Is Islam an Outdated Religion?

Keeping your word was a sacred thing at home. My dad used to say, “The only thing a poor man has is his word. It’s the one thing nobody can take from you.”

I was told by my mother treating people with integrity and respect is the only way to get them to achieve their full potential. Remember Character and Integrity, if divorced from God, they don’t make sense. If you try to set your own moral thermostat, chances are that a lot of other people will be uncomfortable. What was she trying to instill in us? I understood this after a long time, integrity left to define itself becomes evil because everyone ends up choosing his own standards such profound thoughts could not be appreciated at that immature age, we took it lightly as it was coming from a mother who was not much educated. We had been taught in school by our teachers to reason out everything. These thoughts were in conflict with my mother’s ideas.

Those who believe God created humans have a different worldview from those who believe humans created God. Are we here to have nature serve us, or are we here because we are to serve nature? Politics are totally directed by worldview. That’s why when people say, “We ought to separate politics from religion,” I say separate the two is absolutely impossible.

WHEN MAN BECOMES GOD:

The public debate today is filled with arguments that, not long ago, would have been dismissed as ridiculous and insupportable. Consider homosexuality, for instance. There have been homosexuals in every human culture. But until recently, who would have dared to suggest that the practice should be accepted on equal footing with heterosexuality, to be thought of as a personal decision and nothing more?

Abortion also became OK because we decided it is OK. Where did we get the right to make that decision? Because we’re our own god. If the inconvenience of this little child would interrupt our college education or a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, then that child becomes nothing more than a choice. “It’s my choice. I decide for myself. What about me?” That is the essence of the culture. I have my own career to make, children will be an impediment to my success so why have them, it becomes a matter of choice. We have set our standards.
Everything comes down to the faith question, which then leads to the integrity question: Where does the integrity of character come from? Either it comes from God or it comes from something we manufacture. If it comes from God, it is fixed. Of course, in practice, we will invariably fall short of perfection, but our practice will always butt against a fixed absolute, the standard that is the same today, yesterday, and forever. The standard my grandfather had will be the same standard my grandchildren will have. We may pull away from it further and more often, but the standard stays.

If I don’t believe there is a God, then I don’t believe character is fixed. I believe it moves as the culture moves. Therefore, what was wrong once is no longer wrong because the culture no longer considers it inappropriate; we are able to move the standards. The ancient landmark or boundary stone set by our forefather means that once you move your reference point, everything else becomes chaos.

The educated people believe that if someone makes an innocent mistake where his intentions were good and you are afraid to define what is right and wrong. They would say, “You’ll have to find out for yourself,” or “Do whatever seems good for you.” They tell them, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” Such misguided sentiments are the tragic product of our relativistic generation. We believe fairness is more important than accuracy that effort counts for more than excellence, that participation is as good as an achievement. We are scared to death to say, “That’s wrong.” We try to excuse it. “He was just expressing himself. Don’t squash his creativity!” but children need to be disciplined and to know there are lines they must live within.

An Airplane has a chalked-out path it has to fly within that allotted funnel chosen for it. It doesn’t ever go off course from its path. The air traffic controller directs the pilot. He has to be kept within his limit or else lead to disaster. The Motorway Authority advises you through signboards to keep in your lane for it may be hazardous for you. Don’t we check kids not to fiddle with electric switches? Is it narrow-minded to limit them to that one path? Similarly, our children must be told what is safe or else they court disaster.

We refuse to direct our children and then run around moaning. “What is wrong with our kids today? Look at the violence! Look at the decadence! Look at the drug addiction and lack of respect!” Why are we moaning? We trained them to be this way. They have become critical about everything; public officials fail the integrity test. The media is saturated with it. The reason for this, I believe, is that by showing the character flaws in other people, the public affirms that its own inadequacies are really not so abnormal. As the character of Pakistan begins to plummet, we want to justify our own lack of morality by somehow showing that everyone is just as bad.

