The Unexceptionalism of Religion

There's a narrative that religion is at risk from the growth of secularism and science. In reality, the biggest threat to religion is exceptionalism, which is pushed entirely from within. Exceptionalism may corral the unthinking and the unfree, but it cannot corral those with knowledge and choice. If the Information Age threatens religion, it's for the same reason that information threatens any idea, because the idea is wrong. Information never puts truth at risk.

I am a practicing Muslim. I pray the five daily prayers, fast Ramadan each year, give in charity, and have been to Hajj. I do my best to be God-conscious and to not only refrain from the proscriptions, but more importantly, to try to put into practice the prescriptions - the guidelines that teach me to affirmatively make the world a more just, compassionate and merciful place.

I'm at peace as a Muslim. I love Islam. I believe the Qur'an to be the direct revealed word of God and I take its teachings at face value. I see in those teachings so much mercy, compassion and justice. I know that Islam never makes a person go against their innate understanding of what is right and so it pains me tremendously when "Islam" becomes a source of suffering. I know of many Muslims whose suffering is caused because they love Islam and want to follow it, yet don't realize that anything that feels wrong in their core is most likely not from Islam.

What binds them is the same thing that once bound me, a belief that religion and those that teach it are exceptional -- that their teachings cannot and should not be put under the microscope.

I was a born into a Muslim family. I grew in an environment where I had every reason to hate and reject Islam. I honestly can't attribute my being Muslim today to anything but the grace of God. My Muslim parents, the mosque and the culturally-influenced religious texts I read made Islam so repugnant and so painful to me. It made me feel so hopeless, so small and so scared. The "Islam" I was learning actually made me suicidal. Its ideas were so self-effacing that my ego was virtually destroyed.

Ironically, as it stripped me of any dignity, it also kept me from killing myself because I believed that killing myself would lead to an eternity of hellfire. Even when I was young, I was a pragmatic thinker. I'd burned myself before and I knew how much it hurt. I engaged in a very macabre form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I knew that whatever emotional pain I felt - no matter how intense - was more bearable than an eternity of burning in hell.

There is only one reason that I'm Muslim today, and that is because I reject the idea of the exceptionalism of religion. By doing so, I am able to sift the man-made ideas from the God-revealed truths. It is so liberating.

By subjecting Islam to rigorous logical and scientific scrutiny I have found peace because I've been able to develop a philosophy that is consistent, coherent, merciful, just and universally applicable. I've found substantial and satisfying answers to every question I've ever had.

I've freed myself from allegiance to men and man-made ideas and allowed myself to focus my allegiance solely to God, and I have found God's ideas stand the test of time where human ideas fail.

My goal is not to proselytize Islam or to malign any other philosophies. I hope to speak objective truths - while clearly identify my subjective ideas - and I hope to empower people by giving them tools that will - God willing - help them find peace in truth.

I hope to share some of the rigorous analysis I've engaged in, especially as it relates to the more misunderstood areas of Islam such as questioning beliefs, women's rights, interacting with non-Muslims and gay rights.

I invite you to send me any questions you may have and I will write articles on those as well.