"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is belief all there is to believing?

 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 

 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16)

How often do we make being a "good Muslim" or "good Christian" or "good believer" or attaining salvation into something more than belief? How often does it come down to you must believe X, but also do Y, Z, and A, B, C?  Paul told the Philippian jailer "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."

Is belief all that is needed?

Yesterday I introduced The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf by Mohja Kahf in this post.   I promised to tell you about a conversation ...

and while you read it, think about this question:  what makes one a believer?  Believing or is there more?  Are there "saved" believers and then those who believe, but, well, they don't do all the rest of the required stuff?  Read on.

Khadra and her cultural Muslim friend Chrif from Tunisia were talking about religion. He was studying Buddhism which he adamantly declared was a philosophy and not a religion.  Khadra countered that it was both "like any other religion...like Islam."

Chrif replied:

"No way like Islam.  If you believe in Islam you have to believe in cutting off hands and stoning and ..."

"No you don't. Surrender to the oneness of Reality, that's all that makes you a Muslim."  ...

"Read the fine print before you sign, woman. It's a bait and switch.  Believe in One God, or 'Divine Reality' as you put it so fancy?  Fine, now you have to believe in the Prophet."

"Peace and blessings be upon him," Khadra interjected, on purpose, just to annoy him.

Chrif went on as if she'd said nothing.  "Believe in the Prophet?  Now you have to sign up for hadith and ulema and shariah and all that shit, on some level."  Khadra winced when he called shariah and hadith "shit." But she knew what he meant.  "It's all one package, baby.  That's how the scam works. The Islam Scam."  It had a catchy ring.

Part of her agreed with him. The part that didn't pressed on, "But shariah law is elastic.  It changes. It evolved slowly, like Talmudic law." 

"Well, I'm not up for Talmudic law either. Same bullshit," he said.

"There's Sufism."

Chrif was too cynical for Sufism.  He called them snake charmers...

"Okay, there's progressive Islam," Khadra tried.

"Oh, please.There's no such thing as progressive Islam.  That is such a crock. What is that, some sheikhs who'll only flog you twenty lashes instead of eighty?"

Khadra sighed. She just wanted to make him admit that being Muslim wasn't such a straitjacket.It was the same argument she had with her mother.She didn't expect Chrif to be arguing for the same thing as her mother, that Islam was rigid and homogenous.  It's like, they both wanted Islam to be this monolith, only for her mother it was good,for him bad. She knew it wasn't that simple.

(pgs. 343,344)

I've heard people say in order to be Muslim you simply must submit to God, say the shahada and perform the five pillars of Islam. Some say only the shahada is required, but to be a good Muslim, you will do all the other stuff.  Still others say anyone who submits to God is muslim (small m...meaning one who submits to God).  No belief in Muhammad as prophet required.

Yet Chrif believes there's a whole lot more to Islam and one is wise to consider it all before leaping.  Do you agree?  I read a blog post recently of a young woman who was wishing she'd learned more about the religion before becoming a Muslim.  I got the impression she felt she could not get out or at the very least she could no longer ask questions about Islam like she could have prior to her conversion.   Why is that? Must one fully consider a religion and all possible questions before converting (to any religion...I don't mean only Islam) because there is no going back?

What makes one a believer?  Saying something? Praying something? Doing something?  All of the above?  What is special about belief if it really boils down to all these other things?



Lat said...

" I got the impression she felt she could not get out.."

That's not the case here but in Malaysia, yes.And there's some ongoing debate about these,with no solutions so far.

I would say religions as a whole have this effect.Like being known asMuslim,christian,Hindu is fine but if you want to be good or called good,then you have to take the necessary extra steps.Our society seems to believe in appearances to judge a person's religious character.But how much is considered good to be called good by God? I know a hadith.I've to look for it.

I understand both the characters, Khadra and Chrif because both make sense.

Amber said...

It's so weird that you posted this...are you reading my mind? I've just been thinking about how people in every religion have these other people who are always there telling them that they're not 'real' whatevers because they don't do x, y and z or they don't do them exactly 'right', or they don't...or they do...

