Discover more from Adventures of Bad Hijabi
It’s a Hijabista Life—an essay series
part 3–Divine Command + The Closed Muslim Mind
Welcome to Part 3!
This is part of a series I am writing about the Muslim community from the perspective of an outsider who grew up in another faith tradition. This series is part of my free content and publish each Wednesday until completion, somewhere around 5 to 7 parts.
Adventures of Bad Hijabi is a reader-supported publication. To support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Hijabista is a term coined by sexist a Muslim bloke to describe young Muslimah activists leading prayer at a local Vancouver protest. I loved it and so I decided to use it because Sandinistas were cool people, rebelling against a repressive ruling force. Also The Clash named an album after the Sandanistas so I figure my young Muslimah sisters are in fabulous company. Also what does that say about this bloke’s own self perception and perception of his own faith culture, that he describes these young Muslimahs as Hijabista? Maybe they need to be?
Whilst western influencers give too much attention to the Dawah Crowd, they give no attention to the genuine work of Interfaith Scholars and cutting edge Qur’anic scholars working to share a modern translation of the Qur’an and a more genuine and values based exegesis. I feel quite frustrated to see western culture and media glam onto the fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, and indulge the egocentric/narcissistic victimhood identity mindset so viral within the community. It also frustrates me to still see only an interest in Coleman Barks Rumi, ie Rumi with all the Sufi + God removed from it—a continued and deliberate choice to ignore the beautiful mysticism of Islam which the Salafists + Wahhabists have banned.
Why? Why does the west continue to insist on choosing to ignore the very best of Islamic wisdom + whilst glamming onto distorted + poisonous interpretations? To preserve western hegemony? Maybe it’s up to Muslims to show the world what we are made of? I was led to this point, to be a Muslim, for a reason.
Here are some trusted resources on Islam | Sufism for readers to peruse—
Here is the link to the PDF version of Safi Kaskas’s Qur’an translation.
Here is the link to the playlist of his lectures on Islamic Values, which he and I are turning into a book.
Here is the video I mentioned in my previous piece, of Safi and his wife Eman—if you go to just before the 7 minutes mark you will see Safi, look at his wife first, to ask her thoughts before he gives his own. That is a real man IMO, one who honours the women around him. That’s why I can work with him.
Here is the link to the interfaith peace conference he held recently with Christian + Jewish + Muslim scholars + thinkers.
Here is the website of Omid Safi, a Rumi scholar.
Here is the Youtube channel of Wasat, this organisation holds some great zoom programming about Islamic mysticism by some amazing scholars.
Here is the playlist of the Paradigms of Leadership lectures by Timothy Winters aka Abdal Hakim Murad.
Here is Mustafa Akyol’s website, you will find links to his talks + writings + to purchase his books.
Let me begin with a story. When an uncovered Muslim woman stood up in a crowded arena and asked the celebrity Imam giving his public talk about her reluctance to practise hijab and could he advise her on how she could soften her heart toward the practise of covering, his response went something like, well you’ve taken the first step by admitting you’re a sinner. Sitting there at home watching this clip on Facebook I thought to myself wow, seriously, dude, that’s your advice, to tell a women living in the west who has trouble wrapping her head around covering her hair—that she is a sinner?
The level of celebrity spiritual advice in the Muslim world resembles some bullsh1t line lifted from the script of a crappy 12-step meeting. More often than not, the message from scholars has the same dogmatic flavour to it, the same limited exegeses. It baffles that people who have dedicated themselves to memorise the Quran—they even boast about it—have forgotten, or perhaps abrogated, the most important line in the Quran—2:256, there is no compulsion in religion.
Let’s unpack that statement. No compulsion means just that—rules and edicts need to have a rationale, they need to make sense to those who are expected to follow them, or they will not be honoured—the worship of God needs to make sense to worshippers. Why else do we have the capacity for higher order thinking and rationality, unless to apply it to our daily living and spirituality, ie relationships with ourselves? Worship of God doesn’t mean anything if it’s compelled!
