Take Back Islam: Freedom of Religion & Freedom from It

Take Back Islam: Freedom of Religion & Freedom from It

Written by Stephanie Siam

Like many reverts to Islam, my conversion did not come without its share of awkward and unsure feelings: Was I making the right choice? Would I still be accepted in my circles? How would I be perceived by friends and family?

Alhumdulillah, I had a supportive network of friends, and I have family members who, above all, respect my inherent right to make such a profound decision on my own.

No compulsion in Islam
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

Now, I understand the commonly-held belief that when we’re born we are, in the literal sense of the word, Muslims (in complete submission to Allah). That is why many consider themselves “reverts” instead of “converts”.

But in terms of being spiritually-identifying and religiously-practicing individuals, we are not anything. For most people, whatever religion (or non-religion) their parents ascribe to will be the one they also follow into young adulthood (and quite often far beyond). But this doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily chosen it.

For a great majority, they’ve gone along with it, without questioning.

Yet, being a practitioner of a religion requires conviction in the heart. As a certain Elder once reminded me:

Just because your mother or father are a certain religion doesn’t make you that religion. This is NOT DNA people! We do not inherit it!

Unfortunately, not everybody around the world is afforded this inherent right to choose their religious affiliation (or non-affiliation).

One of the biggest news stories circling the globe as of late is the case of Sudanese doctor Meriam Ishag, who was accused of committing adultery, apostatizing from Islam and, ultimately, sentenced to death. Though current rumors (which I pray are true!) announce Ibrahim will soon be freed from her unlawful incarceration, the distress this issue has caused in the international community is still highly tangible – and will continue to be for a long time.

How can we call ourselves The Religion of Peace when those who act as the talking heads and spokespeople of all Muslims continue to misappropriate, bend and twist the sayings of our dear Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and verses of the perfect Qur’an?

How can we stand up and say, “Islam is the religion of human rights”? Proclaim that it “provides rights and equality for women”? Defend it against naysayers who call Muslims, collectively, “terrorists” and “barbarians”? (Or maybe a better question might be, “Why should we have to defend it?” But, that’s for another post. ..)

And it boils down to this next sentence:

Trying to convince a person about something when they are adamant their opinion is correct is like trying to move the iceberg out of the way of the Titanic.

Sailing_too_Close
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

What we have is a giant ship of people (take your pick: Muslims, Christians, atheists, whatever) heading toward a giant problem (the issue of apostasy and its possible punishments).

As much as we’d like, we can’t move the issue (iceberg). If we did, another one would just come up at a later point in time, we’d be back at the beginning. Specifically, someone else would defect from their religion, possibly bringing a harsh verdict down upon themselves. And, in the case of Sudan, illegal.

That’s right. It is illegal, since the sentence directly contradicts Sudan’s 2005 Interim National Constitution, which

provides for freedom of religion in Sudan. In Article 38, on Freedom of Creed and Worship, the Constitution assures that “[e]very person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship … no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.”

Sudan also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1986. The ICCPR is legally binding and is monitored by the Human Rights Council. Furthermore, Sudan is a member of the UN, an organization that recognized the importance of freedom of religion or belief in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, Article 27(3) of Sudan’s Constitution expressly states that international human rights instruments ratified by Sudan shall become part of the Constitution [. . .] — Sudan Democracy First Group

Be that as it may, I am not here to argue the legal or penal code of Sudan (though it clearly needs enforcement).

What I want to do is draw attention to the basic insinuation that has landed Dr. Ishag in prison to begin with. The very idea that apostasy should be addressed by an Earthly council so that the apostate can be punished in the duniya (the physical life prior to the spiritual Hereafter).

All too often, people of various religious persuasion take it upon themselves to enact punishment (vengeance?) upon those who do not conform to the ideals or standards of society, theology, or indoctrination. Whoa, that was a loaded statement. Basically, it’s the mindset of

You are wrong. I am right. You don’t agree that I am right. I am going to punish/kill/imprison/maim/torture you.

But where did humans — HUMANS — get this balderdash idea that Allah needs humans to protect Him? Why would the Creator of the known and unknown universes, the artist of ultimate perfection, need an imperfect creature such as man to force atonement on others for not choosing to do something that is…….a CHOICE?

Let’s not forget there is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:256):

2:256

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.

