Existence of God

Following up on some of the comments on the “Knowledge(s)” post, I have a question. I believe that today we are taught to think that unless something can be proven empirically, rationally, scientifically, etc, then it is probably not true.

When people ask me how I became religious and I explain that it was purely based on feeling and intuition, I wonder how many people see that as valid? I feel like they are almost expecting a response along the lines of “I studied Islam and found it to be the most logical/rational/gender equal” one.  While I do believe Islam is the religion that makes most sense to me and my life, my attraction to it was more based on feeling than reasoning.

When someone asks me if God exists and I say yes, because I feel Him – does that count as valid today?  We always hear how we can’t prove whether or not God exists.  Yes, we can’t scientifically prove that God exists. But if someone has a connection to God, doesn’t that count as proof?

It did before. Before scientific rationality became the only way to understand the world. Before we started to believe only what we can see.  Before we began excluding knowledges that don’t agree with our own.

Again, I’m not criticizing science/rationality/reason – what I’m criticizing is the fact that they have become hegemonic and exclusionary.

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62 thoughts on “Existence of God

  1. Salam,
    “But if someone has a connection to God, doesn’t that count as proof?
    It did before. Before scientific rationality became the only way to understand the world. Before we started to believe only what we can see. Before we began excluding knowledges that don’t agree with our own.”

    How very true, ironically science is about observing, reasoning and analyzing-when in this verse: Quran 7:179
    thus, analyzing with heart=faith
    how can it not be science?
    yes, science/rationality/reason is not the issue here. Its how mass made common acceptance idea by a ‘certain authority’ as ‘truth’ and no way around.

    thank you for this thought provoking post.

    • I think the Qur’an talks about science quite a bit, and that is ignored today because it also talks about faith, and two simply can’t go together.

      I also find it interesting that Muslim apologists will try and make Islam be ONLY about science and rationality, because that’s the only way to make it safe or likable to many Westerners.

      • Quran speaks nothing but science. Those who thinks will find God. In any believe, contemplation, observation…for example, as you study about how the sun nourishes the soil, and turn soil into gems, yes…science proove the order of the process, but the order are the system. Science and FAITH (islam, buddhism, taoism, christian etc) goes hand in hand, because FAITH is a way of understanding the system, and science is also a way of understanding the system.I don’t know what you mean about muslim apologist trying to make islam only about science and rationality because to make it likable…you mean is it like a product that they’re promoting?

        likability is not how we interpret it, one should take their own effort to read and understand everything around us, not just what he said/she said.and westerner’s aren’t the only one who does not understand the meaning of Quran/Islam.

  2. Actually I think that this is the most valid kind of reason for believing in God.
    When someone says that they believe/disbelieve based on science/facts/logic, I look at them very skeptically. I think religion is a whole realm altogether. It is called “faith” for a reason.

    On another note, I think this approach that we have (separating science and religion like this) is based on modern empirical science and logic. I mean looking at history we see both in the Islamic world and in the Christian world, that the distinction between scientists and religious scholars are very narrow. For instance there is this “logical proof” for the existence of God by a really famous Christian saint(to lazy to google the name now), there are similar kind of things by Mulla Sadra and Inb Sina as far as I know, even about more detailed issues like the details of afterlife. Also the decline of the Church in the middle ages was very much caused by new scientific findings that undermined their doctrines. What I’m trying to say is where exactly does our way of looking at faith come from? What is the history of the approach we have right now?

    • I think separating science and religion, like you said, is based on modern empirical science. The Qur’an certainly had no reason to separate the 2, just as it had no reason to separate religion from politics – something we are told is *necessary* today (necessary of course because the west has done it).

  3. God I wish I had more time to devote to commenting on your blog because the discussion is just brilliant and fascinates me.

    I’ve never personally understood the divide between science and religion. When I look out into the universe, composed of dark energy and matter, the earth teaming with life in a perfect synergistic way, and the realization of all the infinite events that had to take place for me to be alive, sentient, and writing this sentence, I see nothing but God. I think something else is going on here, not just our increase in scientific knowledge.

    I also see your point about “feeling” as proof, but the argument may be that just basing something on a “feeling” leads to all kinds of crazy and far flung belief systems. Some cultures have a structure that allows for more magical type of thinking and worldview. To a non-believer, a person believing that Zeus overthrew his father and then bet his brothers to become the supreme god is no different (and was felt no less) than the belief in Allah, the messengers and heaven and hell.
    Does it make modern western culture superior because we believe in logic and reasoning? I don’t know. It’s all relative. Certainly there is alot of good that has come out of this society: medicine, democracy, scientific advancement, feminism, civil rights.

    I think, though, there is room for both faith and science.

