Wahhabism – Extremist perversion of theology


NYTimes

Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism

wahhabi

Tehran — Public relations firms with no qualms about taking tainted petrodollars are experiencing a bonanza. Their latest project has been to persuade us that the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, is no more. As a Nusra spokesman told CNN, the rebranded rebel group, supposedly separated from its parent terrorist organization, has become “moderate.”

Thus is fanaticism from the Dark Ages sold as a bright vision for the 21st century. The problem for the P.R. firms’ wealthy, often Saudi, clients, who have lavishly funded Nusra, is that the evidence of their ruinous policies can’t be photoshopped out of existence. If anyone had any doubt, the recent video images of other “moderates” beheading a 12-year-old boy were a horrifying reality check.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, militant Wahhabism has undergone a series of face-lifts, but underneath, the ideology remains the same — whether it’s the Taliban, the various incarnations of Al Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state. But the millions of people faced with the Nusra Front’s tyranny are not buying the fiction of this disaffiliation. Past experience of such attempts at whitewashing points to the real aim: to enable the covert flow of petrodollars to extremist groups in Syria to become overt, and even to lure Western governments into supporting these “moderates.” The fact that Nusra still dominates the rebel alliance in Aleppo flouts the public relations message.

محمدجواد ظریف: بیایید جهان را از وهابیت خلاص کنیم

سعودی ها میلیاردها دلار صرف صدور این انحراف افراطی ازدین کرده اند. این باید متوقف شود.

Saudi Arabia’s effort to persuade its Western patrons to back its shortsighted tactics is based on the false premise that plunging the Arab world into further chaos will somehow damage Iran. The fanciful notions that regional instability will help to “contain” Iran, and that supposed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims are fueling conflicts, are contradicted by the reality that the worst bloodshed in the region is caused by Wahhabists fighting fellow Arabs and murdering fellow Sunnis.

While these extremists, with the backing of their wealthy sponsors, have targeted Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Shiites and other “heretics,” it is their fellow Sunni Arabs who have been most beleaguered by this exported doctrine of hate. Indeed, it is not the supposed ancient sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites but the contest between Wahhabism and mainstream Islam that will have the most profound consequences for the region and beyond.

While the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq set in motion the fighting we see today, the key driver of violence has been this extremist ideology promoted by Saudi Arabia — even if it was invisible to Western eyes until the tragedy of 9/11.

The princes in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, have been desperate to revive the regional status quo of the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq, when a surrogate repressive despot, eliciting wealth and material support from fellow Arabs and a gullible West, countered the so-called Iranian threat. There is only one problem: Mr. Hussein is long dead, and the clock cannot be turned back.

The sooner Saudi Arabia’s rulers come to terms with this, the better for all. The new realities in our region can accommodate even Riyadh, should the Saudis choose to change their ways.

What would change mean? Over the past three decades, Riyadh has spent tens of billions of dollars exporting Wahhabism through thousands of mosques and madrasas across the world. From Asia to Africa, from Europe to the Americas, this theological perversion has wrought havoc. As one former extremist in Kosovo told The Times, “The Saudis completely changed Islam here with their money.”

Though it has attracted only a minute proportion of Muslims, Wahhabism has been devastating in its impact. Virtually every terrorist group abusing the name of Islam — from Al Qaeda and its offshoots in Syria to Boko Haram in Nigeria — has been inspired by this death cult.

So far, the Saudis have succeeded in inducing their allies to go along with their folly, whether in Syria or Yemen, by playing the “Iran card.” That will surely change, as the realization grows that Riyadh’s persistent sponsorship of extremism repudiates its claim to be a force for stability.

The world cannot afford to sit by and witness Wahhabists targeting not only Christians, Jews and Shiites but also Sunnis. With a large section of the Middle East in turmoil, there is a grave danger that the few remaining pockets of stability will be undermined by this clash of Wahhabism and mainstream Sunni Islam.

There needs to be coordinated action at the United Nations to cut off the funding for ideologies of hate and extremism, and a willingness from the international community to investigate the channels that supply the cash and the arms. In 2013, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, proposed an initiative called World Against Violent Extremism, or WAVE. The United Nations should build on that framework to foster greater dialogue between religions and sects to counter this dangerous medieval fanaticism.

