fit the intellect and conscience, if it doesn’t, either it is a false religion that is not worth following, or there has been a mistake in our understanding (this latter conclusion being the choice of the scholars who follow the Persian approach).

The Arabian approach, in similar circumstances that challenge one’s intellect or conscience, is to retreat back to the texts and say that humans are fallible. If humans find something unacceptable, it is because they themselves are corrupt or misguided. The Arabian approach comes from a genetic propensity to try to manage complexity by cutting it into manageable parts. Each verse of the Quran and each hadith is its own little unit of Islam and the sum total of them make Islam. If your intellect and conscience revolt at something mentioned in a particular hadith narration, you are the problem, not the hadith narration. This approach must not be laughed at or belittled; it must be respected for what it is. It tries to solve a very difficult problem and comes up with a low-resolution solution that works well enough among many of those who practice it.

It is no surprise that the greatest advocates for orthodoxy have all been Arabs; Imam al-Shafi`i, Ibn al-Jawzi (he recommended that people not read books of Quranic exegesis written by the `ajam, i.e. Persians, probably considering their interpretations too unorthodox), Ibn Tamiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhab (founder of “Wahhabism”), Ibn Uthaymeen, Ibn Baaz. To them relying on the texts and discarding the intellect and conscience makes complete sense, since this is necessary for keeping complexity manageable. By sticking to the texts as closely as possible, you ensure you are on the right path. If you do not stick to the texts, if you allow the intellect and conscience to take part in your interpretation of Islam, this immediately leads to an explosion in complexity that would quickly put you out of your depth (if you do not have the intellect to deal with it).

Deriving overarching principles from the Quran automatically leads to some supposedly “authentic” narrations being considered false or inapplicable. This cannot be handled by Salafism, since the entire corpus of “authentic” narrations are taken literally, since not doing so requires too much intellectual work, it gives the intellect and conscience some role, which is unacceptable. The Salafi solution is abrogation. If there is an “authentic” narration that contradicts the Quran (such as a narration recommending that atheists be killed, even though the Quran guarantees religious freedom), the hadith is given preference. The Salafi approach often has infinite scorn for the intellect and conscience and entirely relies on the texts as its only safe haven.

The hadith corpus is massive and highly specific, greatly limiting the role of the intellect and conscience, and in this way greatly reducing complexity, and therefore it is given preference by Salafis over the Quran.

The Quran, on the other hand, is often vague, makes very few rulings, and is far more concerned with moral philosophy than specific actions, therefore Salafism often ignores it, since following the Quran by itself requires much participation of the intellect and conscience, and to a Salafi this is always a hopelessly wishy-washy process that is bound to lead to dangerous corruptions. If Salafism is the Arabian approach taken to its logical conclusion, the Quran-focused school is the Persian approach taken to its logical conclusion. The Quran-focused school takes the Quran literally and uses all available tools to derive an accurate interpretation of it, then feeds back this understanding of the Quran into all of Islam. The Quran is the program, the intellect, conscience and hadith are helpers toward following the program.

The Salafi approach forces 10,000 pages of text on you, greatly limiting your ability to think and act for yourself, for your own good. The Quran-focused school asks you to follow the Quran’s 600 pages, much of which is made up of vague philosophical lessons, giving you vast freedom to think and act for yourself, and asks you to use hadith as a resource in helping you find the best thing to do in specific circumstances. These approaches are polar opposites. The Salafi approach is to use a massive text to remove your freedoms, enabling you to take the safe route instead of thinking and acting for yourself. The Quran-focused approach is to teach you a moral philosophy and respect your intellect and conscience as you try to follow it.

I doubt Salafism can ever become the majority religion in any country with an average IQ higher than a certain point (perhaps 90). It can take charge in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, since it offers great utility for managing complexity. But once a certain percentage of the population has an IQ above 120-130 (perhaps 1-2%), these intellectual elite will revolt at Salafism and discredit it, so that it becomes impossible for it to spread. Even if higher IQ Muslim cannot point out exactly why Salafism is wrong, they will consider it unrespectable. This is the attitude of most high IQ Muslims I have met.

Salafism is totalitarian, it wants to give the religious establishment great powers to manage one’s life. I doubt there is a single Salafi in the world with an IQ of 135 or higher. High IQ people like Yasir Qadhi who are taught in the Salafi school eventually grow out of it. Yasir Qadhi abandoned Salafism saying it was not “intellectually stimulating”, if I remember correctly, and this is a very apt description. Salafism is designed to be the opposite of intellectually stimulating. It is there to make the world manageable for lower IQ Muslims struggling to live in the modern world.

We must be thankful for the existence of Salafism. “Why is Salafism not the answer?” is one of the most challenging questions of our time, forcing us to rebuild the complexity-embracing version of Islam from scratch.

Tariq Ramadan tries to make mainstream Islam even more complexity-embracing than it is now by further decreasing its reliance on texts (since this is at the expense of the intellect and conscience), in this way pushing Islam further in the Persian direction, having a top-down approach to Islam that starts with intelligently driven principles and priorities.

He does not, however, clarify what is exactly wrong with the old structure of Islam; he tries to cure various ills, carving out paths of progress here and there without overhauling the structure. His newer book Radical Reform is meant to be something of an overhaul, so I will have to read that to understand his latest thinking on reform.

Zionist detractors of Islam like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller and Daniel Pipes all focus on the non-mainstream Arabian approach (practiced by the Salafi minority), ignoring the mainstream Persian approach and saying that the Arabian approach is the one true version of Islam. The fact that the majority of Muslims disagree doesn’t matter to them. Somehow they think they are better fitted to tell us which version of Islam is better (the version the lowest IQ Muslims prefer).

What they do is start with a conclusion: Islam is non-adaptable to the modern world, then they go on to find a non-adaptable form of Islam practiced by a low-IQ minority (Salafism) that justifies their preconceived biases, then they say this is the one true version of Islam, and that all Muslims will one day want to follow this. The fact that the vast majority of Muslims are repulsed by Salafism, the fact that the Sunni world’s most prestigious authority (Al-Azhar University) has rejected it, and that Muslim intellectuals East and West reject it, means nothing to them, since these are inconvenient facts getting in the way of putting on a good show.

To them, any Muslim who does not accept Salafism has not truly understood Islam, even if they have followed Islam all of their lives and come from a tradition that started with some of Islam’s earliest authorities (Abu Hanifa). The minority version of Islam that helps the Zionist Jewish propaganda effort against Muslims is the only true version of Islam, and Westerners must be told this again and again until the lie is accepted as truth (dehumanizing Palestinian Muslims as brainless barbarians helps make the Israeli occupation and expansion more palatable to the Western mind).

This is very much like paying a few Muslim hacks in China to put all of their focus on fundamentalist Christians from West Virginia so that they can convince the Chinese public that Christianity is a horrible and intolerant religion. And when a few Christians complain that this is inaccurate and biased, these hacks have the audacity to say it is these Christian complainers who are wrong, that they have not truly understood their religion, and that the hacks themselves are the true authorities on Christianity who are there to enlighten the Chinese public on the great dangers of allowing Christianity into their country.

Against nihilism

He mentions that Islam rejects the nihilistic view, occasionally expressed in Western literature and media, that humans are lost and abandoned within a “tragedy of life”, that it is possible for someone to just suffer and suffer endlessly and meaninglessly for years until the day they die. Instead,

God always makes available to humankind tools and signs on the road that leads to recognizing Him.

God is present. He interacts with us. Those who seek guidance in sincerity will be guided by Him. He will not leave us alone and uncared for, controlled and thrown here and there by nature. This is not a naive optimism, it comes from accepting the Quran’s truth on its own virtues, then adopting its philosophy.

The Quran teaches that God will not abandon a person who calls out to Him. This is a very much anti-nihilistic, anti-post-modern worldview that can have world-moving consequences.

