Let me start this by clarifying one small thing: I am Muslim. Not a perfect one, probably not even a good one. But a Believer, a God-botherer, bacon-free, a Barbican-ist. Ich bin ein headbanger.
In that context, I'm as aware as anyone of both the risks and the potential of the media in the battle of ideas. The internet is full of pornography and BS. Some of it also has erudite, informed, interesting and educational content, and some of that is about Islam. Cool. And Robert Spencer can kiss my halal butt. Metaphorically speaking, obviously.
So this post is aimed at brothers and sisters all over, especially here in the Gulf where I see a lot of the Electric Mufti. I will get on with this in a minute, I promise, but in the mean time, I note that readers of this blog are from an amazing diversity of countries and backgrounds. So just so as not to be exclusive, I'll just stop a moment and put this "Muslim" thing into context for those who are less informed (you infidels out there and the like). Here is a brief digression: The Beginner's Guide to Islam in three paragraphs - feel free to share with anyone who is ignorant, and has a short attention span:
1. Islam's the straightforward, uncomplicated, practical expression of religious duty to mankind. Basically, it starts with the Holy Qur'An, which is the direct world of God, transmitted via the angel Gabriel (you might remember that name from the Bible - same guy, OK?), to the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), who then recited each part as it came along to the people around him. Between them, those same people wrote it down, and although a few years later, it was those same contemporaries who got together and agreed a written version of the whole thing. That's the Qur'An. Straight from source, as we see it. Unchanged since the time of Mohammed's (pbuh) contemporaries - and original copies are still in existence. OK, so that's the main part.
2. The second part, in the mainstream view at least, is all that the things that the Prophet (pbuh) said and did during the many years of his prophecy, are worth imitating: we call the things he was seen to do the sunna and the things he was heard to say the ahadith (sing. hadith). Now these are not "straight from source" as it were like the Qur'An, so there are some disagreements over what's true and what isn't. But the majority of people agree, more or less, on which are from the most valid sources and therefore most likely to be true. There are a couple of sets that most people agree on. So, overall we have the Qur'An that tells us everything really important, straight from God. And then we have the deeds and words of the Prophet (pbuh), in less perfect form, but a pretty good base of quality material for reference. We look at the first, the answers are pretty much all there. But if we want to try extra hard or get into fine print (and who doesn't, right?), we can refer to the other things for specifics of what to do in certain, very human, situations. Cool.
3. So that's it. That really is Islam in a nutshell: obey the Qur'An - that's "submitting to the will of God" (what the word "Islam" means), and try to live your life in the example of the Prophet (pbuh) too, which is what the other material is for. No other texts, no church, no clergy, no book of common prayer. That's it.
OK, infidels' guide over - back to the point. I've always had a bit of an issue with the elevation of certain "sheikhs", "muftis", "scholars" and the like to reverend-status. One of the most basic truths of Islam is that there are not intermediaries between man (or woman!) and God. No popes, priests or rabbis. Sure, people have their reasons for "following" an individual, in that they might respect his knowledge as superior, or feel it's safer to follow the best example they can find rather than try to work it out for themselves. But I have felt for a long time that it's a weakness in the Muslim Umma now - the fear of contradicting a celebrity sheikh, the fear of debate and innovation, etc. It's starting to look an awful lot like a church, and that's a bad thing. At least I think so.
Personally, following another man's view (and it's always a man, let's face it) without question, makes me nervous - I don't want to say on Judgement Day that I took a decision to follow some guy rather than think for myself because someone said I should. Or because he was on MBC. Or because he had a really impressive beard and other people seemed kind of scared of him. I think that might suddenly feel a little thin, as defences go. Maybe it's my nature, but I always want to think about it and make my own decision. At least then there's no doubt who's to blame.
Anyway, what I think is irrelevant to most people. And after all, as I'm opposed to the veneration of scholars I can hardly set myself up as one. I'm not at all, just a child trying to learn. What I am going to talk about is what I think of the Electric Mufti. Even if you do follow Sheikh Al Falani, or Imam Shismoh or whoever, he's got a big rival. Enter the Electric Mufti! But who is he?! Well I will tell you, because he's been on my case lately and it's starting to annoy me.
