Authors: Nonie Darwish
The Sin of Admitting Sin
Although some Muslims have resorted to their own natural instincts in dealing with guilt and sin, according to Muslim commandments, Islam warns its followers never to reveal their sins to others. Talking to others about one's wrongdoings and sins is a shameful act for which a Muslim will not be forgiven, both religiously and culturally. Mohammed said, “All of my Community shall be pardoned, save those who
commit sins openly
” (Muslim r35.1, p. 770). “It is offensive for a person who has been afflicted with an act of disobedience or the like
to inform another of it.
Rather, one should repent to Allah Most High by desisting from it at once, regretting what one has done and firmly resolving never to do the like again” (Nawawi, r35.2, p. 770). Popular Arabic sayings also support covering up; for instance, “Wa itha bulitum fastatiru,” which that means if a person is inflicted with a sin, he should cover it up. Sayings of this ilk are often used as a tool of control and shame when bringing up children or to discourage unacceptable behavior, such as a young man drinking a beer in public or a young woman who admits to a friend that she has a crush on someone. Freely expressing one's feelings is discouraged, and criticism of oneself or one's family, society, or religion is in itself a sin and an admission of guilt.
Nor does Islam pardon those who repent, except for the highway robber. Sharia states, “The penalty for a crime is not obviated by the offender's having repented for it, with the sole exception of the highwayman, who is not penalized at all if he repents before he is caught.”
Why is Islam more tolerant and forgiving of highway robbers who obviously hurt society, than, for instance, of apostates or adulterers who do not hurt society? This is another example of the twisted moral and ethical system that Muslims must live under.
Secrecy and distrust are the end result of such a warped value system, under which keeping one's distance from others can be a blessing. Secrecy has become a sign of virtue and dignity, whereas self-expression, spontaneity, and openness are signs of weakness and shameful neediness. This warped manner of adjusting to life fosters
, which means concealment, secrecy, pride, and shame. Some Muslims go as far as to unnecessarily hide most of their ordinary day-to-day activities from others, such as who visits them, where they go, and what they do with their personal time. If you say, “I'm sorry,” or “Forgive me,” it is often misinterpreted: you are not considered polite and considerate but instead are seen as weak, which can lead to others taking advantage of you. When I was a teenager, I remember when the mother of a close friend of mine laughingly told me that I was naive when I talked to her daughter about who was visiting us and what my family did. When I told that to my mother, she agreed and advised me not to talk to strangers about details of our life, even if I felt that there was nothing wrong in what I said. The lesson I learned was never to trust anyone, not even with small talk about one's personal matters, because you never knew when it could be used against you.
Redemption in Islam
Almost all Muslim scholars agree that the “idea of redemption is certainly not a central one in Islam.”
The human dilemma of finding a divine clear path that leads man to safety in the arms of God is not clear to the Muslim believer. The only guaranteed path to heaven for the Muslim is to die in the process of jihad against non-Muslims. He then becomes a martyr, a concept that is opposite to that of Christianity, where martyrdom means dying because of one's faith. In Islam, to die while fighting unbelievers is the highest act of worship and obedience to God.
Mohammed was obviously a tormented man who advocated a religion that did not provide hope, redemption, or forgiveness, neither for himself nor for his followers. Ibn Ishaq detailed Mohammed's life and actions in his
Sirat Rasul Allah
, as have other Muslim historians, documenting much murder, torture, enslavement, and acquisition of others' wealth through killing and sexual misconduct, but it is necessary to understand that the reporting of such actions was never meant to depict wrong or sinful deeds. To the contrary, these acts were portrayed as necessary actions that should be regarded as a recommended model and justifiable behavior against unbelievers for Muslims to emulate and to continue after Mohammed was gone. A good portion of the Koran and the Hadith—the sayings of Mohammed—were devoted to justifying Mohammed's violent and sinful actions. One of his wives, Aisha, commented on how convenient were some the justifications that came from Allah to explain away Mohammed's behavior. For instance, when he was attracted to his adoptive son Ali's wife, a Koran verse told him it was permissible to marry her after Ali divorced her. Afterward, Mohammed abolished the institution of adoption in Islam, and until today, Muslims are not allowed to adopt children.
