Stop The Texts

It clings to me like a faded memory. A time before the internet and easy research. A time before ISIS and 911. I was a young boy; albeit a studious little one. I brought my koran to my mother and asked her why is the Koran saying it is okay to have slaves. My mind was panicked and confused. My mother responded by calling a scholar. I asked him on the phone, and he explained to me.

    It is not slavery as you think of it. What do we do with prisoners of war? We have to put them in Jail. Back in the Prophet’s time, they were actually kinder. They gave them to people to be as servants. It is better than jail.

It seemed to be a good explanation, and I handed the phone back to my mother. I won’t fill this post with quotes from the Koran or the Hadith. We are fortunate today to have the Internet and anyone seeking can read the actual sources and the multitude of opinions and interpretations. Everything ranging from legitimizing ISIS style slavery and concubines to Irshad Manji style Lesbian Islam.

What is a Sunni Muslim

It is sometimes hard to explain to people what it is like being raised an Orthodox Sunni Muslim. For most people, religion boils down to a few simple life guides beyond our normal legal rules:

  • Attend temple/church 
  • Abstain from sex before marriage
  • Stay away from hedonism (gambling, drugs…)

Yet, having grown up in Islam and then continuing the education via religious parents and texts, Islam was so much more. We were drilled not to stand and urinate, enter the washroom with the left foot, leave with the right, what prayer to say for an infinite number of actions. Why? The answer was simple, because there is a Hadith or a Koran verse that speaks of it and everything a Muslim does is for the sake of God if done with God in mind. It was a serious matter to the extent that a young classmate told on me for standing and peeing and let's just say the teacher was not impressed.

I give this background because it is my journey of Islam. It was a very textual journey and my mind always sought answers. Years flowed and questions became more numerous. Women’s rights, slavery, inheritance, war, male-female relations. Using mainly the Koran, I found ways of making it fit my worldview, as the Islamic scholar my mother called years ago. Then something changed. The power of the Internet reached me.

The Hadith

Suddenly, I had another great tool to investigate. The complete Hadith collections. No longer was a bound to the Koran and the numerous Islamic books that quoted Hadiths. The hadith for those who don’t know is where most of the Islamic practices are from. The 5 daily prayers or even the 5 pillars of faith. Those aren’t in the Koran, but in the Hadith. So once again, I put on my academic hat, and drilled deep into the hadith and the Tafsir and I struggled once more. How could I agree with much of this? I could not, but once again, I crafted a way out.

The Hadith were compiled by people and people are prone to corruption or error. So I began ignoring much of the Hadith.

The rest as they say is history. I drifted for a few years and eventually questioned why did I believe in Islam in the first place. When I was finally able to say those words, I no longer believe, it felt like the fog had lifted from my eyes. I could see with clarity and cohesion. Like many who have left their faith, it burns through your history. So many things you were told to do or not to were fraudulent. For a while, I sought to share the conclusions with others. I’d show the questionable Koran verses and the Hadith and I was astonished at the lengths people would go to in order to avoid the reality staring into them.. I’d get frustrated and confused. Yet, I remembered the day I asked my mother about slavery. I too was willing to accept the explanation that kept my mind at ease.

It is why I try to caution myself from trying to textually convince people. Oh don’t get me wrong. I point things out and I write about them. Yet, ultimately, it is not an exercise I care to prove. I’ve been down the rabbit hole where words disappear into the fog of meaning. I try to take it more lightly now. It is simply not my role. Others gladly enjoy the textual debate and it is a front skeptics must battle.

The Clarity

Today, I try and emphasize a few key concepts

Why Can’t God Speak Clearly?

  • If the Koran is the word of God and it is meant to be the final revelation to mankind, then why can’t God speak clearly? It really is not that difficult. The Koran speaks very clearly about inheritance or other topics. If God wanted to ban slavery, why is there not a clear banning of slavery in the Koran? Surely, slavery is worth more words than inheritance. And just because slavery could not be stopped, does not mean it should not appear in the Koran. We haven’t stopped theft, murder, alcohol, or gambling, and they are spoken of quite clearly in the Koran. Watch in amazement as I do it; as I write a brilliant verse that could capture banning slavery in all its nuance. 
Slavery is with you as a matter of history, but henceforth it is forbidden to you. Let the current slaves remain as a matter of trade, but know that there are great rewards for those who free a slave
  • It is not particularly difficult to deal with the concept of slavery, even if it is meant to be a transition.Indeed, for Muslims who take commands from the Koran or Hadith with such conviction, be it eating halal meat or covering their hair/face, one should ponder why God can’t speak clearly.

The History

  • We sometimes get lost in our modern humanitarian context. The reality is that 1400 years ago, slavery, concubines, war, and everything else one might find questionable in the Koran/Hadith was simply common place through the world. Whether it was the Aztecs, Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Africans… the world was a much harsher place.
  • It was much less Little Mosque on the Prairie, and much more Game of Thrones. The Arabs were simply not unique and isn’t it likely that the texts mean what they appear to mean, which would be consistent with the life 1400 years ago.
  • To put it simply, is it more likely a young woman falls in love with Islam and Mohammed after her family is butchered, or is it more likely she is a captured women handed out as part of the war booty?

What is so Great about the Koran

  • I’m no stranger to this one. I spent an inordinate amount of time justifying controversial parts of Islamic texts. 
  • Now I ask myself, what great wisdom is there in the Koran compared to any of the thousands upon thousands of human creations. Does the Koran provide more wisdom than our historical and current philosophical texts, scientific texts, ethical texts, legal texts, medical texts, literary texts…
  • Marvel at the Koran’s vague description of an embryo. Or enlighten yourself at the modern world’s thorough and detailed understanding of genetics and embryos. Or even take a stroll through ancient Greek, Babylonian, Italian… books on anatomy. Marvel at the Koran’s advocation of marriage. Or take a stroll through any number of philosophical book or the thousands upon thousands of lifestyle, psychological, and self-help books available today.

This is where I am today. These larger questions aren’t meant to prove anything. They just try and provide context upon how to think of the texts often being analyzed. I personally also find it much better conversation. How would I have responded to these kinds of questions as the younger boy struggling with slavery in the Koranic texts? I really don’t know. I only know that today, this makes a whole lot of sense. In a way, seeing the Koran in this way allows me to even enjoy it as a historical book with bits and pieces of wisdom might find in any number of books.



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