Showing posts with label personal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label personal. Show all posts

Friday, February 20, 2015

Do I want to distance myself from Muslim Extremism?

Dear Mr President Obama
Dear Mr Mayor Aboutaleb
Dear Mr PM Cameron

Several times I've had this request from people, recently.

Now you want an honest answer, of course. I'll give you one. You may not like it, but it is as it is.

Firstly, no one is responsible for other people's behavior. That includes Muslims. And I may hope, you want to use the same standards for everybody, so for you, this is as good as it gets. In other words, I'm not interested in what other people do.

Secondly, you must be familiar with Qur'anic verses 4:59 and 60:1-9, respectively:

'O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: that is best, and most suitable for final determination.'

'It may be that Allah will establish friendship between you and those whom ye hold as enemies. For Allah has power; and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support in driving you out, from turning to them it is such as turn to them that do wrong.'

It's clear, that the latest ISIS-atrocities do not meet these Qur'anic rules. You don't seem to want to question the identity of these people, but I do. Moreover, I'm very much willing to ask this painful question: Is ISIS indeed an Islamic organization, or isn't it? This brings me to an even more painful conclusion: ISIS has the secret service-seal stamped all over it. Please consider this possibility, then research it. I can think of enough reasons, why secret services like to stir things up in countries. This is an issue, where the world can learn from the Netherlands: Here, the parliament carries out in-depth research into government institutions, when unruly behavior has been observed. It's called a 'parliamentary enquiry'. Witnesses are interrogated under oath. Documents and other silent witnesses are investigated too. This has led to improvements in the past. Look at it from the bright side--it may confirm the nonsense of complot thinking, if the official report is confirmed.

Thirdly, I may hope you want to live in peace with the Islamic community. I didn't say 'Islamic countries', because the umma is everywhere, nowadays. Several things need to be done, to achieve that:

* Admit the things you've done wrong towards Muslims in the past. Especially the USA, Britain, and the Netherlands are culpable, when it comes to the enslavement of the Palestinians to Israel. Make sure they will be really liberated. Israel is an apartheid state, like South Africa before. The attacks on your World Trade Center, Sep 11 2001, also have written 'secret service' all over them. Watch Michael Moore's movie please. You'll notice, that his narration is a lot more plausible than the official one blaming Bin Laden. Bin Laden had denied his role in the attack, by the way.

* Ask Muslims for forgiveness for what you've done to them. You destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq based on lies you fabricated. Lies you thought you needed to start wars on these countries.

* Pay compensation to the countries you destroyed. You can't bring back the people you killed, but at least you can compensate their families for the property you destroyed. Just like the Marshall Plan for Europe!

* Retreat your armies from the countries you've destroyed, then make a real start truly modernizing your economy. Transform it from a military economy to a civil economy. A military economy needs wars as a livelihood. To leave it at that, for now.

There's no other way.

I only dare ask this, because myself, I live in a country that itself has committed atrocious war crimes. It traded slaves, occupied and violently oppressed foreign nations, developed racist theories, and eagerly helped Nazi Germany in the holocaust against Jewish citizens. I've seen how painstakingly it is to admit own atrocities, then ask for forgiveness, and to compensate the damage done. Not many countries are untainted. Truth is, also the USA have displayed human imperfection and committed atrocities. Please add up to them, so that we all can move on and live in peace.

H Mulder

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Intimate Relationships with Muslim People

This isn't the easiest topic to deal with, because it meets controversy. But when we dare to honestly look at it, more is possible than meets the (traditional) eye. It's helpful to ask yourself these questions: Where do I place myself, on the large field of spirituality, religions and philosophic ideas? And where precisely on this field does the mate of my choice stand? What does the law say? If indeed we look honestly, we can reach only one conclusion: Only myself and my partner can answer these first two questions. An imam, religious leader, family member, or friend can't answer this, they can only help in general, but usually not on the specifics. Personally, I regret, that orthodoxy in Islam still tries to prevent free partner choice, because it isn't as necessary as some people think. And it's a lot simpler than that it's being made to look like. When it comes to selecting a partner, these are the very first basics, that all Muslim people must consider, according to the Qur'an:
O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you. Give unto orphans their wealth. Exchange not the good for the bad (in your management thereof) nor absorb their wealth into your own wealth. Lo! that would be a great sin.  And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice. And give unto the women (whom ye marry) free gift of their marriage portions; but if they of their own accord remit unto you a part thereof, then ye are welcome to absorb it (in your wealth). Give not unto the foolish (what is in) your (keeping of their) wealth, which Allah hath given you to maintain; but feed and clothe them from it, and speak kindly unto them. Prove orphans till they reach the marriageable age; then, if ye find them of sound judgment, deliver over unto them their fortune; and devour it not by squandering and in haste lest they should grow up Whoso (of the guardians) is rich, let him abstain generously (from taking of the property of orphans); and whoso is poor let him take thereof in reason (for his guardianship). And when ye deliver up their fortune unto orphans, have (the transaction) witnessed in their presence. Allah sufficeth as a Reckoner.
Qur'an 4:1-6

Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans - whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right - surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. Qur'an 2:62

Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise.
Qur'an 2:221

He hath revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. Qur'an 3:2

O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority; and if ye have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah and the messenger if ye are (in truth) believers in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end. Qur'an 4:59

This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when ye give them their marriage portions and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter. Qur'an 5:5

The adulterer shall not marry save an adulteress or an idolatress, and the adulteress none shall marry save an adulterer or an idolater. All that is forbidden unto believers. Qur'an 24:3

And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender.  In like manner We have revealed unto thee the Scripture, and those unto whom We gave the Scripture aforetime will believe therein; and of these (also) there are some who believe therein. And none deny Our revelations save the disbelievers. Qur'an 29:46,47

And there are hadiths saying that a woman can't marry without consent of a male relative. This has led to controversy, as Qur'anic verses 2:230, 2:232, 33:50, and 60:8-10 clearly state that women can marry irrespective of male consent, even more so but not exclusively if they have been married before. The Hanafy School of Law, therefore, gives sane, adult women the possibility to marry without male consent, though sometimes not in case of her first marriage. Countries and scholars differ in their approach, however, most Islamic countries allow women to seek a marriage guardian outside their family, should they otherwise be stopped from a suitable marriage for no good reason. And mostly, marriage without wali approval is allowed for widowed and divorced women. There's a lot of information online on this topic, showing that in some countries fathers are even allowed to marry off their virgin daughters without the daughter's consent. Truth is also, that women themselves can propose to a man, and nothing indicates, that it isn't allowed in Islam. The Prophet himself received wedding proposals:

Volume 7, Book 62, Number 24:

Narrated Sahl bin Sad As-Sa'idi:

A woman came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have come to give you myself in marriage (without Mahr)." Allah's Apostle looked at her. He looked at her carefully and fixed his glance on her and then lowered his head. When the lady saw that he did not say anything, she sat down. A man from his companions got up and said, "O Allah's Apostle! If you are not in need of her, then marry her to me." The Prophet said, "Have you got anything to offer?" The man said, "No, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle!" The Prophet said (to him), "Go to your family and see if you have something." The man went and returned, saying, "No, by Allah, I have not found anything." Allah's Apostle said, "(Go again) and look for something, even if it is an iron ring." He went again and returned, saying, "No, by Allah, O Allah's Apostle! I could not find even an iron ring, but this is my Izar (waist sheet)." He had no rida. He added, "I give half of it to her." Allah's Apostle said, "What will she do with your Izar? If you wear it, she will be naked, and if she wears it, you will be naked." So that man sat down for a long while and then got up (to depart). When Allah's Apostle saw him going, he ordered that he be called back. When he came, the Prophet said, "How much of the Quran do you know?" He said, "I know such Sura and such Sura," counting them. The Prophet said, "Do you know them by heart?" He replied, "Yes." The Prophet said, "Go, I marry her to you for that much of the Quran which you have."

The Scripture, also called the Book, is traditionally seen as the monotheistic trilogy of Torah (Tawrah), Bible (Ingil), and Qur'an. The Qur'an doesn't exclude, nor does it by name include, scriptures of other creeds. That doesn't mean, that those have no chance to be recognized as genuine religious works, revealed by God. We simply don't know. As we see, the Qur'anic texts don't always specify which religious scripture is meant in a verse. Anyway, traditional scholars have always said, that Islamic men can marry Islamic, Jewish, and Christian women, and that Islamic women can marry Islamic men only. Marriage with a polytheist, staunch atheist, or a known sex offender or adulterer, is forbidden to all Islamic people. Hadiths exclude such marriages and other important ties from inheritance:

Volume 8, Book 80, Number 756:

Narrated Usama bin Zaid: the Prophet said, "A Muslim cannot be the heir of a disbeliever, nor can a disbeliever be the heir of a Muslim."

Truth is, however, that there is a large gray area here of in-betweens, that traditionalists close their eyes to. Truth is also, that there are three authorities Muslim people have deal with: Traditional scriptures and fatawat; the law of the country or countries they are bound by; and, most of all, their own conscience. Only you can decide, if the man you desire to marry, thinks and lives by the same religious standard as you do. And: if you are not strictly religious, then why marry a religiously strict man? You may make each other's life hell. A father or an uncle can't decide of foresee that for you. However, they have an advantage over female relatives, because they may know the candidate from social life among men. This is one of the reasons, why male guardians have been considered important for especially young women.