Mohammed lived and died in anguish and destined his people to suffer the same, leaving a legacy of little forgiveness and redemption in Islam and of much cruelty, guilt, and confusion.
Fear of “Torment of the Grave”
Many believe that Islam's use of fear and terror is strictly directed against non-Muslims, but in reality, fear and terror are first and foremost the preferred tool that Islam uses against its own followers to bring about their compliance in the submissive society that Islam seeks to maintain. The concept of the “torment [
] of the grave” is one of the basic tenets of Islam that is taught as a motivation to believe for those who rejected Mohammed's prophethood: “So when they saw Our punishment, they said: We believe in Allah Alone” (Ghaafir 40:84).
Part of Islamic education for both children and adults is an elaborate description of what happens to the bodies of sinners in the grave. In Saudi Arabia today, young schoolchildren are taken to cemeteries to learn graphically about the torture of the grave. This kind of education is believed to be the best way to teach children to fear Allah. Islam chooses fear-based education over admitting sin and achieving redemption through grace.
It is documented that Mohammed himself was afraid of the torment of the grave. A hadith by Aisha states, “The Holy Prophet entered my house when a Jewess was with me and she was saying: Do you know that you would be put to trial in the grave? The Messenger of Allah trembled [on hearing this] and said: It is the Jews only who would-be put to trial.” Aisha added: “We passed some nights and then . . . I heard the Messenger of Allah seeking refuge from the torment of the grave after this” (Sahih Muslim, V4B12N124). Note how Mohammed, though trembling with fear and guilt, was quick to accuse the Jews, not him, of being the ones who would be put on trial, only to later adopt the idea. That hadith is very telling about Mohammed's psychological state, which further explains why the Koran focuses mainly on cursing and condemning non-Muslims to doom, gloom, and eternal hell, calling them all kinds of subhuman names.
According to Islamic teachings, Allah has shielded families of the dead from torment of the grave out of mercy for the families. It is said that if God would show those alive the dead people's torment, it would be a “scandal” for the family. Even though Allah did not want the torment to be seen, the prophet gave a little peek into what goes on in the grave when he said,
O people, this Ummah will be tested in their graves. When a person is placed in his grave and his companions leave him . . . as for the kafir or hypocrite. . . . Then a door to Paradise is opened for him and the angel says, ‘This would have been your place if you had believed in your Lord. But because you disbelieved, Allah has replaced it for you with this.' Then a gate to Hell is opened for him and then the angel struck a blow with an iron hammer between his ears and he screams a scream which everything around him can hear apart from the two races (mankind and the jinn). (Bukhari, V4 B12N22, and also Ahmad, 10577)
Other Islamic descriptions of the torture range from one's being clothed with fire, one's grave made narrow, being swallowed up by the earth, the edge of the mouth being torn to the back of the head, the head being smashed with a rock, being burned in a tandoor oven, swimming in a river of blood while being pelted with stones, and items stolen from the war booty set ablaze on the one who stole them.
Many Muslims are extremely afraid of death and often include this in their prayers: “We ask Allah to grant us refuge from the torment of the grave.”
Believing in Two Opposite Views at the Same Time
A big difference between Western and Islamic cultures concerns how they each deal with contradictions. Western culture tends to apply a more objective scientific method when two beliefs contradict each other, with research being done to prove that at least one of them must be wrong. Muslim culture, however, has trained the Muslim mind to accept two opposite ideas at the same time because Islam itself has many contradictions, especially between what Mohammed advocated and how he behaved in Mecca (the first half of his message) and how he reversed himself in Medina (the second half of his message). Because the basic commandment to a Muslim is submission, a good Muslim must accept the unabrogated contradictions of Islam as true. Even the way that Muslims view the prophet himself is a contradiction. One Islamic scholar described Mohammed as
Such was our Holy Prophet Mohammed. He was a prodigy of extraordinary merits, a paragon of virtue and goodness, a symbol of truth and veracity, a great apostle of God, His messenger to the entire world. His life and thought, his truth and straightforwardness, his piety and goodness, his character and morals, his ideology and achievements—all stand as unimpeachable proofs of his prophethood. Any human being who studies his life and teachings without bias will testify that verily he was the True Prophet of God and the Quran—the Book he gave to mankind—the true book of God. No unbiased and serious seeker of truth can escape this conclusion.