People who lie think everyone is a liar. Thieves think everyone steals. People who are insincere in their comments and actions think everyone else is insincere. Therefore, people who are essentially unethical think everyone is unethical, and they’re determined to find it in you. If you’re not overtly flawed, you become a contrast and a threat. Men are lovers of darkness rather than light because the light exposes their dark deeds.

I remember when I was in school there was a 10 P.M. lights-out policy. As soon as the lights were off and the prefect was sleeping, the boys would get up; fish out their hidden eatables and transistors. When the prefect heard something and flipped on the lights, everybody would scramble around like cockroaches and jump into the nearest bed. In the dark, we misbehaved; in the light we hid in fear.

That’s what has happened to the public at large. People are desperate to justify their own immoral attitudes by saying, “He’s a failure, too, so I’m as good as he is.” Our generation has learned to hold to the standard of each other instead of the standards of God. That is the travesty: God is no longer the standard; we are. It is this which has caused problems with everything from discipline in the schools to pornography on the Internet.

How did it happen? I got a job in one of the largest chains of schools in Pakistan. On the first day, I realized the prayer was taken out of the Morning Assembly. That’s a simplistic answer but then even the National Anthem was missing, nobody amongst the staff realized that these were a part of the morning assembly. But when the prayers were introduced the children were not interested and with the National Anthem, there were a lot of giggles and chuckles. Slowly girls and boys came to me and appreciated the effort; they had been told by their parents that they must talk to me on their behalf as well. It was with some effort the students became serious. But it wasn’t just the prayer in schools; it wasn’t just television; it wasn’t just corruption; it wasn’t just welfare; it wasn’t just a mobile phone. It wasn’t any ‘one’ thing.

The only way to destroy something with a solid foundation is to chip away at it, one value at a time. Take away its heart and essence. Bring doubt to what used to be confidence, denial to what used to be faith, death to what was life. I think that is what has happened.

Contrast the generation of the 50s and 60s with the generation of today. In those days people were tentative about the new country, they were poor, hungry, and out of work. Hunger could easily have been justified by saying. “I’m hungry, and I don’t have as much as you; therefore, I have a right to take what I can get.” Dishonesty was still considered wrong, and thieves were despised. Our problems do not result from economics or deficiencies in education. They result from the selfish decision to ignore God’s standards of integrity. Standards based on anything else are relative, and relative standards are meaningless.

When I came back to the school I had been to for 26 years I noticed how far the school had drifted, one tiny step at a time. My antenna was attuned to school life to notice the small changes that had taken place. Instead, I experienced firsthand school reform gone terribly wrong. Students who did nothing were passed, and students who did nothing more than cut and paste from Wikipedia were deemed, high performers. Disruptive students were permitted to rob their classmates of precious teaching time.

When I pointed out the flaws, I was faced with taunting remarks by no less than the Principal. The school assembly, a sacred event in the morning was hit hard. As a headmaster, I was told to wait till the assembly was ready. When I went, there was chaos, boys were all over the place, and the assembly quadrangle was a noisy place. I stood there for a while then enquired from the deputy’s head was that a daily routine. His answer was sir at the start of the prayers they’ll be quiet. Thank God they did, but it had never been like this. Boys were always quiet at the assembly time waiting for the head to start the assembly. Boys are never at fault, it’s the elders who give them a chance to misbehave. When the boys were told of the century-old tradition they began to behave. The resolve to do right, regardless of the circumstances or of the consequences, was the issue.