The attacks in Nice, Paris and Brussels should convince the West that the toxic threat of Wahhabism cannot be ignored. After a year of almost weekly tragic news, the international community needs to do more than express outrage, sorrow and condolences; concrete action against extremism is needed.

Though much of the violence committed in the name of Islam can be traced to Wahhabism, I by no means suggest that Saudi Arabia cannot be part of the solution. Quite the reverse: We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and violence that threatens us all.


Mohammad Javad Zarif is the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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The perils of speaking out against Islamic law in Malaysia


BBC | RakyatTimes

big brother

A satirical video has exposed the sensitivity over Islamic law in Malaysia – as well as the limits of online speech in the country.

It was supposed to be a light-hearted poke at proposals to expand Islamic law in one state in Malaysia. But a video starring journalist Aisyah Tajuddin resulted in death and rape threats along with a police investigation.

It all began when the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (known by its Malay acronym PAS) proposed implementing hudud laws on Muslims in Kelantan, a mostly rural state in the northeast of the country.

Hudud laws cover prohibitions against things such as adultery, apostasy, robbery and theft, and prescribe punishments considered cruel or unusual in most Western countries: public beatings, stoning, amputation and public execution. They’re also relatively uncommon in most Muslim nations with the exception of those such as Saudi Arabia or Iran which follow the most strict interpretations of Islamic sharia law.

Aisyah, a journalist with independent radio station BFM, mocked the party in a video titled “Hudud: A Rice Bowl Issue”. As she crosses an imaginary border into Kelantan, a headscarf appears on her head. Finding a rock instead of rice in a packet of food, she tosses it away and shrugs, saying “Oh well, we have hudud, don’t we?” and giving an ironic thumbs up. Her point? That instead of Islamic law, the PAS should be more concerned with issues such as the economy and reconstruction after severe floods in the region.

BFM Radio removed the video from its YouTube page the day after it was posted, but not before it went viral and was copied and pasted elsewhere on Facebook and YouTube. On just two of the more popular Facebook pages it has been viewed more than 780,000 times in total.

But along with the viral hit though came a huge backlash. One particularly threatening thread on Facebook started with the comment: “Those who insult the laws of Allah, their blood is halal for killing.” Others came to the journalist’s defence. “Making you feel offended means you can rape and kill that person….brother, do you think you need to do some self reflection and soul searching..?” commented Chiam Soon King on the Sisters In Islam Facebook page.

But some said the video was wrong even as they condemned the threats levelled at Aisyah. “It’s still wrong to make a death threat or rape or all those barbaric acts, my point is she crossed the line and should share the blame as well. Think first,” said Wan Kori.

Threats are not the end of it for the journalist – Aisyah is now being investigated by police for blasphemy, and could face up to a year in jail if convicted.

Sedition Act

Aisyah wasn’t the only person to get caught up in the controversy. The issue touched off a row online between lawyer and activist Michelle Yesudas and the country’s top policeman, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar.

In a series of messages, Yesudas demanded to know what Khalid would do about the threats against Aisyah. “Because I am positively terrified that these crazy, rape-frenzied people are actually the majority in my country,” she wrote.

Khalid’s response was to pull Yesudas into police headquarters for questioning under Malaysia’s colonial-era Sedition Act.

Human rights groups have criticised the Malaysian police’s use of the act to crack down on those critical of the government. Twenty-nine people have been arrested or investigated under the law so far in 2015, compared to 23 in the whole of 2014, according to Amnesty International.

Khalid himself has tweeted that police take comments critical of Islam seriouslyand “had no choice” but to act against them. Previously he warned Malaysians: “Be careful about speaking about something. Don’t speak words that will invite @PDRMsia [the police] to take action. Dare to speak, dare to face the consequences.”

Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, Phil Robertson, has said Khalid “patrols the Twittersphere like a shark in open water“, and opposition politicians have accused him of selective prosecution. Khalid has denied the accusations.

As for the implementation of hudud law – it’s actually very unlikely. Kelantan’s state assembly has approved the proposals, but it’s doubtful that PAS has enough support to gain parliamentary approval. – BBC Trending

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Malaysia – 8th worst in government curbs on religion, says study


The Malaysian Insider

chart

Malaysia has been ranked among the top 10 countries with very high government restrictions on religion, according to the latest findings of US-based think tank Pew Research Center.

