As I sit to write this column, I hear the horrifying news that in the U.S, a Muslim man shot 50 individuals and wounded 50 others in a LGBT bar. This is still being investigated but I feel so hopeless now in writing about the “compassionate” message of Islam. Yet, perhaps it is more imperative that I do my little bit to explain how these actions are totally against what I know to be the eternal message of Islam.
This is the month of Ramadan during which Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad first received revelations from God. It is the month when Muslims gather to fast, pray, meditate and spend time in introspection – not in acts of violence.
My introspection leads me to grapple with the difficult question of why is there such a vast rift between what Islam teaches and what some believers practice?
Before discussing the issue of what the Quran teaches, there are some important factors to acknowledge.
As scholars point out, it is not merely what the text “says” but what meaning is derived which is dependent on the reader.
Another factor some scholars and believers refuse to differentiate, in the sacred text, what is clearly historical and what is eternal. It is worth a reminder that the Quran was revealed during the 7th CE in the Arabian Peninsula, over a period of 23 years, and the new faith was facing a lot of hostility.
Current realities must also be acknowledged, such as the instability caused by politics, economics and conflicts in many Muslim majority countries. These directly influence some Muslims’ understanding of the faith. For example, DAESH [ISIS] was born from the horrors of politically inspired wars in Syria and Iraq and no one should accept their use of religion as their prime motivation.
The recent world-wide spread of a literal and unquestioning interpretation of Islam did not appear on its own. It has been fueled by vast amounts of petro dollars from the Middle East, as well as bitter resentments of external interventions by mainly western states in the affairs of Muslim majority countries. This understanding does not teach compassion or pluralism, and has led some individuals to commit acts of extreme intolerance and violence against others.
Now to the teachings of the Quran itself and what it teaches versus how some adherents interpret these teachings.
The one critical example is the apparent discordance between the overall compassionate message of moral and social improvement and the violent verses. I wish more Muslims would pay heed to scholars who repeatedly emphasize that the message must be viewed in its totality and in its historical context.
One example is Chapter 9 – the Repentance – which contains controversial verses which seem to condone violence. The one most oft repeated is: “kill the unbelievers wherever you find them…but if they repent …God is most forgiving, Merciful.”
This revelation came during a period of unrest for the fledging community when it was fighting for survival, with many groups who were against them. The Muslims had made some treaties but these were not being upheld by the other side.
Islamic scholar Maher Mahmassani writes that the “Misconstruction of the chapter consists first in the fact that it was taken out of context of its revelation, and its meaning assigned a universal intent.”
He says, “This chapter was revealed to address a narrow and specific circumstance, it is important to avoid any rush to extend its impact beyond its immediate purpose, for the simple reason that its scope cannot be rationally and reasonably extended beyond that specific scope….Any extension of the scope …would translate into a standing licence for Muslims not to honour their commitments in the future…”
It is understandable if this explanation meets with skepticism because, after all, some Muslim groups and individuals are enacting acts of intolerance and violence against each other and against non- Muslims.
There are other myths within Muslim communities which are sadly part of the petro dollars misunderstanding of Islam. For example, that Muslims should keep themselves separated from other religious communities and not participate in their celebrations. Fortunately, most Canadian Muslims actively engage in their communities and neighbourhood and defeat these negative messages.
Notwithstanding the racism and prejudices many Muslims face daily, we are fortunate to be Canadians, and to live in a pluralistic society which has laws recognizing and protecting our rights.
However, it is essential that with this protection of our rights, we Muslims must stand up to protect the rights of all others. We cannot demand our rights and freedoms without also demanding the same for others.
The tragic recent murders of gays in Orlando are against our humanity and we should all hang our heads in shame.
It is incumbent on us to accept what God has clearly stated in the Quran that God created a human being and “breathed into him of My spirit.” There is no differentiation between humans by any other criteria, and this should make us Muslims believe that all of us have the same divine essence, and it is not up to any of us to contradict God’s intent.
What is required of us as humans, and Muslims, is to be compassionate and stand up for everyone’s equality rights, in fairness and justice, no matter our race, ethnicity, religion, gender or life choices.