Saturday, October 23

Cherry Picking

More and more of us become interested in religion and making it more of our lives. This, of course, can only always be a good thing, and is an essential part of Islam (and other religions). However due to the quick pace and overtness of this change, There seems to be an increasing tendency to ignore the other ideologies and mindsets that we may already have built up within us via other sources. As a result it seems that sometimes we end up using Islam to these reinforce fundamental thoughts, a kind of subtle post-justification. In that sense we're not really changing at all, but merely re-dressing what we already hold as true.

Let me give some examples. Recently more and more single Muslim women are insisting on the right to not change their surname after marriage, and without fail they would always punctuate this desire with a "there is nothing in Islam that says we have to" or "in Saudi they don't", the implication being that either it's virtuous and an Islamic duty to keep a surname, or worst still that they reason they hold such an opinion is because scripture and "authentic" Islamic tradition (you know, because we've all been culturally corrupted for the past 200 years) dictates that we should.

Let's make no mistake here. This is a progressive and feminist idea first and foremost, and the west is precisely where it first entered our heads from. I'm not denying any Islamic opinion on this matter, but the emphasis placed is clearly from an external source (possibly due to the self-serving nature). Other (possibly easier to swallow) examples include men using scripture to beat their wives or marry mulitple times, or why a suicide bomber finds it so easy to blow themselves up amongst innocents.

So now the question is what came first, the opinion or the evidence? It's human nature to be attracted to those who already agree with you, and so it's not surprising that many of us will read the books and listen to the scholars who only tell us what we want to hear. How often are we challenged by what we learn? Most of the times someone tells me about a talk or book they enjoyed I often get the impression they only did because they were able to nod in agreement throughout.

The flip side of this is that we'll reject an opinion as false if it contradicts our own. Reducing this to the basics results in an argument not saying much more than "I'm right because I say I am".

If you look closely at my Islamic posts, I rarely quote scripture or a scholar when putting forward any of my ideas, be they secular or otherwise. I recognise that I think the way I do for a variety of reasons of which my Islamic exposure is but one (albeit a major one at that). As such, there's plenty with traditional Islamic teaching that I disagree with.

This is why I tend to glaze over when someone punctuates a point with "Islamically we should..." or "according to Islam we...". Tagging what you say with "Islam" doesn't make your subjective view objective, and since I'm hardly the best Muslim it's a bit presumptuous to expect it to carry any weight anyway. Would the same argument be put to a non-Muslim? Would it be expected for them to take it seriously? If not, then it's probably not an argument in the first place (which explains why we're generally so bad at dawah at the moment).

But my point isn't that we need to discard our original ideas in order to pave the way for a purer and non-subjective Islam, but more to be honest about where our ideas actually come from. If you're a feminist or chauvinist or socialist or whatever, then why not just accept that? Why the incessant need to justify it with Islam? If anything it's cheapening the religion, but aside from that you should be secure enough in your opinion to not have to reinforce it. But perhaps that's what the actual cause is; that we're so unsure of our own real opinions that we need to prop them up - not in an attempt to convince others but mainly in an attempt to convince ourselves.


  1. I really enjoyed this post- but that's probably because I find myself nodding in agreement. :)

  2. "This is a progressive and feminist idea first and foremost, and the west is precisely where it first entered our heads from."

    the idea of not taking on husband's surname was not/is not really a tradition in most cultures same with taking on the husband's name.

    however, think you mean in which some may argue their case for not doing so is perhaps similar to that 'of the 'feminist ideology', if things needed labelling.

    However, agree with the sentiment of demeaning religion by using it to justify any/every opinion/action. I think poeple need to realise that they can use their own judgements and use their own rationale to come to a certain conclusion and it does not have to be a 'religious' deduction.

    On the other hand, I think the bigger problem here is understanding Islam and how it plays a role in our lives. Do we take it to be an intricate religion where every action IS ruled by it. Hence why people feel the need to use it to justify any claim they make. Or do we take the 'main' principles of Islam and carry that forward in anyway we see fit. Or something else? Maybe we don't understand our religion hence there is so much confusion and contradiction?

  3. we no longer live in a society that wishes to be transformed by the knowledge it acquires.

    We live in post-modern times, we have a future mapped.

    We know our destination. We choose what we want to be-lieve.

  4. Anonymous13:36

    It's just a way of getting to checkmate quicker. My cultural view happens to be religious too, so there! The surname thing for women, the living with parents til the grave thing for men.

    Silly really.

  5. Hmm I wont change my surname purely because mine is so fabulous and no other surname will be able to top it!!

    not even Depp or Jackman!

  6. Anonymous21:06