Many years ago when still a searching agnostic, I wanted others to convince me to believe as they believed. I used to lament that neither Muslims nor Christians would reach out to me or answer my questions.
For a while I was going to Church, but I was dissatisfied with the simplistic answers to my enquiries. I would ask questions of religious people, but did not find their responses convincing. When I had questions about Islam, I would be referred to a Christian expert on the religion. When his answers did not persuade me, I would befriend Muslim students at university, intent on them responding to my queries. Rarely was anyone truly able to answer my questions and so I would often retreat dumbfounded.
Nowadays I take a more magnanimous view, for I recognise that most people are not concerned about this idea we call truth. Most people are satisfied with whatever they find themselves on and do not feel the need to confirm that it is correct and true. This is as much the case for Muslim communities as for anyone else. Whether we call ourselves Traditionalist, Salafi, Hanafi, Hanbali, Sunni, Shia… we each revel in what we think we have, and reject everything else, even if we don’t know why.
We have to accept that the journey we are on is somewhat personal. Formal studies have their place, but the personal pursuit of truth is driven forward by an inner impetus. The Quran repeatedly mentions using the intellect; sometimes you have to use your mind to reach truths that you cannot immediately find in the circles of knowledge. Alas, too often we are not told this: instead we are discouraged from thinking for ourselves altogether. Though the Quran is against this idea, scholars have been made like rabbis and priests, as an authority on everything: “They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah…”
This is not an argument against sitting at the feet of the learned, but about building and maintaining the right relationship with them. Scholars are often not treated as normal people who have specialised in a field of learning, but as legendary beings, giants and celebrities bigger than the dimensions which contain them. Years of pious folklore turn them into mythic creatures who can never err or suffer the human ailments which afflict the rest of us. Of course we should learn from those who know better — as in any other field of human endeavour — but it is important to put the references of Islam in the right order.
Arguments for or against Islam are all interpretations. Some are stronger than others. Some may appear to be true, but are based on unsound assumptions. Some may true based on the information available, but that information may be incomplete or incorrect. There are many factors to weigh in. However convincing another’s argument may be, or however awesome their faith seems to us, it is of no worth at all if we cannot convince ourselves.