Note: This is the first time I’ve written anything about me and Islam and shared it. I am hesitant to write this even now, mostly because I’m scatterbrained and a terrible writer. I linked to blog posts from others who are more knowledgeable in certain topics to keep this short. You might not know I’m Muslim. Or you might consider me too recent a convert, not informed enough. It should be obvious, but these are just my thoughts and I speak for myself. In some stricter circles, it might be considered inappropriate to do so without having some type of qualification. I don’t speak Arabic and I wasn’t raised in a Muslim household. But these are blessings and my reality. I am a Muslim by choice. I have unique perspective and a voice. As the Qur’an commands of us, we must come to know one another [49:13]. Here is a part of me.
Sometimes, I have the feeling I’ve lived two separate lifetimes. In some way, I have. It started when I woke up one morning after the doctors pulled a tube out of my throat in the ICU. That tube helped me breathe while my body and a drug cocktail dealt with inflamed membranes in my spine and brain, poisoned blood, and renal failure. It was a year after high school and I was hospitalized with meningococcemia. Before then, I was a very average teenager in the suburban sprawl of the San Gabriel Valley playing in a band, hanging out with friends, and going to shows. I lived in my bubble. But after that morning, something changed. I no longer desired to stay close to home and play video games on my free time. I wanted to use my brain. I needed to see and feel all life.
I still have to step outside myself to acknowledge how undeservedly privileged and grateful I am for all of it. That urge mixed with a wandering way of life opened up new experiences, people from different cultures to learn from, and large periods of time to read and think for a heavy dose of serious introspection.
Knots on the Rope of God
I have spent ten years reading widely about Islam. I was in university and reading about language, elementary physics, and agriculture. At first, Islam was just something else I didn’t know about. I grew up in a secular household in California, I wasn’t on a religious quest. But I was eager to understand more.
- It was clear that Islam wasn’t what the mainstream media portrayed. They only let extremists “speak” for 1.7 billion people.
- A majority of the world (past and present) believes in something; divine, intangible, omniscient, omnipotent, transcendent, immanent, whatever. It indicated some universal truth.
- It wasn’t difficult for me to suppose there are limits to what we can perceive and really know about regarding our origins and the big questions.
- As the newest Abrahamic religion, Islam is a continuation of that which came before rather than a separate system [16:123].
- The Qur’an is clear that God has no gender, doesn’t have a son, and is above our comprehension [2:255]. This was a mini-revelation. Attending Catholic high school, God had been significantly engendered and anthropomorphized.
- I found Ahmed Hulusi’s books randomly in my university library. God (‘Allāh’ in Arabic) isn’t a sky-god. In fact, Allāh challenges the very notion of a god in the Qur’an (“There is no god, there is only Allāh”).
- Thousands of prophets went to their communities since time immemorial, sent (inspired) to preach the same message; God is One, do good deeds, serve God alone, flee false idols (mental or physical), prepare for the end of this life. Some of them are named, others not. I thought of religion as localized and exclusivist. Was the Buddha a prophet? Was Mary? [3:42] Was there was a prophet somewhere on the Californian coast in 356 AD? (I just picked a time and place randomly, I don’t know of a prophet like this.) How did their communities react to such a disruption of the status quo? Was it similar to what the Quraysh did when the Prophet Muhammad started speaking up? [10:16] What do all powerful, vested interests do when iconoclasts disrupt the status quo?
- So much reading on science and Islam. Science and God are not mutually exclusive. Science is a fantastic system of inquiry. God is the reality. The Qur’an, while not a science book, is a book of guidance that contains stories of Prophets and proofs of God. Science illuminated aspects of the Qur’an for me. I didn’t need to erase any of my previously held scientific beliefs. A bigger focus came into view. God, the Subtle [22:63], works through natural laws.