Qur'anic verses 2:62 and 5:69 expand the category of 'believers' to those who believe. No more and no less. Without specification of scriptures, scholars, or other religious traditions that 'believers' may adhere to. That can be understood very widely. Clearly, a staunch Muslim would encounter many challenges with an orthodox Jew or puritan Protestant. However, very similar challenges may arise between a Muslim traditionalist and a modernist, liberal Muslim. Therefore, why not look further, and if you're a liberal, modernist Muslim (m/f), why not also include believers outside Islam in your search for the perfect partner? A reason to include them lies in modern times and legislation in many countries that liberated women from male authority, where in the past, religious laws that gave men authority, made part of the country's law. This is the case in the West mainly. In the past, a Muslim woman would give up too much of her own freedom, if she would marry a Christian man. Therefore, that wasn't a wise thing to do, and the ulema have tried to protect us from such choice. Nowadays, we can afford to look at both the Qur'an and the country's law, notice that it allows men and women equal rights, and as Muslim women, consider men who believe in God but don't belong to the Islamic umma. Why don't people grant each other freedom, when the Qur'an and today's law do so. To illustrate the point, look at these Biblical verses:

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Genesis, Chapter 3:14-17 This is the most classical story of man listening to his wife's undisciplined speech, leading to the original sin. Man from then on had to rule over woman, in all matters.

The Biblical Book of Numbers, Chapter 27, explains how women were excluded from inheritance, unless there was no son. This rule doesn't exist in Islam, as shown in Qur'anic verses above.

And the same Biblical Book of Numbers, Chapter 30, explains that women are not bound by their promises, unless their father or their husband allows them to make such, or stays silent. Another rule that doesn't exist in Islam and that made it for Islamic women possible to do business, acquire property, or work.

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
1 Corinthians 14:34,35

The Islamic woman, however, is allowed to speak and teach. Everywhere. The only exception is, that she can't lead men in prayer.

 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

These Biblical verses didn't lead to a happy, content, and workable society. That's why they're gone now. Not from the Bible, but from everyday life.

Also here, it's easy to turn this into a battle between the scriptures. There's no need to change other nations--a thought that should set free. It's best to stick to Qur'anic verses 2:62, 5:69 and 4:59: Allow believers more freedom outside tradition, and stick to the law of the country. How hard can it be, after all.

University of Southern California USC-MSA Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement (Compendium of Muslim Texts)
Marrying without a Wali Official King James Bible Online

Monday, September 29, 2014

Do I want to distance myself from ISIS?

This Summer, the western world was shaken by two conflicts, one in Europe, Ukraine, and one, again, in Syria and Iraq. The latter, caused by the arrival of 'Islamic State', a new caliphate, raised some interesting questions to Muslims and those who care for Islam.

Truth is, firstly, both Sunni and Shiah traditions promise the return of a final Khilafah, which will restore justice and bring peace. Another truth is, that, also in Islam, every people has a basic right to found a new state according to its own founding principles, and every person may be elligible for high leadership, as described in Qur'anic verse 3:26. There's no exception to this rule for Islamic peoples. The first topic of interest is, whether it is indeed the promised final, infallible khilafah. Scholars of all main schools of thought in Islam agree, that the Imamah of infallible caliphs belongs to descendants of the Saudi tribe of Quraish. The caliph of Islamic State, however, is Iraqi and the Caliphate is situated in Syria and Iraq. Doubtful therefore is, that IS is the final khilafah as prophesied in the ahadith.

Now the second issue. The media report, that Islamic State kills those of its inhabitants who don't want to convert to Islam. Contrary to popular belief, Islam does not allow Muslims such killing. These ahadith reported by Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim (the two at the end) testify as such:

Volume 5, Book 59, Number 628:

Narrated Salim's father:

The Prophet sent Khalid bin Al-Walid to the tribe of Jadhima and Khalid invited them to Islam but they could not express themselves by saying, "Aslamna (i.e. we have embraced Islam)," but they started saying "Saba'na! Saba'na (i.e. we have come out of one religion to another)." Khalid kept on killing (some of) them and taking (some of) them as captives and gave every one of us his Captive. When there came the day then Khalid ordered that each man (i.e. Muslim soldier) should kill his captive, I said, "By Allah, I will not kill my captive, and none of my companions will kill his captive." When we reached the Prophet, we mentioned to him the whole story. On that, the Prophet raised both his hands and said twice, "O Allah! I am free from what Khalid has done."

Volume 5, Book 59, Number 687:

Narrated Jarir:

The Prophet ordered me during Hajjatul-Wada'. "Ask the people to listen." He then said, "Do not become infidels after me by cutting the necks (throats) of one another. "

Volume 9, Book 84, Number 61:

Narrated 'Aisha:

 A group of Jews asked permission to visit the Prophet (and when they were admitted) they said, "As-Samu 'Alaika (Death be upon you)." I said (to them), "But death and the curse of Allah be upon you!" The Prophet said, "O 'Aisha! Allah is kind and lenient and likes that one should be kind and lenient in all matters." I said, "Haven't you heard what they said?" He said, "I said (to them), 'Wa 'Alaikum (and upon you).

