I’m writing this piece so I can have a little conversation with you about a subject that’s a major part of my life. Over the past couple of years I found myself becoming engaged in many discussions about God and religion, and ever since I made the choice to become a practicing Muslim and pursue an academic life, my circle of acquaintances has become very diverse. It’s quite interesting to notice what kind of people one ends up preferring to hang out with depending on what philosophy of life and ideology they adopt. From an Islamic point of view, 2 traditions come to mind:
“The individual is on the path of his closest companion”
“المرء على دين خليله“
“Whoever makes friends with a people for 40 days, he will become one of them”
“من عاشر قوما أربعين يوما صار منهم“
What these traditions are basically saying is this: you hang out with materialists, you’ll become one. You hang out with spiritualists, you’ll become one. If your main influences are of a certain ideology, you’ll end up adopting it as your own. Worse yet, you’ll falsely believe that you’ve adopted these beliefs actively, rather than how in reality it has happened; through a process of a passive diffusion of ideas. This reminds me of a question Dr. Tariq Ramadan asked the audience a couple of years back at a lecture I attended:
Do you truly believe what you believe, or is that just something on the periphery of your being?
In the past 4 years I’ve been quite occupied with education and personal pursuits, and fortunately (or unfortunately as it depends on your perspective) haven’t had the time to establish very close ties of friendship. I guess in a sense it allowed me to take up positions in life that I can claim I’ve come to without peer help (or pressure). Those who know me won’t be too surprised because to most people I’m a little difficult to “be friends with”, which is either a positive or a negative thing (again as it depends on your perspective). I don’t watch TV, don’t follow sports, find most of current pop culture repulsive, don’t go out for a “night out in the town”, and in short don’t do most things that would typically allow me to build a network of very close friends. I’d way rather spend my time either studying or reading. In fact, I’ve been laughed at sometimes when people see me read because I become unaware of my surroundings and start talking back at the book as if I’m having a conversation with the author.
But let’s get back to why I’m writing this piece, because it’s not to talk about me per se. Rather, it’s more about the conversations I’ve been having lately with some people. What’s interesting about being a practicing Muslim is that being so, will inevitably attract questions about God and religion in general. Having to pray on a daily basis at particular times and needing to fast for a whole month every year is bound to get some to ask you: why in the world would you do that? On the other hand, being in the west, many of those who were born into Muslim families are not able to take their being Muslim for granted. Being exposed to so many different social forces and ways of looking at the world will end up in most cases causing one to either shut their brain off to all of it and close their eyes and have “blind faith”, or they will be overcome with their lower selves and egos and give up their religion so they can lead a “fun-filled” materialistic life, or in other cases they will start to look into it and try to understand what this whole thing is all about. The latter group seems to – as far as I can tell from my encounters -, go into two different groups; either they give it all up and “lose their religion” or their faith becomes a conscious experience.
A classic representative for the “disenchanted with Islam” group, at least for me, is someone like Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses. If I can recall correctly, I read something a while back where he says that as a young Muslim man in university in England (I think Oxford), he became interested in his religion and wanted to learn more about it, so he took some courses. Anyone familiar with what kind of “knowledge” is being relayed in courses about Islam in western universities will know that they’re typically taught by orientalist scholars that come from a certain perspective, which cannot be seriously considered as objective in any sense of the word. In many instances it’s even flat out fallacious. So the road Salman Rushdie took in trying to understand his religion ended him up with Satanic Verses.
Most of the discussions that I’ve recently been finding myself getting into are either with flat out atheists or people well on their way towards that conclusion. The discussion typically is dealing with science and philosophy, and in many instances it’s about this argument for God or one against it. Names of some great philosophers are thrown around and logician terminology is used. The argument here has this flaw while that one has this coherent line of reasoning in it. In other cases this argument doesn’t come up to my satisfaction and whatever criteria I’ve set out to finally accept whatever conclusion I’ve assigned to it. I can go on and on about this, but I think you’ve gotten my point about how these discussions play out.
There are two things that I’ve been thinking about recently. The first one is this thing in logic where the question “can something be true and false at the same time?” is asked. Apparently, some logician (who I can’t remember his name right now) became something of a star by saying “yes!”. He “discovered” this by considering the statement “this sentence is false”. If it’s true, then it’s false and if it’s false then it’s true, and therefore, the statement is true and false at the same time. Are you kidding me? Talking about the validity of the statement is one thing, and talking about what the statement is asserting is quite another. Yet somebody is highly regarded in logic for “not” seeing that. The second one is a statement made by an ex-Muslim now atheist roommate I had a couple of years ago when I lived on campus. He was going on and on about this prophetic narration and that verse in the Quran and what the Prophet may peace be upon him did in this situation or that. All of a sudden I found myself asking him to first establish whether his position of denying that God exists is valid, then we can go on to talk about Islam or any other religion for that matter. He actually rejected this request and said: if I end up eventually having to assert that God exists, then I will have to go all the way with it and accept the rest that might go along with that assertion. Basically, as far as he was concerned, there are personal implications to the statement: I believe in God.
What does all of this mean? Well, I’ve gone through enough arguments for and against God’s existence, and countless discussions with many people, including believing, non-believing and anywhere in between. While it all has its uses and very good to engage in, I find myself coming to the conclusion that in the greatest majority of cases it’s all a smokescreen, a façade, a front, and a disguise to what’s truly at hand when it comes to the non-believing/questioning group. Note that I didn’t say all because I don’t want to make a 100% generalization. I also realize how some might find what I’m saying to be arrogant. But to most people that I have talked to, they claim it’s about the argument. However, I really think it’s more about how they chose and choose to live their lives. To assert that God exists is to assert that, at some point, chances are you’re going to have to answer some questions. Yet, no one likes to be taken into account. I’ve never heard anyone saying “yes, please question my choices in life”. I say this because from what I’ve been finding, the general point being made is: I want to dictate how to live the good life and don’t want it to be told to me. Well then, since we live in a closed physical world and it cannot be proven nor disproven with 100% certainty that God exists (because metaphysical by definition means that it’s outside the physical world and would make any attempt at proving or disproving God’s existence an exercise in circular reasoning, which is logically fallacious and therefore to believe and to disbelieve would both require a leap of faith from the person), why not make it all about what you want? Instead of clothing the ego and caprices with the jacket of not having heard satisfactory arguments for God, make it known that in fact what you want to do is live life as you see fit and believing in God throws a wrench into your program. And in reality, that’s fine with me if that’s how you want to carry on, because the truth of the matter is no matter how many arguments you’re going to hear for the existence of God, you’ll increase your threshold for what you would consider sufficient to believe that there is. In fact, forget about your asking for arguments, because from an Islamic point of view, others who have come before you have asked for a lot more as in the example of some of the Children of Israel who demanded from the Prophet Moses peace be upon him to “show them God in plane sight!“. When they couldn’t handle it they still rejected the proposition to believe. It’s like the Quran mentions in this verse (as well as in others):
“And certainly We have explained in this Quran every kind of example, and man is most of all given to contention”
“ولقد صرفنا في هذا القرآن للناس من كل مثل وكان الانسان أكثر شيء جدلا“
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