Islam and Innovation: Observations of an Ex-Salafi Muslim
OP - April 30, 2013, 03:29 AM
Islam and Innovation: Observations of an Ex-Salafi Muslim
On the road into the city of Madinah, approaching from the south, on the rocky slopes of Ayr mountain, there stands a giant billboard advertising a very telling hadith that is authentically attributed to the prophet: “Madinah is sacred between Mount Ayr and Mount Thawr. So whoever innovates an innovation therein, or gives protection to an innovator, then upon him is the curse of Allah, the angels, and all of mankind.”
This is one of many ahadith that strictly advocate against reforming the religion of Islam with “newly invented innovations.”
For over a thousand years, from pulpits across the globe, Muslims have heard the same admonition, Friday after Friday: “Verily, the best speech is the book of Allah. And the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. And the worst of all evil affairs are newly invented matters in religion. For verily, every newly invented matter is an innovation, and every innovation is a deviation, and every deviation is in the hellfire.”
Muhammad said, “I have left you upon a clear path. Its night is just as bright as its day. None will deviate there from without meeting destruction.”
When I looked at ahadith like these as a believer in the truth of the Islamic message, I found it nearly impossible to interpret Islam in any manner other than what was confirmed by the Qur’an and the authentic sunnah. For this reason, I was a salafi.
Contrary to what you may think, “salafi” does not mean “Saudi nutcase” or “intolerant, anti-western misogynist.”
To be a salafi simply meant that I accepted Islam, all of Islam, in the same way that the prophet and his companions accepted it, as it was transmitted in the earliest books of Islamic literature.
This, I concluded, is what Allah commanded in the Qur’an. “Oh you who believe, enter into Islam completely, and do not follow the footsteps of Shaitan.” And, “Say, (Oh Muhammad) if you truly love Allah, then follow me, and Allah will love you.”
I wondered then how Muslims could claim to believe in the truth and supremacy of Muhammad’s message while completely ignoring huge swaths of what the prophet himself taught.
And I am not simply referring to big beards and short pants here, though there are many authentic ahadith that let us know that big beards and short pants are kind of a big deal to the all powerful and all wise creator of the universe.
No, Islam presents in itself an entire world view and life system that Muslims give lip service to. Many Muslims, conservative and progressive alike, claim to believe that Islam is the solution. But they conveniently disregard what Islam actually teaches when it conflicts with their own aims and agendas.
This troubled me. Didn’t these people know that Allah said “Whoever opposes the way of the messenger and follows a way other than that of the believers, we will turn him unto wherever he turns, then cast him into hell! What an evil abode!” Didn’t they believe that if they followed the messenger completely, they would achieve success? “And whoever obeys Allah and his messenger has indeed achieved the greatest success.”
I honestly thought that through the application of the “original” teachings of Islam, I would uncover the solution to the many problems and ills that I saw in the world around me. Ask no questions, make no excuses, just say, “we hear and we obey,” and you will achieve salvation.
But things did not quite work out that way. Over the years, and after much study and contemplation, I began to understand why Muslims—ones interested in progression at least—ignored huge swaths of Muhammad’s teachings.
His teachings regarding Jihad, even in their most liberal interpretations, involve killing real people on the basis of the conclusions they reach about the world around them.
His teachings about women have forever secured their inferior status and perpetuated their childlike dependency on the men in their lives.
His teachings regarding the cosmos are invariably flawed when viewed in their entirety, relegating them at best to the realm of poor metaphor and poetic analogy—though I have no reason to believe he did not take himself literally.
Similarly, his teachings on the origin of life and the creation of man are completely incompatible with anything that we’ve come to know through the overwhelming evidence for evolution by natural selection. To try to reinterpret his teachings in these areas as metaphorical is to render them completely useless and unintelligible. He might as well not even have said them.
His teachings regarding finance would mean the utter collapse of the world economic system as we know it, with modern economic theories being replaced by his blanket prohibition on all interest and his rudimentary instructions for bartering dried dates.
