By Noran Azmy
“Faith” is a controversial word for me. In the current global culture, “faith” is thrown in with “emotions”, “superstition” and “delusion”. Belief in God nowadays is somehow tantamount to belief in UFO’s and alien abductions, while atheism has rushed to align itself with reason, logic and science. Frustrated, I examine my belief over and over and find it is consistent with everything I know about logic and science. So, where is the problem? Are believers the victims of false propaganda spread forth by other groups? Or are we perhaps responsible for our own unhappy position?
“It’s nothing more than a bunch of common sense,” is how the Qur’an was criticized by some. The first thing you get when you open this book of common sense is a question: are you really interested in finding the truth? Or do you just want to prove you’re right? Because guidance is only for the muttaqeen—those who are God-conscious. Those who contemplate their surroundings and do not simply go through life putting off all the important questions.
There is a desperate need for proper dialogue between believers and atheists, and a lot of hate and anger on both sides, but my bitter conclusion was this: believers are at least as much to blame as anyone else for the stigma attached to belief, if not more.
In the general case, the atheist would pose—perhaps with good intentions—many false arguments against the existence of God. Sometimes they are nice about it, and sometimes not so much so. The believer would either take it personally, or they would give an emotional, dramatic response, citing their own beliefs and their own book, and possibly advising the atheist to revise their position before they meet God and go to hell. And in the end, the most interesting questions are drowned out by a bunch of people shouting at each other in the comments section on YouTube.
This is not to say that all believers are nonsensical, or that all atheists are condescending, but some of them certainly are, and the worst groups are usually the loudest.
Perhaps the problem lies in that the believer has come to abandon the rational, and cling more and more to the emotional—to rituals versus understanding, culture and tradition versus teachings. The emotional aspect of faith is necessary, but it is a natural outcome of having faith, not a way to achieve faith. It is a personal matter that you cannot extend to others. You cannot give someone else how you feel; you can give them evidence, proof, rational arguments.
You would think Muslims would be immune to this kind of hot-headedness. After all, the Qur’an is practically a school for rational dialogue. It cites every argument against the existence of God and gives an intelligent reply, and responds to arguments from people of the book either using logic or their very own books.
And yet, the same person who would boast of the Qur’an’s emphasis on logic and reasoning would feel offended by the suggestion that belief is a matter of the mind and not the heart. They prefer to think of “guidance” as some spark of inspiration from God, and not as the natural result you get when you use your head to find the truth. The same person who would insist that the Qur’an is a book of scientific breakthroughs would be the first one to brush aside scientific evidence as soon as it appears to contradict the Qur’an, like we jump to defend creationism against evolution, as if it were faith’s most evil contender, and not a scientific theory corroborated by evidence.
A Muslim does not have “faith”; they have “belief”. The Arabic word for that is iman, stemming from the root amn, meaning “to secure or confirm”. You secure something by continuously checking up on it, you confirm something through evidence. A Muslim’s belief is something they have confirmed by facts, and secured against counter-arguments through logic and reason. It is not a gut feeling or some whisper from the unseen.
This is not to pick on Muslims alone, but in this kind of dilemma where more than one side is to blame, someone has to concede first. With great power comes great responsibility, and so the responsibility lies on us to recognize our faults and start making some changes.
This may not be easy to hear or admit to, but we have to ask ourselves whether we are sincerely interested in finding the truth, or do we just want to be right? If we want to belong to the first group, we have to be willing to revise our belief without emotion, to determine which elements of it are confirmed by the Qur’an, in which elements we have a high degree of confidence due to hadith (which are interpretations that may or may not be true that we learned to take for granted over the years), and which elements have no foundation at all but put belief in an awkward position where it does not belong.