Thursday, September 27, 2007

On being a Muslim Arab Atheist part 2

I think with Ramadan a lot of my posts have taken a markedly religious tone. This is highly unusual since I rarely if ever reveal my inner thoughts on the subject. Soon I will begin my Masters in Philosophy and that, along with my lessons on how to play the Oud, will be taking a considerable amount of my time. There is one thing however, which didn't leave my mind and which has preoccupied me for some time now. Abu Fares, a fellow Syrian blogger I read regularly, had posted an article concerning his own spiritual feelings about Ramadan. I liked reading it because I enjoy sharing and hearing experiences with others about their search and their understanding. While in Syria, I remembered wanting to talk to a Sheikh about Philosophy and whether he thought it was 7aram (forbidden) or not. The Sheikh looked at me in a funny way and revealed that he taught Islamic Philosophy at Masters level at Damascus University, he then proceeded to warn me of the fate of those unprepared in philosophy who became Atheists and rattled off a list of Arab intellectuals I'd never heard of.

I remember feeling slightly annoyed with his answer, simply because his look at me implied a feeling that I was already a lost cause. He kindly offered his card with his e-mail address and website if I ever needed guidance or wanted to ask questions, which was a nice gesture from him. Still, I think it said something about how people view religion and Atheism. It seems like both sides seem to see the other as lost souls in need of saving, both run the risk of trying to monopolise truth. I've started to realise however, that they are actually both sides to the same coin. My search led me first to Atheism and then back to Islam. If I had been born a Christian or a Bhuddist then it probably would have led me back to these and I see no contradiction in this. Didn't the Grand Master of Sufism Sheikh Muhyi al Din Ibn Arabi (a Muslim) once say, "the colour of the water is the colour of the receptacle"? I think there are many paths to this one truth and as long as you get there or try hard then that's probably good enough.

I think being an Atheist was one of the hardest things in my life to become as it shook my previous foundations and faith in things, still, my search for truth could not tolerate fairy tales and folk tales and it was not till six years later that I found my search led me back, then the hardest thing for me to do was to bend my knee and put my forehead on the ground. Not as the muslim I had been before, but as a "Muslim" with a different lense on the subject. I respect and accept Atheists for their scrutiny and courage of conviction, you should always question, always scrutinise. As Qunfuz said in a previous post, "What I believe today is not necessarily what I’ll believe tomorrow." and that holds true for me now as when I didn't believe in God. The Prophet Muhammad once said that the human heart is flipped constantly between the fingertips of Allah. When I remember that saying I can't help but visualise a coin with an atheist and religious side to it. I find it worrying the anti-religious attitude that many atheists are beginning to adopt as it seems to me they have decided to pick a side like all the other "traditional" interpretations of religion. They have become a religion themself defined more by what they are against than what they are for. In many discussions with atheist friends of mine, I found some who genuinely weren't convinced in the existence of a supreme being and would engage fruitfully in the discussion and others who chose their "flag" simply to rebel against an oppressive society or family but without thinking through or discussing their position. I don't know what state my faith will be in once I finish my Philosophy course, but I am comforted about my Islam in a way that perhaps my Sheikh forgot about. The Prophet Muhammad once told his followers to gladly engage Islam with competing ideas and have it held up to scrutiny and questioning, the Truth is out now he stated, and when placed against other ideas will surely be visible (no don't ask me for sources, I read this somewhere and sometime!). For a "lover of Wisdom" (Philosophy in Greek) that suits me just fine, I'm looking for the Truth and whichever side my "coin" is on when I die, well... I can't be blamed for not trying.


Abufares said...

Great post Wassim
I really enjoyed every word and agreed with most.
You should go for it my friend, for, as someone had said: no don\'t ask me for sources), the truth shall set you free. In this case, the search for the unattainable truth is our ultimate objective.

bint battuta said...

As ever, an interesting post. Strange that you should bring up the question of whether philosophy is haram - I just posted something about the Shi'i philosophical tradition.
It's true that some atheists are incredibly dogmatic - and I find that a lot amongst people who've really had to fight against an oppressive faith, so they feel their atheism is a part of their identity that they have to constantly assert.
Thank you for writing this, and I wish you all the best with your studies.

Maysaloon said...

Thanks Abu Fares! I really wish I got to meet you when I went to Syria!

Maysaloon said...

Nice to see you again Bint Battuta! I guess I put forward the question to hear his opinion, though myself I do not consider it forbidden at all but rather something to be treated with respect. I'll have a look at your post nice and early tomorrow :)

I guess the aggression from atheists is understandable, I see similar tendencies with Muslims or Christians who also feel themselves being overwhelmed by a majority. The dangers in this "reasserting" of identity is that it could cloud up objective searching and lead to somebody stubbornly holding onto a position for the sake of argument. In another time or place, they might even hold the opposite position. It's strange that amongst liberals I tend to be quite conservative and amongst conservatives, quite liberal. Perhaps it's a very human tendency to go against the flow, just to keep people on their toes ;-)

bint battuta said...

I suppose being contrary, going against the flow, is an instinct in all of us at times. Any assertion of identity is in contradistinction to something else. By the way I meant it was a strange coincidence, not that it was an odd question, in case you wondered.

nobody said...

This is a very interesting post. I am a student in Arabic language and literature. Are there any prominent atheist philosophers, novelists, film-makers, artists, or journalists in the Arab world?