December 07, 2011

In Memory of Reason

A recent discussion with my blog-buddy Mimi coinciding with her comedy death threat (well, I thought it was funny, that's just me), had me thinking about the state of the global Islamic community (the "Umma").  Not just in the more grotesque stereotypes of some non-Muslims, but in hard fact.  I am a Muslim.  And there are some ugly truths that we need to face up to about ourselves.  Now Mimi is a very unusual and indeed difficult woman. But she is just a woman.  One little person, with some thoughts in her head that might be good or bad.  Why is it that so many people feel threatened by an expression of unorthodox opinion, or even just a question?

I address this mainly to my coreligionists.  But as many, maybe a majority of readers, aren't, I should give a brief explanation of Islamic history for those who don't know.  My fellow Muslims must forgive me, please, if I over-simplify or use non-standard descriptions.  This is an illustration of context, not a spiritual guide.  So, infidels, please pay attention: yesterday was 'Ashura.  The tenth day of the month of Muharram in the Hijri calendar.  It is a special day.  To explain why, we need to go back to the death of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).  On his death, it was decided that someone should succeed him as leader of the Faithful, the "khaleefa", in English "caliph", or successor.  Someone to act as the focal point and guide for the still vulnerable Muslim people.  

There was, in short, a disagreement.  Abu Bakr, the oldest friend, mentor and father in law, was chosen. Ali, the younger but equally dear friend, first cousin and son in law, was not.  Some felt this decision incorrect, and became known as "Shi'at Ali", or "Ali's Partisans", the origins of the people we know today as "Shi'a" or "Shi-ites".  There was no conflict as such, and the decision was nevertheless respected.  As were the subsequent decisions to appoint Omar (something of a controversial figure, to put it mildly, in Shi'a thinking),  then Othman (under whose authority the Qur'An was finally collected into a single written book agreed by all who had heard it first hand, that exists in original copy to this day).  Finally, Ali became the fourth "khalifa".  This appointment saw the first open conflict among the Muslims, and a rival sought to establish himself.  After the death of Ali by assassination (another story), things got messy.  The Shi'a supported an hereditary system for the caliphate, through the sons of Ali, who were also of course the grandsons and only descendants of Mohammed (pbuh).  But the other faction had established itself too.  Wars began.

So, now you're up to speed with the basics, back to 'Ashura.  On this day in history, Hussain, the son of Ali and supported as his successor by the Shi'a, was attacked by an opposing force near Kerbala in Iraq.  Most of their own supporters were defected or deceived into abandoning Hussain's camp, and vastly outnumbered,  Hussain and his cohort were slaughtered.  Ashura (derived from the Arabic word for ten, because of the date), is a day of mourning and regret, when Shia feel sorrow for the deaths of the Imam, and that his followers were not there to save him.  It is common among Shia to wear black, to have commemorative and funereal gatherings, and even to inflict physical chastisement on themselves as atonement for the failure of their forebears to protect their leader.  Although many died in the battle of Kerbala, it is the name of Hussain that is the central reference of Ashura.  He was believed to have fought bravely to the last, before being killed and his body defiled and decapitated.  "Oh Hussain!" is a cry you will hear from mourners on Ashura.

There you go, Ashura 1.1.  Apologies in particular to Shia friends who would like to say more about the significance of this day, but that's another conversation.  I need to explain why I'm talking about it at all.  Now the heathens are up to speed, I'd like to turn attention back to the brothers and sisters and ask, in the nicest possible way: what the hell is wrong with you people, really?

There's a new trend that seems to have established itself in several countries, of blowing up Shia as a special Ashura gift.  The first incidences of sectarian bombings of which I was ever aware, were from Pakistan, Karachi in particular.  I don't know when that started, or who started it, but it seems in my memory to be a pretty old tradition of sectarian hatred compared to the more headline-grabbing atrocities in Iraq over recent years, and now also exported to Afghanistan.  In some cases, particularly the latter two, there seems to be a political hand behind it - countries fighting by proxy with other people's sons.  Not naming any names (OK, it's Iran and Saudi Arabia), the war of sectarian ideal through influence, mosque-building, missionaries and propaganda, has grown into actual sectarian conflict.  

I wouldn't say that Saudi Arabia supports blowing up worshippers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Karachi or Baghdad, but there is certainly a role for which they have to answer, in creating and fostering an ideology of sectarian loathing.  And politically, both countries pick their teams, fund and arm them.  Before 2001, the Iranians had the Northern Alliance (and many Shia among them), and the Saudis had the Taliban.  After 2001, exporting extremism became gradually less fashionable in Saudi or Pakistani politics, but it's pretty hard to put an ideology back in the box when so many heavily-armed and lightly-brained individuals are already enjoying it.

The problem is, though, that it's not just politicians, kings, arms dealers and insecure would-be Islamic popes who make sectarian and ideological murder a reality.  It's the permissive environment in which they are allowed to operate.  It's you and me.  It's the emails on the one hand from my friend K, about freeing the Shia from oppression and murdering whatevers in Bahrain, and the others from my friend A, ridiculing the Ashura commemoration and praising the very people demonised by the others.  Sectarianism too easily becomes a badge, a party, a national allegiance, and a declaration of enmity.  When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I remember in one town of mixed Sunni/Shia population, that some people would not drink from a public water fountain after a Shia had used it.  That someone would rather go without water really says it all: the supernatural evil that one man can attribute to another for no good reason other than a point of view, is simply extraordinary.

