Muslims' Abuse of Islamic Culture

May 25, 2007

"Middle East":

The Great Scientific and Cultural Sellout

I said Arabs.

If you want me to say, as so many Muslims and non-Muslims around the world say, "Muslims of the Middle East," instead of Arabs, I will say it, because I like to think of myself as a team player. But you need to help me by explaining to me you are going from what geographic direction to what.

Are you going from Mashriq (East) to Maghrib (West) or are you going the other way?

And why.

Let me say this too. Being a man of limited knowledge, I don't know the full background or meaning of the words East and West. But I have a fair idea that the Arabic expression Mashriq means the place from where the sun - or whatever else it is that Allah meant - rises and its counterpart expression Maghrib means the place where the sun - or whatever else it is that Allah meant - sets.

That means, in terms of the functioning of celestial bodies in the universe, one is the place from where light dawns on the world. The other, in a sense, is where darkness spreads from.

So, say that again please, you are going from where to where did you say?

No, this is not a historical, cultural, economic or social commentary on the peoples and civilizations of the East and the West. No time for that here. Gandhi thought it was a good idea.

That was Gandhi. All I am doing is trying to understand these two expressions - East and West - in relation to their Arabic counterparts Mashriq and Maghrib, especially as the Muslims hurl them at me.

And then they slice up the pie even finer into "Middle," "Near," "Far" and what not.

Many Easts and Many Wests

Besides, someone forgot to tell the Muslims the simple scientific principle that the earth is somewhat spherical in shape, well maybe with a little bump and a pull and a stretch here and there, which makes, depending on its location, proximity and position in the solar system, every direction East and West all at the same time.

Help me, thou physicists and astronomers! Did I get any of that right? We are not talking Einstein here, are we, by any chance?

If I did manage to get any of that stuff right, will you then allow me to recite here part of an Aayat that has baffled some of us for a long time? Actually a distinguished physicist-astronomer once asked me what it meant. Either about that or that other Aayat in Surah Ar-Rahmaan: Rabbul mashriqaini wa rabbul maghribain.

How do I know?

In any case, here are the words of the Qur'an I had in mind: Rabbil mashaariqi wal maghaaribi. I am almost in a trance as I say and write those words. That is how powerful they seem.

Paraphrase: I swear by the master of all those multiple directions in which the sun - or whatever it is that God Almighty meant by it - rises and sets.

Many Easts and many Wests, is that what it means, do you think? I have no clue.

Or as our wonderful ancestors - physical, intellectual and spiritual - used to say: Wallahu a'alamu bissawaab. Paraphrase: God knows what the right answer is.

Islam! What a beautiful culture of intellectual freedom and spiritual integrity it is!

Muslims Are a Blessed People

Muslims are fun people, don't you think? Blessed by God and yet bewildered and confused when it comes to their role as God's representatives on earth.

As people who have chosen Islam - if they did and do choose it - they will enter Paradise, if they continue to choose Islam until death. Provided God Almighty so chooses to dispose of their fate.

Muslims are thus a blessed people from that point of view. No doubt about that. A people bound for Paradise upon their departure from this world. But the question is what they do with this world before they leave it. And in what state and shape they leave it.

A world upon which God Almighty granted human beings dominion and over which he appointed them his Khalifah or representative.

I am not sure Muslims have gotten their act together on that score.

That is why I particularly love it when Arabic-speaking Muslims use the expression Ash-Sharqul Awsat to describe themselves and their geographic - should I also say cultural, political and spiritual? - location in relation to the rest of the world.

That is why every time a Muslim says Middle East, I say: Inna lillahi wa innaa ilaihi raaji'oon! What a great cultural copout!

What a victory for intellectual defeatism, geographical corruption and spiritual emptiness!

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