Does my faith say you’re going to hell?

My particular upbringing as a Muslim in the deserts of Arizona instilled in me the belief that all people who aren’t Muslims will go to hell.

Hell… even most who are Muslims will go to hell. (For a short few millions of years before they’re exonerated of all their sins)

This poses a personal as well as a social dilemma for me. Personally I don’t believe that I should go to hell. I’m not a bad person, I don’t kick puppies and kittens, I try and control that urge. I try and respect as many people as my racist and sexist upbringing will allow. I live responsibly, mostly ethically. I try not to give anyone a hard time. I hope that I make more people happy in the world than I make them sad.

But I don’t pray regularly, I don’t think about God as nearly as much as I should, I don’t heed the Hadith (or even take them very seriously), and I rarely read the Quran. All of these are minimum criteria, I’m told, to enter Jannah (heaven). Since we don’t believe in a Purgatory, that means it’s the Jahannam (guess what that is?) for me.

I know a lot of good non-muslims, I don’t believe that they should really go to Hell. So I resolve this dilemma by “simply” avoiding the topic of the after-life. This is unfortunate because one of the key principals in my faith is remembering how this life is transient and quick, that there is an after-life and I will be judged.

And this avoidance ripples out to the rest of my thoughts, and thus my actions. I stop going to Mosques where I’m faced with this contradiction directly. I stop having conversations with people about religion, where my hypocrisy can become evident. I even stop thinking about Islam and how I can become a better Muslim.

If I were to try to go back into the fold of my faith, I’d have to confront this dilemma and resolve it in some way. It’s unavoidable, my mind will bring up questions that I won’t be able to answer. I will be tormented with emotions that I won’t know how to deal with, and I’ll have to judge and ostracize others that I would rather think well of and keep in my life.

So what should I do? I don’t have any answers at the moment. Maybe later the fear of Hell will eventually overcome the dilemma and I’ll push non-muslims out of my life and begin to pray and do all the other stuff.

But really? Is that what it means to be a Muslim?

Edit:

There’s an excerpt on wikipedia that is very interesting:

Awf ibn Malik reported that Muhammad said, “The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one will enter Paradise and seventy will enter Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one will enter Hell and one will enter Paradise. By Him in Whose hand is my soul, my Ummah (Muslims) will split into seventy-three sects, one will enter Paradise and seventy-two will enter Hell.” Someone asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who will they be?” He replied, “The main body of the Muslims.”

So it seems that what I’ve been taught to believe all my life is not necessarily the truth (what a shocker!!). And also, if 1/73rds of Muslims can be the “main body,” why can’t 1/72nds of Christians or 1/71ths of Jews be the “main body.” It seems like the math is all there.

Why am I a Muslim?

MuslimI was born a muslim.

That’s always been the answer to why I’m a muslim. But very soon I realized that there’s very few things that bind me by birth to something. I’m bound to groups of people who are brown, have dark hair, and who are male. Besides these and a few other genetic qualities, I had no other ties to this world when I arrived.

And they tell us often in mosques that we’ll exit this world the same way, with nothing.
Well, almost nothing. We will die with our souls being muslim. And this soul will remain floating around somewhere till the day of judgement.

Then maybe there is the same ephemeral tie to me as a muslim before I was even born. But that’s so ludicrous that no muslim will seriously say that you’re born a muslim, with a muslim soul. Unless they’re wacko, most would agree that it’s the practice of Islam that makes you a muslim.

And so after I lost my anchor to my identity as a muslim by birth, I latched onto being a muslim by practice. But the practices were so utterly BORING and monotonous and.. well.. easy. They try and tell you when you’re young that Allah made things easy for us. They’re wrong if they think that’ll entice any child to want to practice their faith more.

Kids love a challenge. They love video games and sports and winning. Or at least I did. And I didn’t see how mindlessly reciting memorized verses and moving our bodies up and down was a challenge at all. And I didn’t see life as a challenge either in my naive little mind. I didn’t understand then how having a grounded practice in meditation 5 times a day will accelerate basically anything that I try to achieve.

But the fact is that, even though it was so easy, I still couldn’t do those prayers fully for very long. It was a challenge but not in the way that I recognized then. Doesn’t mean that I didn’t try. I had great reverence for all of it. Why shouldn’t I? Everyone else had great reverence. So I didn’t tell myself I was bored. I didn’t accept the fact that the people around me were only telling me the more boring aspects of this 1400 year old faith. I didn’t realize that they themselves didn’t really know.. or if they did, they didn’t know how to communicate it to a bunch of 12 year olds.

What I did instead was tell myself that I was a bad boy.

