Religion and Religiosity: An Ailment or Medicine?!

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Dr. Ahmed Al Raissouni

Dr. Ahmed Al Raissouni

 

The following is a translation of an Arabic article written by Dr. Ahmed Al Raissouni and published in December 1, 2014 on his official website. Originally from Morocco, Dr. Al Raissouni is a Maliki jurist having attained his undergraduate degree in Sharia from the University of Al Qarawiyyin in 1978, a Masters degree in the Higher Objectives of Sharia from Muhammad V University in 1989, and a PhD in the Foundational Principles of Islamic Law in 1992. Dr. Al Raissouni is currently the director of the Maqasid Centre for Research in Rabat, Morocco.

 

 

“There are those who are preoccupied with Islam, and work on Islam, but are ignorant of it and wasteful of its essence, thus damaging it when their intention was to serve and support it.”

Religion today, especially Islam, preoccupies people more than any other previous time. Islam preoccupied people when it appeared, to such an extent that Arabs from different tribes used to counsel one another and say, “Beware from the young man from Quraysh so that he doesn’t test you.” After that it was Arab neighbours who became preoccupied, including the Persians and the Romans, until it became a big deal. Then it was Europe when Islam crossed the sea and the crescent started to appear in its horizon.

But today it preoccupies people in a way that has no precedence. It preoccupies those afar and those in proximity in the same way, just as it does its followers and its enemies, those who are afraid of it and afraid for it, the preachers and the rulers, as well as students and researchers in history, anthropology, sociology, Islamic studies, and others. It also preoccupies, as you know, security and legal agencies, the media, and even political parties.

A few decades ago the jurist Abdul Qadir Odah wrote a short book titled Islam between the Ignorance of its Children and Ineptitude of its Scholars, a title that remains relevant in describing the preoccupation with Islam today, even if in a general way. There are those who are preoccupied with Islam, and work on Islam, but are ignorant of it and wasteful of its essence, thus damaging it when their intention was to serve and support it.

From among the children of Islam and Muslims are ones who believe in Islam and accept being Muslims, but they do not want Islam to interfere in their lives or freedoms. They see that religious ones have a type of exaggeration in religious observance, and therefore feel a bit of unease and malaise from this strict Islam. Although this concern with exaggeration in itself is not free from its own exaggeration and could even be considered a type of exaggeration in its own way, it yet contains some elements of reality and truth.

There are some religious people and preachers who turned religion into a heavy, burdensome, and even embarrassing thing where they do not waste an opportunity to make something either prohibited or more strict. In fact, there are some among the people of religion who do not see in religion anything else other than obligation and compulsion upon others, where they see in making people undertake detestable things to them and the constriction of their lives a form of worship and a getting nearer to God the Exalted. In other words, they see in religion a difficulty in this life for a reward in the next life, and that is all there is to it.

On the other hand, there are those who do not see in religion and its people anything other than a political competitor and an ideological foe. Therefore, they see no other alternative but opposing solutions that target its roots at the political, cultural, and intellectual fronts. From this arose the irreligious genius that dries the source in order to uproot the tradition.

To the right of those – or to their left as it does not really make a difference – are those who do not see in religious observance and its people and preachers anything other than a security problem either currently happening or expected to happen. Egyptian police has a known vision on this matter, which is that every appearance of religiosity greater than normal, and every popular appeal that a religious organization or preacher gains, is indicative of a “pregnancy”, where the newborn will inevitably be an extremist movement and a security threat. From this perspective [the Egyptian government] suspended the preacher Amr Khaled, and expelled the other preacher Al-Habib Al-Jifri, despite their belief that they reduce popular anger and extremism, while presenting a soft, gentle, and easy Islam.

Upon this methodology appeared the theory promoted by some Western politicians and pundits that states: Every Muslim is an Islamist project, and every Islamist is an extremist project, and every extremist is a terrorist project. Hence, if you want to fight terrorists, fight extremists; if you want to fight extremists, then fight all Islamists; if you want to fight Islamists, then fight Muslims, especially the religious ones; if you want to fight religious Muslims, then fight Islam itself; and if you want to fight Islam, begin with the Quran.

Faced with these images and conceptions [one has to ask] what is the essence of Islam? And what is the essence of religion and religiosity? Is religion a curse or a blessing? Is religion a problem or a solution to a problem? Is religion security and serenity, or a security problem? Is religion an ailment or medicine?

