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Saturday, December 22, 2007

To me, a constrained debate is no debate

Dissent and Apostasy from Desicritics by Jawahara Saidullah
My theory is this. Other religions for all their faults (and I follow none of them btw) have had, or now have a tradition of criticism from within their own ranks. Whether the dissent is pop-cultural (The Da Vinci Code, for Christianity for instance) or scholarly, it exists. Religious debate in Islam, however, is only valid when using the Quran, Hadith, or Shariah. So essentially the debates are centered around different interpretations of the same text. Part of the debate needs to include voices that consider the whole thing crap.
Questioning God, the revelation of the Quran itself, and questioning the legitimacy of the prophets is needed for this debate. Which is why there is constant debate about whether there is compulsion in religion because there are a dozen contradictory verses, as there are about the dress code for women, and other hot-button current issues, which do not go near any of the real issues at stake. When the same source material is used for a debate, coming to any common conclusion is impossible because each individual adheres to the reason(s) that make sense to that person.
For true religious reform to happen, the debate needs to take into account other things. The outside world, cultures, philosophies, religions, etc. all need to be party to this debate. Otherwise, it's like trying to air out a room with all its windows and shades closed, and the door slammed shut. At the very least it becomes a false debate with no room for dissent, because you start with the premise that there are certain immutable and unquestionable facts. To me, a constrained debate is no debate. It's just a group of people tap dancing around a group of elephants that none of them want to acknowledge.
This is the reason I believe, that most non-Muslims feel frustrated and most Muslims cannot understand that frustration. Their paradigms are different. What does debate really mean to all of us? And what is dissension? Is it merely disagreeing about the interpretation of something or is it actually just a starting point?
I am a purist. Religion to me is not a smorgasbord, where you pick and choose. If religion is divine, something that is supposed to lead to your salvation it either is something or it is not. I, personally, cannot cherrypick some version of Islam or any religion and then claim that *that* is the true way to practice it. Fundamentalists of all religions do that, but so do moderates and liberals. The only difference is what verses and parts are picked to justify the points of view.

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