Losing our religion . . . Are we?

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    Are our lives in more danger than Islam? Let’s look out from the trench of disillusionment. Examining the ‘Islam in danger’ rhetoric and its grave ramifications.

     

    Most people do not question fixed codes of conduct given to them, whether they are religious, political or social. This rigidity and passive acceptance of status quo is clearly creating hurdles in the provision of justice

    There is a god-shaped hole in each one of us. The void has been there since we were born and it is widening as we become more and more uncertain and vulnerable

     

     

    Last Sunday, Lahore saw bloodshed, once again. This time more women and children than men. This was not the first time that our world had turned into an open abattoir, yet the reactions of people who identify with varying ideological labels were different. The liberals blamed each other and the government for insensitivity, indifference and lack of security while some self styled enlightened moderates trolled Eiffel tower images hoping it would magically change colours to green and white in solidarity. The jingoists blamed India once again in wake of a confessional video of RAW agent Kulbhushan Yadav as the likes of Zaid Hamid had a field day over the accuracy of their predictions. In other news, extremists pandered to their own ridiculous agendas in D-Chowk while trying to defy basic laws of gravity. No one agreed on anything except, momentarily, that we were all unsafe. But then, like always, there was consensus that Islam was in danger more than innocent people who were unjustly dying in its name.

    I see, vividly, the need for people who live in murderous and erratic times to hold on to religion, even though the agnostic in me fails to see the wisdom behind this rhetoric. Is Islam really in danger? What gives rise to the need for a group of people to call upon purely religious rather than ethical or moral considerations when an act of terrorism occurs?

    Most people do not question fixed codes of conduct given to them, whether they are religious, political or social. This rigidity and passive acceptance of status quo is clearly creating hurdles in the provision of justice. But since these fixed systems are codified by religion, one fears questioning even the most obvious of injustices. For instance, there are people who believe that their God will smite, and thereby destroy, them if they called a murderer a murderer as there is the addendum of religious justification with the murder. He should be given the state-sanctioned badge of shaheed, ghazi, jihadi, basically everything but a murderer. There is another group who will oppose these ideas, also in light of religion. The two groups with their differing opinions on whether that murderer is going to heaven or hell resemble a parliamentary debate for kicks, as religious literature backing both positions seems prolific. It may be that either of the groups is extracting religious quotes out of context and twisting them to back their own opinions. Moderates will do their research and prove how Islam does not allow for someone to dispense justice on their own. While the intentions of moderates may be noble and righteous, both groups are dismissing the inherent evil of the act of murder and defeating the basic humanism that is supposed to lie at the centre of one’s being and give it meaning. Both groups wholeheartedly believe that either way, one needs to look into the edicts of Islam that celebrate or proscribe murder.

    Recently, I came across a study in the Foreign Affairs magazine that contended that the changing demographics of Europe with an influx of Muslim refugees will make Islam a major professed religion of European residents in the coming years. It was also argued in light of a study that there is a shift towards secular multiculturalism of these residents. Simon Cottee’s The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam is an insight into how Western secularism challenges Islamic thought. Cottee attributes the godlessness of these ‘apostates’ to the ethos of Western society and its demands. While this study makes some valid points, it fails to give any evidence into the alleged secular tendencies of an entire generation of Muslims as religion is mostly seen as a ‘personal matter’ in the West. I don’t hear of Christians protesting the number of candles at Sunday mass or the multitudes of satirical animations, cartoons, memes and comic strips that poke fun at Jesus. I don’t hear of bigots from any other religions displaying their fragile religious sensibilities (as much as I hear of Islam’s dying out and being in danger despite its clear and quantitatively proven spread across continents) either. While they have come to terms with their own secular tendencies and the dictates of secular liberal democracy, they are afraid of religious violence given the recent incidents of terrorism in their territory. The thesis of the study had a generally soothing tone to appease the ever-paranoid Western society and to assert that Muslims were not dangerous. This kills two birds with one stone as it proves that the West is not Islamophobic as Muslims are now faithless. As a by-product, it inadvertently proved that Islam was not in danger either.

    My initial intention for writing this article was simply to detach religion from humanitarian considerations rather than repeating the tropes of ‘Islam’ and ‘danger’. But there seems to be a profoundly disturbing connection between the two. One thing is for sure, they are inevitably linked in wake of a series of events since 9/11. This is not to say that religions other than Islam have a history of peace. The Bible includes gruesome incidents of violence without indicting the perpetrators limiting the possibility of moral lessons and upright conclusions. They are just there. Religion and violence have been inevitably linked in history too. Violence, in most religions, is glorified depending on the ends it has served. If it has resulted in the pedant’s victory, it is something to be celebrated. This has been the case in history and myth, be it the Mahabharata, the Battle of the Titans, the Crusades or Harb al-Muqqadas. The ideology may be consistent with establishing peace but the history is laced with violence. Violence has been instrumental to religion. In our context, religion is becoming instrumental to justifying violence. It is, without doubt, interlinked and inexplicably unsettling.

    To me, Islam is not in danger. Even if we detach ourselves from debates over whether Islam is violent or peaceful or what it means to be a Muslim, we should be able to see the distinction between right and wrong. It will definitely comfort Western society that is working to prove the secularisation of our generation while making extremism irrelevant. Withholding the amelioration of Western society in a mindless anti-Western agenda is both juvenile and counterproductive. Murder is wrong. Killing someone for voicing out the innocence of a non-Muslim is wrong. Killing hundreds of people while affirming the greatness of one God is not just wrong, it is barbaric. Islam is not in danger. We are in danger because of a number of people reinterpreting and in turn misinterpreting what it means and hiding under its shade for their own supposedly righteous ends. Our priority should be to uphold humanitarian ethics that promote justice and fairness for all rather than a defensive pro-Islam, anti-Western identity that gives credence to Islamic isolationism and an ill-founded victimology.

    There is a god-shaped hole in each one of us. The void has been there since we were born and it is widening as we become more and more uncertain and vulnerable. Being an atheist or an agnostic is not the natural disposition of a human being. An acceptance of universal humanitarian principles does not equate with godlessness. Needless to say that the spiritual journey for the godless is endlessly a tumultuous one. Our generation stares into the abyss of disillusioning violence in the name of religion and we seem to be losing our grip of both religion and humanism in the process. We must consolidate the merits of our religious debates or rather examine whether there are any.

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