Criticism of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and free speech
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We need to welcome every criticism of Qur’an, Islam and the Prophet and deal with it with grace. Let freedom of speech be the corner stone of Islam.
Islam is not going anywhere; prophet is not going anywhere, and by opening ourselves up to criticism, we will learn a lot more about our faith than we would ever know. We need to move away from intolerance to acceptance of a different point of view without having to agree with it. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived through it and Muslims can learn from his examples.
Criticism can fade away or rain on us depending on how Muslims respond to it. Lack of conviction in one’s faith breeds intolerance towards criticism, whereas firmness in faith can lead us to learn from criticism, explore the infinite wisdom and realize the strength of our faith (Imaan); a worthy feeling to have, instead of living in doubt and shooing criticism away.
You may ask, “Why are you presenting a different point of view, and why should I believe you?” The great scholars from the past have done it, and what is the need for me to learn?
I will ask you, “Why wouldn’t you review the work of Tariq Ramadan, Hamza Yusuf, Ziauddin Sardar, Wahiduddin Khan, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Asghar Ali Engineer, Chandra Muzaffar, and a host of other critical Muslim thinkers? Why should you believe every word of Maududi, Banna and others? Isn’t Islam for all times and all people?
Way back in 1967, my sister had asked me, if I knew more than Allama Iqbal? That question has never left my mind, and I had to scramble for the answer, the answer was a definite no, but I did not want to discard individual responsibility of not learning and knowing it on my own. I was always stuck with one of the most powerful sentences from Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) last sermon, “I leave behind two things, the Qur’an and the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray.” The responsibility to know was placed directly on us.
Like all Mothers, my Mother taught me responsibility, she said, “if you do wrong, you alone will get punished and not your brother who might have instigated you, it is not what he said, but it is how you respond that matters to me”. She would invariably add, “On the Day of Judgment, you stand alone, there will be no one for you, as each one will be busy in reflecting his or her own deeds.”
The Qur’an repeatedly reinforces the paramount principle of faith: “O You who believe, on you rests (the responsibility) of your souls”(Q5:105) and (Q53:38), “that no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear anther’s burden.” The picture was clear to me.
I don’t wish this for others, but the best thing that has ever happened to me was walking away from Islam and Qur’an when I was 15. I made the same mistake that every maligner of Islam makes; reading the wrong translations of Qur’an and blaming the religion for it. After 30 years of searching for the truth on my own as the Prophet had advised “to read the book”, I found the truth. Islam is an inclusive faith, it is about co-existence, it is a faith that appreciates all of God’s creation and urges one to respect the otherness of others (Qur’an 109:6) without having to agree, it explicitly says (Qur’an 49:13), that all of us are his creation, created to be different, and that we have to learn about each other to mitigate the conflicts and nurture goodwill. Today, I am proud to be a believer, not a blind one, but a critical believer in Islam.
The Critical thinking has given me inordinate confidence to the point of challenging Pastor Jeffress in Dallas, that if he finds three faults in Qur’an, I will convert to his faith, and if he cannot, all I asked of him was to become a blessed peacemaker and work with me in mitigating conflicts and building a cohesive America, where all of us can aspire to live without the fear of the other. He backed off as we returned the bad challenge with the request to reason and finding the truth. We held a Qur’an Conference with ten Non Muslim Clergy on the panel and four Muslims including Imam Zia Shaikh, Dr. Basheer Ahmed, Imam Shakoor and Brother Hamid Shaikh, and I moderated the event. A full accounting of the event, including media interviews and the program is recorded in details at www.QuraanConference.com
When you have an issue with your spouse and child, you don’t scream and shut them down; the problem will not go away unless you face it and solve the issue. When people accept the solutions willingly, we will have peace. Isn’t that Islam is all about, freedom?
Indeed, we must gracefully respond to every criticism of Qur’an, Islam and the Prophet and I have the patience to welcome it.
Aren’t we supposed to learn and know each other to mitigate conflicts and create the kingdom of heaven right here on the earth, while waiting to go the next heaven? Didn’t God say, the best among you is the one who learns about the other (49:13), so the myths, phobias and fears can be dismantled?
I urge fellow Muslims to open to all the criticism with confidence, don’t shut it, and let freedom of speech be the corner stone of Islam. Islam stands on its own; it does not need our defense, and it is silly to protect God or the Prophet, they are not weaklings or our property to protect, they belong to the whole universe, don’t they?
Muhammad Yunus, a Muslim thinker and a writer at New Age Islam responds, “Doesn’t the Qur’an repetitively say, “repel evil with good” (13:22, 23:96, 41:34). Shouldn’t you take the opportunity to demonstrate the good in your faith and remove the cloud of hatred that is forming by the twin growing menaces of the day: Islamophobia and Radicalization? Inscribe on the facade of your mosques in bold and golden letters, the verses of the Qur’an that demonstrate the divine scheme on religious pluralism – 2:62, 2:136, 4:124, 5:69, 22:17, 64:9, 65:11 for example.