The Electric Mufti is a mythical creature. He has no name. He has no address. No office. No masjid and no sabla. There is no feedback, no interactivity, and no refund. The Electric Mufti just broadcasts, through your email, your social media account, and even to your phone. And he uses your friends, acquaintances and business associates as his delivery boys. The Electric Mufti has a LOT of servants. And let's look at his work:
- The Electric Mufti sends to your email, a detailed explanation of how the end of the world is nigh. In Arabic, or occasionally in hilariously broken English, you will see in detail how the erection of Burj Khalifa, the level of the tide in Somalia and the number of people in the news whose names begin with "B" add up to an unerring indication of the imminent end of days. The Electric Mufti must therefore be a genius, and indeed a prophet. At least that's what he's saying without using the words. The Electric Mufti knows when the end of the world is. That's a big claim.
- The Electric Mufti tells you on Facebook exactly how many points you score for walking to the mosque, saying certain voluntary prayers, cursing the Devil and cutting the toenails on one foot before another. The Electric Mufti is extremely well-informed, and can add up exactly how your actions, prayers and obediances to the tiniest details of his code, can affect your celestial sin rating. The Electric Mufti is heaven's accountant. That's an even bigger claim.
- The Electric Mufti, in his generosity, wants you to be fast-tracked to the highest level of the afterlife. So he is sending instructions to your Blackberry on how you can jump the queue: here is a du3a ("supplication", infidels) that gets you a VIP pass through the side entrance. Just recite this long screed, and forward it to ten other people, and all your sins will be wiped away. There might even be several different ones sent in the same day, each with different bonuses: "This one will help you with money problems." "This one is very powerful". "This one will bring forgiveness for everything you've done in the last six months". Some have a catch, too: "Forward this to at least ten other Blackberry users or it won't work". Which sounds a bit like the old "chain letters" game of decades ago "if you don't forward this, you will die!". But it can't be like that, right? This is from the Electric Mufti! The Electric Mufti can get you a discount on the afterlife. That's a huge claim.
- The Electric Mufti doesn't need to refer to any sources or evidence, as it's all right there in his electric head, so he can ping out a fatwa (meaning "scholarly religious opinion", infidels, nothing scary) as quickly as you or I can change our MSN Messenger status. The Electric Mufti can tell you why you need to pick your nose with a certain finger. He can tell you that there is a conspiracy manifested in butter from New Zealand. He can tell you that putting your left foot first into your car causes accidents. And he can tell you, unequivocally, categorically, with no justification or explanation, exactly which tiny details of your life are pleasing or displeasing to the Almighty. The Electric Mufti knows the mind of God. That's the mother of all claims.
The Electric Mufti is a mysterious character, working behind the curtains, with no name and no accountability. He could be real. He could be one person, working for good or for evil. Or he could be a million people just writing down stuff that's in their heads, things from blogs and obscure sectarian websites. Creating, quoting, mis-quoting, cutting, pasting and fabricating. Day and night, working feverishly to propagate the Electric Mufti message around the world.
So ask yourself: are you working for the Electric Mufti? Are you sending stuff from sources you don't really know? Are you making yourself a messenger for an invisible voice? And if so, why? Aren't the Qur'An and the Sunna enough for you? Don't you have a brain, God-given and amazing, to reflect and understand and "seek the fatwa of your heart"? And didn't Islam tell you that is more than enough?
The Electric Mufti is a liar and a charlatan. If you're working for him, forwarding his messages and promoting his ideas, then I think you should resign for your own sake, and stick to the Qur'An and the Sunna. If you're the following type, you're taking a gamble that the voice you follow is one more informed, more wise, and more righteous than you are. Maybe. But if you're wrong, then at some point you're thinking that if he's wrong, it won't be your fault because you followed in good faith. Maybe too. But how is that going to work with the Electric Mufti dude?
After all, if you're planning on blaming the Electric Mufti for your mistakes in the next life, how are you going to point your finger at an invisible man? Maybe you should just pull the plug, and you can stop forwarding it to me anyway.
P.S. If you are the active type, maybe you can send this link in reply to any messages you get from the Electric Mufti. I'm sure he would not appreciate it. And I don't care.