From the Old Blog: Is it Enough?

In recent times I’ve contemplated what it means to identify yourself as a Muslim. Is there a bare minimum that one must adhere to in order to be within the fold of Islam.  We know that the word Muslim describes an adherent to Islam. Islam meaning submission and Muslim meaning one who submits. But what exactly does it mean to submit to God?  Specifically, what acts and beliefs must one hold to be considered fully Muslim. Is Shahadda enough? Following the 5 pillars? Is it only a label? Does one have to identify with the organized religion of Islam to be a Muslim?

The Shahadda is the declaration of faith, a statement that one believes in the existence of only one God and that Muhammad was his messenger. Is monotheism and the belief in the prophets, specifically Muhammad, enough? Does one have to believe in the hadith, or at least the one’s that the early collectors deemed sahih . Is that part of believing in the messenger? Is it enough to acknowledge that Muhammad brought the message of monotheism, or do you have to believe in the prophetic tradition, or at least the accounts that have been transmitted to us through time?

If find myself  far outside of the orthodoxy. The proper way to eat or use the bathroom doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I don’t consider black dogs to be the devil. I don’t obey my husband or feel the need to find another female witness when signing a contract. I don’t believe non-Muslims will burn in hell simply for their belief system. I don’t believe the Quran is meant to be taken literally in many, many cases. I believe it is a text of divine origin, as are many.  I don’t believe the prophet was infallible.  I don’t believe the mandates found within the Quran and Sunnah are applicable to all people in all times.

And yet I still consider myself Muslim.

Islam has become a way to express my spirituality, but I don’t believe it is the only way. All of the organized religions have flaws and truth. Islam is no different but I do find a certain superiority in certain acts of  Islamic worship. I find the salat to be a wholly appropriate and fitting way to ritually worship God. I also thoroughly respect the purity of the fast and the depletion of the self it inspires. Even ordinary Muslims can deprive themselves as a means of finding spiritual enlightenment, much in the way of the yogi’s and Buddhist monks. Naturally, the giving of charity, as is required of many belief systems, is a merciful and rightly guided way to live and share our earthly bounties. I do hope to make hajj one day.

So I’ve covered the basics. Am I still Muslim, despite that which I don’t believe?

The idea of submission does suggest something more than purely the act of believing. It connotes a yielding of something greater and more powerful than ourselves. It’s an understanding that our reality is molded and formed by something above and beyond our knowledge of existence.

But, does submission include the laws and seemingly endless rules that accompany the tradition? I find it frustrating that so much of what makes up Islam does not consist of ideas about God, so much as a code of living. However, in so many ways this code doesn’t serve to increase my God consciousness or even make my life any better.

If religion is supposed to be easy, why does it seem so hard?

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “From the Old Blog: Is it Enough?

  1. I think you are having a hard time accepting certain things in Islam, and you know these things play a big part in belief. are you still Muslim even without beliving these things? Nobody can answer that except you. You are asking yourself if you are still a muslim.. i hope this doesnt go in the wrong direction. A muslim is someone who submits to will of Allah, but a Muslim's Iman declines and rises, so although we firmly belive in one God, we make mistakes, we go through phases where our iman is decreasese etc.Regards to you not caring about certain ways to eat etc, well that could be a result of feeling distant from Allah swt. Allahu Alim. Keep praying and you will have no reason to doubt yourself Insha'Allah.

  2. Assalamu Aleykum,ALLAH SWT has commanded us those codes of living and all the islamic rules.Therefore everything islamic is about and from ALLAH SWT.HE has told the humans how to live in order to make their life as good as possible.What we want and what we need are not always the same.ALLAH SWT knows what is good for us, but sometimes we don't understand the reason behind as the human understanding is very low compared to the great Wisdom of ALLAH SWT.If you don't believe that Islam is the truth and that other religions are just fake, or if you don't believe in the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet SAWW, then are you still a muslim?I don't think we are supposed to pick from Islam whatever suits our desires or whatever fits in the society we live in, and leave the rest."Islam has started as something strange and will end up as something strange".Ask ALLAH SWT to lead you on the right path INSHALLAH and INSHALLAH you'll see the truth clearly.I hope I was not too harsh, but you know my views and opinions, and I only express them hoping they will be useful to you INSHALLAH.

