Don’t Blame Taliban

Kanwar Khuldune Shahid’s article “Don’t Blame Taliban” appeared in Pakistan Today on Friday, 12 October. My blog is a brief response to what he has written. It is important that his article too be read if the discussion on the subject is to be fully appreciated.

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2012/10/12/comment/columns/dont-blame-the-taliban/

The good thing about the author is that he hasn’t spared any punches while commenting on Islam. It’s far better talking to someone who is frank even if a little rude in criticizing your point of view than talking to someone whose inner feelings are different from what are expressed.

The interesting fact though is that the author has survived despite writing the article because it was written in English. Had it been expressed in Urdu, published in an Urdu newspaper, not only the author, but Arif Nizami Sahib and the building of Pakistan Today would have ceased to exist by now. So let’s thank our God for enabling humans to communicate in languages other than Urdu and let’s avail this opportunity to exchange our views and be more available for understanding them.

The article alleges that the original Islam is barbaric and that those who try to present an understanding which paints a moderate picture of it are hypocrite liars. The tone of the author disappoints me slightly, because it is only when one is prepared to listen to the other view that a meaningful dialogue is possible.  While presenting my understanding, I am hoping that behind the anger-ridden article is an honest, truth-seeking man who is willing to listen to the other view with an open mind.

The article has criticized the message of Islam on two counts in particular: the part of the message that desires from the believer that non-believers be considered a despicable lot who are worthy of being hated and killed and the other one that requires punishments stipulated in the Shari’ah to be meted out on the happening of certain crimes. He considers those punishments and the laws relevant to women barbaric, anachronistic, and unworthy of the modern times.

Since both criticisms are important and need more detailed treatment, I would refer to links to two of my more detailed articles relevant to these issues. However, I will briefly respond to them in this blog too to make it a somewhat complete, even though brief, response. The fact is that Kanwar’s understanding of Islam is based on an incorrect interpretation of the message of Islam. One can only call another person a hypocrite if one knows that he is deliberately claiming to believe in something that he realizes from inside to be wrong.

As for the allegation that Islam expects believers to despise and kill non-believers, the fact is that Qur’an clearly mentions such instructions to be applicable for a certain group of people of the prophet’s era who were declared criminals by God.  They were the ones who had been delivered God’s message most effectively by the messenger of God and after the clarity had reached beyond doubt, God sent His direct instructions directly to His messenger to get them killed.  Several earlier nations were meted out with similar punishments through natural calamities. God chose to punish some of the criminals belonging to this category through the swords of His messengers’ companions. The Qur’an has described the law most clearly that caused them to be killed. One needs to read the Qur’an with unbiased objectivity to know that is written in the text. If someone has already made up his mind, whether he is a narrow-minded religious extremist or an equally biased opponent of him, he can’t be shown what is clearly written there. The Qur’an repeatedly mentions that its message is only relevant to those who want to know. See for a more detailed treatment of the topic

http://www.khalidzaheer.com/essays/kzaheer/social%20issues/nonmuslim_friends.html

As for the punishments for certain criminals, indeed Islam stands to punish people who are found guilty of committing certain crimes after the crimes have been fully ascertained and they are deemed unworthy of any concession. It is indeed a debate that Muslims must continue to have with others, in particular the Western intellectuals, that if an individual is proved to be an undisputed criminal whose existence is a threat to the society, should he be sympathized with or be delivered an exemplary punishment so that others are deterred from committing it and saved from the evil effects of it.  One needs to ask as to what was the purpose of launching such a massive campaign after 9/11 against terrorists who after all were humans worthy of being sympathized with? Why wasn’t it decided by the western intellectuals that they deserved to be cured psychologically so that they could be reformed to become normal citizens of the society? Why wasn’t a team of expert psychologists and psychiatrists sent to Afghanistan instead of an army of killers? Why aren’t written messages of psychological treatment being distributed through drones instead of bombs getting hurled at the criminals, in the process killing many innocent people as well? Indeed Islam mentions clear punishments as a part of its universal message for those who create mischief on earth, the murderers, thieves, fornicators, and those who make false allegations against innocent people. See for a detailed description of where Islam agrees with human rights movement and where it doesn’t:

http://www.khalidzaheer.com/essays/kzaheer/social%20issues/human_rights.html

I have observed an unfortunate tendency among some critics of Islam that they don’t want to know any interpretation other than the crude, extremist one so that their punches could effectively land on the vulnerable parts of the enemy’s body. It seems as, quite the same way as the extremist Muslims do, they too have already made up their minds that there is only acceptable version of Islam, which is the crude version of it presented by the Taliban-like people. Their firm decision doesn’t allow them to listen to any other interpretation. In the process they end up behaving just like the closed-minded Taliban, although taking the debate on Islam in the very opposite direction.  I sincerely hope that Kanwar Khuldune Shahid is not one of them.

As a result of the highly unreasonable picture of Islam that emerges, the only solution such critics of Islam present is that this outdated religion should be scrapped. They don’t realize that they are unwittingly planning for not just elimination of Islam but human civilization as well. If they imagine the events that would follow after their anti-Islam campaign would unfold fully, they would see that it would not just be Islam’s but the entire humanity’s future that would be at stake. Muslims will never leave Islam nor tolerate its open condemnation and rejection. We have seen enough in the recent times to know that truth. However, Muslims can always be convinced to understand and practice the true, soft version of their faith. The fact of the matter is that it is not Islam but the faulty, extremist, and narrow-minded interpretation of it which is at the heart of the problem. And if the proposers of the anti-Islam ideology and the opponents of it are not going to give way to an attitude of openness and dialogue and as a consequence to new ideas, the problems of this world are going to keep multiplying.

The fact is that Taliban and their sympathizers and the extremists opposing them have presented such a crude, incorrect understanding of Islam that it has become very difficult for the common man to distinguish the correct message from the incorrect version of it. However, for the intelligent, discerning minds it is not difficult to follow the clear line of understanding emerging from the Qur’anic text which presents a picture that is both authentic and convincing. And it has become important now as never before to understand with an open mind what the true Islam is. And at the heart of the possibility of dissemination of the true message of Islam is the idea of a project like the Malala University. See http://blog.khalidzaheer.com/posts/85

Who can be killed?

