For some time now I’ve believed that a large part of why many Muslims have an exclusivist, insular bent of mind was because they believed in an interpretation of Islam that (incorrectly) stressed such a mindset. The “Understanding Islam” excerpt that I posted a couple of days ago was an eye opener for me when I first read it. My heart sang because this is what I truly believed and here was an Islamic scholar who stated the same thing. God loves all of mankind, not just the Muslims, and everyone has a fair shot of entering paradise, irrespective of his religious creed. I thought that if only more Muslims believed in this idea, tolerance and open-mindedness would quickly flourish in the Muslim world. More Muslims would aggressively reject the likes of Al-Qaeda and sectarianism would die out. Having achieved that, it would only be a matter of time when socioeconomic prosperity was ushered in.
These days however, I’m beginning to feel that I’m thinking about this backwards. It’s not because of a particular Islamic interpretation that has Muslims thinking narrow-mindedly, but rather they feel comfortable with this outlook and therefore gravitate towards a particular interpretation of Islam that allows them the luxury of this mindset.
A few hundred years ago, as the Western world rose to dominate, perhaps the Muslims gravitated towards a belief that allowed them to feel good about themselves while being subjugated by a foreign power. How many Palestinians would feel comfortable if told that the Jews had as good a chance of entering Heaven as they do? Not an awful lot, I’m sure. It’s easy to hate. Hatred is a quick-fix balm - something that serves to release the rage. It’s far more difficult to quell that anger, to remain calm and look inwards for strength to overcome what we feel is unfair subjugation. If somehow an interpretation of the Quran allows you to keep feeling that hate, then what more do the Muslims need? God Himself has spoken. We are better than they. We have something to feel good about in ourselves. I don’t think then that if more Muslims were made aware of Islam’s non-exclusivist approach that it would really make much difference. Too many of them are mired in a comfortable mindset of exclusivist hate because of the present global situation.
I think being a good Muslim is hard work. It’s about making difficult choices. It’s about taking the high road. Its about saying no to anger and hate because that
is what Islam teaches us. It’s what Martin Luther King, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi all did.
Once while I was living in Peshawar, a tableeghi jamat told me a story of one of the sahabas, I think it was Umar (ra). Umar was fighting on the battle field with the leader of the opposing army. He overpowered the man and was about to kill him when the man spit in his face. Umar was enraged and got up, disengaging without striking the man again. When the man got up from the ground, he asked Umar why he didn’t kill him and Umar replied that he was furious just then at him and it would have been wrong to kill him in anger, if the larger purpose of doing God’s work was subjugated to his anger. Ironically, the tableeghi didn’t really appreciate the deeper implication of this anecdote because he went on to talk about the infidel non-Muslims and how they would all rot in hell if we didn’t save them.
It’s about choice. We can choose to live righteously, centering ourselves with worship of God, or we can choose to use flimsy interpretations of the Quran to provide an excuse for our pig-headedness. We could choose for Islam to be about a personal connection with God, and about living life with an uncompromising sense of morality, or we could choose for Islam to be some sort of secret password we need to give at the doors of Paradise. It’s far easier to believe the later, as it suits man’s base instincts, but the road to Paradise is most certainly not paved with seething anger.