"Speak now or forever hold your peace in pieces."
A few weeks ago, I did a poll on Twitter asking my followers if Dajjal was mentioned in the Qur’an. These were the results:
Despite the fact that more people voted ‘Yes’, no one actually tweeted me the actual verse except to say that Ya’juj Ma’juj were mentioned in Surah Al-Kahfi.
The reason why I tweeted this was not because I wanted to know about the Dajjal, but because of something else. See, a few days prior to me asking this question on Twitter, I got into a heated debate with someone about religion. The content of our conversation is a story for another time, but there is one particular thing I got out of it.
This person, who I shall endearingly name ‘Ali’, kept using conspiracy theories against the Jewish and about Dajjal to prove his theories as facts. He would tell me stories about ulamas that he met that reconfirmed his biases, and said things like “Even the Qur’an said this/that about Dajjal.”
Even though I have only studied theology for a short three years, I knew there was a discrepancy. I explained to Ali that Dajjal was not mentioned in the Qur’an, to which he furiously rebutted with “I’ve read the Qur’an from start to finish! Have you?”
His friends then started questioning my faith, saying that I am bordering apostasy, and that the way I think is ‘dangerous’. When I kindly asked for proof, Ali just told me to read the Qur’an, and his friend said that he refuses to check Google for it because “Google can’t be trusted”.
And just like that, the conversation moved on to something else.
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s not the existence of Dajjal that I was worried about – I understand that he is being explained in a lot of hadiths. This conversation that I had with Ali painted a much larger picture: The sheer horror of realising how susceptible we are to blind obedience.
In most of our conversation, Ali backed up his beliefs using stories he heard from other people and sayings/hadiths that were questionable. I couldn’t tell him he was wrong, or that I had every right to doubt him, because when told so, he would say: “Your knowledge is subpar compared to mine!”
For a long time, we are told that ‘this/that’ is in the Qur’an and we just agree. We then use this ‘knowledge’ that we know and spread it around to our peers, family, friends, and community, and sooner or later, it turns into a societal norm. Not only that, but a lot of times, we start confusing what’s actually a hadith as something that is written in the Qur’an.
How many of us actually know what is in the Qur’an? And how many of us are willing to accept it when we’ve been proven wrong about our belief?
The more I thought about it, the more troubled I was. It made me realise that a lot of things that we think we know or the things that we were raised to believe end up being false or distorted. It troubled me even more knowing that when presented with the reality that your belief is false, people’s first reaction is to be defensive and arrogant.
In my article “Is history repeating itself?”, I told the story of how the Qadari movement was silenced when the Umayyads ruled.
In the 7th century, a group of Muslim theologians called the Qadaris assembled in Syria. They claimed that it would be unjust for God to punish and/or reward humans if He had not given them the free will to choose, thus they developed a doctrine that emphasised personal responsibility and disposition.
Not everyone agreed with their ideology. It didn’t take long for an opposing movement to form, called “Jabriyyah”. This movement refused to believe that humans had any free will.
The controversy between them caught the eyes of the Umayyad caliphs. After the passing of Muawiyah, the caliphate was passed to his son, Yazid, who was hated for killing Hussein (the grandson of the Prophet) during the Karbala Massacre. The Umayyads were known for their despotism and were eager to manipulate religion for power.
They were interested in the argument between the Qadaris and Jabriyyah because the argument of predestination from the latter meant that if God had determined everything in eternity, He must also have determined the sovereignty of the Umayyad dynasty.
What was originally a theological controversy quickly turned into a political war. Throughout the ninety year reign of the Umayyad dynasty, the Qadari movement remain suppressed, with some of its members even getting arrested and executed for questioning the authorities.
While I used this story to paint a picture of reality today in which we aren’t allowed to question authorities, I feel like this story is also relevant on a grassroots level. People like Ali are more aptly known as ‘fundamentalists’ as they “embrace absolutism and refuse to accept questioning, insisting on a monolithic system of Islam based on their beliefs, and prosecuting you for thinking against their conventional thoughts”. [*]
The scariest part about all of this is how easy and subtly fundamentalism is spread. In “Are we falling into religious fundamentalism?”, I explained:
Most people associate Islamism and Muslim fundamentalism with violence, advances that are physical. But there is one type of fundamentalism that is just as deadly, and that fundamentalism is given the term “diffused fundamentalism.” This kind of fundamentalism is naturalised into your daily lives, and most times we don’t even realise it.
They are absorbed and then spread through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the internet, television, radio, sermons and word of mouth.
A lot of times, they are being spread as forms of entertainment. Shows on who is a good Muslim or who is not, talk shows in which you can enquire about what kind of sex you can have with your spouse and still “be a good Muslim”, pronouncements (with a little bit of humour added in) on how to talk, walk, dress, eat, sleep and all the little things you do in your daily lives.
This fundamentalism is invisible in its pervasiveness and that’s what makes it so dangerous. Once absorbed and socially accepted, they become hard to combat and overturned. Diffused fundamentalism has essentially taken the beautiful and aesthetic religion that I grew up with, and turned it into a series of bodily functions.
I’ve been thinking about it, and I think Muslims should adopt a new way of thinking: Seek answers in order to disprove your beliefs instead of proving them.
In my few years of activism, I have discovered things that proved, disproved, proved, and disproved my beliefs over and over again. While it can be uncomfortable learning that what you know might be untrue, I realised that every discovery of falsity in my beliefs only gets me closer to the Truth.
The mistake that Ali, and also many others, have done is seeking for answers that confirm their own biases without realising that it is easy to find confirmation of something if you are looking for it. The only genuine test of a theory/belief is by attempting to falsify it. Trusting whatever your parents, peers, leaders, or idols taught you about religion does not say anything in regard to the truth of a specific religious belief.
There is nothing wrong with having your own beliefs. What is wrong is when people start wars, condemn others, and are hostile over beliefs that they have no substantial answers for. And as long as there are varying versions of your religious belief, you don’t get to call your one way ‘the only Truth’.
Take nothing as a given, a certainty. No area of belief, including religious belief, is sacred. Everything needs to be examined.
We talk so much on how Rulers are trying to silence the people, but we rarely address the root of the problem – Those who obey blindly are those who enable the actions of tyrants.