While this did provide me a false comfort initially, I soon started experiencing a nagging doubt. This was due to the presence of people who did not belong to the Islamic religion whom I first met in primary school. In Malaysia, these people were mostly Chinese and Indians, as opposed to Malays who were all Muslims. According to the scheme of things which I was fed, these people were condemned to hell. Why? Quite simply, they rejected the worship of one God and moreover, they rejected the Prophet Muhammad.
In my teens, I remember thinking that this policy was patently unfair. After all, Muslims were not exactly the paragons of virtue, at least not in Malaysia. Over there, Muslims were part of institutionalised racism. Muslims, who were mostly Malays, were afforded certain privileges from which other races were shut out. Furthermore, racist rhetoric in Malaysia was also quite pronounced. Worse still, people of other faiths were not allowed to preach to, let alone convert Muslims to their faith! How then can people be expected to examine Islam objectively? I could not, in all good conscience, blame anyone for rejecting Islam.
Nonetheless, I felt secure in my Islamic belief. I did feel that Islam was the path for me although unbeknownst to me at the time, what I really believed in was a specific form of Islam – Traditional Islam of the Sunni-Sufi variety. This Islam still gave me the feeling of ideological comfort. I did feel the beauty of the systematic nature of its teachings although I was deeply uncomfortable with laws such as stoning for adulterers and execution for apostates.
My affiliation with Traditional Islam was not to last, however. One of the first I did upon beginning my university course at a UK university in the mid 1990s was to google the world ‘Islam’. I then found a website which told me that Islam should only come from Quran and not Hadith and Sunnah. Without knowing it at the time, I had just discovered Quranist Islam which I was to embrace after a long period of discussion a year later. Quranist Islam freed me from the dogmatic understanding of salvation. It focuses more on deeds rather than dogma. I developed a better understanding of the concept of ‘islam, better in the sense that it concorded with my notions of Divine Justice. I will expound on this after the anecdote below.
I once had an atheist friend express surprise at my devotion to Quran. He saw me as a rational guy and religion just didn’t seem to go with what he perceived to be my modern, progressive outlook. I explained to him about how I saw Quran as something much more than a religious text and about six months down the line, he told me that he believed it was revelation from the Divine. He then asked me if he could be blamed for not professing belief sooner considering how Muslims in the world acted. My instantaneous answer was ‘no’. How could a just Allah penalise anyone for that! It just did not make any sense to me nor did I find Quran upholding such a policy.
Traditional Muslims tend to believe that, considering that Prophet Muhammad was the final Prophet of Allah and he brought the final revelation, it would be catastrophic for one’s eternal fate to reject Islam. Therefore, if one were not already Muslim (whether from a Muslim background or through reversion), one would suffer eternal damnation.
This however begs the question, which Islam should one be brought up in or revert to? Ask a Sunni and he may say ‘my Islam, of course’. The Shia might answer the same but referring to something very difficult. There is a multitude of Islams each with its own set of beliefs. Did these differences come from Allah? Of course not. These differences came because Islam (with a capital ‘I’ denoting the culture, civilisation and people) is a human product. Human products are very divergent, quite unlike Quran. There is a single Quran which all Muslims acknowledge. This is just the text though, not the interpretations of that text.
At this point, it would be perhaps wise to detail our vocabulary a little. I believe in using the word ‘Islam’ (with a capital ‘I’) to denote the complex network of human activity which produced a culture, civilisation, an identity, a political system and last but not least, a religion. This Islam is a human product because human beings interpreted the divine product brought by Muhammad.
Secondly, there is ‘islam’ (with a small ‘i’). This ‘islam’ refers to the ideal concept enshrined in Quran. It is a divinely inspired concept but it’s not confined to the Islamic world. Any ideology, philosophy or religion may have elements of islam.
Traditional Muslims tell us that Chapter 3 Verse 19 of Quran which says ‘verily the religion in the sight of Allah is al-islam’ shows that only Islam is the means to salvation. That would seem to clinch the deal! It is only Islam which is acceptable by Allah. But this brings us back to the previous question – which Islam?Notice the translation of 3/19 above translates every single word except ‘al-islam’. Why is this the case? Perhaps due to the need to identify the ‘islam’ of the Quran to the ‘Islam’ which sects of Muslims already embraced! Why not translate the word ‘islam’? What would we conclude if we do so?
This is also true for the word ‘muslim’ (small ‘m’ denoting the characteristic rather than the proper name ‘Muslims’ affect). A ‘muslim’ is one who works towards ‘wholeness’ and ‘soundness’ (‘as-silm’ in Quranic language). Though a muslim’s aforementioned actions, he will bring about islam in the world.
So as we can see, ‘islam’ is not limited to ‘Islam’. ‘islam’ is a universal principle which is exists in the universe any more that the use of computers is limited to computer scientists. Rather, islam permeates the universe. Anyone can access islam by acting towards peace. It is not a matter of conversion or even being born into a particular ethno-culture.
Quran is also clear about the multiplicity of ways of achieving islam. 29/69 tells us that whoever strives under the auspices of Allah, He will guide him to his paths (yes, in plural) and is thus with the muhsineen (those who work for goodness). Once again, we can see that it is about the universal principle of good and striving to realise the good. There is an infinite number of ways to do this and whoever strives for this purpose will be guided to Allah’s paths.
Almost all faiths and ideologies have this element of ‘islam’ within them. This does not mean they copied the Muslims but rather received revelation in their own right. They are in the same position as Muslims. They have to arbitrate what is good and what is not just like Muslims have to do so with the interpretations of islam they obtain from Quran and whatever other texts they choose to give authority.
Therefore it is incorrect to see people as those of ‘other faiths’ or worse ‘infidels’. Rather, see them as working for islam in their own ways. We may not agree with their theologies but at least acknowledge the common things between our paths.
Quran is a universal blueprint for the salvation of humankind both in this world and the next. We Muslims should not confine Quran to our cultural construct of Islam but rather should help share the universal concept of islam with humanity.
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Farouk is also a novice academic whose interests include the study of Quran according to its author. He is an Islamicist who focuses on Islam as a world study, Islamofascism and Quranist Islam. He is also interested in Philosophy where he hopes to build on Heidegger’s philosophy of being.
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