THIS is a lingering question that keeps haunting me time and again: if I want to be a good Muslim, should I shut down my mind and submit myself totally to God? Can I be a good servant of God while still reserving some space for doubt, question, and skepticism?
The way Islam is presented in the modern discourse of Islamist literature is very interesting. Take for example the popular work by Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-i Islam-i in Pakistan, entitled Towards Understanding Islam. I stumbled upon this book long time ago while I was still a young student in madrasa in Indonesia.
Islam, in the Maududian discourse, means literally submission. “Muslim” means some one who submits and surrenders. Islam is an act of submission. God has laid down for humanity a set of rules that will lead them to the path of salvation. To be a Muslim means to submit yourself to God’s sovereignty.
Islam, for Maududi, is not a religion as it is usually understood by western people, i.e. a personal conviction and faith that has no bearing on the public life. Islam is a faith plus a system; a religion that unfolds in the history of humankind in the form of complete civilization.
The mission of the prophet, according to Maududi, is not simply to produce individuals who adhere to moral teachings, but also political system in the modern sense of the word. In other words, Muhammad, in Maududian discourse, is not merely a teacher of moral life in the way Buddha is, but also Constantine who is taking upon himself a tremendous task of erecting an empire, a political system, a state, a dawla.
Submission in Islam is not simply an act of personal piety, but rather a “public” act to submit to a certain divinely sanctioned system. That is the system of God. For people like Maududi, God is not a solitary “father” in the dark corner of the world who cares so little about the mundane affairs. God acts in the same manner as a CEO in the modern companies who is busy as hell with the minutiae of human affairs, ranging from state administration down to the trivial affairs such as how you enter the bathroom. (Yup, even your CEO won’t care how and where the hack you pee!)
God’s rule is so complete and comprehensive that it leaves no single aspect in human life unattended. To be a good Muslim is to place yourself under this complete and totalitarian rule of God. Yes, God has equipped humankind with the faculty of reason. But, watch out: reason is given by God to test human truthful allegiance to his rule.
If we use our mind to challenge and question divine rule, that amounts to an act of rebellion against divine sovereignty.
In other words, if you want to be a good Muslim, you have no choice but shut down your mind. Of course, Maududi and the likes would do their best to repudiate any accusation that Islam is a religion that contravenes human reason. He will show you, of course apologetically, that Islamic history is ripe with the best instances where reason and revelation coexists harmoniously producing the fruit of civilization that benefit all humankind. Even Europe owes Islamic civilizations a great deal of debt.
Sound good argument, doesn’t it?
But I don’t buy it, AT ALL. Yes, Muslim generations over centuries developed a rich and magnificent civilization. But the standard bearers of that civilization were people of totally different breed. They are the champions of humanism and rationalism. They were even the victim of people of yore whose religious view was not so different from Maududi: totalitarian, anti-intellectual, and so hostile to the “other”. If Muslim philosophers and scientists like Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Baja (Avempace) and many others were ever resurrected again from their grave, they would definitely disown people like Maududi outright!
JOHN Shelby Spong, a Christian theologian from the US, is one of my favorite writer. In a book that he published recently, Jesus for the Non-Religious, he said something about religion that resonates so deeply with my understanding of Islam. Listen to him as follows:
_The Christianity that is now emerging in America and in the Third World is something with which I do not choose to be identified. I do not want to be filled with competing claims or disturbing anger. I do not want to worship a God that I cannot challenge, or be loyal to a tradition that requires me to shut down my mind. (p. 7) _
Spong is definitely a courageous man of religion. He chooses a thorny path: a God we are able to challenge, not God who judges our allegiance to him by how far down the slope we can go to shut our mind down.
Of course, this is not what Maududi thinks about God. Maududi’s God is a totalitarian God. Spong’s God is a God of dialogue, a God with whom I can negotiate.
I submit to this type of God.