    • “I also see your point about “feeling” as proof, but the argument may be that just basing something on a “feeling” leads to all kinds of crazy and far flung belief systems.”

      That’s true. But at the same time, we can make that same argument about science. Believing in science, for example, can lead us to justify killing weaker people for the good of the species, as has been proposed by some. So I think any system of belief has danger in it, if taken to the extreme. The reality is that most people believe in something.

      “Does it make modern western culture superior because we believe in logic and reasoning? I don’t know.”

      Certainly not! Besides, we find logic and reasoning in every culture. The re-election of Bush did not seem logical to me at all anyway, nor the current rise of the right in Europe. The west is not superior in any sense, and if it is (economically) then we should look at why.

      “Certainly there is alot of good that has come out of this society: medicine, democracy, scientific advancement, feminism, civil rights.”

      I think we should question all of those. Medicine did not come out of western society: it has existed for thousands and thousands of years. The west managed to make it widely available and make profit off of it.
      Feminism did not emerge from the west either.

      And I agree: there is definitely room for science and faith.

  4. I agree that feeling a god’s presence is probably the best we got in the way of his/her existence. It is based on something resembling sensory input, and this is, to an extent, empirical. I think a philosopher of science might call that ‘common sense knowledge’, and of course, it is ‘commonly sensed’ to be true by billions of people. Also, the way people infer there to be a divine entity, can be seen as a theoretical framework. So far so good. Common sense wisdom has been with us since the dawn of time, and probably serves us well in most cases.

    Only, it’s got some problems. Firstly, it’s not proof for one god, it’s proof for any god anyone has ever, or will ever have experied. So unless you want to condescend to the level of special pleading, you can only reasonably assume to be accounted for what is shared by most of them. Here we’re improving our standards of evidence, by, for the time being, dismissing all conflicting data, rather than arbitrarily picking one. So the argument from experience, as apologists call it, only leads to a featuteless entity or group of entities, either bevause he/she/they is/are featureless, or because we know nothing about them. And this is still on the level of common sense, which, outside the realm of daily life, hax a very bad track record. Bases on this, we could not have had the foggiest about the size and nature of our universe, not even by a favtor of a thousand. Our intuitions are usually worthless on sub-atomic and intergalactic scales. And, to be somewhat irreverent for a sec, god’s existence is something of a cosmic hunch. Isn’t it?

    Then, in my experience, scientists don’t fully dismiss things when there’s insufficient evidence. They only see it as increasingly unlikely. The scientific method doesn’t allow for absolute statements about anything, ever. So the question shouldn’t be whether we can ever fully disprove something (we can’t), but whether there is enough reason to suppose something is likely to be true. But I agree that there are probably loads of scientifically semi-litarate nonbelievers who think this way.

    Then, you’re either talking about St Antselm’s ‘ontological argument’, or about St Augustine’s ‘five arguments’. The former is quite odd, in that it claims that things you can imagine must logically exist in a more perfect form. And the thing that’s greater than the greatest thing you can imagine is God. This argument has somehow fallen out of use :p
    St Augustine’s arguments were rehashings of things, I think, Aristotle had said. Variations of his notion of the ‘uncaused cause’. This has many problems. Mainly, it uses a big unknown to ‘explain’ a number of problems, whereas it in fact merely moves the problem out of sight. It doesn’t explain anything. Then again, I doubt many believers believe based on these arguments, so they’re probably kind of a strawman…

    Then, ‘it’s calles faith for a reason’ is a big bad cliché. As if god’s insistant refusal to reveal himself is somehow a property that makes his existence more likely within another way of looking at thins. And as if anyone’d stop believing when confronted with solid scientific evidence for god’s existence. It’s a word game.

    However, always good to have this discussion 🙂

    • “It is based on something resembling sensory input, and this is, to an extent, empirical.”

      Haha I love how you always manage to bring it back to empirical proof somehow!

      I’m not sure I understood everything you mentioned, but again, I want to highlight that when I say I believe in God, that’s something I believe in, not something everyone else should. I find it difficult to explain it in the same terms you did, simply because the language of science and philosophy is not necessarily helpful in terms of describing something spiritual. I know God exists. That’s all I’m trying to say.
      Oh, and I’m asking that no one judges me for saying I believe in something without “empirical/scientific” proof 🙂

      We should get together soon btw!