In response to a question on the cowardly attack on the life of Malala, Mawlana Tariq Jamil said in the program of Kamran Khan in Geo News that in Islam there could only be three reasons why a person could be killed. There are several questions that need to be answered in view of his response. I will answer the following questions in the order they appear here: Can I criticize a scholar of his stature? Can we make a statement on an issue different from what the Qur’an has mentioned on it? Is it okay to declare that punishment for extra-marital sex is killing the person when the Qur’an clearly mentions it is hundred lashes? Is it justifiable to lay down a condition to people belonging to other religions that while they have a moral duty to convert to our religion, we can’t convert to theirs? In case we do, we’ll be killed. Is there a consensus of opinion on the fact that there is capital punishment for apostasy and adultery?

I find it extremely surprising that fans of some religious scholars get upset when their revered personality is criticized. The truth is that criticism is what causes all of us to remain alert and looking for truth. If we stop criticizing ourselves and others, we will never be able to know if what we are saying and doing is correct or not. We are in the danger of getting intellectually and spiritually stale in the absence of it. However, it is important that criticism should be made politely and it ought to be directed towards the ideas of a person and not his personality. And the more important and popular a person is, the more important it is that his ideas be criticized by those who think they aren’t correct, because he is influencing many others by his ideas because of his popularity.

When we discuss issues that have been dealt with in the Qur’an, it is imperative that we quote the Qur’an on such issues, because everyone, including the prophet, alaihissalam, was responsible to follow the Qur’an. When the Qur’an has answered most clearly the question as to who can be justifiably killed, there is no reason why any other source should even be quoted for the purpose of answering it. The Qur’an says clearly: “Whoever kills a soul – except in retaliation for another soul (that got killed) or for (creating) mischief on earth – it is as if he has killed the entire mankind.” (5:32) The Qur’an is a clear book, and this statement of it should be counted as one of its most unequivocal verdicts which leaves no room for any disagreement. Ignoring this clear statement to accommodate another one which someone heard someone else saying, attributing it finally to the prophet, alaihissalam, when that other statement is not even matching with the Qur’anic verdict is unfortunate to say the least.

It’s a popular traditional point of view that if a married man or woman indulges in extra-marital sex, the guilty should be stoned to death (rajm). This understanding is there despite the fact there is a clear mention in the Qur’an that the punishment for Zina (extra-marital sex) is hundred lashes (24: 2). Such is the status of the Qur’an in the eyes of many Muslims that they believe that the Qur’anic verdict has been superseded by the mention in hadith. It’s not an occasion for me to go into details of it, but it should be sufficient to clarify my position to mention here that the Qur’an talks about the possibility of a married woman committing adultery and yet talks of the possibility that she gets the same punishment of hundred lashes on committing the crime (24: 8). In another passage, it talks about the punishment of Zina for a married slave-girl to be half of what a free woman would get (4:25) which obviously rules out the possibility of stoning to death as a punishment. The fact is that the occasions of stoning to death reported during the lifetime of the prophet can only be explained by placing them in the category of crime of mischief on earth, like cases of rape etc.

Can a person who announces he is no more a Muslim after he was one be killed for taking that decision? Most traditional Muslims believe that a Murtad (apostate) must face death. Quite apart from the fact that such a punishment has nothing to do with Islamic Shari’ah, the fact is that it would be a very strange rule that while people from other faiths are encouraged to convert to Islam, if a Muslim decides to convert likewise, he will face death. If this is not an inconsistent policy, what else is inconsistency? The fact of the matter is that the immediate addressees of all messengers were given an ultimatum after a clear, effective communication of the message that if they would continue to reject faith and oppose the messenger, they will face death either through natural calamities or the sword of believers. Such punishments have nothing to do with universally applicable Shari’ah law. It was meant to be specific for the era of the prophet and in that era too only when God asked it to be implemented.

The punishments of death for married adulterer and apostate are claimed to be legitimately Islamic on the plea that there is a consensus of opinion (ijma’) among Muslim scholars on the understanding that such was the case. The fact is that if the prophet, alaihissalam, was also bound to follow Qur’anic verdicts, one might argue, why could ijma’ be ever presented to undo what the Qur’an has clearly presented? Apart from that, the interesting fact is that many of the famous scholars of the second, third, and fourth century hijrah have clarified that no ijma’ on any issue is possible except for what is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an and the authentically transmitted Sunnah. Imam Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Imam Ibn Hazm, Imam Taimiyyah, and Imam Razi are some of the scholars who have criticized the popular concept of ijma’. In other words, there is no ijma’ even on what constitutes ijma’. What can be more unfortunate than the fact that a vague source of information such as ijma’ whose very identity and definition is seriously in question should be utilized to silence the verdict of a book that had come to guide the entire mankind.

The Malala University

I tweeted the dream of making a Malala university. The idea has alhamdulillah drawn the attention of some other people as well. I want to give answers to the following questions in this article: Why do we need such a university and what would it teach? What else needs to be done to solve the problems we are facing? Why do we need to call it Malala University? And would it be just a stand-alone university? Why am I not the person who could do the job? Each of these questions is going to be briefly answered in the following paragraphs in the sequence they appear above.

A university which teaches to produce moderate, peace-loving scholars is a serious need of the Pakistani society. It is more important than a Kalabagh Dam or any other desperately needed project. Our society is reeling because of the curse of extremism and sectarianism that has proliferated and is continuing to do so through the existing Madrassah-Masjid based system of providing Islamic education to scholars and masses. No amount of texting, tweeting, writing articles, verbally presenting views on television channels is going to solve the problem. The problem has existed in our society because our sect-based Madrassahs are producing scholars at a staggering speed who are then taking charge of Masajid which are multiplying at a high speed too. The more it happens, the more extremism it would create and the resultant problems would multiply. Believe me, no political party, no army, no foreign aid, nothing would solve the problem. If anything can counter the threat, it is the production process of genuine scholars – scholars who don’t belong to any sect, those who are trained to seek the truth directly from the Qur’an and in the light of it through Sunnah and hadith, scholars who know their own religion well, they know other religions well too, and they also know the contemporary discipline of social and physical sciences well too. When these scholars are going to present Islam not only on television screens and newspapers etc but also, and more importantly, in Masajid, the difference will begin to (and only begin) to appear. There is no problem if the university teaches other disciplines too; in fact it would be good if it does so. However, the University should owe its existence to the desperate religious need.

The previous paragraph clarifies that a university itself is not a complete solution to the problem: It is only a part of the solution. The scourge of religious extremism cannot begin to show even initial signs of receding from our society unless we come up with the accompanying idea of ensuring that the graduates of the university are going to have Masajid in which they will become Imams and will deliver the Khutba of Juma. The trouble is that our society learns its religion from this twin arrangement of Madrassahs and Masajid but never bothers to make the careers of those associated with it attractive enough to pull the imagination of intelligent, bright youngsters towards it. We have to make it a career competitive enough for intelligent young students to seek. I can see some inkling of a change in some parts of our country, like in the Masajid of armed forces and DHA. However, as yet the change is too little to have any significant impact on the society. A major change in that area is also needed if the university project is to be meaningful.