The Abodes of Islam and war

Ramadan argues that that the old juristic practice of separating the world into dar al-Islam (“Abode of Islam”) and dar al-harb (“Abode of War”) is no longer valid:

This reality has completely changed: it is becoming necessary today to go back to the Qur’an and the Sunna and, in the light of our environment, to deepen our analysis in order to develop a new vision appropriate to our new context in order to formulate suitable legal opinions. To reread, reconsider, and “revisit” our understanding of the teachings of Islam therefore appears to be a necessity.

For me, the necessity of going back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah in the light of a new environment is not something to do in exceptional circumstances, when we discover that part of our thinking is outmoded. It is something we must do as a matter of course on a daily basis. The fact that most scholars up to date have considered these concepts valid and binding is just another manifestation of the fossilization of thought that occurs as a result of the deep human desire for reducing complexity and defeating the chaos lurking everywhere.

Ramadan prefers dar al-dawa (“Abode of Calling People to God”) as a new designation to be used in Muslim-minority countries, suggested by Faysal al-Mawlawi. In my opinion even this appellation is too limiting and reactionary, because dawa suggests the calling of an “other” to Islam. I prefer the choice of certain Hanafi scholars, as mentioned by Ramadan himself, in using dar al-Islam to refer to every place where Muslims can live in safety. Muslims are not meant to be outsiders; they are meant to be full members of their societies.

Focusing on dawa turns me into a salesman that thinks of everyone as potential customers. Focusing on stewardship (embodying the Quran) turns me into a full citizen wherever I live, everyone I meet is a human, not a project to be worked on. If I carry out my stewardship properly, dawa will automatically take place. Ramadan says most of the same:

Once legitimately oversensitive and even hidden in the realms of the “abode of war” and the “abode of unbelief,” Muslims can now enter into the world of testimony, in the sense of undertaking an essential duty and a demanding responsibility—to contribute wherever they can to promoting goodness and justice in and through the human fraternity.

Ending the East-West divide

In answer to certain extremist groups that say that we Muslims cannot pay allegiance to a constitution that allows unlawful things like usury, Ramadan says that while these countries allow these things, they do not compel us to use them, therefore we can be part of such societies, respect their laws, while also following Islam.

While this is largely true, the reality is that these countries, and perhaps all countries on Earth, force Muslims to engage in certain unlawful things, therefore it is a matter of degrees, not absolutes. The taxes a Muslim pays in a country like the United States goes toward the government paying off the interest on its debt (over $200 billion USD per year in interest payments alone at the moment), therefore paying taxes does compel us to do something that goes against our conscience (paying interest).

The Salafi-style Muslim thinking deals with this matter like so many others by glossing over the complexity in order to reach a simplistic black-and-white decision. Either a Western government does not ask us to do something that is against our conscience, in which case allegiance to it is justified, or it asks us to do things that are against our conscience, and therefore allegiance to it is unjustified.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s biggest usurers, as it invests much of its oil revenue in interest-bearing US bonds. This means that the millions of Saudi citizens who benefit from Saudi’s welfare state are to some degree eating the fruits of usury. Therefore the behavior of a Saudi cleric acting as if there is something special and un-Islamic about the Western context is one of the most naive things imaginable. Eastern, Muslim-majority countries are in many ways just as “evil” as their Western counterparts in similar and different ways, and the Western focus on common law (a commonly accepted ideal of justice) is far more Islamic than the governance systems of perhaps every Middle Eastern country in existence.

I would much rather be ruled by a humanist Christian than an autocratic Saudi prince who has the support of a hundred scholars but who does not understand, is incapable of understanding or appreciating, the right of an individual to express his or her mind freely.

As Muslims, every country on Earth will ask us to do certain things that go against our conscience, the most common (and least appreciated) of which is the worldwide practice of usury by governments in the East and West, North and South. Therefore instead of deluding ourselves into thinking that some utopian Islamic government is the only government that deserves allegiance, we instead give our allegiance to the social contract of every country we exist in, the country respects our right to live in safety and to practice our religion, and the good of this far outweighs the evils the government forces us to engage in.

We must respect contracts. Those who allow us into their countries do it because they think we are entering their societies in good faith, they think that by the act of entering their societies, we have made a binding promise to act toward them with kindness and a lack of malice. Therefore it is obligatory upon us to act according to these implied or explicit promises and contracts, and a Muslim who does not acknowledge is, is incapable of acknowledging it, has no right to be in the West.

The United States is no less “Islamic” than Saudi Arabia. The United States respects my right to practice my religion and express it freely, it respects my human dignity. Saudi Arabia, with all of its capital-of-Islam hankerings has close to zero respect for a human’s dignity when the interests of its ruling class are involved. I much prefer the Anglo-Saxon love and appreciation for common law to the lip service that Saudi Arabia gives to Islamic principles.

In general, any government that to some degree believes in rule by consent, allowing its citizens to partake in governance to some degree, is going to be more Islamic than an autocratic Muslim-majority government that dehumanizes its citizens, because this democratic government is similar to the form of governance of our Prophet ﷺ, while autocratic governments are not.

We Muslims must grow up. Instead of becoming the tools of everyone who pretends to serve Islam, we must judge every nation by its adherence to the Quranic principles; justice, truth, respect for human lives and dignity. The nation whose laws and practices fit these principles the most is the most Islamic. If a Muslim feels more at home, more respected and dignified, in Iceland than in Pakistan, then Iceland is a better home for Muslims than Pakistan, and their government deserves more love and allegiance than the Pakistani government.

My allegiance is not to people who call themselves “Muslim” but betray the principles of Islam. My allegiance is to truth and justice, and if a Christian or atheist represents these ideals better, then my allegiance is to them rather than the so-called Muslim.

The minority mindset

Ramadan speaks against the “minority mindset” that afflicts many Muslims, and I fully agree with his assessment. This was in 2003 and things have gotten somewhat better, except that the influence of radical leftist ideologies are now undoing the progress among some Muslims, making them think of themselves as a political interest group rather than as citizens morally bound to contribute to their societies.

Too few Western Muslims are able unself-consciously to take an intellectual position that, in the end, acknowledges that one is speaking from home, as it were, as an accepted member of a free society, and in full awareness of that—with causes and fundamental values that must be respected.

He describes the minority mindset as belonging to an intellectual ghetto, a beautiful way of describing it.

Islamic education

Ramadan criticizes the way Islamic education is conducted, saying:

The school puts forward a  way of life, a space, and a parallel reality that has practically no link with the society around it.

Modern education is hopelessly dysfunctional because shoving 7 or 8 topics down the throats of unwilling students, as if they are robots being programmed in an education factory, is never going to be effective.

Instead, students should be taught the basics of reading, writing and perhaps math at elementary schools for a few years, perhaps until the age of 9. After that, they should be allowed to choose what to study next. A child who wants to be a computer programmer can then go on to learn programming and everything that goes toward helping them be a better programmer (such as certain fields of mathematics). If at the age of 13 or 14 they decide to switch fields, they can do it, studying economics, or medicine, for example, or continuing toward advanced degrees in computer-related fields if they still like their field. By the age of 20, able students could easily put today’s computer science PhD’s to shame.

A benefit of this system is that it encourages advanced interdisciplinary studies. A child can be taught to be a really good computer programmer by the age of 14, only to go on to study biology, and bring his or her knowledge of programming into this new field. At the age of 20, they can then go on to study economics, and bring their advanced knowledge of these two fields into their new area of study.

Ideas about education have barely advanced beyond 300 BC in most of the world. Most educators foolishly think that force-feeding children 7 or 8 areas of study for 10 or 12 years is going to produce children who will have a very good selection of “general knowledge” embedded in their heads. In reality, the majority of students will hate everything to do with this education system and will relish the chance to forget everything they have learned once they pass the end of year exams.

