Reflections on Islam as we know it

The more I learn and experience and the more I witness with my own eyes, the more I realise that Islam is not nearly as monolithic as many would like to believe it is. Far too often I come across many sahih ahadith (authentic narrations) that are seldom quoted when I see the raging debates about whose manhaj (path) is more correct.

These are ahadith that refer to social interactions, differing forms of worship that many are keen to dismiss as an innovation, and many other contentious issues. And it leaves me wondering how many times do we engage in ferocious debates aware of only the mainstream view of the subject without being aware of the body of knowledge that supports many alternate views?

I’m not suggesting that we should suddenly become liberals in our tolerance of the views of others, but consider that there are over 600,000 ahadith that have been narrated. Of that amount, how many have you actually seen quoted to substantiate differing opinions of how to worship Allah? Given the number of times that I have consistently seen the scholars get it wrong regarding principles versus rituals, I’m loathe to assume that every differing view, except where it blatantly contradicts direct injunctions from the Qur’an or Sunnah, is actually a heretical view.

The tendency for the scholars to selectively refer to principles at times and dismiss principles in favour of rituals at other times is also concerning. The issues pertaining to the sighting of the moon versus calculation of salaah times, and the use of those pagan symbols without any significant opposition by all the leading scholars is just two simple examples that I as a layman has been able to identify. Why then is it so difficult to believe that Islam is not merely what is presented by the scholars, or their blind followers that have been so effective in driving divisions in the Ummah, and even in communities?

Recently the Islamic school that my daughter attends issued a newsletter indicating that the parents will be given the opportunity to visit the teacher to review their child’s progress. However, the meeting will commence at 09h30 and continue for the rest of the school day. This is directly aimed at encouraging mothers only to attend such discussions since most men are at work during this time, and only women from traditional Muslim homes are available. This despite the fact that all schools in the area hold parent meetings in the evenings to accommodate those parents that are in full time employment. What’s more irksome about this is that there are clear ahadith that confirm that the provision of education is the right of the father over his children. So why is the Islamic school system so mother-centric?

This is just another example that further cements my concerns that we’re getting it wrong. We’re indulging in excessive ways and interpretations because of this perpetual focus on individual piety and we’ve completely lost the plot regarding social cohesion in Islam. We establish barriers and divisions under the guise of modesty and negate the fact that free movement and interaction with mahrams present is not outlawed. Yet we insist on husbands and wives sitting separate from each other at social gatherings because we want to pre-empt the individual actions of a few deviants. Whenever this happens, I always recall the hadith where Rasulullah (SAW) was present with Aisha (RA) at a public gathering where entertainers were performing. Rasulullah (SAW) sat there with his wife while she watched, and he turned away from the entertainment because he disliked it. (May Allah forgive me if I am quoting this incorrectly, but I will search for the original hadith as soon as I am able to, insha-Allah).

My point is, the constant focus on individual piety, and same sex groupies is eroding the community. Women and men both play an integral part of the Muslim community, jointly, not separately. But just because we’re afraid of encouraging illicit relationships, we establish boundaries that are unnatural and disruptive to the harmony of the community, whilst the very same fitnah that we aim to prevent continues unabated.

The very same groups where hijab is strictly enforced, separation of sexes is strictly enforced, and most women are in full niqab are the same groups where I have either witnessed first hand or heard reports from credible sources, the degradation and outright disgusting behaviour of many. This is not to suggest that they are worse than others that don’t observe such boundaries or attempts at modesty. Instead, this proves that our excessive efforts at establishing unnatural boundaries not supported by the Sunnah is in fact pointless, and quite possibly attracts ridicule towards the Sunnah rather than embedding its wisdom in the hearts of those that observe it in practice.

We always seem to focus on excess in a negative light on those actions that are blatant innovations, but we fail to realise the excess in our actions that are intended to achieve piety. Excess of any form is forbidden for Muslims because Allah does not love excess. Yet we label those that encourage moderation, and elevate those that encourage excess in forms that are apparently above reproach.

