Some Street Epistemology

Legend has it that once upon a time a few Mongolian soldiers approached a sultan in central Asia. They wanted to complain to him about some misconduct of his soldiers with their people. The sultan was on a hunting expedition on top a rocky cliff. Probably he was hunting for a wild breed of deer. As he was too much preoccupied with his interest, he simply turned a deaf ear to the soldiers. The soldiers reiterated their complaint a number of times. Seeing the indifference of the sultan, they returned back disappointed. As they went back they prayed in earnest: “O Allah! We have heard that you are the God of these Muslims. We have heard that you despise oppression and help the oppressed. These Muslims have oppressed us. Now fulfil your promise and help us”.

In a very short time Genghis Khan arose from Mongolia. He marched with his army into almost all of the Muslim world. He sacked Baghdad, brutally killed myriads of people, raised minarets with skulls of the dead and annihilated civil infrastructure.

In another version of the story, Genghis Khan himself accosted the sultan as he casually hunted the deer in the jungle. And upon seeing the aloofness of the sultan, he went back and prayed in the aforementioned manner.

Let me tell you another story. You would definitely find it incredible. Saman Sandhu was a Muslim inhabitant of Khairpur Mataalwi. This town is now in Pakistan. He lived there at the time of partition of the subcontinent in 1947 into what we now know as India and Pakistan. According to the narrative of the story, he used to loot the belongings of the Hindus migrating from Pakistan to India. Many native Muslims warned him that Allah did not like anybody treating another human beings so mercilessly even if the victims were non-Muslims. He did not pay any heed to those warnings and kept on snatching belongings of poor Hindus migrating to India.

At last, as is the case with any living being, Saman Sandhu died. People of his town tried to bury him in a grave. However, they failed to dig the grave on the place prescribed for him by the town’s people. The earth had become so hard. Eventually they dug a grave on another spot. As they buried him there and left the spot, the grave caught fire.

It really depends on various factors concerning your personality how you perceive the above stories. Cultural and academic backgrounds play a lot of role in what people are interested in and how they react to various stimuli that are presented to them. If you are a simple Pakistani or an Arab, you would definitely have found the above narratives interesting. If you are a hyper educated, university going professor or researcher you would have found these stories fantastic. It even takes a clever skeptic to figure out elements of wishful thinking in the accounts. If you are the last type, you would not only not like to lend any credulity to the subject matter, you might also love to bash it away as a product of wishfully conceived fairy tale.

No matter how unrealistic these stories might appear to you, but I heard them in sermons of Ubqari institute. Ubqari delivers weekly sermons on peace and spirituality. Actually the second story was even published in the monthly Ubqari magazine. Moreover, there are elements that are worth pondering in the above stories. Chances are that if you have read them casually, you might easily have evaded a few subtle ideas that are worth speculating irrespective of whether you are a Muslim or not. Actually it would be nice if everyone, including Muslims and non-Muslims, contemplated on a few ideas for a while.

An important hint that I picked up from these sermons (or articles) was regarding the concept of will of God. If you are a skeptic who systematically doubts existence of God, then at this stage you would be about to exclaiming, “Hold on! God does not exist.” However, I request you to hold on for a while and keep on reading as you relax in your chair.

Whether or not God exists is obviously a question of philosophical and scientific concern. However, much of the atheistic literature bases religions and believers of those religions for respectively preaching and believing in bad ideas that provoke human beings to bigot with one another. This is obviously a rational criticism of religions in general specially if we believe that what is told to us about the teachings of various religious scriptures is true. Islam is particularly considered as a terrorist’s religion worldwide.

One thing that every person should pay heed to in these articles is that God, according to the central teachings of Islam, does not like oppression even if it is done against a non-Muslim. Another thing, that at least I found very interesting about Ubqari institute is that it is teaching Muslims on as to how to develop their beliefs regarding social behavior. In our times, it is natural for a person to be confused given the current state of world’s peace. There are a plenty of other things about Ubqari institute that are worth exploring. Ranging from medical tips and medieval stories to accounts of scientific breakthroughs, the magazine publishes articles from people all across the world. There is also a small section on Islam and tolerance, where accounts of treatments of non-Muslims by earlier caliphs of Islam are written to encourage people to adopt those kinds of behaviors in their personal lives regarding non-Muslims.

Now let’s talk about a different theme for a while before I conclude this article. Let’s reflect for a while on the matter of existence of God. In street epistemology, Sam Harris defines that epistemology is a way in which people learn about any idea or a subject matter. Street epistemology is concerned with how people learn about their religious beliefs.

In what follows, some effort is done to develop an epistemology for religious belief. Whether or not God exists requires extraordinary evidence. In his work, Sam Harris appears even desirous to be able to see the God of people’s dreams and imaginations. Just because Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus believe in a God (or many Gods) does not mean that there is really a God out there that needs to be worshipped, praised and offered sacrifices to. Just by projecting one’s God as a loving and kind deity that hates his believers to oppress people who do not believe in him is also no proof that that God really exists. In order for the God to exist, there should be tremendous evidence about his existence. Otherwise, the claims made by that God should be systematically and scientifically verifiable.

