These days, they are all experts: on Islam and Muslims I mean. And in as many cases as not, instant experts, I must point out.
Drive-by Experts is what I call this crop of instant cognoscenti that flood the market - and the airwaves - and the media in general - in these troubled times. Those in policy portals are somewhat different. Often, many of them know their stuff even though they may choose to twist truth to fit policy parameters and political agendas.
And the factors that breed this mushroom cloud of Drive-by Experts on Islam and Muslims are many. Not the least among them is the money that can be made by a claim to expertise on Islam, no matter how tenuous or precarious. And the perks and privileges that go with it.
There is name, fame and fortune to be made by saying you are an Islamic Expert and then letting loose on Islam and Muslims, left, right and center. Poor Muslims - barring the blackguards and charlatans among them - wouldn't know what hit them or how to respond to this onslaught in a truly meaningful, effective, civilized, rational and peaceful way. And if they did make some noises of the legitimate and appropriate variety, no one will pay any attention to them anyway.
But it is good that fewer and fewer buses seem to suffer the wrath of angry and frustrated Muslim mobs in parts of Islamistan. The fury seems to be headed for the jugular now as evidently angry and frustrated agents of powerful money and politics - both domestic and foreign - have developed more of a penchant for blown up bodies than for burned buses.
"Agents" include Agents Provocateurs.
They are basically contractors, as we call them these days. They are hired hands that is, people who used to be called mercenaries at one time, in the pay of powerful money and politics, both domestic and foreign, both public and private. They work, mysteriously and in the shadows of darkness and doubt, to sow the seeds of discord and unleash the whirlwinds of chaos, confusion and violence in target areas of their choice and determination.
Their job is to work mayhem and create havoc where and how they can - often, the more spectacularly bloody and barbaric their handiwork the better - and to destabilize societies and nations, and implicate and neutralize individuals, groups and organizations seen as threat by this or that pocket of wealth, power or influence, again, both domestic or foreign.
And the target is Islam and Muslims. It has been forever; it is now; and it shall continue for as long as the present mindset among humans - individuals, groups, organizations, nations and societies - continues.
The larger and more serious casualty, however, is truth.
Truth is the sunshine, stake-to-the-heart, Draculas of falsehood, tyranny and exploitation fear most and work aggressively to pervert, destroy and cover up. Islam came to wean humans away from their addiction to lies, and to brute power and naked greed, and to put them in touch with truth and reality - both in this world as well as in the next world.
Hence, there is always a market, often a flourishing one, for knowingly and willfully mixing truth with falsehood, and for covering up facts, and for misleading the world about Islam itself.
Islam, however, knew and called this sordid game ab initio - from Day One. The Qur'an says: ... Lima talbisoonal haqqa bil baatil wa taktumoonal haqqa wa antum ta`alamoon. Paraphrase: previous paragraph.
Demonizing an entire faith, culture and way of life, delegitimizing an entire history, and demoralizing all peoples, nations and societies that owe allegiance to them are acts of perversity and premeditation that merchants of mendacity and instigators of mayhem and mischief practice as a living. From there, it is a short step to mass lynching, pogroms and genocide.
Thus, Allah's Deen - Islam that is - is a gateway to Paradise after death for the Believers in God and his Prophets and Messengers (God Bless Them All!). And for those who believe in the Day of Judgment and in full and unremitting accountability therein for their deeds and misdeeds in this worldly life.
At the same time, right here in this world, for those who do not believe in God and Prophets - and in accountability on the Day of Judgment - and those, that is, whose sole motivation in life is to make a buck or two, or to serve a political purpose, Allah's Deen Islam could still be a camel that provides a giant-size heap of gold. It could be a cow with deep udders.
That is why, given all the mercenary and political axes that many of these putative experts have to grind, this rash of drive-by expertise on Islam and Muslims is truly a child of mixed parentage and dubious credibility. It is a bonanza for merchants of mendacity and make-believe.
A Quick Ticket to Name, Fame and Fortune
In this way, Islam has - and, frankly, Muslims have - become a quick and easy ticket to name, fame and fortune to countless adventurers and carpetbaggers in the dim alleys of radio, television and newspapers.