 

But that verse is always given as a shield by those who oppose mistreatment of not only apostates, but anyone who chooses not to follow or conform to Islamic teachings. Let’s look at a few others that should serve to remind us that we, mere humans, are not the judge and jury of others when it comes to dealing with actions that directly (and predominately) affects a person’s soul.

 

Take, for example, Qur’an 5:54, which tells us that Allah does not NEED us, as he can replace us at any time with another believer:

5:54

O you who have believed, whoever of you should revert from his religion

– Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him [who are] humble toward the believers, powerful against the disbelievers [. . .] That is the favor of Allah;

He bestows it upon whom He wills [. . .]

 

Or Qur’an 9:67, which reminds us that if we forget Allah, He will forget about us:

 

9:67

[. . .] They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them [. . .]

 

And yet, the basic truth is this:

There is NO surat (chapter) in the Qur’an, or verse therein, that advocates, prescribes, suggests or commands execution for the apostate of Islam.

Furthermore, the actions that were permitted by the Prophet (SAW) during his time to clarify vague descriptions in the Qur’an were done as example. Yet, neither the Prophet nor any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for renouncing their faith, though they had ample chance to do so.  If the punishment were not only permissible, but indeed recommended, the Prophet would have been the first to cast a stone to set the example.

Now, am I saying there is no punishment for apostasy? No. The Qur’an tells us in 9:74 the punishment for apostasy is jahannam (Hellfire). But that punishment is Allah’s to dole out, and Allah’s alone.

So, this brings us back to our ship, heading straight for disaster, as nobody can agree on a solution to avoid the problem.

So, then, how do we avoid running into the iceberg?

We must find an answer that allows all people involved to be true to their respective beliefs, dogmas, ideas, interpretations. In simple terms, we must agree to disagree, while at the same time agree to take action based on a common – no, core – similarity.  But what is that similarity?

The answer is the acknowledgement of humanity.

If you take a group of various theist/atheist scholars (or regular Joes) and ask them a pertinent, faith-based question, you’ll more than likely get a different answer from each attendee based on their ___________ (fill in the blank with your choice of beliefs, religion, interpretation of theological text, agenda, etc.).

But ask them a direct, logic-based question that you might ask a 1st-grader, aka Someone Who is Not Affected by Theological/Atheological Thinking, such as:

Is it right to kill another human?

Shakles
graphic by Nicole Elmasry

Unless they are inherently evil, all of these individuals who can’t even agree on how the Earth was made can unanimously utter a single word:

No.

Now, I see your wheels spinning, Readers (a few unnamed ones, specifically). Here’s the follow-up question:

If there is NO PHYSICAL VIOLENCE involved, is it right to kill another human?

Again, No.

And I think we can agree that it is wrong to take a mother from her children if she isn’t physically neglecting or harming them. Or a child from its father. Or to separate spouses because an intangible entity (government) decides their marriage is not valid by some inane ruling.

Therefore, the only logical solution that allows us to avoid certain catastrophe at the hands of too many captains at the helm is:

When in doubt, do no harm.

And, that, dear Readers is the bond of humanity that will save the ship from going down.

If we can’t agree on the “right” answer, we can at least agree that leaving apostates alone to answer for their own choices on Judgement Day is the least harmful answer in this Life. Perhaps by granting clemency, by truly following the peaceful path, the apostate may be brought round. Maybe he won’t. But, in the end, it’s not our decision to make. Because Allah brings to Islam whom He wills.

And if we execute a person who renounces his faith in Allah, what we’re ULTIMATELY doing is usurping the WILL OF ALLAH to guide him home.

 

#TakeBackIslam 

Read more about our Take Back Islam effort: here, here, here, and here

 

References:

Sudan Democracy First Group (31 May 2014). “The dilemma of freedom of religion in Sudan.” Sudan Tribune. Retrieved 9 June 2014, from http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article51185

 

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One Message … 4 Memes

One Message … 4 Memes

While roaming around on Tumblr, I found this post from zindagichist, and it so perfectly described the idea that lead me to Islam that I couldn’t resist blogging it.

Q: Salam. I understand that Christianity and Judaism came before Islam. Why?

Why didn’t Allah just send prophets to strengthen one religion

(maybe Christianity), and not completely form a different religion later on: Islam?

A: Walikum Salaam,

A common misunderstanding is that Islam is the youngest among the Abrahamic faiths, and to be quite frank, this is not true.

 Islam says that there were 124,000 Prophets.  

