Growing up as a Muslim in America placed me in ethical and socially contradictory environments from an impressionable age. Straddling the gaps between two cultures resulted with my mind becoming a bending, twisty, path between conflicting morals, questionable behavior, and unorthodox beliefs.
So for the past few years I’ve been un-twisting some knots. Sometimes I’d like to take a hot iron to it and smooth out the wrinkles, flatten myself out into a nice crisp set of beliefs with perfect edges that fold just right into my head.
I have some odd beliefs about faith, spirituality, and what being a Muslim is about. But I believe them, they’re my little believies, as Louis CK once put it. And one of those beliefs is that the first Muslims were unorthodox in mind and action. They were questioners of the system by which they’ve lived their entire lives. They were idealistic but were led by a great man who knew how to guide that force.
I also believe that a Muslim is someone who strives for discipline in their behavior and the choices they make. To take the extra time to think and hold off action. To try and learn and not give up even if they don’t get it right the first few (hundred) times.
To the core, I still consider myself as a Muslim because I am always trying to achieve grace. I believe that grace is the underlying theme within the message that our Prophet brought. Grace in form of mercy and of gracefulness, a soft kind touch when possible.
So far I’ve untwisted some of the knots and straightened out the lines of thought into a few of these basic principles (of my own) of being a Muslim. I do not pray 5 times a day but I try and practice discipline in my craft and my hobbies. I don’t socialize at the mosque much, but I try to be gracious and grateful for the conversations I have and the people I’m with.
And I create trouble in the meantime by questioning everything, wondering if there really is a God up there. What if there’s no after-life? What if hell and sin doesn’t exist? Questionings that other “Muslims” would condemn me to the hell-fire for.
The preachers who speaks only of improving those things they themselves are already good at, are useless to those who aren’t already good at those things.
The preachers who speak about things that they themselves do not follow, are hypocrites.
The preachers who speak of their failures at the things they’ve done in their life, are a waste of time.
It’s the preachers who talk of how they overcame a failure of their own. They are the only ones worth listening to.
They have the wisdom to guide the blind out of the darkness, and into the light.
People sometimes incorrectly use the statement “there is no right or wrong, no actual good or evil, there is just what’s so, etc.” as a justification for destroying the word “better” from their lives.
It is true that there is just reality and human concepts of “good” and “right” and “evil” are something that we attach to thunder, solar-eclipses, and small fractional differences in DNA for the color of human skin.
But, it’s also true that human beings largely live in a figment of their own imagination. Hence, the concepts of “good” and “right” and “evil” that we attach to thunder and so on.
So there is a “better” in that we can become better at distinguishing reality from non-reality in our minds and then behaving in integrity with truth.
But.. don’t fall for the trap of making your truth “good” or “right,” and the other person’s truth as “evil.”
One universal design pattern is what I like to call the “tree” pattern. It’s a very simple pattern and I believe that its simplicity is an indicator at its incredibly good design.
As abstractly as possible:
- You have one grand principle
- You have corollaries to this one principle where:
- All the corollaries are still valid within the grand principle, meaning the corollary doesn’t contradict the grand principle
- Each corollary is distinctly different from all the other corollaries
- Each corollary becomes its own grand principle with its own corollaries
This simple design pattern can be seen in language, mathematics, social behavior, biology, economics, basically everything and anything in some way has this pattern somewhere.
One thing I was thinking about was religion. I was reading up on Utopia and in a way I’m a Utopian because I’m constantly trying to find a way that we can have Heaven on Earth. For example, when I came across the section about religious utopias, I began to wonder how we can bring together all these disparate ideas of religion into a social structure such that everyone can have their own religious beliefs, but without eventually ending up in conflict?
So I was thinking that what if we had a society where there was one (or a few) grand principles that everyone can agree on.. except for the few insane people. Things like “God doesn’t want you to kill me,” I believe that’s one almost everyone can agree to.
Each religion can then scrub their religious beliefs of anything that contradicts the grand principle, such as “God doesn’t want you to kill me.” and after the scrubbing, then all those religions are automatically corollaries of the grand principle of “God doesn’t want you to kill me.”
Thus we have unification of all religions living harmoniously under one society.
But, if people want to continue keeping in their religious beliefs things that contradict the grand principle, they will have to live outside of the society. The problem with that is that there is no “outside.” It’s one big planet and the resources aren’t all spread out evenly everywhere. You can try and figure out some sort of harmonious solution but the bottom line is that eventually you’ll have to interface with them in some way or another. That interface automatically includes them into your social structure, there’s no avoiding it, and eventually there will be conflict and disharmony.
So the only real solution would be to kill them.
But then that violates the grand principle of “God doesn’t want you to kill me” and so this entire Utopia will crash to the ground in utter failure and chaos.
So all the grand principles HAVE to apply to every single person, they all must agree to it, and already be living by it. Or somehow transformed into living by it.
Even one single dissension, ever, will bring the entire system to a collapse. Thus why it’s been so hard to get a Utopia out of Humanity so far.
All prophets brought revolution. They brought a message that was true, but against the norms of the times. That’s why all of them went through such hell, here on earth.
So if you ask yourself things like WWJD, remind yourself that Jesus wouldn’t be such a sheep.
Live free, die young, do what’s right, freedom, down with the establishment. Those messages are there too, right next to balanced life and peace and turning other cheeks.
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.
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.