  3. Yup, I have asked the same questions, and incertainmatters have even seen a few quranic traditions modified by early Caliphs (divorce for example). Which is why, I always argue with anyone who will listen that Quran was so progressive (slavery was not abolished right away, people were weaned off of it, same as with alcohol) that there is still room for modification, but unfortunately for us, the ulema don't trust themselves enough or are scared of retribution to bring about more modifications. There will be one day insha Allah, that people will see the light and finally bring about the changes long over due. Questioning doesn't make you a bad Muslim, questioning with the intention of improving Muslim ummah makes you an intelligent Muslim.

  4. This is something I've come across in my own faith as well. One reason I loved Catholicism so much was the beauty of the ritual and tradition. I somehow felt that if I followed an elaborate set of "rules" that I could be worthy of God. But as my faith journey progressed and I searched the Bible and found a church I was comfortable in, the message of Grace was, and is, a breathtakingly beautiful theology change for me. Just as I have unconditional love for my children, it finally became apparent that God could love me like that too, even though I am far, far, far from perfect. When I realized this, a weight lifted off me. And you know, Steph, I've been in church my entire life. I've been a Christian since I was a child, but it wasn't until about four years ago that this realization hit. So am I the perfect example of Christianity? Absolutely not. I keep trying to be as good a disciple of Christ as I can, knowing that only One is perfect.These outward signs of adherence to our faiths can be deciving. As you know, there are Christians and Muslims and Jews who, while appearing on the outside to be adherant to their faith are privately morally reprehensible. I don't believe that in the end God will consider whether or not I ate less than 30 minutes before I accepted Communion or confessed my sins to a priest (another flawed human), or covered my head before entering the church, or have my tubes tied as evidence of my worth to enter heaven and receive salvation. I believe, in the end, it matters to God that I love Him with all my heart, mind and spirit and I love my neighbors. Love God, love people. It became that simple for me. So while our journeys are in different faiths, they are also remarkably similar. I wish you the best my friend and know that God and I, love you.

  5. I admire you so much for your honesty! Every single Muslim, I believe, has the same questions, but most of us would much rather shun the thought of ever asking them out loud because, oh you know, it's haraam to think like this because it pushes us outside the fold of Islam (so the belief goes). I, however, have no problem asking such questions out loud. If it's gonna lead me outside of Islam, then so be it; if Islam is the right religion for me, I'll come back to it. If it's not, I won't.I once read on someone's blog — or maybe it was yours — that during times like these, during the times that we have such questions, the worst people to be around are the kinda Muslims who believe that all non-Muslims go to hell, it's haraam to wish someone a Merry Christmas or a Happy Birthday, it's haraam to ask questions like these, Islam is submission to the One True God and if you can't do that, then you're not a Muslim, and so on.I honestly don't think Islam is easy. Rather, no, wait … what IS Islam? The problem is, we claim to have defined it, but we really haven't. Or maybe we have, and all of us know it, but no one wants to admit it loudly and clearly enough: Islam is what a group of male scholars and jurists during classical and medieval periods decided Islam is. Period. And, frankly speaking, *I* have a huge problem with that. If that's Islam, then Islam is hellishly difficult; if Islam is what the Quran is, then it's not at all difficult — why? Because the Quran is quite ambiguous, and that gives me room to breathe and think freely. And THAT is what I need!

