I suppose as a disbeliever I could view Easter as a time of renewal and rebirth, but instead I just can’t help think about the mass delusion that religion brings to ordinary and rational people. Not to mention, the majority of people out hiding Easter eggs and attending early church services, the ones posting weird shit on facebook about how he is risen and his blood cleanses us all and god killed his son to save us sinners (you know what I’m talking about), have no idea where this holiday really comes from. So for those of you who’d rather read a book or gain some type of useful, reality based knowledge on this gorgeous Sunday morning, here’s a little Wiki about the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eostre!
Category Archives: religion
First of all I would like to wish a very sincere if not belated Ramadan Mubarak to all of my Muslim readers.
When I left Islam, one of the most startling aspects of my new life sans religion was the appearance of what might only be termed an identity crisis. I found myself stripped of my religious identity, away from a community that surrounded me for a great part of my adult life. Gone were all of the rules about how to run my affairs, how to eat, how to behave and communicate, how to dress. I was left with only myself and the intimidating task of creating a new persona; or rather–and maybe more difficult–a persona that is organic and authentic, a true reflection of my Self. I pulled from that young woman I knew long ago and have often found myself giddy in re-discovering an aspect of myself that was buried away by a self-imposed, religiously driven cloister. I’ve gained an indestructible amount of strength from the knowledge of my struggles and achievements. I have also been humbled by a constant contemplation of my past follies, indiscretions and submission to a completely incompatible belief system and equally incompatible life partner. The questions of “why” still lurk. And the answers still disappoint me.
For the most part the identity crisis has passed, but what of the spiritual gaps? The coming of Ramadan this year was a tad bittersweet. For the first time in eight years I am not observing this month, but I have allowed the memories of it resurface.
When I remember Ramadan, I think about the early morning eggs and labne followed by the fajr prayer. Still half asleep, I remember placing my forehead on the soft rug whose mosaic designs glow in the dim lamplight. When I think of Ramadan, I think of darkened windows obscuring the rest of the sleeping world and the solemnity of the soul, earnestly striving to commune with the Divine. I think of the sweetness of the date and the cool contentment in a sip of water. How delicious is a simple cup of coffee or a small bowel of lentils?
There is something pure and meaningful in this ritual of fasting and prayer. When I think of it, I remember in fractured glimpses the beauty that I once saw in Islam and I feel like I just might be able to forgive all of its inadequacies. The thing is, I didn’t’ see God in any of it. I remember desperately wishing I could feel something greater while in salat or reading from the Quran, something that would knock me over and proclaim its superior Beauty, its Ultimate Love. I never found that. Can one continue to practice a religion thoroughly out of love for its ritual, its tenets, but without any belief in its beginnings, its foundation, it’s no uncertain claim to the Divine Will? I believe so. I just couldn’t.
So I’ve begun filling the gaps. My recent contemplations of this life and God and Beauty and Nature have been the most cathartic of my life. Even though my conclusions bring no answers, because I don’t believe we can know the answers; I’m not even sure there are any answers. To some this may seem hollow, or meaningless, but I assure you the very existence of the questions give me the meaning I need and crave. My mind and thoughts have been freed from the confines of religion and yet I’ve taken fragments and added to my experience, my knowledge.
And I like that I still have gaps. I carefully tend to some while allowing others to open. It’s part of being whole again, if still imperfect.
Many claim the Quran is a book of justice, peace and equality. This assertion is often used to promote a kinder, gentler Islam but is rarely backed with examples. When I read or hear these assertions, I find myself cringing a little because that is not what I find when I open the covers of the book. I’ve been thinking about how I can reach such a different conclusion; how I find a book full of threats and an overtly angry and punishing God.
I’m sympathetic to the modern-day pressures felt by the Muslim community. Justified feelings of humility and the pressures of post-colonialism have colored Islamic thought in the last two centuries and things have gotten even more ugly in this post 9/11 world. The current state of the Muslim world is a complex subject to be explored and deserves an honest introspection.
However, my argument is that Islam and Muslims have always been pitted against the disbelievers. Early on in Islamic history, Muslims tried hard to separate themselves from the disbelievers and the enmity and violent upheaval of those times find themselves into the verse.
