Believers and Scriptures

Bertrand Russell writes in An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish:

"In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others. At one time, the most influential text in the Bible was: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Now-a-days, people pass over this text, in silence if possible; if not, with an apology. And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose as truth whatever suits our own prejudices. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a bishop should be the husband of one wife."

But it just makes you wonder, if a religion can neither be judged by the actions of its believers nor by the scripture, then what should it be judged by?


freethinker said…
I am forever making that point to my friends. That you can never say that you know the true spirit of Islam, Quran, etc. You can read it in a number of ways, and all of them will privilege one part over another. Ultimately, it's all about the politics.
desiskeptic said…
Its a tricky situation. Most people are moderates, and don't really interpret the religious scriptures literally, or choose to ignore the parts that seem inhumane. But as Sam Harris argues: "We can no longer afford the luxury of political correctness. When religion causes violence, its root claims must be challenged." I tend to agree with him.
Perhaps not by banning by the book, but definitely by challenging its teachings in public intellectual discourse.
Kunwal said…
you can trust the Qur'an as the source of of islam. and you can use the scripture to understand islam (i am hesitant of using your word 'judging the religion'). but not everyone is capable of this.

for understanding you require two things:

1) no matter how many million times you have read it and even if you have memorized the whole book by heart, you will NOT understand it if certain body parts/functions are sealed! the Quran appeals to eyes (if you read), ears (if you listen), mind and heart! if you have it all or partly sealed, you will not be able to understand! (i m talking here abt intention. i dont want to suggest that blind ppl can never be muslims or anything).

b) every ayah, even the choice of every word is in a context and valid for a context. and the qur'an is revealed in arabic! this is a vital point! the arabic language is different. it is so much more powerful. it s wrong of us to think we read these english (urdu etc) words and now we have grasped the whole meaning of this verse. my point here is that it requires a lot of KNOWLEDGE to understand. it takes years to learn the contexts and all the linguistic aspects of a word. if you do not know the structure of the arabic language then you cannot even imagine what it is capable of. people spend large parts of their life or the whole of it to understand the Qur'an. and STILL there are some miracles in it, which no-one but God knows.

it is easy to say, i have once (or twice, etc) read the book, i have read the hadith, i "understand" it all and now i m qualified to make true or wise statements of the religion.

it s not only that muslims choose and reject parts of qur'an. some may do it. but others just live according to their knowledge of islam. and the minimum of that will be no knowledge and thus just following what your parents did.
the only way to understand is to continue seeking knowledge.


we cannot take the behavior of muslims today as a representation of true islam.

we can take the Qur'an and the hadith as a representation of true islam. But a lot is required for a true understanding of these.

P.S. i also have little knowledge and understanding so what i write need not be complete/true. i am writing according to my own understanding and knowledge.
Kunwal said…
oops, it should be 1) and 2)
or a) and b) but not mixed... :)
Avizom said…
When assessing a group of people, all the socioeconomic, political even geographical factors must be taken into account. Muslim moderates of Pakistan, in certain aspects, may be more like Hindu moderates than the extremists. Many people simply don't read the scriptures (many 'muslims' who don't understand arabic never feel the need to read the translations) and they only follow the traditions which may have diverse origins.

Besides, there have been many muslim mystics who even though had extensive knowledge of the textual Islam, still behaved quite differently...ambiguous case. Its a pretty complex system, trying to formulate an equation explaining everything wouldn't help.
Kunwal said…
oh i actually agree with Avizom, reminding me of a case.

of course it is possible that someone might have a substantial level of understanding of islam (which i do not use in the same way as the word knowledge) yet deliberately convey it in a different way to others.
usually such a thought doesnt cross my mind.
but who knows how many other aspects i have overlooked like this.
kk0isonlymyname said…
Hey there,

Thanks for mentioning me fairly on your blog, however it would be nice if you could inform me when I'm cited :)

PostMan said…
Its an interesting question as to how a religion should be judged. Though pertinent to mention that only a 'muslim' will asked to reply for it. I mean how many times have you seen a non-muslim faith attached to an act committed by a person? The oft repeated cases of Hitler was a christian or Oklahoma Bomber was a christian. Had they been muslims - trust me our next 634 generations would have been made to answer for it.

But it is a fact too. When Polish engineer was killed and video released - what was written on banner behind it? The first pillar of Islam. When Al-Qaeda or Taliban kill - they kill in the name of Islam. You and I, when talk about issues, we use 'Islam' as the defining perspective. 'Islamic society' we love to say. 'Islamic republic of Pakistan' we love to chant. We want our lives to be modelled on Islamic teachings.

What I am saying is that we love to put religion in everything - so we are asked to 'clarify' everytime for it. Islam is our religion, people committing acts in the name of it require an explanation. The 'questions' should be asked in order to know where truth lies. So its very normal that we get judged by what we do and what our scripture says.

The zeal in quest to know the answers perhaps will signal the Islamic renaissance.
I would judge it by the social order a religion brings to a community and the sense of judgement (good vs bad) that it instils in an individual.

God/Devil/heaven/Hell/Punishment/rewards. They helps in maintaining the peace.

Religions/Holy Books are generally useful. But there are many who find it useful to create problems.
Shaheryar Ali said…
Thanks Awais for writing this piece. Its such a break from mediocrity.You have brought to light what i call "The secular Pakistani's paradox". My observation is that its this type of secularism is just a conscious or un conscious veil to cover fundamentalism.
Both approaches form a circular arc, the result of which is simple "Islam is beyond criticism". Our Pakistani-secular friends just say this in a more fashionable sort of way. Which you have demonstrated. You have interest in philosophy i was wondering if you ever noted simple "logical contradiction" in most of the so called "Liberal-enlightened discourse". I noted once when i saw some Muslim-socialists throwing curses at Miss Ayan Hirsi Ali. The point was "stereotypical monolithic" representation of Islam . There is not "one" Islam. I readily agreed but pointed out that exactly as Islam is not "monolithic" Taliban's Islam is also "Islam". Why Miss Ali cant criticize the "Islam" which actually have practicing followers.
Isnt equating Islam with a "Progressive-enlightened" spiritual movement in it self is promoting a "monolithic" version of Islam.?
When Taliban declare other muslim sects or interpretations of Islam "non islam" or "kuffer". They are called fundamentalists. But when our Pakistani-secular friends want us not to criticize actions of Taliban with reference to Islam. Rnt they "excommunicating" Taliban or Dua bandi or Wahabi believers. Most of them are peaceful and civilians but ideologically profess same Islam and violent practice as Taliban. want people hands to be cut if they do theft. its written in Koran. So one who believes in literal reading of Koran must be "non-muslim" or Any criticism based on "literal reading of Koran" is absurd? If secular muslims dont want me to criticize Quran for ordering 100 lashes for "Zina" which if i am allowed to say is what in modern lifestyle amounts to having a "boyfriend' or "girlfriend" which is exactly what many young boys n girls in Lahore , ISB are doing than i fail to understand whats all the fuss about Sufi Muhammed's Sharia Law in Swat is.? Than i am afraid ill think NFP is right issue is Shalwar and Jeans, beard and clean shaved face. Rest is same. i fail to understand this Logic. May be you can though i doubt it!!!