      • I’m not trying to morph your views into something scientific. If you believe (partly) on the basis of something you experience, even if it’s ‘extrasensory’, and you draw conclusions from it, or you take it to support something you already believed before, that is a textbook example of empiricism. Not my fault 😉
        It’s just that by talking about your experience, you yourself are trying to rationalise your beliefs. Fine with me, but experiences are testable things, and they occur in the real world. Which is exactly why it does make sense to approach spirituality scientifically, if only to add another angle to the discussion.
        And of course we have different definitions of ‘to know’ in this case. There’s the sense in which ‘I know’ my football team is going to win, and the the sense that ‘I know’ a pencil will drop when I let go of it. Not at all the same thing.
        And of course everyone’s entitled to having religious beliefs. Im not that totalitarian you know… :p

  5. A visiting minister at the UU church I attend told a story about a member of the church who was an athiest and a scientist and told him, “I just can’t believe in anything that is not verifiable.” The minister asked him, “Is your love for your wife verifiable?” That shut him right up.

  6. A great post, as always, Sara! I sound like a broken record now 😀

    Faith or belief in God, I have always said, is like blindly falling in love. You can’t prove the existence of God, but the non-existence of God can’t be proved either (atheists claim you can’t prove the non-existence of God yet, but one day that will be possible). It is difficult – even those who claim to have *felt* God, haven’t really experienced God and how can we prove God’s existence when every religion teaches that the only time we will know/meet/see/feel God is when we die?! So there is the God who created us but who never shows Himself to us as long as we are alive. He appears to some select few and we are supposed to know Him through those select few. Again, my chosen man will be, and often is, different from the chosen man of others. This is where religion comes in and becomes indispensible because not only religion makes us believe in God, it also makes us believe that there is only one way of knowing Him which is through the religion of our choice (now I’m thinking, isn’t that also “excluding knowledges that don’t agree with our own”?). Deists claim they know there is a God, but that all religions are created by us in response to the need to know God.

    But religions have been older than the belief in one Creator. I think when we discuss belief Vs disbelief in God we should keep in mind the Trinity: God, Religion, and Science 🙂 All the atheists that I have read never claim that they are 100% certain that there is no God; not even the atheists who are scientists, but they argue that blind belief in God in the form of religion is what they are against.

    So I think if I believe in God, I can’t rationalise it and no one should expect me to ratioanlise it either. But I can rationalise my choice of religion and at least I should rationalise it to myself because religion is more tangible that God; it is created and modified and updated in front of us, by us. And religion is essentially just as controlling, insisting and sure of itself as science.

    “Yes, we can’t scientifically prove that God exists. But if someone has a connection to God, doesn’t that count as proof? It did before. Before scientific rationality became the only way to understand the world. Before we started to believe only what we can see. Before we began excluding knowledges that don’t agree with our own. ”

    I partly see what you are saying and partly I feel that the problem lies elsewhere. While I think that insisting that scientific reasoning is the only way to view things is absolutely wrong and definitely controlling, rationality is as old as human race. That rationality may have been called by some other names in the past and is called science today. I mean look at Buddha’s Kalama Sutta – more than 2500 years ago Buddha said, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it … anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many… anything simply because it is found written in your religious books… anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders… traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with *reason* and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” So rationality has always been upheld and respected by wise people.

    I guess what I am trying to understand myself is that God’s existence can neither be proved nor disproved so if someone, like myself, believes in God based on feeling that IS my rationality and my rationality should be respected. However, my choice of religion may be based on a more *empirical* form of rationality because unlike the one God, there are over 100 religions in the world and like I said before religion is (or at least should be) more than a feeling.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment. I got carried away, but your blog does this to me 🙂

    • Great comment 🙂

      “So I think if I believe in God, I cant rationalise it and no one should expect me to ratioanlise it either. But I can rationalise my choice of religion and at least I should rationalise it to myself because religion is more tangible that God; it is created and modified and updated in front of us, by us. And religion is essentially just as controlling, insisting and sure of itself as science.”

      Yes, religion is something other than belief in God. I completely agree with Reza Aslan who said that there are millions of paths to God, and Islam is the one that suits him best. Like I said in my post, Islam is the one that suits me best. However, I don’t think it is the *only* path. My post was more about belief in God/s. Like you said, I don’t want to be expected to rationalize that.

      Just to clarify: I have nothing against rationality 🙂 I see it everywhere, at all times, in all places. What I am criticizing is its hegemony and the fact that it has eclipsed all other ways of knowing.

      I see why atheists criticize religion: it has been used to kill and torture millions of people. But the same can be said of modernity and science. Could the Holocaust have happened without modernity/science? No. Each system of thinking that gets ahead of itself and becomes extreme will result in chaos. Religion does not have a monopoly on violence.

      Of course, in my comments I’m speaking for myself. I don’t believe that Islam is the only way of knowing God or the only way to live, so I don’t think this post was trying to establish Islam as the only type of knowledge. I see many Muslims fight against western hegemony only to turn around and argue for Islamic hegemony.

      • But has it really eclipsed all other ways of thinking? Look at the rise of the evangelical right in America, or the increase in religiosity in the Islamic world. I don’t necessarily see these as positive alternatives.