Volume 9, Book 84, Number 68:

Narrated Yusair bin 'Amr: I asked Sahl bin Hunaif, "Did you hear the Prophet saying anything about Al-Khawarij?" He said, "I heard him saying while pointing his hand towards Iraq. "There will appear in it (i.e, Iraq) some people who will recite the Quran but it will not go beyond their throats, and they will go out from (leave) Islam as an arrow darts through the game's body.' "

Volume 9, Book 88, Number 184:

Narrated 'Abdullah and Abu Musa: The Prophet said, "Near the establishment of the Hour there will be days during which Religious ignorance will spread, knowledge will be taken away (vanish) and there will be much Al-Harj, and Al-Harj means killing."

Volume 9, Book 89, Number 329:

Narrated Jabir bin Samura: I heard the Prophet saying, "There will be twelve Muslim rulers (who will rule all the Islamic world)." He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, "All of them (those rulers) will be from Quraish."

Book 032, Number 6327:

'Urwa reported on the authority of his father that Hisham b. Hakim b. Hizam happened to pass by some people in Syria who had been made to stand in the sun and olive-oil was being poured upon their heads. He said: What is this? It was said: They are being punished for (not paying) the Kharaj (the government revenue). Thereupon he said: Allah would punish those who torment people in this world (without any genuine reason).

Book 032, Number 6328:

Hisham reported on the authority of his father that Hisham b. Hakim b. Hizam happened to pass by people, the farmers of Syria, who had been made to stand in the sun. He said: What is the matter with them? They said: They have been detained for Jizya. Thereupon Hisham said: I bear testimony to the fact that I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Allah would torment those who torment people in the world.

Al Khawarij are those who think, that rebellion and revolution against leaders is allowed in Islam. Islam, however, asks us to consult with each other in a peaceful manner, as prescribed in Qur'anic verse 42:38, and to obey leaders, even if those aren't always just, as prescribed in verse 4:59.

More importantly, Qur'an itself forbids Muslims random killing of those who reject Islam or left it. Please see one of my previous entries on this blog, The Basics of Islam's Outward Boundaries. Qur'an as reference of judgement in Islam precedes any other scripture, unless explicitly stated otherwise... which isn't often the case. Unbelievers and apostates may be killed only if they kill and persecute believers themselves and neither offer peace nor enter Islam.

We could ask ourselves, if indeed #IS has the right to call itself an 'Islamic' State, if it radomly kills those who live in its newly conquered lands and don't want to convert to Islam or pay 'jizya' tax. How violent has the relation of local Muslims, Christians, Yezidi, and other groups been? If it wasn't violent, then IS has no case.

There's a third question of interest: Is any party allowed to retaliation? The answer to that one isn't simple. Islam allows the faithful retribution for those who were killed, according to these Qur'anic verses:

002.178 Surah 2 Verse 178

O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty.

002.179 Surah 2 Verse 179

YUSUFALI: In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) Life to you, o ye men of understanding; that ye may restrain yourselves.

002.194 Sura 2 Verse 194

YUSUFALI: The prohibited month for the prohibited month,- and so for all things prohibited,- there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, Transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

017.033 Surah 17 Verse 33

YUSUFALI: Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law).

The law of equality prescribes, that any retaliation against other people's harmful behavior must be of equal value, law which may also be applied to offenses slighter than killing. This issue, however, touches the history between Islam and the West. IS may have a point, when it triumphantly announces killing of the British, American, and other western journalists or workers they captured. There's a long line of killing and retribution of killing in our joint western and middle eastern histories; recent history has shown a revival since the US-presidencies of the Bush family, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. And the Middle East has been of the receiving end, mostly, and grossly. Against the killing of every American or European, we've seen at least 10,000 Iraqi, Afghani, and other killings in the Middle East by western armies. And journalists or workers may be an interest party in this war. The temptation to retaliate may have been less, if the West had paid better compensation for the suffering and loss of property during colonial occupation, during bombardments, etc. Not without reason, Islam offers a way out of retaliation with forgiveness. At some time, the cycle of retaliations should end.

Then there's a fourth, final question, not a slight one either. None of us can effectively act, unless we know who we are dealing with. Rumor has it, that IS may be fake. There are plenty of videos circulating, saying that the beheadings of journalists are fake. Therefore, I looked at mainstream footing as these:

Don't worry--the images aren't scary, no one is actually beheaded in these videos

In this case, James Foley, I find the accusation credible. I see two different people here; obviously their voices and their facial movements differ. So what really happened to James Foley? And why the fake? Is IS real, at all? Why was its initial name changed, a name that reminded of forgotten Egyptian goddess Isis? I find the thought tempting, that this group may not at all be a Muslim group. They may be a group of provocateurs, enabling some parties a new war. What if the USA, Iran, any other country, have a hand in that? What must happen to all their military personnel, should war be over? Military personnel may suffer the same trauma as jihad travelers do, after all. Not to mention the tempting shine of the oil. The strangest aspect of it, is the anonymity of thousands of casualties resulting from bombardments versus the flagrant cruelty of one, or a few, beheading(s) of a journalist, who has a name and a face. It does make those 10,000 seem equal to this one person. And that fact, on the other hand, is exactly what Muslim extremists are fighting against, and they have a point here, too. The question is, really, who is the extremist here. The Americans and other westerners have dug themselves deep into the Middle East with their warfare. It's not easy to stop that. One may wonder, if the west is really fighting itself, before any one else.

