Islam, Irtad, & the Right to Life
ISLAM: AN EXPOSE
Islam, in essence, is the surrender of the human will to that of the Divine. It is the sublime alignment of human with divine being. Islam is the natural state of all life in its various forms.
All of nature on earth, be it rocks, hills, birds, animals, or celestial bodies, are in states of Islam when they are surrendered to their natural state of being (Qur‘an, al-Hajj: 18). Without a care for food or provision, without need to grovel or submit to any other in any way, all life forms are sustained and will die when their given cause of death visits them, without struggling to prolong their lives. In their innate nature the beings of earth, in all their variety, are surrendered to the divine will.
The Qur‘an indicates Islam is the natural state (din al-fitra) and, further, explicitly states that man originated in the nature of Allah (fitra-at llah). This is the state of all creation, including man, before the separation engendered by thought that birthed the ego. Through nature’s example, humanity is reminded of living in divine connectedness (tawheed), knowingness (imaan), and surrender (islam) to the divine within.
Humans are the only creations of Allah that enjoy the God-given right to exercise the will to choose other than their natural state of being. The mythical fall of Adam and Eve depicts the choosing of this illusory state of separateness centered on the ego identity. Characteristic of this illusory life, described in the Qur‘an repeatedly as in numerous other sacred texts, is the experience of life as a constant ongoing struggle. This is essentially why humanity has often required (and yearned for) reminders of their natural state of being. This fact is immediately evident when one recalls that all children are born into the state (din) of Islam. They are naturally and innately attuned to and aligned with their divine nature. In many cultures, children are deemed angels. Angels, as is well known, are divine in nature and in complete surrender to all that is Allah.
We are all one; all life is connected in an intricate web that makes us all part of one seamless whole affecting and affected by each part thereof. In the illusory state of separation centered on the ego that renders each separate from the other, Islam is a state to which one must return—a state of union that requires we give up the illusion of separation from each other. This is the meaning of tauba (atonement). Atonement is simply the return to wholeness, or, at-one-ness with all that is. Tauba is the realization of the oneness of all things and that in wronging another, one wrongs one’s self.
Muhammad did not preach a religion; in fact, he seldom preached at all. It was the people in his community and beyond that sought after him with questions, constantly. In answer to their questions Muhammad presented, in words and deeds, a living example of being in a state of surrender to the divine within. His words and deeds—his whole way of living—reflected his inner state of being, not vice versa. The community was thus attracted to Muhammad’s being-ness in every aspect of his life. This is not to say that Muhammad was infallible; Muhammad was a human being like any other (al-Kahf: 110), and fallible as indicated in the Qur‘an in chapters al-Ahzab and al-Tahreem. Moreover, to live the way Muhammad did is not a requirement; he simply exemplified a higher consciousness.
Islam is not about the five pillars of this or six pillars of that. The pillars and practices offer assistance but do not guarantee one will attain the state of Islam. The practices that Muhammad established in the Qur‘an were appropriate to the time, to render one’s self back to a state of oneness or union (tawheed). Again, with the example of children, they do not practice, yet are perfectly in a state of Islam, more so as infants and eventually less so as they are socialized away from their innate way of being. All of nature and living beings are free from prescribed rules and practices yet are described by the Qur‘an as being in surrender to their higher source, Allah. Adam, Ibrahim, the family of Imran, Mariam, and Isa (Jesus) did not follow the pillars and practices Muslims today demand of each other, yet are all presented as Muslims in the Qur‘an . The common qualities of all the characters in the Qur‘an are their enduring faith in the non-physical, spiritual realm and their dissolution from social norms and culture, thereby creating a whole new way of being focused on the oneness of all life.
ISLAM: THE CHOICE TO RECOGNIZE OUR INNATE NATURE
The Qur‘an indicates that Ibrahim coined the term Muslim, that is, those surrendered to the divine (al-Hajj: 78), and that Allah was content with Islam as a way of being (al-Maida: 3). The Qur‘an is replete with emphasis that Allah does not need our surrender, but rather it is for our benefit to seek the return to our innate nature, a state of inner peace and bliss.
