Monday, July 25, 2011

Culture, Tradition, Religion

From the start of this year several Arab regimes have been toppled with the threat of several others being toppled in the near future. During this period Saudi Arabia has witnessed several attempts of performing peaceful protests to request some basic rights. These have included the release of those imprisoned and held without charge, a little more freedoms for the Saudi public, to allow women to drive, exposure of public expenditure to the Saudi public... etc. Whenever such a threat of a peaceful protest rose, the Saudi authorities ensured public "Safety" with extreme force. In addition to this, during this period the official authorities have utilized the Islamic institute to preach the following three phrases "This is not part of our culture or traditions or religion".

As a starting point, I would like to differentiate between culture, tradition and religion. Culture defines customs in a community, the folklore and source of habits and traditions in a community. As for tradition, it defines the inherited habits, usually having the custom or religion as the main sources of the action. As for religion, it is usually an established faith. Now looking at the three items, we can see that the first two are man-made (or internal to the community) whilst the third is usually divine (or is external to the community). The first two are usually narrow in scope (as defined by a tribe or a small community) whilst the third spans out globally (for successful religions). The first two are only recognized by the community whilst the third is usually recognized by in nation who has followers of the religion.

After defining the three items, let’s consider the three in the context of protests within the Middle Eastern community. Part of our culture is to uphold against wrongdoings and fight for justice and protect the weak. Our culture is littered with stories of those who have protested against tyrants and unjust rulers especially during the Omayyad and Abbasid eras. A simple lesson in history will invalidate the first statement. As for tradition, all you need to do is think along the lines of Saudi people protesting against Israel during Friday prayers. These are usually peaceful protest describing the injustice that the Palestinians face during the Friday sermons. This is an inherited tradition that Saudis have continued since the establishment of the state of Israel. And as such the second statement is invalidated. As for the third, part of the rich Islamic tradition (Religious Values) that is practiced and is carried through is the popular saying of the prophet "He who witnesses wrongdoing, let him change it with his hands (take an action against it). If he could not, let him change it with his tongue (use his words). If he could not, let him change it in with his heart (Refuse it) and that is the weakest of faith". In his popular saying the prophet describes protesting against wrongdoings as faith. The more direct the methodology is, the stronger the faith, and that invalidates the third statement.

Looking at our culture, traditions and religion there is a clear sign to show that we, as Arabs, have performed the three types of protests that our Prophet describes. This has started from the days of the prophet (saw) in his attempt to spread the word of God across the land and ensure equality between all social classes, till the day king Abdul-Aziz united the kingdom under the rule of Islam. To protest against the ill treatment of the common public is a way to revitalize the culture that was started by the prophet and refreshed by King Abdul-Aziz. By denying the people their right to protest against the ill treatment handed down to them is a true statement against our culture, traditions and religious belief.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Greater Struggle

Once the Muslims conquered Makah, the prophet told his followers "Now is the time for you to perform the greater Struggle (Jihad)".  The followers enquired about this greater struggle that the prophet is emphasizing on.  They have just lost their companions, their belongings and their family members.  The prophet replied "it is the struggle with one's self".

What is this greater struggle prophet Muhammad is talking about and labels it as " the struggle with one's self ".  How can one struggle with oneself?  What are the answers that a person should expect from such a struggle?  More importantly, what are the questions that one needs to ask himself? I have always viewed this statement to point to the way a person understands himself and how a person will know himself.  In other words, a human being should evaluate himself without prejudice or bias.  He or She should view themselves from a third person perspective therefore colliding with what was taken for granted.  Rarely will you find those that question their beliefs and convictions without such prejudice. 

To perform this “Greater Struggle”, a person needs to place himself within his world and his community, the way a person evaluates his beliefs and coming to terms with all his shortcomings.  This internal struggle starts with man’s capability to admit to himself that he is wrong and ending with his capability to collide with is convictions.  To understand this further, the internal struggle is man’s path to improving himself and (ultimately) to perfection.   The first step in this “path to perfection” is to raise the right question.  This questioning process starts with “who am I?” And for this question, I doubt if everyone can answer.  “Who am I?” usually has a lot of backlog that will need justification to yourself, justifications of your actions, justification of your thoughts and justification of your convictions. 

Once a Man can answer the question to “who am I?” the answer will open up doors to many other questions and in accordance will expose the individual’s naked image of himself to himself.  This in turn will expose the flaws of the questioner, flaws that he may know about and flaws that he may not know about.  Once these flaws are identified a person can start to push towards completing himself physically as well as spiritually.  Answering such questions could guide anyone who dares to question himself unto success and a better life.   This in turn will put the questioner unto the golden path of perfection.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Modern Man Vs. Religious Man

What does it mean to be spiritual and religious? These two terms during the modern age have taken a twist to mean traditional and conservative. The problem is that those who support this view come from the religious community itself. You will see the pious man following two contradicting lives: 1) living for worldly gains and 2) living for the Day of Judgment. When he is asked about the two contradictory lives he is living, usually he fails to answer.

Religion has recently failed to answer some of the dire questions its followers may have when coming to terms with the modern age. To substitute for this, the religious figures have tied heaven to their leadership. As a result, they successfully managed to kill the human mind and have alienated all that contradicts their explanation. In turn, the pious follower will reject any idea that might contradict with his scholar’s teachings and will require him to think.

You will find that most of those who are considered to be part of the Muslim world live this dual life. The first is his pious life where you will find the individual praying, fasting and heavily worshipping God. The second is when he steps out of the mosque where he starts to lie and cheat to eat his brother that little bit more. Even when it comes to fundamentals, where the prophet and his followers have set an ideal example of how to defy injustice, how to ensure the spread of the common good and how to treat your brothers, it seems that the law of jungle is dominating the Islamic world, the strong eating the weak and religion being utilized to those in power and not the common good.

Sadly, the Muslim public has been a nation of followers and not thinkers, consumers and not producers, cattle and not humans. When going through the Quran, it is clear that it sets the path of the believers as thinkers. This can be viewed in the stories it tells of the prophets, where it describes how they rejected the way of their forefathers and started searching for God. In comparison, it tells the tale of the non-believers, hell’s population. Throughout, it describes them as imitators of their forefathers and slaves to their traditions. However, looking at modern day Islam, Muslims have been nothing more than slaves to the traditions of ignorance and have taken for granted that their world is still flat. As a result, these pious scholars have (deliberately or not) deviated Muslims from their true path and have successfully killed the human mind within their public, where Muslims have become consumers and not a producers, followers and not a thinkers, slaves and not a free men.