And that worked out really well because bad boys don’t pray, and I really didn’t want to pray anymore. Maybe I had too much freedom? Maybe my parents should’ve pushed more. But my parents, God bless them, are good muslims. And unlike what most of the world and even some muslims think, a good muslim doesn’t force. They wait with patient compassion and always invites, but never mandate. We have enough mandated things in our own lives and our own struggles to worry about anyways. And my parents were good enough to not take their frustration out on their kids and force them to do things they themselves failed to do.

I’ve seen a few examples of what occurs when Islam is shoved down the throats of innocent children a little too hard. They choke, and become the absolute opposite of what anyone intended. I’m glad that I escaped.. most of that fate. Trust me though, my mom did try shoving a lot of things down our throats, so that’s why you might sense a tinge of bitterness in my tone. Just a tinge.

And she still invites me. Every single time, without fail, she invites me. And she’ll die on her death bed and use her last breath to tell us to pray.

It’s obvious that I’m not much of a practicing muslim.

So then am I even a muslim at all? I could always practice without belief or understanding. And that’s what I did for most of my life. I knew though that it was much worse to practice without belief. I thought that without real belief, practice makes no sense and I got the idea that I’d go on a “journey” to sow the seeds of true faith into my heart.

I have a good friend who was in the same situation that I was in. We began to delve into the deeper secrets of our faith alone. We both knew that something more than what we’ve been told exists. Maybe the secret to success (as they also tell us in the mosques) lies in these details we only suspect is hidden inside the books and stories. So we hesitantly took blind steps towards some greater knowledge about our faith.

WearyBuddhaThat was maybe 7 years ago, and I’m still on that journey. And I’ve gone a long way. I’ve learned a lot about my own faith as well as a lot of the other faiths in this community of faiths that exist on this planet.

I’ve had the privilege of developing a friendship with a deeply wise and devout christian who has taught me so many wonderful things about Jesus and how they view the world, existence, and life after death.

I’ve studied buddhism and meditated with Thai Buddhists in their monastery within the mountains. Afterwards we discussed theology and philosophy with the Ajahn over tea.

I’ve studied and practiced Tao personally over years of Chinese martial arts training.

I tried reading the Bhagavad Giītā, but only got as far as reading the introduction to Hindu theology, which was very interesting. I still have the book, I’m sure one day I’ll go over the entire thing.

I’ve even gone through training in psudoscience (no not Dianetics) and it was very helpful to my life and I still interact frequently with that community.

And a lot of other things, but always coming back to Islam and tying it back to Islam. And.. not to be biased, but Islam has yet to disappoint me. All of what I’ve learned fits so well within the message that the Prophet passed along to his ummah. But I don’t think it’s being biased because Islam is a rich religion, and so are a lot of religions and they all have something to offer and they all have a few little cracks and flaws.

During my journey I learned really cool things about Islam, some historical facts about the times of the Prophet and after his death (versus the pre-school level “history” I was taught as a kid). I learned about the golden ages of Islam, the accomplishments of muslims, and how muslims and Islam is tightly woven into the quilt of human history.

And all of this is cool to learn, and I’m proud of muslim contribution. But I have lived my life in a world where Islam is seen as backwater faith, at best, by a lot of the world, including my own. Before I even graduated from Highschool, the spotlight of 9/11 was on Islam and what it meant to be a muslim and everyone had to re-adjust what they knew (and didn’t know) about Islam, especially the muslims themselves.

So I’ve been on my journey for a while now and I’m still slowly walking. I’ve learned a few things, so how about now I finally answer that question?

Why am I a Muslim?

Actually, I came across the answer fairly soon in my journey. And the answer is what has allowed me to expand my horizons and give all those other faiths and belief systems a look-see. The answer was actually in front of my face the entire time, as all great answers always are.

The reason I am a muslim is because of what Islam means. Islam means to submit, without hesitation or objection. Submit to what? Exactly. It doesn’t say. Islam as a religion has a lot to say about it. The prophet had a lot to say about it. People in my life always had a lot to say about it. But those are all the details, the crux of Islam is submission (period).

Some would say submission to Allah, but what is Allah?
*shrug*
We know that whatever Allah is, it’s supposed to be the truest of the true things. Similarly.. Allah is justice, ultimate justice. Allah is compassion, true compassion. Etc. All of these qualities of Islam are tied to the attributes of Allah, the 99 names of Allah. But they’re just pointers to the Allah. Or maybe they are parts of Allah? There’s a whole philosophy around this, the current leading view that is adopted by orthodox muslims is of Al-Ashari’s.

Jewish scholars, and later Christian and then Islamic scholars, seem to have a lot of fun with paradoxes and trying to make sense of the nature of reality. But they all seem to agree that whatever exists, God is higher than that. And thus, if we are submitting to this God, then we’re submitting to everything, the most perfect form of everything.

Islam means to submit to it all.