The findings, which cover 2013, put Malaysia at the eighth spot in the “very high” category among countries known for state interference or curbs on religion.

Topping the list was China, followed by Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Egypt and Afghanistan.

Malaysia was ranked just a spot lower than Saudi Arabia, while neighbouring Brunei and Singapore were placed at the 15th and 18th spots, respectively.

Malaysia increased its score on restrictions imposed by the state, climbing to 7.9 out of 10 in 2013, from 7.6 the year before.

Compared with six years ago, in June 2007, which was used as a baseline, Malaysia scored 6.4 in terms of government restrictions.

These restrictions were defined as laws, policies and actions restricting religions, as well as measures such as bans on changing one’s religion and preferential treatment accorded to a particular religious group in that country.

The Pew study also measured religious oppression in terms of social hostilities, which covered a range of actions against believers of another religion including vandalism of religious property, desecration of sacred books and violence.

Malaysia scored a decrease in this index, at 2.9 in 2013, down from 3.9 in 2012.

This was in line with an overall downward trend worldwide in social hostilities involving religion, Pew said.

However, Malaysia only scored 1.0 in the June 2007 baseline.

The increase in government restrictions on religion reflect the ongoing tensions in Malaysia over the last few years, involving several issues but notably the use of the word “Allah” by Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians as well as Sikhs, and accusations between Muslims and Christians of attempts to convert one another.

Propagation of non-Muslim religions is prohibited in Malaysia.

There are also concerns over issues arising from the conversion of minors to Islam by one parent without the other’s consent, and heightened intolerance of the practices and cultural aspects of non-Muslims.

Worldwide, while social hostilities declined for 2013, a quarter of the world’s countries still struggled with inter- or intra-religious hostility, the centre said.

Worldwide also, Christians and Muslims were the groups that faced the most harassment in the largest number of countries. – March 1, 2015.

Read:

Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities

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Naked truths of a confused Muslim


FMT

A fussy dresser lifts the veil on conflicts from head to toe

Muslim dressingAs a Muslim, I have learned a valuable lesson: thanks to Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, I now know that wearing Hindu attire and a garland is against the teachings of Islam.

I have learned that it is not appropriate for Muslims to wear the traditional costumes of other religions. Or is it: of other races? Hmm…

I have learned that it is okay to wear a suit but never a kurta or dhoti. I am a female, so that would mean I should wear a dress and not a saree or Punjabi dress. I take it that cheongsam and samfu are also a no-no? But wait, what about baju Melayu or baju kurung with a kurta or samfu collar or neckline? I am confused.

I now worry my faith is easily swayed by my wrong choice of attire. Sigh.

But wait, what about jubah? If it is wrong to propagate other cultures, why then propagate the Arabic culture? If I am not mistaken, at the time of the Prophet, the Arabs who consisted of Muslims and the non-Muslims, all wore jubah!

Oh, I get it now – it is okay to wear any attire from a Muslim nation. But then why did Asri say it is okay to wear a suit – Mat Sallehs wear suit and most of them are Christians! Perhaps he means wear anything that is modest (covering aurat). Err… but kurta, dhoti and samfu are all attire that are modest, right? I am confused.

What do you think about the Pakistani kameez aur shalwar? Although Pakistan is an Islamic nation, the kameez aur salwar is also worn by Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in India. So how now? Scratching my head…

How about sarong? Are we allowed to wear sarong? I sure hope Islam allows one to wear sarong because it’s so comfy, you know.

That reminds me of the pilgrims to Mecca. Why do the male pilgrims in Mecca cover themselves up like Buddhist monks and Hindu priests?
Confused… confused…

There is one thing I don’t quite understand. If one should dress like a Muslim, then why did Asri not mention anything about Rosmah not covering her head? Ayoyo I pening la. Wait, perhaps I should refrain from saying ‘Ayoyo’ (Masya Allah, may God forgive me) because it resembles the Hindus.

I have learned that Muslims are not allowed to wear garlands although it is merely an Indian way of showering respect and gratitude to guests. Perhaps Asri should also make some effort to preach to our Muslim brothers and sisters in Pakistan and Bangladesh where garlands are a normal practice.