His political legacy has meant that the lands conquered by his armies are and forever will be in a perpetual state of war, not only against the non-believer, but against fellow believers who just did not get one point or another correct.
I began to think that surely, the lord of the universe must have had a better plan than this.
Surely, he must have thought things out a little more fully before deciding to send his final communication to mankind to a 7th century desert military leader, and thus forever stagnating his creatures in that mentality.
Perhaps other Muslims were correct. Perhaps we were supposed to sift through the volumes of useless information, ethical atrocities, and scientific inaccuracies to find the gems of truth that we could still relate to our modern lives.
Perhaps we really were meant to sweep everything that we did not agree with under the carpet, out of sight and out of mind, and focus only on the bits that gave us that warm and fuzzy feeling of being part of a global brotherhood of believers.
But then, what is the point? If I am still going to use my own intellect and reason to decide which parts of my Islamic guidance to follow, then what is the point of using it as a guide? How effective of a guide could it be if I still had to use an external, non-divine compass to make sense of it all?
This troubled me as I tried to interpret Islam differently, and I nearly lost all faith then and there.
But then, there were those things that just maybe--just maybe--could be true.
What about the hadith about the goat herders building tall buildings? What about the hadith where the Prophet said, “Verily, Islam started as something strange and it shall return to being something strange, just as it started. So give glad tidings to the strangers.” It sure seemed strange in today’s world. How could Muhammad have known? What about the scientific miracles? Many of these things were seemingly true!
Ah, but that is what religions do, don’t they? For every chapter filled with nonsense, there is one sentence that is just ambiguous enough that it just could be true--provided you tilt your head and squint your eyes just right. And upon that they assert all of their arguments.
I had a Hindu once ask me how the writers of Hindu scripture could possibly have known that matter could be neither created nor destroyed, as is taught in the Hindu concept of Samsara. I had a Christian ask me how Jesus could have possibly known that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be reduced to rubble.
How did they know? Maybe it was a lucky guess. Maybe it was written after the fact. Maybe the “miraculous” meaning given today was never originally intended to start with. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Then I came across this verse again in suratul-baqarah. I had heard and recited it countless times before, but in this context, this verse presented perhaps the biggest reason why I could no longer accept Islam. “Say, shall you believe in one part of the book and disbelieve in another part!? So what shall be the reward of whoever does that among you, except disgrace in this world? And on the day of judgment, they will be returned to the greater punishment! And Allah is not unaware of all that you do!”
When I read this verse again, I knew that Islam was impossible. As human beings we do not have full control over what we believe. Either things make sense to us and we believe they are true, or things do not make sense to us and we do not believe they are true. And at that point in my life, many parts of Islam simply did not make sense to me and I simply did not believe they were true. It really was all or nothing, take it or leave it.
It was a strange feeling. If Islam was not true, then what was? What if no religion was true? Was it even possible to have a universe without a god?
I began to research things without bias or fear.
Most things I had already known deep inside, but for each new issue I cam across, I tried to ask myself: “How would this look any different if there was no Allah and if Muhammad was not a messenger?”
Question after question, and after being honest with myself, I simply couldn’t find any reason to conclude that Allah and Muhammad were necessary parts of any equation. Things worked just well without them. Sometimes even better.
From the plains of Africa to the Islands of Polynesia, human history made so much more sense when not viewed through the faulty lens of religion.
Now, being an atheist does not mean that I have all the answers. It does not mean that I am sure to be right about everything. But the thing is, I don’t have to be. No one is out to torture me for making mental mistakes. If I am wrong about one belief or another, then that is all there is to it. No one cares but me.
I know that there are no rewards, no punishments, no fires, no gardens, no rivers, and no virgins.
Best of all, there is an overwhelming sense of liberation that comes from being able to think my own thoughts and reach my own conclusions. They are, after all, truly my conclusions.
I can now reach conclusions based on evidence and reason, not fear and superstition. And in the absence of evidence, I have the luxury of saying “I have no fucking idea, but let me try to find out.” I tend to say that a lot.