Submit to the reality around me and the reality I don’t see or know about. This is sort of jarring when I try to think about it. Why should I submit? How can I trust whatever it is that I’m submitting myself to? I don’t want to blindly submit. But Islam doesn’t ask for blind submission. Because you must submit to facts as well. Islam requires you to open your eyes and keep them open and face it all because it’s what is so.

After I’ve thought and experienced some of reality, after I’ve experienced some joy and pain. I find that there is truly nothing more wonderful than submitting to all of it. To fight is useless, I can’t hold myself back from reality. Islam means to submit to the currents of life, to recognize that we’re all in a big sea. We’re fish, not knowing what water is because we’re so immersed in it consistently and we can’t see the most vital element of our existence. We came into existence in this sea. And up to the moment of our death, we shall know nothing outside of the sea of reality.

So ultimately.. I’m a muslim because I was born as one.

But does that make you and everyone a muslim too? Yes, in the greater sense of the word. But like how the color of my skin and the color of my hair is different, yet I’m still a human being, so too does the color of your faith differ, but we’re all submitting to the same thing.

to all da muzzis

Ramadan has trained us to be able to give something up for a long period of time for an extended period of time. One way we can take advantage of it is by repeating that behavior in other things.
Give up the internet for an entire week. Give up talking for a weekend. Give up electricity for a day. The trick is to give up something that is so a part of your daily life that you take it for granted that it exists. Give up sitting on chairs for a week. Give up using the microwave for a month.
You’ll start to realize how much of your life is an addiction and an unhealthy attachment to material objects. And after about an 1/8th of the way through it, you’ll start enjoying yourself more than you have in years.

What I’m learning in Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s book “Moving the Mountain” part 3

The word “Islam” has lost the original meaning of being a set of actions described by the 5-pillars. It is now used as an identity of an entire group of people that spans several continents and has a 1400 year history. Just like it was a misunderstanding of mine to say that all Christians believe that the Pope is a holy man and a leader of their faith, it’d be a misunderstanding of others to consider that Jihad is a central and important concept in Islam.
Saying that Islam believes in veiling all their women is the same as saying that Americans love hot dogs and french fries. It’s statistically largely true, but mostly out of ignorance and a blatant disregard for their own health. In both accounts.
To gain a better understanding of what Islam means, think of it the way Sufists do. The Sufist ultimate aim is to be in the presence of God at all times. And for them, Islam, as the set of actions such as prayer and charity, is only the first step. After step 1, Sufists don’t stop being Muslims, they still continue to practice the fundamentals of step 1, they just move onto deeper practices and meditations.
For Sufists, Islam is what it was originally intended to be, a verb. But for the rest of the people in the world, Islam has become a noun that is supposed to encompass all that it is to be a Muslim. That is a misunderstanding of non Muslims, and it is disastrous for Sunni Muslims. If someone were to show you a stairway that rises up to some wonderful height and tells you that the first step is the most important and defines the rest of the entire stairway, that person is literally correct, but conceptually wrong. It’s the stairway and the destination that is important. The first step is just the first step. People see that inherently but are dissatisfied with focusing so much energy on that first step. Making that first step out to be the entire stairway turns people off, especially young people because they can easily see the larger picture but they are told to train their eyes and narrow their vision and compact their entire lives into one step.

Chicks, Islam, Reformation

No one would actually argue that Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad was a sexist. So it’s interesting that the most sexist behavior are correlated with fundamental Christianity and Islam (I said correlate, not cause, so don’t get your pretty little panties in a bunch).
One of the key contributions of the Catholic reformation was the further equalization between women and men. Women began to preach, they began to speak out, they began to have a voice.
A key individual in this reformation was Anne Boleyn. She indirectly began to cause King Henry VIII to disengage from the church just so that he can marry her, and then directly introduced him to the Protestant doctrine and seduced his ego with the concept of a Sovereign King that supersedes the church. Fast forward only 400 years and the greatest Protestant nation, America, allows women to vote and wear jeans. A true sign of equality and the end of women suffering and the beginning of women suffrage.
So what about Islam? How many more centuries do we have to wait for a similar reformation?
The problem, and the great thing, about Islam is that we don’t have a dominant figure to hate and point fingers at. We have no Roman Catholic church, we don’t have a Pope. We can’t fight against anything because there is no one but ourselves to fight against. That’s great because it gives us a free will that wasn’t offered to majority of Catholics for 1400 years. No single entity is in charge of going around and murdering and enslaving people in the name of God. We do that all by ourselves individually.
This lack of leadership also means that there is a lack of leadership in the movement of reformation. During the 1400’s, there were kings and rulers of empires that single-handedly led the reformation against the Roman Catholic church by giving them the finger and going ahead and skipping out on Sunday Mass and beheading their wives when they got too annoying. Ironic isn’t it? The same woman that gave Henry the power to divorce as he pleases, got divorced herself and had her head chopped off. And thus the reformation of Christianity is exercised and women are on the road to redemption.
In Islam, the doctrine of sexism is passed on not through a church or a Pope, it is passed through by slow training of our young children by their sexist parents. So for every person that is raised with a liberal mind about women’s role in Islam, there are two raised to beat them down into submission. And even worse, for every person, in a country like America, that is raised by society to believe in women’s equality, there is another hidden person inside that person that actually behaves otherwise. This bi-polar attitude is probably the biggest obstacles to women equality, because the first step to curing it is to admit that you are a sexist.
So I’m a sexist. I have lots of internal moments where I feel like a person is inferior to me just because they can’t pee standing up without messing themselves. It’s a thought or a feeling that sparks up inside my head automatically, and then I have to consciously ignore it and behave otherwise. It’s some sort of internal psychological training that I have to undo, I don’t know where it came from, and it doesn’t really matter. It is my mind thinking the thoughts, my body doing the actions, my mouth saying the words, my responsibility. What is most important is that I re-train this mental muscle to do other more useful, and more rational, things.
Like hate black people and Jews.

