I recall a debate I had with a shi’i brother back when I was a sunni, regarding the coherence of our respective beliefs. His insistence that the majority of sahaba turned back on their heels and rejected the imamate of Ali led me to retort: “Well if that’s true, then it means there was nothing special about the Prophet, since he failed to transform his followers in the twenty-three years he stayed with them.” A response loaded with two specific fallacies, designed to back my opponent into a corner and yield.
That ‘specialness’ of the Prophet was important. It allowed everything to fall into place, even when they didn’t really fit, and allowed for an intelligent-lite cosmic view. The Prophet was special, hence Islam was special. Specialness meant I did not need to subject Islam to the same level of scrutiny as I would would with any other philosophy: it had its own rules.
What happened to previous religions couldn’t happen to Islam. What this arrogance does is it creates a wedge between the Muslim and the warnings given in quran regarding what happened to the previous people who were given guidance:
5/13 So for their breaking of the covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard. They distort words from their usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.
5/14 And from those who say, “We are Nasaara” We took their covenant; but they forgot a portion of that of which they were reminded. So We caused among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. And Allah is going to inform them about what they used to do.
Hard hearts, forgetting part of the message, deceitful, enmity and hatred between them… if this does not sum up the condition of the Muslims today, what does? But how many Muslims will admit that these verses are aimed at them? They will insist that Islam is special, and it will not and has not fallen foul of the same satanic tricks that fooled the ancient believers. “These verses refer to Jews and Christians, not Muslims!” Arrogance blinds such people from taking heed.
The truth is, Islam is not special. Neither was the Prophet.
42/13 He has decreed for you the same deen He ordained for Noah, and what We inspired to you, and what We ordained for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: “You shall uphold this deen, and do not divide in it.” Intolerable for those who have set up partners is what you invite them towards. God chooses to Himself whomever He wills; He guides to Himself whoever repents.
3/144 Muhammad is but a messenger, like many messengers that have passed before him. If he dies or gets killed, will you turn back on your heels? Whoever turns back on his heels, he will not harm God in the least. God will reward the thankful.
Once one comes to the realization that islam was and is the original deen, sent to all the previous nations, and that the Prophet’s mission was no different to the mission of the Prophets he proceeded, the warnings in the quran become relevant. If the old ‘muslims’ went astray, what’s to say we won’t as well? Are we making the same mistakes as the previous nations?
The belief that the Bible was compiled 150 years after the Prophet Jesus is strikingly similar to the claim that the hadith collections were supposedly compiled 200 years after the Prophet Muhammad. Jewish tradition has a strong emphasis on hadith, and secondary sources to the Torah, particularly the Thalmud, which should make Muslims reflect upon their own corpus of secondary sources. Messianism, which still grips many Christians and Jews today, is not only the archetype of shi’ism but also sunni’ism, which proposes that Jesus and the Mahdi will come and save us despite a lack of evidence from quran. The idolisation of pious men e.g. Jesus, is similar to Muslims who believe the Prophet was made of light, and that he will intercede for the people on Judgement day. And so on.
It is only arrogance that prevents Muslims from connecting these dots. A blissful existence of denial has been fashioned by centuries of pretentious ‘scholarship’, maintained by ahadith speaking of a ‘saved sect’, leading to in-fighting and takfeerism amongst various groups.
But arrogance is not an innate characteristic in anyone. Despite the wider culture of arrogance, individuals are still akin to asking questions, and reflecting on the guiding principles they’ve inherited. With increasing affluence and education, many Muslims are scrutinising much of what is being dressed up as islamic. A bearded fellow knowing a few Arabic words may have scared off inquisitive Muslims of old, but that simply doesn’t cut it with this generation. The traditional keepers are being shook up by intelligent, concerned Muslims, who keep doing their own research. The status quo is being threatened.
How to stop those darn kids asking so many questions!?
After nurturing a mass state of arrogance, the way to keep people from breaking free of such stupor is through emotional blackmail. One of the most common attacks of traditionalists is the infamous “do you think you know more about Islam than hundreds of years worth of scholars?”, “you know more about Islam than the sahaba?”, “are you saying that all the Muslims of the past got it wrong, and you’ve come and realized the truth?” Of course, these questions are loaded, and are thrown at you precisely to stop your line of enquiry. The questions are invalid, but many of us feel obliged to answer ‘no, of course not’ and retreat with our tails tucked between our legs.
For a long time, this blackmailing kept me from adopting progressive views. I convinced myself that I cannot possibly understand islam, because I was not educated enough. And yes, it can’t be that 1400 years of Muslims got it wrong. Yet, the quran warns us of such folly:
2/170 And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?
7/28 When they commit evil acts, they say, “We found our fathers doing such, and God ordered us to it.” Say, “God does not order immorality! Do you say about God what you do not know?”
Following tradition is simply not an argument. Allah does not hold anyone to account in regards to how closely they followed their fathers, or ‘ijma’ as sunnis like to say. Appeal to emotion is a common informal fallacy and is usually pulled out the hat when the argument has been lost. The last throw of the dice, if you will, bar ad hominem!
Muslims need to humble themselves, and put their deen into perspective. It is a universal deen that was sent as guidance to all the previous Prophets. Their mistakes could be your mistakes, if you don’t pay attention. And those Muslims who are beginning to question that which they believe to be unislamic, need to stand strong against blackmailing tactics that have been used for so long to keep people in check.
May Allah make this easy for us.