  7. It seems to me, in response to Stephanie’s last comment, these other ways of thinking have been a reaction to the hegemony of science and rationality. People having it shoved down their throats and having an adverse, rebellious reaction to it.

    I notice people constantly talking in rhetoric that relates to a feeling of being threatened and increasing in extreme versions of religiosity in response.

    I don’t like how either side looks.

  8. I would argue that there are very logical and rational ways of proving the existence of a Creator – a ‘First cause’ which is uncaused itself and has caused everything else into existence. And Islam encourages us to use our human intellect and understand God through our reason and not solely through spiritualism and ‘faith’ alone.

    I have recently been asked this same question on my own blog, and wrote a post addressing this topic from an Islamic philosophical perspective. You can read it here.

    If we understand the nature of this ‘first cause’ whom we call Allah, then we can very easily make a good argument for the existence of God. Whether people want to accept this argument or reject it is then up to them, but the argument has been made, and it is very much logically consistent.

    I think the issue with atheists is that they cannot see beyond the ‘material’. If we understand that God has to be immaterial, and beyond this world, because He created the material and cannot be material Himself, then it makes perfect logical sense that He exists. And these qualities are all emphasized in the Islamic concept of God (Allah). But of course this would make it impossible for the atheist to place God into a ‘test tube’ and use his limited sensory faculty to understand what God’s properties are.

    I won’t rewrite my whole argument here, but you are welcome to read it at the link I’ve provided above.

  9. Firstly, I second Jan’s comment that “scientists don’t fully dismiss things when there’s insufficient evidence. They only see it as increasingly unlikely.”
    In a scientific view, things which can’t be proven to exist are NOT assumed not to exist. For example, multiple universes are postulated in physics theories, but they can’t be verified by going out and finding them (yet, lol). Imagination and the pursuit of ideas is so important in science; it is a creative process. The scientific community at any moment espouses conflicting ideas and hypotheses that cannot all be true. Just as the conflicting things that people around the world believe based on subjective experiences can’t all be true.

    The process of science is not about wiping out this diversity of ideas but about remaining uncertain until forced by evidence to arrive at a conclusion. So I would say that if a scientific worldview is against religion, it is more against the certainty of religious conviction than anything else. Religion values faith; science values doubt. This is the only way science can work.

    But is it a good way to think in other aspects of life besides science? I think it is generally safer to be skeptical than to be credulous. Otherwise it is just pot luck if you happen to believe the right thing or not. Even religious people would generally say that people of other religions would be better off doubting what they believe. I still maintain that you rely very much on reason to reject traditionalist interpretations of Islam (and quite rightly!).

    And yet total skepticism is not natural and maybe not psychologically the most beneficial way of being. We need a healthy amount of skepticism to protect us from the worst effects of credulity (think suicide cults, witch-drowning, conflict over claims to “holy” land based on divine will etc). But we don’t need to take it to an extreme to prevent all that. Faith doesn’t need to be harmful and it has its benefits (recent example: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=superstitions-can-make-you). Belief is powerful! I personally think science is going to show that more and more, and while western rationalism currently takes quite a zealous reactionary anti-religion stance, this will be balanced out in time by being forced (by evidence :P) to recognise the positive benefits of faith. That is what I predict. I mean, if other cultures and traditional ways of life are positive as you state (and I agree that they are), why should this escape the attention of science? It may for some time have escaped the attention of western scientists, but that is why non-western cultures should do more science. 😀

    I don’t think the scientific world view will ever include God as a truth, but it may well become convinced of the benefits of belief in God. Then it will likely be more friendly towards religion. If people stopped doing senseless and evil things in the name of religion, that would help too. 😉

    • “I still maintain that you rely very much on reason to reject traditionalist interpretations of Islam (and quite rightly!).”

      You’re right…I can’t help it. A lot of traditionalist Islam just doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m not at a point where I can just accept polygamy or wife beating because it’s someone else’s moral value. It just doesn’t make moral sense to me, and I can’t live with myself if I accept things like that.

      ” I personally think science is going to show that more and more, and while western rationalism currently takes quite a zealous reactionary anti-religion stance, this will be balanced out in time by being forced (by evidence :P) to recognise the positive benefits of faith.”

      Yes I definitely think that’s what’s happening now, the anti-religion stance is putting off a lot of religious people and making them resort to arguments they don’t believe in strongly (myself included). Personally I prefer a synthesis of the two, but like you said, I rely on reason much more than faith.

      “If people stopped doing senseless and evil things in the name of religion, that would help too. ;)”

      Hopefully one day!

      Great comment.

      • “A lot of traditionalist Islam just doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m not at a point where I can just accept polygamy or wife beating because it’s someone else’s moral value.”