Rules need to make sense. Rules need to serve human compassion + they need to serve a Qur’anic value—both, otherwise they become a structure of torment + abuse. Human history shows how we get ourselves into big trouble when we decide to remove compassion from our societal moral structure. Remember—what the Nazis did to Jews was legal, you could say they followed the rules; chattel slavery was legal, those who traded and owned slaves followed the rules; indentured slavery was legal, those who cajoled and manipulated and lied to Indians to get them on those coolie ships were following the rules. You can follow the rules and violate morality. And you can break the rules and honour morality and serve God.
Luqman Abdullah, a Malaysian Mufti recently declared that Muslims were prohibited from saying “Rest in peace” + that Muslims were not allowed to pray for forgiveness for non-Muslims as prescribed in several hadiths.1 This is the level of megalomaniacal control amongst scholars in the Muslim world. This fcuking ruling makes no sense and it contradicts the Qur’an and it contradicts the Seerah. Also, what entitles any bloke, IDGAF if he calls himself Mufti, to the privilege of dictating to me how I should live at this level of minutiae? Like, dude, my mother was a non-Muslim, I will pray for her and you can stew and call me evil go ahead. I mean, the Quran says heaven is at the foot of mothers, so y’all best mind your mouths, LOL. See how easy it is to pick apart this stupidity? It’s stupidity, I won’t apologise for having a normal reaction to a thing that insults my God-give intelligence. LOL, I can only laugh!
I, not any Mufti, am responsible for the state of grace of my soul. God is essence, we experience Him through our state of being. The most powerful power lies in compassion. God’s power lives in His mercy + love, not His capacity to smote + punish humanity. Think about your children. Compassion, vulnerable honest disciplined compassion—that’s the most powerful force you exert with them throughout their lives. Your power as a parent doesn’t come from force, that is false power that destroys the connection and the spirits involved. Your power comes from every day stretching yourself to give them what they need, from setting limits and knowing they will hate you for a few hours. That’s rahma. That’s the power of God. It’s the first line of the Qur’an for a very good reason. We are meant to lead with love. So, I don’t care what the Mufti says. If I think it’s stupid and wrong, I won’t do it.
We have large swaths of tribalists and cultists in the Muslim community believing it’s Islamophobic to question fundamentalist interpretations and exegeses of Islam and the Quran. We have masses of Muslims conflating their limited human conception of God and how they think they should best worship Him with God Himself. Religious Identitarians have made their religion, their faith tradition their identity. I wrote in part 2 my thoughts on using God to masturbate your ego—I think it’s the most blasphemous thing we do. If we want to use words like infidel, I would suggest we apply that word to those who have invested much energy in constructing a brutal and hateful God, driving so many to atheism.
Think about how you feel when someone dear to you uses you to gain some hedonistic and/or self-interested end. You feel betrayed + angry, right? You feel like the message you receive = you have no worth. That seems like a pretty sh1tty way to show God you love Him, IDK dude. God never needs your defense, your ego does though. You devalue whatever you use to masturbate your ego. Are you using God to stroke your ego? Think about it for yourself.
Identitarian Muslims cling to and insist upon the word Islamophobia to describe hatred of Muslims—in an effort to police the message, and shape a perception and relationship with Islam, and of course, with the Self. Hatred is against humans and not ideas. Yet a very different reality faces Muslim scholars and reformers who are working to revitalise Islam—Mustafa Akyol’s latest book Reopening the Muslim Mind begins with the story of his arrest by the Religious Police in Malaysia, to stop him speaking about no compulsion in religion and an Islam Without Extremes. Some hardline Muslims would consider Akyol an Islamophobe. How does that serve the Muslim community, to vilify anyone genuinely working toward Muslim progressive change from within the community?
