ROBOTIC ISLAM – When The Essence Is Lost

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The definition of a Robot is “a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer”. I sometimes feel that Muslims have turned our beautiful religion of Islam into a robotic practice which focuses on the external mechanical actions but lacks the inner spiritual experience, which is supposed to be the essence.

How or Why?

We see that all the time in our daily prayers, where the emphasis is mostly only how we should pray. Parents focus on teaching their children how they should pray. Even when it comes to educating new Muslims about Islam, we jump straight to the how. Many books are also written about how the Prophet pbuh prayed. Indeed we should follow the way he prayed as he is our teacher, however, does that mean that we should limit praying like him in the mechanical actions (standing, sitting, bowing, prostrating) only, or we should also seek to understand how his inner experience was during prayer, which is known as خشوع khushu in prayer? After all, he did often call on Bilal to call to prayer ارحنا بها يا بلال as it was  time to relax and find inner peace with prayer. Muslims often have major disagreements between the followers of different schools of thought on how one should pray. In some countries, if you pray in a different way you are literally kicked out of the masjid and are told that your prayer is void and not accepted by Allah swt. It is important to note that in the Quran, Allah always associates prayer with establishment أقيموا الصلاة which highlights the importance of trying our best to perfect our prayer in every aspect (internal & external) and not only to focus on the external factors like the numbers of rakaas or the uttering of sounds with no sense of their meaning and senseless actions.
Isn’t it time to revive the emphasis on why we should pray, fast, read Quran, pay our zakat and perform Hajj? Isn’t it time to seek to understand the bigger questions like why we are Muslims to begin with? Shouldn’t parents be teaching their children why they should read about the biographies of our beloved Prophet and his companions? If we neglect the why, it leaves us empty and dry in the inside from purpose and clarity which is really the foundation of Islam. As a consequence, instead of being a spiritually uplifting experience, these modes of worship simply become mechanical habits that we perform unconsciously and this often results in leaving these habits down the road when they no longer make sense to you or your children.

Meaningful Worship

As a parent, I believe that our priority should be to teach our kids the purpose and meanings of everything they say or do within the teachings of Islam. We should be teaching them the basic meanings of Surah Al Fatiha and what makes it so special in the Quran. We should be teaching them the meanings of all the words and statements we say in our Prayers. The meanings of the supplications and adhkar we make them memorize should also be known and understood by our children. But how will parents be able to teach this to their kids, if they themselves don’t know these meanings? So the responsibility is two-fold. On one hand, we as parents need to make the time to gain knowledge and understand these meanings for ourselves and we should simultaneously be teaching these things to our kids in a simple, attractive, captivating and engaging manner that makes sense to them. Same thing applies to every other thing that has to do with Islam. Everything should make sense to us and our children and there should be no room left for doubt. Every Muslim should be very clear about answering the below questions in a clear and simple manner without hesitation or confusion just like they know their name:
– Why are we Muslim?
– What is the purpose of life?
– Who is our Creator and what does He want from us?
– Who are the Messengers, what did they preach and why should we believe them?
– Why is there a day of judgement?
– What is the definition of success?
– What are my responsibilities?
– Why should we perform the rituals of Islam (prayer, fasting, zakat, hajj..etc)?
– What is the message of the Quran?
– Why should we read the seerah of Prophet Muhammad?
– What is the correct understanding of fate and destiny?
The above questions are some of the most fundamental questions of life that we often assume we know the answer to. However, we are in the age where if we leave these knowledge gaps in our minds, they tend to turn into doubts over time and this can have serious consequences in your level of conviction that Islam is the ultimate Truth.

Crowns of Light

Another example of robotics in Islam is that in many parts of the Muslim world, there are numerous centers dedicated to teaching our kids memorization and tajweed of the Quran. However, how many centers are there in your city which are dedicated to teach the meanings of the surahs of the Quran? This is another example of how we have given robotic memorization and the science of tajweed a bigger emphasis than the essential purpose and objective of the Quran, which should be transforming and purifying every aspect of our lives and characters to the better. With all due respect to such centers who are doing a great job to keep the tradition of memorization and tajweed active and alive in our communities, we do need to admit that there is a clear sense of messed up priorities when it comes to the studying and teaching the meanings of the Quran in our communities. For many parents, sending their kids to a center/school/madrasa to become a hafiz or a qari is simply a means for them to boost the parents’ egos in their social circles and to be proud of the fact that they will be honored on the day of judgement with special crowns of light. I would rather focus on instilling the love of Islam and the Quran in my children and give them the tools that will help them access the meanings of the Quran on their own. Like they say: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
 I have a deep conviction that Islam is a complete way of life that gives us the ultimate happiness, inner peace and success in this world and the next. I built this conviction over many years of reading, learning, studying and reflection. It didn’t come to me automatically by being born into a Muslim family. I had to put some effort to realize both the spiritual (inner) and physical (external) dimensions of my religion in light of the Quran. Had I chosen to follow the robotic approach to Islam, I probably would not have such an appreciation and regard for Islam.

Are You A Witness?

This is why I believe that shahada, is the first pillar of Islam. Shahada literally means bearing witness, which means it is something experienced, tasted and felt deep inside your being. Shahada is not merely a robotic verbal testification. It has to be rooted deep inside your heart and mind backed by an unshakable conviction that is intellectually and spiritually satisfied that Islam is the ultimate Truth. This shahada is something we constantly need to renew and strengthen in our journey to get closer to Allah, to try to gain more clarity about who Allah is and to understand the message of the Quran. Isn’t it time for you also to renew your shahada today and begin your journey of leaving the Robotic Islam into what we can call Meaningful Islam.
*This article was republished with the permission of the author Fahad Sarwani.
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