I think that anyone considering converting to any religion needs to study it. Emotions are all well and good, and if something makes you feel happy then that's wonderful. But emotions can be tricked. If you want something bad enough then you can feel that 'burning in the bosom' or have that transcendent experience and you believe that it's God but it can just be your mind tricking you. It's the intellect that needs to take the step back and look at everything and see if it makes sense to you once you're past the initial rush.

Even in religions where you don't have to worry about some people taking the 'death to apostates' thing literally there's this pressure that if you leave then you'll be shunned or loose friends, be harassed - and if you've converted into it then there's also this internal pressure of why did you make that choice and what's changed? Is it just you? Are you not giving it enough of a chance?

Everyone's 'version' of their faith is going to be different - even if only in the slightest thing - from everyone elses because we're not monolithic as a people so how can our faiths be monolithic?

I sometimes want to boil religion down to it's basest form and say 'screw it' to everything else.

But even then, if the 'basest' form of Christianity is belief in Christ, there are questions. Belief, exactly how, in Christ? Belief that He was a real person? Will that save you? Belief that He was a prophet of God? Belief that He was divine? That He was God? That He died and resurrected? And then, is that belief enough if it doesn't require actions from you? If I believe in Christ and still go out and rob and murder people, am I saved or is it just like believing in gravity?

Even boiling a religion down to its basic parts is an impossible task because I doubt that we'll ever get people to agree on what the most basic parts are. One will say that only belief in one God is enough. Well, okay, but if you believing in God, then do you believe that He communicated with humanity? And if so, which revelation is the real one, or the 'final' one? And the questions just multiply from there. It's part of what makes religion equally fascinating and frustrating.

*sigh* Long comment. And if it's incoherent then I blame it on the fact that I'm trying to write it and watch Inception at the same time. Inception is distracting.

Suroor said...

So many questions! :D

"Must one fully consider a religion and all possible questions before converting (to any religion...I don't mean only Islam) because there is no going back?"

Yes! I think it is absolutely imperative. Why would anyone convert to a religion they know very little about? And not only the religion appealing to them but they should also compare it with other religions. What if there is yet another *better* religion?! Most people who convert to another religion either don't know much about their birth religion or don't know much about their new religion because all religions preach goodness and all religions are equal. So many conversions are half-baked decisions, no wonder there are regrets. I have noticed that those who thoroughly study a religion they want to convert to end up not converting in 90% of the cases.

Candice said...

Very interesting post! About believing, I think it's about more than just believing (for Christians, that Jesus was the saviour, for Muslims, that Muhammad is the final prophet)... I actually think that a person who believes but goes against it is in much worse shape than a person who does not believe but manages to still do deeds that are to be done by believers...
I see religion as more of a structure and reminder than an ultimate truth, and when its followers are told to believe, it brings on this and that and this and that, like the Chrif person was saying, and it becomes more than just the belief itself. It's not the ultimate truth though as far as I'm concerned, so I'm sure many parts are either not right, or are only one of many options that could count as displaying our belief. I definitely think it's more than the belief itself.

About entering a religion, yes, it's important to look into everything. Some religions are easier to enter and then leave, some are harder... For Islam, I feel ultimately everyone who submits to God is a Muslim (small or capital M, I don't even make any difference), but using the label "Muslim" is a lot different than what I just described so I wouldn't want a person to take my definition and start calling himself Muslim because to Muslims overall, Islam is a lot more than that!

Zayd Benaboud said...

Thank you Susanne for having invited me to participate in this discussion.

What I can say is that in Islam, this issue was widely treated and clarified. There is no way for example to say that “no belief in Muhammad as prophet required”.

Allah Says in the Qur’an : "Nay, by your Lord! They do not believe until they appoint you [Muhammad] as judge in those disputes which arise amongst them, and then do not find any resistance in themselves against your decisions, and accept [them] with full submission." (4:65).

In this verse, Allah indicates to us the attitude of faith, and that it comprises three things:

1) Resorting to Allah and the Messenger for judgement. Thus, one who resorts to other than Islam for judgement, and considers that valid, is a disbeliever.

2) Not finding any resistance in the heart against the judgement of Allah and His Messenger, so that one will not be uncertain about it, nor imagine that some other judgement is better than it. So, one who is doubtful or suspicious about the laws of Islam is a disbeliever.