  6. I'd also like to add the following, which I wrote in response to someone who asked what it means to be a Muslim.You're asking a question that Muslim scholars have been debating since the rise of Islam! What constitutes Muslimhood? What constitutes kufr? They cannot agree — because the answer is quite ambiguous according to the Quran and the hadiths.We make it seem SO easy when we say, "ALL you have to do is follow Allah and the Prophet," but in actuality, it's not at all that simple. And, no, it's not that we're making it difficult for ourselves. If that's so, which group is the one making it difficult for itself and/or others? We don't know, and I am certain we'll never know. Thank God.If you look around, the extremist Muslims might agree on some things, but they disagree on many, many other things among themselves! What's worse, we label ourselves and each other. Ahhh, but why have such labels in the first place if we're going to follow ISLAM, which is supposedly BOTH the Quran and the sunnah? But what many have done is completely neglect the QURANIC teachings (why? Because the Quran is not clear on most issues at all) and turn instead to the hadiths (why? because they are specific. And the reason they're specific is that they're Person A's interpretations of Person B's interpretations of Person C's interpretations of Person C's statements about the Prophet's interpretations and actions and thoughts. The hadiths are literally frozen in the 7th century, whereas the Quran is far more universal. But that's another debate for another time… though it's an active one currently among Muslim scholars and students of Islam.).The extremists/literalists aren't the only ones who have so many differences of opinion, though. The non-extremists are no different. My problem is with our enforcing OUR own understanding and call it Islam while taking everyone else's and calling it non-Islam :S Or anti-Islam! Or deviation! Or shirk! Or something else that indicates that it's wrong or false. Dude, what makes your views better than another Muslim's? Go to hell already.Funniest thing is, EACH Muslim will call her/himself "moderate" Well, duh, who'd call her/himself extremist? I mean, who's gonna say, "Oh, yeah, I'm an extremist"? And WHO is gonna say, "oh, yeah, I don't do what's right and what Islam says"? All are going to say that.Further, there's no such thing as the "true meaning of Islam." If there is, no one knows what it is. EVERY group of Muslim is going to tell you that their understanding of Islam is the correct and true one. NO Muslim will ever say that her/his meaning of Islam is a false one. The question is, whose is really closest to the "true" one, if anyone's?P.S. Did you know that Abu Hanifa, the scholar most followed by Muslims, actually said that it's okay to offer munz/namaaz/prayer in your OWN language and that it's not mandatory to do so in Arabic? Whoa!!! How radical is that! But in his time, it was totally okay to do and say that. His disciples as well as other major scholars (Shafi', for example, and most especially Hanbal) disagreed with him so strongly that their opinion became more popular while Abu Hanifa's was buried.That's just to say that disagreements like this have been a part of Islam. And they always will be…. and it's not just Islam: it's every religion. It seems to be an inherent part of every single creed, especially because each group of followers (even within the religion itself) claims it's the only correct one and it attempts to suppress all other possible interpretations of that religion.

  7. @ Sarah– Yes, I am having a hard time accepting many things which is considered "a big part of belief". I question why. I do consider myself Muslim, but perhaps a very unconventional one. As for the all the ritual, ways to eat, etc, these things don't make me feel closer to God. In fact, the farther away I get from the orthodoxy, or at least the mindless ritualistic aspect of it, the closer to God I feel. For me these questions are an exploration with the goal being ultimate truth. Sounds a bit cliche but, eh, still true.

  8. @ Umm Omar– and maybe they're all wrong, or at least parts of them, while they also all contain truths as well.

  9. @ Umm Zakariya– No I don't believe other religions are "just fake". I think they're very beautiful and meaningful and also hold great truths.And yes, I think you have to pick and choose from Islam. Don't we all? The Islam you practice is different from a violent extremist (I hope) and the Islam you practice is differnt than me and the Islam I practice is different than Nida or unsettledsoul, etc, etc.