Is there a solution to this latest problem? The only solution may be a full lock-up of the area occupied by IS, so that no one may enter or leave it, and aid and shelter for the many refugees. IS will have to leave the area, or it has to isolate itself. This will probably leave the least damage.

University of Southern California USC-MSA Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement (Compendium of Muslim Texts)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why-Questions For Ourselves

The oldest question in the world. It has general and personal aspects.

Honestly, I think we can't answer the general aspects. We don't know beyond doubt where we came from. Religions have all their own answers, sometimes in full contrast to one and other. I have gradually learned to rely on myself. "Why am I here", "Where am I going", are questions usually approached in a moral fashion by religions. It may be a help cord for humanity to hold on to, but is it an answer to the question? The role of humanity in the scheme of things on Earth, is seen as a task, by religions. And its future is determined by the way humanity carries out this task. The problem then lies, again, in the differing, sometimes contrasting answer furnished by religions. Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism basically say, though in differing ways: The human soul is forever; its future in the afterlife is determined by how the living man or woman behaves during life. And there's an invisible, omnipotent creating God who creates, decides for and judges us, and everything else. But the stories of these religions are different, and so is their worship. Buddhism says: there is no invisible world behind this, this is all there is and has been, there is no creation, and the human soul isn't immortal. Personally, I think that all religions cast their light on an aspect of the truth that was revealed to their spokesmen, usually referred to as prophets. Why the stories differ, is an answer God only knows;) Or only some answers can be proved to be true or false. Islam still is my own religion, but I can't confirm that the prophet Muhammad, pbuh, really met archangel Gibryl, and that Gibryl truly came with God's word. We can't prove it, no matter how valuable and truthful its content may be. That is faith: Acknowledging something to be truthful or valuable, without having falsifiable evidence. The consequence is, that none of us have the right to forcefully impose our non-falsifiable convictions on other people. That also goes for atheists.

I think, that Buddhism has a point here, it's view can be retrieved with Ibn Rushd, for those who like to know if there's a parallel with Islamic views somewhere. I agree with them and think there was no first creation. Mass cannot have emerged from the non-existent. That's technically and absolutely impossible. Non-existence isn't empty space, because space is existence. Therefore, mass must always have been there, which doesn't mean there has never been empty space. Empty space is always mass-related. Like Ibn Rushd, I think, that God is working within the universe, as the force within it. God may be time, the law or force of nature, an abstract concept. God cannot be compared with anything at all, says the Qur'an. There's no god, there's just the law or force of nature, but that's not god, atheists say. When the Bible says, that "the earth was without form, and void", it may say there was a first creation of our present planet and the other celestial bodies, but Genesis leaves open whether it must have been a remould of something else, another mass. The story in Genesis may sound contradictory to scientific knowledge and even to itself. An aspect not irrelevant to the age-old question, is that other religions have their own stories, that may also be impaired and proven-untrue.

And then, how about thinking of where we're headed to. The afterlife. Is there nothing, or is there a retribution, where justice is restored? It's always been approached from a moral point of view, even by atheists. We should live righteous lives in order to attain a good afterlife. Or, vice versa, we don't need to... etc. The only thing not eagerly considered, is the possible preparation to a bad afterlife. A life in Hell. If Hell is forever, shouldn't we learn now how to live in pain, or at least in unpleasant conditions forever? Shouldn't we learn to accept evil as part of a whole that may have good in it, simply because the whole 'needs' this aspect. We're not taught to deal with an eternal painful retribution. (How we should, is another issue.)

All things considered, I think it's better to keep things personal. It leads to always-relevant and tangible answers to the age-old questions. Why am I here? Where do I go? I stick to things I know. I came from two parents and a long line of ancestors. I live here, because I was born nearby. I have children, they have my genes. Why do we live somewhere? Because of family, a partner, or friends cherished enough to be counted as family. Because I like the town I live in. Because of a job. But I think that most people tend to find their livelihood near family and friends. The chance is realistic, that I'll stay here too, because it's not easy to leave and then live away from family. Why do people leave the vicinity of family and friends? To be with a partner. It may be uniting with an existing partner, or traveling to a country or town where a partner is likely to be found. It may also be necessity. If it's impossible to find a source of income or affordable housing in the vicinity of family and friends. Yet, I think that most people hesitate to leave their country or city for work only, no matter how tempting the prospects may be. There should be someone or something else too, to make it worthwhile to live alone in an apartment far away from home. That's how it works for me. In all honesty -- a partner, or family and trusted friends somewhere else will make me move away more easily than only a great writing gig. The chances are realistic, though. And it's best to recognize that I'm not sure what will happen after death, and try to do my 'best' as is recognized as such in my community, including not causing harm to others.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Disbelief: Another form of belief or a creative expression of independence?