We need to call this institution Malala University. This is because the incident of the brave girl has highlighted the problem like no other incident could ever do. Many religious scholars and parties have joined in the condemnation of what has happened to Malala. And it is a welcome initiative. However, many of those who are condemning the ghastly act don’t even realize that they are a part of the problem. Atrocities of lesser intensities keep happening in our society in the name of religion. People hate each other for holding different religious views like never before; believers are urged to get rid of rulers forcibly in the name of religion; women are confined to a state of virtual house arrest even today and so on. If anything can change the scenario it is a university whose name must reflect the spirit that has caused it to be created. That spirit is badly needed to be reflected in the name of the institution too. And it has not been demonstrated more forcefully than by the daughter of the nation: Malala.

Malala University has to be the mother institution that should beget many others. Like the Madrassah at Deoband was ultimately responsible for begetting many children and grand children, Malala University will herald the process of an unstoppable chain of institutions. If we are looking for transforming the society, we need to have a complete dream. The Malala University will reach out to all places where Madrassahs exist. It will provide a healthy competition to them. In fact, insha’Allah, those institutions will also find themselves forced to merge themselves with it. Such would be the force of change.

There are several reasons why this idea is looking for at least one Sir Syed Ahmed Khan if not more. It cannot be created by a person of a lesser stature: It has to be someone who is trusted by the nation, like Edhi is trusted for his work of charity. I am too ordinary a person to play that role. And it’s not an expression of fake humbleness that prompts me to say that. There are reasons why I am convinced that I am not the person for the job, although it would always be a pleasure to assist the one who would take up the challenge. I have always tried and failed to realize the idea. I failed because I am not the person who can do it. Apart from other personal limitations, I am horrible at doing administrative work. But there is an even more important reason why I cannot be the person for doing it. I am already known to be a representative of a certain religious school. I cannot be an acceptable candidate to many well-meaning people for undertaking this gigantic task. The propaganda onslaught against people like me would so strong that the idea would die even before it begins to actualize. I would love my religious point of view to be presented along with all others for students to make an intelligent choice, but I wouldn’t want this wonderful idea to be killed in the womb because of the controversies associated with me. The Sir Syed of Malala University has to be as nearly a consensus candidate as could be possible.

May the Almighty cause him to emerge soon.

Why is Religion Needed

Life in this world has been designed in such a manner that man has solution-seeking needs which in turn are adequately solved. Man gets thirsty and there is water to quench it; he gets hungry and there is food to take care of it. And so on. Likewise is the need for religion. That is why the response to the need for religion which comes from God in the form of Divine Revelation (Wahy) is also called sustenance (rizq) in the Qur’an. The only difference is that while most other needs are directly related with human physiology and intellect only plays the role of a solution-finding tool, it plays a key role in identifying and solving the need for religion.

But how could it be shown that man needs religion? There could be several reasons cited for it but four of them are more prominent: Man is benefiting from a need-satisfying system in his surroundings and he wants to thank his benefactor for what he is getting. He feels, at least at times, weak and desperate for help and needs to rely on someone to come to his rescue. He wants justice in life but observes that justice is seldom adequately available. And he wants to live on forever but the life he is given to live is very short. Let’s call them religious needs.

So long as these needs are felt by man, the need for religion will continue to be felt. If one wants to prove that religion is outdated, one has to show that these needs are not genuine or have already been solved. There could be another way of disproving the need for religion: One can go on to show that the world we are living in is a hopelessly frustrating place which makes no sense: Man has desperate needs but they can’t be satisfied, because there is no arrangement in this life to meet them. However, if one is resigned to admit that this world has a remarkable ability to come up with solutions to the problems we confront, one has got to accept that religious needs should also be met. If they are not being met by the system, it is a very strange exception to the need-satisfying rule of our life. Human nature would always look for a way to come out of this predicament.

Of course, if the need for religion is proved, it doesn’t necessarily show that all existing religions are correct, nor does it mean that religion can cause no harm. Quite the same way as if the need for medicine is established, the possibility of harmful medicine can still be there. However, if people are contracting diseases, a desperate search for their cure can’t be ridiculed. Likewise if there is a yearning to meet religious needs, attempts at satisfying them can’t be looked down upon.

Traditional Islam: A Philosophical Defense of Its Case

There are many intelligent Muslims who are intellectually convinced that the only correct way to follow Islam is to follow the traditional understanding of it – the one that good Muslim scholars and intellectuals have been believing in, following, and disseminating all along the history of the Muslim religious tradition.

The philosophical foundation of this understanding is built on the premise that humans are gifted with an intellect which is only capable of raising the right kind of religion-related, philosophical questions; they cannot however answer them adequately. The very fact that, so goes the argument, most notable philosophers were in agreement about the important questions that ought to be probed but they were not able to answer them is a proof of the fact that God wanted those answers to be searched in religious tradition. The fact that there was unanimity about the questions amongst philosophers and disagreement about answers to them points to the reality that the answers were meant to be sought from a superior source which provided conclusive responses to each of those questions. The conclusion that proceeds from this line of argument is that whatever answers are offered by religion are authentic because of the very fact that they have been answered by a higher source with a claim that those were from God. Good religious people have to simply take them from their religious tradition in exactly the same way as they were available in it without making any alterations in them, because if they were to make alterations they would do so with their intellect whose inability to answer such philosophical questions on religion has already been established by the history of failure of the great philosophers in answering them.

Socrates is considered to be one of the earliest proponents of the basic premise of this point of view. He is said to have inflicted a conclusive defeat on the Skeptics who claimed that human intellect was incapable of gaining knowledge. He responded to it by insisting that knowledge did not always amount to grasping the complete reality of something; instead, quite often it was the act of reflecting or absorbing the reality in a measured way that constituted it. Knowledge in other words could only be had to the extent it was available and the possibility of having it varied from reality to reality.

If one followed the advice of this line of argument, one would stick to what the unanimous approval of the traditional understanding of religion – in our case Islam — was in order to follow its true message. What is in religious tradition is what religion has to offer; since we cannot have anything better than what is available, we ought to know our limitations. The argument that a certain opinion was held by the majority of Muslim scholars would be conclusive to decide that the opinion was the only valid one to be taken seriously. All other opinions were unacceptable simply because they were not supported by the traditional religious scholars.