Many Muslim leaders do not necessarily want to talk about reopening the Muslim mind, they do not want to talk about an Islam without extremes, or about introducing independent thinking founded in Qur’anic values to a fatalistic tribe. Independent thinkers suffer no tyrannical fools—narcissistic leaders wearing the virtue cloak cannot control them. We have an industry of social media celebrity Imams, gaining followers like some wannabe modern-day prophets. Malignant narcissists who become leaders love blind followers who apply cult-like + severe dogmatic devotion to their spirituality because such individuals melt like play doh in their proverbial hands—it all seems quite Manchurian Candidate.
So how did we get to this intellectual point? How did we become this mindless tribe of rule-obsessed, merciless, firebrand robots? Mustafa Akyol has a great explanation in his book. Let’s break that down now.
In Reopening Muslim Minds: A Return to Reason, Freedom, and Tolerance, Mustafa writes about ahlaksis dindarlik, in English immoral piety, which he describes as follows: “… the problem was not that the religious conservatives were not pious enough, it was that theirs was a piety that did not make them moral people,” A religious conservative ruling elite with a decidedly Machiavellian flair had taken a repressive and authoritarian tact to governing by silencing dissidents and promoting fear, intimidation, and kleptocracy.2
Former mufti of Istanbul Mustafa Çagrici had argued, “There should be no religion without morality.” The Muslim community has shut out the world, immersing itself in a culture of divine command—the state, being the purveyor of God, sets the law, and whatever the state makes illegal becomes immoral and whatever the state makes legal becomes moral. Such a Fatwa culture legislates every moment of existence, “… the average Muslim projects the burden of morality onto the law.”3 Conscience, which requires independent thinking, or as Rūmi would say, consulting one’s own heart, is discouraged. How does a person develop a independent moral compass when living in a repressive authoritarian world ruled by immorally pious leaders, ie tyrants, and never having the opportunity to choose freely?
Islamic regimes produce many many atheists—facts.
Due to the fourteen-century-long statisation of Islam, many Muslims still see their religion not as an individual belief and practise followed by voluntary choice, but rather as a social order imposed by power. (M Akyol 2021, p. 180)
The Muslim mind has become stuck in culturally cultivated negative feedback loop. Over the ages, Muslim leadership of Autocrats and Tyrants have cultivated a collective of believers lacking the capacity to consult their own hearts. Rumi spoke of consulting one’s own heart, meaning think for oneself with brain and heart what is right. A Sufi can’t be a sycophant to tyrants, and so Sufism fell away.
The conscience, the seat of moral discernment in the human psyche, functions like a muscle. Muscles require exercise and resistance training to maintain their strength and capacity. Imagine the conscience needs a constant diet resistance strength training. Isn’t that what God meant life to be—joyful resistance-strength training? So, how did the Muslim world lose it’s heart? Well, when you stop using a muscle, it atrophies. It becomes weak and fragile, it lacks capacity. This is neglect of the heart God gave us.
To understand the philosophical underpinnings at play, we need to consider some Arabic vocabulary—Mutazilite, Qadarite, Ijtihad, Ashʿarite. We also need to consider the dogmatic concept of pre-destination and its relationship to that of free will.
Mu'tazilite - in English Mu’tazila mean 'those who withdraw themselves' — united by the conviction that God must make sense to followers of a faith because we perceive Him through our rational thought. They see God as an essence that connects all creation, and not so much a power exerted upon humans and other creation. Mu’tazilites see good and evil as objective moral standards that human reason can grasp.
Ash’arite - named after the founder of the movement, who created this school of though in opposition to Mutazilism. Ash’rites believe that rationality must subordinate itself to their conception of God—good = from God, bad = not from God, ie evil. Ash’rites did hold an ignorant view of human psyche, ie humans do not possess the capacity to grasp morality through reasoning, ie without force. Absolute monarchs prefer Ash’ritism because they can cook the doctrinal books to justify their tyrannical rule as predestined.
