Pre-post: My thoughts here are very disorganized, but you'll bear with me. Thanks for understanding!
For the longest time now, I've been wondering what "Islam" actually is, and that's why I can't help but put it in quotations. I'm gonna paste my comments from friends' blogs 'cause I really don't have the energy or the good health at the moment to write it (am terribly ill. You understand) and will hope that'll do for the moment. One day, I'd also like to write a long piece on what Islam is and what it means to believe/submit.
We always hear Muslims saying, "That's not Islam." Really? Then what is Islam? If Islam isn't as difficult as they claim, then why is no one practicing the Islam that's not difficult, the Islam that's so easy to practice? Almost all (if not completely all) Muslims will also agree that they do not practice Islam the way they are supposed to or the way they understand they should be. Why not? Obviously, it's not easy, then. Obviously, it's not understood what Islam is or how it should be practiced -- or there are strong disagreements.
The problem is, we claim to have defined Islam, but we really haven't. Or maybe we have, and all of us know it, but no one wants to admit it loudly and clearly enough: Islam is what a group of male scholars and jurists during classical and medieval periods decided Islam is. Period. And, frankly speaking, I have a huge problem with that.
If that's Islam, then Islam is hellishly difficult; if Islam is what the Quran is, then it's not at all difficult -- why? Because the Quran is quite ambiguous, and that gives me room to breathe and think freely. And THAT is what I need! Hadiths, on the other hand, are very specific, and one's guaranteed to find a hadith on just about ANYTHING. (Oh, this reminds me of a joke between me and a friend, and this friend happens to be a very pious and strict Muslim. Once, I made a statement and she disagreed (as always), and I asked her to verify her claim, and she said, "Well, I can't, but I'm sure there's a hadith on it." LOL. Cracked me up. Of course there's a hadith on it. There's a hadith on EVERYthing.) But the reason they're specific is that they're Person A's interpretations of Person B's interpretations of Person C's interpretations of Person C's statements about the Prophet's interpretations and actions and thoughts. The hadiths are literally frozen in the 7th century, whereas the Quran is far more universal.
So, what IS Islam? And what does it mean to be a Muslim? Every Muslim's gonna give us a different answer, although most will certainly agree that it's "the Quran and hadiths." And then you remind them, "But hadiths and the Quran are nothing without the interpretations of classical scholars, right?" But most of them don't believe in "interpretations" and see it as an excuse for a Muslim to be deviated from the "real" Islam, whatever that might be.
But they, although they believe it, don't know that Islam = the Quran + hadiths + classical/medieval Muslim jurists' and scholars' interpretation of Islam. Really, what IS Islam without the interpretations of the scholars of the classical and medieval times? Absolutely nothing. It's our scholars who decided that "You know what? If we don't tell these people what Islam is and what this and that means, they'll start saying and doing whatever their hearts desire, and it'll be chaos."
Well, it's unfortunate that the interpretations of a certain gender (surprise, surprise -- they were all males! And still are!) and group of people from a certain time period have become frozen in time; it's quite unfortunate, indeed. And THAT is what is in practice Islam today.
And yet, we dare to pretend it is SO easy when we say, "ALL you have to do is follow Allah and the Prophet." Heck, but in actuality, it's not at all that simple. And, no, it's not that we're making it difficult for ourselves. If that's so, which group is the one making it difficult for itself and/or others? We don't know, and I am certain we'll never know. Thank God.
Everyone disagrees with everyone else, and all we can manage to say is, "Just study the Quran and hadiths. Simple." But you don't understand -- what if you actually DO do that and things are still complicated? What do you do when there are so many disagreements among the scholars themselves, and you're told that you can't have an opinion on any matter but only scholars can? The extremist Muslims might agree on some things, but they disagree on many, many other things among themselves! What's worse, we label ourselves and each other. Ahhh, but why have such labels in the first place if we're going to follow ISLAM, which is supposedly BOTH the Quran and the sunnah? But what many have done is completely neglect the QURANIC teachings (for the reason mentioned above -- that it's too ambiguous) and turn instead to the hadiths (for the same reason mentioned above -- that they're specific and detailed).
The extremists/literalists aren't the only ones who have so many differences of opinion, though. The non-extremists are no different. My problem is with our enforcing OUR own understanding and call it Islam while taking everyone else's and calling it non-Islam :S Or anti-Islam! Or deviation! Or shirk! Or something else that indicates that it's wrong or false. Dude, what makes your views better than another Muslim's? Go to hell already.
Funniest thing is, each Muslim will call her/himself "moderate" Well, duh, who'd call her/himself extremist? I mean, who's gonna say, "Oh, yeah, I'm an extremist"? And who is gonna say, "oh, yeah, I don't do what's right and what Islam says"? All are going to say that.
Further, there's no such thing as the "true meaning of Islam." If there is, no one knows what it is. Every group of Muslim is going to tell you that their understanding of Islam is the correct and true one. NO Muslim will ever say that her/his meaning of Islam is a false one. The question is, whose is really closest to the "true" one, if anyone's? And yet, no one can dare to claim that she/he is following Islam like she/he is supposed to. No, I don't think it's out of humility; I think it's because no one knows what that Islam is to begin with.