Forcing children to go through this system is little short of child abuse. It has zero respect for the dignity and individuality of these children. Instead of letting a budding scientist who really loves physics actually dedicate himself or herself to physics starting from the age of 9 or 10, they are made to waste their most energetic years studying topics they have little interest in, until they can finally go to college, only to discover that they have to take yet more irrelevant nonsense designed by a bunch of short-sighted and pompous middle aged men and women.

The factory model of education is an utter failure. What is needed instead is a system of independent academies, each focusing on a specific area of study, with children going to the ones that are relevant to their areas of interest. A child who wants to major in psychology will go to their city’s Academy of Psychology at the age of 9, let’s say. The child can also go to a different academy at the same time, if they want to study another area (so that they major in two fields), or if their study of psychology requires knowledge of other fields.

Islamic education can follow the same pattern. Instead of teaching students a hodge-podge of Islamic history, hadith, the Quran and jurisprudence, students should first be given an advanced education in Arabic, in Islamic rituals, and in the manners of the Prophet (not from a book of history, but a book that focuses on his manners, such as Ramadan’s own In the Footsteps of the Prophet). Once they have learned sufficient Arabic, they can go on to learn the Quran. From then on students should be free what they study next, branching off into the various Islamic areas of study as they see fit.

As for today’s Quran schools, teaching children Quran without teaching them Arabic is little more than foolishness. I met two teenagers who could recite Surat Yaseen (chapter 36 of the Quran) from memory, but who had absolutely no idea what any of it meant. I feel that a teacher who inflicts this on children deserves to be flogged. How many hours did they have to sit and memorize random sounds that had no meaning for them whatsoever?

The system of allowing students to branch out at the age of 9 or so to go on to study at different academies would fix the problem of Islamic schools having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building facilities to teach things like physics, and would also solve the problem of Muslim children being isolated from the non-Muslims around them, a problem that Ramadan speaks of in detail, leading to a form of detachment from one’s wider society. A child who goes on to study Arabic or Islam at 9 will go to an Arabic Academy where non-Muslims study too. And if they want to take physics, they go to the city’s Physics Academy (or Science Academy), where Muslims and non-Muslims study together.

Islamic feminism

Ramadan expresses support for the concept of an Islamic feminism, saying that Muslim women can fight for their rights, follow Islam, and reject everything within Western thinking that is un-Islamic, in this way ensuring women’s rights within an Islamic framework.

 

There are different types of feminism ranging from constructive to genocidal, therefore any support for an Islamic feminism must be highly qualified. See my article Islam versus Feminism for more on this.

Social responsibility

Ramadan criticizes the way some Muslims in the West justify holding themselves to lower standards, saying:

One hears many voices in the United States, Britain, Germany, and France legitimizing this position by insisting on the fact that Muslims are “a minority,” “in a weak (political and financial) position,” “without great means” of influence on the society at large. The universal message of Islam that should move Muslims’ civic conscience to promote justice, right, and goodness everywhere is reduced to this: “since we are a feeble minority”—a defensive, self-pitying discourse, narrowly concerned with the protection of self and “the community.”

He recommends that citizens be given some form of education so that they become better voters and partakers in the society and civilization around them:

Calls and slogans and singing the praises of “the good fortune of being a citizen” will change nothing: understanding one’s society, its history, and its institutions, developing one’s intelligence, and building an independent spirit—these are the things that will teach us, and everyone should be given the means to undergo this training.

In my opinion, even forcing people to take multiple courses on civic education is going to only make them marginally better citizens. It will give them a false sense of education while they continue to make the exact same mistakes as before. In reality, a minimum IQ is needed to properly appreciate one’s context and partake in it effectively, and judging by the extreme naivete of American college students, that minimum IQ is probably higher than 115, meaning that among Muslims, only the top 10% in intelligence and/or socioeconomic status (which are closely linked, see The Bell Curve) will benefit from such a program. The rest will not, but they will benefit from this 10%’s education, in an intellectual trickle-down process describe by Sayyid Qutb in his idea of a Muslim “vanguard” that takes responsibility for the well-being of their societies (which I extend to include non-Muslims).

Ramadan goes on to make this comment regarding reform:

Perpetual criticism of political authority or of the police is futile and meaningless when, alongside it, we as citizens do nothing to change things. Posing always as victims is a kind of cowardice. To be up in arms at every police blunder when we have become passive observers of the breakdown of the social fabric and watch silently (without showing any inclination toward concrete involvement) when young people display unspeakable violence and steal and assault and insult adults in their communities (particularly the police) does not make much sense and is, above all, unworthy.

In today’s hysterical climate, some people can be very upset by such lucid thought. It is dangerously rationalist and not sufficiently leftist, and quite possibly fatally racist, as I’m sure many would be happy to point out. So it is good to see Ramadan writing something like this, although whether he could write something similar today, I do not know, since this is from 2003.

Appreciating Western Civilization

Ramadan writes:

It is said that it is necessary to develop a critical mind capable of taking account of things. The West is neither monolithic nor demonic, and its phenomenal achievements in terms of rights, knowledge, culture, and civilization are realities that it would be unreasonable to minimize or reject.

Again, Ramadan breaks from militant post-modernists to speak some sense.

The failure of the zakat system

Ramadan reiterates the Egyptian reformist idea that the Islamic zakat system is not merely about random acts of charity, it is about a way of life, a basic income system designed to eliminate poverty. The way the zakat system is implemented in the West to this day is quite a pathetic failure, as I explain in Islam, the Good Parts: A Basic Income System that Encourages Employment, Productive Investment and Automation.

He writes:

Moreover, the funds are very often used to finance  building projects (e.g., mosques, centers), rather than to provide direct support to people, who are then helped in a very perfunctory way, with no precise consideration and no purpose beyond alleviating a financial difficulty here and there. Ultimately, it is the social philosophy as a whole that leads to this way of acting and maintaining only the outward form of zakat, which is thus undermined and even betrayed.

I am far more radical in this regard. The “Muslim community” that so many imams talk about is little more than a feel-good myth when barely a single imam can be found who actually seeks out his constituents and talks to them to find out if they can pay rent, if they are in debt, if he can help find them better job opportunities. A community cares about you and takes care of you. Almost no “Muslim community” does that. Islamic centers provide a form of social insurance in allowing people to apply for zakat in exceptional circumstances. That is perhaps about 1% of what they should be doing.

Dialogue with non-Muslims

Ramadan thinks that dialogue with the non-Muslims around us is crucial. I am not convinced of the value of formal interfaith dialog “to get to know one another”. Individuals from the two communities can do this if they are interested. But when it comes to the actual foundations for unity and peace between people of different faiths, a meeting of hearts is far more important than a meeting of minds, and a meeting of hearts does not even require talking about religion, at all.

It is sufficient for one to have a good Muslim coworker to understand that the Islamic texts lead to this type of person, therefore not everything about these texts is necessarily evil. This Muslim’s behavior actually convinces this observer about the possibility of the existence of shared values between them and the Islamic texts, while a formal interfaith dialog will only convince a Christian observer that there are well-spoken Muslims who are good at being polite. This is a meeting of minds and I doubt lasting effects can come from it.

A meeting of hearts is what is needed, and this is done through a Muslim treating people with an open heart, looking for the goodness in other people’s hearts regardless of their religion. A kind-hearted priest and a kind-hearted imam belonging to the same geographical area can promote much goodness toward each other’s communities without ever discussing anything about theology with each other.

Discussions of theology should be done not as a way of beginning interfaith dialog, but as its final stage, when one side is curiously interested in the topic, rather than discussing it because it is on some list of topics to be talked about.

Conclusion

Ramadan writes:

Western Muslims need to free themselves of their double inferiority complex—in relation to the West (and the domination of its rationality and technology) on the one hand and in relation to the Muslim world (which alone seems to produce the great Arabic-speaking spirits of Islam who quote the texts with such ease) on the other. We shall have to liberate ourselves from these faults by developing a rich, positive, and participatory presence in the West that must contribute from within to debates about the universality of values, globalization, ethics, and the meaning of life in modern times.