        I completely disagree. Traditional Islam does NOT condone any of these acts, and it is completely false to claim that we can clump all people who look like they practice ‘traditional’ Islam together in one group. I am not denying that some Muslims would use verses out of context and support their cultural value systems – but I believe these are modern manifestos – if you will – of traditionalism. It is neo-traditionalism, and is far from what classical Islam was truly about.

        Classical Islam is about applying the teachings of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) into our daily lives – and he would never have beaten his wives nor have accepted it as moral to do so.

        Being traditional doesn’t mean you follow someone’s perversion of culture that was imported into Islam, but following the classical form of Islamic universal principles which do not coincide with the type of actions you are attributing to it.

        We have to start distinguishing what we mean by traditional Islam and “neo-traditionalism” – because they are two different things and we have to recognize them as such.

        Not sure why ‘tradition’ has to be such a negative word!

        • When I refer to tradition I mean the laws and norms that the jurists extracted from the Qur’an and sunnah, in particular the 4 madhabs. I don’t mean Muslims who identify as traditionalist.

          Sent from my iPad

          • I do not agree that any of the four major schools of thought , in Islam, allow ‘wife beating,’ and although polygamy is part of the tradition, it isn’t something obligatory, or mandatory to be enforced upon Muslims to practice. It’s a matter of choice.

            So I am just wondering what issues you really have with Islamic ‘tradition’?

            • “…in Islam, allow ‘wife beating,’ and although polygamy is part of the tradition, it isn’t something obligatory, or mandatory to be enforced upon Muslims to practice. It’s a matter of choice.”

              It doesn’t matter whether it’s obligatory or mandatory. It’s whether it’s right or wrong, my friend. If there is an avenue, of course there will be people who will capitalise on that avenue.

              What if there is something in the Quran that says you are allowed to kill another human being, but that it’s not obligatory or mandatory? Do you think that is right? What if I attached several conditions to that particular provision, will it then be right? Not a very easy question to answer, but one thing is clear, people are quick to take advantage on that and use it to kill others, e.g. under jihad, or whatever you’d like to call it.

              Is it a choice? Of course it is. But that is not the real question. The question that we should be asking is, whether we should be given that choice to start with?

              So a man can marry 4. He must love all his wives equally. Must be fair to all of them. I don’t know how that can be achieved, really. But a woman’s heart is weak. How would you feel if you had to share your husband with 3 other women? You can only pretend to a certain extent.

            • Nida, I will give you examples. Hanafis do not believe women can ask for a divorce unless their husband is impotent or has leprosy, and EVEN THEN only if the marriage has not been consummated. Malikis allow fathers to marry off their daughters against their wishes even if she is 40 and independently wealthy. ALL FOUR SCHOOLS view the marriage as a contract whereby the woman is being paid (dowry) and is now OBLIGED to give her husband sex whenever he wants (her sexual needs are never discussed). Although she does not have to cook or clean, according to Islamic law, she does have to consent to sex whenever he wants it.

              So yes Nida, I find it difficult to accept Islamic law and the 4 schools, as do many Muslim reformists.

              • That is a very perverted way of looking at it. There is plenty of discussion in the tradition, which suggests a balanced view, that there should be mutual respect between the two parties. What you give as examples are half truths, and not the complete picture of what is truly expected of both men and women in terms of marriage or divorce in Islam.

                The way you refer to mahr as “being paid” is simply wrong. You are implicitly calling your fellow sisters ‘prostitutes.’ Being paid for sex. A very Orientalist-minded approach to this issue indeed.

                The general consensus is however, that both partners have to satisfy the other. A woman cannot refuse her man, and a man cannot refuse his wife. The reason is that refusing one’s spouse may prompt the other to seek sexual gratification elsewhere.

                In a marriage contract, a woman may demand certain things to be met if the marriage is to last, but many women don’t place any demands because of their lack of knowledge of their own rights in Islam. If the man fails to meet her demands she is legally allowed to break off this contract. So it’s not just because he may be impotent or have a sickness, but because he couldn’t satisfy her needs as well. And it is up to the woman to make these demands in her initial contract.

                And what do you view marriage as if not a legal contract?

                • Nida,

                  u said “The general consensus is however, that both partners have to satisfy the other. A woman cannot refuse her man, and a man cannot refuse his wife. The reason is that refusing one’s spouse may prompt the other to seek sexual gratification elsewhere. ”

                  Come back and talk to me about that paragraph after you have gotten married. I think it may be difficult for some single women to understand what this entails until they have been married.

                  • Sure I may not understand this obligation in practice, but it doesn’t disqualify me to make the statement which has been proposed by the classics who have come upon this consensus.

                    It’s kind of like saying well you can’t make the statement that the world’s circumference is about 24900 miles, just because you yourself have not gone out to measure it.

