“How can I defend you when I don’t even know what I’m defending?”
Each time someone asked me to have their back with limited details of why I needed to, this was the response they got.
And I don’t think I’ve been wrong. How can I possibly defend someone if I don’t have an idea of what I’m defending?
I know people got upset and refused to give me more details and this became a point of contention between us.
Growing up I saw many stupidly loyal people. People who would just go bat for others without the slightest idea why. Just the fact that they were related to the person they were defending was enough for them.
This annoyed me. Why do they put themselves in a position where they have to be someone’s advocate without even knowing much about them?
But as I started growing up and formed some close bonds with people myself I saw how these people weren’t being stupid. They were being loyal. And I realized that to them loyalty was a form of trust and a “no questions asked” policy.
I loved them for this unconditional loyalty. The fact that they trusted someone they loved so much that they would regularly go out on a limb for them was endearing and fortified my trust in relationships and friendships.
But here’s the problem: as loyal as they were to their friends, these people weren’t necessarily defending their friends after knowing all the details of a certain situation. They just practiced loyalty as a knee-jerk. Someone said something bad about their brother, they went to their brother’s side. Someone had an opinion about their sister, they took it upon themselves to fight that opinion. What these people lacked was the information behind why someone made an opinion about their sister and why someone said something bad about their brother. This made them look inconsistent and sometimes, irrational. This also made them spread a lot of misinformation.
A similar behavior is practiced when we discuss or talk about Islam with non-Muslims.
The lack of Islamic eduction that we get, combined with religious education being a thing of choice with most kids combined with the various views on the same matter in our religion due to sectarian differences combined with our daily interaction with people who don’t practice Islam and therefore ask legitimate, tough questions combined with the opinion of Islam being unfavorable within some non-Muslim populations combined with our own discomfort at the perception of our religion by others makes us protective and unconditionally loyal to Islam. Islam doesn’t need our defense of it, I’m aware of that so I’ve already prefaced the forthcoming discussion with this. We, however, own Islam and like with any type of ownership, we don’t want people to take the wrong impression of Islam home. We always want to clear their perceptions.
Islam is a very simple religion. Primarily because it’s biggest practice is the practice of peace. It has strong financial and societal doctrines. They’re not followed by all Muslims but that’s okay. I mean I don’t know if it’s okay but every religion is practiced with some variability within its followers so Islam has a very diverse Muslim population too.
But Islam also has some guidelines and doctrines that may require some understanding of the ideology of Islam and why those guidelines were laid for us. Some of these guidelines are simple enough to implement but a deeper knowledge of them is necessary in order to have an educated discussion about them.
And not just with people who don’t practice Islam and are curious about it. Also within Muslims it is our job to know of the reasoning behind the various practices that we adopt in the name of Islam.
Why is it important to know about our religion? After all, it is our religion. Would knowing more about it make us love it more or live it more or spread it more? Would knowing more about it help us change our life in some way?
My answer is: yes to the last two and regarding why it’s important, here’s my reasoning.
Knowing anything is important to be able to have an intelligent and informed decision-making about it. When we know more about Islam, practicing it becomes easier. It also becomes more enjoyable. No one wants to follow something like a flock of sheep. We want things to make sense as an intelligent species. If we follow our religion 24/7, doesn’t it make sense that we would want to know about it more?
I’m a physician. I would never follow a guideline without reading an associated research paper. I would not prescribe a medicine without reading the side effects.
But as Muslims we follow Islam without much reading of it. Now that’s fine because everyone practices religion to some extent as it has been extended to them by their parents and society. There’s nothing wrong with that. This is also a convenient way to embrace and follow our family’s predominant belief system.
However this blissfully convenient way of following a religion can have some drawbacks. First of all, we look like we don’t care about the theology of our belief system enough to think about it and ponder. It makes very intelligent people look somewhat blasé in their understanding of an important practice in their lives. It makes them look like a follower without a conviction.
Secondly, in a world of rapidly coalescing nationalities who sometimes practice similar religions within their national groups, it is important to have some understanding of our religion if we call ourselves practicing Muslims. This is crucial actually. People are very interested in knowing about each other’s belief systems and actually some of the most challenging and intriguing questions that have made me go back to the books or look for references and explanations have been asked by people who are non-Muslims. This speaks to how much people observe people and also to how much people who don’t practice Islam know about Islam. In order to ask an intelligent question, you have to be an intelligent person with enough basic information of something. In order to answer an intelligent question, we have to know enough to either answer it or be able to take time to research it and get back to the asker of the question.
Now another angle to this that I have learned from my experience is this: answering a question is easy. What can be difficult is answering the questions that follow the initial answer. That requires knowledge, the strength to admit that you’d have to refer to your books or ask someone else, and a rational discussion. Sometimes follow up questions are easier and can be answered with much more confidence as they stem from a concept. Islam is conceptual in the way it’s founded.
Showing affront isn’t the way to go when someone questions Islamic practices. That’s actually the irrationality that I talked about above. Showing a genuine interest in the question allows us to answer it or look for the answer. It also opens doors to communication. But the only way to not feel defensive when someone asks questions is to know that the questions are legitimate. We might feel stronger in the moment if we read about our religion too.
Which brings me to the crux of this post which is loyalty. Our loyalty to our religion isn’t questioned ever by us. But if you ask me, when we portray ourselves as practicing Muslims but can’t answer basic slightly nuanced concepts regarding polygamy, interest-free banking, the right to divorce, early marriages, period of abstinence from society for a woman after divorce, our Prophet (PBUH), fasting, zakat, we lose our footing a little. Then people see us as just another person following just another religion. And I don’t like that. I don’t like people questioning my loyalty and investment in my religion. I also don’t like people to think that I follow something because my parents did. I would like people to know that I’m a smart person who practices a competitive profession and follows Islam by choice. My choice is rational and comes from my understanding of my religion.