Friday, October 30, 2009

A Muslim's Journey of Islam

How many of you can relate with Imran Khan's story?

Every word of this essay resonates with me except this single sentence, "Since
all morality has it roots in religion," it may be because he did not journey
into Atheism. Morality is a product of the society, of the need to co-exist and
not exclusively a construct of religion. Morality existed prior to the dawn of
religion and continues to exist where there in no religion.

Imran Khan's interview below is fascinating. It is almost an identical journey
of my life. My turn around came about a decade ago, when every one was
attacking Islam.

I came across a verse from Bhagvad Gita that said "finding the truth is one's
own responsibility" and then I pondered over the scenario of the Day of
Judgment; you are on your own, it is how you treat others that matters, what is
your role in creating a balance or peace around you? No one is going to be with
you except your own deeds and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told his own daughter
Fatima that she has to earn God's grace the old fashion way, earn it. He told
her she is not going to get a free pass.

Those two were the most powerful statements in my life. To which I add that no
matter what your Rabbi, Imam, Pundit, Pastor or clergy teaches you, it is you
who will bear the responsibility of living with yourselves in your solitude.

Karen Armstrong's book Muhammad is one of the most influential books in my
journey of Islam. It was her writings that made me understand Muhammad the man
that I can relate with, connect with and admire him and mentor him. Imran wrote
"Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him)
was called a Mercy for all mankind.

Mike Ghouse

Imran Khan: Why The East Sticks To Religion

My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older
generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British.
The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite
gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public
schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.

I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal – the national poet of
Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left
school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak
English and wore Western clothes.

Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I
considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any
one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a

Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars
or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things
didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were
considered anachronism.

Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it
did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers
like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly
disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.

Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The
horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a
powerful impact on the Western mind. To understand why the West is so keen on
secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture
apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of
scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all
religions are regressive.

However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the
selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge
difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than
explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on

I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled,
humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly
appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for
political gains by various individuals or groups. Hence, it was a miracle I did
not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious
influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of
conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that
suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when
my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him. All in all I was
smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right
credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the
English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for.
So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become
a ‘desi’?

Well it did not just happen overnight.

Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went
as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique
position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the
disadvantages of both societies.

In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our
country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and
that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western
society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the
clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.

While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions
– two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of
our existence and two, what happens to us when we die? It is this vacuum that I
felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only
life then one must make hay while the sun shines – and in order to do so one
needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human
being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.
Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress
while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population
consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of
the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their
citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily
content with material
well being and needs something more. Since all morality has it roots in
religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since
the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate
is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single
mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most
disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries
to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be
genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the
equality of man. Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration
into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all
over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan
war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much
poorer, there was no racial

There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the
Qur’an says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them
was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the
more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the
will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until
Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” that my understanding of Islam began to

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam
prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two
choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were
unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do
so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for
me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati,
Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an. I will try
to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant
for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says,
“Those who believe and do good deeds.” In other words, a Muslim has dual
function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.

The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of
human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and
death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to
bow before other human beings.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one,
I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in
the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field
day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that
one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them,
one controls them. By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have
become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the
self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use
that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the
fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.

I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the
underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because
of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe
in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in
our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is worse than killing.”
In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the
will of Allah, you have inner peace. Through my faith, I have discovered
strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential
in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God
and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human
being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits
than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their
citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest
individuals I know live there.

What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the
rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being
somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third
World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs
that are banned in the West. One of the problems facing Pakistan is the
polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group
that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about
the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and
wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group
that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the
faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant
to the spirit of Islam. What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue
between the two extreme.
In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our
educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.

Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal
choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is “no compulsion in religion.”
However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism.
Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be

The Qur’an calls Muslims “the middle nation”, not of extremes. The Holy
Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry
whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of
forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and
their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever
went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high
principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the
worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam,
especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a
society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be
able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make
them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to
help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince
Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this
happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its
attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal
religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for
all mankind.

(Mr. Imran Khan is the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf PTI. His article
first appeared in the Arabnews)

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  1. The write up of Imran Khan is so close to the way I see things that it appears as if I wrote it. But I feel there is a need to correct the understanding that Western forces are good to their own people. As I have been arguing for some time, Westernism is an ideology that primarily revolves around (1) the dominance of economics in the affairs of life and the world in general and that of market economics in particular and (2) the dominance of the world by Western powers through both use and misuse of the great scientific and technological progress its scientists achieved. The dominance of market forces has brought havoc to the lives of their people. The disintegration of family system that Imaran Khan is talking about is the result of the impact of economic fundamentalism for which commercialisation of beauty, glamour and sex are much greater money spinners than the family system, which it in fact regards as its greatest enemy. Whatever the problems of Western society (or any society in the world) are mostly the outcome of the policies of the forces that rule it. It is also not right to believe that Westernism is about freedom. Freedom again is only related to the demands of the economic forces. Where something does not suit them, they lead a big campaign against it. They have banned marriage before a certain age and allowed premarital sex; banned polygamy and allowed promiscuity, banned the use of religion in public affairs; and so on.