18 responses to “Reflections on Islam as we know it”

  1. Reading your blog reveals you to be…there’s no nice way to put this…a bit sex obsessed. What is your preoccupation with women’s bodies? Where does it come from? Were you taught to think like this? Who is responsible for your obsession? Why is a man deigning to pass opinion on women’s dress? I honestly think most serious issues in the Muslim community worldwide can be solved. Intolerance toward “apostates” and other tendencies to criminalizing free speech and thought, misogyny, homophobia (which is just another type of misogyny) the relentless sexual harassment of women in Muslim societies, the battering of women and children being winked at – all could be solved if Muslim men could stop thinking with your penises and used your bloody brains.

    CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. Only women should comment on women’s dress. CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. Men should know their place. Which is beneath women, frankly. CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE sit down and shut up. If you hear a Muslim sister talking, LISTEN. AND THEN DON’T COMMENT. Because believe me, she doesn’t care what you think. CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE.

    And find a psychiatrist. Seriously. Anyone who thinks all day about women’s hair does not have a healthy relationship with women, with his own body, with his own sexuality. You reduce women to physical beings. You applaud a garment (the niqab) that is as sexually degrading as walking around naked and just as reductive in terms of making a woman a sexual object and nothing else. And if you don’t understand why the niqab is as sexual and degrading as walking around naked, then you seriously have some critical thinking to do. No really – THINK. And once again CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. Stop talking. And listen.

    No really. You have pissed off this woman. I am shaking with rage. SHUT UP.

    • I’m happy to hear that you were moved to rage by what you read on my blog. However, I suspect you came across some trigger words and didn’t bother to pay attention to the context within which it was expressed. If anything, I am very vocal about men trying to impose their views on women when it comes to issues relating specifically to how a woman experiences Islam, or life. Let alone dress code.
      Also, I probably have over 1500 posts on my blog, many of which were simply imported from my Tumblr account. So there is a good chance that you came across something that actually expressed the views you’re accusing me of, while not noticing that those views were in fact another blogger’s that I reblogged in order to comment on it.
      Either way, there is a greater issue that needs to be addressed here.
      Firstly, it’s rich for you to want to dish advice without offering any insights of your own. You become just as guilty as every sexist male or female out there that thinks it’s OK to rage at someone without first trying to engage or understand their perspective, let alone trying to meaningfully and sincerely point out specifically what it is that they said that you found so offensive, and why.
      Secondly, the fact that you are capable of rage is a good thing. It means that you have yet to become complacent like so many other religionists on the internet these days. Everyone is happy to regurgitate someone else’s (read blindly followed scholars) opinion on religious matters while rarely taking time to reflect on their own behaviour or representation of the very way of life they profess to defend.
      Thirdly, I have no reason to obsess over women in the way you suggest I do. So it would be delightful for me if you were able to draw my attention to the posts you claim indicate such an unhealthy or vulgar obsession that I supposedly have with the opposite sex. I’ve never sexualised either the hijab or the niqab. The attributes of sensuality that may have been apportioned to this dress code is something I’ve always spoken against. So I suspect that you were probably just having a bad day, stumbled across my blog, read something entirely out of context, and decided that a venting session was called for. All of which is perfectly understandable, but not necessarily justifiable.
      I’m more than happy to be called out on something that I said that may be wrong, but I won’t allow others to simply use my blog as a soap box just to misdirect their anger that is probably sourced in the people around them. Engage meaningfully, or not at all.


      • I apologize. You did catch me during a bad day and while I laugh at “trigger” warnings you are correct that something in the blog set me off.

        Muslim women put up with a great deal of degradation, judgment, unhappiness, criticism…and little else. To be surrounded by that from morning to night, so relentlessly, is something no man could ever understand. And sometimes I want to scream and shout and rage and hit out – and you were simply here.

        And I’m sorry.