There were a few difficulties in accepting the above-mentioned approach from Islamic point of view.

The opinion would hold all religious traditions superior to non-religious ones, at least insofar as the responses to the philosophical questions were concerned. If human intellect can only raise valid questions in the domain of religious realities and it has to sheepishly follow the immediately available religious responses to them, it should follow from it that those who were following the suggested process were worthy of being praised rather than being condemned. The Qur’an, on the contrary, strongly condemns the religious traditions of the polytheists of Makkah and the Jews and Christians of the Arabian Peninsula. Should we accept what this philosophically argued understanding says or should we side with the Qur’anic condemnation? If one were to respond to this criticism by saying that the Qur’anic criticism was on the attitude of a people who were following a religious tradition in preference to what the book of God, Qur’an, was saying, the responder needs to be informed that both polytheists of Makkah and the people of the book were claiming that they too were following the tradition of their religious elders. The Qur’an did not accept the excuse and responded by saying “(Are they going to follow their forefathers) even when they (the forefathers) did not understand anything and had gone astray?” In other words, the Qur’an is informing that religious tradition can get corrupted and therefore it was wrong to follow it blindly, especially when convincing criticism was raised against it.

The point of view assumes that there was always only one religious tradition which was to be followed. What if there were many? If the answer was that some minor differences were always going to be there but a religious tradition was defined by the major agreements amongst the majority of the religious peoples of a society, the question that would seek an answer would be this: Who would decide what was a major difference and what was a minor one? Are we going to describe the least common denominator as the valid religious tradition to be followed? If that was true then all religious differences should be tolerated, both new and old, because there were always some areas of commonality in the broad definition of a religious tradition. The fact is that in many religious societies in the Islamic world, both past and present, many practices followed by the majority of the traditional religious people were a distorted version of religion in the opinion of the majority of the traditional religious people of another society. Whose version of religion should one follow given that the intellect itself was incapable of deciphering what was right religiously from what was wrong?

If the opinion is to be taken seriously, one would not take the Qur’anic text quite as seriously as the religious tradition of Muslims. It will have to be assumed that Qur’an itself was unclear and the meanings given to it by the traditional scholars were the only correct interpretation of it. A new understanding on some aspect of religion would stand rejected simply because it was new. An old interpretation would be revered because of its oldness. The Qur’anic text would play no role whatsoever in deciding which religious understanding was correct because the golden principle was that in case of religious guidance what was thought and done earlier had to be correct and superior to what was done and understood later. The result of it would be that Muslims will have to curb their intellect from attempting to understand the Qur’an with an open mind. The call of the book of God “Why don’t they ponder over the Qur’an” will have to be ignored, because if it was pondered over sincerely, it might give results that were against the traditional understanding of religion, in which case, according to the given view, the individual would be led astray.

In order for this view to be taken seriously it will have to be acknowledged that the traditional knowledge about Islam has always been the same all along the last fourteen hundred years, that there have been no periods in the Muslim history when the knowledge was faulty, and what is understood and practiced today in the name of religion by the traditional Muslims was exactly the same as it was done fourteen hundred years ago. A careful study of the Muslims shows that such a claim about the message of Islam cannot be made with authority.

Thus a good number of intelligent Muslims have been dissuaded by a philosophical absurdity – the fact that intellect only raises religious questions and only the tradition of religion answers them – from seeing what has been clearly mentioned in the Qur’an. Instead of asking the Qur’an about what the answers to the perplexities of philosophical reasoning were, a naïve idea was invented completely blocking all roads leading to understand the book of God properly. The Qur’an declares about itself that it was the criterion between right and wrong (al-Furqan; 25:1); that it had come to give a verdict in religious matters where men differed (2:213); and that even the prophet, alaihissalaam, was bound to follow its verdict under all circumstances (10:15). But the proponents of this point of view suggested that the text of the Qur’an cannot be understood properly. They have suggested that language is incapable of communicating true meanings to the addressee, especially when it has grown old. In other words the Qur’an was unclear to at least the modern reader and it was therefore, God forbid, not fit to guide humans in the modern times. The book of God needs the crutches of traditional Islam to be understood. All claims of the clarity of its message on the basis of its remarkable thematic and structural coherence book stand rejected in the eyes of some of these philosophically minded Muslims. The entire traditional baggage of Islam, including what Sufis have been traditionally saying and doing, would carry more worth and significance than the book of God.

The fact is that Qur’an doesn’t condemn human intellect as completely incapable of knowing religious truths. On the contrary, it suggests that human intellect is constrained by certain limitations which it is capable of appreciating and acknowledging. Divine Revelation comes to the rescue of the shortcomings of the intellect to guide it towards higher levels of spiritual and moral stations. The relationship between the two is not analogous to that of a blind man who is being guided by someone with sight; instead it is more like a teacher-pupil relationship: the pupil (intellect) is guided by the teacher (revelation) to know even more from what is already known. The Qur’an uses the expression nurun ‘ala nur (light upon light) to describe it. Whenever the student finds that the teacher is apparently not performing in a befitting manner, he can question the teacher and investigate whether it really is a genuine guide or a bogus one: If the guidance of Divine Revelation one gets through religious tradition is not making sense to the human intellect, the latter has the right to ask if the guidance was coming from the right source.

Intellect also plays an important role in guiding humans by gradually taking them from lower levels of appreciation of divine revelation to the higher ones. It is through critical reasoning that intellect can appreciate that at times what was understood by the earlier religious people was a crude understanding of religion and what has come through later, after the process of critical appraisal was a much refiner understanding of the divine text. To snub human intellect from reasoning any further because of the reverence attached to the understanding of the earlier generations would therefore deprive humans of a much better, refiner, and deeper meanings of the divine text which God had left at a much deeper level simply because He wanted human intellect to struggle to dig it out from there. To assume that there wasn’t anything that lay underneath the miraculous language of the Qur’an was to undermine the divine nature and greatness of it.

One should however not conclude from the above understanding that all aspects of traditional Islam would fail the test if put through the test of Qur’anic scrutiny. Quite to the contrary, most aspects of Islamic tradition are consistent with the true message of the Qur’an. In fact the sunnah of the prophet which is as authentic as the Qur’an has been preserved through the tradition of Muslims. It is through unbroken chain of practice of Muslims that we have been able to get the fully preserved sunnah practices like the formal prayers, the pilgrimage of the Ka’bah etc. That aspect of traditional Islam most certainly is the true message of God which will never be in danger when put through the test of intellectual scrutiny in the light of Qur’an.

