Religion/Belief as Identity

Although I will always give credit to the Prophet Muhammad, and the faith of Islam for helping me to ‘open my eyes’ to ‘spirit stuff’, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about identities and allegiances, and asking myself if it is truly healthy or unhealthy to adhere to them. What I mean by that is this: Am I a Muslim, Bahai, Hindu, Jew, or Christian? Does my identity solely base itself from an ideology or particular Cause? If I say ‘I am a Muslim’, ‘I am a Bahai’, ‘I am a Jew’, am I limiting my potential for growth and closing a mind that would otherwise be open and free? At the present moment, I would answer ‘yes’ to that question. To say that I am a particular thing, I am implicitly rejecting every thing else to some degree.

For instance, I have never believed it was wrong to go to a Masjid/Mosque and a Hindu temple during the same day. Nor do I believe it is wrong to meditate and communicate with the image of God that one concocts in their mind. All of the monotheistic religions stress the oneness of God, and to eschew idol worship, but the interpretations of that message are mostly too simplistic and illogical to take seriously. For example, in Judaism and Islam it is stressed that God is not a man and that He is not like, nor does he look like anything from anywhere. They also teach that human beings are fallible and can not know God directly. How is a fallible human being supposed to worship an unseen God without using the senses to create an ‘image’ of said Being? Even if you picture blackness as God, black is still a color. Is that ‘idol worship’? Both in the Bible and the Qur’an, idolatry is portrayed in a polemical fashion that does not accurately explain what idolater cultures believed about idols. For example, there is the legend of Ibrahim/Abraham breaking his tribe’s statues and telling them that the ‘big one’ did it. They don’t believe him and contend that the idols can’t move or do anything. Then, Ibrahim says ‘why do you pray to them, then?’. That is the basic monotheistic argument against idolatry.

Most idolaters, however, did not believe that their statues themselves were gods and goddesses that could grant prayers. They were seen as ‘representatives’ of the godhead, and provided a physical landmark (if you will) for the ‘spirit’ of the real Deity. For example, to meditate in front of a statue of the Buddha is not to think that the statue is Buddha himself. Rather, it is a place of focus and reminder of who Buddha was/is. Most people need an object or image to concentrate on something. It is simply beyond most people’s abilities to concentrate on an abstract Reality that is not supposed to be viewed in any human way whatsoever, by humans themselves who only know these very senses that they are apparently forbidden to utilize to worship said Deity. How can any worship, except futile, take place from such restrictions? Only rigorously trained people would be able to literally fulfill the strictures that Judaism and Islam place upon the abstract worship of God. That said, if objects or images become a focal point of intellectual retardation and undue mysticism, smash them to pieces.

What I just did there was to hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time, and express them both. If I had my sole identity as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Idolater’, I would not have been able to see both points of view objectively. I would have accepted one, and rejected the other and would not have been able to even listen to the rationalizations and justifications of the other. I would have resorted to polemics to prove I am right. The Bible and Qur’an also tell us what some of the idolaters believed about the monotheists. They were led by prejudice, too. They said that the Muslims ‘put all of our gods into one.’ That reminds me of what some people say about the Bahais. ‘They mix all of the religions into one.’ ‘They think religion is a buffet.’ I see all of these kinds of remarks leading back to the original premise of making a religion or any thought-system into the identity of a person. When I do that, I am tempted to reject every thing else to a degree.

A lot of people say that humans are smarter than computers, but computers can hold various software programs that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, and you don’t see the computers crash because of that. You can have a music program, a video editing program, a taxes program, the list goes on. People can also make music, edit videos, do their taxes, and eat food. But do people say while they are eating food, ‘I am a food eater’? When they are driving their car, do they say ‘I am a car driver’? Of course not, that would just sound weird. But when it comes to belief systems, it becomes so tempting to identify ourselves with those systems as if we are those systems.

No one can honestly say they always accept every doctrine of the belief-system which they adhere to. It is impossible for a human being to be infallibly consistent, especially when it comes to thoughts. Therefore, it is illogical to identity one’s self with solely one belief-system or ideology because there will be moments where one does not accept some or most of the doctrines said System teaches. A belief-system will always be a belief-system and a human being will always be a human being. A belief-system can not become a human, and a human can not become a belief-system. The human can ‘wear the garb’ of a belief-system, use it as ‘software’, but to identity solely with that one piece of  ‘software’ is to deprive the human of everything else that is out there.

This is not to say that belief-systems are worthless, but from personal experience I know how easy it is to see the flaws in other ideologies as an outsider. When I identified myself as a Muslim, I could see how ‘illogical’ Christians were. I could also see how the Bahais were just throwing in random stuff from various religions and trying to make their own from it. But when I identified myself as a Bahai, I could see how Muslims and every one else were blinded from the ideas of ‘progressive revelation’, and the ‘evolutionary progress of man’. As humans, we all have our individual inclinations that pull us toward one path or style than others. So, even for someone who consciously attempts to free themselves from identifying as a proponent of a certain ideology, they may find themselves attracted to a particular strand of thought nonetheless. That is to be expected. The crux of my ranting is not to suggest that it is my goal to strip myself from all belief-systems and have no thoughts whatsoever, thus becoming intellectually and emotionally dead. It’s just that I am in a place where identifying myself as solely one thing, seems very limiting.