      • I appreciate you taking the time to come back to clarify. We all have days of misguided passion, some we can recover from, and others not. Fortunately this falls into the former. 🙂 I agree that there are communities that subject women to degrading practices or norms, but I also know that there are communities that do the same to men. We can exchange war stories via email if you wish. I try to take my lead from the consistent principle in the Sunnah that encourages us towards moderation. So the moment I find anyone leaning too strongly in one direction, I feel compelled to prompt them in the opposite direction until we are able to engage on things more meaningfully without the disruption that excess brings.

        Apology accepted, and I hope that Insha-Allah your experiences as a Muslim woman only improves with time. Aameen.

  2. I was reading somewhere that when you want to choose for yourself, choose the strictest fiqhi opinion….but when it comes to judging others, choose the least strict opinion! I agree with Cynically Jaded that there can be more than one interpretation of the Shariáh. Islam is a universal religion, and hence, open to different possibilities 🙂

    • Jazaakallahu khair for your contribution. I like the thought about how to judge others, although I must admit that a little while ago I decided to make it as easy as possible for me to be a Muslim. I found that with so many extreme opinions on what is the minimum required to earn Allah’s pleasure, coupled with the struggles of being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country, it made things unnecessarily burdensome. That’s when I realised that Allah has made things easy for us, but we make it difficult for ourselves. Unless something is clearly defined as haraam, or has been specifically abrogated, I follow the most lenient opinion as a starting point. Alhamdulillah, after that if I find I am able to exert myself beyond the minimum requirement, then that is an added mercy and blessing, but starting out trying to practice everything at an advanced level is just too risky because it makes it that much easier for our nafs to kick in and to withdraw from trying because we feel like we’ll never be able to do ‘it’ right…i.e. whatever it is that we’re trying to implement in our lives. Moderation in the current climate is not as easy to achieve as it sounds.

  3. No, please don;t apologise, you’re embarrassing me.

    We are given the solution to living life, there are gazillion ways to achieve that solution. No one path is THE path to achieve truth. Those are extreme views of anyone who believes that aside from the Arab dressing everything else is not acceptable (as par your example and goes same for any “view” as well). Islam spread from Arab, with BASIC guidelines, not detailed and step by step procedure to lead a life. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been the element of “freedom of choice” and “freedom of will” that Allah (swt) so graciously bestowed us with. How can anyone dare to say that…? Islam spread through different means, either be it the splitting of the moon or be it the trade routes through Arabia to China — how can anyone expect an Indian or a Chinese person to embrace Arabian culture, cultures so rich of colour and as ancient as an Arabian heritage… be it the King of India or a merchant of China — we as an Ummah were and are so diverse, that to expect such extremism is tyranny.

    Islam is monolithic, its the solution to our problems and there are many ways to put Islam into practice and there are ultimate paths to reach God. Some find God in mother nature, some in their sins, while some find Him in His blessings, and some find Him in their offspring (which is His blessing). Human is flawed, and we’ve given meaning to everything, you’re right in your perception. Problem also lies in education (and not just the religious education). Problem lies in lack open minded and understand knowledgeable teachers, and lack of good teacher-student relationship. That relationship starts at home, I mean look at our Mosques, our elders cant agree on basic things and are not setting good examples for us — the hope of future, the ummah of future — how will we bring change?

    And I apologise for my rant, I am not very knowledgeable not an intellect so forgive me if I offended you. You should check this guy out on Tumblr, he’s like you. He thinks A LOT! and is always looking for people for a good conversation and discussions on his posts:

    • No need to be embarrassed. I’m honestly the furthest thing from an academic. Just a layman sharing my perspectives. Perhaps you should share you interpretation of the term ‘monolithic’ within the context of this discussion, because it seems we may be using it in different contexts. And thanks for that recommendation. I’ll definitely check out that blog soon, Insha-Allah.

      • Forgive me, for ending this discussion. I am not equipped with knowledge and art to get my message across. But thank you for entertaining my point of view.