Oh, a question! Does that mean I should refrain from wearing garlands when I visit Hawaii?

How about the orchid garlands used to welcome our guests during Tourism Malaysia campaigns?

Thanks to Asri, I have come to understand that as a Muslim, I should be careful in selecting which event I should attend. Any religious event should be a big fat no: that would include Thaipusam, Christmas and the Hungry Ghost Festival. But how about Ponggal, Chinese New Year, Chap Goh Mei, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween? Are those festivals religious based or cultural?

Hmmm… I am more confused.

How about inviting the non-Muslims to Muslims religious events such as Eid Mubarak? Should I stop having Raya open house? Or perhaps I shall only invite the non-kafirs?
I know now that it is acceptable to attend certain religious-cultural events if you are a leader of a nation because it is your duty and responsibility to be the leader of everyone of different faiths and cultures. Fine.

Does that mean it is okay for me to attend a religious festival organised by a very close friend? As a good friend, wouldn’t it be my duty to show my love and respect by accepting his invitation? Or does it only apply if you are the Prime Minister of a country? I am confused.

I am not only confused, I am actually getting a slight migraine now.

I would really appreciate it if our Muftis would issue a fatwa on how Muslims (including the PM and Ministers) should be attired when attending non-Muslim functions. It could save me from all these confusion.

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Malaysia – The dangers of naming God


The Malaysian Insider

The dangers of naming God – William Grimm

Zeus

I wish I could remember the exact words and who it was who said them to the effect that while Christianity can be believed, some Christians are absolutely incredible.

The same can be said of Islam and some Muslims.

The biggest threats to Islam are not from non-Muslims. The threats come from within the community.

Terrorists who claim that Islam justifies and even mandates atrocious violence come to mind immediately, of course. Their actions reinforce prejudices against the religion, giving Islam a reputation for violence.
But it is not only the perpetrators of violence who undermine the image of Islam – even, I assume and even hope, among many Muslims.

There are people who claim to speak on behalf of Islam, making ridiculous statements and performing horrific acts, which can only make non-Muslims wonder on what it takes to be a Muslim. Of course, these individuals do not represent all Muslims.

In fairness, Catholics like those who get themselves nailed to crosses in the Philippines each Holy Week, or evangelical Christians in America who handle rattlesnakes, raise the same sort of questions about Christians. Lunacy in the name of religion is not a Muslim monopoly.

A couple of years ago, an Egyptian Muslim group declared that, “Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian.” The declaration was accompanied by a photo that showed that when a tomato is cut in half horizontally its core resembles a cross.

Eventually, ridicule of the commandment resulted in the group’s issuing a revision that allowed the eating of tomatoes so long as they were not cut in a particular way.

Now, a majority-Muslim nation is joining the parade of the brainless who seem intent on making Islam a laughing stock in the world.

The Malaysian justice system has upheld a ban on a Catholic newspaper’s use of the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia-language texts to refer to God. This is in spite of the fact that such use by Christians in Arabic-speaking lands predates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.

Much of the religious vocabulary of Bahasa Malaysia, comes from Arabic. In fact, the word “Allah” is ultimately of pagan origin, as is the English word “god”.

Those disturbed by the ban on the centuries-old use of a single word in a single publication see it as a first step toward increased suppression of religious and ethnic minorities in Malaysia. They are probably right. In that case, the country will be seen as not simply ridiculous, but malevolent.

Are the Malaysian government agencies lately promoting tourism to that country ready to see that happen? Are most Malaysian Muslims happy to see yet one more event that increases perceptions of their religion and their country as not only tritely ridiculous, but potentially dangerous?

Christians and other minorities in Malaysia legitimately fear that proscribing the use of “Allah” in the Catholic newsweekly Herald will simply be the beginning of more persecution to come.

In the meantime, however, might this ban open new possibilities for Malaysian Catholics to broaden and deepen their relationship with God?

Of course. Persecution always provides that opportunity. But, on a less dramatic level, having to search for new vocabulary can be a blessing.

A priest in Cambodia who was engaged in translating Scripture, liturgy, the catechism and other texts into Khmer, the local language, said there is a value in not using common words.

