Saturday, March 1, 2014

How I changed from Wahabi Islam to progressive Islam

S. Ahmed  -- May 1, 2014

My family are ultra-religious conservatives. They’re Salafis / Ahlul Hadeeth / Wahabi. I was just like them, up until a few weeks ago, when I started thinking about things for myself.

This is how I came across progressive Islam. For a very long time I had been having doubts about my religious views, especially when it came to Shar’iah punishments like stoning, cutting off hands and killing apostates. These things were not compatible with my inner sense of justice

How did I deal with these doubts? I just tried to put them out of my head and not think about them. But over the years, the burden of repeatedly locking such thoughts away became too heavy. The time came when the weight was too heavy to bare, and my doubts became too great to ignore.

I was plunged into crisis. Was my religion the true religion? After pondering over this question for quite a while, I came to the conclusion that Islam was indeed the correct path and religion. Now, that decided, I had to deal with my issues with Islam. I began researching into various opinions in Islam. I began looking at how the early scholars deduced rulings in Islam. I then realised the same questions that I was grappling with, the previous scholars also grappled with.

I came to realise that my literalist traditionalist interpretation was far from the truth of what Allah had intended. I began putting every verse in the Qur’an within context: within the context of other verses, authentic hadeeth and within a socio-historical context. Everything just clicked, and I felt a sense of peace with myself that I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

What I haven’t mentioned is that at the same time I had been grappling with my attraction towards the same gender (and my clear non-attraction to the opposite gender). I had noticed such feeling since the age of 9. Prior to that, I was quite an effeminate child, to the extent that once someone told my father to ‘keep an eye on me’ (like keeping an eye on me would somehow turn me straight?), although today that isn't the case.

Since a young age I hated myself so much. Why was I getting these feelings? Why was I not attracted to women? I thought I was perverted, unnatural, a rebel against God. I read fatwas on dealing with homosexual urges. They told me I could be straight, and that my feelings were my fault. I believed them whole-heartedly. I did everything those fatwas told me. I prayed to God to change me so many times. I cried. I read the Qur’an. I tried to do good deeds. The fatwas told me I was an evil person and that my feelings were a punishment from God on me.

I developed severe depression, severe anxiety and severe OCD. I became suicidal so many times. I began to self-harm and ended up in A+E more than once because I was suicidal. This all had a toll on my physical health.

I tried everything to turn straight. Everything. I wanted to be straight so bad. I would have done anything to change my sexuality. But nothing worked.

Now getting back to how I discovered progressive Islam. You will be interested to know that I did not discover progressive Islam because I had a problem with how traditional Islam handled sexuality. Not at all. I discovered progressive Islam because of the problem I saw with Islam and women’s rights, and it’s support of brutal, inhumane draconian punishments that were not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

After I discovered progressive Islam, I began to study sexuality in depth. I looked at the science behind it, rather than the religion. I quickly learned that the science that suggested a strong biological basis for homosexuality was undeniable. I looked at psychology and psychiatry, which over the years came to the undeniable conclusion that homosexuality could not be ‘cured’. I realised that sexuality was not in any way a choice.

Then I asked myself the question: would Allah create gay people, and then put them in hell because of the way they were? Was my God just or unjust? I came to the conclusion that God wouldn’t put gay people in hell because of the way He made them. Because He was just, all merciful and loving.

This meant that either I was believing in the wrong religion, or the way I understood my religion was wrong. I looked into work by Scott Kugle and Imam Daayiee and Muhsin Hendricks. What they said actually made sense. Both in religious terms and rational terms.

And that’s when I came out to myself as gay. I have finally accepted myself for who I am. I don’t hate myself for who I am now. And I am also at peace with God and Islam. I have realised that we Muslims have grossly misunderstood the Qur’an. We’ve forgotten our roots of traditional Islamic scholarship. The early scholars continuously did ijtihad and made new rulings according the changing times and new knowledge. Today Islam has stagnated and we see ourselves in the sorry state we are. A post-colonial legacy has made the situation worse, because we have put ourselves into an ‘under-attack’ mentality where holding the line against the west. We’ve become defensive and evasive in not just our politics but also our religion.

And that, brothers and sisters, is how I changed from Wahabi Islam to progressive Islam, and it is the story of how I came out to myself.

To the countless people out there suffering from a crises of faith

by Imam Mohamad Jebara (Ottawa) -- March 1, 2014

This message was e-mailed to me by someone, who took it from the Facebook status of someone else, both anonymous, it reads,

"I got sick with blood poisoning last year and I've also had a crisis of faith in the last few years. I get days where I want to give up on Islam all together because the sexism and intolerance gets too much sometimes. For example, something innocent as hugging someone is seen as sinning. The worst is when I get the term, 'Oh, it's culture, not religion' thrown at me all the time. Too many trivial things are seen as sinning and I'm fed up of it. Any suggestions? Thank you."

What disturbs me is that this is becoming a far too common occurrence in "Muslim" communities, especially here in the West. Mind you, I am not disturbed by this person's status, but am deeply concerned that the number of Munaffirun, as the prophet called them, is on the rise. Munaffirun are overly zealous & judgmental people, whose harsh, intolerant & hateful words, deeds & behavior repulses others from faith.

To the countless people out there suffering from a crises of faith, & who feel repulsed, I say to you, Islam is a faith of compassion, of empathy, of forgiveness, of understanding & non-judgement. Our God, is a loving & merciful God, who wants His creation to love Him & not be terrified of Him. Allah, which literally means, 'He in whom all seek comfort, safety & mercy' is a most compassionate God.

Many are the examples of who this God is, in the Qur`an and authentic prophetic tradition. This is the same God, who seeks a "pure and compassionate heart" from His creation. The same God who so eagerly and lovingly forgives. The same God who says, "O' my servants, if your sins were to reach the vast expanses of the universe in quantity, and you came before Me, believing in my mercy and compassion, seeking my forgiveness, I would forgive you, and wipe away all your sins."

This is the same God, who forgave a prostitute all her sins and entered her into Heaven, because she showed mercy and compassion to a thirsty dog! Not once did she pray or wear a veil, but due to a pure and merciful heart, she was forgiven.

This is also the same God, who cast a practicing religious woman into damnation, despite having worn the veil, prayed night and day, fasted most days, memorized scripture etc. but because she was cruel to a cat!

The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned us that the worst of creation are the Munaffirun, whose hearts are dark & souls are evil, who cloak themselves with the garments of "faith" and superficial "worship", whose sole purpose is to play "god" by judging what is in other people's hearts, seeking out their faults, shortcomings and sins, in order to expose them, and make themselves feel superior to others.

To all those who feel estranged from Islam, faith and/or God, I say to you, God loves you and if people unjustly represent God's revelation, then know, He is innocent of them.

God says, "O' my servants who have greatly transgressed and wronged themselves, never lose hope in God's Mercy, Indeed, God forgives all sins."

God created you and loves you, more than anyone else ever can, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise!

Imam Mohamad Jebara, is the Imam & founder of the Cordova Spiritual Education Center, a non-profit organization with headquarters here in Ottawa, Canada.