You’re Doing It Wrong, or saving my faith by stepping on others

Once upon a time, I actually saw doing that as justifiable.

Why? Because my thought-process went along these lines:

(1) The faith I have is unquestionably true.

(2) Therefore, this faith is all that can grant me salvation in this world and the next.

(3) Therefore, losing this faith I have is the worst possible thing that can ever happen.

(4) Therefore, whatever I have to do in order to protect and preserve my faith is absolutely necessary. Even if it means deciding that I’ll avoid reading or watching certain things that might shake my faith. Even if it means refusing to think critically about certain things.

Yes, even if I was faced with a real live human being, whose experiences seemed to call the validity of my faith into question, I would explain away their words, their life-story. Of course what they were saying could not really be true. They must be exaggerating. Or, some “enemy of Islam” was paying them to say such things.

Or even if what they were saying was true, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with my faith per se. Such things happen due to human misinterpretation, human selfishness, human greed… or perhaps it was really at least partially the fault of that human being themselves. They hadn’t had enough faith, they hadn’t been patient enough, they hadn’t taken the time and trouble to learn their religion for themselves, they had been too weak-willed to stand up for themselves against those who had used it as a weapon against them.

My definition of “my faith” was wide indeed. Because after all, I had read (and been taught) that Islam is din wa-dawla, religion and state, and “complete way of life.” The one and only divinely designed way of life that is the best for everyone, at any time and everywhere. So, a wide range of things could potentially call my faith into question. And the things that threatened my faith primarily weren’t usually strictly “religious”—they were social, economic and political.  Because my faith was supposed to deliver justice. It was supposed to be superior to any secular or other man-made system.

I was handed plausible-sounding sound-bites that seemed to provide a way to deflect such intrusions of reality just about every time I attended a “mainstream” conservative Muslim event: “Islam is perfect, but Muslims are not.” “Islam should not be judged by the misdeeds of some people bearing Muslim names.” “We have to differentiate between ‘Islam’ and ‘culture.'” We converts took up such slogans so, so easily.

Too easily. We failed to recognize that as converts, those of us who were white were in a significantly different situation than the “uncles” tirelessly recycling slogans of this type. The uncles were often concerned about racism, and the impact that racist stereotypes of Muslims in the media had on the daily lives of those in their ethnic communities. People who would be negatively affected by such stereotypes even if they never prayed, never attended the mosque, never even identified as Muslim. But as converts, our primary concern was too often justifying or explaining away potential threats to our faith.

On many occasions, Muslims would tell me things. They’d want to discuss things that haunted them from the past (such as abuses from so-called “Islamic” governments or groups) or problems in the present (such as domestic abuse). I was not part of their ethnic community, so I was a kind of “safe stranger,” I guess. And then I’d have friends who would also want to talk about things. Like a friend of mine who was finding it difficult to wear hijab, for medical reasons. Unfortunately, for years my main concern when one of these confidences would be given to me was not responding to the person in question with compassion and support. It was to protect my faith. So, I was often not a good or sympathetic listener. Sometimes, I would ask questions that would indirectly minimize what they were going through, or I would keep quiet, not wanting to risk even implicitly suggesting that I thought there could be any problem with the package deal of “Islam as a complete way of life” that had been taught to us. It had, had, had to work for everyone, in every situation, everywhere, or it wasn’t The Truth. So if it didn’t appear to be working, then either the interpretation was wrong, or the person in question was somehow to blame. They Weren’t Doing It Right. That had to be it.

Now, looking back, I don’t think it was worth it.

It didn’t even make theological sense.

It corrupted our ability to think critically. It led us to exchange compassion and caring for judgmentalness and selfishness.

It was yet another form of kufr—of covering what we knew to be true, of lying to ourselves.

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