  10. @ unsettledsoul– there is a cultural aspect, yes. How can i be expected to give up listening to music or go to the ballet or watch a film or look at a nude sculpture…when these are things about my culture that I happen to love because they are meaningul. Not to mention some of the gender issues like having male friends, segregation in the masjid or at gatherings, obeying and asking the husband for permission,etc.However, for me also, many of the issues are purely religious. One can't always blame the negative on the culture but it's a must that we look at the text and the interpretations as well. Because that's what EVERYONE uses to justify their opinion.

  11. I think it is a good thing that you are questioning "why" are having hard time coming to terms with the things that are a part of Islam. Some people just don't want to accept them, and they do not wish to reflect whether its them that need to change. At the moment, I think your image of Islam is clouded by some negative energy perhaps from some people that may have given you the wrong impression about certain things about Islam, for example non-Muslims going to hell. Well ultimatley thats for God to decide wouldnt you agree? I trust that Allah swt will deal with his creation fairly. Khalas. Thats that. Alot of Muslims do not delve into issues like these because they trust what Allah swt says in the Qur'an. There are just some things that Humans do not have the capibility to understand. For example I learnt the Long way the benefits of Shariah. As soon as I saw the curroption within society, and the injustice happening to people, I got so hurt ( I even cried over some things that happened to the people) so I starting brain storming some ideas on how these crimes could be prevented in the first place, and I found that the solution to all the problems where already in Shariah! Subhan'Allah. I know you are not going to agree with me on this point, but I think maybe you will understand my point of veiw.Allah knows best.

  12. @ Andrea–I find it the comparison between Islam and Catholicism interesting because I've contemplated this before. Ritual has to have some meaning behind it, otherwise it's pointless. Indeed, when we become too obsessed with the ritual and forget the spirituality it will leave of void. However, if feeling that God is enough, or loving God and being a good person is enough, then why do we need religion in the first place?

  13. I agree it is the religious aspect also. I've been questioning so much recently that I think I am beginning to wonder why I am doing this to myself. I question more than what I believe. Honestly, I know what I believe, and I think I need to start living it and stop trying to make myself a "better Muslim" in the orthodox sense. I am not an orthodox Muslim, I am not even a moderate Muslim. I need to embrace that and let the rest fall away, including people who promote tearing me down instead of building me up.

  14. I guess that the answer to that is that I don't think "religion" is necessary. To me, faith is the part of your soul that believes in God and strives to life according to His word. Religion is the set of rules that men have created so that we feel better about ourselves because the concept of Grace is so mind-blowing. In Christianity, loving Christ (and emulating him as much as possible) and loving people lead you to live a good life. But being a good person isn't enough.I believe that in order for salvation to be received a person must accept they are a sinner, repent from sin and believe that Jesus, the Son of God, was indeed the Messiah sent to save the world. Why do I believe this? It's in the Bible, my book of faith. It may seem a little wishy washy to say that I don't believe that religion is necessary but take my belief about salvation from the Bible. But I think that so many people cling to the Old Testament ways (no shellfish, don't mix dairy and beef, etc.) and forget the Love message in the New Testament in which Jesus makes his appearance and changes the rules from a set of strict rules to just two, Love God (/Christ with all your mind, body and soul) and Love people.

  15. I believe true faith comes from within and can often get mired in the unecessary ritual practices. WHen I met my spouse, I prayed 5 times a day alwys doing dua afterwards, covered my head and body, aimed to use good words and actions – you know – tried to be a decent charitable human being. But he is very set on the ritual aspects. First my prayer was all wrong, I took too long at this, didn't staay long enough for that, didn't tuck my foot this way or hold my finger that way, didn't say X when going in the baathroom, or put my right shoe on first. The needling continues to this day and I have no room left in my heart for being decent. I am so reactive to the constant message my pratice is insufficient that I hve lrgely given up on it entirely. My focus on being decent are out the window. He is also inclined to assume anyone in a thobe/beard or abaya/hijab are super awesome people even if they are totally narrowminded oppressive types (which is only because they wish to keep Islam pure). For me, I was much happier when I was "lacking" in knowledge but prayed with sincerity and was still proud to be a Muslim. Whether I hung with fundies or proggies or Unitarians – as long as people are decent and God fearing i was good with them and believed God to be good with them as well.Sorry for rambling.