Sunni on Shia and vice versa.  Muslim on non-Muslim.  Muslim on Jew on Christian and any inversion or combination you can imagine.  Everyone on Hindu, Hindu on everyone.  The ridiculing, de-humanising, derisive and visceral loathing inflicted by one man on another by reason solely of a difference in ideas.  A look through comments on this blog and others to which it links, will give plenty of examples.  And take my word for it, English language blogs contain a lot less sectarian speech in general than the Arabic ones.  The specialism in the English language blogs and forums, with their wider spread of nationalities and religions, is the atheist egomaniac: there is no religious viewpoint as intolerant and belittling of others, as the atheist.  In his own way, he's the mirror image of the smug, grinning extremist seen in every major religion - so self-affirming and patronising that he sees others barely above animals, mentally and spiritually deficient.  Every religion has them.  And atheism is very much a religion.  But Muslims, yes, we have those un-reflecting, unmerciful, intolerant, arrogant and judgmental maniacs, in spades.

So, in light of all of the above, it was a deliciously sour irony to my mind that someone should threaten to "strike [Mimi] down in the name of Allah" for a spiritual "reward", on the day of Ashura, and for a new wave of sectarian bombings to occur.  Although a day of mourning for Shia, and a day of fasting (for more obscure reasons) for some Sunna, it seems to me that there are still plenty around who will commemorate a day when we remember a tragic civil war among the Muslims, by calling for the murder of some Muslims, or worse, actually carrying it out.  I have to say that even in some Shia gatherings to mark the day, the mood seems to move easily from mourning, to some kind of expression of sectarian hatred, a call for retribution, a perpetuation of a sense of persecution and injustice.  The persecution and injustice is real for some of course, but that applies across all sects and religions.  Might not the occasion of Ashura, whatever one's sect, be a suitable occasion for all to join  together in saying "never again"?

I keep asking myself why new thought is considered so threatening, or why diversity of opinion even within traditional schools of Islam more than a millennium old, still seems to cause so much ill-feeling.  On the first point, I was invited the other day to sign something called "The Amman Message".  On the face of it, this is just the kind of message of unity and understanding that I would support: acceptance and even celebration of different views within Islam, respect for non-Muslims, a code against violence, etc.  But I didn't sign up.  Here's why: it has three main points.  The first says that Islam has eight major schools of jurisprudence (four Sunni, two Shi'a, Ibadhi, and Thahiri) that should be respected, plus the "true" Sufi tradition and Salafi tradition.  It doesn't define what is true and what is not in either of the latter, but I guess the later points are supposed to make this self-evident (e.g. non-violence etc).  None of these groups should ever declare the other to be apostate, or imply that they are not "real" Muslims.  The second point says that this diversity of opinion is a good thing, and as long as all believe in God, the Qur'An, the Prophet (pbuh), the angels, Judgement Day and the five pillars (attestation, prayer, fasting, charity and Haj), they are all Muslims.  Differing ideas beyond that are unimportant.

But the reason I couldn't sign up to it, is the third point.    It says that only those who are "qualified" within one of those eight schools of jurisprudence (I'm not sure where the two "traditions" mentioned, fall into this, but there are overlaps anyway), are entitled to speak for their religion.  It mentions specifically the authority to issue a "fatwa" which, as I have previously explained, is a formal ruling or opinion on religious interpretation (not a death sentence on Salman Rushdie).  But the implication is nevertheless clear: unless one "adheres" to one of these structured bodies of jurisprudence and is recognised by the established "scholars" within it, it is unacceptable to voice an opinion in public.  I have written more than once about how these "scholars" and the like have created churches and clerical titles for themselves and that I believe that to be un-Islamic.  But this issue is broader.  This declaration says you take orders from these guys, or you shut up.  That makes me very uncomfortable.  In a way, the third point also undermines the first: the first point is set out to emphasise inclusivity, saying that all the schools and traditions, despite their differences, should recognise each other as equally valid in Islam.  And yet in the context of this third point, that becomes not an expression of inclusion, but exclusion.  Conform, or be outside the "real" Islam.

The goals of the Amman Message are easy to understand and to accept.  They set out, clearly, to oppose sectarianism, and to stop the Bin Ladens of this world calling themselves leaders of the faithful and such like (the title of a caliph), and issuing religious edicts as new laws and obligations to pressure Muslims into support.  The Amman Message sets out to oppose and undermine extremism and violence against different sects, religions and so on.  That's a good thing.  Even better is that the Message itself (by the way "Message" or "Risaala" in this context, has very strong connotations of prophecy) is co-authored by the most respected religious leaders of all these sects and schools.  Even the Saudis are in there, which explains the care not to exclude the Salafi movement, even though they try hard to qualify its ideals.  The Iranians are not, but then much as they would like the world to think otherwise, the Iranian theologians are not the top trumps in Shi'ism: that title goes to Ayatullah Ali Al Sistani, in Iraq.  And he's a signatory.