A skeptical reader may see the above paragraph as feel-good babble not meaning much of anything, but the many concrete suggestions provided by Ramadan show that he is very serious about these things. For him this is not just talk, this is his program.

Western Muslims and the Future of Islam is an important contribution and a necessary stepping-stone to getting us where we need to be in the West. You do not have to agree with everything he says to appreciate the spirit of his message.

A Biography of Ahmad Moftizadeh

Kak Ahmadi Muftizada: Darwazayak bo Xabateki Nanasraw (کاک ئەحمەدی موفتیزادە: دەروازەیەک بۆ خەباتێکی نەناسراو, Ahmad Moftizadeh: A Gateway to an Unknown Struggle) is a 394-page Kurdish biography of the great Iranian Kurdish leader Ahmad Moftizadeh written by Sarwat Abdullah, apparently published in 2010.

I have been reading all available materials on Ahmad Moftizadeh, since he is one of the few modern leaders who have truly embodied the type of activist, Quran-centered and heart-centered Islam I believe in, and it would be a shame to not learn everything significant that his life can teach. In my view studying the lives (and mistakes) of the previous few generations coming right before us is crucial to making progress.

Origin

It is mentioned that his grandfather, Abdullah Dishi, “came from” the village of Disha (a Hawrami village), which would suggest that Moftizadeh’s family are Hawrami. According to The Last Mufti, Abdullah Dishi’s family were originally from the Kurdish areas and had settled in Disha, meaning that they weren’t originally from this village, and meaning that Moftizadeh’s family are not necessarily Hawrami.

Ahmad Moftizadeh came from Iranian Kurdistan’s religious elite. His grandfather had been given the status of mufti (chief religious law-maker) of all of Iranian Kurdistan, and this title had been passed down to his son (Moftizadeh’s father), and Ahmad Moftizadeh was in line to receive the title himself. Moftizadeh’s father lectured at Tehran University on Shafii jurisprudence, and Ahmad Moftizadeh would go on to lecture there himself later on.

Dreams and childhood

It is mentioned that multiple people around him had dreams about him in his childhood in which they saw him as having a high status. This includes a very old and pious aunt of his when he was 4-5 years old. When he is 8 or 9 a friend of his mother has a dream in which she sees a great army in the city of Sanandaj and she is told that that is Ahmad’s army. She asks if they mean the little boy Aha Rash (a nickname for Ahmad Moftizadeh), and she is answered yes.

Moftizadeh had many dreams of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, in which the Prophet taught him things. Seeing the Prophet ﷺ in dreams is something highly prized by Sufis, whose influence on the area made the population look out for such dreams as well.

At the age of 13 a great officer in the army is invited to his home, so that his family cooks five types of rise and five types of meat. He is disgusted by this, considering it wasteful and thinking of all the poor people who have little to eat, and he decides not to eat anything of it. The aristocratic atmosphere of his home apparently makes him eager to leave it, so that he goes to Iraq to study.

Prison and repentance

After coming back from his studies, he goes to Tehran and is involved in some Kurdish nationalist activity, attracting the attention of the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK).

When Moftizadeh is imprisoned by the SAVAK 1964 for his Kurdish political activism, it is mentioned that he is taken to Evin prison, when in reality he was taken to Qezelqaleh prison as mentioned The Last Mufti. Evin prison comes at a later stage in his life, after the revolution. Later on, on page 53, the book contradicts itself, correctly saying that Moftizadeh was actually at Qezelqaleh.

In prison, in solitary confinement, with death feeling close at hand, he starts to feel guilty about his government job. He worked at a government office where part of his job was to assess and receive taxes from people. While he did his job with conscientiousness, not taking bribes and not cheating people (like other government employees would do), he has the realization that his salary from that job was partially impure, since it was from a government’s unjust taxes on the people.

At first he is too shy to seek repentance from God, feeling that with death so close at hand, the time of repentance is past. He eventually repents, and says to himself, “Even if my (infant) son Jiyan is about to starve to death, I will not use impure money to buy him powdered milk.”

Later in his life, one night his son Jiyan is extremely sick and the only open pharmacy in town is one that is Jewish-owned. He refuses to buy from them, thinking that his money would be used to “buy bullets” for Israel’s terror against Palestinians.

While somewhat extremist (Islam allows one to make exceptions in times of need), his method of thinking of ordinary daily decisions in activist terms is very important and relevant, and quite similar to Sayyid Qutb’s thinking. The spiritual world takes precedence over the material world. He refuses a material good (the feeding of his son, or his son’s health) to maintain a spiritual good (remaining true to God, refusing to be party to any form of injustice, even if it is merely by buying a drug from an entity that might possibly support injustice).

In mainstream Islamic practice, the culture and the clerics come in between the Quran and population. The job of making moral choices was outsourced to the religious establishment, so that morality was not something on the minds of ordinary people. If the mullahs allowed something, it was OK. If they didn’t, it wasn’t. Moftizadeh and Sayyid Qutb’s approach was to take the religious establishment out of the equation; one reads the Quran, understands its moral philosophy to the best of his or her ability, then follows it to the best of his or her ability in everything in their lives.

This is far more difficult, since there are many difficult moral choices the responsibility for which must be carried by each individual, instead of throwing the responsibility on the shoulders of the establishment without giving it a thought.

More dreams

In prison, he has a dream in which he is about 13 years of age and the Prophet ﷺ is teaching him from the Quran. His elbows are resting on the Prophet’s left shoulder, with him looking on as the Prophet passes his right index finger over a book of Quran that he is reciting from. He mentions that this dream put him in a state of joy and ecstasy that lasted for many days, considering it such a great honor from God.

The start of his Quran-focused Islam

So far in his life, Ahmad Moftizadeh had been a classical Shafii jurist, having had a classical education under his father and other scholars in Iran and Iraq.

He has a dream in which he is standing on the rooftop of his childhood home in Sanandaj, when he sees two persons coming toward him from a distance. The persons do not take steps but appear to glide. They stand about a meter and a half from him and ask him to interpret Sura ad-Duha and Sura ash-Sharh (chapters 93 and 94 of the Quran). Instead of trying to interpret these chapters as an intellectual exercise, he starts speaking effortlessly, saying things he had never even thought of before.

He says that as he spoke, he saw the Prophet ﷺ and his followers during what is known as the Meccan Boycott of the Hashemites, in which the he and his followers suffered extreme difficulty. He saw the relevance of the verses he was interpreting to these conditions, as if they were all part of the same story that he himself had lived. He also sees the Prophet ﷺ praying ardently for Umar ibn al-Khattab to be guided to Islam. He says the things he said in his interpretation of these chapters were as obvious and clear to him as 2+2 = 4. When he wakes up, he is completely thunderstruck by the dream, since none of the things he had said had ever before seemed obvious to him.

This dream causes him to completely change his approach to the Quran. Before this, he had the classical approach, what I call considering the Quran a “historical artifact” or a “dead book”. He says:

Before that, when I would look at the Quran, I would look at its meaning as mere Arabic words and sentences. After that, when I looked at the Quran I saw it as a living thing. The way I looked at life, that way I also looked at the Quran.

Strangely, this appears to also have been the approach of Said Nursi and Sayyid Qutb, both of whom also suffered through prison, and both of whom went on to be great revivalists.

Moftizadeh considers this discovery his re-birth, and afterwards would go on to speak of “the old Ahmad’ and “the new Ahmad”, similar to Said Nursi’s “old Said” and “new Said”.

He says that without his discovery of the Quran’s nature, his life would have been empty, and that a hundred thousand lifetimes were nothing compared to that single moment where he discovered the Quran.