Why the hell should I?

As a Muslim I am supposed to believe that all people who aren’t Muslims will go to hell, hell.. even most who are Muslims will go to hell.

This poses a personal as well as a social dilemma for me.

Personally I don’t believe that I should go to hell. I’m not a bad person, I don’t kick puppies and kittens, I try and control that urge. I try and respect as many people as my racist and sexist upbringing will allow.

But I don’t pray regularly, I don’t think about God as nearly as much as I should, I don’t heed the Hadith (or even take them very seriously), and I rarely read the Quran. All of these are minimum criteria, as I’m told, to enter Heaven. Since we don’t believe in a Purgatory, that means it’s the Hellfire for me.

I know a lot of good non-muslims, even some of the gays. I don’t believe that they should really go to Hell either. I understand all the arguments for why they shouldn’t go to Hell just because they aren’t Muslims, and I also understand the Islamic argument for why they are going to Hell. And therein lies the dilemma, how do I consolidate the two conflicting views in my head?

Unfortunately this dilemma leads me to just ignore and avoid the topic of the afterlife all-together. This is unfortunate because one of the key principals in my faith is keeping in mind the afterlife and how this life is transient and quick. So due to this problem, I have been slowly training myself away from Islam.

If I were to try to go back into the fold of my faith, I’d have to confront this dilemma and resolve it in some way. It’s unavoidable, my mind will bring up questions that I won’t be able to answer. I will be tormented with emotions that I won’t know how to deal with, and I’ll have to judge and ostracize others that I would rather think well of and keep in my life.

So what should I do? I don’t have any answers at the moment. Maybe later the fear of Hell will eventually overcome the dilemma and I’ll push non-Muslims (Kafirs) out of my life and begin to pray and do all the other stuff.

But really? Is that what it means to be a Muslim?

Prophet Engineer

One way to effectively analyze the Prophet, and figure out the reason for Islam, is to look at the fundamental reasons for the changes that the Prophet brought. One change, for example, was the treatment of women.
The prophet understood that the treatment of women around his time was harming his society and keeping it from attaining further growth and prosperity. In very simplified terms, women are 50 percent of what it is to be a human being. Anything less than 100 percent (50 + 50 percent) is less of a human being. Anything less, or even a perception of being less, than what you are leads to suffering.
So the prophet did something about it, to the best of his abilities. The historical outcome wasn’t ideal because, at the end of the day, the prophet couldn’t be in the home of every single one of his Ummah to control the interactions his followers had with each other. And especially after his death, the Prophet could not keep his 40 year young society from snapping back to some of their misogynist ways. But the changes he did bring were still radical at that era.
Today in societies where women’s rights are further along than other societies (although still not perfect), they have things like alimony in their legal system. This helps in balancing the inequalities in the workforce and inequalities in general physiology, where a woman is physically handicapped for a long period for human gestation.
The prophet did something similar in disallowing the practice of a dowry that the women’s family had to pay. Instead, he enacted a system of feminine dowry with the purpose of helping a woman who, if a divorce were to occur, would have an incredible tough time finding sources of income without a man’s help in that society.
The example of the changes the Prophet made in women’s right’s is one change that was in alignment with a larger goal of the Prophet. He was a social Engineer. He saw holes and inconsistencies and flaws in his society and then he enacted to change and better things. THAT is what it means to be a Muslim in the truest sense. It means to take something and think about it and then make it better. Make people’s lives happier. Make society more efficient. Bring general wealth and prosperity to humanity. That was the Prophet’s ultimate goal and that is what is in line with the theme of the Quran.
What it means to be a Muslim, in any age and time, is to bring forth change for the better in every aspect of life. If there is a stone in the way that hinders you and others, move it. If you see wrong, stop it. If you can’t stop it, say it’s wrong. If you can’t say it’s wrong, at least think to yourself that it’s wrong.