Power, Privilege and the Hypocrisy of Self-Serving Religious Positions
The Issue

Power, Privilege and the Hypocrisy of Self-Serving Religious Positions

No matter how realistic and pristine a religion’s values may be, it isn’t difficult for corrupt individuals to reach as far as they can, remake the religion’s ideals in the image of their own whims, and pass it off as divine law.

– Fadilah Ali

Navigating religion today demands sifting through absurdities, misconceptions, and layers of feel-good nonsense. In the present political climate of the world, we are saddled with having to maintain a balance between two extremes; strictness to the point of being ludicrous at best and fundamentalist at worst, and liberalness to the point of being completely arbitrary and eventually redundant. Now, if general human idiosyncrasies are anything to go by (and they are!), then it is a foundational expectation that every human seeks comfort and convenience.

The lengths to which we as a species will go, in the pursuit of comfort, varies from person to person, society to society and ideology to ideology. While not inherently a negative desire, constantly seeking convenience and self-serving religious positions on everything will result in some degree of harm, either to oneself or to others. Harm will therefore be assessed based on the nature of chosen comforts, the impacts of these comforts on the self and others, and the lengths gone to attain them.

Keeping these basic truths about human nature in mind, it is not difficult to understand that humans can and will amend any and everything, to suit their various comfort levels. In the book Animal Farm by George Orwell, these human traits are observed in animal characters as a form of satirical expression. After their freedom from oppressive humans, the animals begin to rule themselves and declare that all animals are equal no matter what. Down the line, when it becomes necessary for the leaders of the animals to establish their own superiority, the rule of equality becomes conveniently amended. All animals remain equal, but with a slight caveat: some animals are more equal than others.

The capacity of humans as a species to make and unmake everything according to whim is rather interesting. After hours of intentional and well-focused scepticism and input of efforts to implement these sceptic ideas, one plus one can and will seamlessly become five, and such a conclusion becomes appealing and will subsequently be upheld as law by those earlier distressed or even offended by the idea of “one plus one is two”. The most basic items will become fashion statements if we want them to and if we do enough convincing that large jute woven bags are actually a designer item worth tons of money.

The same holds true for religion, more so in the 21st century. We generously embrace aspects of faith that will not only suit us and make us feel good about ourselves, but also pass the political correctness test of the world.  Most of the time, the ability to be able to pick and choose what rule to follow requires a certain level of privilege, one which a lot of marginalized groups such as women, poor people and minorities, simply do not possess. Some rules are incorrectly relayed to them as law, from the lips of selfish individuals who see religion as simply a means to serve and satisfy themselves, to the very detriment of those deemed below them. Whether or not these people come to unravel the truth on their own, the idea remains that no matter how realistic and pristine a religion’s values may be, it isn’t difficult for corrupt individuals to reach as far as they can, remake the religion’s ideals in the image of their own whims, and pass it off as divine law.

I find it really intriguing how possible it is to offer the same excuse for two opposite actions. Men, for apparent example, claim to desire to marry more than one wife for the singular reason that it is a prophetic practice, (sunnah) to do so. However, the same men do not marry widowed or divorced women because well, it is sunnah, and not fard after all, and in any case, they are ordinary people, who could not dream of measuring up to the level and calibre of the prophets. We want to (rightfully) debate and critique Islamophobic establishments that bar our sisters from their rights to wear hijab. However, we ignore the epidemic of the rising “spiritual leaders”, “scholars” and “holy men” in our communities who notoriously commit various forms of abuse against vulnerable women. We ignore the countless traditions from our Prophet (PBUH) where he foretold the rise of these men, where he implored Muslims to treat women well, and where he willingly prosecuted a known rapist, on the sole testimony of the victim.

While not inherently a negative desire, constantly seeking convenience and self-serving religious positions on everything will result in some degree of harm, either to oneself or to others.

It’s almost like, we do not really care about following the guidelines laid down by our religion for handling these occurrences, and are more concerned with satisfying our whims whilst claiming a Muslim identity that cushions our prickling consciences and makes us feel good about ourselves. It is at this point that I must include a disclaimer, as I stand the risk of being misunderstood and taken out of context. This is not to witch-hunt or demonize men as a group for the sake of it. Our communities have long endured the impacts of these individuals who use self-serving religious positions to wreak havoc on our communities and failing to note it, would be dishonesty on our part. It is not uncommon for MEN to shut women down when they rightfully call out these charlatans, allege that they have internalized aspects of Islamophobia, or question their faith and devotion to God. By making these unfound assertions and telling women that they do not truly “believe” when they make complaints, they effectively redirect the focus away from pressing topics and evade accountability.

I have long accepted the dual nature of humans, especially in our Muslim communities when it comes to maintaining comfort regardless of who or what is sent to the hangman’s noose. This mindset brings to mind the verse: “…Do you then believe in a part of the Book and disbelieve in the other?” (Noble Qur’an, 2:85).

I will not be so naive as to believe that simply calling out the problems plaguing our communities will immediately bring the actions and resolutions needed for positive change, nor do I think that those who seek self-serving religious positions will suddenly call themselves to order. However, we hope that we would have done our parts as Muslims and as women in our communities, in resisting injustice.

“O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah takes care of both. So do not follow your desires, lest you swerve. If you deviate or turn away—then Allah is Aware of what you do.” 

Noble Qur’an, 4:135


Fadilah Ali

Fadilah Ali is the Features Editor for The Muslim Women Times. She has a B.Sc in Microbiology and she is passionate about reading, writing, women's rights, and tafsir.

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