The Collector
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The Collector

Islam and Its Conditioning: Breaking Out of The Bigoted Mindset

Knowledge and the spark to find the truth

Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

In 2017, I married the girl that I loved for 3 and a half years. Born and brought up in an Islamically conservative society and a fundamentalist family, I had to deal with criticisms and barriers to make my love marriage possible. You might wonder why is it so?

Arranged marriages are the norm in the Islamic households I have seen throughout India and the Middle East. It might not be wrong to say that this is the norm in Islamic households throughout the world. Whether boy or girl, good children listen to their family patriarchs, who in turn call the shots based on the local Islamic Cleric’s advice. The ‘good child’ tag in Islamic households is often the most stringent.

Good child of religion

The following are the qualities of a ‘good child’:

  1. You have to pray five times a day, and the first prayer of the day is at 5 am. You have to be at the local Mosque for these prayers during the exact time of the prayers. Prayer at Mosque aspect is only applicable to boys. Girls are not allowed, or their entry to the Mosque is restricted unless it is a special occasion. No woman can lead Islamic prayer (Swalaath) when Men are there, even if she is older, knowledgeable, and wise about the Quran and Hadith. But, for Men, knowledge of the Quran and hadith is the first criteria, and age is the second. This rule is further evidence of Islam’s intense patriarchy.
  2. 30 days of fasting in the month of Ramzan, even if you are an ulcer patient who can’t starve herself
  3. Read Quran profusely (without knowing the meaning is preferable) and mug up as much you can (the more you memorize, the better your ‘good child’ status).
  4. Listen to your family patriarchs and, most importantly, the religious clerics without even the faintest doubt or questioning, even if that means not mingling with your classmates or neighbors who belong to other religions.
  5. Girls should cover themselves with hijab and veil always. The veil is not mandatory at home, but God would be ‘happy’ if she lived wearing a veil or hijab always (Hadith by Abu Dawud, Book 2, Number 641).

After earning the ‘good child’ status and maintaining it till I was eleven, I started rebelling against my parents, who were liberal then. I started developing toxic masculinity during this time, learning from how patriarchal religious clerics behaved to girls and women. I started behaving the same way to the women of my family. My mother was finding it hard to deal with me, but with the help f my father, she managed.

My father was not patriarchal, and he is still not, although he has changed from the liberal self that I once knew him to be to an Islamically fundamentalist person. He is always supportive of my mother and perhaps one of the family men I have seen in my life. Memories of how he took care of my mother when she struggled with health problems are still green in my mind.

My strict adherence to the ‘good child’ criteria enforced by Islamic scriptures and clerics made me more and more religious. As long as I live by Quran and Hadith, why should I listen to my parents since they are also Muslims who believe in the infallibility of the Quran?

The downward spiral into religiosity

Until 12, I was educated in an Islamic school run by the Islamic group called A. P. Sunni, who are ultra-conservatives to the level of extremism. At 12, I was transferred to another school run by a less conservative Muslim Management. I told my parents that the school was not religious and wanted to transfer to another religious school.

Fed up with my persistence, they transferred me to another school with Hindu management, and most of the students were Hindus. The budding extremist in me didn’t like it a bit. I starved myself to change the school and stopped talking to my parents and even my younger sister. I thought that what I was doing was the right thing because, in Quran Kafirs (Non-believers) and Mushriks (people who worship other deities) are cursed (Chapter 2 Verses 161 and 162, Chapter 4 Verses 116- 121). Muslims should not take friends among non-believers who will burn in hell forever (Chapter 4, Verses 48, 139, and 144).

My parents lost their peace of mind with their delinquent son but what puzzled my teenage mind then was why my parents persisted in their decision to continue my studies in a liberal society of Hindus. The question in my religious teenage mind was why my parents, who are practicing Muslims, are not listening to Quran’s verses, which Muslims believe to be God’s commands.

It was during this time that my identity issues started haunting me, which made me hate myself. I struggled with my trans issues living in a religiously conservative society, and the intense patriarchy of Islam made it worse. Islam gives no room for sexual and gender minorities. Anything beyond male and female is shunned and cursed based on the verses that narrate the story of prophet lot (Chapter11, verses 75, 77–81) and the Hadiths that say that God curses trans people (Sahih Buhari, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 772; Al-Buhari, 5885).

