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Your Islam, My Islam, Where is “The Real Islam”?
Political Issues
Dr Saad Bashir Malik


Discussions on religious issues on talk-shows have become a common phenomenon. As a Psychiatrist, I often get drawn into analyzing the form and content of these, which are often arguments more than mature discussions. Each participant is found vehemently defending his/her own viewpoint, unwilling to even examine a different perspective. Since the content is religious, emotions run high, as a threat to one’s beliefs is perceived as a threat to one’s self-esteem and identity. The situation is no different from the plight of the six blind men who went to examine the elephant. One, who got hold of the leg, thought it resembled a pillar; another held the ear and assumed it resembled a fan, and the one examining the trunk considered it to be a long thick rope.

Discussions involving matters relating to religion between individuals belonging to varying backgrounds seldom get anywhere because each is talking from a different paradigm. Thus, the orthodox clergy has its own concepts, the “liberals” have their own version and the mystics see from an entirely different perspective. Yet each claims to hold the ultimate truth following their brand of the most accurate and pristine perception of Islam. Most, except perhaps the mystics, go even further to not only vehemently assert their righteousness and their sole property rights of the true Islam, they consider all the others who differ from them in this regard as not only misguided but worthy of eternal damnation. Nothing short of that is acceptable to them.

Isn’t it strange that whereas we tolerate different attitudes, perceptions and tastes when it involves our decisions regarding dress, food etc, we become completely intolerant when others exercise their same choice in matters of perception and understanding of religion?

At times, I find it hilarious to watch discussions on TV between “scholars” who aggressively defend their own particular vision of Islam. These “discussions” are more of a battle between powerful competing egos. It is said that in an argument there are always three sides to be considered: my side, your side and the real side. These heated discussions between individuals, who are full of themselves, also seem to revolve around these: my Islam, your Islam, and the real Islam.

I know of so many decent and noble people who harm none and are always striving for the welfare of their fellow beings. They are not very regular in their daily prayers or the yearly fasts, but feel they are good Muslims because they claim to be practicing the true spirit of Islam. Yet there are others who are extremely regular with their prayers, fasts, performing countless umras and yet lack compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. They do believe that they are fulfilling all the commands of religion and are practicing the real Islam.

How can these individuals have a discussion on their religion when the concepts they have about it are so radically apart? It is almost as if they are talking about two different religions.

So where does all this lead us to? Should we remain like the six blind men believing in their own subjective perception of the elephant or should we, using “parallel thinking”, examine the subject from all sides, including views and perceptions different from ours, and thus arrive at a more holistic view of it? That may still lead us to an imperfect understanding, but then that is the best we can do as a start.



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