Training the vanguard

After being released from prison, SAVAK offers him a professorship at Tehran University in return for softening his rhetoric against the Shah’s regime, which he refuses. He goes back to Sanandaj with his wife and child. He appears to conclude that the best way to spread Islam’s message is to train activists, a vanguard who embody the Quran’s teachings and go on to create change within their own social circles. This was also Sayyid Qutb’s idea.

His non-classical (Quran-focused) approach quickly garners him fame and people start to flock to his house to learn his reformist-activist approach on various issues, such as women’s rights.

He invites a number of faqih‘s (mullahs-in-training) to come to Sanandaj to learn and work on his project, and works hard to buy them a house. He has a highly valuable rug in his own house that he gives away and places in the new house. When asked why, he says, “This was the last artifact I had of my jahili (pre-enlightenment) life, and you are the cause of freeing me from it.”

He starts giving lectures at Sanandaj’s mosques, until he attracts a fellowship of 60-70 people. SAVAK issues a threat against his followers, so that most of the followers leave and only 15-20 people remain. SAVAK approaches him and offers him wealth and protection, and not just for himself but for his followers too, in return for a. not working with political parties and b. softening his stance against the Shah. His extreme poverty and the pressure his extended family puts on him to make him accept this offer slowly makes him start considering it. He wasn’t going to be involved with political parties, so this wasn’t an issue. And what harm did it do to accept not to speak against the Shah?

He says this was the most difficult moral dilemma of his life, since the things offered him were so attractive, and the things required of him so seemingly unimportant. During this, he has a dream that involves the Prophet ﷺ and Umar ibn al-Khattab. The Prophet is about to tell Umar something, starting by “O Umar…”, but Moftizadeh wakes up before hearing it. This greatly upsets him and he starts to look in the books of hadith to find narrations in which the Prophet speaks to Umar in such a manner. Despairing of his search, he goes to the Quran and tries to find guidance in it for his situation, and he finds that in verse 13:17:

He sends down water from the sky, and riverbeds flow according to their capacity. The current carries swelling froth. And from what they heat in fire of ornaments or utensils comes a similar froth. Thus God exemplifies truth and falsehood. As for the froth, it is swept away, but what benefits the people remains in the ground. Thus God presents the analogies.

He sees the Shah and his apparatus as the ephemeral “froth” that is covering truth and justice for a time, but that will surely be swept away by the forces of time. This makes him decide that truth and justice are timeless principles that deserve his full and never-ceasing allegiance, while any request from the Shah and SAVAK for his allegiance should be automatically rejected, since they are the froth who want to cover up what benefits the people. They are nobodies who will be swept away by history, while truth and justice will remain supreme. He goes on to live by this learning for the rest of his life, even after the Shah falls and the “Islamic” Republic is established.

Maktab Quran

Moftizadeh garnered fame in Iranian Kurdistan by his famous speeches, such as the one he gave at the funeral of the poet Suwaray Ilkhanizada. His fearless criticism of the Shah (sometimes comparing him to the Pharaoh of the time of Moses) gave people hope, since the rest of the Islamic establishment was thoroughly hand-in-hand with the Shah’s regime. A Muslim scholar speaking against the Shah was something unknown and highly attractive.

Maktab Quran (“school of Quran”) is the name of the movement/organization he and his friends created, first in the city of Mariwan and later in Sanandaj. The word maktab refers more to a “school of thought” than a physical entity (as pointed out by Ali Ezzatyar in The Last Mufti), a reference to his use of the Quran as a source for a reformist-activist Islam. He did, however, create schools in multiple cities where the Quran and related topics were taught, so Maktab Quran was a physical entity as well.

Revolution (1978)

Moftizadeh’s fame and opposition to the Shah made him a natural leader of Iranian Sunnis at the time of the Iranian revolution. The revolution worried him because he considered it untimely, and was aware of the great possibility for the rise of a new anti-Kurdish tyranny in Tehran (which is what happened).

He believes that if his movement had been given 10-15 years without the Iran Revolution happening, the movement would have been able to bring Kurds to a state where they were ready to be the leaders of revolutionary change, since his goal was to teach people to insist on truth and justice and refuse to (intellectually) submit to tyrants.

SHAMS

After the Iranian revolution, Moftizadeh worked with other Sunni leaders (such as the scholar Abdulaziz Malazadeh from Sistan-Balochistan) to create a unified front for interacting with the Shia-majority revolutionary government, accepting Khomeini’s promises of respecting democracy and pluralism. This unified front was called SHAMS (which means “sun” in Arabic, and was an acronym for shurayeh markaziyeh sunnat, meaning “central council of the Sunnis”). A meeting was held in Tehran in public in which the creation of SHAMS was announced and its details agreed upon by Sunni religious leaders from various areas of Iran.

Naturally, Khoemini and his friends considered this union of the Sunnis a dangerous attack on their establishment, and the Iranian propaganda press went into overdrive over the few days following the meeting, associating the meeting with foreign influence, treason and all the other buzzwords that governments use to describe those who make them feel uncomfortable. Khomeini even gave a speech denouncing SHAMS.

Prison again

Khomeini’s extremist grip on power continued to increase as a number of convenient assassinations removed his more balanced Shia friends from Earth (such as Ayatollah Beheshti). This purging of the moderate Shias cleared the field for him to let his totalitarian tendencies run wild.

A year after SHAMS, the Iranian government cracked down on those associated with Moftizadeh’s Maktab Quran movement throughout Iranian Kurdistan and imprisoned many of them, including Moftizadeh himself.

They held him for ten years in solitary confinement, never allowing a single visitation by his family and friends.

Keeping Kurdistan together

During the revolution (between 1978 and 1981), Moftizadeh worked constantly to bring the Kurds together and have them reach a peaceable agreement with the new government to ensure the rights of the Kurds. The people he was interacting with, the leftist Kurdish parties on the one hand, and the Shia government on the other, were both equally power-hungry, duplicitous and unreliable, so that his efforts were seemingly entirely futile.

Moftizadeh continued to try to work with everyone else in good faith, expecting the best of them, signing agreements with Kurdish party leaders who would go on to change the agreement the next day, adding their own clauses to it that had not actually been agreed upon, or agreeing on one thing then acting another way.

Moftizadeh tried his best fulfill his role as “the leader of Iran’s Kurds” as he was widely considered, but to no good. Would it have been better if he had refused, seeing as the Kurds and the Shias were both totally and utterly incapable of working in good faith together? What is the point of trying to make things work when everyone you are dealing with is corrupt and selfish?

While his political work has generally been considered a failure, his appeals for peace and avoidance of blood-shed may have saved Iranian Kurdistan from having the same fate as Iraqi Kurdistan, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost in a war with the government. It is quite possible that hundreds of thousands of Kurds living in Iran today owe their lives to some degree to his political work.

His fight with the sheikhs and mullahs

I wonder at the people of this town. They have so many mullahs, yet they have managed to remain religious and pious and they have not lost the way of Islam. —Ahmad Moftizadeh

Ahmad Moftizadeh, despite being a classically trained religious scholar and being the son of the chief religious authority of Iranian Kurdistan (and being offered this position himself later on), was a strong critic of the Islamic establishment of his time. The Sufi sheikhs and mullahs had created a comfortable religious aristocracy where the population was made to serve their interests, finding clever ways of extracting money from the poor, such as making farmers take large portions of their harvests to the nearest Sufi establishment where a fat and corrupt Sufi sheikh usually presided.

The mullahs (clerics and preachers who worked at the mosques) weren’t much better, fleecing the population through things like “repairing” divorces, without actually working to solve the roots of society’s issues.

Islam had become a ceremonial religion devoid of its activist message. Moftizadeh considered the religious establishment cowardly and complicit with the Shah’s regime. Not a single leader could be found who dared to speak a word of truth against the Shah’s injustice. Moftizadeh made many enemies by opposing this system, so that some mullahs and sheikhs labelled him a “hypocrite” and scared people away from his circles. Eventually, with his radical honesty and fearless criticism of the Shah despite the dangers to his own life, he became the unchallenged leader of Iran’s Kurdish Sunni Muslims (and perhaps forever broke the hold of the religious establishment on Islam).

