Two Islams: Pristine and Mangled-Up is a chapter from the book American Muslim Agenda available at Amazon and Kindle
Nearly two decades ago, I argued with the Islamophobes that there is only one Islam—period. Unfortunately, there are two Islams: pristine Islam and mangled-up Islam. This chapter is about the administrative aspect of Islam; the next section, the “Essence of Islam,” is about the spiritual point of Islam.
Pristine Islam is practiced by the majority of Muslims (see chapter “Who Are Moderate Muslims?”). They live their religion and let others live theirs. Religion is guidance to live an exemplary life of a good citizen. Religion does not separate them from their fellow beings. Dr. Allama Iqbal wrote, Mazhab Nahin sikhata, aapas may bair rakhna, that is, “religions do not teach one to be divisive or hold others like the other.”
The pristine Islam is administered in two formats: the public and the private. Together, they are about 95 percent of the Muslims worldwide.
Public Islam is open to all and is based on universal teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with least restrictions. It is not controlled by anyone and accommodates a range of practitioners living a very religious life and nonpractitioners. One can call themselves a Muslim with or without practicing the rituals.
It is like a public park available to all humanity. I would estimate that 80 percent of all Muslims practice this form of unrestrictive Islam. No one imposes or chases them to follow the religion. You are entirely free to live your life within the broad guidance that there is a consequence to wrongdoing or doing the right things. Of course, the problems are a product of such freedom. The public Islam is followed by a majority of Sunni Muslims.
Private Islam is also a part of pristine Islam and is administered privately and run like a private club managed by influential leaders. They have additional rules of membership to keep the group intact. “Freedom does differ” is frowned upon. Most of the Shia versions of Islam such as Bohra, Ismaili, Alawi, and Twelvers fall in this category. The Sufi, Ahl-i Hadith, and other versions of Sunni Islam are also a part of this group. Then there is the Ahmadiyya version of Islam, which is also part of this group. All these groups are relatively well managed with restrictions; if the members fail to follow the rules, they may be excommunicated. Restrictions have their own benefits. However, about 15–19 percent of Muslims are following private pristine Islam.
The pristine Islam is based on the belief that God has created the entire universe in balance and harmony (Quran 55:4–13). Each one of us has the responsibility to manage that balance between life and environment, balance within (physical and spiritual), and balance with others (religious guidance and or civil laws) through moderation. Allah, the name of God in Arabic, is not the god of Muslims but the god of all humanity, and Muslims share him with others.
Pristine Islam is about respecting God’s creation. Indeed, the diversity is purposeful. God has made everything to be unique with its own sustainable equilibrium. He says he has created all of us from the same couple and has made us into many tribes, nations, races, and other distinctions while acknowledging the existence of other traditions. Indeed, Islam is not a new religion but a continuation of God’s guidance throughout the history of mankind.
Pristine Islam is about building cohesive societies where no human has to live in fear of the other, and if there are individuals who oppress others, we have to speak up for the sake of restoring that elusive balance. Islam is about harmony with the self, others, and what surrounds us.
This is another expression of Islam from Muhammad Yunus, an Islamic scholar, “The essence of Islamic message lies in deeds, righteousness, moral awareness, community service, attaining excellence in lawful pursuit, dealing justly with all, forgiving the past enemies, and so forth.”
Pristine Islam is about humility and sense of parity it imparts through its rituals. I salute God when he says—and Muhammad (PBUH) reiterates—that no prophet is above the other and no human is above the other. That alone is good for me to be a Muslim. Remember, arrogance kills relationships, and humility builds them. Ego is the root cause of all conflicts, and hence, God gives a zero to the arrogant ones until they become humble.
Pristine Islam did not spread by sword or baton, threats or fatwa bombs. It is not the religion of insecure men who have to harass others to seek obedience. Islam is too secure a religion and does not need fatwas.
If you are a man or woman secured enough in your belief la ikraha fid-din—that is, there is no compulsion in matters of faith—you will see the beauty of God’s wisdom. Remember this very clearly; it is for this reason the Prophet did not want clergy business in Islam: he assigned you to read the book and follow it, and you alone are responsible for your behavior and not anyone else. He did not even compel his guardian, his uncle, despite the power he had. His uncle died without accepting Islam. It was God’s choice to make the point that there should not be any coercion, compulsion, or inducement in matters of faith.
Pristine Islam is not about ruling or dictating others; it is about how to live in balance with yourselves and others to create harmony among people based on equal justice to all humans.
Prophet Muhammad did not have an Islamic government; what he had was a pluralistic form of governance. He was a Muslim, all right, but did not govern as a Muslim. He was a civic leader. He foresaw what the majorities can do to the minorities and invited, on his own, the Jews, Christians, and others to sign the Madinah treaty (you can google it) where all citizens will be equal and their rights to be who they are, are guaranteed. Indeed, the communities practiced their own laws to govern their cities. Jews had their own rules they practiced, so were the Christians, pagans, and others. I am pleased to share that India and Indonesia have similar laws. It was indeed the government of people by the people for the people. Prophet Muhammad called all of them as his ummah (fellow countrymen).
Islam is a common-sense religion, and it is easy to follow.
The mangled-up Islam is followed by fringe cults such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Taliban, al-Shabaab, Hizbul Mujahideen, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. They are less than 1 percent of the entire Muslim population. If the followers of pristine Muslims do not reach out to them, their numbers are likely to increase. They are a security threat to Muslims and others as well.
This chapter is aimed to generate constructive discussions to get us out of the nasty quagmire of division and discord.
We may also want to call it corrupted Islam because the fringe groups that practice this faith as Islam is not the same inclusive, universal faith that Prophet Muhammad practiced.
The corruption came from a few scholars who turned Islam into an exclusive religion. They took it upon themselves that they have to convert others and not rest until Islam rules. You have heard the nutcase Anjem Choudary on Fox News with Hannity, who said Muslims would not rest until they had an Islamic flag on the White House. Maulana Maududi advocated political Islam, and of course, Imam Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie was not thoughtful either. He forgot that Islam is about freedom. Please refer to the chapters “The Source of Muslim Extremism” and “Criticism of Islam, Quran, and the Prophet.”
We may deny it, but the mangled-up Islam exists in tandem with the pristine one and is carried out by a tiny minority of self-proclaimed ideologues who are reckless, powerful, and vocal to create a false impression that all Muslims are like them. I am sure Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, and others experience similar misrepresentations of their religions.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) initiated the inclusive Madinah Treaty, he showed us the way. A spiritual leader can also be a civic leader and work with the people of other faiths with respect and dignity. He would not have invited Jews, Christians, and others to sign the treaty had he believed that Islam was the only way. We need to study how much of that separation between belief and state was carried forward by the rightly guided caliphs. After them, most certainly, someone mangled up the pristine Islam of inclusiveness.
The only thing our faith requires of us is to believe in the word of God and to emulate the lofty principles and conduct of the Prophet (uswatun hasanat 33:21). God repeatedly asks us to use reason and gives us the freedom to question everything. Thus, we should be sane enough to question the interpretations of everyone, including the significant Sunni and Shia imams, scholars, jurists, and their traditions (madhabs). We have never challenged them because of fears of persecution and the punitive fatwas. It is time to examine all that has been dished out to us.
The authoritarian circumstances created a need to interpret the faith to suit them—a phenomenon that is intrinsic to all religions. Scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Kathir gave their personal views on the civil, political, and military aspects at the time of the Crusades, of the great violence of the Mongol attacks, and of the other social and political upheavals of the era. Theirs were a reaction to the situation and not the guidance of the Quran.
The mistake we have made is to give their word a near equivalence of the Quran and the Prophet; we can judge them against historical relativism but should not regard their work as an integral component of Islamic teachings. All said we must admit that whatever their intentions might have been, the medieval scholars messed up the interpretation of the Quran. Instead of building cohesive societies, they were inclined to forge exclusive authoritarian societies. A lot of their work is good, but it takes only a single drop of poison to endanger a pot full of water.
“Islam is the only way acceptable to God,” while negating God repeatedly guarantees that no matter what faith you follow, if you are good to your fellow beings, you’ll earn his grace.
Say, we believe in GOD, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters. (Quran 2:136)
“Don’t make friends with Jews and Christians” is such a “blunderous” interpretation and goes against the Prophet’s practices when he married a Jewish and a Christian woman without converting them.
“Death to anyone (apostate) who abandons Islam” goes against the very essence of Islam—that there is no compulsion in faith. There is a lot more that is not in the Quran and the Prophet’s practices but has crept in through crippling the inclusive nature of Islam and giving birth to political Islam.
The neocons feast on those verses, and most certainly, they have not pulled the “hateful citations” out of thin air. They are quoting the interpretations of men such as Ibn Wahhab, Maududi, and Banna.
Each one of them was a product of history; in some cases, they were control freaks and ignored the Quranic teachings of no compulsion but advocated authoritarianism. They did not believe in individual God-given rights and suggested the state to kill those who differed. This is another instance we have gone wrong by not denouncing their misinterpretations.
It is time to clearly understand the primary message of the Quran rather than reading it with the eye of its medieval era jurists, scholars, and ideologues. There is an urgent need to understand the core message of Islam that remains buried under layers of old interpretations.
Muhammad Yunus is a dedicated researcher of the Quran, and his work is published in a German web portal, Qantara.de.
There is a dichotomy of Islamic faith within its primary scripture, the Quran and its theological corpus [traditions and sharia laws]: one appearing at a point in time in history as an epicenter of faith, and the other evolving in its second century onwards—like the ripples of the initial surge of faith. The former is constant, eternal and independent of history. The latter inevitably shaped by historical factors: the pre-Islamic faith of the incoming converts, state of civilization, religious orientation and academic methods of the era. If Islam is equated with the “religion” [or worldview] espoused by the Quran—regardless of whether it came from God or Muhammad made it up, it is universal, tolerant, balanced, gender-neutral, inclusive, non-political, pluralistic, flexible and open-ended—albeit within broad boundaries, and emblematic of justice, liberty, equality, and other universal secular values.
In the article “You Can’t Understand ISIS if You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia,” Alastair Crooke rightly points out that the political greed of the founder of Saudi Arabia who took Ibn Wahhab’s ideology to suit his personal ambition to own the land and control its resources, in contrast to Islam that teaches that we are trustees of public properties and not usurpers.
It is easy for us to blame Bush; had he not invaded Iraq, would all this have happened? The Shia-Sunni strife, the civil war, Syria, and the birth of ISIS have all stemmed from that one singular misadventure.
Well, what Bush did is not the issue, but what are Muslims going to do about it—fix it or keep blaming?
Insha Allah, we plan to hold another conference based on the theme that “Muslims should be whole, celestial beings (mukhlooqul aalameen)” to honor God’s word in Quran 49:13. This is based on the Quran that God is the god of all humanity (Rabbul Aalameen), the Prophet is a mercy to mankind (Rahmatul Aalameen), and it follows that we have to embrace full humankind with its God-given diversity. We have to build cohesive well-functioning societies that are good for Muslims and good for the world.