The Sheikh Petersburg Declaration: Reformation of Islam
26 April, 2007
The first questions that came to my mind are “What if all the citizens of St. Petersburg become Muslims? Will they venerate ‘Saint’ of St. Petersburg?” Probably not! The closest name that would replace such an un-Islamic name ought to be “Sheikh”. Perhaps “Petersburg” will also be changed to something else.
I had to chuckle. The name of the summit, its participants, and the gist of the declaration were shooting in different directions. Evidently, the name of the summit was “Secular Islam Summit”, but the well-known ex-Muslims Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan did not mind joining the convention.
Is it not fascinating that there are so many Pundits and scholars discussing Islam? Ironically, we don’t see any conference on “Secular Hinduism”, “Secular Buddhism”, or “Secular Christianity” for that matter. But there is no shortage of people who like to reform Islam and deliver a factory fresh, brand new “Secular Islam”, though there is no difference between “Secular Islam” and “Secular Cannibalism”.
The declaration starts with a confident dialogue: “We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies.” This first sentence ends abruptly without any further explanation, giving an impression of all participants being one of those two categories.
I have a great amount of respect for Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan because of the bold declaration of clipping their umbilical cords from Islam. Ibn Warraq even wrote a book, Why I Left Islam. Apparently, they are aware of Islamic danger, and none of these great minds should be called Secular Muslims; neither do they fit in the Muslim society. They surely are secular persons - more explicitly, members of mankind. However, an attempt to add their names to any of those categories is an insult to humanity.
Then comes another dialogue that seems completely unfit for Ibn Warraq et al.: “We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies.”
Every time I hear about Islamic civilization, I feel like a tiny gecko with its swerving long tail swirling down over my spinal cord. Let me reread it again after excluding the word “pre-Islamic” – “We find traditions of liberty, rationality and tolerance in the rich histories of Islamic societies.”
History witnesses, when Islam is in action, most humanistic values - including liberty, rationality and tolerance, which are flushed down the toilet - err, actually buried under the desert sand. Ar-Razi, Ibn Sina, Omar Khaym, Marr--the pioneers of the so-called golden age of Islam--were not Muslims. Muslims flourished because those great minds dared to shy away from Islam. Conversely, as soon as Ghazali launched real Islam, Muslims went right back to the darkness. History also repeats itself. Today’s attempt of secularizing Islam may bear some fruit, but within no time the madness of Islam will be back.
Admittedly, most parts of the declaration call for striking solutions, but, unfortunately, some of them are unrealistic. One of those, for instance, claims, “…reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims.”
Now they are talking about reforming the sectarian education that condones intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims. How is it possible to reform Islamic education without changing the Islamic scriptures? For Muslims, the Quran is not merely a book; it is a divine book that explicitly teaches intolerance and hatred towards non-Muslims. There are negligible amounts of good teaching in the Quran, which are either overshadowed or abrogated by the violent verses.
When a book is meant to provide guidance, it is expected that believers of the book will blindly follow the rules. Let’s compare the effect of another book for guidance. In 1955, Vladimir Nabokov wrote an excellent book, Lolita. The book was immediately banned because authorities believed it contained pornographic descriptions and was full of a pedophile’s sexual desire. Ironically, Humbert, the middle-aged narrator of the book who was obsessed with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, has a striking resemblance with the holy prophet of Islam. The only difference is that Ayesha was not a stepdaughter of Mohammed but the daughter of his friend. Anyway, soon Vladimir’s book gained international attention, and it became a piece of classic literature.
What if a society decides to make Lolita their divine book and Humbert the prophet? Though most critics agree Lolita does not endorse pedophilia but intensely describes the dark side of a human mind, the book does have enough material to arouse a pedophile’s hidden desire. Hence, for its immoral values, no society would recommend Lolita as a divinely guided book; thus, the Quran, because of its intolerant teachings, cannot be a book of guidance either.
The declaration further urges, “We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine.”
I must inscribe on a gold plated plaque, “There is a noble future for Islam”, and hang it on the wall. No doubt, I will spend the rest of my life looking at the plaque and try to solve the puzzle.
First, let us find two Quranic verses that would assimilate the personal faith into political doctrine. After all, in Islam, such two concepts--“personal faith” and “political doctrine”--are mutually inclusive.
Quran 5.003 YUSUFALI: Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead
meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been
invoked the name of other than Allah;…….
Quran 2.193 SHAKIR: And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah,…..
Evidently, Q5:003 refers to personal faith that prohibits eating
a pig’s flesh. Muslims have the right to eat whatever they want, or
reject anything they don’t like. Furthermore, Hindus may not eat
beef, and Buddhists may live on vegetables. Such personal choices,
derived from religious convictions, do not harm anyone.
Now let us explore the next verse Q2:193, which insists that Muslims keep fighting until Islam becomes the only religion on earth. The verse in question is only a fraction of numerous verses that evince intolerance and bigotry.
If Muslims are asked to limit their belief on a personal level at porky business, they must abandon the rest of the Quran’s decree. It is an unrealistic approach. I suppose they just cannot ignore a major portion of the Quran. For all Muslims, practicing their own religion is not enough; instead, they are obligated to shove Islam in others’ throats. It is a religious conviction that all Muslims must adhere to.
Admittedly, there are a handful of blameless verses in the Quran, and most moderate Muslims are perching on those verses. However, all of these verses are followed by another verse that neutralizes the implication of the preceding verse, or another verse from a different section exclusively eclipses its meaning. The following is an example of how noble verses are beaten up.