A Few Observations

In response to the messages I have received recently on my last two blogs, I have the following observations to make. Since the basic theme of the messages in both blogs is by and large the same and my worthy critics have raised similar points, I am posting this message as one separate blog to respond to the messages on both the previous blogs.

Mawlana Saleemullah Khan, the teacher of Mawlana Taqi Usmani, has accused the latter of indulging in talfīq. The Arabic term is used to mean an act whereby a Muslim follows another Imam (scholar) even though he has vowed to be a muqallid (blind follower) of a different Imam. This happens to be Mawlana Saleemiullah’s biggest objection to Mawlana Taqi Usmani’s model of Islamic banking. Talfīq is haram (prohibited) according to the conventional scholars who believe in taqlīd (blind following of scholars). It has to be said in defence of Mawlana Taqi Usmani, however, that he was forced to do talfīq because he had no choice. Hanafi fiqh, which the Mawlana otherwise follows blindly, leaves such little space to maneuver in financial matters that he was left with no choice but to partly ignore the principle he himself has so strongly pleaded elsewhere in his much celebrated book on taqlīd. Some of the readers probably don’t know that Mawlana Taqi Usmani is the proud author of a book “Taqlid Ki Shara’i Haisiat” (The Correct Islamic Stance on Taqlīd) . The book strongly pleads that taqlīd is the right approach in Islam.

I must acknowledge that Mufti Taqi Usmani deviated from his stance on taqlīd only in Islamic banking. He hasn’t done it in any other case. In fact, Taqi Usmani Sb is so firm on his stance that when he made his inaugural speech to one of his new classes of specialization (takhassus) in jurisprudence, he clearly told his students that the one who disagreed with the views of Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, a Hanfi-Deobandi scholar of repute, he should not bother to come to his classes. I am narrating this statement on hearing it from a Mufti Sahib who attended that class.

Now I could be completely unaware of the latest developments in Mawlana Taqi Usmani’s approach. If someone helps me in knowing that he has withdrawn his staunch support for taqlīd and that he has retracted from the contents of his book, I will be delighted to know that and I will applaud him as a great scholar, not that I am not his admirer right now. But has he really withdrawn his stance on taqlīd or is Mawlana Saleemullah’s stance correct that he is guilty of contradicting his own principles in the case of Islamic Banking?

The analogy of a madrassah and an ‘Alim on the one hand with a medical college and a certified doctor on the other is an incorrect one. Quacks in the field of medicine don’t challenge loud and clear that what is happening in the medical colleges is not genuine education on medicine. They simply do their medical practice stealthily despite a clear law that they are not legally allowed to do so. Also, if qualified students of medical colleges don’t perform well, the society would protest against them immediately because the results of their practice would show in the form of poor health and deaths of their patients. How shall we be able to know that ‘spiritual colleges’ are showing good or bad results? Probably the moral performance of the followers of the scholars they produce is a barometer to gauge their effectiveness. But the real result would show on the Day of Judgment when it would be too late to realize whether the decision of following the Madrassah-based religion was correct or not. The only genuine way of knowing the efficacy of these institutions was to urge every user of their services to use his/her intellect while benefitting from their views. Unfortunately is the very faculty which targeted to be made ineffective if not completely killed by the Madrassah scholars when they urge their followers to follow them blindly as a matter of religious duty. They scare people by stating that not doing so – in other words using intellect in religious matters was – prohibited (haram) in Islam.

If those who haven’t studied in Madrassas and yet are participating in spreading Islamic message are quacks, then the following are some of the names of ‘religious quacks’ of our times: Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Israr Ahmad, Dr Ghulam Murtaza Malik, Dr Zakir Naik, Dr Farhat Hashmi, Mr Ahmad Deedat, Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi etc. All of them resorted to learning about Islam through their own personal, non-Madrassah-based means.

Interestingly, Mawlana Mawdudi was a ‘semi-quack’, going by the definition of it of the admirers of the Madrassah system. Despite his learning from a conventional Madrassah which he couldn’t complete because of his family problems, he faced massive resistance from the clergy of his times because he committed the cardinal crime of spreading the word of Islam despite not being a Madrassah ‘Alim. Dirty slogans like this one were popularized by our Madrassah-based propaganda machinery: “Aik Maududi Sau Yahudi” (One Maududi is the equivalent of hundred [anti-Islam] Jews).

If we look at the personalities that were responsible, directly or indirectly, for the spreading of Madrassah education in the sub-continent, we find that some of the more prominent ones amongst them weren’t Madrassah graduates themselves. Qasim Nanautvi, the founder of Deoband school, Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi, the founder of the Barelvi school, and Abdullah Ibn Abdul Wahhab, one of the most significant spiritual leaders of the Ahle Hadith movement in Pakistan, were all quacks by the definition of the term given by the Madrassah enthusiasts.

It is also interesting to note that there have been several instances when the ‘scholars’ have studied from ‘quacks’. I personally know ‘scholars’ who teach at Madrassahs and yet come to one of the ‘quacks’, Mr Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, to learn Arabic and religion from him.

It must also not be forgotten that Madrassas were created during the British rule as a reaction to the British occupation of the sub-continent. If there were elements of extreme conservatism in the structure and constitution of these institutions it wasn’t therefore surprising. The surprising thing however is the fact that what started as a reactionary movement has become in the opinion of many the only institution relevant to solve all the religious problems of the Ummah in the contemporary times. It is like Mawlana Ilyas started preaching to the poor and religiously ignorant Muslim Maiwatis of UP, India by paying them an amount equivalent to their daily wages and taking them out of the hustles of life to teach the very basics of Islam. However, what started as an improvised strategy to educate the very ignorant became the biggest preaching movements of Muslims. Such are the tragedies of the contemporary Muslim Ummah. Of course, the sincerity of the followers of either of these movements is not in question.

If a reality as stark as the tendency of blind following of the elders is continuing to plague the Ummah and hollow its foundations, its criticism has to be shouted repeatedly. If an epidemic continues to stay in a society, its cure needs to be regularly reminded and administered. Like it would be foolish to suggest to the doctors that their efforts to make a society aware for remedying an epidemic should be discontinued because it had become monotonously repetitive, similarly it is unwise to suggest that the curse of taqlīd shouldn’t be lamented anymore because the exercise has already taken too long. When we criticize for religious reasons, we are not in the business of story-telling where repetition makes the message stale. So long as poverty stays we shall continue to raise our voice of concern against it.