In Shia Islam, the clerical establishment claims to have secret powers to interpret Islam properly, powers granted to them as descendants of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This is highly convenient, since it gives the Shia clerical establishment monopoly power over the way Islam is interpreted and practiced.

Sunni Islam rejects this, saying there is nothing too special about being descended from the Prophet ﷺ. In practice, however, the Sunni establishment acts somewhat similar to the Shia establishment, requiring someone to be part of the establishment before considering their opinions valid. For many Sunni clerics, ordinary Muslims do not have the right to refute a ruling from an establishment scholar. The content of the refutation does not matter; if you haven’t gone through the establishment and do not have their stamp of approval, you do not have the right to speak your mind.

Ahmad Moftizadeh’s teachings took Islam away from the establishment and gave it to each Muslim capable of reading and understanding the Quran.

Moftizadeh’s Kurdish identity

Moftizadeh in Kurdish pants.

Moftizadeh insisted on wearing Kurdish pants, as a way of encouraging other Kurds to not be ashamed of their cultural practices. This was considered unfashionable in his time by other Kurds. They would tell him “You are not a lower-class laborer, so why do you wear that?” He says he replied to such a statement once by saying, “I am a human, and laborers are humans.”

In Sanandaj, the nicknames of kaka (“big brother”), khalo (“uncle”) and mamo (also meaning “uncle”) were used as a way of addressing lower-class people. Moftizadeh came to be called kaka, and he asked his followers to continue calling him this, rejecting honorific titles.

He strongly opposed titles like “sayyid”, “sheikh”, “mala”, “haji”, all of which were used as honorifics for people supposedly religiously or socially superior to others, and all o which could be used to describe himself if I remember correctly. He says these are used to separate one section of society from another, the holier from the less holy, and this makes them un-Islamic and sinful.

Ahmad Moftizadeh considers the Medes the ancestors of Kurds, and the Persians their usurpers. He considers the Persian Empire a permanent force of oppression against Kurds since its inception. He considers Nawroz (the Iranian new year celebration) an imperial and anti-Kurd invention that celebrates the Persian usurpation of Kurdish power.

I have my doubts about this theory, and believe that considering all the Iranian races (Kurds, Lurs, Persians, Pashtos) one race that slowly branched out a far better foundation for building a constructive identity. Kurdish victimhood identity is extremely dangerous, as like all victimhood identities (Zionism, communism, feminism, Shiism) it reduces empathy and the sense of moral responsibility. A victim has the right to more privileges and is held to lower moral standards, and acts as such.

In Moftizadeh’s view, Kurds have been oppressed for 2500 years. In my view, the oppression of the Kurds might very well be a 20th century invention, as Turkish, Arab and Persian nationalism grew as responses to colonialism. Before that, the Kurds were just another subject nation of the Ottomans and the Safavids, and often enjoyed great autonomy, and their noblemen were accepted in the courts of these empires as men of power and status.

Having a single, global humanist identity is so much more beautiful and productive (I should note that I am strongly opposed to globalism, but that is another matter). Western Muslim intellectuals are ahead in this regard, in shunning racial and nationalist identities. But Moftizadeh was a product of his time, and at that time, the issue of Kurdish identity was a matter of top priority, since Persians by and large considered Kurds a backwater nation that should be Persianized for their own good. Moftizadeh’s response was to fight for Kurdish identity, saying that Kurds had as much right to exist and exercise their language and culture as Persians.

The Umayyads

Moftizadeh considers the Umayyads the root cause for the loss of the original “true” Islamic caliphate, and says things mirroring the Shia view on them; that Abu Sufyan’s conversion to Islam was not true and that Muawiyah was on the whole an evil ruler. Since he brought back the old aristocratic system, threw out the shura system of democratic rule, established a dynastic monarchy, and built a palace in which he lived in luxury, for Moftizadeh this is sufficient evidence to consider him evil and corrupt.

Personally, I doubt there is sufficient evidence to conclusively rule that Abu Sufyan or Muawiyah weren’t truly good people. They may have liked wealth and power and worked for it, but so do many other Muslims. They weren’t perfect, but this does not mean that they weren’t on the whole reasonably good people.

Moftizadeh’s anti-Umayyad stance comes from his extreme anti-aristocratic views and his dislike for the Sunni-Shia divide for which he holds the Umayyads responsible.

I believe a more balanced and sophisticated approach is needed when it comes to the historical facts of the matter. As for the religious division issue, focusing on history is not going help matters. The Shia establishment will continue promoting the Shia vicitmhood narrative, since this is important for maintaining power and relevance.

Equality and Marxism

Moftizadeh says “An Islamic society is one in which there are no (social) strata,” advocating for a radical equality among the population, from the ruler to the lowliest laborer (using the example of the Rashidun caliphs to explain what he meant). Some mullahs said that he was becoming a communist with his calls for equality. In response, he instead make a powerful critique of communism, recognizing its feudal nature. He says that communism is actually aristocracy taken to its most obscene extreme, where the central government becomes the unquestioned lord and the entirety of the population its lowly servants.

He strongly disliked the undue respect that government officials received. In one Islamic gathering he sees that a section of the best seats have been reserved for officials. He goes and sits there, to set the example that officials should not be treated specially. When officials visit his home, he is harsh and unfriendly with them. On the other hand, he treats the lower classes with the utmost love and respect.

Regarding the problem of nepotism, ever-present in the Middle East, he says:

Anyone who in his or her dealing with a government official gets preferential treatment because of family ties or other things, and he or she accepts this treatment, they have done injustice.

And on respecting the lower classes:

How miserable is the person who works in the name of leading a religious movement and dislikes meeting the poor, while exulting at meeting the rich and powerful.

His manners

Some of his followers suggested that he should get bodyguards, since they feared for his safety with his great fame and high status. He rejected this, saying that he is no better than the Rashidun caliphs Ali and Umar, who never had bodyguards. He says that one must go among the people, like the prophets used to, that separating himself from the people would automatically make him a failure.

When out, his friends suggest using a taxi to go somewhere (considered a luxury form of transport at the time), he refuses, saying “Why can’t we go like the rest of the people?”

After his release from prison (and close to his death), he was extremely sick from cancer and his body broken by the torture he had received under the Iranians. At one point he was receiving visitors, with everyone sitting on the floor as it is customary in Iran, and as he himself tried to sit, he suffered extreme pain since he couldn’t sit comfortably on the floor. Some offered to bring him a soft cushion to sit on, but he refused, saying, “A sick person can relax as needed when resting, but when among the people, he must behave like the people.” His meaning was that his sickness did not give him the privilege of acting differently and being catered to. This was part of his extreme insistence on equality and “not separating from the people”.

At one point, one of his followers opens a car door for him as a show of respect. He tells them to close it, to go sit themselves, and says, “Do you think I don’t know how to open car doors?”

He sees that someone refers to him as “dear kak Ahmad” in writing, and tells the person not to attach any title to him, even if it is merely “dear”.

One of his followers, who goes on to be killed by the Iranian government, explains that the reason why Moftizadeh attracted such a devoted following was that he truly embodied the three points mentioned in this verse of the Quran:

And who is better in speech than someone who calls to God, and carries out wholesome deeds, and says, “I am of the Muslims”? (The Quran, verse 41:33)

  • Moftizadeh called toward God, toward submission to Him and freedom from submission to all other authorities and powers. He never worked for political power or for recognition, he never called for some group of his own.
  • Moftizadeh worked to do good deeds day and night. He was a leader in applying the Quran in his own life, and this could be seen everywhere in his manners and actions.
  • His stance always was “I am of the Muslims”, which this student of Moftizadeh interprets as meaning that the person does not separate himself from the Muslims using titles and status symbols. While the typical religious leader was happy to use his status as a bargaining tool for dealing with others in power, and while such a leader usually had a highly stratified organization around him, Mofizadeh not only rejected all of this, but turned the tables; he would treat the supposedly lowliest Muslims with the utmost respect and honor, while dealing harshly with the figures of authority in his town (knowing they were corrupt and hand-in-hand with the regime).

Relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood

Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood have mistakenly claimed that Moftizadeh was a member of their organization. While he had very close relationships with some Brothers, he did not do this out of allegiance to the Brotherhood, but out of his heart-centered approach; he would collaborate and help anyone who appeared like a good person.

He was, near the end of his life, against political work, and he is quoted in The Last Mufti as saying that one who engages in political work is very likely to lose the way of guidance.

Comparison with The Last Mufti

The last 100 pages or so of the book is dedicated to translations of articles and interviews with him published in various Iranian publications in the early years of the Iranian Revolution.

The Last Mufti does a far better job of describing the cultural context of Moftizadeh’s time and the origins of his family, likely due to the fact that The Last Mufti relied on far more many sources than this book does. However, it does contain many interesting details and anecdotes not mentioned in The Last Mufti, so both are well worth reading.

Heroes

Moftizadeh’s (and Sayyid Qutb’s) life shows that people need heroes. Moftizadeh was not the founder of a new school of fiqh and one cannot point to any major work of his. A scholarly skeptic, proud of his own works and education, may look at Moftizadeh’s followers and think “What is wrong with all of these people who glorify this nobody?”

Yet the service that Moftizadeh did Islam has been immense and worthier than the works of perhaps a hundred scholars. By embodying his radical message, he became the message. It is sufficient to mention “Moftizadeh” to any of thousands of Iranian Sunnis to renew their motivation, their hope, their trust in God, their insistence on truth and justice, their bravery.

So while many people belonging to the Islamic establishment will be able to call Qutb and Moftizadeh “nobodies”, it is sufficient to see the effects of these men on their respective audiences to realize that these men did tremendously important things, that they were greater than the thousands of religious clerics who failed to do the same, who preferred silence and comfort to telling the truth and putting their lives at risk.

This is an important realization for me; that Islam cannot revive hearts and cannot cause social change unless it is embodied in certain people, no matter how few. For true, dynamic, activist Islam to exist in a community, that community needs to have its own Qutbs and Moftizadehs who are ready to be crucified for its sake, who tell the truth and stand for justice despite the danger to their own careers and lives.

Without such people, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized will look at the religious establishment and think, “Look at those pompous idiots who think they are here to bring us salvation while they do nothing to protect our lives and dignity.” This was the attitude of people in Iran, Iraq and Egypt toward the religious establishment until people like Moftizadeh and Qutb appeared, and this is probably the attitude of many Saudi people toward their cowardly and well-fed Salafi scholars who turn a blind eye to the abuses of the Saudi family.

This is also the attitude of many Westerners toward the churches. Churchgoers who are not eager to give up large portions of their wealth to feed the poor and the oppressed in their communities have little right to pretend to be followers of Christ, and fully deserve to be considered out-of-touch and pompous hypocrites who do not really believe in their message.

If you do not embody Islam or Christianity’s radically activist message, don’t be surprised if no one takes you seriously.

Conclusion

Moftizadeh’s manners and story is similar to that of Jesus in the New Testament. He fearlessly embodied his message of radical honesty, of respecting all humans, of working against injustice and tyranny, acting like a wrench thrown into the comfortable decay of the Shah’s Kurdistan.

Moftizadeh was the worst nightmare of every corrupt politician, cleric and faux revolutionary, never accepting to limit his speech against them, never seeking material gain (thus he was unbribable), and treating his followers with far more respect and honor than the figures of authority of his society, whether secular or religious, in this way creating a new power structure that discredited the existing ones and empowered ordinary people to feel as if they had the freedom to question things.

Just like it happened with Jesus, many people started calling for his blood, including the religious establishment he was a part of. His criticism of the Shah’s regime helped topple it, but instead of acting the expected way toward his new Shia masters, silently acceding to them, he continued just like before, speaking his mind, discrediting them, not taking them seriously and focusing on truth and justice above all else.

Moftizadeh represents the ideal Muslim citizen; a good and kind friend of every good and kind person, a peaceful activist who did his utmost to prevent violence, a nightmare to every greedy and power-hungry politician, cleric and aristocrat.

Moftizadeh is a very difficult ideal to emulate. People either choose to be power-seeking revolutionaries who risk some but get a lot in return, or quietist mystics who risk nothing and enjoy a comfortable living. Moftizadeh brings together the difficult parts of both lifestyles and throws away the parts palatable to the human ego; you must be a revolutionary who does not seek power, and a mystic who risks everything. Most humans can either live up to the revolutionary ideal or the mystic ideal, very few can unite the two, because not only is there no personal gain in doing this, there is much chance of personal loss. Moftizadeh did that and suffered horribly for it, but renewed the world with his suffering.

A Selection from Aqiday Mardia of Mawlawi Tawagozi by Baba Ali Qaradaghi

Mawlawi Tawagozi (1806-1882, known simply as Mawlawi in Kurdish) was an Islamic mystic and one of the great poets of Kurdistan, belonging to the Hawrami minority that I belong to. This book is a 160-page commentary on a small selection of Mawlawi’s 2450-verse poem Aqiday Mardia (The Approved Aqeedah), which tries to offer a journey through the field of Islamic theology, mentioning the foundations of belief (aqeedah), philosophical arguments by detractors, and Ashaari responses to them, with Sufi language and feeling spread throughout.

The poem is written in the Sorani dialect rather than Mawlawi’s native Hawrami, and makes ample use of Arabic and Farsi as classical Kurdish poetry does. It was finished in 1864 CE.

I stumbled on this book on the internet and was immediately interested, since it is regarding an Islamic topic (aqeedah), it involves Mawlawi, and it also involves Baba Ali Qaradaghi (بابا علي ابن شيخ عمر القرة داغي), a family friend and Islamic scholar of the Quran-focused school. I was involved with typing up the manuscript of his book Yawmul Mawti Yawmul Baa`thi (The Day of Death is the Day of Resurrection), a book that dares to challenge nearly the entirety of Islamic eschatology (the events that will happen around the time of the end of the world).

In typical Sufi fashion, his expressions of love for his sheikh Uthman Sirajuddin Naqshbandi take so many verses that one wonders what kind of force there was to drive someone to expend so much effort in expressing it.

Mawlawi explains that iman (faith in God) is either acquired through kashf (God removing the screen that hides Him from our eyes), through daleel (clues), or through taqleed (having faith because someone you love and admire has it). He has no hope of achieving the first status (of kashf), since it is only for the greatest masters, therefore what he aims at are the second (and the third, if I remember correctly).

He mentions the hadith that the Muslims will separate into 73 sects, all of which will be thrown into Hell except one, and says that he hopes that through the great and pure early and late scholars and mystics to be able to find his way into being among the al-firqah al-naajiyah (the one group that does not get thrown into Hell). In reality, this hadith is highly questionable, and it is generally accepted that the part that says “all of them will be thrown into Hell save one” is a fabrication. A Salafi brother used this hadith as evidence to me that not being Salafi was almost certainly a surefire way of going to Hell.

At some point he starts with a tafseer (interpretation) of Surat al-Ikhlas (chapter 112 of the Quran, made up of only 4 verses), which in English can be translated as:

1. Say, “He is God, the One.

2. God, the Absolute.

3. He begets not, nor was He begotten.

4. And there is nothing comparable to Him.”

He says that the fact that the chapter starts with a command (“Say”) disproves physical determinism (that humans have no free will). The existence of a command implies the possibility of both obeying and disobeying the commander, therefore humans have free will. This is a false or incomplete line of reasoning, since you can use a remote control to issue a command to a device, with the device having no choice but to obey.

