I suppose I should remind myself not to confuse Islam online with faith itself. The rise of internet demagogues, with their mass followings growing a thousand week by week, is undoubtedly presenting a skewed portrait of the religious realm. Here, the environment is toxic, capable of driving many away if they take it too seriously. Perhaps that is why I am becoming a hermit, cutting myself off from the virtual ummah. If only I could recalibrate my compass, to rediscover like-minded travellers on the path, who might inject some sanity into our affairs. Until then, I must retreat.
“Why do the Men of God and the Men of Knowledge not forbid them from saying what is sinful and devouring what is unlawful? Evil indeed is what they have been working!” — Qur’an 5:63
I think I am reaching that stage in life of being apathetic towards religion. No, not becoming agnostic, or rejecting faith, or ceasing to practice it. But growing disinterested in the clamour of activists, in the competing visions of faith, in the demands of communitarianism. Yes, I think I am becoming an apathetic believer, like so many others. Repulsed by the odious characters that now claim to represent us, I think this is the only way to preserve our sanity. Yes, we are disengaging and dropping off. This is the age of apathy.
She recites words from the Qur’an: “…and do not conceal testimony, for whoever conceals it — his heart is indeed sinful, and God is Knowing of what you do.”
She recalls another verse: “O you who have believed, stand firmly for justice, witnesses for God, even if against yourselves or parents and relatives, whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not own inclinations, lest you not be just. And if you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then indeed God is ever, with what you do, acquainted.”
She recalls: “O you who have believed, persistently stand firm for God, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear God; indeed, God is acquainted with what you do.”
And she reminds us that the servants of the Lord of Mercy are “those who do not testify to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity.”
But hearing all of this, her brother in faith immediately responds: “Let him without sin cast the first stone!”
Thus do words first found in Codex Bezae’s rendering of the Gospel of John, dated to the 5th century, supersede the words of the Qur’an for those who claim to speak for the Muslims today.
“Give your brother seventy excuses,” proclaim the leaders of opinion in our midst. And your sisters? No, it doesn’t apply to them, against whom we must make seventy accusations instead. Yes, our activists are out in force again, campaigning for their beloved, citing husn al dhun, explaining to everyone everywhere that the one they defend was Islamically married to the women he has called mythomaniacs for the past a year. He submitted a false alibi to prove he was elsewhere, they claim, because lying to escape the oppression of a tyrant is the lesser sin. His campaign named a plaintiff as a white supremacist — despite her being of mixed French and West African heritage — because lying to free your brother from the oppression of a tyrant is the lesser sin. Those who violate the honour of other Muslims, we are reminded vehemently, should fear the day we will be held accountable by Allah for our crimes. This prohibition, our activists remind us, applies only to our beloveds: it does not apply to the plaintiffs, who may be slandered at length and accused of lying over and over again. In their defence of their beloved, we are referred to Surat al-Hujarat and reminded to avoid the sin of assumption, although the same chapter’s prohibition on mocking and taunting others is cast aside, as is the command to fight oppression amongst the believers. In their attack on the plaintiffs, we are referred to Surat Yusuf: “Surely, it is a plot of you women! Certainly mighty is your plot!” For our beloveds the specific is made general, and the general made specific. Give your brother the full benefit of the doubt, insist our teachers. Yes, and your sisters: doubt them completely.
Muslims, it seems, are intent on making our religion difficult to believe in. Many converts — who you would think would be foremost in smoothing the way for people — are now found trying to convince everyone they know that the earth is flat, and that an international cabal of Freemasons who control all things have taken it upon themselves to convince all people everywhere that the world is spherical, for unknown reasons.
So has the time now come to call off the dogs? After a year denying any kind of relationship with the two plaintiffs — and mobilising 200,000 supporters to attack the women as liars — the accused now admits sexual relationships, apparently violent in nature, with both of them. Yes, this is his new defence: he had these relationships, but they were consensual and desired by both sides. Yes, despite calling the second plaintiff a mythomaniac just two weeks ago and denying that he was the author of text messages in which he apologised for his violence.
Last weekend I met an elder-statesman of the convert community, a respected English gentleman who has been Muslim for over forty years — for more years than I have walked on the earth, in fact. He talked about his experience in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when English converts were small in number, and few and far between: eccentric aberrations in the space-time continuation of the Muslim community. Contrasting then and now, he recited Surah An Nasr from the Qur’an:
“When God’s help comes and He opens up your way, and you see people embracing God’s faith in crowds, celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness: He is always ready to accept repentance.” — Qur’an 110
Is it good to write? I don’t know. Every year come these blues that petition me: disappear, withdraw and delete these posts for good. All the world has an opinion and each of us thinks ours matter, and are worthy to be expressed, and are important, and need to be uttered in public, for others to read and reflect on. But are they really? Is it rather nothing but delusion? In the popular preaching of religion, we are continually taught: silence is better for you: speak the truth, or stay silent. And: much speaking causes the heart to whither away and die. Yet I do the opposite, not in speech — for I remain as incoherent as ever in the spoken word — but in all that my typing fingers hammer out on these keyboards. All of this, which seems so urgent and necessary one moment, which becomes a source of immense regret in the next. If I ceased to write, would it matter? Would the world be any worse for wear? Of course not, for words depart as quickly as they were imagined, fluttering across the mind of the reader only for a moment, soon to be forgotten. In writing, do I truly only counsel myself? And if so, why does it have to be public? Why not just pour sentiments into a book never to be read by others? These are the thoughts that occupy me these days. “Is it really good to write?” I ask myself every night.
In the end, everybody believes what they want to believe.