The problem is that by trying to separate mainstream Islam from violent extremism, they also establish yet another declaration of intolerance towards debate and discussion.  There is no acceptance of reformist or revisionist thought, no real acknowledgement other than in name (the undefined "real") of Sufi thought, which is extremely varied, and no acceptance at all of the idea that a new or alternative perspective could be considered valid.  While trying to say "those who condemn other Muslims are not Muslims", they do the same themselves: "If you're not one of us, you're not a Muslim".  Full circle.  A movement for peace and against terrorism, in the name of inclusion and tolerance, sets out limits of tolerance and inclusion.  That's why it does not have  my signature.  One more reason is the hilarious dialogue box, asking "are you a [religious scholar]?" I resisted the temptation to tick "yes".  I mean, I've read a lot about religion and I try to learn more all the time.  So who's to say?  The problem is, I know what they mean, even if they shouldn't.

The fear of terrorism and intolerance seems to fuel intolerance itself, just as the fear of injustice, or anger at violent tragedy, seems to fuel the injustice and violent tragedy brought about by terrorists.  The fact that this declaration didn't happen until 2004 - when the Iraqi sectarian conflict was just getting started, and three years into the foreign intervention in Afghanistan post 9/11 - says a lot about how seriously as a whole, Muslims really take extremism.  Where was this declaration during the bombings of Karachi in the nineties, or prior to the attacks on New York and Washington in the many years that Al Qaida had already been active?  Where was the opposition to the Taliban's openly sectarian Salafist rule, or the sectarian hate speech coming from every quarter, be it Iranian radio broadcasts, amateur internet campaigns, or so-called scholars declaring others to be apostate?  Did it really have to be American worries about Iraqi internal cohesion under occupation, that stimulated the Umma to come up with such a campaign?

Here's an interesting thing to share: I came across the Amman Message when I was searching for details of a certain "scholar" who had been in trouble with the law for plotting to establish a theocracy in his country by overthrowing its government.  He was the signatory on behalf of one of these main schools.  Now that he's pardoned and no doubt, reformed, I'm sure he's just the guy to talk about tolerance.  The other angle on this is that, in 2011, I'm reading this message after an internet search in English about one of the signatories.  Why haven't I heard reference to this more often before?  As it happens, I was aware of it, but I can't recall any references to it in religious debate in Oman, Iraq or anywhere else I've been in the last seven years.  Nor even  on an internet forum.  Every major "scholar" from every major sect, and nobody thinks it's worth a reference? 

This seems to be another irony, that the very people who shout down unorthodox views, have their own very specific views of what orthodoxy must be.  As a Sufi scholar once put it "the ways to the truth are as many and varied as the souls on Earth".  I think he's probably right, although I'm not sure if the Amman Message's "true Sufism" includes him, so best to be careful.  There can't be any single document on the planet that's a more orthodox, plain-words expression of scholarly agreement than the Amman Message, but it doesn't seem to have hit much resonance among the masses.  Is it just that it's human nature to be individual and maintain a unique perspective?  We all feel the need to belong, certainly, but can we really be homogenised into one, consistent viewpoint?  Perhaps, in that respect, the Amman Message is just as futile as the extremists are self-defeating.  "Fighting for peace" is an oxymoron, perhaps in the metaphorical campaigning sense, as well as the literal one.

But holding a billion unique views is one thing, fighting over them another.  Why do we Muslims seem to go from zero to infamy in seconds?  Naturally, the statistical incidence of Muslims who are terrorists is extremely low.  Even the most high-handed, right-wing internet sniper in the Omani blogosphere will have to admit that, for all the things wrong with Omani society, he's probably met a lot of Muslims here, and none of them have murdered him for being a kaffir even if they did cut the queue in the petrol station.  I go back, though, to that question of permissive environment.  Most Muslims are not terrorists, but as I've mentioned before, I think far too many of us are passively accepting of an extremist ideology.

The stereotype of a violent Arab Muslim is inaccurate.  Most Muslims are not violent, and indeed, most Muslims are not Arabs.  Three quarters of Muslims are from the Indian Sub-Continent.  The largest single Muslim country is Indonesia.  India has more Muslims than the entire Arab world.  With that in mind, perhaps it's worth remembering, then, that most Muslims are poor.  Most live in countries struggling with corruption, social injustice, poverty and despair.  Not because, as the Evil Bobs of this world would have it, Islam makes people corrupt and unjust, but because those places have been that was for centuries.  It's arguable, I think, that poverty in Asia, the caste system in India, and the Islamic doctrine of equality between races and peoples and helping the poor, are the reasons that Islam has taken hold so firmly in many developing countries.  But, as with any perfect idea in the hands of man, it still relies on man for its implementation, and as is often the case, man falls short.

