ISLAM AS IDENTITY, NOT FAITH

Of late, it seems that debates started to rage again on Islamism – both on the fundamental Islam (i.e. the call to return to Islamic Fundamentals of the past), and on the militant Islam (i.e. for example, the case of ISIS and Terrorism). All of the discussions as well as accusations from all sides of the divides focused on one thing and one thing only: “there are problems with the Islamic faith”. Islamic faith teaches its followers to be “fundamentalists” in one extreme, or to be agents of terror, on the other extreme. Fundamentalists in earlier times sometimes are categorised together with the terrorists, but of late that distinction had becomes quite clear – that they are not the same. And then, there is also the middle path between the two – the so-called “moderate Islam” – professed by those who would like to see Islam through the constitutional means, such as the democratic process, or through means of moderation, and somewhat liberal and more rationalistic approach. All in all, these categories or groupings for the Muslims are linked to the main issue of the Islamic faith.

My argument is – all such arguments are actually far off the mark; namely, by linking all of them to the Islamic “faith”. Whereas, in all truth and actuality – Islam is “used” to label these Muslims – as a way to identify them as a group; in another word, it is the question of “identity”. Faith actually has little or almost nothing to do with it. This is true for both, the Muslim as well as their detractors. The Muslim, in their zeal, used Islam as their identity – to identify themselves as a different people, mainly through their ethnic or racial origins or national origins. And on the other hand, the Muslim detractors also used the same modus, to identify people of “Arab origins” or “Middle Eastern origins” as people of Islam. Also people of “certain dress”, ”certain sounding names”, “certain looks” that looks like “Muslims” are also grouped or identified as people of Islamic faith. All of these have only one thing in common: “identifications”.

Faith is truly a matter of heart and mind, and not the matter of physical outlook, names, dress, race or origins. In fact, when comes to faith, it is quite doubtful that large gaps exists between one religion to another. And this is in total contrasts to what people claimed to be of a certain religion, compared to the real faith he or she has with that religion. Take an example of America, where 70% or more of the population (around 200 million people) would say that they are Christians. Out of those 70%, we could say that not even 10% of them would actually having belief in the Christian faith; very small percentage would really be categorised as understand what the Christian faith stood for, and so on. The same thing, to some degree, is also true for Muslims. For example, more than 95% of Indonesians are categorised as Muslim (which is around 300 million people). It is very doubtful than even 30% of those people (i.e. 100 million) could be categorised as really understanding Islamic faith, and actually be considered as people that could represent what Islamic faith stood for.

The real reason for claiming that “Americans are Christians”, or “Indonesians are Muslims” is because most of the people were born into “American society” which their parents or ancestors are Christians; and in the same manner, Indonesians are born into Muslim society, which their parents and ancestry are Muslims. On the contrary, faith is just a question of convenience and chance. If we take a person from America and switch them with an Indonesian, then the reverse is highly probable: the American “born into Indonesian society” would be a “Muslim”, and the Indonesian “born into American society” would be a Christian. Is it because of faith? No, certainly not. It is because of “identity”. One would identify himself as Indonesian (hence Muslim), and the other as American (hence Christian).

This issue of religion, and in particular of Islam (and for that matter other religions, too) – is actually an emergence of “age old human conditions” – that is the question of identity. Human would like or tends to group themselves into a certain groupings. The most logical way is by race, and/or by religion. And the way how things are, and it happened that race and religion had a very large overlap. The “whites, westerners” are Christians; the Chinese are Buddhists; the Indians are Hindus; the Arabs are Muslims; the Malays are Muslims, and so on. Religion and race are almost within the same divide. For example, the Muslims and the Malays are of the same “terminology and definitions”; the “Arabs are Muslims” also suffers the same problem of generalisation.  Therefore, we have the bigger problem of racial groupings being dumped into the bigger basket of “same religion” from the basket of “same race”.

From this “identification problems”, then we will have all the age old human problems of “hatred”, “bigotry”, “discrimination”, “prejudice”, “animosity” and so on come to fore. In short, what we see is the same old problem of groups of people against another group of people; and religion used as the means to identify or differentiate one group over the other. In the current subject, the attack on Muslims is not much more than attacks on some group of people, which happen to have the same identity, which is Islam. It is immaterial whether those Muslims have any Islamic faith or not; because really it has nothing to do with faith of Islam.

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