Adam (Peace and Blessing be Upon Him-PBUH) was the first human being on earth as well as the first Prophet.  From these Prophets, included Moses, Jesus, David, Solomon, Jacob, peace be upon them all.  The message which Moses and Jesus taught is no different than Adam or Prophet Muhammad.

Their messages were consistent with each other without a shadow of doubt.  But you see each Prophet was sent to a certain community, while the last Prophet (Muhammad-PBUH) was sent for all of humanity.  Each Prophet was sent to a community for a specific reason, keep that in mind.

There all part of one religion.The concept of ‘Judaism’ or ‘Christianity’ came later by individuals who did not even see or hear Jesus or Moses.

Moses and Aaron were both prophets and they lived during the same time, with the same intention of guidance.  People still wanted to kill them.  Allah sent many messengers, but society still wanted to kill them.  So in essence, Allah did not just introduce a different religion called Islam.

He completed the original system of life called Islam.  It even says in the Qur’an, the only religion known to Allah is Islam.  Moses, Jesus, Jacob, Adam were all Muslims.

Allah spread out the teachings little by little, not all at once.  Even the Qur’an was revealed in a span of 23 years, not all at once to society.

It’s not a stupid question at all and I’m very glad you asked this, if you have further questions then do not hesitate.

… And now for some funny stuff …

For the Arab-aphile


arab pronunciation


pronunciation fails. But ask a non-native Arabic speaker

how to say “Astighfirallah” … Now that is funny.


For the business owners.

tally ban


Corny? Sure. Bordering on the inappropriate? Mayhap.  Still funny.


For the Harry Potter lover who has a wandering eye.

gaze


Yes, you.


For the foodies

halal


There is WHAT in this Gumbo?

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Memories from the Dorm: A Conversion Story

What follows is my old roommate’s response to I Bear Witness: How I Came to Islam Parts 1 and 2.

Written by Gracie Lawrence (the roommate)

You know it has been at least 16 years since we had those talks, and reading about it reminded me how I am still trying to “figure it all out”.

I remember it was a time of a lot of questioning, we were free from both conservative Christians AND Muslims – where we could just THINK and we had the time to do it.

Dorm Room conversations

I don’t recall thinking that it was strange to think those things- but I use to have the bad habit of thinking everyone must be the way I am (got screwed over a lot for it, lol).

I remember during that time your mother had passed away. That impacted me a lot. I think I remember that more than the details of our talks exactly (I was a bit of a chatterbox, I think you once referred to me as a puppy and you were the cat. And a lot of times you just needed some peace and to be left alone- and I didn’t understand that).

I know one thing I struggled with as I became Muslim was wondering if I could make that cultural leap/ sacrifice and I would take a few steps forwards, and then a few steps back- then I just dove in and became extreme- then balanced out, made more mistakes, etc.

Ultimately, I became Muslims to become a better Christian- I think you remember us speaking about that. I think even from a cultural viewpoint we both saw something lacking, even lonely in our modern North American existence and I saw Islam as the natural progression to fill that gap.

Nowadays, I see Christians and Jews as very close to me. Christians and Jews are easy to understand us, as we have the same background- are just like siblings that bicker.

Anyway, one things that is great about Islam, even if people are reluctant to believe in anything divine, is that it makes for a great play-book on earth i.e. you are much less likely to F-up your life than if left to your own whims or faulty logic. You are more likely to win the game if you are given the instructions of how to play. Ya know? I think that for something like this to exist- is, by itself, pretty awesome.

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I Bear Witness: How I came to Islam, Part 2

Written by Theresa Corbin

Part 1 here

Where did I leave off? Oh yes … So there I was, dying from vampire Lestat’s bite only to be reborn as eternal evil. Oh wait, that’s a different story.

Eh hem, so there I was, feeling like I had been lied to my whole life, trying to cling desperately to my culture and simultaneously trying to figure out what the truth really was. I was confused, embittered, and lost.

hotmess

I believed in God, I just didn’t know what was the correct path to Him. I alternated between ignoring the question, flipping the question off, and seeking answers.

Now that I think about it, I had turned my culture into my new religion. To be the best worshiper at the altar of culture, I never wanted to miss a party, but wished I could just yell at all those kids and tell them to turn their racket down. I looked for answers in the holy books of Vogue and InStyle, but really wished I wouldn’t be considered a freak if I read and talked about Anna Karenina.

I was a hot mess, as the saying goes.