The problem with commonly used words is that people think they know what they mean. And that meaning might not capture the richness of new thoughts. They have become stale and carry no more taste. They may even carry connotations that go against what we really hope to say.

A difficult or uncommon word can stop us and make us think: “I’m not sure what that word means. What might it mean?” Thought begins and insight can happen.

This can be especially true when we begin to think that a word can encompass the reality of God. In fact, the words we use can carry “linguistic DNA” that can infect that relationship.

For example, the English word “god” is of pagan Germanic origin. The Latin “deus”, related to the Greek Zeus via “theos”, does not speak of the one true God who is love.

Both the Germanic and Mediterranean words originally denoted a domineering warrior, though mythology does present Zeus as a rather promiscuous lover in a non-Christian sense of the word.

The search for an alternative that Malaysian authorities are imposing on the Herald may be a gift in disguise.

My personal recommendation is that Herald follow Jewish custom and simply say the Bahasa equivalent of “The Name”, which is “ha-shem” in Hebrew. That might even be worth considering for English use, a way of opening up new vistas for reflection and prayer. – ucanews.com, January 26, 2015.

* Maryknoll priest Fr William Grimm is a publisher of Ucanews, based in Tokyo.

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12 Worst Ideas Religion Has Unleashed on the World


Alternet

religionThese dubious concepts advocate conflict, cruelty and suffering.
By Valerie Tarico / AlterNet  January 21, 2015

Some of humanity’s technological innovations are things we would have been better off without: the medieval rack, the atomic bomb and powdered lead potions come to mind. Religions tend to invent ideas or concepts rather than technologies, but like every other creative human enterprise, they produce some really bad ones along with the good.

I’ve previously highlighted some of humanity’s best moral and spiritual concepts, our shared moral core. Here, by way of contrast, are some of the worst. These twelve dubious concepts promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, they belong in the dustbin of history just as soon as we can get them there.

Chosen People – The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people). But in reality many sects endorse some version of this concept. The New Testament identifies Christians as the chosen ones. Calvinists talk about “God’s elect,” believing that they themselves are the special few who were chosen before the beginning of time. Jehovah’s witnesses believe that 144,000 souls will get a special place in the afterlife. In many cultures certain privileged and powerful bloodlines were thought to be descended directly from gods (in contrast to everyone else).

Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer. “Gang symbols” like special haircuts, attire, hand signals and jargon differentiate insiders from outsiders and subtly (or not so subtly) convey to both that insiders are inherently superior.

Heretics – Heretics, kafir, or infidels (to use the medieval Catholic term) are not just outsiders, they are morally suspect and often seen as less than fully human. In the Torah, slaves taken from among outsiders don’t merit the same protections as Hebrew slaves. Those who don’t believe in a god are corrupt, doers of abominable deeds. “There is none [among them] who does good,” says the Psalmist.

Islam teaches the concept of “dhimmitude” and provides special rules for the subjugation of religious minorities, with monotheists getting better treatment than polytheists. Christianity blurs together the concepts of unbeliever and evildoer. Ultimately, heretics are a threat that needs to be neutralized by conversion, conquest, isolation, domination, or—in worst cases—mass murder.

Holy War – If war can be holy, anything goes. The medieval Roman Catholic Church conducted a twenty year campaign of extermination against heretical Cathar Christians in the south of France, promising their land and possessions to real Christians who signed on as crusaders. Sunni and Shia Muslims have slaughtered each other for centuries. The Hebrew scriptures recount battle after battle in which their war God, Yahweh, helps them to not only defeat but also exterminate the shepherding cultures that occupy their “Promised Land.” As in later holy wars, like the modern rise of ISIS, divine sanction let them kill the elderly and children, burn orchards, and take virgin females as sexual slaves—all while retaining a sense of moral superiority.

Blasphemy – Blasphemy is the notion that some ideas are inviolable, off limits to criticism, satire, debate, or even question. By definition, criticism of these ideas is an outrage, and it is precisely this emotion–outrage–that the crime of blasphemy evokes in believers. The Bible prescribes death for blasphemers; the Quran does not, but death-to-blasphemers became part of Shariah during medieval times.

The idea that blasphemy must be prevented or avenged has caused millions of murders over the centuries and countless other horrors. As I write, blogger Raif Badawi awaits round after round of flogging in Saudi Arabia—1000 lashes in batches of 50—while his wife and children plead from Canada for the international community to do something.