002.256 YUSUFALI: Let there be no compulsion in religion:
Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and
believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that
never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.
002.257 YUSUFALI: Allah is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith the patrons are the evil ones: from light they will lead them forth into the depths of darkness. They will be companions of the fire, to dwell therein (For ever).
All non-Muslims have heard the famous dialogue, “Let there be no
compulsion in religion.” Moderate Muslims and beard-less
contemporary Muslim scholars love to quote this verse to prove that
Islam is indeed a tolerant religion. However, if you read the
following verse, it guarantees hellfire for those who do not believe
in Allah. On one hand, Allah is campaigning so-called “no
compulsion”, and, on the other hand, he is running after
non-believers with an Olympic torch.
It is true that moderate Muslims do not carry AK-47s; neither do they drive around with the latest Islamic invention, the “suicide car bomb”. Most of their lives, they pray occasionally, interpret the Quran to their liking, and keep themselves succumbed in lies. However, when they grow older, they become more fearful of Allah’s vengeance and the fog of lies fades away. Such epiphany drives them to pay more attention to their scriptures and collect more rewarding points that would be used to buy the ticket for heaven. In the U.S., most companies encourage consumers with a very common slogan, “More you buy, more you save”. For instance, if a consumer buys $100 worth of merchandise, he saves $1, but he can save $10 if $1000 is spent. This is called Islamic logic; you spend $990 to save $10. Likewise, Muslims spend more time, money and energy behind Islamic rituals, and earn a fraction of rewarding points. They realize that it is not a good idea to abide by only the porky rule of the Quran and ignore their duty of spreading Islam. A trip to Mecca for annual pilgrimage and an in-depth study of Islam, such as the following verse, reveal that they must follow the whole Quran.
002.174 YUSUFALI: Those who conceal Allah's revelations in
the Book, and purchase for them a miserable profit, they swallow
into themselves naught but Fire; Allah will not address them on
the Day of Resurrection. Nor purify them: Grievous will be their
002.085 YUSUFALI: ……. Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do ye reject the rest? but what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?- and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For Allah is not unmindful of what ye do.
For all Muslims, the thought of Judgment Day is scary, as much as a cat is afraid of a bucket of water. When time for the last breath nears, Muslims become desperate to collect those extra rewarding points, just like the frightened cat with exposed claws and bared teeth. Hatred for other religions becomes habitual, and one may not hesitate to fulfill the violent wishes of Allah as guided in the Quran.
The Shaikh Petersburg declaration takes a dramatic twist in the
next sentence: “We demand the release of Islam from its captivity
to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid
strictures of orthodoxy.”
Who are those culprits? Who dared to take Islam hostage?
They must be suggesting the strict Saudi laws and the fundamentalists who are rocking the world. Ironically, the fundamentalists are faithful to the fundamentals of Islam, and their actions are based on the fundamental teachings. One may wonder if it is a crime for an economics student to learn, believe and practice the fundamentals of economics! The so-called fundamentalists did not invent radical Islam; neither have they inserted hate mongering verses into the Quran.
No country is using Islam to remain in power. Iran, for instance, is ruled by Mullahs, and it is also widely believed that they are abusing Islam to run the country. The truth is that Islam itself is a global political party, and the sincere members of the party strive to uphold the political agenda. Mullahs are aware that lesser strict Islamic laws would make them popular because humans, by nature, love freedom. However, they implement Islamic laws because they are obligated to Islam. In Saudi Arabia, people do many un-Islamic events inside of their homes, but the government cannot stray from Islamic rulings. Even so, for all real Islamic countries, the basic Islamic scriptures such as the Quran and Ahadith are more akin to constitutional laws. After reading the Quran, spirituality does not bloom like a flower; rather, it injects hate in one’s mind.
On the other hand, it is the so-called moderate Muslims who are trying to hijack the real Islam. They create their own interpretation to make Islam look good, and blatantly lie for the sake of survival. Indeed, a secular Islam is always desirable, and despite all deceiving techniques, their endeavor could bear some fruit if it had an enduring effect. Unfortunately, most moderate Muslims, as explained earlier, revert back to orthodoxy, and the Muslim society sinks down in the darkness again. Hence, an attempt to reform Islam is nothing but putting a band-aid on a dragon.
I humbly appreciate what Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan
are doing. In comparison to such intellectual giants, I am no more
than a street person, or, at best, an illiterate ordinary man. Yet,
an ordinary man may see ordinary things that intellectuals don’t
see. Please allow me to recite a short story, although I cannot
guarantee the authenticity. No one in his right mind would challenge
Einstein’s intelligence, but there is a tale about his inability to
ignore minor things. One day, Einstein decided to make a cage for
his chicken. He indeed showed an excellent craftsmanship and made a
very nice cage. When one of his friends came to visit him on the
same afternoon and asked the reason for having two entrances on the
cage, Einstein surprisingly replied, “Don’t you see I need a bigger
door for the bigger chicken, and a smaller door for the little
ones?” Any ordinary man would realize that one big door is good
enough for both sizes, but often intellectuals perceive very simple
things in a complicated manner.
Ibn Warraq himself admits that Islam cannot be reformed. Yet, he and others endorsed the Sheikh Petersburg declaration. Perhaps, it would have been more appropriate and acceptable if the declaration would have urged Muslims to leave Islam. Ibn Warraq and Wafa Sultan do not belong to Muslim society; neither should they confine them in such a tiny sphere. They essentially belong to mankind, an extended spectrum where all humans should reside.