So that explains why the Amman Message is an unknown reference for most Muslims: most Muslims have never used the internet.  Most down own a television.  Many can't read, and most certainly don't buy a newspaper.  In such an environment, taking authority and guidance from a man of status is the default.  The "scholar" is the only man who can read.  The leader.  The respected pillar of the community.  I would argue that even when a community begins to prosper through development or migration, becomes literate and self-sustaining, those traditions remain.  Extremism is easy to sell to a hungry man.  It is also easy to sell to a man whose cultural traditions are of obedience to the paternalistic figure with the loudest voice and the longest beard, even though he may now have access to other voices.

But even if all of that is true, what about the rest of us?  What about the ones who lazily pick a side in whatever conflict is spooned up in the TV news?  What about the educated, well-fed, historically prosperous Muslims who use their Facebook pages to ask their friends for a gesture of sectarian loyalty?  Look at where it leads.  Look at what it really represents.  Whether it's Ashura or any other day, whether there's a bomb in Kadhimiya or a death threat to a blogger talking about definitions of marriage and sex, take a moment to think about it.  We are the ones with the freedom, the information, the choice, and with it the responsibility.  So I ask again, in the nicest possible way:  what the hell is wrong with you people?

Did you like this piece?  If you did, please consider sharing it with a friend: Tweet, Stumble, Tumble, +1 or anything else you can think of with the links below and on the sidebar.  Maybe just click that Facebook button right underneath this line, and share on your wall or a friend's?  Just once?  Pretty please?  Thanks for reading, and thanks for spreading the word. - TLS


Mimi said...

"Difficult"? Thank you very much!


I'd like to say something..just because you mentioned atheism. I have an atheist old (online) friend who used to admire my islamic beliefs (before they changed). He used to praise Islam.. He reads a lot about atheism to understand his beliefs and be able to defend them but I've never seen him say anything bad about my beliefs nor any other faith, even when I still believed an apostate should be killed! He showed me so much tolerance and keenness to learn. Its really interesting to me. He is an atheist and I was kind of a young muslim extremist lol. But we discussed so many religious issues and we shared a lot about our lives..and we're still friends :) we've been exchanging the emails for more than 4 years :) I'm sure he found it interesting to see my beliefs change over the years..just like my English :)


Balqis De Cesare said...

You say that fasting the day of Ashura is done for more obscure reasons, which is quite bizarre statement.
In Chechnya , where they follow some sort of sufi tradition to find a solution to extremism, they declared it a holiday because ashura is a day of celebration
Shia have their version
As you see, each has his own
It is good to have a dialogue but within a certain ground
Not everything can be accepted
Not sure prince gazi is involved also in commonword, but usually these jordanians initiatives, are very jordanian, that is very open, so I think those schools and scholars accepted were more than enough

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

@ Balquis, agreed: Fasting by sunnis is done because it the day that Allah freed the Jews from the Pharoah. *which isn't obscure in Islamic sources but historical ones***

TLS: I think Nadia said it best on Dhofari Gucci on her 2nd post on the Opera House debate, that we should respect the scholars because they actually have devoted their lives to study and thought, and too many Muslims are far too lazy [or unable to as you pointed out] to do the same themselves, and you too, when you said, we can have the same knowledge THEY HAVE simply by reading the evidences and sources they have read. I agree with what you wrote about what the ayah in the Qu'ran means that says "ask those who have knowledge". It means, seek the daleel [evidences]. It doesn't mean ask some man what he thinks and then that's that on a matter. If Muslims sought knowledge this way, our ummah would be stronger BECAUSE of our differences. Not threatened by them, and divided. Alas.

Anonymous said...

Many, many thanks TLS, excellent post. You're doing some great writing at the moment.


Blewyn said...

Why fast because the Jews were freed from the Pharoah ?

Anonymous said...

Usually I find myself nodding in agreement with most of your writings, but I have to say I'm pretty shocked by your comment on aethiests. How you can describe people who dont happen to believe in God as intolerant and belittling is beyond me. In my experience I have absolutely found the opposite to be true. They are often the most knowledgable and insightful people I've met because they've really thought about things before reaching their own personal conclusions, and in doing so have read about and become knowledgable about many religions. Are you familiar with humanism?? humanists are aethiest and humanism, by its very nature, focuses on human values and concerns. As an ideology it stands for reason and justice and ethics. I know many humanists and they are among the most wonderful people I know. Also, as an active organisation they involve themselves in debate about current issues that are wholly relevant and really matter. I'm not humanist but I find myself far more engaged in their activities than with those of my supposed church. Your description of aetheiests frankly puts YOU into the narrow-minded box I'm afraid.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Not really, it comes from experience. Every religious view, by definition, sees others as misguided, but it's atheists who seem to have the highest proportion expressing the view that everyone else is retarded. Of course it's a generalisation, of the kind I also make about my coreligionists, but with that caveat, it's just what I've seen and heard.

Put it this way, the majority of comments, cartoons, parodies, and even just direct insults, designed solely to ridicule or inflame followers of another religious view, are from the perspective of atheism. That's just what I've seen. I suspect if you run down your Facebook page for "humorous" content, or links to opinion groups, or just throwaway comments, you will find the same. Perhaps not, but I do, and I can only write what I know.