The state of surrender—not the rules and practices—is a prerequisite for attaining the state of imaan (faith/belief in oneness/compassion) that is necessary to undertake our true role as stewards on earth (khilafa). Yet, even the fact that one has surrendered to the will of the divine does not guarantee attaining the state of steward or divine representative on earth (al-Hashr and al-Hujarat: 14). In fact, the Qur‘an repeatedly emphasizes that both the states of islam and imaan are states of grace that cannot be compelled (al-Baqara: 256) or manufactured (al-Hujarat: 14). It follows that no one can be condemned for not attaining such a state.
Contemplate for a moment what it means to be God’s representative on earth, a steward over all of earth and its vast wealth and resources. Simply the fact that one is a representative of God ought to fill one with wonder—not in the narcissistic sense, but in recognition of the magnitude of the responsibility it places on the person in fulfilling such a role. Integrity and impeccable living are indispensable parts of fulfilling this responsibility as Muhammad exemplified. For in this role the phrase, “God created human in His likeness,” (ar-Rum: 30) becomes a living fact.
Islam, thus, is not a prescription for living life in a straitjacket—no man or woman cognizant of their divine source and embodying the concept of oneness ever lived or advised another to live in dogmatic fashion. Islam is a philosophy of life, not of death. Islam is fluid and evolutionary—even revolutionary—whenever necessary. It is an adaptable philosophy capable of taking root and thriving in any given age, at any given time.
Islam, be it as embodied by Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and the characters between and beyond these, was nothing less than a social revolution that presented oneness, freedom, individuality, empowerment, justice, and equality. These characters were empowered human beings who demonstrated what every human being inherently is; not because they belonged to a certain class, race, gender, religious affiliation, institution, or were privileged in any form. They overturned every prejudicial or disempowering norm, rebelled against the institutions of their times, and stood up even against their kith and kin to embody what was innately theirs in being. They fought, rebelled, defied, and defended against such in order to reclaim what was theirs and, consequently, to present to their people an example of that to which everyone is entitled. People misunderstood their example and deified them without realizing that these characters represent what each and every human being in essence is. The Qur‘an reminds us of this in every chapter; it reminds us of this by stating that Allah/creative consciousness/divine source blew His spirit into us (Sad: 71-72). Our source and origin is, literally and metaphorically, divine (ar-Rum: 30). We are That, which we emanate from and thus the phrase “I Am That,” is no metaphysical wishful thinking.
It is in the recognition of our shared divine origin that our folly of unconscious and prejudicial living becomes a tragedy and a transgression. We were all created to be masters unto ourselves (Ali Imran: 79), as every spiritual master in every tradition that lived on earth exemplified. Instead of heeding their example of empowered and conscious living, though, we have deified their characters to excuse our not taking responsibility in life. Responsible living requires constant inner and outer vigilance (jihad) against the part of us (ego) that insists on separateness and wishes constantly to sabotage our wholeness, or holiness through the mass chaos we call life, and to perpetuate a victim mentality that blames another (Satan) for our woes. Yet, Satan, as indicated in the Qur‘an’s narration of Moses’ killing a man in a feat of anger, is a part of us too, not apart from us.
We are the masters and creators of our lives, be they economic, civil, social, political, or pertaining to religious freedom or equality in all its faces and facets. We are responsible for reclaiming those innate rights for ourselves. If we live in an oppressive state, we must ask why we have chosen such a state. This responsibility leaves us with the choice to either remain in our present state or simply choose otherwise. Even this, the Qur‘an states expressly in al-Nisaa: 97-100.
IRTAD AND THE RIGHT TO LIFE
Irtad, according to the Qur‘an , is a conscious regression (literally, the regression of consciousness) from an expanded state of awareness of the divine oneness of all life to a state of denial of this truth. Denial of the oneness of all that is—and our oneness with all that is—is akin to death. This is the metaphorical meaning of irtad—a spiritual death. The Qur‘an does not decree an execution of any person judged by humans to have regressed from the truth of oneness and surrender to the divine within (as if any human could be or is qualified to so judge); it simply states that spiritual death engendered by such regression occurs.
That the current paradigm of institutional religion in the name of Islam claims, or in some instances dictates, that the Qur‘an orders the (physical) death of those who renounce the religion called Islam is a fallacy and flagrant abuse in the name of God. To subject fellow dignified human beings to death even whilst the Qur‘an declares that “there is no compulsion in states of Being (din)” is the sin in question, not the exercise of one’s right to believe as one decrees best for them.