If a person claims to be belonging to Al-Mawrid’s way of thinking, he may not necessarily be truly representing the institute’s viewpoint. If an Al-Mawrid’s representative ridicules a scholar belonging to another school of thought, he needs to be condemned too. If he stops people from listening to others, he is not doing what Al-Mawrid stands for. However, if an individual belonging to the Madrassah-based, traditional system stops people from listening to others, he is doing exactly what his school of thought promotes. However, not all representatives of the traditional system ridicule scholars different from their school of thought. Blocking the way of dialogue is however a matter of basic policy for them.

My blog ‘The Story Goes On’ has received a fair share of criticism. I must admit that it deserved to be criticized. I have also criticized myself, not for posting it but, for failing to clarify what I really wanted to communicate. If a reporter of a murder doesn’t do well enough to make people aware of the fact that he was a witness to a ghastly crime, it is the fault of the reporter. Likewise I should be blamed for not telling well enough that in one of the most prestigious universities of the country a teacher was guilty of teaching his students that blindly following Madrassah-scholars was a religious duty of all Muslims. Of course, I should be criticized for not being clear enough in mentioning that the one who protested against the crime was the one who was put to sword by the university authorities. I apologize to my critics the same as TM apologized to the students of PPI.

Mawlana Amin Ahsen Islahi, who was my mentor’s mentor, urged the inaugural class of al-Mawrid in 1983 of which I was a participant to carry out a crusade against the evil of blind conservatism in our society. Mawlana was a graduate of Madrassatul Islah, Azamgarh, UP (India) where he taught for several years. He was therefore an insider of the Madrassah system. I am paraphrasing a part of his speech which carries a lot of significance for me:

If the women, the old, and the feeble of a society present an excuse on not responding to the need of removing garbage from a society, it is understandable. However, if the youth make similar excuses, it doesn’t befit them. Even more dangerous than the physical filth is the decay in the system of our religious education. The situation urges the conscientious youth of the society to do something about it or else they will be held guilty of ignoring an exceedingly important moral and religious duty.

The Call for Madrassa Reforms

The Pakistani parliament has recently been involved in the debate surrounding the reformation of Madrassas in Pakistan. For this purpose, the government has setup an investigation team to examine the existing methods of teaching and curriculum followed by these seminaries. The high importance attached to this investigation stems from the fact that a cleric’s function in a Muslim society is pivotal: They are perceived as guardians of the Quran and Hadith. They derive great authority and following from being the custodians of religious knowledge and have the ability to shape and mould minds and hearts of millions of people. The government felt it is its responsibility to ensure that these sources of authority pass through a certain rational process of education before they practice their clerical functions. However, this endeavor by the government wasn’t taken too positively by some of the religious establishments and was seen as encroachment on their exclusive domain of authority. What they failed to acknowledge was that the government had the right to inspect the functions of these institutions like it had the right to in case of all other units functioning in its domain of authority. If they were to resist and not co-operate, it would amount to challenging the writ of the state and would then have to be dealt with accordingly.

In order for these reforms to make inroads and bring about change, it is absolutely necessary for people to feel, realize, and understand the need for such reforms. Change can only be effective if it is felt from within. If the perception amongst the public is that the cause of reformation is some outside source, the United States, then the true outcome of such reforms cannot be actualized.

How to bring about change in the existing Madrassas? I propose tackling the problem at two fronts. The first important, yet drastic, measure should be the eliminating of the first 12 years of the existing education in these Madrassas and replacing them by a broad-based education system that is no different from what is being taught to all other young people of the country. A child at the tender age of five does not have the reasoning ability to think critically; to entrust him to such institutions with a decision that he is destined to become a religious scholar is a unique and absurd way of creating specialists. Young men and women should get the opportunity to choose independently after they complete twelve years of broad-based education, like they do in any other profession. Why isn’t Religious Studies in Madrassas treated like other disciplines? It is a matter of human rights. The government has the right as well a duty to take away the authority to impart specialist education to make scholars from the age of five years. It is only at the age of seventeen, or after twelve years of broad-based education, that a young individual should be given the right to choose his or her career. If innocent children are being forced to become scholars without them even realizing it, the government should intervene to undo the process.

Another important policy reform should be to ban the affiliation of any religious group to any Madrassa. The labeling of Deobandi, Shia, Brailvi, Ahle Hadith, and Jama’ate Islami Madrassas should come to a stop and the focus should rather be towards imparting higher quality education to the students than on injecting a one-sided point of view that only fuels sectarian bigotry if not tension and violence. Do we allow only Classical, Neo-classical, Keynesian, or Marxian Economics to be taught in institutions specializing in these schools of understanding? Why do we allow such an absurdity to flourish in our religious seminaries? I, therefore, suggest a diverse faculty, encompassing a range of scholars from different religious orientations, exposing a plethora of ideas to the students. This will not only broaden the horizon for these young students but will also allow them to respect and tolerate people with different views and beliefs.

Is it realistic to expect that such reforms would see the light of the day? Are the Madrassas ever going to be ready to accept such proposals? Very unlikely! However, we mustn’t lose hope. If we are able to construct a system parallel to the existing one, I’m hopeful that change can be brought about. If we are able to establish new institutions that incorporate the policies and suggestions that I have put forward, I’m positive that the new crop of scholars produced by it will be more appealing to the masses. With a proper base, I don’t see why the Madrassas won’t die a silent death.

The Story Goes On

Not long ago, an Islamic Studies teacher in a famous Pakistani university, let’s call it Pakistan’s Premier University (PPU), had to go on a sabbatical leave for one year. Since the inception of the graduate program, he was single-handedly shouldering the burden of teaching the subject which was mandatory for all Muslim students to take. The teacher, let’s call him The Moderate (TM), was neither hugely popular nor unpopular. However, he was able to carry the burden of teaching the important subject reasonably well until the time of the leave. While he was able to bring some intelligent students closer to Islam, there were a few conservative students who were not impressed by his ideas which they felt were non-conventional. TM himself began to feel the need to have another teacher, a conservative one, who could help in maintaining a balance by catering to the needs of the conservative students too who felt that the subject of Islamic Studies was not being treated fairly at PPU.

Incidentally, just about the time when TM was leaving for his sabbatical, there appeared a conservative candidate, let’s call him The Traditionalist (TT), for taking over the assignment. The gentleman had several features that made him a better candidate for the job for PPU which primarily caters for the English-speaking elite of the country: He was born and brought up in the US; he graduated from the same top country of the world whose citizens are an envy for most students of PPU; he then shifted to Pakistan to graduate from a local seminary; he joined the ranks of Sufi saints by becoming a part of one of the many Sufi traditions (silsilah) by doing bay‘ah (oath of allegiance to attain spirituality) of a Sufi master; his appearance of white clothes, flowing beard, and a turban all work to add authenticity to his credentials of being a genuine traditional Muslim. His wife has a similarly American-cum-madrassah background.

