Who has the right to talk about religion?

As a little boy, i was sent to religious schools in the afternoon. I can’t remember learning too much beyond the basics of Islam during these sessions across several years. I learned to pray, recite the Quran a bit (though i didn’t understand a thing of what i was reciting), and the very strict ustazah gave me a small grounding in Islamic morality.

But even as a young boy, i was a bit of a rebel, and very often the questions i asked her about religion stumped her cold. A small boy bombarding a teacher with a series of “Whys” and “How come” and you can imagine how often such exchanges ended with her saying, “Don’t ask so many questions. Aren’t you a Muslim?”

Even back then, the fear of being branded a bad Muslim was palpable. Followed by the stares of my class mates, yes, you can bet i shut up pretty quick.

School and my teenage years came and went, and the one thing i remember about it was the Agama classes all Muslim students had to attend (the non-Muslims went over the other class for the vaguely named “Morale Class” — to this day i still have no idea what went on in these classes). A particularly unusual ustaz was our teacher, and i remember him for having some very patriarchial views about the religion. Whomever didn’t agree with him would spend some time standing on the chair, followed by, “Don’t speak about things you don’t understand.”

Believe it or not, carbon copies of these early experiences with religious teachers appeared again in university. The International Islamic University of all places. There were some really progressive and open minded lecturers that i had the pleasure of learning under, but some were downright supremist in their views about Islam. It was their way or the highway, and with their shiny diplomas, doctorates and titles, students were in no position to ask too many questions, especially difficult ones on topics such as the Islamic concept of freedom, equality, jihad, government, and women.

So when RPK wrote about how Islamic understanding suffers from an exclusive club syndrome, i have to tend to agree. Perhaps people like RPK and myself belong to our own exclusive club — the ones who like to question everything, even the interpretations and motivations of the Quran, and it’s a natural that a divide will put us apart from those who accept the common dogma.

There is nothing wrong with the common dogma. There is, in fact, a lot of good in it. But when people use it to beat you over the head with, as a means to prove a point, or to perpetuate itself perpetually, that’s something that i have an issue with.

Despite the concept of heaven and hell, punishment and reward, i don’t believe that Islam was created with the intention of splitting the believers into castes. The intellectual haves against the supposedly intellectual have-nots. The ones who “really” believe and the ones who “don’t really believe otherwise why would they ask so many questions”. 

Perhaps it’s all a semantic trick of the mind. It’s a convenience exit to label things we don’t understand or don’t want to understand as being wrong. And with the obsession of Muslims to be “good”, the label of being “bad” is a social death knell. 

Leave your labels at home. Everything is open the question. Just because we don’t understand (or if some people are to be believed, we were not meant to understand) doesn’t mean we can’t explore the issue with questions and doubt. 

If the human mind didn’t doubt, we might all still think the world is flat.


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