As for the media themselves, they have literally discovered Ali Baba's Legendary Cave of treasures in Islam and Muslims, if not the Holy Grail itself. With Islam and Muslims as their staple, their readership, ratings and incomes are secure and soaring for a long time to come. For as long as God Almighty would want things to be that way, as Muslims would say.
This world is after all HIS world - God's world that is - and he runs it as he pleases. That is what makes him God. And belief in that fact is what makes Muslims, Muslims.
So Allah's Deen, and the followers of Allah's Deen, Muslims that is, flawed and warped as many of them are, continue to provide a generous dole of livelihood to untold millions throughout the world. It is not for nothing that Allah sent his last prophet and messenger, Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, as a blessing and mercy to everyone and everything - after death for some as well as right here in this world while they are living for some others.
Thus, Islam and Muslims put bread on the table for many people. And maybe they also provide the liquor many may need to guzzle and to dull their prickly conscience, if they have one, at the lies they pushed during their bouts of sobriety earlier.
Kullan numiddu, haa-oolaa-ii wa haa-oolaa-ii, as God Almighty puts it in the Qur'an, meaning (my paraphrase): We help them all, these folks as well as the other folks.
Water, Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink
In Islam, expertise is a function of several things. Among them is the usual quantum of information acquired through reading, experience, reflection and constant interaction with experts. But among them also is unassailable personal and professional integrity and freedom from a generalized life of drunkenness, debauchery and avarice; a life given to falsehood, deceit and dissembling; and a life rooted in blind partisanship on the one hand and ruthless exploitation and oppression of the weak and the unwary on the other hand.
So, in Islam, expertise is inextricably intertwined with something called character, at the root of which lies the simple notion of integrity and trust - both personal as well as professional.
That is why in Islam true expertise is a blessing from God Almighty. And it is light - Noor - a divine effulgence and most brilliant radiance that God sends down in this world to dispel darkness and improve the human condition.
Expertise in Islam is not rote amassing of information on topics of choice. It is not glib ventilation or mercenary merchandising of that information in the market, but a serious internalization of the underlying truth without regard to its origin or consequence.
Validity - internal as well as external validity, true validity that is - thus lies at the heart of the expertise issue in that amazing schema of thought and action that God Almighty calls Islam and that he sent down in this world to help us human beings to find our way through the labyrinths of life.
That is why, while comments from Drive-by Experts fill the airwaves and newspaper pages, very little real light escapes from them to a generally deprived, misinformed and yet mostly nave, gullible and trusting public - chief among them the American People.
And that is why, also, in the midst of all the make-believe flood of sights and sounds that is unleashed on a parched world by the mercenary, profit-hungry or agenda-driven media with the aid of their Drive-by Experts, there are so few drops of real knowledge and illumination on topics and issues that are most vital to the well-being of people and the world in which they live.
This denial - willful or inadvertent - of truth to the people of the world, including the poor, misguided American People, is part of the Devil's design to make Adam's progeny lose out in both worlds: this world as well as the next world. For, God is truth and those who abhor truth, are the minions of the Devil and enemies of God and his people in this world - that means human beings, all human beings, regardless of race, religion or gender.
For, it is clear as daylight that those who love God will also love truth and those who hate and fear truth cannot deign to love or know God. For, truth is humanity's Golden Bridge to God, and to success in this world as well as in the next world.
Precisely as Jesus, may Allah bless him, told us to seek and pursue truth: For, truth shall set us free! It is our right-royal passport to salvation here and in the hereafter.
And lies and deception are cheap tricks manufactured and marketed by the Devil. And they are key concomitants, antecedents and consequents of bondage and tyranny, mayhem and massacre - a tyranny that begins with the mind and then goes on to envelop the body and the spirit.
Lies and deception are the stuff of which propaganda is made. And propaganda is what spawns, spearheads, rationalizes and covers up genocide.
How Do You Like Your Islam Done?