Islam does offer justice to those within a Muslim society and to the believers. The poor are given charity, the orphans are cared for. Murderers and thieves are punished. Even women have a right to support by their male relatives in all instances, although she may have to share her husband with others, and accept a lesser inheritance. Slavery is acceptable in the eyes of Allah, but kindness to your human property is highly prized and rewarded. Religious minorities are protected, although at the cost of the jizya. The Quran outlines all the things necessary for a functioning society, but at at the heart of this society, Islam must prevail:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (9:29).
It’s a matter of debate whether or not living under an Islamic system of law as outlined in the Quran would be just to those living within it, either Muslim or not. However, it is often the case in religious systems that the concept of justice is carried out in the afterlife. From a purely supernatural standpoint, the fate of those who decide not to sumit to the laws of Islam and reject either the superiority of Allah or his existence altogether will surely be punished in the afterlife.
I don’t think those of us who disbelieve would have so many issues with religion if, in general, it was more universal and accepting of diverse human opinions. Religion creates a sort of tribalism, a dichotomy between us and them. Of course, humankind will tend toward this type of behavior with almost any ideology, but when it is codified into practice by the actual scripture it becomes more problematic because now the hatred and placement of inferiority of the other is sanctioned by God himself.
Yes, the Quran does speak of justice, but it is almost always juxtaposed against the dichotomy of the believers versus the unbelievers:
O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.
Those who reject faith and deny our signs will be companions of Hell-fire. (5:8-10).
It was never a universal message of love or justice. It was a promise of rewards to the believer and submitter to Allah. Those who resist, rather in body or mind, meet a terrible punishment, either in this life or the next. It’s difficult to respect a system of belief that essentially declares you are going to burn in hell forever and I don’t find any justice in that.
I’m physically and emotionally exhausted at this point. The last few weeks of this semester are upon me, as are exams and pending research papers. When things get this chaotic, I sincerely question my decsion to attempt grad school at this point in my life. I can only hope, no, I know, that it will pay off for me both professionally and personally in the long run.
Anyway, I’m quite disposed with research and study and writing, intermingled with mopping floors and cooking meals and scubbing pots while tending to littles and sharing kisses and cuddles, all while still trying to engage in the rare quiet moments with my husband. So, I’ll leave you with this excellent article by tazaqqa entitled “Muhammad’s Misogyny?”
One of my favorite bloggers, Tazaqqa is always fair and kind and generous. Not to mention thought provoking. I agree so much with closing statement.
my conclusion was that if he had indeed been receiving divine revelations he would have known that all this is not the best moral example for the seal of prophethood since Islam closes all doors to future moral standards by calling Muhammad the “best example” and the last prophet.
So until I have a moment to breath and not one second before I’ve enjoyed a nice long bubble bath, a big glass of Zinfandel, and a long evening date with Netflix, enjoy the article and I’ll return soon for more fun. Inshallah.
There is a concept in Islam called the fitrah which refers to the primordial state of belief in Allah. Muslims believe all people are born Muslims, at least in the sense that the human is born with an innate knowledge of the oneness of Allah; We are simply taught something different, Christianity or Hinduism, for example, by our parents or society. Fitrah is often translated as “nature”, as in it is our nature to believe in the one God Allah.
I don’t believe we are all born Muslims. Children are not born into any religion. I view this idea as a simple attempt by organized religion to monopolize the religious tendencies of all humankind, right up to and even before birth. Perhaps the parallel would be Christianity’s claim that we are all born into sin and therefore must have an avenue for redemption. This line of reasoning cements the idea, at least in the mind of the believer, that their particular religion is the correct one; that even all of nature and the very essence of humankind somehow bows to the tenets of religion. This idea is very strong in Islam and numerous verses can be found in the Quran and hadith conforming to this concept.
As I said, I disagree with the idea that we are all born Muslims, but are we born believing in God? Rather, let’s frame the question in a more universal way. Since true monotheism is a rather new idea on the historical timeline of human religion, it doesn’t make sense to purport that we are essentially monotheistic. Yet, religion does seem to be culturally universal. Is there something in our nature, or even in our very DNA which gives us the propensity to believe? Some researchers think there is. Some articles here and here demonstrate that the human mind has a propensity to believe in God, or at least to engage in the religious experience. There are even best-selling books written about this concept such as The God Gene. Neuroscientists and psychologists like Andrew Newberg , Michael Parsinger and many others have empirically studied what happens to the human brain (namely the thalmus, parietal and temporal lobes) when engaged in some type of religious rite such as meditation or intense prayer along with changes that take place during an ecstatic religious experience.