My culture was making me miserable. And my roommate was suffering most of its brunt. She spent much of her time studying other religions and talking to people of different faiths, allowing me to tag along from time to time. After much thought and deliberation, she converted to Islam.

I cannot say how she came to this decision. By this point, my mother had passed away, and I was busy with my grief and self-pity.

I had become a capital A-hole, challenging my newly Muslim roommate’s every move. I had all the cultural perceptions of Islam that can be expected. I don’t even know from where I picked them up. I knew nothing of the religion besides it being something that was “backwards” and tried to take women’s rights away from them. And I knew I was not down with that.

Our dorm room discussion became episode after episode of When Corbins (that’s me) Attack.

rejecting islam makes you angryI accosted her when she decided to wear the headscarf. “Why do you wear that?” I asked as snide as I could be.

And she answered calmly and simply. “So, that I can be recognized as a believing woman. So that I can say who sees what of my body and am not a victim of the male gaze.”

I not only heard what she said, I saw it in action. I didn’t feel more liberate with less clothing. I felt picked apart and judged, and more often than not I felt like prey.

I longed for the respect that I saw my newly Muslim friend and other Muslim women receive from men as they wore their long and loose clothing. The thought of being in control over who would see me was very appealing.

“Yeah, but women are like second class citizens in your faith,” I spat on another occasion, trying to distance myself from my growing affection for Islam.

She explained that during a time when the Western world treated women like property, Islam taught that men and women were equal in the eyes of God. Islam brought more honor to the mother than the father. It made the woman’s consent to marriage mandatory, a practice that would have been laughed at in the Western world at the time.

Islam gave women the right to own property and businesses. And if a woman were to marry, she would not have to share her wealth with her husband. Islam gave women the right to inherit, unheard of in its day. She listed right after right that women in Islam held nearly 1250 years before women’s lib became a thing.

And these were just a fraction of the conversations we shared about Islam as a way of life. I continued to search. At some point, I thought about Judaism. It was the original monotheism. Since I wanted to get back to the original religion, this seemed logical to me.

When I voiced my Jewish aspirations to my roommate, we talked at length about the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She explained to me the Islamic belief in all the prophets of Judaism, Christianity, and then the last prophet who came with the same message as all the rest–Muhammad (PBUH).

Prophet after prophet came until the last prophet Muhammad (PBUT) came with the same message to guide mankind back to the truth one last time. “And to this day his sayings can be verified in chains of narration and the Quran has not been changed by man.” She said.

When I heard, I believed. I had asked God when I was a seven year old in Catholic school and learning about prophet Noah (PBUH) if He should send any more prophets that He would guide me to believe in them. I believe that God granted me this mercy, because it was not until this conversation that it all clicked.

I became less angry about my friend’s new religion and began to listen about all the things she was learning as a Muslim. My next question was “What does it mean to be a Muslim?” I met other Muslim women and questioned them about their faith and read for myself.

What I found out was that in belief I was already a Muslim. I believed in the oneness of God. I believed in the prophets up to and including Muhammad. I believed in the angels, and Divine will, the day of judgement, the holy books, and all that jazz.

But—and this is a big but—I was scared to abandon my culture (turns out I didn’t have to abandon the good things from my culture). I was afraid of receiving the same ridicule I had dished out to my friend.

Islam made sense and even spoke to my nature. But I rebelled and the more I refused Islam and chose my culture over it the more miserable I became. I would find myself weeping for no other reason than the increasing emptiness I felt as I continued to reject Islam and replace it with culture. My health began to fail. I lost my scholarship at school. My personal safety was compromised. I even became homeless.

I defied until I couldn’t go on. I finally admitted, like the most homophobic person who finally comes out of the closet, that I was a Muslim. I finally said the words “I bear witness that there is no God worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger” on the first day of Ramadan 2001.

And what I have learned since has taught me that I never had to give up my American culture entirely. I learned that fearing ridicule from people will only make you a joke. And I learned that their is an amazing peace that comes with being obedient to no one but the One God, the One who created you and designed you to do just that.

 

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I Bear Witness: How I Came to Islam, Part 1

I Bear Witness: How I Came to Islam, Part 1

Written by Theresa Corbin

Of all the choices in life, why would a young woman living in one of the most affluent countries in the world chose Islam? Is she crazy?

Well, it is complicated.

me-1

And, yes, I am little crazy.

But Islam was not the cause or a symptom, but the therapy. Besides, we are all crazy. I find that those who don’t own their crazy are indeed the craziest.

