Taking a much needed break from clinical rotations in Chicago, I visited friends and family in California last week. One night while surfing the internet, a devious thought crossed my mind, why not check if there’s any local “progressive” meetups? Sure enough, there was a such a meeting planned a few miles from the suburbs. I wasn’t holding my breath though, my experience in Chicago clearly demonstrated that “meetups” were simply not happening.
Come Saturday afternoon, I drove to the local Starbucks where the meeting was scheduled, you’d think a gathering of Muslims talking about Islam would be held at a more formal, if not appropriate place, like the masjid. I met two guys who introduced themselves as Fallah, and Harris, both born to Pakistani parents. Roughly 15 minutes later we were joined by two young ladies Nazia, and Noor, Indian and Lebanese respectively.
All four were enrolled in college. There was some chit chat about subjects ranging from gas prices to the latest celebrity gossip, but nothing remotely related to Islam. I fielded questions about medical school and the board certification process, but had to break for Asr, which I performed alone in the parking lot. Upon returning, there was already talk of politics underway. Noor happily declared the withdrawal of Syrian troops would usher in a new era of democracy for Lebanon. Fallah interrupted her saying that it was an orchestrated sham designed to expand Israeli influence in the region. Noor simply dismissed this as far fetched. This 22 year political science major was not aware that Israel had invaded Lebanon in the past, nor was she privy to Israel’s designs on water in the region.
What must they be teaching in colleges these days, I thought to myself. The topic then shifted to marriage, a subject everybody has an opinion on. Being the oldest, the attention shifted to me when Nazia asked how old I was. At the ripe old age of 29 I was told that I would look much younger and attractive if I shaved off that “scruffy beard.” Somewhat amused, I replied “Its Sunnah, and that’s good enough for me.” Then came the usual fard vs sunnah argument. Nazia : Its not fard though, its just sunnah. Fallah : Yeah, its not obligatory. DrM : Is 5 times salah obligatory ? Fallah : Uh yes it is.. DrM : Do any of you perform 5 times salah ? Nobody was eager to answer this question, hence I assumed their answer was a no.
I explained what the Sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w) was and how it is inseparable from the Holy Quran. There was some acknowledgement of this, but overall there was little interest in the fine details. Then came the topic of “inclusion,” a word much used in proggie circles. I brought up the fact that Islam states that all newborns are Muslims, hence the concept of fitrah, being born in a state of purity in stark contrast to Christianity’s doctrine of “born sinner.” What could possibly be more inclusive than this? Once again, I got blank stares confirming that these would-be reformers didn’t know what I was talking about. Noor did confess that this was news to her, while the others were discussing which type of coffee to order.
The rest of the afternoon was unremarkable except when Harris called me a wahabi for pointing out that Ahmedis are not Muslims. You see, Harris himself is an Ahmedi, a member of pseudo-Islamic cult not unlike the “Nation of Islam,” with its own Prophet and totally divergent belief system. I could tell Harris had never read Ahmedi literature, much of which remains untranslated from the urdu language. Sure enough, he has totally unfamiliar with the sources of Ahmedism, and I would debate him no further until he would read the relevant texts in their original language. He said he would, but I doubt he ever will. The afternoon had come to an end, and we parted on good terms.
As I drove home, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, sort of like purchasing an item after watching a commercial only to find out the advertising was false and misleading. If this little coffee session was indicative of other “meetups” real or imagined, it certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps this is why meetups are slowly being discarded in favor of high profile PR stunts performed by the likes of Amina Wadud, Tarek Fatah etc. My advice to anyone who wishes to go these meetups is “expect the expected,” people who are barely familiar with the basics of the deen they want to reform.
Why tackle the task of learning and reflecting on authentic Islamic knowledge when you can go by the clean slate approach and make up your own religion with its own hazy and vaguely defined spirituality cloaked as Islam? For these people worshipping Allah has now been replaced with bowing before one’s own nafs. I wonder if they’ve ever read the following paragraph from Prophet Muhammed’s (s.a.w) final sermon… O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur'an and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray.