Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why am I a believer in God?

In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are Signs for people with intelligence: those who remember Allah, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: "Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire." (Qur'an, 3:190-191)

There's been a lot of news stories about aggressive atheists blaming religious belief for every evil in the world. In many cases, they seem to think that they are intellectually superior to the believers. I agree that there are many evil and despicable people who preach religion and blame God for their terrible behavior. However, it seems to me that it is more the believers, Muslim, Christian whatever who you see giving of their income for the poor, trying to spread literacy etc more than atheists. Some people see all the faults of the believers and do not acknowledge that secular ideologies such as nationalism, communism or eugenics have been just as destructive without many of the postive aspects which religion brings to the lives of its believers, and they in turn bring to their environment. So there should be some balance in these accusations.

Beyond all this however, my reason for belief is that I look at the world, from the stars, to the rain that falls, to the wondrously formed hands of my children and I see the work of a Great Artist. I don't just see random splodges of paint. I don't believe that God is only about love as some would say, He has also created this world as a test of the human soul. We see good and bad and all the shades of grey but still for me those Signs point to the One, the Creator and Originator.

For the atheist, they look at the same signs and they don't see what I see. I accept that, and leave it up to God to judge between me and them someday. But as Bob Dylan once said, "don't criticize what you can't understand" My observation is that atheists are not more charitable, more tolerant or even necessary more open-minded than believers. The next time I hear the juvenile "religion is the cause of all wars" or "the world would be a better place without religion", I challenge them to look at Hitler's Germany or Stalin's USSR and argue that those secular states were any better than even the worst religious ones.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stupid beyond belief

I have been spending time in Malaysia lately, living near my wife's family. There are good and bad things about being here, the good mainly centering around the food (yum) and the cost of living (cheap), and the bad mainly about the inefficiencies of third-world infrastructure and mentality.

As this blog makes clear, I am an Anglo-Celtic Muslim. I became a Muslim about 15 years ago - of my own volition, not because I wanted to get married to some Muslim chick. I met my wife several years after I became Muslim.

It drives me nuts the attitude that some Malaysian Malays have to converts, in fact to Islam in general. They seem to think that there is something inherently Islamic about being a Malay, so that while those who convert in their eyes can never be 'real' Muslims, Malays who drink alcohol, gamble and in some cases even deny the existence of judgment and the hereafter are somehow considered truer Muslims.

Part of the reason for this is the (obviously man-made) constitution of this country, which accords "Malays" special rights and privileges over others. Since no one wants to deny themselves these privileges, they will keep calling themselves Muslim no matter how unIslamic their beliefs or their behaviour are. Religion and ethnicity are conflated. The Malay status is tied to religious identification, as those who arrived in this country from India or Arab countries or whatever are regarded as "Malays" despite many not having a drop of archipelago blood in their veins - which makes the whole "we deserve privileges because we were here first" argument a bit ridiculous, frankly, but I digress.

Independence shut the door on this forever though, as converting to Islam does not entitle one to alter their racial status, so a Chinese convert remains Chinese, unless he marries a Malay in which case the children will be Malays (not sure about this though). However, this is not widely understood, so that some Malays actually resent converts for crowding in on their space, and seem to think they have the right to doubt the sincerity of all converts, assuming that people convert for some kind of personal gain. So while a Malay can drink, gamble, take drugs etc even to the extent that these sins are widely known, people will never label them as kafir (infidel) or a munafiq (hypocrite). A convert on the other hand, must exhibit exemplary behaviour, dress as a Malay or better yet an Arab, punctuate their speech with lots of inshaAllahs etc and use an Arabic name or else be regarded as 'not a real Muslim'.

I wish I could make these people understand, that converting to Islam is never easy, at least for those who do it sincerely - and they have no way of knowing whether the conversion was sincere or not. Even if someone did convert for marriage initially, he or she would have had to endure ostracization from their family to do so and possibly much more as well. If you observe a convert who pray five times a day, fasts Ramadan and pays Zakaat, he or she is much more of a Muslim that those who do not, regardless of the colour of the pussy they emerged into this world from (sorry about the crudeness, but I am sickened by this arrogant attitude of some racists).

Trust me, I have never gained any material advantage from being a Muslim, quite the contrary - I had to sacrifice many of my friends who couldn't tolerate my new lifestyle, and miss out on many business opportunities because of not being able to accept clients who were selling alcohol or gambling, not being able to treat clients to drinks, and the general stigma attached to being a Muslim in this day and age. Talk to anyone who has worked with me in Australia who knows I am a Muslim and they will probably say how much more successful I would be if I didn't have these handicaps. Why people would actually believe I would have done all this without being sincere is completely beyond my comprehension. I'm not saying this makes me better than any other Muslim, as I don't have to put up with some of the racial vilification that they might have to particularly those living in the West - I can hide my religion if necessary. I don't ask for special accolades for any of this, but I do expect to at least be treated equally to other Muslims, many of whom would not be prepared to sacrifice an iota of their culture or their financial gain if it contradicted their religion. Witness the Malays who drink with their mates, buy lottery tickets and skip prayer so they can attend football matches.

On a related note, my wife was criticised by a female relative because our children, having been raised in Australia, do not speak Malay well enough and speak mostly English. There's nothing wrong with learning to speak Malay of course, that's why we dragged them here in fact, despite the fact they're pretty happy as Australian Muslims. However, the person then went on to explain, outrageously, that the grounds for this criticism was apparently that my wife lacks iman (faith) because if the children are not taught Malay, they can not read the Qur'an or even recite the Shahada (testification of faith), because one's tongue would not be able to pronounce them correctly. WTF! Aside from the obvious answer that the Qur'an is in Arabic and Malay is arguably no more similar to Arabic than English is phonetically, I was amazed by the cheek of this woman. My wife is a hijabi who prays five times daily, has a degree with a minor in Islamic studies and can speak Arabic fluently. On the other hand, this woman can't speak Arabic, has no education, and the children raised by this woman who felt she could criticize my wife include drug users, a daughter who says she doesn't believe in heaven and hell and another son who is a compulsive gambler. Even though this woman doesn't utter a word to advise these children about their behaviour or their aqida, she feels she can criticise my wife for the simple but in her view overarching fault of teaching her kids English rather than the holy tongue of Bahasa Melayu as their mother tongue.

You might just conclude that this woman is a fool, but it is very hurtful in Malay culture for people to speak this way about others. I don't like airing this woman's dirty laundry, but to accuse me of not being a true Muslim because I have the wrong skin colour despite the fact that I pray, don't drink etc when she accepts this behavior from the children raised by her without a peep is very zalim (cruel and unjust). Her accusation against my wife suggests a black heart and a profound ignorance of Islam.

I believe that all of us will be judged one day for our actions. I cannot say for certain whether Allah will accept my faith and forgive my sins, but I live in hope and faith that He will. In the meantime, I ask those who think that being Malay will help you in the hereafter to think again - we all will be judged according to the guidance we received. Omar, Abu Bakr, Khalid bin Walid - all of these were converts, and none of them spoke a word of Malay. Judge people, if you must, according to their actions, not according to the prejudices of your culture.