Yes, I have heard of humanism. But as a believer in God, I ask myself to what purpose and from what source are these "common human values" they espouse? I agree with many of them, but I do also believe there is a reason why we are the only animals endowed with such a perspective and sense of collective awareness and responsibility.

I won't comment on your "supposed church" though - I don't know which one it is, but if it's "supposed" in your mind, then perhaps it's just not your church and you should look at another!

Anyway, I do apologise if I've caused offence. There are plenty of people who don't believe in God who are still perfectly pleasant. But there are plenty of others who actively believe there is no God, and that theirs is the only opinion worthy of respect, and I see their voices as louder.

Thanks for your comments as always.


Hazchem said...

TLS. You have a point about the superiority and occasional vitriol of atheists. I have probably been guilty of it myself. But I have two rough ideas. Firstly, perhaps it is the zeal of a convert? Many atheists have come from a religious background and now "see the light" (or perhaps see no light given their beliefs?!)? As with the ex-smoker the desire to profess this is often stronger. Or maybe it's just frustration with the perceived lack of empirical truth about most religions. Something that is built of faith and belief can be quite grating to those who feel a need for evidence and proof.

On the humanist comment and your response I have two points. Firstly I know little about them but your point about "common human values" is as misguided as some of the atheist comments are about religion - by your own logic. To many atheists those common values have developed through millenia of observation and evidence as to what makes a society work and what doesn't. Often, even usually, they are more or less the same as the values in most religions. This is because, I would argue, the same process has happened concurrently around the world, and not because a supreme being has told us so. But it is your right to believe whatever you want. It should therefore amount to the same thing but as you said, man is imperfect etc etc.

My second point on this is a bit of a flight of fancy but anonymous' impassioned defence of atheists didn't really ring true with me. Plenty of them, being human, are far less thoughtful in adopting their views than she/he implies. Just as plenty have spent years thinking hard and reconciling their own experiences, opinions and those of others. Sound like any other group of people. My flight of fancy came in when I caught myself wondering about atheist schisms? Have there been any examples of this? As groups turn away from religion (happening in some places, the opposite in others) do they turn to something else and will this in time lead to the same type of divisions that you described in your post?

Balqis De Cesare said...

Atheists are the best to learn about a religion, on its principles .
I have learned more about my previous religion, catholicism, from some atheist and anticlerical italian blogs than in 15 years of lessons at the parish .
But then they have a sense of pride that prevents them from renegotiating their beliefs .
If you are not humble in life, you will not achieve much .

Mimi said...

I agree that atheists tend to be more insightful than others. But you guys have to remember that there are two types of atheists. One is those who would simply say 'we don't believe in god' and the second type is those who take atheism more seriously and devote their time to studying it. I think the majority of atheists are the first type, which doesn't seem to be like 'real' atheism, so maybe you shouldnt judge by what they do!

Again I find my British online friend to be a good example. Judgying by an experience lol :)

Fatma said...

On last Wednesday's issue of AlWatan newspaper, there was this heart-wrenching pic of a young Afghan girl screaming in the middle of the carnage left by one of those 'Ashura bombing you were talking about. Her terrified face is haunting me, I just wanted to reach to her..hold her an tell her that everything is going to be okay. But deep inside I don't believe that, it seems that this sectarian hatred is growing more and is even moving to countries that are famous for their moderate Islamic values like Egypt.

So I join my voice to you and ask: what the hell is wrong with you people????

Who made you judges of people's believes? How dare you think of your selves as God and label one as KAFIR and the other as Muslim?

Why cant you understand that humans are free to believe whatever they want..Allah is the only judge and He only can pass his judgment ( لا إكراه في الدين).

Shi'a are totally entitled to their believes, if you have some disagreement with them leave it to Allah to be the judge.

Also in the case of your blogger friend Mimi, she can believe in anything she wants....she is free. If someone disagrees with her he can debate the issue and leave it in the end because God is her only judge..not us.

p.s. why is everyone discussing atheists and ignoring the main idea of the article? really?? this is the only thing that grasped your attention in the whole post??

The Linoleum Surfer said...

Fatoom, whoever you are, you are now officially my favourite reader. :)

Mimi said...

"p.s. why is everyone discussing atheists and ignoring the main idea of the article? really?? this is the only thing that grasped your attention in the whole post??"

Nice comment Fatma, but let me tell you that what attracted attention wasn't atheism but what LS said about it. It didn't really attracted any real attention anyway. Me (and maybe others) just believe he said something he shouldn't, that's all! No one missed the whole point of the post.


Balqis De Cesare said...

the issue between sunni and shia goes beyond religion
It is way too simplistic to see it like that
It evolves around political and social issues depending on the region
This is a long article and each has his catch, freedom of speech :)
The atheists part is very important because in my opinion, as recently stated by the Catholic pope
atheists and agnostics could play a very important role in the search of God and also in correcting misconceptions in those who believe
And in our case they may help to solve the issue of violence
Just atheists most of times have such a hard heart to lose credibility

Fatma said...

TLS: Thank you, what an honor you bestow upon me :)

Mimi: I felt like all this discussion about atheists is distracting from the main idea of the post, which is a shame really since TLS post has very important points that shouldn't be ignored.

Balqis De Cesare: I am sure that the victims of sectarian hatred don't care if their tragedy is caused by political and social issues or simply by different religious point of views. The common people believe that their discrimination and hatred against other sects is part of their true believe of God..they think of it as a holy duty! If the issue between Sunni and Shia started because of political and social issues, I don't think it is regarded as such anymore.

Sam said...

@ TLS/Balqis: Nice article. A bit oversimplifying, but I guess that is needed to reach down to the crux of the matter. But @Balqis, the socio-political and geographical issues and undercurrents are all religiously motivated nonetheless. Why would Saudis spend millions on purchasing TV channels in Egypt and then 'asking' the anchors to wear headscarves? Why would the new Egyptian leadership be following a brand of Islam that is signed and stamped by Saudia Arabia? Why is the killing of Shiites in Bahrain a 'civil unrest' and being quashed by Saudi forces - but OTOH Syria 'will be sanctioned by the Arab League'?

(possible reason being that Bashar Assad (and his father) used to follow the Alawi brand of Shiism. It is rumored that his father (in his last days) and Basher converted to the Twelver (Iranian) brand of Shiism. This created a rift and made Saudi-brand muslims hostile to Syria).

My point being that all acts are religiously motivated. In desire to spread of my own brand of Islam. The more money and influence I can expert, the higher will be my status in Paradise.

Again, reverting to when this all started (after the death of the Prophet of Islam), religion was a nascent movement started by a single person from an influential family - kinda like if one of the Zawwawi-sons starts a grass root movement for implementing mandatory military service for everyone living in oman (ack - weird example! :)). People opposing him would start to do so due to non-religious reasons (mostly economic) - but continue the rift a couple of generations on, and it starts to obtain religious overtones - as might've happened.

A local Shiite scholar who was lecturing in a local mosque recently told me that the Shiites have no problems with the caliphs being caliphs, as that is a historical fact. And when the 1st & 2nd caliph could appoint his successor, tthe 4th one did so too. In the same vein, a Sunni scholar who was with me replied, "He appointed his successor but that was not right, you see".

I guess we should all wait for the Christian/Muslim promised "Day of Judgement" to see who is correct. Dec 20th, 2012 anyone?

Anonymous said...

TLS, I've enjoyed reading your posts and admire your writing style and turn of phrase. Chiefly, I've come to appreciate your understanding of human nature in general and that of those in this region in particular. Your brand of 'moral philosophy' comes across too and is quite refreshing.

It's because of all this that I felt a kick in the gut when I read your opinion of atheists. You say atheism is a religion and of the atheist you say 'In his own way, he's the mirror image of the smug, grinning extremist seen in every major religion - so self-affirming and patronising that he sees others barely above animals, mentally and spiritually deficient. Every religion has them. And atheism is very much a religion.' Well, I have a problem with your logic. You say every religion has it's *share* of smug grinning extremists, but according to you, atheism is a religion whose "followers" share some pretty unsavoury traits... 'egomaniac'...'intolerant'...'belittling of others' etc. So you say the entire "atheism religion" following populous are 'the mirror image' of the extremists that infest every religion - they constituting a minority of that religion - right??!! If you believe the atheist to be all that, you must also believe the theist to be the exact opposite. Yes, all theists. It seems to me like you've started your measurements with a faulty scale. Your equation will never be balanced because you don't know the correct composition of one of the compounds in the chemical reaction that is Global Society. That part just...well...jarred!

The rest was brilliant and very informative as usual :) - DJ

The Linoleum Surfer said...


I apologise again if my stereotype of atheists offends. Of course, it is only that, and can't be applied to all. My point is really that atheists often consider themselves outside the "equation", and therefore the only ones exempt from criticism. I am just drawing a parallel between intolerant types of different persuasions, and I think the intolerance of atheists, especially in western societies, is increasingly common, institutionalised and unchallenged.

It's interesting that the majority of reactions to this post are defensive of atheists, whereas I have made just the same criticism of Muslims and several other religions, none of whose followers have found such comment threatening. A fair proportion of readers are Muslims, and yet none seem to be offended by my identical caricature of Muslim extremists, or the majority of this piece that centres around them.

Anyway, if I wasn't clear I'm sorry: I don't see theists and atheists as opposites. My point is that they are each constituted of a spectrum of people that includes a vicious extreme of bigots. But no religion, including atheism, is followed exclusively by bad people or good ones. I hope that makes more sense.


The Linoleum Surfer said...

Fatma: glad you recognise that :p That's an important point - the problem we reach with religious bigotry is that it is sold increasingly as an integral and obligatory element of religion.

Sarah MacDonald said...


It's sad that you have such a poor impression of atheists. I think you're hearing from the minority of atheists, and perhaps they give the rest of us a bad rap, just as extremist Muslim give Islam a bad image. I've read the Bible, the Torah and the Quran, and many books about religion, especially Islam, in hopes of understanding believers better, and at one point (while engaged to a Muslim) in hopes of one day sharing his belief. But try as I may, I just can't find any faith in God, as science makes more sense to me. But as soon as someone presents me with proof I will definitely change my beliefs. For me it is simply common sense to treat all others with respect, and most of my humanist/atheist friends and family feel the same way. Some of my dearest friends are believers and we have a ton of respect for each others' views and we have wonderful, exciting debates in which we can respectfully challenge each other. I hope that you may meet more of us who are very respectful of believers so that you'll realise the ones you're reading online are a minority.

Keep up the great writing!

Anonymous said...

You see TLS, that's just the thing! I have read your article over twice more and your last comment a couple of times to see what gem I'm missing but can't find it. Whilst you have made the same criticism of *EXTREMIST* Muslims and *EXTREMISTS BELONGING TO* several other religions, you never say 'some', 'a few' or 'most' atheists. Just atheists! If you had said 'and I think the intolerance of *some* atheists, especially in western societies...' I would have nodded my head in agreement and not felt the need to put fingers to keyboard again.
Also, I don't think my reaction was in defence of atheism - you could substitute 'atheist' with any group of people - 'Christian', 'Buddhist', 'black', 'white', 'free mason' - whatever, and my reaction would be the same - you have deviated from your usual distinction of left v. right. Consistently it has been (Muslim v. extremist Muslim). (Christian v. extremist Christian). (Any-other-religion v. extremist any-other-religion). When it comes to atheists you imply (all-those-on-the-left v. all-those-on-the-right + atheists) not (atheists v. bigoted atheists). Yeah, I know you made a distinction in the last paragraph of your comment but that contradicts the tone of all that went before.
And, well, theists and atheists are opposites. In what they believe at least. Could you explain “I don't see theists and atheists as opposites.”
I’d be interested to know why you consider atheism a religion. According to Wikipedia: “Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.”
If I haven't commented on any other part of the article it's because I don't know enough. I’m here to read about this stuff and take it all in. Thanks again for the interesting read - DJ

Anonymous said...

Well said Sarah MacDonald - I couldn't agree more!

TLS - the reason I talked of my "supposed church" in my original comment was that religion is usually something we're born into - not something we choose. Isn't there something very bizarre about that? We essentially believe what we do because it's what we're taught & what we're brought up with. I have greater respect for people who go out and gain their own knowledge of all religions and reach their own conclusions. As for me, I guess I'd really have to be described as agnostic - basically I don't know. I tend to veer towards science and without proof or evidence I find it very hard to make sense of something. This steers me towards humanism - however I guess I got just enough Catholic guilt instilled in me that I can't quite make the leap for fear I'll be struck down! ;-)
I have every respect for other peoples' beliefs and I judge people on their actions not their beliefs. Like Sarah I too have read a lot about many religions. I know more about Islam than half of my muslim friends. I just haven't found anything that rings true to me personally.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to the other anonymous poster, I agree wholeheartedly - I just couldn't articulate it as well as you have!

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

Blewyn: I honestly haven't studied it in depth (the fast) of the month of Muharram as it isn't an obligatory fast (and I haven't fasted it) but I guess to be thankful for the guidance of God and to remember that? You can always ask the Grand Mufti or the Saudi Scholars;) I am sorry I can't tell you better. It isn't really as important to Sunnis as Ashura is to Shia, and especially Jaffari school of thought Shia, though I do know why they commemorate it specifically.

TLS: DO you know why Sunni are supposed to fast Muharram specifically beyond what happened during the month way back Pharoah's time when? I am too lazy to google fatwa search it;D

SK said...

@Linoleum The Quran was compiled into a book form by Abu-Bakr (May God be pleased with him) not by Usman (May God be pleased with him) as stated by you. It was because in one battle, most of the Prophet's companions were martyred and the caliph sensed a great danger of words being interchanged from the original transcripts. What the Usman (May God be pleased with him) did was, that he standardized two pronunciations of the Quran, because by then the Islamic state lines reached the sub-continent in the east and western parts of Africa in the west and people were pronouncing it in different dialects and northern turkey/present day central asia.

@blewyn/OPNO Muslims fast not because of the Jews, but because Moses led them to freedom, and fasted on the 10th day of Muharram to thank Allah (don't know the corresponding date in Hebrew calendar).

Months before his death, the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) was asked by a fellow companion why do we follow the Jews and fast on the 10th day of Muharram, to which the Prophet replied, "From next year onwards, we will fast on the 9th and 10th." But he passed away before the next Muharram fasts. Today a majority of Muslims observe fast on the 9th and 10th day to obey the sayings of the Holy Prophet.

lil-bee said...

Ugh, I hate that Muharram and Ashura have become the Shia thing to do. My family has been following it for generations and we're Sunni .. mixed with a bit of Sufism. But anyway .. I don't even think it needs to be categorized in terms of religion .. I know plenty of non-Muslims who 'believe' in Muharram.

I mean .. lets take religion out of it. What happened is not stemmed out of belief but politics. The events of Muharram and Ashura are facts of history .. surely one can't deny that?

Ugh sorry TLS .. I've only read a bit of this and had to stop reading because I've verrry recently gotten into a heated debate with a Sunni sister about Shias and the whole Shia vs the rest of the Ummah thing .. so I think its best if I come back to this later .. when you know, anything that has the words Shia and Sunni together doesn't make me blind with rage and unable to process what has actually been written anymore :$

Sythe said...

Oi Lino you lazy man - get back to blogging!

Your fan,

Mr Sythe :)

Mai said...

Just want to say thanks for writing your blog. Sometimes I agree, sometimes not, but always provoked or persuaded to read, think, and question. That is what the written word should always do. Agree or disagree, it should change the reader. After all, we are never the same after reading as we were before. Even if we just learn how to spell a new word.

ellen557 said...

TLS I really dislike the way that you wrote about Atheists here...

No I'm kidding really, I did like this post. It was a very watered down version (you're right really, we Shi'a have a lot to say about it lol) but I like how you approached it. I once posted a topic on my blog and asked any reader to ask me anything about my school of thought and I would try to find evidence & answer, it seriously didn't turn out as bad as I thought so I think we ourselves have a lot to answer to for our own thoughts in regards to this debate as well. Anyway well done.

lala said...

Wow, a no shi'a bashing! Keep on keeping on, lol... I was really waiting to chime in until you basically called it the condensed version. :p

Anonymous said...

I'm an agnostic of Shia cultural roots. This is a good post, albeit a bit long. Few points. First, read Veli Nasr's the Shia Revival. Good book (from a Shia perspective, and directed towards US policy makers). Second, yes, Athiests generally seem to be fairly arrogant and closed-minded about many things. As do many Muslims, and many Christians. So in conclusion, you can't generalize now can you!

- Agnostic of Shia Roots

Anonymous said...

Quoting Fatma:

Balqis De Cesare: I am sure that the victims of sectarian hatred don't care if their tragedy is caused by political and social issues or simply by different religious point of views. The common people believe that their discrimination and hatred against other sects is part of their true believe of God..they think of it as a holy duty! If the issue between Sunni and Shia started because of political and social issues, I don't think it is regarded as such anymore.


Bil 3aks, it is definitely regarded as such. People may confuse the political with the religious, but their 'religious' beliefs are most definitely rooted in hundreds of years of Islamic history and politics. The common man may not know it, but his local Sheikh certainly does.

- Agnostic with Shia Roots

Sythe said...

Oi Lino - Where the hell are you these days?

Anonymous said...


A highly suspicious disappearance.
One of the better bloggers in Oman.

Anonymous said...

Ok I don't really post on blogs that
much and I really enjoy your blog you
touch on many sensitive issues
especially your article about women,
prostitution and the pigs in Oman
who abuse them.

Let me just start by saying I am an
Omani born raised and drenched in
this culture I once loved and had
such blind pride in but your comment
about atheism being a religion or how
atheist look down on other religions
is complete and utter BS.

To become an atheist you don't have to say anything, you don't have to
meet anyone, to declare anything, you
don't have to follow any set of rules
and nothing at all is expected of at
all. You can be a vegetarian, not eat
pork, drink alcohol, not do drugs or practice sodomy on your wife. You are
free to create your own set of rules
there are no atheist guidebooks or
references or holy book to tell you
what to do and what not to do there
are no almighty being in the sky so
big and powerful that he/she created
this vast universe that we only
represent a tiny fraction of it yet
cares so much whether I enter the
bathroom with my right or left leg.

Yes I left Islam and yes I do look
down on Muslims as a bunch of idiots
when they start thinking as a group
"we Muslims" but that is only cause
Muslims are some of the most vile,
racist and prejudiced people on this
planet. I know I live among them and
I hear what they say about people of
other faith and creeds and it makes
me sick to the stomach.For example at
work we have two tea boys one of them
is one of the nicest guys around so
helpful always joking always doing
whatever the idiots at work want from
him even if it is sometimes against
company policy while the other don't
give two shits about anyone and only
does their job. They both sell phone
cards the first isn't Muslim while
the second is guess who the Muslims
buy their cards from. It is not only
where I work it is on the internet
especially Arabic websites in family
gatherings. And it is not just Omani Muslims or Muslims from poor famished countries where you can try and blame the lack of education or poverty on how they treat other people I lived in America I had many American Muslim friends born and raised in the States yet they share the same idiotic views of their Middle Eastern counter parts heck when I was there I was told not to come to the mosque and pray cause I put my hands to the side while praying. Discrimination and
prejudice is the main characteristic
of most Muslims in this modern day
they view people of other faith as
sub-human no matter how close of
friends they are and they won't
consider them a true friend or
brother till they convert them. They
threaten people with death, beheading
and hold a deep grudge to anyone who
spouts their opinion if they aren't
able to get their hands on
them(Example: Mimi)

So tell me how is it that atheist
look down on people? Cause they are
willing to tell you that what you
believe in is scientifically
laughable and wrong? If you can't
handle someones opinion and facts
don't go calling them names that's Ad
hominem and negates your argument. I
dare you, I double dare you to find a
case of a modern atheist who
practices racism and prejudice based
on someone from another religion or
threatens to kill anyone if they
don't leave their belief