                    • Ok, if you want to argue that your husband can have sex with you whenever he wants, and is justified in being pissed at you if you don’t want it, that’s on you.

                • Nida,

                  “The way you refer to mahr as “being paid” is simply wrong. You are implicitly calling your fellow sisters ‘prostitutes.’ Being paid for sex. A very Orientalist-minded approach to this issue indeed. ”

                  It is not about prostitution, it is about ownership. I think it is a bit crass to assume someone who does not agree with Mahar is a “Orientalist.” That was a bit of a low blow, no? Why is it when Muslims disagree with tradition, we are automatically “Orientalists” or “too westernized?” Is there no such thing as a non western Muslim being allowed to think or question these things?

                  • I am saying that the way Sara referred to mahr as “being paid” sounded very much like the Orientalist description of this practice.

                    I am not saying she herself is an Orientalist.

                    • And I repeat, I was quoting the madhabs who all addressed the mahr this was – a contract where a woman is obliged to give her husband sex. Please provide proof that they did not say this, and I will gladly change my opinion.

                      Sent from my iPad

                • Nida I don’t appreciate you attacking me like that when I explicitly said those are the views of the 4 madhabs, not my own views of what they said. Do you have sources that contradict the views I just put forward? And I don’t mean YOUR opinion, I mean the opinions of those schools.

                  I’m quite surprised that you accused me of calling Muslim women prostitutes and of being an Orientalist! Wow!

                  Sent from my iPad

                  • Again, I am pointing to the fact, that describing ‘mehr’ in such terms is what Orientalits have done in the past and present, does this make you an orientalist no – but we should be careful how we tend to desribe these issues. That is all I was saying.

                    Nothing personal!

                    • Could you please respond to my question – do you have proof that the madhabs did not say the things I said they did?

                    • LIke I already said, I was not describing what I think the mahr is!! I didn’t even say whether I agree with the mahr or not! I was describing the way the MADHABS descried the mahr. So essentially you are saying that the scholars in the 4 madhabs described the mahr the same way orientalists do. Again – I was not giving my opinion!

              • Sure Sara, I assume we had a misunderstanding, and I apologize.

                To be very honest, I have not looked into the specific definitions or opinions on the issue of mahr from the perspective of these madhabs extensively, since I generally do not follow any particular school of thought. I tend to look more so to the general consensus, because I feel that no one scholar can guide us to the whole truth.

                What I can say, however, is that Mahr in Islam does not refer to ‘dowry’ (as in bride price) but more so to an ‘obligatory gift’. This ‘gift’ is mandatory as it was mentioned in the Qur’an:
                “And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, Take it and enjoy it with right good cheer.” (Qur’an 4:4)

                It is a means for women to acquire their own personal property upon marriage, and make women more independent of their own finances.

                I think we have to be careful how we read classical texts, and what we really mean by ‘tradition’. The tradition is the Qur’an and Sunnah. The scholars of various schools of thought aimed to understand and interpret this tradition – so they themselves are not the ‘tradition.’

                In any event, let me try to give my answer to the proposed question.

                Keeping in mind that marriage in Islam is the only condition under which two people can engage in sexual intercourse legally and morally, then defining ‘mehr’ in those terms makes sense. For example, Maliki defines the mahr as “the money due to the impending husband in revisit for [the companion’s] haqq al-isstimta’ (sexual right) in the nuptials deal.” (see See al-Hattab Muhammad bin Abdel Rahman al-Mughrabi, Mawahib al-Jalil li-Sharh Mukhtassar Khalil, vol. 5, p. 172-Maliki Jurisprudence) Without the mahr, there is no binding contract, and therefore the marriage is not valid. This means that the two people are not allowed to engage in sexual activity. Once the contract is sealed by the mandatory ‘gift’ then it is allowable for the couple to consummate the marriage.

  10. Well, since Sarah (unsettledsoul) is expecting a comment from me, I suppose I should oblige! (smile)

    I’ve said before that humans are victims of their intelligence. We are curious animals. When we see something strange, we begin to wonder what is that something so and so? We try to explain. We conduct experiments and hope to confirm our ideas.

    In the same way, we try to explain the universe, how it all began, what is out there? We are convinced that we have the answers, but we’re unable to prove some of them—yet. Who knows, maybe one of these days we will invent a space craft able to travel trough the universe at the speed of light. Maybe then we will get our evidence.

    And in the same way, we started wondering where we came from, how all the things around us came into being. We argued that there must be a creator. Thousands of years ago, people thought that bright thing in the sky was the creator perhaps. So we used to worship that object. Others worshiped fire, moon etc. But we have not obtained any concrete evidence up to now, even if people like nida think we have.