My teenage mind’s response to my identity issues was to oppress them through religiosity and toxic masculinity. It didn’t work out well, and I started thinking of suicide when I was 13. I ran away from my home twice during this time, and my parents literally broke down in front of me and asked me what my problem was. I know I had problems, but I didn’t know what they were and how to explain them.

At 14, relenting to my religious lunacy, my parents shifted me to an Islamic boarding school run by the conservative Jamaat-e-Islami, where I spent the next 4 years. The religiosity and conservatism of the institution increased my religiosity to extremist levels. At 16, I talked to the other inmates of the boarding school about joining the Taliban and even Al-Qaeda thinking that what they were doing was justice. Islamic State was not famous then. If it were, it would have made it to my list.

Struggling with identity issues and the extremism of Islam, toxic masculinity and self-harm became a habit. At 17, I was admitted to a hospital due to constant diarrhea and abdominal pain after I collapsed in my hostel room. I was diagnosed with ileocaecal ulcerations.

College and liberalism

After higher secondary, I was looked down upon by my religious society for my low academic grades. Seeing me struggling, my grandfather decided to use his influence in academic circles and managed to get me a seat in B.Sc. Zoology at a reputed Government aided college.

After being imprisoned in the narrow well of private Islamic schools that championed religious conservatism, I was released into the vast sea of knowledge at college. My grandpa bought me a phone and provided me money for the Internet. Unlike the boarding school where I felt I was in jail, I was free to travel anywhere the money in my pocket allowed. I read a lot on the Internet, mostly science and also adult stuff. My interactions with students of different backgrounds who had the quality of education started changing me.

My differently-abled friends and the atmosphere of politically aware students sowed the seeds of social justice and politics in me. Slowly, my interactions and readings liberalized my religiously extremist mind. But I remained committed to my religion.

I joined a local boxing club to meet toxic masculinity expectations that are in vogue among Islamic societies. I was also afraid that my feminine mind would take over and destroy my mask of masculinity. I found a new source to do self-harm — boxing. But the vast ocean of knowledge I was exposed to in my graduate days brought back an old quality. The quality that I lost due to the religiosity that was infused in me. Every child is born with the quality that Einstein once told to be more important than knowledge-curiosity.

With curiosity came the quality of a child to ask questions, which I lost to the bigotry of Islam that is anti-pathic to dissent. Chapter 4 Verses 47 and 137 command Muslims to believe wholly and unconditionally in Quran by instilling fear about God’s punishments. Verse 56 of the same chapter speaks of the heinous punishment in detail for those who do not believe unconditionally. Quran, Hadith, and the Islamic society were the reasons behind my teenage self's religious extremism and bigotry.

With the reemergence of curiosity and the quality to ask questions, my mind started questioning the bigotry of Islam. Doubts about the infallibility of the Islamic religion sprouted in my mind, but I was still religious.

Investigating the reasons

At 20, I fell in love with my future partner. I told my parents about my love, and my father told me to excel in my studies. Finding it hard to make boxing go hand-in-hand with studies, I gave up boxing and concentrated fully on my studies. At 23, I got married to the love of my life after a near-death stint to excel. At 24, I got admission for Ph.D. with a fellowship that helped me provide for my family.

During my free time, I treaded deep into politics. I read about national and International history and how it shaped national and global politics in depth. At the same time, I tried to find the truth about God and religion. The problem with my theological reading was that I tried to find the truth within religions centered around the basic dogma of Islam, which led to landing at the same place where I took off.

It is hard to shake off the religious, social conditioning. The Islamic society taught me to do Islamic prayer (Swalaath) and chant Allah’s name while they taught me to respond to my name. Every thought and emotion was centered around religion, that it became tough to think outside that box of religious dogma.

However, all this changed after my reading endeavors discovered the idea called Ambedkarism. Influenced by the individual’s intellect and vision, I downloaded Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s works and started reading. No other individual influenced me like Ambedkar. Reading through his writings enlightened me.

Ambedkar and comparative religion

In 2020, the free time that I got due to the COVID-19 induced lockdowns worldwide provided me the opportunity to read and analyze religions. Influenced by Ambedkar, I started rereading the Quran, concentrating on its English translations to understand the book deeply. I also read Bhagavad Gita and Holy Bible simultaneously with Quran. Finally, at 26, I found the answers to religious bigotry and the reason behind my sufferings.