3) Accepting the judgement and submitting to it unreservedly. The believer must submit to Allah’s laws, and accept them even if he cannot see their exact implication or wisdom.

On the authority of U’mar : While we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (sws) one day, there came upon us a man with extremely white clothes and extremely black hair. No sign of journey could be seen on him, nor did any of us know him. [He advanced] until he sat before the Prophet (sws), such that his knees were touching his. He put his hands on his thighs and said, “O Muhammad! Inform me about Islam.” Then, the Messenger of Allah (sws) said, “Islam is that you testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, [that you] establish salat and give zakat, fast Ramadan and to perform the Pilgrimage to the House [(i.e. the Ka`bah)] if you can make a way thereto.” [The man] said, “You have spoken the truth,” whereupon we were astonished at him, asking [the Prophet (sws) and [yet also] confirming him.
He said, “Then, tell me about Iman (faith).” [The Messenger of Allah] said, “That you believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and that you believe in Destiny, the good of it and the bad of it.”
[The man] said, “You have spoken the truth. Then, tell me about Ihsan (goodness).” [The Messenger of Allah (sws)] said, “That you worship Allah as if you see Him, but since you do not see Him, then [know that] He is seeing you.” …
Then, [the man] left, and I [U’mar] remained behind for a while. Then, the Messenger of Allah (sws) said, “O U’mar! Do you know who the questioner was?” I said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “Indeed, he was Gabriel, who came to you to teach you your religion.” [Narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah]

In the above hadith, we find a distinction between the words Islam, Iman and Ihsan. The Prophet (sws) has indicated three levels within the religion, the highest being Ihsan, the second being Iman, and the lowest being Islam. Each higher level encompasses those below it, so that the existence of the state of perfect Iman implies the existence of Islam, and similarly, the state of Ihsan embraces Iman. In this sense, every Muhsin (one in the state of Ihsan) is a Mu’min (one in the state of Iman), but the reverse is not always true. Similarly, every Mu’min is a Muslim (one in the state of Islam) without the reverse necessarily following. A Mu’min will necessarily be a Muslim, because he must be practising the five pillars before he can reach the higher state of Iman. In the same way, a person may be performing the five pillars, but may not reach the higher level of Iman.

Zayd Benaboud said...

Similarly, in another hadith, we are told : “The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand another Muslim is safe. The Mu’min is one whom people trust with their lives and property. The Muhajir (emigrant) is the one who abandons evil. The Mujahid is the one who strives against his self in the obedience of Allah.” [Narrated by Ahmad, Tirmidhi and others]

This hadith mentions a total of four levels, each higher than and encompassing the one before it. It is obvious that one who is trusted with life and property will necessarily be such that others are safe from his tongue and hand, for otherwise they would not have trusted him.

This idea is clarified by the hadith, “Indeed, in the body is a piece [of flesh], such that if it is good, all the rest of the body will be good, whereas if it be corrupted, all the rest of the body will be corrupted. Indeed, [that piece] is the heart.” [Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and others] So, whoever truly has a good heart must necessarily have a good exterior, although the reverse is not always true.

Susanne said...

Lat, good point about people judging us...and really they should to an extent. Jesus said we would be known by our fruit. If we claim something, we should show that this belief has affected our lives somehow. Yes, I agree that both characters make sense. I think so as well.

Amber, wow, I really loved your comment even if you thought it might be incoherent because you were watching TV while posting. Really, I'm impressed. I love all your questions and wish they would be addressed. They really give us all much to ponder...or at least I will be pondering them. Thank you!!

Suroor, I enjoyed your thoughts so much! It's great reading the various perspectives to this question! So you and Amber both seem to believe people need to be convinced logically rather than emotionally. Interesting,too, about studying the variety of religions since all of them are equal in your opinion. I enjoyed your thoughts!

Candice, your thoughts were of great interest. So religion isn't the ultimate truth,but what is? God? I agree. It seems you are saying God is the ultimate truth and religion just offers such structure on how to live a good life, do pleasing deeds perhaps? Or maybe I'm misrepresenting you. Regardless I really enjoyed what you said. Thank you for taking time to share this!