TM was one of the interviewers of TT when the latter was being considered for the job of teaching Islamic Studies. On talking to the polite, fluent, and intelligent TT, he got convinced that the ideal man he was looking for to balance things off in teaching Islamic Studies at PPU has arrived at the right time when he was about to go for the leave. Of course, TT impressed all others too who mattered.

As anticipated by TM, TT was supremely popular amongst a large number of students. Many of them started following him and the lessons he taught. His classes would be crowded. For reasons best know to him, however, TT designed a plan to get rid of TM. On his return to PPU after the leave, TM realized that his students weren’t coming to him any more. He was informed that TT has convinced his students that since TM was not a madrassah-graduate he was not a scholar and therefore was not qualified to guide people on Islamic matters. He also convinced many of his students that the only right approach one could adopt to follow Islam was to follow the madrassah scholars blindly. TM was alarmed at learning that many students of the premier educational institution of the country had started believing in his ideology. Frustrated by the situation, TM started sending e-mail messages to the students, informing them that taqlid (the policy of blindly following scholars) was unacceptable in Islam. TM’s e-mails caused a strong reaction amongst the students many of who launched a signature campaign against him and the VC took action against him by demanding an apology to the students. TM had thought that he was doing a service to PPU by warning its students against blindly following anyone. However, he submitted to the authority of the VC and apologized to the students. And he soon left PPU, the institution that prides itself in promoting values like independence of thought and openness in exchanging views. No tears were dropped nor any regrets expressed on TM’s departure. It was an unceremonious ouster of, as if, an unwanted element that had accidentally joined the institution.

TT meanwhile celebrated the departure of TM by mentioning not just within the campus but outside of it too that he was able to, by the grace of God, get rid of the ‘deviant group’ and PPU, by His supreme kindness, was cleansed of impure elements from the team of Islamic Studies teachers. He then set about the objective of taking to task in the ‘over-westernized’ PPU the ‘Satanic elements’ in the other departments.

TM left PPU with a resolve that he will work to create institutions that would produce Islamic scholars of the right kind. He was convinced that TT was not just one person. He symbolized a prototype that was causing huge damage to the youth of the country. In order to improve the cause of education in the country, especially religious education, it was imperative that a system of education parallel to the madrassah-system be introduced. He joined an NGO that had set forth as one of its objectives the task of creating open-minded Islamic scholars. Meanwhile, TM was also able to get the opportunity to express his moderate approach towards Islam in the media on a scale he could have never imagined. He realized, and still does so, that his projection in the media far beyond his potential was a manifestation of God’s policy according to which if a man was unfairly treated, He will make sure that he finds adequate compensation elsewhere. Indeed TM has far less abilities than the response he has received through his television appearances. But then who can stop God from doing what He wills to do?

Meanwhile things have taken a new turn at PPU. Within a short period of three years, the tables have been turned at the university. The once all-empowered instructor of Islamic Studies, TT, has been denied the opportunity to teach his favorite subject. The obligation of teaching Islamic Studies is now being shared by many instructors, TT not being one of them. PPU hasn’t approached TM to take over the assignment once again nor would he be interested in doing it even if he was offered. He is happily involved in the task of pursuing his now life-time project of creating the right kind of Islamic scholars elsewhere.

Neither TM nor TT is an angel; nor is any of them a Satan. They are both ordinary mortals living in God’s world where He is at the helm of all affairs. We can fool others but we can’t fool Him. More particularly, when we try to bluff people in the garb of religiosity, God takes immediate action. Both TM and TT would do well to take that reality into account. Indeed if they continue to live for a few more years, the story is likely to take a few more turns and twists. However, no turn in this life is accidental and no twist without reason.

God can tolerate mistakes and, at times, blunders of humans in this life. He can however never tolerate injustice done by one individual to another, especially when the one who is being unjust is a religious person.

How Should We Deal With Blasphemy?

The simple answer to the question is this: We should ignore people who are guilty of blasphemy and tell them that the great man whom you are targeting in your acts of blasphemy is the one who has taught us to ignore what you are doing.

There were at least three cases of blasphemy which were committed against the prophet and the message of Islam that have been mentioned in Qur’an. In none of them was there an indication given by God that those who were guilty of the offence ought to be killed. If there was to be a punishment for blasphemy, clearly it was in Qur’an where it should have been mentioned, especially when the book mentioned the possibility of its occurrence during the prophet’s lifetime.

The passages in which cases of blasphemy have been mentioned are found in the Qur’an in the following verses: 2:104; 5:57-58; 63:7-8.

In the first passage, Qur’an informs us that there were some hypocrites who used to come to the prophet’s gatherings with the motive to tease him in a way that their cheap, sinful desire to deride him could be satisfied on the one hand and yet their offence could go unnoticed on the other. For that purpose they used to address the prophet by saying ra‘ina (please say it again) in a way that they would twist their tongue to prolong the vowel ‘i’ so as to give a sound of a word that would mean “our shepherd”. Instead of condemning the perpetrators of this crime to any punishment, however, the Qur’an said this to believers: “Believers, don’t say ra’ina, instead say unzurna and listen carefully (so that you don’t need to ask the prophet to repeat his statements)”. (Qur’an; 2:104) The word unzurna, like ra’ina, served the same purpose. Clearly it was a good occasion for the Almighty to mention and implement the punishment for blasphemy, if there was any.

The second passage that mentions an insulting attitude of the disbelievers towards the prophet was this: “Believers, don’t make such individuals from amongst the people of the book and the disbelievers (of Makkah) your friends who tease and make fun of your religion. And fear Allah if you are true believers. When you are called for prayers, they make it (that call) an object of ridicule. This they do because they were a group of people who don’t know (the truth).” (Qur’an; 5:57-58). Had the intent of the divine law been to kill those who made fun of religion, this was the best occasion to make it unambiguously clear. Instead, believers were asked to ignore and not make such foolish people their friends.

The third passage relevant to the topic appears in the sixty-third chapter of Qur’an titled “Hypocrites”. The chapter talks about the nefarious designs of the leader of the hypocrites and his followers, who, in one of the expeditions of Muslims to outside Madinah, insulted the prophet and his companions in the following words: “They say when we shall return to Madinah the honorable shall expel from there the mean, even though honour is for Allah and His messenger, and believers, but these hypocrites are unaware.” (63:7-8) Indeed what Abdullah Ibn Ubay, the leader of the hypocrites, and his followers said was clear blasphemy. However, the tolerant message of God didn’t demand their head. Instead, the Almighty only clarified the truth in response to the blasphemy the hypocrites had uttered. Abdullah Ibn Ubay later died a natural death in Madinah. Despite the fact that he wasn’t living in a foreign land but in the very city of which the prophet was the ruler, he didn’t face death in retribution for the clear act of blasphemy he and his companions were guilty of committing.