April 2, 2009 at 2:57 am 11 comments

Thinking of Rachel Corrie (Pt.2)

These are some songs dedicated to Rachel Corrie by various artists.

Continue Reading March 17, 2009 at 6:14 am Leave a comment

Thinking of Rachel Corrie

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie who was crushed by an Israeli operating an American made bulldozer while protesting the destruction of a home.  DemocracyNow! interviewed her parents who were in the Palestinian territories recently, and others who remember Rachel during her short stay in the region before being killed. Rachel was an activist as early as the age of ten, when she made a short speech about world hunger at a conference.

March 17, 2009 at 5:48 am Leave a comment

Rainn Wilson talking about the Bahá’í Faith with Oprah

I’ll try not to post too many videos on my blog, as I want the writing to be a majority of the content on this venue. Rainn Wilson is one of my favorite actors, however, and he recently sat down with Oprah Winfrey to talk about his new website and the Bahá’í Faith. When I first heard that Rainn Wilson was a Bahá’í, I thought ‘who cares.’ I had seen too many people cling on to a particular artist or performer mainly because of the ideology they adhered to, and not because of their merits as an artist, actor, etc. As an artist myself, the possibility of some Bahá’ís attaching themselves to him just because he was a Bahá’í concerned me. I hate it when people who don’t even like a particular style of music or film suddenly become interested just because a person of their particular ideological flavor is involved in it. To me, art is an avenue of spirituality itself, and if you’re not into it then this is not for you. But I don’t think a person should try to get into something just because a famous person agrees with their beliefs. That said, I understand this is a byproduct of celebrity worship that is apparent in all societies throughout time. That doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of Rainn Wilson’s work, though. I love the Office, I thought The Rocker was hilarious,  his bit in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses was freaking terrifying, and I loved his role in Baadasssss!.

March 11, 2009 at 10:52 pm Leave a comment

75 year old woman to receive forty lashes

Let this be yet another lesson of the intellectually retarded belief that ‘God’s law’ must be implemented without regard to circumstance, context, or the public interest of the people and society involved. The whole concept of men and women not mingling with each other, even for conservatives, is to preserve “modesty” and avoid “temptation.” Who in the hell is going to be “tempted” by a 75 year old woman by bringing over some food to her house so she can eat? This obsession with sex that the Saudi government and Wahhabi inspired Imams have actually hurts the very people they claim to be “protecting” from “vice.” If you are a man, and are told over and over and over again that you’re weak, that you can’t resist the female body in any shape or form, that even her voice is “seductive”, that she is always going to be a sexual distraction to you, that you need her to be removed from you and other men at all levels of society in order to avoid “temptation”, well you just might believe it eventually. And once you drink the Kool Aid, you might deem it “just” to lash a 75 year old women forty times! Subhanallah. If this is Islam, God have mercy on Islam.

This isn’t the most severe case of the Saudi government’s barbarity, either. Just a few years ago, girls in a burning school were literally forced to go back to retrieve their heard scarves while the religious police barred the front doors until all of the girls were “properly covered.” Many of those children died because of being forced to go back, all in the name of “protecting modesty.” The religious police even beat some of the parents of the girls while they tried to get them out themselves. It all comes down to the same obsession with sexual inticement that the Saudi Wahhabi ideology has about women, even girls. The religious police were afraid that either they or someone else would get horny after seeing girls with their heads uncovered, and their lives were deemed dispensable in order to preserve their “dignity” and “honor”, and to keep the apparent explosive passions of men at bay, because they would not be able to control themselves after seeing hair.  There was promise that the police officers responsible for this event would be dealt with, but it is the entire ideology behind the government that caused it, not those particular officers. It is the ideology which produces Shaykhs that claim seatbelts are an “innovation” in religion, and are signs of “western” encroachment. It is the ideology which makes men go grocery shopping for their families, on top of working, because women are not allowed to drive. It is the ideology which issues a decree to lash a 75 year old woman forty times because she invited two non-blood related men to bring some food over to her house to eat. Subhanallah that this ideology is in charge of Mecca and Medina, and which deems itself to be the spreaders of “true Islam.”

March 11, 2009 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Sermon on the Art of Governance

I was reading through Sen McGlinn’s introduction to his translation of a treatise ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote, entitled the Sermon on the Art of Governance. I find the whole history behing it quite interesting, but was glued to my seat when I came across these paragraphs,

Afghānī’s machination did not stop, however. In 1892 he addressed appeals to the ‘ulamā, calling on them to depose the Shāh, as a means of annulling all of the agreements that the Shāh had made with foreign companies. “If you protectors of the faith oppose him with righteousness, and men know that to obey this (wicked man) is unlawful according to the religion of God … they will all hasten and upset the throne of his deceit …. You are the protectors of the Nation and the supporters of the Faith … to War! … to War!” It is hard not to see a reference to this appeal to the ‘ulamā in section 19 of the Sermon on the Art of Governance. Afghānī was assisted in his attempts to mobilise the ‘ulamā to depose the Shāh by Mīrzā Āqa Khān Kirmānī, a politically active Azali Bābī, and by Mīrzā Malkum Khan, a complex figure known both as a moderniser and as one of the leading advocates and beneficiaries of granting concessions to foreign investors.

The Sermon on the Art of Governance may in part be read as an address by ‘Abdu’l-Bahā to the Bahā’īs and Bābīs, warning them not to become involved in the continuing efforts of these figures to mount a revolution against the Shāh. But it is also in part addressed to the `ulamā, and particularly to Shīrāzī, arguing that they should not accept the authority to direct the worldly affairs of the nation, which the ‘reformers’ were endeavouring to thrust upon them. Where Afghānī had asked Shīrāzī to adopt a position analogous to the Pope, to become a prince of this world, ‘Abdu’l-Bahā presents an ideal model of the `ulamā as humble, disdainful of worldly pomp, and devoted to the spiritual welfare of the people. But this requires some further explanation, since ‘Abdu’l-Bahā rests his argument not only on the Qur`ān and Islamic traditions, but also on Bahā’u’llāh’s Kitāb-i `Ahd and Treatise to the Son of the Wolf. One might well think that the use of texts by Bahā’u’llāh would rule out an audience among the Shī`ah `ulamā.

We have seen above that the efforts by reformers to enlist the `ulamā in a struggle against the concessions, and later against the Shāh, focussed particularly on Muhammad Hasan Shīrāzī (1815-1895), known as Mīrzāy-i Shīrāzī, who as the sole marja‘ at-taqlīd of the time, and bearing also the titles of Āyatu’llāh and Hujjatu’l-Islām, was the leading Shi‘ah cleric of his day. Shīrāzī, however, was a secret Bābī and later Bahā’ī. He was a second cousin of the Bāb, and was converted to the new Faith in his youth, when he met the Bāb in the house of Manūchihr Khān in Isfahan. Thus the man whom the reformers were prompting to assume the position and political powers of the pope and leader of the Shi‘ah community, was a secret Bābī, and by this time apparently also a Bahā’ī. (Source)

I had no idea that at one time, the leading Shi’ah cleric of Iran was secretly a Bahá’í while holding the office of the highest Shi’a Mullah of the time, the person whom all Shi’ahs should practice taqlid (blind imitation) from. This raises more than a few questions. Bahá’u’lláh clearly prohibited the practice of taqlid. At this point, it was not uncommon for Bahá’ís to have “dual” religious loyalities (at least in the West.) But how did this man manage to become a Shi’ah Mullah while being a Bábí (at first), and then a Bahá’í later. How did he hide this fact? If many of the Mullahs were preaching against the Bahá’í Faith, and he wasn’t, wouldn’t they have become suspicious of him? Or did he take part in the preachings against the Bahá’í Faith while he was secretly a believer in that faith? And if he did that, would he have truly been a Bahá’í? I’m not accusing the man of any of these things, these are just some of the questions that come to mind.

March 7, 2009 at 9:54 pm 1 comment

Forgiveness and Mercy: Part Two

What brought on my last post was me reading through “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists” by Khaled Abou El Fadl. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to understand the vast differences between the “puritans” (his word) and moderates of Islam. It’s not extremely technical, but it packs a pretty good punch of information.

According to El Fadl, the “puritans” imagine that simply implementing the “law of God”, all of the attributes of God such as mercy, compassion, and forgiveness are compacted within that code of laws. Thus, there is no reason to ponder what forgiveness, mercy, and compassion may mean because it is all in there like a box-set. What this also implies is that any law, no matter how harsh, is “merciful” and “compassionate” because of its built-in nature with the code of divine laws that are viewed to personify all of God’s will on earth. This means, for example, that if someone were to be stoned to death or have their hands amputated, it is wrong to think of that as unmerciful or unforgiving because God’s law is inherently “merciful” and “compassionate” no matter what. It is only us humans who can’t fathom it.

As I was reading this, I became very concerned with such an attitude. It encourages the desensitizing of emotions and feelings, and also encourages the implementation of law in such a detached manner that even amputating a person’s hand or stoning them to death should not produce any feeling of sadness, but instead should be viewed as the very essence of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness because all of the attributes of God are built-in the law.  The puritans, El Fadl writes, also believe in the ahistorical implementation of “Islamic law”, irrespective of circumstance, context, culture, etc. In their eyes, God’s law must be implemented no matter if it hurts or helps people. If people are hurt by the law, then that means they don’t really “understand” it. But once they understand it, they will know that it was good for them.

March 5, 2009 at 11:01 pm 5 comments

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