If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Friday, March 02, 2007

One for Halal Hippie

I got this interesting article by email.
Food for thought!

Imagery in Islam

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments--which include a ban on depicting God--as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is "an absolute principle of Islam" is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

The claim that the ban on depicting Muhammad and other prophets is an absolute principle of Islam is also refuted by history. Many portraits of Muhammad have been drawn by Muslim artists, often commissioned by Muslim rulers. There is no space here to provide an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most famous:
A miniature by Sultan Muhammad-Nur Bokharai, showing Muhammad riding Buraq, a horse with the face of a beautiful woman, on his way to Jerusalem for his M'eraj or nocturnal journey to Heavens (16th century); a painting showing Archangel Gabriel guiding Muhammad into Medina, the prophet's capital after he fled from Mecca (16th century); a portrait of Muhammad, his face covered with a mask, on a pulpit in Medina (16th century); an Isfahan miniature depicting the prophet with his favorite kitten, Hurairah (17th century); Kamaleddin Behzad's miniature showing Muhammad contemplating a rose produced by a drop of sweat that fell from his face (19th century); a painting, "Massacre of the Family of the Prophet," showing Muhammad watching as his grandson Hussain is put to death by the Umayyads in Karbala (19th century); a painting showing Muhammad and seven of his first followers (18th century); and Kamal ul-Mulk's portrait of Muhammad showing the prophet holding the Quran in one hand while with the index finger of the other hand he points to the Oneness of God (19th century).

Some of these can be seen in museums within the Muslim world, including the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in Bokhara and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and Haroun-Walat, Iran (a suburb of Isfahan). Visitors to other museums, including some in Europe, would find miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad, at times wearing his Meccan burqa (cover) or his Medinan niqab (mask). There have been few statues of Muhammad, although several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the building of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honored as one of the great "lawgivers" of mankind.

There has been other imagery: the Janissaries--the elite of the Ottoman army--carried a medallion stamped with the prophet's head (sabz qaba). Their Persian Qizilbash rivals had their own icon, depicting the head of Ali, the prophet's son-in-law and the first Imam of Shiism. As for images of other prophets, they run into millions. Perhaps the most popular is Joseph, who is presented by the Quran as the most beautiful human being created by God.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Progressive Islam

I've been prompted by some of the comments to write this post about Progressive Islam (Racoon, I hope this answers some of your questions.)

First of all, let's examine some home truths:
  • Islam has fractured into a number of Sects (2 Sunni schools of thought, 6 Shia sects, 6 Sufi orders, 2 Kharajite sects, 4 Kalam schools, 7 movements within Sects including Salafism and Wahabbism and 8 other sects). All this despite the Quran (6:159, 10:19) prohibiting Sectarianism.
  • Sects differ according to the Hadith and Sunnah (sayings and doings of the Prophet), not according to belief in the Quran as the word of God and the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as his Messenger nor according to the 5 Pillars of Islam (prayer, alms, pilgrimage, shahada, fasting during Ramadan)
  • As most of you will know Hadith and Sunnah were incorporated many years after the death of the Prophet among them some which were considered spurious.
  • Thus, Islamic scholars compiled a list of what they considered authentic Hadith that could be validated- known as Sahih resulting in 6 collections of Hadith of which Bukhari and Muslim are most quoted.
  • Hadith authentication was mainly based on isnad- the chain of authority from which they originated. Authentication was not based on analysis of the Hadith itself and whether or not it could, logically, be considered something the Prophet would have actually said or done.
  • Over centuries Hadith have come to be the principle source of information on how to practice Islam for the majority of Muslims. They have been manipulated and distorted by Muslim clergy and politicians such that the actions of the Taliban, the oppression of women, the killing of innocent lives have all been justifiable through a distortion of Hadith.

Progressive Muslims vary in their level of acceptance of Hadith. Generally speaking, all Progressive Muslims believe that the Hadith has come to replace the Quran as the main source of knowledge for Muslims and that this constitutes a breach of Quranic edicts. All Progressive Muslims advocate for the absolute authority of the Quran and refute the growing authority of Hadith. All Progressive Muslims believe that Islam has lost its way and that the majority of Muslims focus on superficial symbols of religiousity (what is Halal or Haram, to pluck one's eyebrows or not; to have a dog or not; to adorn your house with statues or not- and other such stupidity) in Hadith rather than turning to the principle source of guidance- the Quran.

On one end of the spectrum are those Progressives who completely dismiss all Hadith on the basis that sectarianism is against the teachings in the Quran and has arisen out of Hadith- hence all Hadith must be dismissed. Some can be quite over the top.

There are ofcourse other much more complex arguments about leadership and what exactly constitutes "the message" that Muslims are obliged to obey- but I'm not going to get that deep into it here- maybe another time.

There are also those Progressives who believe that the Hadith must not be accepted at face value and that it must be interpreted according to actual content (remember Hadith was only interpreted according to the line of authority) and according to the context of the day.

Some Hadith actually contradict Quranic edicts- particularly those in relation to the status of women and some have no basis and cannot be validated in the Quran (eg hijab- not in the Quran, only in Hadith and according to which sect you follow might mean anything from a scarf over the hair to a complete covering of face and hands).

Where do I sit?

Well, as you will probably know from reading my blog, I have a lot of problems with the way Islam is practiced today. It seems to me all the disunity among Muslims comes from different interpretations of Hadith. When I ask someone to show me where, in the Quran, Muslims are not allowed to celebrate birthdays, or keep dogs, or pluck their eyebrows, or have statues- they direct me to Hadith. Why? Because it's not in the Quran. These people are actually placing Hadith above Quran as authoritative text!

I don't think that all Hadith should be dismissed but I do strongly believe that God has given each and every one of us the ability to think for ourselves. Through the Quran, God has also charged us to learn, educate ourselves and become better people. Is not plucking my eyebrows going to make me a better person? Is killing innocent Jews and Christians going to make me a better person? Is blowing myself up into a million pieces going to make me a better person? It sounds ludicrous doesn't it- but this is what Islam has become- the illogical, the ludicrous, the ugly!

We teach our kids to recite Quran, we praise those who become Hafeez (memorised the entire Quran) and give Masha'Allah to 8 year olds who can recite Surat Yassin in full. But do we teach them what it means? Do we guide them in applying it to their lives? No we don't- instead we admonish them with "haram" and "ayb".

Imam baqir (the 6th successor of the Prophet), said that the Quran is like an ocean, where everyone benefits from it..... The young pick up pebbles and shells from close to the shore, wehreas the older (advanced) search out the depths of it for it's pearls.

I can be like the majority of Muslims and stand from afar gazing at the Ocean and occassionally admiring its beauty but never really fathoming this wondrous creation.

I can be like the majority of Muslims and sit on the shore line accepting second hand shells discarded by those who know better but never venturing into the ocean, never allowing myself to be overcome by its beauty.

I want to find my own pearls. I want to experience the beauty of the ocean in all its glory. I want to search for truth, for beauty.