Zayd, thanks for taking time to explain those levels. I really wasn't familiar with them and found them interesting. I liked this:

"So, whoever truly has a good heart must necessarily have a good exterior, although the reverse is not always true. "

I agree that one with a good heart will outwardly show it. Jesus told us that it's out of the heart that every evil thing proceeds. So it makes sense that a bad heart = bad thoughts and actions. And the reverse when God has changed our hearts. When He does this, we will do good works simply because we have His good heart (so to speak).

Thank you all for your fantastic comments! I enjoyed them all!

Daniel said...

Wow! So much to address and so little space and time to address it, so I will attempt to keep this as short and to the point as possible.

Belief does not automatically save a person. Consider a person who worships Satan. He or she believes in God and Christ coming to earth in human form for mans salvation, but is on the opposing team. Someone who becomes angry with God and walks away doesn’t just believe but KNOWS. This is where many of our self proclaimed atheists come from. People who are angry with God for some reason. You would not be able to hate God if you didn’t believe in Him. So, simply believing in the existence of the Almighty is not the only thing one must do.

What is the difference? Well, the belief in the scripture you referenced isn’t only knowing, academically, there is a God. It is placing your faith, understanding, hopes, dreams and everything else on Christ. It is worshipping Him. It is sort of a double meaning to the word. Know and worship wholeheartedly. There is much that follows.

Too often people get wrapped around the axel on salvation and leave everything else alone, making a person wander around aimlessly after submitting to the Lord. Whether or not a person can lose his or her salvation is left for another discussion, as it has little to do with this thread.

In respect to Islam, it suffers the same problem Christianity does. It has been warped from its origin. It no longer attributes the same teachings it once did. How do we know this? Look to history at the beginning of either of them and look at where they are today. You will find massive differences. This is one of the various reasons I began to seek out the original Christian teachings and have converted to Orthodox Christianity. Hasn’t changed. If we look to the origins of Islam you will see mixed things which are sometimes difficult to sort through. On one hand you see slaughter if there is no conversion and on the other hand you see Mohammed himself proclaiming protection of other religions which is why during the crusades the Christians remained in modern day Turkey. The Muslims treated them better than the Roman Empire (Catholics).


Daniel said...

I find it hopeful that modern Muslims are questioning Islam. This means they will research and study it instead of blindly following along. This means many of them will turn away from Islam and hopefully become Christian, perhaps not. Many of them will become stronger in their faith.

Let's not also forget that the faith of Christianity and the religion of Christianity are two completely separate things. Religion is mans attempt and faith is simply following the teachings of God. I subscribe to no earthly religion as all of them lead to the same thing…hell. The Christian faith has become so distorted over the centuries I now understand why so many people give up and walk away from it. Perhaps the same thing is happening in Islam.

Now that I have gotten off the topic at hand, belief is required for salvation, but it is not the only thing which will save you. Works will not save you either, they are the result of true faith. They go hand in hand. I would prefer to use the words “have faith” instead of believe. That is what places a person on the right path to salvation, as long as that faith is properly placed (Christianity :)). Also, being a “good” anything is not required and does not save anyone. A good Atheist is still destined for eternal damnation. Even the greatest hero’s of Christian history have done “bad” things. So, being good is a byproduct of properly exercised faith. Nothing of real value on its own merit.

From a Christian perspective, addressing both goodness and belief, if a person claims to have submitted his or her self to Christ and ten years later ends up being the nastiest person you ever met, is that person still saved? The typical answer would be, “That person was never saved to begin with” or “They are backslidden”. How do we know? We don’t. I submit if a person makes a true conversion to Christ they will mess up, sometimes massively, but they will either return or forever distance themselves from God. If they return, they continue to practice their faith. If they do not, well, that is where the question of “once saved always saved” comes into play.

Susanne said...

Daniel, thank you for your thorough answer. I have been saying for a while that it's more about relationship with Jesus than religion. Religion seems to be a list of rules or steps to please God. Not that pleasing God is a bad thing, but so often it seems to end up with us working somehow to please God. As if we do enough good works,follow all the rules THEN maybe we will have a better chance at salvation. But how do we ever measure up to God's standard? I say we cannot and must fully rely on His mercy as He is the Savior.

Agreed that faith and works go hand in hand. As James says a faith without works is dead. A living faith,works.

Thanks again for your feedback!