From these basics, new questions and lines of thinking emerged. I gradually peeled away layers of ignorance that had built up by me without even knowing it. After university, I headed to West Africa. I lived in Muslim-majority countries for seven years. I passed the time on verandas and at cafés talking with friends and acquaintances. After that early period in Oregon with just books and Sufi poetry, I witnessed lived Islam. It didn’t stay in my head, it become my daily experience. After taking the shahāda one Friday five years ago, I started to feel the certainty and serenity as a believer. I felt the tug on my heart and the presence of the One that is closer to me than my jugular vein 50:16 when I whispered subhānallāh, alhamdulillāh, Allāhu akbar over and over to myself in the mornings before dawn. The religious experience, as someone coming into the fold, was breathtaking. It pulled me away of my egoistic, materialistic, hedonistic priorities, and scrubbed the rust off of my heart.
Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable.
— Abdal Hakim Murad
And hold fast to the rope of God and do not become divided.
— Sūrah 3:103
As I continued to live Islam according to my understanding, I never ceased exploring the roots and branches of Islam. But some things weren’t adding up for me.
- Sunni and Shī’a: Within fifty years of the Prophet Muhammad’s death, Muslims divided themselves. Over time, these groups (also sub-groups, it gets complicated) grew more divergent, each claiming salvific exclusivism. I spent a year looking into the various Shī’a narratives because I wanted to understand the rationale of the imamate, and how much of the theology is built around the history of the early nascent community of believers after the prophet. Reccomended blog posts: A Mercy Case’s Have I Failed Fatima? and Definitely Not A Conspiracy: Fact Review of the Ahl al-Kisa in Early Islam
- My interest in the Shī’a developed as the fascists of the so-called Islamic State used fiqh and the hadith to supercede the Qur’an for their justifications for enslaving Yazidi women and destroying antiquities in Palmyra. I knew this wasn’t the Islam that I knew. I had to prove to myself and others that this wasn’t the case. Reccomended blog posts: Flag Actual’s Contradictions: Mainstream Sharia versus Quranic Axioms
- Digging deeper into the hadith, the narrations of events of the Prophet, his companions, and the Shi’a imam’s lives, one becomes even more confused. The whole arch of Muslim sectarianism is on display. Now remember that this was state-funded by the caliphs and emirs across the Muslims world. I won’t get into specifics here, I will later. I’ve heard the arguments; hadith re-evaluation is an orientalist’s pursuit, the science of hadith has properly found a way to deal with the contradictory narrations. Suffice it to say, hadith have been the most complex issue for me. Reccomended blog posts: Black Flag Actual’s The Hidden History of Our ‘Islamic Jurisprudence’ and The Fatal Feminist’s Hadith
Alhamdulillāh, despite having these reservations upon which the constructed orthodoxy lays religious authority, my certainty in the Qur’an has actually been strengthened. But I was unsure of so many other things. So what happened?
I happened. Like in the hospital and West Africa, my time in Peru became a period of rapid development and experience in such a short time. There, I had powerful experiences that started to deconstruct my big stupid ego, showed me death is not to be feared, encouraged me in sharing my thoughts on socialism and vegetarianism as spiritual commitments, gave me the courage to trust myself more, and to speak truth to power. It’s strange that I needed to leave a Muslim country to feel more Muslim, but God knows, and I know nothing.
Every day, I get more anxious. Sometimes, I feel I carry the weight of the world in my chest, and these days, it’s pretty fucking heavy. Climate change, fascism, inequality, terrible leaders, hypocrites, etc. I’m saying all this because our planet is in bad shape. Does this mean I’m a negative person? Actually, quite the opposite. We have a world to win. How do we reach our highest potential in this world? Instead of turning inward, shutting our doors and ignore the fitna (civil strife), as one hadith would tell us, we must collaborate and help each other in this world. This is a priority.
The Qur’an has shown how we can get this done, to provide peace and security for all. Let’s speak plainly and personally for those who want to know. If you still have hangups about Islam, Allah, the Prophet, or the Qur’an. Reach out. I don’t do debates, but I can point the way for a fellow traveler on this path. Come to your own conclusions about it.
Peace to all who follow guidance.
— Sūrah 20:47
To that end, I’m starting something called Micro-Qur’an. Each post will be a few ayat, proofs or verses of the Qur’an. I’ll use different translations and link to other blogs or books that can elaborate, and we can deepen our understanding of the material. This is a non-sectarian platform.
Thanks for reading. Salām.