Shifting faith and mutated beliefs -  A case for humanizing Islam

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Shifting faith and mutated beliefs
A case for humanizing Islam

By Jamal Hasan

Man's spiritual need dates back to thousands of years. A quest for Divine Existence was part and parcel of the man who learned first how to forage and later to grow crops, spin fiber and make clothes and build habitats. From Mayans and Incas in the American continents to the old Greeks and Romans in the European theater, we may see there is a significant trend in fulfilling human thirst for spiritual solace. But, one thing we can conclusively say that nothing of a God-related belief system stayed permanent. Idea of God and Divinity was as transitory as flow of water on a meandering river bed. Due to invasion of superior mighty forces or because of natural calamities many faiths and Divine-related belief system have been extinguished. In some cases, they vanished without any trace; in other circumstances, they left some indelible marks on the newer faiths. 

Most religions in the contemporary world have structurally based upon supernatural or unseen phenomenon. Mysticism could be their main essence. In the yesteryear, many mysteries remained shrouded under the cloak of faith-based dogma. Therefore, we cannot blame our ancestors altogether for their ignorance. They did not have the knowledge nor did they have the scientific tools to find the answers to many bewildering questions. A case in point would be a meteorite that fell from the sky say three thousand years ago. How a common man would perceive that "mystical" occurrence? Would the imagination be too farfetched if some religionists consider it a Godly phenomenon manifested from the heaven? Should we blame the common practitioner if they started to worship the "sacred stone" for many years to come? Similarly, how much man was aware of the galaxies, Milky Way and Quasar stars thousands of years ago? Should they be ostracized if earth was perceived to be the center of the whole universe?

Let us now turn our focus to the genesis of the three monotheistic religions capturing the center stage of this planet that have common roots. The Ten Commandments was the cornerstone of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Christianity's spread to the European continent was such a monumental development whose impact can be felt even today. It is true that Christianity in Europe got more of a European face. But the Church centered Christianity entered into a territory where freethinking and scientific quest were blooming. Galileo and Copernicus's epoch making theories pushed the religion to a collision path with scientific discovery. Millions of earthlings believed about the "Center of the Universe" theory that went in coherence with Church's central dogma. But those "troublemakers" shattered the age-old belief system. Ultimately, the Science won at the cost of those bold new thinkers. However, this cannot be said of middle eastern-based religion Islam, which until this day could not get rid of ancient folklore that runs contrary to sound scientific principles.

The showdown between rational thinkers and arch conservative Christians in Europe that I mentioned earlier gave birth to Protestant Movement that essentially made Christianity more of a tolerant religion. The release of Church's control on state machinery gave the freethinkers and scientists the last hurrah. At long last nobody had to get an approval from a man in robe to involve into fundamental research. That includes those researches which could be controversial in the eyes of the Cross.

Turning to modern day, we now see that America is an important test case where Christianity has been metamorphosing on a liberal plateau. The other day, the Presbyterian Church in USA has given the majority verdict for homosexual conjugal union. Whatever is written in the Bible is becoming less significant. Nevertheless, most Americans believe in divine existence. Many of them even go to Church, occasionally. But a careful scrutiny can disclose that the belief system is not remaining static as the time goes by. 

How the Americans view the Bible could be an interesting case in point. A recent Washington Post article on American religions depicted that the common Americans are casual as far as religious practices are concerned. Some even endeavor to "domesticate" the God. 

Out of curiosity, I asked three of my coworkers about their view on the Bible. One of them is white and Roman Catholic, the other two are African-Americans and one of those again goes to a Baptist Church. All three have shown their skepticism about the authenticity of the Bible as documentation of pure words of the Divine. One even commented that in those days there were no tape recorders, how can we be so sure that God's discourse was recorded in its entirety. Another coworker emphasized on the tampering of the Bible as he mentioned King James's role in this regard. Although those three Americans may not be the representative of entire America, I thought people could still be religious without any blind faith and without any absolutist dogma. I felt this could be an indication that there is a way to believe in Divine existence without becoming a fanatic. The Bible's history has given the anthropologists and secular historians enough food for thought. Conversely, Islam's sacred text was out of any historical scrutiny. The dramatic finding of a possible earlier version of the Qur'an in Yemen could have been an earth shattering incidence. If the scholars can prove that there was modification in Qur'an in course of time, many traditional Islamic clergies may go berserk. But the logical conclusion of a history related to any text may not be detrimental to greater humanity.

Martin Luther's role in translating the Bible in German, which unquestionably humanized the Christian Holy Book, was the first major effort of bringing the enigmatic God word into the households of the billions of commoners. That broke the deliberate mystification of sacred texts by the religious power brokers. As the Bible was becoming a popular literature, its fate also began to change. The book which was shrouded under mystery came under microscopic scrutiny by secular historians and anthropologists. Compared to Bible, Qur'an's situation has not changed drastically. Most of the non-Arabic speaking Muslims (who comprise the most of the Islamic faith) do not have enough comprehension about the Divine oddity.

Among the branches of Christianity, Roman Catholicism is assumed to be a conservative one. A study of American Roman Catholics showed that majority of them does not follow the Vatican dictum in toto. It made the Pope unhappy, nonetheless, what can he do? He is following a pragmatic "give and take" policy. Pope's political statements sometimes raise many eyebrows. His historical comment to apologize for all the atrocity and injustices perpetrated on the people of other faiths is quite astounding. This is another example of further liberalization of the Christian sector. Can any one dream the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia apologizing to the mankind for the ethnic cleansing of the Jews in the Holy land occurred thousand years ago? One solitary person wrote about the extermination of Jews during our prophet's time in a recent article in letters to the editor column in Peshawar's Frontier Post in the last week of January 2001. We know what happened then. Islamic countries are eons away from Christendom as far as liberalization of the religion is concerned. Are Islamic beliefs immutable? How long will it resist probing from within? I have no glib answer to that. But one thing I could add here is that what Christians did earlier to humanize the religion, more freethinkers from Islamic world would probe the built-in inanities in Islam. Who knows what will happen then. The bottom line is that we have to humanize Islam through probing as it has been done in Christianity. How far is this Islamic Glasnost?