As science is showing us, the brain does appear to be structured in a way to allow for religious experience: There seems to be a correlation between neurological changes and religious experience. In other words, our brains have evolved with an innate ability to experience religious states. And as evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have pointed out, religion does serve an adaptive purpose. In fact, research also shows that believers are better equipped to handle adverse life situations and tend to be more happy overall than their atheist counterparts.
But while all of this certainly gives us insight into truths about the human experience, the conclusions one draws from it rely heavily one’s own worldview and beliefs. The non-believer might take a very materialistic, naturalistic position and say that this evidence is further evidence that God can be explained by simple brain chemistry. That God is simply a construct of evolutionary adaptation. Conversely, the believer would interpret the evidence as proof that God exists; That God has built us with the ability to believe in him and belief is natural and intrinsically human.
The last post redirected into an entirely different discussion as the comments section often does. However, I feel that this topic deserves a post of its own. In many ways, it echoes this post I wrote when I was in my final days of Islam. I eventually, after several torturous weeks, decided to throw in the towel altogether. I gave up any belief in the Quran and the prophethood and along with the label of “Muslim”.
In the last post Sig left the following comment:
It is interesting to think about what labels we apply to us, and what meanings they hold and what a community or society at large says we are or aren’t, and what meaning that holds. There are people who call themselves “Muslim” who would not be considered thus by the mainstream sunni or shia or even some progressives. Are they still Muslims? Is a Muslim one who says he or she is? And my question always has been, if one rejects some of the core tenets of the faith, then why bother with the label unless it is for nostalgia or heritage? I think a lot of us – not all of us – go through a “still Muslim, but not like that…” phase. And then we get past it.
In response Zahura said this:
If someone says she’s a Muslim, let’s take her at her word. We can ask her why she chooses that label, what being a Muslim means to her, etc. To question all but conservative Muslims’ right to call themselves “Muslims” is what the conservatives do to everyone else. Why play into that?
Even though they seem to be on opposite ends of an argument I have to say I agree with both.
As we know labels are fluid and change and an individual rarely fits into any one box. If a person want to call themselves Muslim, no matter what they declare their beliefs to be, it’s not within my role, nor is it my responsibility to contend otherwise. However, labels are there to differentiate an individual from another; in other words, it is a name given based on certain descriptive characteristics. When one adopts a label, there must be a set of characteristics, beliefs, philosophy, etc, ascribed to the label, otherwise the label is meaningless. So when conservatives rail against progressives, and declare they are not Muslims, it’s because progressives seek to change the face of Islam. The underlying characteristics, the label, is threatened. When a progressive seeks to throw out 1500 years of scholarship, as well as the entire body of hadith (as some do), and seek out new and modern interpretations of the meaning of the Quran, it’s understandable that conservatives would think this philosophy falls outside of Islam, or in the very least see it as an imminent threat.
Because, to change something means you lose its original form. There has always been differing interpretation, rival schools of thought, and much variation in the fabric of Muslim societies. However, to my knowledge, the current “progressive” Islamic movement is the first organized group to ever seek to dispose of the hadith as a legitimate body of knowledge in Islamic jurisprudence. Nor, has any group collectively found such inventive reinterpretations of certain problematic verses such as the “wife beating verse” or the verse on homosexuality. These reinterpretations fit quite nicely into our modern values, but the question is, in my mind, is that truly how they were intended? Generally, when I read that dharaba means to separate and not to beat, or that the verse about Lut is speaking to rape and not sodomy, or that the verse about houris refers to golden raisins and not fair virgins with wide eyes, my gut feeling is that this is all wishful thinking; that’s not how they were intended, especially given the context and audience for which they were written. While I would like to see a more progressive, a “kinder and gentler” Islam gain ground, I don’t know that it is truly compatible with the verses contained in the Quran, and it certainly is not, in my opinion, compatible with the hadith. This is the source of my rejection with the “progressive” Islamic crowd, which left me no choice but to leave the faith entirely.