    But it seems that the majority of the human race accepts that there is a creator—including me. But do I have any proof to support my belief? No, I do not. To me it is all in the mind. It is just my best guess, much the same way I’m guessing that somewhere in this universe there should logically be life form in other planets. If it can happen here, it can happen elsewhere in this vast universe. But again, can I prove it? No, I can’t.

    But beyond believing in a creator, people also imagine the quality and temperament of that creator. And here, suddenly I can’t accept that God “created” by people. This being is a conceited fellow, craving to be worshiped by humans. It yearns to be loved. He is said to love us all, but on the condition that we love him back.

    And so most religions compel that their followers pray regularly, for example. Some on a daily basis; others on a weekly basis; others still up to 5 times in a day. If not, we will get the punishment in the afterlife. We must wear our clothes in a specific way; we should pray in a specific way etc.

    A man is badly injured in a road accident. Along comes a man who’s on his way to church. He does not stop to help, because he’s running late for his prayers. He loves God too much and not a minute of prayers is he willing to sacrifice for a fellow human. God comes above everything else!

    Another man comes along. This second man has no religion. He doesn’t believe in God. But he stops his car and help the injured man; brings him to the hospital to seek medical help.

    When these two people are dead, which one will God welcome into heaven? The one who loved God unconditionally, or the one who loved a fellow human?

    • “A man is badly injured in a road accident. Along comes a man who’s on his way to church. He does not stop to help, because he’s running late for his prayers. He loves God too much and not a minute of prayers is he willing to sacrifice for a fellow human. God comes above everything else!

      Another man comes along. This second man has no religion. He doesn’t believe in God. But he stops his car and help the injured man; brings him to the hospital to seek medical help.

      When these two people are dead, which one will God welcome into heaven? The one who loved God unconditionally, or the one who loved a fellow human?”

      Great question, since in Islam there are hadith that say that God would welcome the second – the hadith about a man praying night and day, and the Prophet chastising him for not working or doing something useful alongside praying.

      Look, we all have our own relationships with the creator. The God I believe in would never want someone to ignore someone hurt just to go pray, and I hope you didn’t mean that as a generalization to all people who believe in religion, because most of the people I know who are religious would never ignore someone hurt, and do not believe they will go to hell if they help the person.

  11. Ah! I was hoping to see an answer along those lines! Very good! I, too, think not many religious people are really that stupid, although there are enough people of that sort!

    There are religions, for example, which disallow blood transfusions, even if that will lead to the loss of lives. And people would actually refrain from doing it because they want to obey the religion!

    Some people would also willingly kill their own children if they are convinced that God wishes that!

    So you’d be surprised, Sara, what people are willing to do to other humans for the sake of God.

    • I have to say I agree with a lot of what you are saying Cornelius.

      It is hard for me to accept organized religion because of some of the same reasons you specify. I usually end up not liking what human created religion looks like, because it ends up oppressing and repressing people so dutifully.

      I like to find my spirituality and God through Islamic means, but I do not “believe in” organized religion. In other words, I do not believe in what most people tell me is religion or a religious way, because 9 times out of 10 it is at the expense of someone else.

  12. ““And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, Take it and enjoy it with right good cheer.” (Qur’an 4:4)”

    First, the classic meaning (as derived not only from Quran but also Hadith) of ‘Ataoo’ is ‘pay’ rather than ‘give’ as in ‘pay the zakat’ (Ataoo az-zakah) – which occurs several times in the Quran and in hadith when discussing the five pillars of Islam. Zakat is a *compulsory tax*, a pillar of Islam, yet one must ‘pay’ their tax (zakat) willingly/graciously. Similarly, men are asked to ‘pay’ the dowries willingly (nihlatan). ‘Give’ is a modern translation of the word and most native speakers of Arabic would still translate ataoo as pay.

    Sure Yusuf Ali sounds very sweet in that translation, but there is no Arabic word in the Quranic text that corresponds to the “free gift” that Yusuf Ali has produced.

    So IMHO Sara used the correct vocabulary as per the original Quranic text which should make her more of a traditionalist than an orientalist 😀

    Sorry Sara, just kidding with you 😉

      • LOL! I think the madhabi scholars or even others called it a payment because that is what the Quran calls it. The Islamic encyclopedia explains the origins of ‘sadaq’ and clearly says that before Islam sadaq was usually (but not always) ‘paid’ to the father of the bride, but Islam established the practice that it should be ‘paid’ directly to the bride (like some tribes did including the Prophet who paid Khadeejah directly pre Islam). Sahih Bukhari – Volume 7, Book 62, Number 81 calls Mahr a legally binding contractual agreement through which a man owns the “right to enjoy his wife’s private parts”; perhaps this is why a woman can’t deny her husband? I don’t know of any similar rules for men; there might be some that I missed.