Glorified suffering – Picture secret societies of monks flogging their own backs. The image that comes to mind is probably from Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, but the idea isn’t one he made up. A core premise of Christianity is that righteous torture—if it’s just intense and prolonged enough–can somehow fix the damage done by evil, sinful behavior. Millions of crucifixes litter the world as testaments to this belief. Shia Muslims beat themselves with lashes and chains during Aashura, a form of sanctified suffering called Matam that commemorates the death of the martyr Hussein. Self-denial in the form of asceticism and fasting is a part of both Eastern and Western religions, not only because deprivation induces altered states but also because people believe suffering somehow brings us closer to divinity.

Our ancestors lived in a world in which pain came unbidden, and people had very little power to control it. An aspirin or heating pad would have been a miracle to the writers of the Bible, Quran, or Gita. Faced with uncontrollable suffering, the best advice religion could offer was to lean in or make meaning of it. The problem, of course is that glorifying suffering—turning it into a spiritual good—has made people more willing to inflict it on not only themselves and their enemies but also those who are helpless, including the ill or dying (as in the case of Mother Teresa and the American Bishops) and children (as in the child beating Patriarchy movement).

Genital mutilation – Primitive people have used scarification and other body modifications to define tribal membership for as long as history records. But genital mutilation allowed our ancestors several additional perks—if you want to call them that. Infant circumcision in Judaism serves as a sign of tribal membership, but circumcision also serves to test the commitment of adult converts. In one Bible story, a chieftain agrees to convert and submit his clan to the procedure as a show of commitment to a peace treaty. (While the men lie incapacitated, the whole town is then slain by the Israelites.)

In Islam, painful male circumcision serves as a rite of passage into manhood, initiation into a powerful club. By contrast, in some Muslim cultures cutting away or burning the female clitoris and labia ritually establishes the submission of women by reducing sexual arousal and agency. An estimated 2 million girls annually are subjected to the procedure, with consequences including hemorrhage, infection, painful urination and death.

Blood sacrifice – In the list of religion’s worst ideas, this is the only one that appears to be in its final stages. Only Hindus continue to ritually hack and slaughter sacrificial animals on a mass scale. 

When our ancient ancestors slit the throats on humans and animals or cut out their hearts or sent the smoke of sacrifices heavenward, many believed that they were literally feeding supernatural beings. In time, in most religions, the rationale changed—the gods didn’t need feeding so much as they needed signs of devotion and penance. The residual child sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible (yes it is there) typically has this function. Christianity’s persistent focus on blood atonement—the notion of Jesus as the be-all-end-all lamb without blemish, the final “propitiation” for human sin—is hopefully the last iteration of humanity’s long fascination with blood sacrifice.

Hell – Whether we are talking about Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, an afterlife filled with demons, monsters, and eternal torture was the worst suffering the Iron Age minds could conceive and medieval minds could elaborate. Invented, perhaps, as a means to satisfy the human desire for justice, the concept of Hell quickly devolved into a tool for coercing behavior and belief.

Most Buddhists see hell as a metaphor, a journey into the evil inside the self, but the descriptions of torturing monsters and levels of hell can be quite explicit. Likewise, many Muslims and Christians hasten to assure that it is a real place, full of fire and the anguish of non-believers. Some Christians have gone so far as to insist that the screams of the damned can be heard from the center of the Earth or that observing their anguish from afar will be one of the pleasures of paradise.

Karma – Like hell, the concept of karma offers a selfish incentive for good behavior—it’ll come back at you later—but it has enormous costs. Chief among these is a tremendous weight of cultural passivity in the face of harm and suffering. Secondarily, the idea of karma sanctifies the broad human practice of blaming the victim. If what goes around comes around, then the disabled child or cancer patient or untouchable poor (or the hungry rabbit or mangy dog) must have done something in either this life or a past one to bring their position on themselves.

Eternal Life – To our weary and unwashed ancestors, the idea of gem encrusted walls, streets of gold, the fountain of youth, or an eternity of angelic chorus (or sex with virgins) may have seemed like sheer bliss. But it doesn’t take much analysis to realize how quickly eternal paradise would become hellish—an endless repetition of never changing groundhog days (because how could they change if they were perfect).