I discovered that Holy Quran is no holier than Bhagavad Gita and Holy Bible. Holy Quran is explicit in its hatred towards people who do not believe in its holiness and cons its readers into submission. Gita reasons with philosophical undertones the sanctity of Vedas and cons the readers into accepting the caste system as infallible. The Bible (Book of Genesis) speaks in detail the stories of the prophets in the Quran with all their humanly flaws, unlike how the Quran portrays them, justifies God’s supremacy, and cons its readers into submission.

Quran has the harshest of tones among the three; hence its believers would be the most conservative and bigoted. I also started reading Buddha and his dhamma during this time, along with others. I found that Dhamma is the most liberal and rational of them all.

Some historians consider the book called Buddha and his dhamma as Ambedkar’s Magnum Opus. Ambedkar worked like a trojan for the book to revive the original aspects of Buddhism because he found the present dominant forms of Buddhism to be adulterated by the irrationality of Bhagavan or Ishwara (God), Atman (Soul), and Samsara (Rebirth).

Buddha’s dhamma

Dhamma says that the presence of God is not scientifically proven and is based on myths. The belief in an entity whose existence is in question is the root of all superstitions. Hence, all religions based on the belief in God are based on falsity leading to injustice and vice. Dhamma rejects the concepts of soul and rebirth on the same grounds of rationality.

Dhamma is not perfect. The idea of Brahma Sampati (king of gods)visiting Buddha mentioned in the dhamma is incongruous with Buddha’s agnosticism. The book also narrates a man who rejected Buddha’s Dhamma on irrational grounds, and he was reborn as a tree due to Kamma Niyama (law of causation). The story says that the tree narrates its story to a traveler who comes to its shade and warns the traveler against not accepting Buddha’s dhamma on irrational grounds.

The beauty of Buddha and his dhamma lies in the following:

  1. Buddha doesn’t hold his dhamma divine and considers himself the Moksha data (one who gives salvation). He says that he is only a Marga data (One who shows the way).
  2. Buddha’s idea of making himself Marga data places him contrary to how Muhammed is to Islam, Jesus is to Christianity, and Krishna is to Hinduism. Buddha doesn’t claim himself to be the centerpiece of the religious thought that he discovered.
  3. Buddha doesn’t claim his dhamma to be infallible; hence Buddha’s religion is flexible. It is based on rationality, unlike the infallible dogmas of Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism.

In claiming that his dhamma is not infallible, Buddha accepts himself as a human being and his thought system liable to human errors. The rationality and flexibility of dhamma make it scientific, unlike the religious dogmas of Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism.

Islamic bigotry

In all of our basic certificates such as birth, identity, Passport, and others, the column which asks for our religion is filled by our society or family without asking us. They had the excuse that we were babies then. As we grow up and explore the world, we develop our own character and individuality different from our society and family. Even after we develop our own being, if the religion or society still forces us to live by what they filled in our certificates when we were babies, then where is the individual liberty in this?

Kamal Khashoggi’s murder exemplifies how Islam or Islamic orthodoxies work against dissent or rational minds. Globally, Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen are haunted by Islamic orthodoxies or theocracies for their outspoken stand against Islam. Terrorist Organizations such as Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban have taken numerous innocent lives in the name of Islam. All this points to the bigoted face of Islam.

India is no different. There are cases of Hindu extremism on one side and Islamic extremism on the other. Rationalism has always been met with harsh criticism and violence by religious groups of India. Ambedkar was heavily criticized and downgraded when he was alive. Religious groups burned his effigies. However, after his death, these religious groups, including Muslims and their political parties, have been trying to appropriate his legacy as their own.

Conclusion

Recently, my writings and talks have made me an outcast in the Islamic society I live in. It has become difficult to live peacefully without ascribing to any religion. Rationality is attacked ceaselessly by religious dogma in religious societies, especially that of Islam. There have even been calls from local religious clerics to my wife asking her to divorce me. Speaking against Islam has made me a Kafir in their eyes and a threat that needs to be annihilated. Perhaps this is the first of their efforts to destroy the rationalist in me. Or this might be a warning that might become a threat to my life in the future, but I have to do what I have to do, right?

Let us keep fighting to break out of our social conditioning enforced by our religions. The following words of Ambedkar have always been an inspiration in this regard:

“You must abolish your slavery yourselves. Do not depend upon God or superman for it. My final words of advice to you are to educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle.”

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