        • I suppose we think of marriage as primarily a personal relationship, but then again even in western culture women usually expect to be wined and dined before they will sleep with a man! Is this just the way of the world, or a legacy of patriarchal tradition that has shaped our cultures?

          Maybe it is sort of natural in the sense that childbearing “costs” a lot for a woman in terms of money, time, energies and efforts (traditionally at least, a woman would have needed support) – and so to put herself at risk by having sex, a woman had to be guaranteed something in return. Marriage offered women the most in return (as compared to say prostitution).

          I would be interested to know if there were any traditional cultures where marriage was not viewed in terms of men buying sex. Either way, of course, it doesn’t mean this model remains appropriate in the age of birth control and women’s independence.

          • With things like that it is surprising how small the progressive movement is.

            Achelois I have a question for you by the way: I always wonder how many Muslims are aware of these things the scholars said? Or these less popular hadith? Do you think it’s widespread knowledge? I’m always curious about this.

  13. Sara, I don’t think so. At least my parents didn’t have this knowledge and from my discussions on Islam with other people in my family, no one else does either. Two years ago I taught Islamic Studies substituting a sick teacher and most people I interacted with had no idea about the works of classical scholars or ahadith in general. I particularly remember asking a colleague who had a Phd in Islamic Studies from KSA the background and real meaning of one of the most popular ahadith ‘women are less in religion and intelligence and will outnumber men in Hell’ and he couldn’t explain it to me. Later I felt like he was deliberately trying to avoid having to talk about that hadith. Wa Allahuaalam. He didn’t even know that at least three classical scholars including Ibn Kathir narrate two ahadith which have been narrated in three different sahih hadith books to support wife beating, and I doubt if many people know about the original context of those two ahadith which prompted the revelation of 4:34.

    I think teachers, imams and textbook writers have picked up a handful of really good ahadith and have made them popular while ignoring the rest of thousands of ahadith that make up huge volumes of sahih hadith. So naturally the common Muslim will never learn the background, context and basis of every verse in the Quran. Some may say they don’t have to know it and I’m fine with that, but at least I know for myself that religion is most important to me and I can’t believe in something I don’t know much about.

  14. I also wanted to add that I find nothing wrong with the word ‘Orientalist.’ When I first began blogging I had very ‘progressive’ ideas about Islam and I thought everyone thought like me (yes, I was naïve!) but I didn’t call myself a progressive even though I had joined an online group. Then I wrote a post in which I discussed the hadith that angels will curse a woman who refuses sex. I also made the mistake of referring to Khaled Baou Fadl who I didn’t know at that time is a mutazaliyah. A woman (who now writes for Muslim Matters) wrote a post on me and her husband wrote a separate post on MM about me calling me a ‘smelly progressive’ with a weak imaan because I was doubting a hadith. So while there are progressive Muslims who are proud of themselves and their rational and tolerant thoughts, the rest use that same title by which progressives classify themselves to ridicule them. On the other hand, being a Salafi or a Wahabi isn’t all that precious either if you are the one accusing them 🙂 This is what happened to Orientalists. Byron didn’t think the word would be used negatively. And what should we call Muslims who have a twisted view of all Christians and everything Western? I have students who think that Americans don’t flush their toilets everyday or don’t take showers in weeks 😀 We all have different and often negative views about the Other and there are very few people who are consciously objective.

  15. It all boils down to prejudice. People everywhere will twist words to their prejudice, that is how racist/sexist/anti whatever words come about. I get called a pro-regressive, although it makes no sense to me, the rhetoric people use to show their contempt doesn’t really bother me. I am a progressive and I know what that word stands for in my mind. Someone will always hate, can’t avoid it. But I do enjoy finding out the background of this rhetoric though, how and why it came about. What people mean when they use it.

    I have to say the term Orientalist, used in certain contexts, can definitely be seen as a bad word, in fact I think that label has nothing but negative connotations that evoke feelings of contempt. It makes me think of pasty white guys telling other white guys about who and what Muslims/Asians are. Yes, it is negative. LOL What images do you guys get in your head when you hear this term?

    Ok, now you have to excuse my ignorant question:

    If someone calls themselves a traditionalist, does that mean they believe in and follow these “classical” texts?

  16. Also, let me just add, I think it is unhealthy for any of us to get stuck in the labels or titles we use to define ourselves. Doing that is a good way to lose sight of the truth and instead cling to labels. I only call myself a progressive because that group shares the views and attitudes I am feeling in my life currently. I am not stuck to, nor do I claim rights to that word. Ultimately none of us are labels, and we should be fluid enough to change and morph and grow.

    That is the search for knowledge. If we are searching all our lives I can only assume we will try on many different labels, titles, and terms to define ourselves at certain points.

    The only worrisome part is stagnation. But I guess that’s why I am a progressive 😉

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