ISIS: The Confusion Of Expectation

Waking up to learn of the murder of yet another high profile beheading by ISIS  my thoughts have moved towards people and how they manage expectations.

It is one of our core human rights to have the freedom to believe in something, indeed to express, even live by that belief. But when a personal belief conflicts with another belief, what are the rights of the respective believers?

Looking to the Prophetic example I recall one statement, he who harms a non-Muslim living under the protection of Muslims, it is as if they have harmed me. For a Muslim, the worst crime imaginable is for any person to harm Prophet Muhammad, and yet, it is breaching the protection and freedom of belief which Prophet Muhammad equates harming him. That is to say, that no matter what a person believes, they have a right to hold that belief, even if you as an individual disagree with it. Moreover, if you harm any person by virtue of their belief, then you have committed the worst possible crime.

Consider in the Quran where in a number of places God Almighty curses certain people for certain things. There is debate as to whether God punishes people for their belief with some examples demonstrating this to be the case. But the imperative here again is that it is God and God alone who punishes a community of people, and not mankind. It is not our right as human beings to harm another human being, especially when the cause for doing so is based simply of a different point of view.

Consider also the abuse of the concept of ‘a friend of God’ by Muslims throughout the ages. It is for example commonly held that certain men (and even women) are ‘friends of God’ by virtue of the way they behave, act and believe. In both classical and contemporary sufi methodology numerous individuals are assigned the title of awliyah (the friends of God). Yet, not only does God Almighty use the term sparingly in the Quran, the arrogance with which any person adds such a title to themselves, or has one appointed to them, to me is an insult to God’s authority and right, where no man has the right to make such a claim. That is to say that only God can say who God’s ‘friends.’

I make this point to demonstrate the commonality of interpretative expectation. On the one hand you have a group of people who believe that it is their divine right to impose their point of views onto other, often in a cruel and unpleasant manner. On the other hand you have another group of people who assign a title onto a person (who would have led a ‘pious’ life). Both groups, even though very different suffer the same delusion, a belief that they can assign a title either of authority or of rank.

This isn’t to say that we should not help and encourage those who may be doing wrong to improve themselves, nor that we shouldn’t recognise the good efforts of people who do good. Rather, our expectation as human beings should focus on improving ourselves, making our own efforts speak for themselves such that it is our example of goodness which motivates people to discover more about who we are, the values we hold, and what inherently makes all of us, the community of believers where we unite on commonly held values of good character, decency and justice.

This is the true meaning of the word Muslim, to submit to the will of God by being a good person, living a good live, and contributing to the betterment of society. Everything else is a mechanical form of faith which the Quran (18:55) specifically prohibits: “And now that Guidance has come to them, what is there to keep mankind from believing, or praying for forgiveness, except that they wait for ways of the ancients be repeated?”

“There is no compulsion in religion.”

– Faith has never meant the imposition of belief onto a non-Muslim
– Faith has never meant to impose aspects of worship onto a ‘weaker’ Muslim
– Faith has never meant to be a tool for injustice

Remember the hadith of Prophet Muhammad which said that no person is afflicted with any harm, even the prick of a thorn, except that some of their sins are forgiven. If, even such a small thing can be the cause for a person’s sins to be forgiven, consider how acting improperly, even saying something improperly can be a way to generate sins.

In a lengthy hadith qudsi it is reported different people will arrive on the day of judgment having done different things which they thought were pious, a man fighting in a war, a scholar teaching religion, and so on. When questioned they will say that they did it to please God, but God will respond saying, ‘No, you did it so it could be said of you,’ i.e. for namesake, for showing off, to gain a reputation.

The actions of ISIS with the beheading of innocent journalists are actions designed for two objectives: (1) the belief that they are somehow representing Islam and (2) so people will say that they are somehow representing Islam. Delusions of spiritual grandeur and self-appointed titles. Their expectations are skewed.

May God Almighty protect us all from such improper interpretations of Islam, and may God Almighty inspire us such that we conduct good deeds for the sincerity of the good deeds, not so it can be said of us, amen.

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