No, there was no “miracle” or near death experience that prompted the decision. There was no man promising me love, riches, and life-long happiness if I would just convert. There wasn’t even a parting of the Gulf of Mexico.

My conversion came about through years of thinking, arguing, denying, defying, and searching. I would be foolish to think that my life experiences and my disposition did not lend themselves to my eventual decision. But for this post, I will leave them out. You are welcome.

It all began by trying to solve the Jesus problem:

Many, many decades ago, I was born to a virgin … just joking, I was born to a highly educated, agnostic, Vietnam vet with a drinking problem and a deeply religious, sarcastic, but patient, Catholic woman.

dearest, sarcastic mom with her groovy hairstyle
my dearest, sarcastic mom with her groovy hairstyle

Oh, the tales I could about being raised in a house with a violent drunk and a tenacious martyr. It was as though heaven and hell waged war nightly in my home which made me very tired. I am still tired. Seriously, I need a nap.

The parents fought over many things. One topic of contention was what type of education their six children would receive. They came to a compromise. For grammar school, we (the childrens) would be afforded a Catholic education so that we may learn the mass and all the sacraments, etc. (mom’s choice). Then, for high school, we (the aforementioned childrens) would learn the ways of the world in public school (dad’s choice).

In Catholic school, I identified with those people who doubted Noah. This scared the crap out of my seven year-old-self. I made a deeply sincere request to The Creator at this point. I asked God that if He should send any more prophets that He would guide me to believe in them. This will be important later on.

In public school, I encountered people from many walks of life. No Muslims that I knew of, however. All this exposure made me question what made my way of life, culture, and religion so correct and proper?

As I was travelling down this line of questioning, I eventually came to the Jesus question.

I distinctly remember when I first wondered about Jesus’ (Peace be upon him) true nature. I was about 15 years old and I was kneeling in a pew after mass. And all of the sudden the thought popped in my mind. What if Jesus is not God? What if it is a lie? What if my life is based on a lie?- doubt, something I would learn to embrace.

The answer came in the form of manipulation i.e. if you don’t believe, you will go to hell for eternity, etc. Just believe: don’t worry your purdy, little head with thinking too much. Hilarious!

This was like telling a wood pecker not to peck at wood or a beaver not to build a damn dam. I am neurotic. All I do is think. No matter how useless the thought, I think/worry, and worry/think, and think/worry some more for good measure. 

College came, and with it more space to question. Having been manipulated into silencing my intellect, it was difficult for me to give up my indoctrination. However, my college roommate and I discussed many existential topics and religion made the roster often.

She being Baptist and I Catholic, it all began with the innocent comparison of the two sects of Christianity. Then, it dangerously evolved into a debate of such things like why had the Bible been changed so many times? Why are there so many versions? Etc.

We’d opened Pandora’s box and all the repressed questions came pouring out: Did innovators in Christianity base their belief in Jesus on the original Bible or a Greek translated, 18th edition? And if it was many editions and translations later, what was editorialized and/or lost in translation? What had been added or taken out? You know, the typical 18 year-old-girl, sleep-over topics of discussion interspersed with pillow fights.

My dear roommate, who also never let me nap–brought to my attention that something like four hundred years after Jesus lived, Christian leaders decided that Jesus Christ was both human and divine.

the roommate agreement

We naturally wondered how could people come to the decision about Jesus four hundred years after his death. From Prophet to God in an evolving religion.

This eventually evolved into the great debate 1999: was Christianity mixed with Greco-Roman beliefs because of the time and place of its advent? Was Jesus (Peace be upon him) being sacrificed for ‘all of our sins’ just an extension of the belief in pagan sacrifice?

Another suspiciously Greco-Roman belief that was on the debate roster for that year: Jesus and God as son and father: Zeus and Hercules, anyone?

My roommate was more advanced in her thinking than I. She would often ask me, as I feared giving up my belief in Jesus despite the facts, “Is the search for knowledge so dangerous? Can it hurt to really search for the truth? Can it hurt to use our own intellect to find out what is fact and what is fiction?”

And my rebellious nature replied, “No, I would rather err on the side of thinking too much.” Why do I have the ability to think, if I shouldn’t use it on such a fundamental aspect of life? All signs led me to believe that Jesus was not God, there was no trinity, and yes, my life had been based on a lie.

This was the beginning of my journey. 

To be continued here 

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