Qadarite - in English Qadr means free will. Free Will refers to the theological concept that God gave humans the capacity for reason because He wants us to have the choice to choose or not choose Him, and at the end of our earthly life He will hold us to account for our deeds. God knows the outcome, we do not, He lets us choose without His interference. Ash’rites challenge the Mutalzilist view on free will, they see God as a power, not an essence. Free Will means the people can challenge tyrants, agitating for a new political order.
Ijtihad - In English Ijtihad means "to endeavor, strive, put oneself out, work hard." This refers to the process of independent reasoning by an expert in Islamic law to find a solution to a legal question that lies outside the Qur’an, conducted thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty. Ash’rites held the ignorant view that the human mind could not reason morality, and so discouraged critical thinking.
Predestination refers to the viewpoint of life as a scripted play God has created us to act out. This viewpoint sees Free Will as a shallow concept, man not really having the freedom not to do God’s will. This view comes into conflict with ar-Rahman + ar-Raheem, a compassionate + all merciful God. Would a compassionate God force us into a life without choice and then reward or punish us for our deeds? No He would not. Still, Early rulers, being absolute monarchs, needed a dogma that justified their rule—divine right of kings says yes God destined me to rule you all this way, my brutality is God’s plan for you. In fact in the early 8th century, anyone promoting the doctrine of free will would meet a brutal death by execution. Ash’ari essentially killed off any philosophy-seeking intellectual enlightenment movement in the Ottoman Empire.
The Ash’arite worldview of Islam conflates moral ethics with the divine command. What the religious law forbids becomes evil and what the religious law always becomes good. So, if the religious law forbids female people to drive, go out by themselves, dress how they choose—then the Ash’arite worldview holds that God commands these things too. Even despite the immorality of forcing women to live like children, denying their intellect, casting men’s sexual perversion onto the female body—the religious law dictates these things therefore they are God’s law and then God’s law becomes amoral and we invent a thing called islamophobia to punish anyone who notices this bizarre fundamentalism.
Consult your heart. Righteousness is that which makes the soul feel tranquil and the heart feel tranquil. And sin is that which makes the soul waver and the breast uneasy. (Al-Nawawi, Forty Hadith, Hadith 27)
Making God the tool of state oppression does not serve compassion, it certainly doesn’t align with Qur’anic values. Does anyone who seriously believes in God, and wants to do good deeds honestly believe that using God to control masses in a very brutal + medieval constitutes honouring God and worshipping him? Using God as a currency for power seems like the act of malignant narcissists who do not value God—the notorious Holy See has a lengthy history of this behaviour. Islamist Regimes rule with the raging narcissism of fundamentalist tyrants, making themselves God’s keeper. This is where we fall down in the Muslim world—humans tyrants having made themselves Al-Hakam, The Judge, a name and role reserved for God alone.
Takfiri4 culture damages spirits + and human connection + it damages the collective of Muslims. So my heart felt a glad to read this facebook post from a local Imam, calling out Takfiris and the toxicity they spread. I prefer my masjid not to be a congregating place for takfiris … such individuals are often toxic to the environment around them. This encounter emphasised the need for good companionship and subhah. A good teacher would teach one etiquette before anything else.
In 2017, Muslim Theologian Ali Bardakoglu described Islamis jurisprudence as having devolved into a pile of rules devoid of morality and he noted the connected between this reality and the separation between religion and reason in moral discernment.5 Muslims have a choice to make—we have two heads, ie two measures of legitimacy to which we appeal— secular law, and when we find that limiting we a appeal to religious freedom. We enjoy the trappings of modernity and rebuke any notion that we may have to update our moral structure to accommodate the new social and moral challenges posed by technological innovation, and the social restructuring they necessitate. We need to merge these two heads into one. Muslims need to reconnect morality and reasoning, ie designating good and bad need to make rational human sense.
Akyol 2021, p. 45
Akyol 2021, p. 50
Takfiri, meaning excommunicated, refers to the radical islamist ideology denoting a Muslim accuses another Muslim of apostasy; in Islamist countries apostasy is a crime punishable by death.
Akyol 2021, p. 46