The real reason that the notion of eternal life is such a bad invention, though, is the degree to which it diminishes and degrades existence on this earthly plane. With eyes lifted heavenward, we can’t see the intricate beauty beneath our feet. Devout believers put their spiritual energy into preparing for a world to come rather than cherishing and stewarding the one wild and precious world we have been given.

Male Ownership of Female Fertility – The notion of women as brood mares or children as assets likely didn’t originate with religion, but the idea that women were created for this purpose, that if a woman should die of childbearing “she was made to do it,” most certainly did. Traditional religions variously assert that men have a god-ordained right to give women in marriage, take them in war, exclude them from heaven, and kill them if the origins of their offspring can’t be assured. Hence Catholicism’s maniacal obsession with the virginity of Mary and female martyrs.

As we approach the limits of our planetary life support system and stare dystopia in the face, defining women as breeders and children as assets becomes ever more costly. We now know that resource scarcity is a conflict trigger and that demand for water and arable land is growing even as both resources decline. And yet, a pope who claims to care about the desperate poor lectures them against contraception while Muslim leaders ban vasectomies in a drive to outbreed their enemies.

Bibliolatry (aka Book Worship) – Preliterate people handed down their best guesses about gods and goodness by way of oral tradition, and they made objects of stone and wood, idols, to channel their devotion. Their notions of what was good and what was Real and how to live in moral community with each other were free to evolve as culture and technology changed. But the advent of the written word changed that. As our Iron Age ancestors recorded and compiled their ideas into sacred texts, these texts allowed their understanding of gods and goodness to become static. The sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbid idol worship, but over time the texts themselves became idols, and many modern believers practice—essentially—book worship, also known as bibliolatry.

“Because the faith of Islam is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the religion,” says one young Muslim explaining his faith online. His statement betrays a naïve lack of information about the origins of his own dogmas. But more broadly, it sums up the challenge all religions face moving forward. Imagine if a physicist said, “Because our understanding of physics is perfect, it does not allow for any innovations to the field.”

Adherents who think their faith is perfect, are not just naïve or ill informed. They are developmentally arrested, and in the case of the world’s major religions, they are anchored to the Iron Age, a time of violence, slavery, desperation and early death.

Ironically, the mindset that our sacred texts are perfect betrays the very quest that drove our ancestors to write those texts. Each of the men who wrote part of the Bible, Quran, or Gita took his received tradition, revised it, and offered his own best articulation of what is good and real. We can honor the quest of our spiritual ancestors, or we can honor their answers, but we cannot do both.

Religious apologists often try to deny, minimize, or explain away the sins of scripture and the evils of religious history. “It wasn’t really slavery.” “That’s just the Old Testament.” “He didn’t mean it that way.” “You have to understand how bad their enemies were.” “Those people who did harm in the name of God weren’t real [Christians/Jews/Muslims].” Such platitudes may offer comfort, but denying problems doesn’t solve them. Quite the opposite, in fact. Change comes with introspection and insight, a willingness to acknowledge our faults and flaws while still embracing our strengths and potential for growth.

In a world that is teeming with humanity, armed with pipe bombs and machine guns and nuclear weapons and drones, we don’t need defenders of religion’s status quo—we need real reformation, as radical as that of the 16th Century and much, much broader. It is only by acknowledging religion’s worst ideas that we have any hope of embracing the best.

Related:

The Religious Extremism the Media Doesn’t Tell You About

belief…And therein lies the most dangerous root of religious extremism: obedience to the state. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and the non-relgious in many countries exercise a substantial amount of  fanaticism toward their governments, which claim to represent their nationalities. – Global Research

 

 

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Malaysia – I will fight Islamic authorities till the end, vows Kassim Ahmad


The Malaysian Insider

Kassim

Scholar Kassim Ahmad says his age is not an obstacle to his legal battle against the religious authorities. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, January 18, 2015.

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Hounded by Islamic authorities and taken to court for having different religious views, Muslim scholar and activist Dr Kassim Ahmad, who is facing charges for allegedly insulting Islam, has vowed to fight to the end.

The 82-year-old Malay scholar’s slight, frail frame belies a tenacity to stand up for his views and beliefs. He believes that God willing, he will be the victor in court.