THE GREAT INFLUENCE:

In our journey to living each one of us is the product of many influences, some major some less important. It’s like my friend use to say about the boarding house food. If there were more Aloos than Qeema then let’s call it Aloo Qeema if there were more Qeema then call it Qeema Aloo. So what does that mean every ingredient makes a difference? When it is all finished, a unique flavor results. Many people have been key ingredients in my life. The first ones were my parents, the working-class people who struggled to make ends meet but who were grateful for what they had and made the most of it. They had a better life than their parents but they wanted a better life for their children. They worked hard and carefully instilled a solid work ethic in their children, insisting that no one was going to hand us anything to have to work for it. My father was very clear in his mind, “nobody is going to speak in English at home, as your mother doesn’t understand it.” These instructions were given because he sent us to the best of schools whose job was to teach us English, he didn’t want us to forget our culture. He had then thought that English is the language of the masters was gradually penetrating into our culture.

My mother was probably the most community-minded person I have ever known. Whenever there was a need she would run to help. If there was some little girl who was desperately ill and needed special treatment, she would see to it. She had the knack of collecting ladies from the community, knit them into a family, allocated work to each individual lady, and made them work like a well-oiled machine. She was a great believer that one should give something back to the community.

I grew up in a small orthodox community at the time the theology that dominated was somewhat legalistic. Although today I believe this emphasis is misguided, it probably protected me from dangerous experiments that damaged peers.

The other side of the coin was that there was a heavy emphasis on the study of the Quran and memorization, but before I could benefit from it I was sent to a Boarding School. Even then my mother had a big influence on me, prior to my departure; she made me understand the value of some of the holy verses. As I grew I became more inquisitive and liked to ask questions about “why can’t we?” or “why is it wrong?” I was not satisfied when the answers were, “You’re just not supposed to.” Being away from home I was not given satisfactory answers.

“Well, why? Why is that wrong?”

“Because…it’s just not the way we are supposed to do it.”

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I went through a period of disenchantment with such non-answers. I know it’s tempting to say, “Because the Holy Book says it’s wrong,” and leave it at that. But there are reasons why the Book says it’s wrong, and there are rational, appropriate foundations for the prohibitions we find in God’s word. Part of my rebellion was toward this can’t do mentality. I wanted to know what I could do. Tell me something that is positive, tell me something that is worthy of my life, something I can invest myself in. Don’t’ just give a list of restrictions!

My own experience has taught me that we can’t get by telling teenagers, “just because!” when it comes to spiritual matters. We need to give them the principles behind the rules. They may not agree with them, but at least we have given them a basis to understand the “why” when we tell them not to drink or whatever.

My early struggle with legalism greatly affected my walk with God. Today I am definitely a “grace Muslim” and not a “law Muslim.” One of the few things I detest more than liberalism is legalism. I think both are cancers to the Muslim faith—liberalism because it doesn’t believe anything, and legalism because it restricts us only to the things we live up to. Liberalism makes God seem so commonplace that He becomes meaningless, while legalism makes God so small that He becomes insignificant.

The negative aspect of a legalistic worldview is that you create what becomes your own Islamic faith. It’s really a set of do’s and don’ts that allow someone to judge whether others are good people or good Muslims. The problem is, we’re always going to create a list we can live up to—which means we’re not living up to the standards of our list, which is a form of self-idolatry. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, sit and drink water, use your right hand—if you can do all those things then you redeem yourself” even though your life may be filled with jealousy, greed, lust, and every other deadly vice.

Dealing with situations as a teacher, I became keenly aware of our utter failure as human beings to live up to the pure standard of God. Even the best of people I knew fell hopelessly short, which convince me even more of the need for grace. I came to understand the importance of the Holy Book, the divine bridge between God and man without which there is a big gap between us and God—but hearing that and seeing it in people’s lives are two different things. Fortunately, God is gracious. And just as He exercises grace toward me, I have to exercise grace toward others. It’s easy to want Him to exercise grace toward me; the real reach is becoming anxious for him to exercise grace toward others.

Today, grace affects everything I think and do. Every decision I make as a Head, as a father, a spouse, a friend, has an impact on me. When I think of my teachers, parents, friends, and other important people in my life, I remember both their inspiring encouragement and their eagerness to see me succeed. God gave them to me as examples of how we can grant grace to each other. I pray I never lose sight of the lesson they taught.

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