Tell the believing world by visual display on billboards at all Islamic centers that the divine Light is lit in all places of pure worship (24:35) and God’s name is proclaimed regularly in monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques (22:40). Inform the atheist and all categories of non-believers that they all are recipients of a portion of divine spirit (15:29, 32:7-9, 38:72) and God will judge them as well along with the believing humanity (22:17). Tell the whole world that however they demonize our Prophet, we must ignore them as this is an article of faith for us (6:112, 25:31).
Dr. Tariq Cheema of World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists, adds another point of view, “the Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world must rise to the challenge and offer guidance to the faith-loving masses on how to encounter the exploitation of freedom of speech, which is often quite provocative and insulting. On the other hand every one must strive for a legislation that guards the sanctity of all religions and their Prophets, scriptures, and symbols alike.”
The most important Sunnah (Prophet’s example) and the first Sunnah is to be the Amin; the trust worthy (81:21), the truth teller and someone who mitigates conflicts and nurtures good will for the peaceful coexistence of his or her neighbors, communities, tribes and nations.
That was the first example of Muhammad (pbuh) to be a good citizen, wasn’t it? Wasn’t that the first model prophet had set up for one to follow? Mind you, he was called Amin by non-Muslims. Shouldn’t we start with the same first foot forward? To be good citizens, whether in Pakistan, America, Saudi Arabia, China or Indonesia, we have to earn it by being a participant and a contributor towards the wellbeing of the nation. Your presence should relax others, and make them comfortable that you are a peacemaker and they can trust you for your fairness. Do you follow the Prophet?
The second most important Sunna to follow is to be Rahmatul Aalameen (Mercy to mankind) (21:107). To be a Rahmat (Mercy) to fellow beings who are Atheist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Wicca, Natives, Zoroastrians and others, we must be kind to them, no one should be afraid or apprehensive of us. Should anyone be afraid of a Muslim, then we have not followed the Sunna of the prophet.
Please note that I have stripped the title of Allama or Maulana from all the names above. We have a habit of placing individuals next to God, they are just like you and I, of course with more knowledge, sometimes real, and sometimes looped up. Practicing and rehearsing the same wrong thing over and over again does not make them perfect. We need to reserve the titles to the Prophets; all others must be referred to just by their names with utmost respect.
We should not be loose with titles, unless they have shown that Allah is Rabbul Aaalamen (Universality of the Creator) and Muhammad is Rahmatul Aalameen in their actions and words. How many of them would qualify to be an Allama then?
All other Sunna emanates from these two basic steps, clearly and unambiguously corroborated by the Qur’an (81:21, 21:107).
We cannot compromise on free speech, however much a few may abuse it, but free speech is an enduring value and the hallmark of civilization. I believe in free speech and that is the only way societies will grow. As Muslims we need to seriously consider the gains Muslims have had, that far outweigh the tensions given by a handful of loonies.
Islam is a universal inclusive faith, it is from Rabbul Aalameen (creator of the universe, its prophet is Rahmatul Aalameen (Mercy to mankind) and we should be Mukhlooqul Aalameen (Universal, all embracing beings). Islam is about goodness and not forcing others, and not domineering but co-existing, just as the Prophet did and proclaimed in the Madinah treaty. Islam is about appreciating everything God has created on this universe (55:16).
If they curse the prophet, prophet is not going to be cursed, have the strength in your faith and return badness with Good; we know all the examples of his work. When you hear someone curse the prophet, just say I am sorry you feel that way, but if you wish to seek the truth, find it on your own or I will connect you with someone who can guide you, if you don’t that is your choice and nothing will come off me or the prophet, your words do not have the power to reduce Islam or the prophet, I will pray peace of mind to you.
Don’t feel compelled to convince anyone, let go. What did Allah say to Prophet when he was frustrated that people were not getting his message? You do your dharma (duty) and let them have the freedom to accept. Elsewhere God says there is no compulsion in matters of faith (2:256).
Have confidence, read what is good in Islam and ignore the bad things others say, write, or put it in the film about Islam or its Prophet. From the very first day of his mission, the Prophet was criticized and the Qur’an reviled and the criticism and revulsion only gained momentum through the medieval ages as Islam continued to win the hearts of other people. It has come to surface again with greater ferocity, but we the Muslims as peace makers must act peacefully.
Islam is not going anywhere, prophet is not going anywhere, and by opening up you will enjoy your Imaan (faith) immensely with genuine admiration for its wisdom. I thank Allah for helping me see the light and beauty of Islam, and you can too.
• Huffington Post -Muslims don’t get it http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-ghouse/freedom-of-speech-and-the-legitimacy-of-muslim-protests_b_1902427.html
• Dallas Morning news -Separation of church and state http://theghousediary.blogspot.com/2012/09/texas-faith-is-separation-of-church-and.html
• Dallas Morning news – right to free speech http://theghousediary.blogspot.com/2012/09/texas-faith-religion-and-right-to-free.html
• Critical Muslim by Ziauddin Sardar http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2012/09/critical-muslim-by-ziauddin-sardar_30.html
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Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace making, foreign policy, Islam, Israel, India, Pakistan, interfaith, and cohesion at work place or social settings. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at www.TheGhousediary.com. Mike has a strong presence on national local TV, Radio and Print Media, and is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News, fortnightly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site www.MikeGhouse.net indexes everything you want to know about him.