That is why among these Drive-by Experts, there are those who like their Islam done a certain way. Some like their Islam moderate. Others prefer an Islam that is civilized. Yet some others like an Islam that respects women. It is Islam a la carte all the way - with flavors to please any palate and portions to match any appetite.
Unstated in all these vaunted preferences is the implication that Islam comes in different forms, shapes and sizes and people are free to order the kind of Islam that titillates their taste buds.
This, however, is not the case.
Another and a more insidious assumption is that one Islam is civilized and the other is not; one Islam is moderate and the other one is not; and one Islam honors women while the other treats them with disrespect.
There is also a third point which would almost pass for cute if it were not so blatantly offensive and so rabidly racist: the Islam most Muslims know and have practiced for hundreds of years is the wrong Islam and the Islam recently discovered by Drive-by Experts on the fly to make a buck or push a partisan agenda is the right Islam.
Bring It On: Let Us "Reform" Islam!
And then, of course, there are those among these experts who would like to go beyond simple analysis and argument and would actually like to get into the domain of policy, application and implementation. Let us reform Islam, they would say, and make it a bit more civilized, a bit more modern and contemporary as it were. Let us make it a bit more user-friendly for this world as a whole, they would argue.
To them I say: Bring It On! It is a quote, a nice one I thought, I borrowed from someone else.
My position is: You want to reform Islam? Sure, why not? Everything needs reform and change. That is the nature of this world. So let us sit down and do it. Item by item, let us change everything about Islam and see what comes out.
Ready? Here are just a fistful of examples:
- Islam says: God is one. What do you say?
Belief in One God - by the way is what Moses and Jesus preached too. Don't believe me? Read your Bible - the Old as well as the New Testaments.
- Islam says you must wash your hands frequently and often. You want to change that divine stipulation into what now?
Didn't you hear the whole world is moving up to it? No? Ask ASM (as in American Society of Microbiology). While you are at it, also ask them if they ever bothered to give Islam and Muslims credit for their borrowing of this practice.
- Islam says brush your teeth several times a day - five times would be a good ballpark figure. And you want to reform it to what? Why not talk to your friendly neighborhood dentist first?
- Islam says Paradise lies under the feet of your mothers. And your reformed version would say what? Banish motherhood to Mars as an obsolete patriarchal anachronism in modern times?
- Islam says love your neighbor. And you say what?
By the way, Jesus said the same thing. So, you can reform the whole thing in one fell swoop of your pen: the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Muhammad, God bless them both. No wonder people claim they killed Jesus, God bless him!
- Islam says God is Truth. And your take on it is...? Lie through your teeth for God's glory? And for your own personal power and enrichment as part of that charade?
How would you like to have it "reformed"? Let us, for example, all revel in false, black, baseless propaganda during the day and get drunk during the night to silence our little Jiminy Crickets (of the Pinocchio fame) - to kill our nettlesome conscience?
- Islam says do not commit aggression. And you are saying we should change it to what now?
- Islam says humanity is one family. What amendment do you propose to that?
- Islam says success should be earned through performance and character and not inherited by birth. How do you want to change it?
- Islam says "Read!" You say ...?
- Islam says taking one single life wrongfully and without due process is tantamount to wiping out all of humanity. I call it Humanicide. How would you like to soften it a bit?
The trick here is not to lose sight of the fact that Islam is 1400 years and counting. We want to make sure that what you may call reform is not something you picked up from Islam itself yesterday or day-before-yesterday while no one was watching.
Islam by Definition is Moderate, Modern and Civilized
The fact is that Islam is Islam. And Islam is from God. And, as a result, Islam is by definition, and by its very nature, most moderate, most modern and most civilized. So much so that if something is not moderate and civilized then chances are that it is not Islam to begin with.
And, conversely, if there are things out there that are vehemently, irrationally and fanatically opposed and even hostile to Islam, chances are they will then also be opposed and antithetical to all these other parameters of civilized living.
That means in all ages and places, Islam will be the measure of all things rational, civilized and ideal, and to the extent things depart from Islam to that extent they will also be deviant and digressive from the rational and the civilized.
