15 October, 2006

Teachings of Islam vs The Life of a Muslim

The focus of this post is an article I read in yesterday's Al Bayan Newspaper by Dr. Latifa Al Najjar from UAE University. I will try to summarize the main points in english. Those who understand arabic can read it here.

The writer wrote this article after she & friend had a discussion about Islam with an expat Canadian lady living in the UAE. During the discussion, the Canadian lady said that she has noticed a contradiction between the teachings of Islam & the lives of muslims. The teachings of Islam are not reflected in the lives of Muslims. This raises the question in her mind that "is this really what the Prophet Mohammed preached"? This contradiction is the main reason behind the negative portrayel of Islam in the West. One of the examples she gave to prove her point was the Haj stampede almost every year which leads to loss of so many precious lives.

Many people in the West only see the "political" picture of Islam throught their media. But our Canadian guest, since she had the opportunity to see both sides of the story, has an unbiased opinion about Islam. She said that her American & Canadian friend with whom she commnicates via email still have same negative views about Islam which once she herself had. But she is trying to change their opinion by sharing her experiences with them.

She also stressed that muslims should make serious effort, through their actions, to portray the true message of Islam which is peace, love for good deeds & helping others. During the discussion, she also gave the example of her 15 year old daughter who has started fasting on some days of Ramadan to join her muslim friends in this spiritual experience.

The writer said that the UAE hosts a large number of people from both East & west. Some of these people have misconceptions about Islam. But many of them have a sincere desire to know more about our lives, our religion, our culture. She said that instead of us making every effort to fulfil their needs just to make them happen & in the process compromising our values, why don't we use this golden opportunity to remove misconceptions in their minds.

It is a mistake if we sacrifice our values for them, but a bigger mistake would be letting them make wrong judgements and opinions about us because we did not make serious effort to interact with them.
Although I have tried my best to be as much precise as possible, translating the thoughts of another person is a tricky business, so please excuse me if I have made any errors. And thanks for your patience if you have read the whole article ;-)

6 comments:

bandicoot said...

I read th whole thing and it just made me more depressed; first there is hardly any new ideas here; and second, no analysis. very few peeople disagree on the need for Muslims to communicate with other cultures. The discrepancy between any religion's teachings and the lives of its followers is an ancient topic. The question is, what precisely are these teachings and how could they be intepreted meaningfully today; another question is whether following (or not following) them, or some version of them, can help Muslims fight misconceptions and join the modern world. Confronting these questions with an open mind can help a lot more than repeating the obvious.

bklyn_in_dubai said...

right on, bandicoot. we muslims are often so consumed with handwringing -- "oh, you're misinterpreting our faith, our faith is perfect"... yeah, every faith is perfect to its believers. that's not the point. as bandicoot points out, there's always a difference between the faith and the follower.

i think we should really push this point though, it's more than just the matter that muslim have to do a better job of PR. why is it that muslims have such a hard, hard time disavowing the actions of other muslims? why can't we take responsibility for the mess in our own homes, and clean it up ourselves? (ok, here comes the chorus that we do. but, that is a very recent phenomena in the muslim world. in nyc and elsewhere in the muslim world for example sunni muslims cheered saddam when he was gassing iran and then invading kuwait. they have nothing to say about sudan. just criticizing israel and the US.)

a big part of the problem is the appeasement of the fundos by most muslims. why are we not able to distance ourselves from the fundos and make it clear that they are not acceptable to us? in the US, our christian fundos may even be a greater percentage than the fundos among muslims, but no one confuses them or their actions as being representative of all christians. this, even though their political weight is huge. in part, i would say that is because other christians, americans in general, have made it clear that the fundos do not represent them.

as muslims, we put up with religious bullying by other muslims in contexts global (saudi support comes with strings), national (pakistan and other countries allowing fundos to write laws and insist on warped versions of shariah like the pakistani hudood laws), and local (e.g., the imam of the largest mosque in nyc during the qutba before eid-ul-fitr said if you do not do eid when we do [and follow saudi], you are a kafir. no really, he actually said it.) how many times do you hear muslims at the level of states disavowing the acts of other states? or leaders saying that what these other muslims are doing is wrong? or, and perhaps most importantly, at the level of the individual to disavow the actions of other individuals.

sorry if this has turned into a screed, and gotten offtopic from the article posted, but it's gotten to, actually past, the boiling point where muslims have to make a choice. do we let the fundos dictate to the rest of us what it means to be muslim, or do we try to marginalize them? if we can't figue it out ourselves -- forget figuring it out, how about just honest open debate and argument? -- then we have no ground to criticize westerners when they interpret our actions the ways they do.

DG said...

Bandicoot, why has it made you more depressed? The purpose of my post was to show the mirror to myself & to fellow muslims that what our religion teaches us & how we are living our lives.

