Inflicting moral injury through religion is an old phenomenon. Making people guilty through our religiosity is a tactic employed by some people to invite others towards religion through the mechanism of guilt. Invariably, what it does is induce a form of anger, contempt and resentment towards religion and the purported keepers of religion. Does it help the message? No. Why? Because the message is usually detached from the human value that it should be carrying, and is sanctimonious and annoying.
Moral injury has many forms and reasons. But the one I’ll talk about is when people are made to feel that they transgressed religiously and can do nothing about it. Also, when people are made to feel that they’ve been committing a religious offense for a long time and that all they can hope for now is that prayer will get them through hellfire. When they’re made to feel that religion should’ve been their top priority and hasn’t been . When their moral values are deemed much less than their lack of direct practice of religion.
I can’t speak to any other faith in this regard but as a Pakistani who grew up with a lot of moral injury inflicted through religion in Pakistan, I have a rebuttal now.
And it starts with my problem penalizing people who aren’t fasting and eating in public. For those who don’t know, under Pakistan law eating in public during Ramadan can not only lead to a fine but also can lead to incessant rebuking at the hands of the duty officer who smacks the fine on the poor non-fasting Muslim. Yes the same duty officer who accepts money in broad daylight for excusing minor traffic violations. This type of moral injury is unaccounted for. It is also frequent.
My problem continues with the “Maulvi culture” and how clergy has become larger than religion in Pakistan. How we have more regard for what a clergyman says than what we would hope to find for ourselves through religious reasoning and debate. We don’t hold our clergymen to any standard at all. Just the fact that they look like they know more than us is enough for most of us. Just because they are a constant fixture of the mosque is enough for almost all of us. But Piety doesn’t know gender, race or religion. Our clergymen aren’t judged on piety but their lecture on piety. Sad, I know! Fixable? Not at all. If you said anything that didn’t align with the masses, you’re heretic.
I know some people might be offended by my seeming disregard for our clergy but the reason why I bring them up particularly is for two reasons.
1. Because they’re revered, when they mention our moral or religious transgressions in a sanctimonious and curt tone, we are affected deeply. We see their approval or disapproval of our religious practices as an approval or disapproval of sorts of our religious practices by our religion. So when they don’t adopt compassion, they’re actually pushing stubborn Muslims away and scarring impressionable Muslims. The result in both situations is a distance from religion as a result of our experience with men of “better faith” than us.
2. Because their knowledge isn’t contested or challenged by most of us, they’re now burdened with our flaws. If they came off as normal Muslims who have to unlearn some concepts constantly in order to replace them with correct ones, they’d have so much similarity with us and their moral responsibility would be much less. But because they’re held to a standard that’s not shared by many people, they’re not questioned. When we don’t question them we learn all the concepts that they’re transferring to us without any research of our own. Islam is a religion with many ways to research it and learn it. Islam is very open to being questioned. Clergy makes us feel exactly the opposite.
How clergy sometimes inflicts moral injury is by making us feel ashamed of questioning clergy as if we are questioning Islam. It makes us feel like we’ve transgressed because we’ve raised a question against what the clergy believes in. The clergy’s attitude of “how dare you” doesn’t help us and makes a lot of people feel embarrassed of their very legitimate interest and curiosity in Islam.
And finally my issue with those regular Muslims who say extra prayers or go to the mosque all five times of the day or wear the hijab or have a beard or have bought a no-mortgage property or have never spoken with a namehram without a very legitimate need or have never stepped out of their houses without a need or have favored staying at home over a career, or have opted for a subpar female OB over a competent male OB for reasons pertinent to pardah or condemn dating or point out how they’ve never had a piece of non halal meat enter their bodies and …….have an outright judgement for Muslims who act or look or decide differently. And they have a judgment for all the Muslims who act and look and decide similarly but can never be as good as them.
So for all the Muslims practicing their religion on their high horse and looking down on me, here’s what I want to say,
I’m a Muslim. Different from you in looks but similar in beliefs. What you practice in appearance, may be I don’t. But that’s not for you or even me to judge. Allah has given me a moral compass which may be slightly skewed in your eyes. Allah has given me a way of life that may be deviant from yours. I won’t challenge you if you think you’re better than me. That’s not for me to challenge because you may be. I do however take offense to you mentioning to me in public how pardah is the cornerstone of Islam. It makes me feel that you think yourself to be above any transgression that may happen through you. Or you mentioning that my kids will learn shamelessness and بےحیائ because their mother isn’t covering her head. Or you mentioning that my mortgage is an interest and hence my home is haram. Or you questioning why I won’t come to the mosque for every taraweeh. Or you questioning my piety just because you never saw me donating to charity, or doing good deeds. Actually I should be questioning your piety if all your good deeds are meticulously documented in the social register. But…… I can’t speak. The moral injury that you inflict upon good Muslims by having this negative take on our faith is demoralizing and mind-blowing. And because this injury occurs the most in mosques or Muslim get-togethers we start to stay away from the “better-than-us-Muslim-crowd”. I know you probably feel that we belong with people like us who are transgressing daily according to the rules you follow but do you see the opportunity we both lost here? You could have performed polite, modest, compassionate, true دعوت with me and I could’ve done the same. We could’ve both learned from each other. Because knowledge should be free-flowing when it’s about religion. None of us should be made to feel less of a Muslim just because we choose to follow or question common practices. When we make each other feel like that, we feel we don’t belong in Muslims. And slowly, this becomes larger than this. Slowly some of us, whose quest for knowledge and thirst for answers is more extensive than others, start to feel that we don’t belong in Islam. That’s how inflicting moral injury on our Muslims brothers and sisters through religion costs us our religion. We don’t gain anything through bossy religious practices. We lose the chance to inspire and be inspired when we inflict moral injury.