One simple, almost intuitive, way to test this claim is to check both Islamic and non-Islamic assertions of various kinds for their truth-value and for the extent to which they use truthfulness as an epistemological tool and communication device.
In other words, Islam will not lie or misrepresent facts. It does not need to. Non-Islam, on the other hand, will lie routinely, and almost compulsively, because it must, and because its very survival and success depend on it. Non-Islam will use truth-telling as a methodology only when it stands to gain by it or when it is forced to do so.
So, when you pit Islam against non-Islam, what it comes down to really is a question of telling the truth vs. lying through your teeth. Reverse the flow for a moment: instead of starting with Islam - or with non-Islam - and trying to figure out what is truth, start out with truth and then see where it takes you. That is Truth 101. It is also the Idiot's Guide to Islam and non-Islam in Today's World.
As for respecting women, come on, let us get serious. Islam put women 1400 years ago on a pedestal so high that much of the rest of the world cannot reach it even on a spaceship, even in today's space age.
Practically everything the world has done to give a semblance of rights and respect to women is a grudging and infuriatingly halting attempt to catch up with Islam. It has taken the world 1400 years and the world is still working at it.
No wonder so many in non-Islam are so upset and angry with Islam on this and on so many other points. For, no matter how hard they huff and puff and get to a point where they think is the summit, the Shangri-La of their achievement, Islam is already lolling there with an infuriating smirk on its face.
Secret to Islam's Success: Its Resilience
Contrary to what many people think, Islam's success is due in large part to its resilience. It is due to a significant degree to Islam's unified core of belief and behavior on the one and its flexible periphery on the other hand. That is the worldly or physical explanation of why Islam survived untouched and untrammeled by vicissitudes of fate.
The other-worldly or a more metaphysical explanation is that it is God keeping his Covenant: Innaa nahnu nazzalnaz zikra, wa innaa lahu la-hafizoon is how God put it in the Qur'an and that is precisely how it has been for the past 1400 years. Paraphrase: We sent it down and we shall protect and preserve it. And protect and preserve is precisely what God Almighty has been doing with his Deen.
Yes, true, gusts of change and cataclysms of fate buffeted and bent Islam often and frequently sought to break and banish it from the face of this earth. But Islam did not break; Islam did not disappear; but, rather, Islam lumbered along forever, impacting and changing everything it met along the way, standing taller and more robust after every challenge it faced.
These are the twin-keepers then - a unified core and a flexible periphery - of the law of permanence and change in God's world. They are the twin-foundations that make a belief system and such behavioral edifices as may be founded on it survive and function successfully across the spectrum of space and time. And Islam has them both in abundant measure.
Hinduism to some degree can make a similar claim. So can Judaism. So also can any system of thought, belief and behavior that has persisted through time and survived in some recognizable form transmigration through space and cultures.
It is the law of God - or of nature, for those of you who have trouble believing in God or seeing his ways as conforming to your dictates of rationality and testability. Perpetuity is a product of either endless autogenesis - regeneration and self-renewal - of a system from within, or it is ensured by a continuing core surrounded by a fluid and morphing periphery.
Islam, however, combines the two to optimum.
On the one hand Islam has a core that is absolutely, positively untouchable. On the other hand, it has a periphery, parts of which are continually evolving - or at least they ought to be as they are supposed to do - through space and time. To ensure its relevance and applicability through the spatiotemporal spectrum and variability that define the human condition on earth, Islam uses a methodology of nonstop research and investigation, reasoning and analysis that is called Ijtihaad in Arabic language - and in Islamic-Muslim culture.
That is why Islam survived intact all these 1400 years - and will do so until the end of time. And that is also why not many of the other systems from that time or earlier retained their original form or true content. Under a perpetual barrage of modernity, without the tools to cope, they simply could not.
Islam has a set of basic beliefs and practices that constitute its unified universal core. At the same time, Islam also has a wide range of peripheral beliefs and practices that make up the bulk of its teachings and which offer consumers, as it were, a rich menu of products and options from which to choose.
By virtue of its unified core, Islam as a system protects its identity and ensures its continuity through time and space. It thus guarantees its permanence. At the same time, based on the resilience and flexibility of its periphery, Islam is able to accommodate and absorb the ever-present call to modernity and challenge for change.