In a discussion of the Night Journey of the Prophet ﷺ, he addresses those of his time who were saying the telegraph is greater than the Prophet’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, since telegraph is near-instantaneous:

هەی تەل! هەی نەی کەی پێی گەی هەی نەی خۆی
وەک ماری زامدار هەر پێچدا لە خۆی
فەرقیان هەی فام ئەهلی زەمانە
هەر لە سەر زەمین تا ئاسمانە

Hey line, it is not for you to reach it, you will not
Even if like a wounded snake you coil yourself
Their difference, O sound-minded people of this age,
Is like the difference between the earth and heaven

In the first verse he is addressing a telegraph line, saying you will never reach the greatness of the Night Journey, or God’s power, or something like that. The telegraph had been in development and use in Europe for over 30 years at this time, so it makes sense that he would have heard of it. Baba Ali suggests that he may have even seen a working telegraph system.

He delves into the issue of free will versus determinism. In some verses, whose Kurdish translation is included by Qaradaghi, the Persian poet Khayyam asks the server to serve him wine, saying that God already knows he was going to do this, and this it was already written, implying that therefore he has no responsibility for the action, and therefore it is not really sinful. Khayyam is referring to Islam’s free will paradox; if an action is truly “free”, it should not be predictable. And if it is predictable, if it is already known and written, how can it be free?

Mawlawi answers the question by not answering it, in the mainstream Sunni fashion. He attacks the various theories others have put forward and concludes that the Ashaari creed is the true one (that our actions are already written, and that we are responsible for them, don’t ask why), and that we must act by the dhaahir of Shariah, do what it asks us and avoid what it prohibits us, without caring about philosophical concerns.

He talks about God’s perfection, the impossibility of any human to ever truly know and encompass Him, and ends by saying that you (the reader) is a pitiful mortal, so what business do you have worrying about such matters?

Being asked to believe in free will and predestination at the same time has always felt to me like being asked to believe in the Christian Trinity, that the Son is not the Father, and neither of whom are the Holy Spirit, but that all three are God. I have discovered a satisfactory solution to this paradox, which I call the Theory of Delegation, that satisfies the Quran and does not require one to believe in seemingly contradictory propositions. I haven’t published it due to its highly sensitive nature. I plan to read more first.

The Baghdad-based Sufi Kurdish Islamic scholar Abdul Kareem Mudarris has written a full commentary on this poem, which I found online and perhaps will read some day as a poetic introduction to the field of aqeedah.

Are Muslims allowed to never marry?

Aslamu Alaikum! Brother I’m suffering from social anxiety (or with some other phychological disease). As I can’t afford therapy because I’m not financially well. So i don’t wAnt to get married because I don’t want to intentionally ruin someone’s life. So, is this a valid reason for not getting married ? What Islam guides us about this?

InshaAllah things will get better for you. Marriage is not obligatory, therefore you always have the choice of not marrying. Regarding your situation, you can wait and things may change a great deal for you in a year or two. There is no problem with delaying marriage for now, but there is no need to say that you will never get married, since you never know what the future may bring. You may one day meet someone who doesn’t mind your social anxiety and who can take care of you financially.

Do what you can with what you have, and always try to increase your knowledge through lectures and books, and inshaAllah you will be able to change yourself and your life for the better.

Also see: Marriage is not necessarily “half our religion”

 

Breaking up with a friend of the same sex who is sexually attracted to you

I’m a muslim girl and I’m attracted to girls. I’ve fallen in love with girls but I have never done anything (like kissing or more) because I know that would be fornication. Other than that, I pray, I fast, and I’m really religious. I know my attraction to girls is just a test Allah has made for me to pass. The thing is, I’m currently in love with a girl and she’s not religious. I’ve told her that I love her but that nothing would ever happen between us.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing since Allah hasn’t forbidden us from loving someone, but it’s tiring and I know that eventually this “relationship” will come to an end. I don’t want to hurt her or stop answering to her texts but I want to take my distance so I can focus on other things like my faith. What do you think I should do? Thanks in advance, peace be upon you!

Breaking up with someone you love is rarely easy. The best advice I can give you is to read the Quran daily and try to make its priorities your priorities, and this book can give you the best and most relevant guidance for each situation in your life. Read it and after a few pages you will see your own situation (or something very similar to it) mentioned in it, and that will always help you find your way.

The Quran teaches us to be kind, forgiving, good-mannered and empathic toward people. It also teaches us to stay away from people who call us toward actions that displease God. These different and conflicting concerns must be balanced when dealing with people.

Each person’s psychology is different, so I cannot give specific advice on your situation. Read the Quran (just 20 minutes per day if you cannot do more) and you will inshaAllah find guidance in it.

Honor killings and execution of adulterers in Islam

Salam. I grew up in Europe so I didn’t study Islam in a Muslim country so I haven’t been provided with the full version. However my cousin did in my motherland (Arab) and when we discuss islam with eachother it’s is so different, her views are more cruel in a way. For instance she said that honour killing is part of the deen because a woman’s wali has the right to kill her if she brings shame but I didn’t learn Islam that way. I was taught a more peaceful version. I wonder which one is true?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is no such thing as honor killings in Islam. In Islamic law, an honor killing is murder and the person who does it is a murderer. A person can only be punished for a sexual crime only after trial.

It is true that many Muslim clerics have been complicit in honor killings, since they do not speak strongly against it and even tolerate it.

It is also true that many Muslims believe that a married person convicted of adultery should be executed, although in practice this has almost never been performed by Shariah courts, since the requirements for proving adultery are extremely stringent (four witnesses must have seen the sexual act taking place). Jonathan Brown mentions in his book Misquoting Muhammad that scholars have at times preferred to be exiled instead of signing the order for executing (stoning) adulterers.

The issue of advocating for executing adulterers is caused by most scholars preferring the less reliable evidence of hadith over the principles of the Quran, and the issue is not limited to executing adulterers. As an example, the Quran says that “There is no compulsion in religion” (The Quran, verse 2:256), yet most scholars support punishing people who leave Islam (sometimes by execution!), which as anyone with a tiny bit of common sense can see, is utterly hypocritical. Forcing people to stay Muslim is as much compulsion as forcing them to become Muslim. The Quran is clear on this matter, there must not be compulsion in religion, people must be free what religion they practice. Scholars, however, ignore this clear principle of the Quran and give preference to hadith, in this way justifying forcing people to stay Muslim.

Any Muslim who says Islam believes in religious freedom, but does not admit that the Quran’s principles are superior to hadith, probably does not know what they are talking about. The classical (and Salafi) Islamic view does not guarantee religious freedom, it forces people to stay Muslim against their own will.

Regarding adultery, using the evidence of the Quran and Islamic history, the great Egyptian Islamic scholar Abu Zahra, who was an expert on Islamic law, concluded that adulterers are not executed in Islam and presented his evidence at an Islamic conference in 1972, which immediately caused an uproar among the scholars, since he dared to give preference to the Quran over hadith. Salafis and classical scholars cannot accept Abu Zahra’s view because they refuse to acknowledge the superiority of the Quran over hadith. For a discussion of this serious problem within Islam and its solution see my essay Quran-Focused Islam: A Rationalist, Always-Modern and Orthodox Alternative to Salafism.

Can someone with mental illness marry in Islam?

Can a person marry, even if he/she is suffering from some kind of psychological disease and knows that it can affect his/her married life?

It depends on the seriousness of the illness. If there is a good chance that you can have a functional family life and can bring up children safely, then it may be fine (you should get other people’s opinion on this and not rely only on your own). Be honest with your potential spouse regarding your illness, you should let them know about it and give them your honest opinion on what you think your limitations are when it comes to being a good spouse and parent.

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