Which brings me to the nature of the Quran. The entire Islamic faith hinges on the assumption that the Quran is the direct and undisputed word of God. It is a revelation given directly to Muhammad from God through the angel Gabriel. This has to be true, otherwise Muhammad was not a prophet but a man with a propensity for verse among many in a society of poets. If one believes this to be the case, then it is an absolute duty to follow every letter of it. To believe it all to be true. This includes many concepts which might be hard for some to swallow such as the existence of jinn and black magic or even belief in a God who would constantly berate his creation with the threat of hellfire. While some verses may lend themselves to metaphor, others just do not, especially those addressing societal dealings such as inheritance laws, the necessity for two female witnesses in a financial contract, participation in riba, and certain dietary restrictions.
I think everyone can agree that the belief in one God, a profession of strict monotheism is a necessity in being Muslim. After that, the belief in the prophethood of Muhammad which implies belief in his divine revelation. I rejected the latter, and that was the catalyst for my apostacy. However, do you believe that is what is necessary to be a Muslim? If not, what else and why?
About a year ago, I stumbled upon a book of fiction. It was an interesting and engaging read. While reading this book, I recall feeling unsettled by the obvious parallels with my own belief system, its birth and early years, juxtaposed with the beginnings of the belief system described in the book. This was perhaps the first time in memory that I remember allowing my doubts to form and take shape in my consciousness. I began to question the nature and authenticity of religious movements and men claiming to be messengers of God.
The book was called “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff. It is part historical fiction interwoven with a modern-day suspense story. The book examines, in great detail, the early formation of the Mormon Church. It follows the life of Brigham Young’s rebellious wife, Ann Eliza, who fled the community and publicly renounced the church. Her story is interwoven with a modern-day murder mystery and the lives of several youth who were on the run from the treacherous and criminal cult leader of an LDS offshoot.
The Church of the Latter Day Saints began with the revelation given by an angel to Joseph Smith. Smith retired into the woods one day and asked God to give him a sign. This set into motion a series of visits and the subsequent bequeathment of a set of golden tablets which were written in a strange language that only Smith could understand. This was the Book of Mormon, given to Smith by the angel Moroni. This book was the account of ancient indigenous Americans and the visions of Jesus Christ they received. Smith managed to convert a small band of followers and as established a small community in Illinois. Smith was murdered or “martyred” while in prison and Brigham Young became his successor.
Brigham Young, like Smith was thought to be a prophet and his followers believed that he was guided directly by God. As the community began to grow in numbers, so did outside persecution and the early Mormons were forced to make an exodus to Utah. There, they set up a tight knit community, “brothers and sisters” in faith, shunning the outside world and it’s disbelievers, confident their way of life was superior and sanctioned by God.
Polygamy, as practiced by the early Mormons, was thought to be sanctioned by the Old Testament and was believed to be a duty of the faithful. The act was rewarded in the afterlife with greater bounty given in proportion to the more multitudinous perpetrators. Smith himself was married to at least 33 wives and Young had as many as 55.
I can’t help but draw parallels between the early accounts of the prophets, the book and the struggles of the early Mormons, to the those of Islam. To an ousider, the account sounds nothing short of ridiculous and yet followers of the faith view it as sacred. I was compelled to ask myself, how was my faith, it’s book and it’s Prophet any different? We have a man of no particular importance suddenly visited by an angel and receiving revelation. These revelations often conveniently changed or formed by events happening at the current time. Followers were persecuted and made hijrah. The same followers were sure their religion and way of life was the only way as commanded by God. After the death of the original prophet, men continued to be rightly guided by God and lay the foundation for the religion to survive the ages. Despite early obstacles, the faith and it’s book continues to live today. It’s adherents still view the book as holy and sacred and the early people of the religion as infallible and worthy of emulation.
While it took me longer to dismiss the prophethood of Muhammad, long after I rejected the divinity of the Quran, The 19th Wife planted an unmistakable seed in my mind. It was the first time I allowed myself to question. My eyes were opened. The thread was exposed and it all began to unravel.
The true story of the 19th wife as told by Ann Eliza Young can be found here.