It is part of the miraculous nature of Islam that both its periphery and core are of divine origin.
Proof that Islam is from God
These two things are precisely the requirements of a system that is designed to fit the needs of changing times, places, cultures and circumstances. It is also, you can argue, proof that Islam is indeed from God.
For, systems of human design fail this test on every count, which causes them to lose their identity due to the lack of a strong center. Or they die of a rigor mortis-type rigidity that is incapable of coping with change.
Without a unified universal core, a belief system tends to disintegrate into any number of pieces and schisms finally losing its true nature, form and identity. And without a spectrum of flexible choices, that system will crash and die under the weight of its own rigidity and lack of responsiveness.
That has been the story of Islam and non-Islam through the ages.
Islam's Unified Core of Belief
Here is a glimpse of some of the elements that constitute Islam's unified core. Each one of them individually stands guard on the integrity and continuity of Islam as a system of universal human belief and behavior.
Each element plays an important role in ensuring System Maintenance for Islam. With regard to each element, therefore, it is fair to say that if it exists Islam exists, and if it does not exist, Islam does not exist. No system has a better mechanism for System Maintenance that is so firmly woven right into the core of the system.
The very first element of Islamic core is belief in the oneness of God. There are no ifs or buts. God is one. And that is the end of the story.
It was the same with Moses in the Old Testament: First Commandment - The Lord Your God Is One! It was the same with Jesus in the New Testament: You shall have no God before me. And it is also the same with Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, in the Qur'an: Laa Ilaaha Illa Allah - There Is No God but God.
A very close and almost inseparable second is the belief that Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, is God's messenger to the world - the last and final one after whom no other messenger will come from God.
A third, and a very important one indeed, is belief in resurrection from death and accountability before God in the next world for one's actions in this world.
Islam's Unified Core of Behavior
Now here is a set of elements that are part of Islam's unified behavioral core. Islam means performing Salaat - what people call praying - five times a day. You may run into any number of "Muslims" who may not "pray" very regularly. But you will not find a single Muslim who would want to tamper with the number of times the Salaat is performed. Or the order in which it is performed. Or the number of units called Rak`ats in each "prayer."
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is another important element in Islam's behavioral core. Hajj, the once-in-a-lifetime requirement of pilgrimage to Makkah, is another one.
This is a pretty impressive list. And none of it is put together by a committee, but it is all laid down in principle by the Qur'an and demonstrated in practice by the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam. And it has firmly stood the test of time and changing geography and culture for all these 1400 years.
Eating pork is forbidden in Islam - the same as it was in the Old and the New Testaments for Jews and Christians respectively. So is drinking alcohol forbidden in Islam. Individuals may deviate in practice, but those who question the validity of these beliefs and behaviors are completely disowned and thrown overboard by the system of Islam.
Islam's Flexible Periphery
Islam's periphery is periphery only in comparison to Islam's own core of belief and behavior. Otherwise, Islam's periphery is more rich, vital and solid than the core of most other systems in the world. Here are some examples.
Muslims may have a difference of opinion with regard to the number of Sunnat you should pray before or after Jumu`ah. And with regard to whether or not the Jumu'ah speech is part of the Salaah. And with regard to whether you should wipe all or a part of your head when washing up - doing Wudu - for your Salaat.
Examples of debates and differences in views on any number of issues of this kind fill volumes of Islamic scholarship. The range of available options is so tantalizingly rich and diverse that everyone can have their pick and no one can possibly miss out.
Islam in a Nutshell?
Here then is Islam in a nutshell - the miraculous formulation of La Ilaaha Illallah, Muhammad Rasulullah. Nothing else does or can possibly capture the full range of Islamic theory and practice as these divine words do: La Ilaaha Illallah for the theory part of it and Muhammad Rasulullah for the practice side of it.
So what you have below now are simply some statements that highlight and summarize some of the more salient aspects of Islam. If you want, you can consider them a quick drive-by introduction of our own to Islam. And to what Muslims are, have been or at least ought to be.