Yet even though Muslims were taught that the prophet was perfect, they were also taught, at the same time, that he was merely an imperfect human being with faults like all of us—two opposing views that Muslims must accept simultaneously. The description of his imperfection comes in handy if someone dares to criticize Mohammed's behavior, while the perfect image is taught as the norm. A good Muslim is perfectly comfortable holding both views of Mohammed.
The same goes for the concepts of jihad, apostasy, women's rights, the veil, slavery, and the equality of human beings. The confusion and contradictions are enormous, but the tragedy is that Muslims must believe in such contradictions without questioning them in order to convince the outside world of the righteousness of Islam. What a Muslim says depends on the circumstances. Muslims can use one explanation or the other, whichever benefits Islam and jihad at that moment. How can a stable and free system come out of this?
Criminalization of Love and Beauty
Muslim society has criminalized sex outside of marriage, the celebration of love between a man and a woman, or the display of female beauty. For instance, Saudi Arabia bans any celebration of Valentine's Day, in which the celebration of love and the mingling of the sexes are not merely sins, but criminal offenses for which one can get arrested and punished. Such Islamic crimes are not enforced only by the police, but by society and the family, which often take matters into their own hands.
Within Islam, there is no elevated concept of a covenant of love between a man and a woman, because the main goal is the empowerment and expansion of Islam to achieve the caliphate (a one-world Islamic state), and everything else must come second. That applies to male-female relationships, family, and love; they all come second after jihad. Not only the government, but fellow citizens are allowed to enforce religious laws that segregate the sexes.
Distrust of Novelty and the Other
The culture of the Arabian Peninsula is by far the most ethnocentric in the world, with its obsessive battle against any influence from the outside world that might weaken the Islamic way of life. The system is especially terrified of the impact of Western culture on its followers, particularly women and youths. As a result, Islam has erected multiple barriers to preserve its laws and culture. Mohammed warned, “Beware of matters newly begun, for every innovation is misguidance” (Bukhari V3B29, p. 914). As interpreted by Muslim scholar Muhammad Jurdani, this means: “Distance yourselves and be wary of matters newly innovated that did not previously exist,” in other words, any novelty or innovation in Islam that breaks the Sacred Law must be opposite of the truth, or a falsehood. This interpretation comes directly from sharia: “for every newly begun matter is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in Hell.”
And “The Muslim head of state himself must guard the Islamic state from unlawful novelties or innovations [
] that are contrary to Islamic law.” That is a law that a Muslim leader must abide by.
The ordinary Muslim is in a quagmire regarding whether to accept the new or anything from the non-Muslim world, because to do so may conflict with his religious obligations. Some Muslims choose hatred and aggression toward the “other,” which is supported by the concept of jihad, while others conquer this predicament by allowing their humanity to rise above hate, so they actually have friendships and loving relationships with non-Muslims and borrow from their culture. Yet whatever route a Muslim chooses, no Muslim, unfortunately, can avoid a degree of guilt, especially when he or she reads the Koran and the Hadith.
Empathy and Compassion
The concept of empathy and compassion toward humanity as a whole, regardless of religion, gender, or national origin, was never a topic of discussion in my thirty years of living in a Muslim society. I have never heard an Islamic preacher dedicate a Friday sermon to this topic, except in terms of the Islamic religious duty toward orphans and the poor. Even Islamic media, politicians, and academics have neglected this topic, especially in relation to other cultures and world peace.