Paris Attacks: A Clash between Literal Islam and Human Desires?

This past week we were jolted once again by Islamists blowing themselves up in various places. If the world slept through the attacks in Beirut last week, it certainly woke up when Paris was attacked.

Violence in the Middle East doesn't surprise us anymore. As tragic as it maybe, we have got accustomed to shrugging it off. Not because Arab lives don't matter, but because we have learned to tune it all out to maintain our own sanity.

The attacks on Paris were different. These were not simply attacks on the city of lights and its people, these were attacks on the values so many of us share or long for.

We could be miles away from Paris literally and figuratively, yet be fascinated by Paris and all that Paris represents. To many like me growing up in conflict zones around the world, Paris evoked a sense of romantic charm, a sense of beauty and peace that we longed for in our own chaotic cities. So when Paris was attacked we felt a sense of anguish not just because many of us identified with those attacked - people enjoying an evening out on a Friday night, but simply because Paris has always had a special place in our hearts.

The expressions of solidarity and outpouring of sympathy from all over the world was only natural and a reflection of our common humanity. Then, as if a sense of shame overcame us for feeling this anguish for Paris, we quickly chided each other and told ourselves that Paris was getting an undue share of the world's attention. We were told that we should be paying more attention to the people in Syria, Beirut and Palestine and all those Muslims suffering in conflict zones around the world. It was as if we wanted to suppress what we felt in our hearts, to get in line with how we should be feeling.

The Paris attacks and our response to it expose a contradiction between what we are expected to hold sacred and what we really hold close to our hearts and yearn for in our Muslim communities. We are expected to hold the beliefs of our ancestors sacred and defend our tribe and faith and remind the world of all the real and perceived injustices our tribe faces, instead of embracing 'western' values and expressing our anguish and frustration over an attack on égalité, liberté and fraternité.

Why not acknowledge that so many of us long for what Paris represents? After all who among us doesn't value freedom, equality, and fraternity? Paris, to many of us represents the simple freedom to enjoy life - with people we love - surrounded by art and culture - in peace.

Why then are the Islamists among us blowing themselves up in their murderous rage trying to destroy the very things so many of us hold dear and ache for?

Could it be possible that the beliefs we have been told to hold sacred are at odds with the beautiful things life has to offer?

We have been indoctrinated with the idea that Islam - the faith of our ancestors, with all of its scriptural commands and rules, is a complete and perfect way of life. A way of life we ought to strive to achieve.

We listen mesmerized when our leaders preach the virtues of Sharia and exhort us to follow Quranic injunctions and the prophetic way of life to the letter. We clap and nod in agreement when they tell us that 'properly' implementating Sharia, establishing a 'genuine' caliphate and practicing Islam like the companions of Muhammed did, will solve all our problems and help us regain our glorious past.

Yet, when we dream of a beautiful city or lifestyle, to many of us it is Paris that comes to mind. We don't dream of cities like Tehran or Riyadh, governed by variations of Sharia law. We desperately hold onto the claim that Islam, Sharia, the Quran and the example of Muhammed are all perfect, even though many of us wouldn't want to be living in a place where Sharia, Quranic commands and the Hadiths are followed to the letter.

We try hard to be the 'proper' Muslims that our leaders exhort us to be, yet we are tempted by our desires and feel a sense of guilt when we enjoy the good things life has to offer - like music and certain forms of art and even innocuous youthful romance, because we've been taught that these are all 'un-Islamic'.

Maybe it's time we took an honest look at our scriptures and the beliefs we have been told to hold sacred and find a way to reconcile them with our consciences and our very human desires.

Yes, the Quran and Hadith are sacred to many of us. Almost everyone in my own family recites the Quran in Arabic (a language we don't even understand) everyday seeking solace and look to the Hadith for guidance on day to day affairs.

However, when Islamists like ISIS use verses from the same Quran and Hadith to justify their murderous behavior, over and over again, it is a sign that all may not be well with our scriptures.

We need to acknowledge that the same scriptures that give some of us solace and moral guidance inspire some others to hate and kill. As I've argued previously, ISIS and other Islamists, derive inspiration for their actions from a plausible interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith.

Pretending there is no contradiction between literalist interpretations of Islam and the things we long for, results in turmoil that can wreck havoc in our own minds and beyond. It is not hard to fathom how this kind of turmoil can end up with young Muslims blowing themselves up in Beirut, Paris and other cities around the world.

Simply condemning those who blow themselves up and claiming that they have perverted the faith of our ancestors is not good enough. It's time we look within our traditions and deal with the very real issues that contribute to young Muslims behaving this way.

We must open our eyes and recognize that Islamists like the Saudi Arabian government have been stealthily imposing literalist interpretations of Islam along with the rules and norms of 7th century Arabia by sponsoring our mosques and madrasas, and destroying local cultures.

Instead of glorifying the virtues of Sharia law as we've been taught, we need to honestly discuss if Sharia or a caliphate is what we really want as a system of governance. It is time we challenged the Islamists who tell us that a properly implemented Sharia system or a caliphate will bring about a state of utopia for all of us.

We need to find the courage to open our minds and listen to those who criticize Islam and dissent and be willing to change the way we regard our scriptures. As I've said previously, only when a critical mass of Muslims propagate the idea that the Quran may not be God's literal and perfect word to man can we counter the narrative of the Islamists among us.

Let's also open up our hearts and re-examine the restrictions we impose in our communities. Instead of stifling our youth and castigating them for their very human desires, how about we let young people in our communities express themselves through art and music, and fall in love without worrying about supposedly divine laws against all of these things?

It's high time we unshackle ourselves from the belief system we've been indoctrinated with, so each of us can be true to ourselves and free to pursue the desires of our hearts and minds. Then, I doubt there'll be anyone left wanting to blow themselves up using God's purported word and the example of Muhammed as justification.