It is worth asking how many Muslims would really and truly recognize some of the things that are being said about Islam below. That is how much of a gulf seems to have developed between what Islam really is and what many Muslims, mostly due to their ignorance and quite significantly due to the wrong leadership in their midst, have reduced Islam to.
So here goes.
1. Islam Is Moderation
Not that there is a moderate Islam and an extremist Islam. The fact is that there is only one Islam and that Islam is moderation.
How many foundation documents and major sources of a culture and civilization do you know that issue an unequivocal command like this: "Do not be extremists in the practice of your Deen"? Wa laa taghloo fee deenikum?
Well, the Qur'an does. When you find a parallel to that in world literature, we will talk more. I am not saying it is not there. All I am saying is, go find it and then let us talk. That will give us something to talk about.
In the same way:
- Islam is living in peace and amity with your neighbors. And with everyone else.
- Islam is building bridges among faiths, races, nationalities, cultures and colors.
- Islam is bringing all sorts of people together and saying something nice.
- Islam is concern for the old and kindness for the young.
- Islam is absolute and unconditional respect for women.
- Islam is a smile.
- Islam is a good, nice, kind word.
- Islam is cleaning up the neighborhood.
- Islam is due regard for the rule of law and for public order and for public morality and accountability.
- Islam is truth telling.
- Islam is fulfilling contracts.
- Islam is keeping promises.
- Islam is speaking truth to power.
- Islam is cleanliness.
- Islam is caring for others.
- Islam is kindness to animals.
- Islam is forgiving and choosing not to retaliate.
- Islam is anger management.
- Islam is walking away from trouble.
- Islam is being best to your family.
- And to your neighbor ...
- And so on, and so on, and so on and so forth.
2. Islam Is Liberty and Equality
At the same time, Islam is also striving for liberty, justice, fairness and equality. And it is speaking the truth, even when it may not be popular or convenient.
And Islam is encouraging good things and discouraging bad things. And it is working to stop people from hurting or abusing other people.
And Islam is bringing hope and comfort to the hearts of those in despair. And it is working to make life better for everyone in this world, friend and foe. And it is about being the best that you can be to your family.
And, more than anything else, Islam is loving and fearing God in heaven and loving and serving God's creation right here on earth.
How Can It Be Otherwise?
Ask yourself this: If Islam were truly from Almighty God, how could it be otherwise? How could it not be any and all of these things?
And how could it not be inclusive of all the other wonderful and great things that are truly good and useful for humanity and for the rest of God's creation on earth?
And how could it not subsume and encompass all the wonderful and amazing and life-giving teachings and sayings and doctrines that lie scattered in all other cultures and civilizations throughout the world?
Tell me, if Islam were truly from God, how could it be otherwise?
Have you ever heard of a book - any book other than the Qur'an - that declares repeatedly that its job is to confirm and validate all the good and wonderful things that all the wonderful people everywhere taught in earlier times?
But that is precisely what the Qur'an says, over and over again: that it came to confirm and validate all the good and wonderful things from all other previous and divinely inspired teachings and cultures anywhere, at any time - and to modify, update and modernize them.
That alone is "proof positive," as they say, of this system of Islam - and its home the Qur'an - being from Almighty God.
What We Really Need Is Integrity and Humility
The statements above are some of the things that strike me as key to a proper understanding of Islam. The ever-mushrooming Islamic Drive-by Experts of today need to go back to their drawing boards and relearn their Islam - properly this time.
But for people to develop a proper understanding of Islam, what they need is not merely intellect but also integrity. They must have not only intelligence and curiosity but also humility and honesty.
And they must have not only a clear mind but also a clear conscience, free from the morbid grip of a plethora of personal, political and economic agendas and motivations.
Dr. Syed Husain Pasha is an educator, scholar, mentor, organizer and community leader of exceptional talent, training and experience. His background combines authentic traditional Islamic education and training with a Ph.D. from one of the premier research universities in the West. His lectures, seminars, camps, community clean-up and other programs and activities provide extraordinary training, education and motivation in Islam and in life in general.