“Men who do music are like homosexuals!”
There was a ripple of laughter throughout the crowd. I shifted uncomfortably from where I sat in the women’s section and glanced uncertainly around me. Everyone was either laughing, smirking, or shaking their head in emphatic agreement.
Am I the only one who has a problem with this? I thought to myself. But I kept quiet, knowing better than to speak my doubts aloud. The community I’d grown up in as a youth had claimed that their imam was taught by God directly, and this new Muslim community viewed their imams and sheikhs similarly. Thus, anyone labeled as a scholar or student of knowledge was beyond reproach and was treated as effectively infallible. Consequently, the slightest expression of doubt or disagreement by an “ignorant person” (i.e. a non-scholar or non-student) was treated as an affront to the religion of Islam itself.
“The flesh of the scholars is poison!” many people would say in response to anyone who appeared to have a different opinion from the favored imam or sheikh. In other words, by expressing that you believe in a different fiqh view or that you disagree with a particular statement of a scholar, you were committing the sin of backbiting, made all the more heinous because you were (allegedly) eating the flesh of a scholar.
Even before I’d studied Islam in depth myself, I knew that there was a vast difference between wronging a person and disagreeing with them—and that every person, including scholars and students of knowledge, not only had personal tendencies and cultural outlooks that were completely unrelated to religion, but also occasionally had religious points of view that were either incorrect or subject to permissible disagreement.
But sitting in these gatherings, I was left feeling as if the title of “imam” or “scholar” granted these men a religious immunity that not even the greatest Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, enjoyed during their lifetimes.
“Am I supposed to think of my father and brothers as homosexuals?” I vented to my husband when I got home. “If we believe music is haraam, what’s so hard about simply not listening to it? What do we get out of slandering people?”
But I couldn’t deny the whole experience was an uncomfortable reminder of being in my childhood community, where anyone who didn’t listen to music was labeled as backwards, confused, or an “extremist.”
Can We Unite Despite Our Differences?
When I wrote the blog, “Is Music a Pillar of Islam?” this is the question I was grappling with, and my heart told me, Yes, we can unite despite our differences. But the more I live, the more I realize that some Muslims don’t want to unite with other believers, as they believe unity is defined as creating clones of themselves. So anyone who does not look, talk, think, or dress like they do is deemed an innovator or disbeliever who must be abandoned and ostracized “for the sake of Allah.”
In these circles, following the fiqh opinion that music is permissible is treated like kufr or shirk, and a woman uncovering her face and wearing make-up and jewelry (even if only kohl, henna, and rings as the female Companions did) is treated as an act of open indecency that is synonymous with committing adultery.
On the other extreme are Muslims who treat music as if it is an act of worship and a woman uncovering her face as a religious mandate. Thus, anyone who has a different point of view is viewed as ignorant or misguided.
“Unity is the ability to differ safely.”
When I read this quote posted on Dalia Mogahed’s page, I was deeply moved. Yes, my heart said. That’s exactly what unity is. Her quote reminded me of something I’d read about the famous Companions Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with them. “There are no two Companions who disagreed more than Abu Bakr and ‘Umar,” the author said. “And there are no two Companions who loved each other more than Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.”
I remember crying upon reading their stories, I was so moved by their dedication to both Islam and each other, despite their differences.
But when I’d sit in an Islamic lecture, instead of hearing heart-moving stories to draw me closer to Allah and my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, I’d hear about how I should think of my father and Muslim brothers “like homosexuals” or about how Muslims who listen to music “cannot possibly have Qur’an in their hearts.”
“What am I supposed to do with that information?” I asked someone once. “Allah and His Messenger, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, never taught this. So why do we?” I just couldn’t fathom the benefit of accusing believers of major sin or denying their emaan and love of Allah simply because they followed the fiqh opinion that I viewed as incorrect. “Even if we all agree that music is forbidden,” I’d say, “committing sin doesn’t cancel out a person’s love of Allah’s Words. If it did, none of us would love Qur’an.”
But unfortunately, as is the case with people shouting, “The flesh of the scholars is poison!” the typical response to my point was Muslims evading responsibility for their tongues and souls by pointing to such-and-such scholar of the past who (allegedly) made the claim. Though I myself am not convinced that this is even the case—at least not without the caveat that the scholar couldn’t possibly have meant it in the manner we do today—any statement of a scholar must be weighed against the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
And under no circumstances are we permitted to slander or deny the emaan of believers, no matter how many Islamic proofs we can bring against their behavior or fiqh view.
Can We Differ Safely?
Muslims of today are definitely facing an identity crisis. Oddly, we have no problem differing safely with those who disbelieve in Islam altogether, as we settle in their lands, seek citizenship in their countries, respect (and sometimes celebrate) their holidays and traditions, and even push for Muslims to become integral parts of their governments. We watch their television programs and movies; buy their food, clothes, and music; and eagerly seek their acceptance of our faith and lifestyle, sometimes going as far as to compromise both in the process.
Yet, if a Muslim has a single differing view from us, we cannot bear to even be in their company, let alone support their social events and business pursuits. It is as if our financial and social support of an artist, fashion designer, or filmmaker is “permissible” only in so much as the event, company, or film was created by someone who has no emaan in their hearts.
And even in the cases where we don’t have an opposing fiqh view, we routinely bring up why we’d rather spend our money on “more important things.” Here, it’s as if we’ve created a new fiqh view that our finances and social support can go to any number of non-Muslim events, products, and organizations without measure; but our financial and social support are permitted for only one Muslim event, product, and organization at a time. Hence our oft-repeated declaration of self-righteousness, “I’d rather spend my money on the orphans in Syria!”
Considering our religious and social prejudices and divides, is it even possible for us to differ safely?
Do we even want to?
If like me, your answer is yes, bi’idhnillaah, to both of these questions, then join me as I sit down with my brothers and sisters—irrespective of our differing religious and social views—and see how we can create a united ummah, one discussion and “Lifting Souls” event at a time.
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