Is Islam Only About What’s Permitted or Prohibited?

Morocco World News: by Tarik Oumozzane —

Islam is a religion that encourages education, the pursuit of knowledge. It is a religion that not only acknowledges the “other,” but also protects his/her rights. Islam is a religion that promotes diversity and forbids all kinds of harassment.

Nottingham, England – In these days of innumerable and often outlandish religious cults it is perhaps comforting to know that the fastest growing religion is the well-established and historically secure Islam.

Nearly one in five people in the world today claim the faith of Islam. Over fifty countries have Muslim-majority populations. Not only is it the official religion for Middle Eastern, African and many Asian countries, it is the second most popular religion in western countries such as France, Britain and the United states. With its rate of growth and influence, one would think that Islam would be held in positive regard.

However, if you turn on the TV or radio and read any number of publications, you are more likely to hear words like fundamentalist, extremist, terrorist, violence, hijackers, Kalashnikovs, secret police…. It seems that we are so used to associating such words with Islam that this image has become the norm.

The irony is that individual fundamentalists are very well-received and familiar in the news bulletins. More often than not they are the opening stories. They make the headlines in newspapers and magazines. Bin Laden has become a celebrity bad guy.  His pictures are seen alongside those of Amy Winehouse and Brad Pitt. Bin Laden, Sawahri, Abu Katada and others have been spun into archetypal villains by the western media: two icons like MacDonald’s golden arches or Coca Cola‘s curlicues. Increasingly, and somewhat worryingly this seems to be the only way that the Western media can now discuss Muslims and Islam. Why?

I decided to survey young Muslims living in the UK to discover what they feel about the way in which they are portrayed. My results were complex and posed further alarming questions. Out of these complexities I have made two major observations.

Firstly, there are young Muslims who have adopted what could be termed a “Western” way of life and dress. They like night-clubbing, drinking and hanging out. They do not care what is going on in the media. They feel ashamed of their backgrounds. They find it hard to call themselves Arabs, Asian or Muslim. They praise Western ways and “Western freedom.”

On the other hand, there are young Muslims who are referred to as “Practicing Muslims.” They are often young men with small beards who dress in traditional clothes. They are young women who wear the veil and do not shake hands with men.

While talking with this latter group, I noticed the words of Halal (allowed) and Haram (forbidden) recurred time and time again. I was even asked to clarify whether certain things, like garlic, mobile phones and cars are Halal or Haram. These questions really surprised me. I thought, at first, that they were joking, but I then realized that they were serious. I answered by saying that I am a Muslim who likes garlic and has a mobile and a driving license. I also mentioned that during my studies of the Quran I have found no guidance as to whether garlic, mobiles or cars are Halal or Haram.

Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez, Morocco

At first, I paid little heed to these enquiries, but the repetition started to puzzle me. Why is everybody so concerned with the issue of Halal or Haram? Why do we continue to pose the same questions again and again? Surely, there are more significant questions to ask? Have we been asking the same questions since Islam began?

This debate reminds me of an incident five years earlier. I attended an HIV /AIDS conference at an Moulay. Ismail University in Meknes, Morocco. We listened as experts told us about causes of the illness and how to avoid it. Somebody asked what progress had been made. The answer was that scientists are working hard in Paris, New York, California, Sydney, Oxford, Berlin…. So, I asked what progress our Muslim scientists have made? What about our laboratories? Are they doing something to find a cure for this fatal illness? The room fell silent. Quiet, nervous laughter was the only answer to my question.

Are we Muslims going to spend our lives asking if it is Halal or Haram to allow women to drive cars, whilst Western laboratories undertake important research into cures for human illnesses and improve our quality of life? Are we going to wait for Western inventors to develop high technology? Are we going to wait for Western countries to occupy our lands as they have done in Iraq to implement “democracy”, “progress” and “freedom”? For how long are we going to keep “snoring”?

My frustration grows even when I consider the history of Muslims. Muslims were once masters of knowledge. They were scholars, scientists, doctors, mathematicians, inventors, and astrologers long before the Western world awoke from its infancy. They were open to the world. They were open to other ideas, other philosophies. They interacted, seeking knowledge worldwide. Whatever the cost, they established universities in Baghdad, Cairo, Fez, Cordoba, Damascus, Istanbul, Timbuktu. They were great translators; but, significantly, out of that dedicated study of the texts of others, they developed ideas of their own.

As Oxford, Paris and Boston today are great centers of learning; Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Fez and Cordoba were once the most important cultural centers of the world.  They established libraries.  They traded books by their weight in gold.

Muslim scholars cultivated a diversity of skills and knowledge. Take Aqua IbnShaw Al-Kindy for example, philosopher, mathematician, physicist, astronomer, physician, geographer and musician. It is surprising that he made original contributions to all of these fields. On account of his work he became known as the philosopher of the Arabs.

Al-Kindy was not alone in making significant contributions to a range of fields. Khawarizmi, Razi, Farabi, Al-Zahrawi, Ibn- Haitham, Ibn Sinaa, Ibn Rushed, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battuta- and the list is endless- were brave scholars. They were masters. They dug for knowledge and searched out wherever and at whatever cost. They debated, agreed, disagreed, developed, invented new ideas and produced new knowledge.

The Water Clock in Front of the Bou Inania Madrasa in Fez

Moreover they wrote books that became corners of subjects such as algebra, medicine, technology, philosophy, logic, sociology, theology, music, optics, history, psychology, economics, environment, geography and social facts that have all contributed to the advancement of civilization.

Books like Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, Kitab al- Mansoori, Al-Hawi, Kitab al-Mulooki and Kitab al-Judari wa al- Hasabah, Al-Tasrif, Kitab-al-Manadhir, al-Qanun “Canon”, Muqaddimah or ‘Prolegomena’, the Qanun fi al-Tibb  were included in the syllabuses of major universities until the advent of modern experimental sciences.

However, history suggests that Muslim scholars were, on the whole, very modest, approachable people. They did not live in rarefied ivory towers. They sought the belief in God through philosophy, science, medicine, astronomy, music and other branches of learning contributing immensely to the sum of human knowledge.

Unfortunately, there occurred a long period of isolation, dinommon. In the 15th century, world power started to change, starting with the discovery of the New World, the invention of the machine, the French Revolution. Some Muslims, instead of keeping the same rhythm of interactivity, chose to close their doors and their minds. They turned to the analysis and interpretation of religious texts moving away from fundamental ideas and principles of Islam to a very narrow way of thinking that seemed to evolve around whether certain things were Halal or Haram.

This situation is similar to the unanswerable question: which was first- the chicken or the egg? This analysis and re-analysis of religious tracts has prevailed during the last five centuries. Meanwhile, other Muslims are tired of this relative inactivity and chosen to imitate Westerners. They have adopted Western ways of life, but not Western practicality, efficiency or professionalism as we say in Arabic; they have “taken the leaves and left the core.”

I am not suggesting that Muslims should turn way from the Quran, the holy book nor from the sayings of the Prophet. They are the roots, the pillars, after all. We must be true to ourselves and live by them. However, Islam is a religion that encourages education, the pursuit of knowledge. It is a religion that not only acknowledges the “other,” but also protects his/her rights. Islam is a religion that promotes diversity and forbids all kinds of harassment.

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