    Mike, I don’t know what made you say “Morality existed prior to the dawn of
    religion and continues to exist where there in no religion.” Don’t you know as a Muslim that religion came into existence with the emergence of first human existence on the earth. Even before that, all the existing matter and life followed the laws of God. Adam had started receiving revelations immediately after his creation. If atheists have certain notions of morality, it is certainly because they could only reject God and institutionalized religion and not its moral aspects altogether.

    Dr Javed Jamil

  2. Javed,

    I am glad you also felt in-tune with Imran’s writing.

    You make poignant point about economic fundamentalism, as you call it.

    We may want to look at the issue from another point of view - shrinking family unit and financial independence may lead one to economic fundamentalism. West may be in the front end of the trajectory, but every one is on the bandwagon.

    We are driven by the very basic security needs; food, clothing and shelter. Almost all our activities are spurred by that stimulus. Nations have the very same needs; that’s what drives nations into wars, to access the resources to ensure continuance of their life style. The end result of this all is again insecurity of competing and outmaneuvering each other.

    Religion is a gift of God, the balancer of lives to inculcate the values of we, we and us, away from me, me and I. In the long haul that attitudes brings sustainability and security to humankind.

    Morality is a product of co-existence, whether one follows an organized, labeled religion or not, the moral values evolve when two people have figure out how to live without fear of each other. Again it is a security issue.

  3. Mike writes, "Every word of this essay resonates with me except this single sentence, "Since all morality has it roots in religion," it may be because he did not journey
    into Atheism. Morality is a product of the society, of the need to co-exist and
    not exclusively a construct of religion. Morality existed prior to the dawn of
    religion and continues to exist where there in no religion."

    I don't even think morality is the product of society -- it is an innate part of being human. It is our fitrah to be moral, to know right from wrong and to desire to do what is right.

    Incidentally, we had to write about this topic for On Faith this week. My essay reads:
    When I first began to study Islam, one of the teachings that resonated with me was the belief that every human being is born with an internal compass. This compass consists of several components... a sense of right and wrong (our conscience) and the desire to do right (i.e. humans are fundamentally good), the yearning toward something greater than our own selves and the recognition of the unity of that greater thing -- the striving of the heart toward the Divine as I like to phrase it.
    A second teaching that appealed greatly to me, was the constant call in the Qur'an for mankind to use our wondrous brains -- to contemplate, to analyze, to reason, to ponder.

    Within this world view, it is quite clear that morality does not flow from religion, but from human nature itself. Yes, revelation gives moral guidance, but even without any Divine help, we know it is wrong to kill innocent people, to steal out of greed, to lie and to cheat. Divine guidance reminds us to listen to our heart, and to think about how we would want to be treated and to then treat others that way, to use our intellect for good, rather than for selfish ends. It also gives direction where reason and emotion may conflict, or where reason may provide competing answers to the question "Which is the best path?" or "Which is the good path?"

  4. Pamela,

    I am looking forward to reading the article, indeed, I have written a few on Ramadan on the same segment of the post.

    Here was my response to another question about morality emanating from religion;

    Morality is a product of co-existence, whether one follows an organized, labeled religion or not, the moral values evolve when two people have figure out how to live without fear of each other. Again it is a security issue.

    It is in this context I used the word Society.

  5. Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

  6. hI,
    I liked the story of Imran Khan's journey. But I am disappointed at his actions after the end of the journey.He did not stand for election when Benazir was allowed to come and campaigned and died.He followed Gen Hamid Gul who doesn't even acknowledge 9/11 happened due to plot in Afghanistan.He is campaigning for Dr.Asifa, an american of Pakistani origin who tried to kill some american soldiers in Afghanistan just because she is a Muslim from Pakistan.I can only see his contribution of cancer hospital which came out of his love for his mother not out of faith.

  7. Some people on the post, would like to know more about Mr. Imran Khan!
    One of his famous statements was that cricket matches with india which is predominantly hindu are holy wars!
    talks about no armies going to malaysia and indonesia. Very true. how about muslim armies ravaging hindu lands, genocide which is not even written in history
    from sind to parts of india to kashmir(kashyap rishi's land) how many hindu temples destroyed and hindus converted under the burden of sword or by making their lief misreable with taxes and persecution?
    did he forget to do study on that?
    Wwont Mr. Khan reply to this or any muslim on this forum want to reply?

    Problem with you muslims is you cannot discuss and eradicate wrong things in your religion! Other religions moved on, people dont feel suffocated in them, but islam world knows what it is about! and want to talk about morality, laws to subjugate woman, men can be beasts!

    if anyone feels i went overboard i am not apologetic for writing the universal truth



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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.