In the modern era, we have seen people at a large scale loose belief in a god and holy scriptures. Especially in Europe and other countries of the west. However, scriptures like the Bible and Qur'an mention disbelief in God, and there are historic accounts about atheists during the Caliphate of 'Ali, son in law of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Every Biblical prophet had to cope with non-believers, this fact being the reason behind their mission: Trying to familiarize their people with God. So non-belief in God is not new, though nowadays it is (or seems) more widespread.

The reasons for disbelief are not only disbelief in a deity altogether, and disbelief in scriptures that proved to be incompatible with scientific knowledge. There is also a strong disbelief in the role of the clergy and a sense of disappointment in God as a source of goodness. The second reason – the influence of science – is in the west a relatively modern phenomenon. However, the first cracks in the Church's infallibility appeared during Renaissance – perhaps the most famous crack was Galilee's theory of the earth being round in stead of flat. The other three reasons for disbelief are more universal and exist in probably any culture and historical period. Not every person is interested in a truth that cannot be proved, but why is this the case? Why does one person accept God and does the other reject Him? And why do some people accept God in spite of natural disaster (like early death or tsunamis), or human corruption in His most prominent servants? Why do these very same phenomena scare others away from God? It seems impossible to solve, and the issue makes clear that belief is a matter of personal perception. Believers see their own existence and perception as sufficient proof for the truth of their beliefs – a thing that non-believers cannot accept. Rejection of the metaphysical world, however, cannot be proved to be solid judgement either. There is no proof that a metaphysical world doesn't exist. There is nothing wrong with rejecting holy scriptures that proved to be untruthful, nor with rejecting a corrupt religious organization in society, but that is of quite a different order than metaphysics. The scientific approach has many merits, but it is a limited one. It does not answer the questions, nor does it display the places that are beyond our shared observation.

So disbelief in a deity basically is another form of belief, no matter how sophisticated it may be worded. The question that follows, is: what is wrong with disbelief being another form of belief? Belief in a deity is a subjective, perceptive approach to life, but so is atheism. Belief stops and knowledge begins as soon as a phenomenon has been empirically observed and displayed to others. This is not (some say not yet) the case with the metaphysical world of God. Belief has become the bad apple in not only the west – it is blamed for oppression of the free will and for hindering scientific, economic and political development everywhere. There is some truth to that, as we have seen religious clergy in oppressive roles, but do the people really find more freedom in non-religious systems? The first thing we should acknowledge, is that we know many secular systems, but very few non-religious, atheistic systems. Communism is an atheistic political system, but apart from communism, there aren't many. Most other countries allow a role for religious political parties in their political landscape and even in their legislation. Almost every country acknowledges national religious holidays, to name something. We could go a step further: creating a formal atheistic state is incompatible with our nowadays most appreciated form of government, namely the secular state. It implies that atheism is the state doctrine and favors atheism over belief in God. What can we say in defense of the atheistic state as a liberal and equitable system? We can defend such a choice once atheism has been proved to be the truth beyond any doubt.

Contrary to what many think, disbelief in God is not a new phenomenon. The Biblical and Qur'anic scriptures give us many definitions and descriptions of disbelief in God. The Qur'an also accentuates that nonbelievers see their rejection of God as some form of modernity. What is modern about disbelief in a god? Religious scriptures are old, perhaps they are the oldest we possess. It appears that the first religious revelation came with the first man and that the first man raised us to be religious. The unprovability of God's existence, of which the Bible even makes a formal statement since Babel Tower, makes it likely that also in early days people came to doubt His existence. However, belief in God seems to have preceded rejection, hence the modern aspect of disbelief. This brings us to a second question: What is more difficult, to believe or to disbelieve in a god? Is disbelief reinventing the wheel, or is it an expression of creativity, sophistication and independence?

If we want to answer whether disbelief in God is just another form of belief or a creative and modernizing force, we should think about the aim of divine revelation.

Divine revelation in the first place intends to introduce the deity to man. Who is He (or they, or She), what is His plan for His creation, what is man's place in it, what future has He in store for both individual people and mankind.

Secondly, every revelation gives more or less detailed rules for how people should live together, and how they may or should communicate with the deity. If God is approached the right way, following established protocol, a relationship between God and man will develop. Rules for cohabitation of people with each other and with other creatures are important components of the ritual worship of God. Religious rules are to be applied for the whole life span, and therefore they demand discipline. We may classify discipline among the difficult aspects of belief. One of atheists' main criticism against religion is its dislike of obedience to God and religious verdicts. It is seen as something not belonging to the naturally curious human mind to believe in an invisible abstraction and therefore part of an oppressive tradition. The idea of obeisance to an abstract, non-empirical concept, God, is unacceptable to atheists, especially since there are more than one of these abstract concepts, religions. Only concrete, absolute truths should be enforced on society. Hence the modern preference for a secular system, a preference now also existing among many believers. The idea of not formally enforcing abstract concepts is not a prerogative for atheists, however.

