Sunday, July 02, 2006



To me, the most galling of these myths is jahiliyah, the moral darkness that's said to have existed before islam's arrival. I recently came across a book. It referred to the pre-islamic period as the Age of Ignorance -- capital A, capital I. Granted, thed seventh-century Arabian peninsula baked in depravity and violence, sparking the need for a unifying faith. I don't disagree there. But the Koran speaks of moral backwardness only in the context of Arab history. The charade is, Arabs have assumed that the various non-Arab peoples they have conquered were also morally ignorant. The conquered have effectively been taught that because the Koran attributes darkness to the pre-islamic period, all wisdom prior to Muhammad carries the weight of blasphemy and applies to every muslem outside of arabia no less than inside. This myth is what made Taslima Nasrin's mother (from Bangladesh) a relious robot, memorizing arabic with the guilt of a sinner.

V.S. Naipaul, like Fareed Zakaria, has seen the consequences on a wider scale. Several years ago Naipaul recounted his travels through Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. While acknowledging their strugglesx with European colonizers, he 'was soon to discover that no colonization had been so thorough as the colonization that had come with the Arab faith...It was an article of the Arab faith that every before (it) was wrong, misguided, heretical; there was no room in the heart or mind of these believers for their pre-Mohammedan past." I've listened to more than a few Muslims write off Naipaul as a racist. That's ironic because his point helps explain why, at my madarassa, I never heard about the Jewish and Christian sources of many Islamic traditions. To recognize these influences would imply that the world didn't suffer from total foolishness before Islam, that Arab Muslims have borrowed from their predecessors, that they're hybrids with a debt to others rater than pure revolutionaries. But to say so is to defy the tribe. We can't have that, can we?


It stands to reason that the Koran has imperfections. The rapidity of Arab empire-building would have crystallized priorities, making religion a servant of colonization and not the other way around. Might some verses of the Koran have been manipulated to meet political timetables and goals. Isn't it also plausible that Arab warriors more familiar with their sturdy customs than with their novel faith, such as tribal walls, would pose as Islam proper. Nor is it difficult to imagine how an expedient Islam would become an obedient Islam --obedient less to God than to his gladiators. ...

So, I' m down to my final fair shake for Islam. Whether I leave it behind will be up to me. In another sense, though, it's up to us. What I need to see is an appetite for reform:

- Will we snap out of our rites and spark our imagination in order to free Muslims worldwide from fear, hunger and illiteracy?

- Will we move past the superstition that we can't question the Koran? By openly asking where its verses come from, why they're contradictory and how they can be differently interpreted, we're not violating anything more than tribal totalitarianism.

- If my analysis is wrong, can you explain why no other religion is producing as many terrorist travesties and human rights transgressions in the name of God? And can you explain this without pointing fingers at everyone but Muslims?

Writ me back at I look forward to an honest discussion.

Faithfully (for now),


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