One of the claims that almost any major world religion makes is the existence of soul in the body of a living human being. Call it a soul, spirit or a non-physical mind should also be verifiable with the help of some type of an experiment. For centuries people have completed on the idea of soul. Notable contemplators have existed from almost all schools of thoughts and they have included Christian, Jews and Muslims alike.

Recently science has begun to formally admit the idea of eternal survival of human consciousness after bodily death into mainstream academic scrutiny, The truth is that empirical evidence about the existence of human soul in some realm other than our known world has existed since as early as the middle of the nineteenth century. There were many respectable scientists all over the western world who researched into that. To name but a few, Alfred Russell Wallace, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Crookes were quite renowned for their work in spiritualism in the mid-nineteenth century.

In the last couple of years an enormous hype was created about disciplines such as reincarnation, near death experiences, out of body experiences and quantum physics for consciousness studies. Overall, most of the literature and findings affirmatively point to the existence of human consciousness after death.

It would be worthwhile to reflect on the teachings of Islam about this matter for a while. I have a propensity for looking everything from an Islamic perspective. This is, however, true that I suffer from what Sam Harris calls as a confirmation bias of a believer. You could justifiably call me a wishful thinker. Nonetheless, I have my own reasons to hold my beliefs dear. This does not mean, however, that I have not performed a serious scrutiny of the subject matter.

According to Islam Judaism and Christianity are religions of one true God, Allah. Bible and Torah are books of God and are mentioned in the Quran many times. As a matter of fact, Islam considers Judaism and Christianity as earlier versions of Islam itself.

The most mentioned prophet in Quran is Prophet Moses (PBUH). Jesus Christ (PBUH) according to the central teachings of Islam was a prophet of Allah just like other prophets such as Muhammad (PBUH) and Moses (PBUH). According to Islam, Allah gives glad tidings to those believing jews and Christians who bow before him. Allah, however, laments that Jews considered Uzair (PBUH) as the son of God whereas, Christians considered Jesus (PBUH) as a son of God. However, Allah does not give any license to kill or harm non-Muslims in any possible way. When medieval Muslims went to Persia, they encountered Zoroastrians. They figured out that Zoroaster was also a prophet according to the central traditions of Islam. He (PBUH) is mentioned in the Quran as Dhul-Kifl (PBUH), and they offered the same kind of generous treatment as they offered to other people of the book i.e. Christians and Jews. According to Islam Hinduism is not a divine religion of one true God, Allah. However, it is against the laws and teachings of Islam to oppress them.

How do we learn about the prophethood of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by the way? Apart from Quran and Sunnah, we learn about that from non-Muslim sources as well. We learn about that from jews, Christians and even Budha. Or that is what we are told. True, historical accounts are always biased. But it is not a bad idea to reflect on these things for a while.

Once Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) traveled to Syria for trade with his uncle. As they reached there, they were approached by a Jew. The Jew looked on the back of his neck in order to find what is called a seal of prophet-hood on his back. He found that and warned his uncle, Abu Taalib, to keep him in safe custody as he was to become a prophet. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was very young at that time.

Similarly, we hear that the arrival of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was foretold in Bible and Torah. These books are already considered divine by Muslims and they are mentioned in the Quran. As a matter of fact it is one of the central tenets of Islam to believe and have faith in divine books, scriptures and revelations.

There was a television program the other day that reflected on the last days of Buddha. When Buddha was in his last days a disciple asked him if he was the last Buddha. Buddha replied that he was not the last Buddha. The last Buddha had to arrive. He would be a personification of purity, piety and virtue. He would be a guide for humanity. And his followers would be many. By this we infer that that last Buddha was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, this inference is a great example of confirmation bias too.

Buddhism is a great religion. It preaches peace and tranquility. Although Buddha is not mentioned in the Quran, there is a great chance that he was also a prophet of Islam just as prophet Moses and Jesus (PBUH). After all, there were 124,000 prophets that were sent by Allah to guide humanity. Not all of them are mentioned in the Quran. Due to his teachings, there is a great propensity among the Muslims to believe that he was a Prophet.

But there are no bad religions after all. All religions teach good things. And almost none really teaches bigotry in its spirit.

Allah according to Islam does not have a material form. He is a loving God. He is beneficent in this life and merciful in the hereafter. If you attend any Islamic religious gathering, it is customary to hear that Allah loves us all seventy times more than our mother. This includes each one of us human beings. It is also said that Allah is oft-forgiving. Even if a hundred years old dying infidel, who has been bigoted to Allah for the most of his life, beg’s forgiveness from Him, he forgives him in an instant. It is even said that Allah knows when a person repents that he would sin again. However, He says that I would pardon my slave again and again and again. He does not like oppression however, and listens to the prayers of the oppressed even if they are infidels.

And eventually all of us die and revert to Him. He is the one who always was and would always remain. All the king’s men and all the king’s together cannot harm him even how minutely they may wish to do so.

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