  16. Anonymous, do you have your own blog? I would love to follow if you feel comfortable showing yourself? Religion gives control freaks an excellent opportunity to take advantage of us. To say God wants it is an excellent excuse to abuse power.Isn't it funny how in any other situation it would not be ok, but when religion is brought into it suddenly we are not allowed to criticize or condemn. Men are given the message that it is ok to control their wives if it is "bringing them closer to God" and suddenly we are assaulted with what they think we should be, instead of respecting what we think.I don't blame you for rejecting it completely. Your husband is trying to take away your authentic self in return for an image of piety.

  17. @ Serenity–Very GOOD points. But don't we have to define Islam in some way? What makes it unique? That's an interesting tidbit about Abu Hanifa bTW.

  18. Stephanie,I have been glued to your blog since I discovered it several months ago. My apologies for not commenting as much as I should; I didn't know what to say at times, or flat out did't have enough time to put together a coherent thought.You have struck a chord within me. I too, am Muslim. I am not ashamed to admit that going for a long drive in wide open spaces with gorgeous scenery brings about more God consciousness for me than most Islamic rituals.I confess I pray in English. I do not speak Arabic; I want to relish every word in my own language so I get the message. I am very frustrated with hijab. I daydream about the cold winter air whipping through my hair and rustling through my ears. I can't even talk about summer without loosing my dignity. Let me just say this: Mad. Bovine.Did something get lost in translation? Humans have been know to mess up or complicate just about everything known to man/womankind. Religion isnt exempt. Pondering the possibilities changes everything. Your children are beautiful.xOxO

  19. @ imuslimah– thanks so much for the sweet comment. it made me tear up a little. I'm not sure why other than I'm sure there are many out there amongst us that have similar questions and feelings. Unfortunately, we've been conditioned to look at questioning as something to be repressed when really aren't we exploring God and Islam on a deeper level? thanks again for your comment.

  20. @ umm squeekster–I'm glad you brought up ritual bc that's something I've been thinking alot about. Or more specifically the fact that ritual is empty without some meaning behind it.

  21. DD

    of course muslims have debated whether works or belief is more important for centuries. in my unqualified opinion i reckon both of them are equally important, in Islam anyway. maybe it's just that the believers who do more works are rewarded in higher grades than the believers who just believe and do nothing else. Allahu Alaam.

  22. For me the shahada is enough to recognize other Muslims. My extended family is filled with ultra conservative Sunnis, hard core Shiites, a guitar swinging Sufi, liberal, no-name brand Muslim (that would be myself and the Hubby), religious Bohras, reform Bohras, honourary Isma'ili relatives and maybe even some belief systems I'm not aware about.The manner in which we pray, fast, tell the Islamic date, make du'a, etc, are all different — but we're all Muslim.I've always been of the opinion that you're too religious when you're no longer happy. You can have the best fist-long beard, roll up your pants, eat with three fingers on the floor, fast mondays and thursdays (I do), follow the religion to the nth degree… as long as you're happy and not hurting anyone, then all the power too you. When religion becomes a burden, it's time to scale back and do the manageable worship, that makes you happy.A bedouin once asked the Prophet what he needed to do to get to heaven. The Prophet told him to believe in tawheed, pray, pay zakat, and fast. That's it. He gave the bedouin a manageable list of duties according to the man's needs and abilities.

  23. ps… I wrote my comment on the go, and even now I'm writing with a baby in the sink. sorry if it sounds off :)What I missed was saying that even though I fast, it's the least I can do at the moment. I feel closer to God when I do. Closer than when I pray (when and if I get around to praying. these days I'm finding it very difficult to do so). So for me its a combination of belief and action. I believe in God and in Islam as a way of life — just right now, I can only act on the forms of worship that are calling to me and that make sense to me.

