I tried my best, but after over 100 pages of “you will burn in fire forever,” and very little in terms of wisdom, I don’t think the Qu’ran has earned more of my time. I’m glad that I don’t need to do extensive criticism of the book, because others have done that.
I went into this with as open a mind as I could, and I will research Islam more (just like Jainism, Judaism, Bahá’í, Yazidi and Druze) but without the use of the Qu’ran. I deeply despise dogma in religions, and the Qu’ran is nothing if not full of it.
I have no doubt that there are Muslims who manage to interpret, twist, tweak and hack Islam into something that enriches their lives. I don’t think they can do this while actually also believing every word they read there. Although maybe they can, cognitive dissonance is not uncommon in religious people and it seems to bother them a lot less than it bothers me.
This journey for me is about understanding religious people, and I think despite reading the angry words of a punishing and hateful Allah, I think I now have a tiny inkling of what’s going on there. I see some elegance in what Islam can be, somewhere in the distance, and I sincerely hope so do all happy, cheerful Muslims.
Forced into Islam
It is said in some places of the Qu’ran that one submits to Islam voluntarily. At the same time we know that after the death of Muhammad, many wanted to leave Islam, but the remaining Muslims threatened and slaughtered them so they would remain Muslims. This is similar to how today, some Muslim nations place the death penalty on leaving Islam. And in the lands conquered by Muslims, people usually had the choice of being slaughtered, converting forcibly to Islam or becoming slaves of Muslim households.
How can this be such a good, peaceful, benevolent religion when it has to threaten those who want to leave with death? Wouldn’t a religion that is in itself fulfilling be so wonderful that you wouldn’t want to leave? There are many reasons to leave Islam. Why don’t they let people leave?
Of course the Christians weren’t any better, the choices when they conquered Europe were either to convert, to be killed or to leave the kingdom hoping that a neighboring king would grant asylum to a heretic. That was 500 years ago. Can Islam fast-forward itself into the now?
There will be blood
When reading about Muhammad’s life and the Qu’ran, I couldn’t help but notice that he lived in very bloodthirsty times and that he was quite happy to partake in the bloodshed when he thought it would be to his advantage.
Religion based on an exclusive worship of a single deity is a concept that is broken on so many levels that it’s hard to disentangle the mess, but let’s operate for now on some basic assumptions that these religions share:
- A single creator has created the universe.
- That creator has sometimes sent messages to prophets among humans (all of them male, but that’s another problem).
But, but, but!
- The monotheistic Abrahamic religions claim that there is an all-knowing creator that loves his creation and desperately needs to be loved back (or else throws a hissy fit and destroys or punishes believers and non-believers alike).
- Islam claims only they know the truth about this creator. Jews and Christians disagree. Everyone is mad at everyone else.
- Each religion through military and political power has tried to force the members of the other religions to believe what they believe. Sometimes they claim to have had divine aid from their creator (like the Muslims in the Battle of Badr) to prove that they are indeed the creator’s favorite people.
- This continues to this day, nearly two thousand years of bloodshed, torture, destruction and intolerance, plus self-loathing and family trouble for e.g. homosexual Muslims.
What benefit could possibly outweigh all this conflict? And how did we not manage to stop this for nearly 1500 years?
Muhammad ordered battles that killed an unknown number of innocents. In just one example, he slaughtered the people of Jurash behind the back of their ambassadors even though those had come to him respectfully for peace talks. He took sex slaves from the conquered tribes. He was an insatiable maniac bent on domination. And why? All for a better afterlife?
Did he really think that by force-converting everyone to his system he would be rewarding his victims, like the Spanish conquistadors thought they were helping indigenous children by baptising them before smashing their skulls open against the rocks?
As a Muslim I would ask myself: How much love and compassion can you learn from a warlord?
I think that there were some Muslims who asked themselves the same things and that weren’t happy with the horrors of religious doctrine either. I found a branch of Islam that adds warmth and exploration to the mix.
Sufi Islam also mixes a lot of meditation into its practice, and I have no doubt that some of the leading Sufi mystics have attained what the Buddhists call enlightenment or realization.
Sufi Muslims suffer under the whip of their Muslim brothers and sisters, maybe precisely because they dare to think for themselves. In some areas orthodox Muslims force-convert Sufis to one of the less flexible branches. Extremists destroy Sufi shrines and claim that Allah has ordered them to do so.
I personally find this infighting even worse than the Shi’a/Sunni schism because to me Sufism presents one of the most progressive elements within Islam, and this just goes to show how backwards the other branches are.
Meanwhile Sufis appear almost syncretic, are happy to co-meditate with Buddhists and open their practice even to those hated Jews, atheists, agnostics, anyone. If there is a noble, loving creator, wouldn’t such collaboration be precisely what he wants? And why so much intolerance for the Sufi Muslims by their own brothers and sisters? Does Islam always have to smother any attempts at opening it, at reform or integration?
I wasn’t born with the religious gene, so all I can do is watch from the outside. This saves me from some of the grief you have if you think you have to defend your god against all others. But it doesn’t immunize me against religion. After decades of watching all the major religions, all I feel is very sad for religious people.