      • Please, no apologies needed. I really appreciate and enjoy the engagement. So I look forward to hearing your thoughts on future posts as well, iA. 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on I speak for myself and commented:
    These are the conversations we as an ummah need to be having. Where do these rulings come from? Are they from the Qur’an and Sunnah? If they’re not, do they speak to the principles outlined in the Qur’an and Sunnah? If not, why are we following them?

    • Unfortunately we’re a distracted Ummah, caught between trying to re-establish the Sunnah, and maintaining the ways of our forefathers. We’ve grown to respect a culture that has been presented as the authentic source and example of Islam even though it has been blatantly contaminated with cultural biases the world over. If we hope to break this cycle, we’ll have to find the courage to question our forefathers in light of what we learn from the authentic sources of the ahadith, and of course, the Qur’an.

  5. mashallah, well said.

    I was listening to a lecture recently and the scholar said clearly that Shari’ah never rules on the exception – it rules on the norm. So to create fatawa that state a woman must cover her fast and men and women must be strictly separated because of the minority of deviants (the exception) is the very kind of bid’ah (innovation) we are supposed to be avoiding!

    Yet let’s argue over whether or not using prayer beads (tasbih) is bid’ah. Yeah, that’s an argument that is worth our time and energy. *rolls eyes*

    • What do you mean by Islam not being a monolithic religion as we believe it to be? What you are discussing is core corruption of our people, our Ummah, today. Very well said and analysed but saying that Islam is not monolithic is wrong….no? I mean there’s a line between culture and religion, a very thin one, that we tend to merge together often — but a difference nonetheless still exists. Whats the solution to this problem? If we can get like minded families together in a community, a change can be brought. Solution starts at home, and then we can set examples for others….ahhhh if only our elders would listen to us…

      but yea, I don’t agree with your intro, but loved your article!

      • What I mean is that Islam is not constrained to a single interpretation of everything that is considered to be within the confines of Islamic thought, practice, or rituals in the way it is purported to be by so many. We have a prevalence of groups that have emerged through their alignment with the specific teachings or perspectives of specific scholars, where these groups now each insist that their specific ‘implementation’ of Islam is the correct one, even though in most cases the scholars that they claim to follow never intended their perspectives to be viewed that way.

        We’re further pushed, as a result of this, to assume that there can only be a single form of Islam in practice. I realise that this statement is also problematic because it’s made within the context of how Islam is currently viewed (i.e. largely ritual and less principle) and therefore can easily be used to suggest that I am now contradicting myself.

        However, in order to clarify this possible contradiction, I need to offer my perception of what Islam should be viewed as, rather than what is commonly assumed to be Islam. Hence my statement about how we believe Islam to be monolithic. So if I were to offer someone a definition of what Islam is about relative to my understanding of the principles and practices taught to us through the Qur’an and Sunnah combined, I would say that Islam is in fact a set of principles and guidelines that offers us the most harmonious alignment between our inherent nature and what we need to lead a wholesome life, both individually and communally. That’s obviously an over simplification, but it’s intended to include the laws that govern communal living and the rights that we have over each other, as well as the rituals that are prescribed in line with the principles that they serve.

        Regarding your point about culture versus Islam, this is unfortunately an area that is approached too rigidly by most. There is a hadith that teaches us that if the culture does not violate the principles of Islam, then there is no fault on us in practising that cultural aspect of our heritage. It’s only when culture conflicts with the principles of Islam that we have a problem where culture has to be set aside in favour of the Islamic principles. E.g. if we have a specific cultural dress code that provides us with sufficient modesty in line with Islamic injunctions on how we should cover ourselves, there is no need to give up those clothes in favour of the traditional Arab way of dressing. This is just one example where many would like us to believe that anything other than the actual dress code of the Prophet (SAW) and his companions is acceptable and everything else is forbidden because it implies we’re imitating the disbelievers, and are therefore deviant, if not kafir by doing so. That’s the monolithic interpretation of Islam that I’m referring to.

        Apologies for the length of this response, but I didn’t want to brush over this at the risk of being misunderstood.

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