Al-Baqara: 217 states clearly that one who regresses in state (man-irtadda fi-dDin), after having awoken to the truth of oneness, and thereafter physically dies/passes from this physical realm whilst in such a state of spiritual regression, forfeits and loses all his good deeds prior to the regression. Naturally, the forfeit arises from the fact that physical death makes such a person no longer able to return to a state of oneness (tawheed).
However, as indicated in al-Nisaa: 137, should one go back and forth between embracing the truth of oneness and regression into a state of denial, akin to a yo-yo, divine guidance is withdrawn from such a person who makes a mockery of his free will and choice in spiritual progression.
Allah, “most gracious most merciful,” does not order the flagrant taking of another’s life because one human being deemed the other, in his human judgment, to have chosen the wrong religion. All religions are acknowledged in the Qur‘an as containing indications of truth and as emanating from the one source (al-Anbiya: 25). The Qur‘an and all messengers of Allah did not establish religions—it is humans who sought to enshrine them in rituals and rules that evolved into religions and eventually claimed their legitimacy as the decree of God.
The divine consciousness is alive and gives life to all living beings. Thus the Qur‘an states that to kill any life form is to take life from all (al-Maida: 32). God does not decree physical death on anyone for exercising their free will in choosing their spiritual path and the Qur‘an does not contain any explicit provision stating that those who renounce religion should be killed. In fact, the Qur‘an does not refer to Islam as a religion. As explained at length, Islam is a state of being and the Qur‘an simply indicates that regressing after having known truth causes one to forfeit his evolutionary progression. The loss, at a soul level, of such regression is significant as indicated by the repeated warning in the Qur‘an against regression. Al-Baqara: 132 and Ali-Imran: 102, for instance, urge those who believe not to die except in a state of Islam through the return to oneness. That said, and as indicated in Muhammad: 25, the Qur‘an does not decree execution of any human being in conscious regression. It is human beings who have decreed execution on one another.
WOMEN, ISLAM, AND IRTAD
Understanding the nature of Islam and the meaning of irtad is immensely pertinent to women and their rights. The religion of Islam has evolved into a set of man-made cultural rules wrapped around kernels of truth found in the Qur’an. When women refuse to comply with oppressive or inhibiting cultural customs, rituals, and ways of being, and given that, in most parts of the Muslim world, customary culture and evolved human rituals are mistaken for Islam (al-Tauba: 19), women are often forced to dissociate themselves from the faith. Any such woman is then exposed to the other mistaken translation and interpretation of the Qur’an that decrees her death based on the claim of irtad.
If one should doubt the stark reality of this threat on those who publicly dissociate themselves from cultural norms or mainstream interpretations of Muslims, or on those who even facilitate such dissociation for a person, I refer the reader to examples of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Salman Rushdie, and even moderates like Tariq Ramadhan. Yes, all of them are alive but only because they live in exile or have secured foreign nationality. Consider further that these are the very fortunate few whose sensationalized personalities and acquired citizenship facilitated their welfare.
What of the multitude who are routinely killed for such basic acts as going to school where women are prohibited from doing so? What of the women eloping to marry a loved one, or refusing to otherwise comply with customary norms? Who saves them from the delusion of the patriarchal interpretations imposed on them?
The Qur‘an and the philosophy of Islam guarantee one the right to believe as they so choose. In a religion that has become culturally oppressive to women with disregard for the intended empowerment of women and choice accorded to them in the Qur‘an, it is urgent that we create awareness about the protection of the basic and human rights of women: The right to life and the right of self-expression in its various forms. Many Muslim women continue to be subjected to customs and practices that are alien to the time of Muhammad and the message of the Qur‘an. It is imperative that the legitimacy on which this is executed—pun intended—is shattered. Nothing in the Qur‘an and no examples of Muhammad provide a basis for the abuse of women in any way.
 Qur‘an, ar-Rum: 30.
 “Every new-born child is born in a state of fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian…” I. M. Hanîf, Sahîh Muslim bisharh al-Nawawî, Book of Qadr, Vol. 16, p. 207.
 Qur‘an, al-Baqara: 256.
 Parallel references to “backsliding” in the Bible come to mind.