The post was divided into two parts, the first part was from the perspective of a non muslim Canadian Lady & the second part was from the prespective of our UAE writer.

As for your arguement that this is an old topic repeated so many times, I would only say that we need to repeat this topic again & again to remind our selves that are we really following the path of Islam & the vision of Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him.

I might be wrong but I feel from your writing that maybe you think Islam is not compatible in the "21st century"

Why don't you write a post on the question you raised?

"The question is, what precisely are these teachings and how could they be intepreted meaningfully today; another question is whether following (or not following) them, or some version of them, can help Muslims fight misconceptions and join the modern world. Confronting these questions with an open mind can help a lot more than repeating the obvious."

And thanks for your valuable comment :-)

DG said...

Bklyn, there is only one simple answer to your arguement & that is the lack of education. How many muslims do you know who have read AND understood the real message of Quran?

Most of our religious leaders, brain washed themselves had brain washed succesive generations with hate & intolerance.

How we fix this? Only by going back to the basics of our religion. And that can only be done by educating our people. We have to encourage our people to "read" more. We should discourage this "sheesha" culture where so much precious time is wasted by our youth. Internet is such a great blessing from God, but how many of us use it for productive things?

May God guide all of us to His right path. Thanks for your valuable comment :-)

bandicoot said...

Dg – I may take you on your offer and write a post one day on this topic. It’s for me a question of time and priorities. This is not exactly my field of expertise but I keep an interest in it. However I also want to do it right, so that I don’t cause other people to feel depressed like I did! I felt that way because the article, coming from a professor of Arabic literature at the UAE University makes several wrong assumptions, gives no thoughtful analysis of the issues it deals with, and basically repeats some of the familiar lines that Muslims have grown tired of (return to “original” Islam, follow “genuine” Islamic teachings, portray “true” message of Islam, etc.). I know it’s probably all in good faith, and it may be coming from individuals who are truly concerned and are good cultural ambassadors, but it just doesn’t do it; it’s not enough. It’s not as simple as that. The crisis facing Islam and Muslims will not be solved by the good efforts of individuals trying on their own to preserve their values and simply emulate the example of Prophet Muhammad.
Let me just take one example from Dr. Al-Najjar’s article (or the summary of it; the link to the Arabic doesn’t work) to show some of the obvious problems with this approach:

“… the Canadian lady said that she has noticed a contradiction between the teachings of Islam & the lives of muslims. The teachings of Islam are not reflected in the lives of Muslims. This raises the question in her mind that "is this really what the Prophet Mohammed preached"? This contradiction is the main reason behind the negative portrayel of Islam in the West.”

No it’s not the main reason. The history of misconception goes back to hundreds of years, to the times when Christian Europe knew practically nothing about Islam and Muslims and Muhammad was seen as a heretical figure and an imposter. The current misconceptions of Muslims may have something to do with this history, but they have more to do with the stark failure of Muslims, as individuals. Nations, countries, and civilizations to be a credible and productive part of the modern world. It also has more to do with the history of colonialism and the way Europeans viewed colonized people from the East, including Muslims, as inferior and uncivilized. And of course it has a lot to do with the rise of fundamentalism and the spectacular violence and terrorism that groups of Muslims displayed on the world stage in the past few decades and other groups of them cheered or ignored. What are “really the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad” is not the right question. Anybody interested in Islam can look them up in the Quran and books on Sira and Hadith. Why does the Canadian Lady assumes that Muslims will have to reflect the teachings of Islam in their daily lives? How many Muslims she met? How did she come to know “what Muhamamd preached” and the “teachings of Islam” and pass judgment about whether they are reflected in the lives of Muslims or not? And even if this was the case (i.e. that these teachings are not reflected in the lives of Muslims), why does she assume that this is the real problem? Is this based on personal opinion or some logical argument or evidence from the historical experience?
The fact that Dr. Al Najjr takes this opinion on its face value and makes it the basis of her argument. As you mentioned in your response, education is important and it should be at the forefront of the effort to reform and modernize Islam, but sadly the kind of education we find in the article is far from the mark. At best, it represents a personal effort that tries to correct the picture about Islam through a good personal example (piety, communication, respect for others, etc.), and that’s fine, though it’s neither the problem, nor the solution; and at worst it can be just an improved form of brainwashing (this is the problem, this is the solution, etc.). Again, the crisis goes beyond these limits and the debate needs to be honest, open and ruthless; otherwise we’re stuck with our failure as a religion and a culture and with the kind of aspirin treatments we see an example of in the article you summarized to the a very big headache that most likely needs a major surgery.

DG said...

The link is working now. They had changed their address, I searched the archive & have updated it. Sorry for the inconvenience.

I fully agree with you, we definitely need an honest debate on this. Thanks again for your informative comment, I hope you will write more on this topic soon :-)

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