On the other hand, not only atheists consider religious belief a less committal approach to life. It seems easier to believe in something of which absolute knowledge is absent than having to prove it. Therefore we can afford some freedom in our actions. Knowledge demands precision, whereas faith doesn't. We don't absolutely know if God exists, so how much do we need to worry about God's judgement or God's sanction to disbelief. Plus we do not absolutely know to what extend God 'needs' our commitment and obedience. Is God Himself enough, or does He really need our love and prayers? Is our life, our future in God's power? Will God grant fulfillment of our wishes for the hereafter, as we can't reach Him directly? The by nature easygoing commitment of religious belief gives great joy and space to the believer, which is the easy aspect of belief. Belief invites creative people to express and visualize their beliefs, and this visualization makes it possible to share beliefs with others. This challenge has inspired people through the ages to great works of art. However, also the creative process not only needs discipline; the believing artist inevitably stumbles upon the impossibility to observe the deity, the soul, mental processes, and the metaphysical world. Yet faith is a source of creativity and this creativity is perhaps the most attractive aspect of faith.

Non-absolute commitment to the faith, however, also explains the phenomenon of the corrupt and oppressive clergyman who does not live by his own religious rules – even he does not really seem to fear. Persistent faithfulness seems to be difficult, even for the clergy, even though the clergyman, as much as anybody else, has his own personal integrity and discipline. Or lack of it, all depending on the individual, when surrendering to invisible values. This commitment to the principles of an abstract concept, and the discipline and integrity it demands, is the difficult aspect of faith. Therefore it is not as self-evident as it seems: Religious belief as the lazy alternative to independent thinking.

Obedience to God, scripture and religious clergy seems a non-creative, easy way out of the exercise of forming oneself a life philosophy by free thinking and research. This is why atheists see believers as uncreative, credulous people. Those who believe can rely on the comfortable guidance of an expert organization. The believer has, in the view of the non-believer, an easy. Every question about every aspect of life is promptly answered by scriptures and their highly schooled authoritative commentators. Creativity, independent thinking, acquiring knowledge; and perhaps most of all; self determination are off-limits to believers – unnecessary also, in the atheist view. Indeed this makes non-belief in a god a difficult choice: What should come in place of a religiously inspired society and life philosophy? Can we really, by our own force, invent a system of values and rules, let alone make it consistent? A believer will answer to this question: Everything we think and act, our entire being, is under divine guidance, even when the deity grants us freedom. Therefore man cannot act independently, or at best within restricted fields, where the deity allows it. The non-believer says: Man emerged from natural processes where no god was ever involved. Man must on his own force build a just society and not hide himself behind self-invented, non-empirical philosophies, which are no more than organizational simplification instruments – harmful to detergent philosophies and most of all, to the truth. In the non-religious view, truth is no more than empirical observation and the conclusions thereof; everything else is mere opinion, "every person's own truth", or the unknown yet to be discovered. Non-believers are especially proud of how scientific achievement could improve comfort for man, and all this apparently against the sayings of the religious scriptures. Indeed technological and medical knowledge could enervate parts of the religious scriptures. And also traditionally low ranking people could emancipate from religious taboos that proved to be incompatible with reality. Therefore, much seems to plea in favor of the non-religious outlook. However, still no answer comes to the question why many topics in religious scriptures are dealt with adequately, as shown by archeological findings. Nor to the main question that science cannot answer: What does the secret room behind the blind door look like. So it is not necessarily true, that religious belief offers more ease and security than atheism. Too much emphasis is also laid on the social aspect of religion and too often people forget the most important personal choice that believers must make every time again. The choice for a religion is a choice for an abstract metaphysical world, not for a group culture, even though that may be a natural choice, especially when we choose for our family's tradition.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Belief is a personal and a philosophical issue

There are many answers to the question what it is: Belief. One valid definition of what belief is, is this one:

Belief is finding truth in something without direct evidence, accepting something for fact when its truth cannot be or has not been proved.

From belief we can go a step further into faith. Faith is more than believing something to be true, it is entrusting and committing oneself to it.

Belief and faith are important factors in human life. For instance, commercial transactions cannot take place unless people trust each other, which is not always based on facts and past experience but also on intuitive gut feeling. People trust their own self image when they choose a carreer, and their feelings when choosing a partner for life. There is another path that gives belief, and especially faith, a more complex meaning, and that is the religious dimension. For everybody it is possible to understand faith in other people, in the self, even in nature. It is relatively easy to trust the visible, empirical world that we know. However, not everybody is willing to find truth in an unseen godly power who created everything we know: A hereafter, an evil force, a (or the) future, or a divine judgement.

Belief indeed is one side of the coin and knowledge is the other. We can see these concepts as opposites but also as twin sisters. What is knowledge?

Knowledge is the possession of facts that people have, based on open observation that can be shared by others, or on logical deduction.