  24. @ DD– I'm just working on the belief right now, although I do think that action can solidify belief as in the case of salah and fasting.@ Sultana–Thanks so much for commenting! And yes, I can see how we identify with each other as I think our journey's sound similar. I believe that me being unhappy will only further lead me away from Islam, so yeah, I 'm just going to do what I like for now. It doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to become some alcohol slugging, pork eating harlot. I just really need a break right now.

  25. @ houda– it's funny when people tell you to just have faith, to just believe. You simply cannot believe in something you don't. It just doesn't make sense. I can push the questions down and ignore them, but I refuse.

  26. @ Qrratugai– who's Becky? :DAnyway, yeah I agree with your comment for the most part. I'm just not entirely convinced everything can be "reinterpreted". I really think there is some things in the Quran which just don't apply to us today and should be left to history.

  27. @ ayesha– yes i think Islam was fairly progressive for it's time. Certainly isn't now though. Can we take the spirit of progressivism but leave the rest? I don't know.

  28. Stephanie, that is the most stupid thing ppl are likely to tell you that you will end down a road full with all the haraam things, my goodness! God gave all of us a free will and for some things you don't need a religion, there is things we can decide for our own selves, YES my dear TAKE A BREAK if you need it otherwise you will psychologically burn out and break down(it happened to me and my results in school are lacking NOW BECAUSE OF IT!).

  29. About two years ago I came to realise that I never believed that God designs religions. I didn’t know that I didn’t believe that until someone who read my blog pointed it out to me. It was a great self-discovery after which I was never scared, never angry, never confused. What I truly believed was removed from the clutches of what I was raised to believe.

    Religions are an earnest attempt to understand God; they are only created by people who truly love God and wish to understand the Grand Mystery. To expect God to design one true religion is to expect that one shoe fit all. There is so much variety and so much beauty around us that I failed to notice until I joined various religious communities: UU, Quakers, Sufi, to name a few. God may want us to submit, but which religion teaches that we don’t submit?! Indeed even the Christians of Najran retorted that they had “submitted [their] complete wills much before the Muslims.” The parameters of submission vary from religion to religion which tells me that God requires that we recognise Him as the Creator and that recognition is something we are born with naturally, but I don’t think He is bothered about the rules. And if he is then we are doomed because even timings and rituals of the Muslim salah were established in the Abbasid period! We have little idea of the ‘pure Islam’ as practiced by the Prophet.

    I used to collect caterpillars as a child and see them grow into butterflies. That precise moment when the worm turns into a butterfly is so swift and so perfect. It is also so beautiful. But it must seem like forever for the butterfly and so difficult and because it is happening to it, it doesn’t know how beautiful that moment is to view. This moment, Stephanie, this moment you are going through may look difficult and long and tedious, but it is a beautiful moment from where I can see you. When you truly realise that we are here for the purpose of mutual tolerance, acceptance, inclusiveness and hence through that universalism a devotion to God, to ourselves, and to this earth, you have turned from a worm. God bless you and guide you.

  30. Achelois said:
    “Religions are an earnest attempt to understand God; they are only created by people who truly love God and wish to understand the Grand Mystery”.
    Yes! That is my thought exactly. I also believe philosophy, science, even music, art and poetry are also humankind’s attempt at getting a glimpse of that mystery.
    For me, at this point, Islam is more of a construct of my identity, rather than a belief system. So, yes, for me it is painful to seperate myself from that. I also have a lot of anger issues surrounding Islam and my conversion, the root causes of which I haven’t written much of. Either way, I’m sure that butterfly was equally bewildered to experience such a transformation. Like the butterfly, at times, I feel that I have no control over this. Once I opened up the possibility of my disbelief (primarily in the divine nature of the Quran), the rest quickly fell into place and it seems as if the former me is gone, evaporated into thin air. At the same time, it is as if I’ve returned to my true self, free from the heavy and often irrational constraints of religion.

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