If we are tasked with specifying the message of religion, its essence, and reality, and are charged with correcting its image and conceptualization, then this will not be acceptable or definitive except by directly relying on what the religion has said about itself. Therefore, I will limit myself to presenting the religion’s texts to the observers. The Quran is the culmination of religions and the seal of messages, and only a few of its statements expressing the message of God the Exalted, His purpose, and intention from revealing His religion and setting His path will suffice us. So let us stop upon and at them, for they are enough of a healing answer.

Religion is a guidance and light

The first reason messengers were sent and scriptures were revealed is so that people are upon clear insight, guidance, and light from their Lord to know the great Truths related to their creation, the purpose of their existence and life, and what is to come after their life and death. This is the ultimate and primary purpose for revealing the Torah, the Gospel, the Quran, and everything God revealed to His servants.

We revealed the Torah with guidance and light [5:44]

We sent Jesus, son of Mary, in their footsteps, to confirm the Torah that had been sent before him: We gave him the Gospel with guidance, light, and confirmation of the Torah already revealed – a guide and lesson for those who take heed of God {5:46]

God: there is no god but Him, the Ever Living, the Ever Watchful. Step by step, He has sent the Scripture down to you with the Truth, confirming what went before: He sent down the Torah and the Gospel earlier as a guide for people and He sent down the Criterion [3:2-4]

A light has now come to you from God, and a Scripture making things clear, with which God guides to the ways of peace those who follow what pleases Him, bringing them from darkness to light, by His will, and guiding them to a straight path [5:15-16]

People, a teaching from your Lord has come to you, a healing for what is in your hearts, and guidance and mercy for the believers [10:57]

Religion is purification and uprightness

Guidance leads to uprightness, and knowledge of Truth calls to following it. The coming of light is so that it is used for illumination, and it is only to gain insight and thoughtfulness. Here comes the second component of what makes up religion and its message: uprightness and elevation, purification and grown, righteousness and reformation. This is what messengers were sent to do, and this is what the scriptures were made to speak of.

Prosperous are those who purify themselves, remember the name of their Lord, and pray. Yet you prefer the life of this world, even though the Hereafter is better and more lasting. All this is in the earlier scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses [87:14-19]

The one who purifies his soul succeeds, and the one who corrupt its fails [91:9-10]

It is He who raised a messenger, among the people who had no Scripture, to recite His revelations to them, to make them grow spiritually and teach them the Scripture and wisdom [62:2]

This Quran does show the straightest way [17:9]

They said, ‘Our people, we have been listening to a Scripture that came after Moses, confirming previous scriptures, giving guidance to the truth and the straight path [46:30]

For those who say, ‘Our lord is God,’ and then follow the straight path there is no fear, nor shall they grieve [46:13]

Say, “I am only a mortal like you, but it has been revealed to me that your God is One. Take the straight path to Him and seek His forgiveness. Woe to the idolaters [41:6]

Religion is mercy, benefit, and felicity

God the Exalted is not in need of His servants or the rest of His creation. He is not in need of their belief, worship, or actions. He is neither benefited by obedience nor harmed by disobedience. All He wants by His religion and path is for people to be upon that which is more exalted and purified, as well as that which is better for them and more merciful, bringing them felicity and tranquility. Therefore, praised be He does not want difficulty for them or hardship. Rather, he wants the complete opposite of that.

It was only as a mercy that We sent you to all people [21:107]

A Messenger has come to you from among yourselves. Your suffering distresses him: he is deeply concerned for you and full of kindness and mercy towards the believers. If they turn away, say, ‘God is enough for me: there is no god but Him; I put my trust in Him; He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne [9:128-129]

Ta Ha. It was not to distress you that We sent down the Quran to you [20:1-2]

Whoever follows My guidance, when it comes to you, will not go astray nor fall into misery, but whoever turns away from it will have a life of great hardship. We shall bring him blind to the Assembly on the Day of Resurrection [20:123-124]

Who follow the Messenger – the unlettered prophet they find described in the Torah that is with them, and in the Gospel – who commands them to do right and forbids them to do wrong, who makes good things lawful to them and bad things unlawful, and relieves them of their burdens, and the iron collars that were on them [7:157]

We sent Our messengers with clear signs, the Scripture and the Balance, so that people could uphold justice [57:25]

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