Belief stops as soon as we have knowledge.

We may call observations evidence to a phenomenon. And evidence is information that we can share with other people in an unambiguous way. They observe exactly the same phenomenon as we do. A picture taken of a football match gives information to other people about its proceedings. A secretary takes notes during a meeting, and those present agree afterwards with their contents, in order to record the talks. When the street is wet, we can conclude that either rain has fallen, or the cleansing-service passed by. Some observations are household, such as the fact that water boils at a temperature of a hundred degree Celsius. Others are more sophisticated, like the neutron structure of gold, and such knowledge is agreed to be called science. After all, not everybody is trained to interpret sophisticated observations. However, the easy part of knowledge is that everybody can endorse its truth, once more people have observed the occurrence of the facts, and once people can re-observe the facts anytime. Knowledge is the answer to the how to-questions that people, curious as they are, have posed themselves through the ages. The fact that our knowledge is still incomplete, gives us the impetus to search further. To a certain extend, it is possible to answer the how to-questions. Our technical skills have grown over the generations, and we are able to reach further and deeper. Now we can observe the very small or very far phenomena. We can accept that there are certain limits to our ability to answer the how to-questions and blame our inabilities to our lack of knowledge. We hope that a new scientist may find new answers. We don't know the limit of our abilities, nor if our knowledge gathering may be confined by unknown barriers that have nothing to do with our capabilities. A good example is the Biblical Babel Tower built by the people in order to see God. God set boundaries to the gathering of human knowledge: the people were not allowed to see Him, so He destroyed the tower and from then the people spoke different languages. Apart from the unknown limit to our scientific knowledge, we have the issue of why-questions. As soon as we reach the question of how the universe was created or originated, we meet a problem that has led to various ideological currents, with sometimes long histories and conflicts among each other. Basically it is the history of controversy between science and religion and between competing religions.

Science has tried to answer the how to-questions more or less successfully. More importantly, religions try to answer the why-questions of life.

Why did Mary Blake die so young?
Why did this happen to her?
Why is life such unfair shit?
Why do things never go right?
Why are we on earth?
Why is nature of such unsurpassed beauty and variation?
Why have I become a compassionate conservative Republican?
Why came the dinosaurs first and then the primates?

All these questions are limited by our capabilities and, according to believers, our permissions. Biblical history tells how God sets boundaries to human knowledge. God destroyed Babel Tower, because He did not want man to reach Him. Man also has no complete sight on the world and universe around him. The Islamic Scripture, the Qur'an, too, has verses on how man may and must gather knowledge, however, to the extend that Allah allows him:

"O ye assembly of Jinn and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!" Q:55:33

"And He has created (other) things of which ye have no knowledge." Q:16:8

"Say: 'Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?' It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition." Q:39:9

Saying that the evolution determines why the dinosaurs precede the primates, is no answer to the why-question. Why-questions give a reason and arise from an approach of subjectivity. They come from human perception and have no scientific foundation. Science cannot answer why-questions, because they touch the areas of choice and preference. Someone or something determined that it was better, or maybe nicer, for the dinosaurs to precede the primates. Science does not determine  qualities such as beauty, good taste, morality, better, higher, or worse. Even the occurrence of coincidence does not cut it, because always someone will come and ask: Why did dinosaurs happen to arrive before primates, why did chance choose the dinosaur to precede the primate?

Belief is related to the human mind: The set of thought, emotion, consciousness, ambition, and spirit, qualities that scientists have been unable to determine as yet. What are the spirit and our feelings, what is our personality, our consciousness, where do they reside, what are their form and look? One thing that we can say, is that thoughts, emotions, ambition, awareness, and belief are components and instruments of a relationship. A relationship with ourselves, other people, animals and plants, and with metaphysics or abstract concepts. We may define our soul and consciousness as our invisible self and our personality as its link with the outside world. Thinking, emotions, ambitions, and beliefs link us to the self or the other on an invisible level. Many artists make it their job to give thought, emotion, belief, spirit, and personality a concrete expression in image, text, or sound. But also the artist stumbles on the invisibility and elusiveness of these topics. They are the aspects of life that perhaps matter the most, yet they cannot be reproduced and are therefore no part of scientific knowledge. Their behavioral consequences, however, are often very visible and tangible and follow a repeatedly shared pattern, which we may call a structure. This is the reason why relations with the self and other people are open to the scientific approach, to a certain extend. This also goes for our relations with other living creatures, our environment, and with materials. When people have a problem with themselves, psychologists and psychiatrists jump into the field to assist them. When people have problems with others, not only psychologists but also the legal system has to assist, sometimes against the person's will. We know relatively much about how the human mind works and can make valid statements about many phenomena.

However should we not forget, that many things involving the human mind are unknown to us. This also has implications for religious issues: Our connection with metaphysics. Can a divine power communicate with people, how does this work, can we talk with an invisible unknown power? Is it therefore wise to discard any divine revelation to prophets as fraud? We have no scientific answer to that.