The question that should naturally arise is that if Qur’an was so clearly not requiring any punishment for blasphemy, why were Muslims demanding that those guilty of this offence should face death? The answer to this question is that there were indeed some disbelievers who were killed for being guilty of blaspheming against the prophet during his lifetime. Those who demand capital punishment for the blasphemers believe in the light of those incidents that such was the punishment for all blasphemers.

The fact of the matter is that, as we have clarified above, there was no punishment for blasphemy in Islam. However, those people who directly received the message of God through His messengers were destined to be killed in accordance with the law that was applicable to such people only. It has been clarified in the Qur’an that such people were destined to receive divine punishment, in one form or the other, after a certain God-ordained deadline was reached. That deadline had already reached for the disbelievers of Makkah, thirteen years after the prophetic mission had started, at the time when the prophet and his companions were forced to migrate from the city to Madinah. However, God delayed the time of inflicting the punishment in accordance with the considerations of the circumstances of the believers and the disbelievers. The first phase of that punishment took care of the entire leadership of Quraish, the clan that ruled Makkah, two years after the migration in the Battle of Badr. That process continued for different people on different occasions. When the people of the book, the Jews and the Christians, criminally denied the prophet’s message, they too became eligible for the divine punishment. However, in their case the punishment was relaxed to not necessitate death for them. Instead they were forced to live the life of second-rate citizens in the Muslim society on paying Jizya, the non-Muslim tax.(Qur’an; 9:29) However, because those Jews and Christians who had denied the prophet’s message were guilty of an unpardonable crime, the more blatant criminals amongst them — those who didn’t just deny the messenger’s message but went on to tease, insult, and threaten his life — were considered worthy of being killed like their counterpart polytheist disbelievers of Makkah.

Clearly, such punishments were meant to be applicable to a certain group of people living in a certain era. Their crime and the rationale for their punishment have both been mentioned in the Qur’an. For the rest of the people, the general rule of the Qur’an mentioned above to ignore the foolish blasphemers would continue to remain applicable.

According to the Qur’an, capital punishment can only be given to two categories of criminals: those who are guilty of murder or of creating mischief on earth. Anyone who took the life of another soul for reasons other than these two, according to Qur’an, it would be as if he killed the entire mankind. (Qur’an; 5:32)

Is Belief in God Morally Imperative?

When I say that belief in God is a moral issue more than an intellectual one, my understanding can be described in the following way:

Man has an inherent moral virtue of being grateful to his benefactors. We are grateful to our parents, teachers, relatives, friends etc for what they have done for us. This inner inclination to thank and pay back to those who have helped us is universally shared so strongly that those who go against its verdict are considered ungrateful, immoral people.

If the above-mentioned premise is valid, then it should proceed from it that the one who is responsible for conferring upon us all the blessings that we enjoy, including giving us the company of the people who deserve our grateful behaviour, should be the focus of our best emotions of gratitude. I concede that, to begin with, one might ask as to why should one thank Him if there were good reasons to believe that He doesn’t exist? The intellectual thought would indeed pose a challenge to the moral impulse in man, but the latter impulse would incline him to search for the right answer far more eagerly than he would do for a question whose answer he is seeking simply for intellectual curiosity. The earnestness in the quest for God should at least be the equivalent of the eagerness of a man who is tracing his parents about whom he is not sure if they were alive or not. My question is: Have the agnostics and the atheists explored enough to claim that they haven’t found anyone who was ultimately responsible for all the blessings they enjoy? Have they earnestly prayed to Him, even without formally believing in Him, as I did? If they would say that they did and yet didn’t get any response, I would say that, at best, I am seriously puzzled because my experience has been very different. When I prayed to Him, even when I thought that I didn’t formally believe in Him, His response was overwhelming. Why aren’t these others going through the same experience in response to the same behaviour? I am honestly baffled!

The fear factor can only be a starting point for believing in God. It is a very superficial reason to believe in Him over a long time. In fact, it is no reason to believe in Him. I would suggest that it is better not to believe in God than to believe in Him for fear of His probable appearance. I don’t believe in a God who should be feared like we fear a deadly monster. I believe in a loving and caring God, who more significantly, responds to my prayers. And I am dead sure that He does. But I am no one to accuse others of not trying enough or not praying to Him sincerely. That’s why I say that I am simply puzzled. What loss would occur to those who haven’t found God if they were to pray to Him in sincere earnestness?

However, for the prayer to cause connection with God, there should be one condition satisfied: One should submit oneself humbly before Him. You might say that it’s a funny proposal for someone who doesn’t even believe in Him to humble himself before God. I would respond by saying that when we feel morally obliged to be grateful to the source that arranged for us all that we have in this life, when we find that there were reasons to believe that He exists (even if there were other reasons that lead to a contrary conclusion), and when our vulnerability causes us to be fearful for our existence, could there be a better response from us than to humble ourselves before Him (or His supposed existence) and see what happens?

I have a feeling that the intellectual arguments of the agnostics and atheists deprive them of that all important feeling of humbleness that inspires one to look earnestly for God. But I can be wrong.

Quite often, I have observed people who claim not to believe in God deriding religion, religious people, and the concept of God. There is often a rejection of the religious concepts with disdainful sarcasm. There is a clear sense of intellectual superiority one can smell from the kind of remarks that one hears. Richard Dawkins has made strong claims in his book on the basis of scientific studies that the more intelligent a person, the more likely it is that he is going to be an atheist. My point is that what they consider to be their strength (intellect) may actually be causing their downfall by making them feel superior and thus causing them to be arrogant and therefore not humble.

Both gratefulness and humbleness are desirable virtues. Both ungratefulness and haughtiness are immoral tendencies. The one pair of attributes leads to God. The other takes away from God. That is why I am of the opinion that belief in God belongs primarily to the domain of morality; the intellectual aspect of it is much less significant than is often realized.

I am not claiming that religious people can’t be arrogant. Some of them are immensely arrogant. Nor am I claiming that all atheists are arrogant. Some of them are genuinely down-to-earth. While arrogant religiosity will find no place in the mercy of God, humble atheism will, hopefully, give way to true belief in Him.