“I am an incorrigible optimist. I am a fighter. I won’t give up. You fight, you lose. You fight again and you lose again. Then you will win… like a child learning to walk has to fall down and get up again,” he told The Malaysian Insider recently at his home in Kulim.

He said his age was not an obstacle for him to continue his legal battle although going to court in Kuala Lumpur was tiring.

On January 6, Kassim lost his first appeal to challenge the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) that charged him with insulting Islam.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that his case fell under the Shariah Court, dismissing his judicial review application to challenge his arrest and prosecution in the Shariah Court for allegedly insulting Islam and disobeying the religious authorities over his participation at a seminar.

Kassim was first charged in March last year at a Shariah lower court in Putrajaya with insulting Islam and defying religious authorities at the seminar entitled “The Thoughts of Kassim Ahmad: A Review”, which was organised by the Perdana Leadership Foundation.

However, the prosecution later produced Kassim in the Shariah High Court. Kassim had pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Kassim had apparently accused some ulama (religious scholars) in Malaysia of imitating the “priesthood caste” system. He riled up Muslims on both sides of the divide when he questioned the use of hadith to interpret the Quran, and described Prophet Muhammad as “just a messenger of Allah”.

In his lecture titled “The nation’s direction in the next 30 years”, Kassim also questioned the hijab (Islamic headscarf) worn by Muslim women, saying that “the hair is not part of the aurat” (parts of the body which need to be covered, according to Islamic teachings).

Kassim said his lawyer had filed his appeal to the Shariah High Court and he would leave it to him to make the arguments in court.

“If I am younger, they (the authorities) would have gotten it from me… Without wanting to boast, I can take them on. I just have to use the Quran, the highest authority in Islam. History will vindicate me,” he said.

The former Malay Studies lecturer at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies lamented that people in Malaysia were losing their freedom to think and voice their views, and that the authorities were becoming more narrow-minded.

“From my experience, religious people in the country are narrow-minded. This was never in Prophet Muhammad’s nature. They are doing what the prophet never did in his life.

“It is as if they are talking on God’s behalf and nobody dares question them,” he said.

Kassim also asked if it was so wrong that he wrote a book that presented his interpretation of Islam, which was different from the mainstream interpretation prescribed by the authorities.

The book he referred to was the banned “Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula” (Hadith: A Revaluation) published in 1986 which earned him the label “anti-hadith”.

The situation Kassim is facing now is rather similar to what he went through those years ago with the book.

“It was like the sky over Malaysia was crashing down at the time. There were daily debates about my book for two months. Half of the people supported me while the other half opposed me.

“I have no intention of inciting anybody, even when I spoke at the seminar. People might not believe me, but I have been studying the Quran since I was 17,” he said, adding that he has a collection of 23 Quranic “tafsir” (commentaries).

Kassim said that about four months ago, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whom he had known for decades, asked him how he knew all those things about religion.

“I told him it was because I read books lah,” he said, laughing.

When he was attacked for his views following the seminar last year, Dr Mahathir – the patron of the foundation which organised the event – was the only prominent person who defended him against a barrage of criticism.

The elder statesman, known for his wit and unbending will, said Kassim was labelled “anti-hadith” because detractors failed to debate with him on religious issues.

As he faces his legal challenges, Kassim finds there are people who respect him for standing up for his views and even some who want to help him.

“My lawyer recently showed me a letter written by two doctors. I will not mention their names. One of them is American, whom I do not know personally.

“He said he did not think I will get justice in Malaysia and offered me and my family lodgings in Washington. He suggested that I seek asylum in the United States and he is willing to finance me.

“I was touched by the offer but I am not taking it. I will fight my case and I believe I will win, with God’s will,” he said.

In the meantime, Kassim is working on translating the Quran into Malay, a project he started in 1995 that is now half-finished.

He said he was also encouraged to write his autobiography by Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim, the former Information, Communications and Culture minister, who phoned him about three months ago.

“He offered to finance the project. He also said if I want to get my old books republished, he could help, even for the banned ones that could be published overseas,” he said.

Kassim said he was planning to devote the next three years on his projects and then, if he was still alive after that, he wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

“My writing is important,” said the man, who is also a poet. – January 18, 2015.

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