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Blogs » Omid Safi - What Would Muhammad Do?

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“I love Islam, it’s Muslims I can’t stand!”

The famed Qur'an translator, Muhammad Asad, is reported to have said of his adopted faith of Islam: "A wonderful religion that does not deserve its followers." 
[Asad was born an Austrian Jew, Leopold Weiss.]

He was not the only one to say such a thing.  The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Abdu, said after a visit to Europe: 
“In Europe I saw Islam, but no Muslims.  In Egypt I see Muslims, but no Islam.”

I have always been suspicious of attempts to define Islam in isolation from Muslims, as if it were some Platonic ideal floating on clouds. 
That is what leads many Muslims to say “I love Islam, it’s Muslims I can’t stand.”  
One can imagine followers of other faiths saying similar things.

I do prefer to see religion—good and bad, ugly and beautiful—reflected in the embodied and lived practice of human beings.  
If it is to have any meaning, ultimately I do believe that religious ideals have to be reflected in the lives of us beautiful yet messy human beings.    

And yet, and yet, there is also the part of me that wishes that someday more and more of us would live up to the beautiful and lovely ideals of the path of Muhammad. 
In that light, I read statements like Asad's not as an eternal condemndation, but rather as a hopeful cry of the heart, challenging their co-religionists ethically and spiritually to be true to their own ideals.
That part of me resonates with what Muhammad Asad had said.

Tags: ideals, islam, muhammad, muslims, realities


  1.     As a Christian minister, I can’t speak for other faiths, but self-aware and self-critical Christianity certainly resonates with Omid Safi’s observations.  Gandhi said to E. Stanley Jones (perhaps apocryphally) “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  And I’ve seen many a bumper sticker with the dire prayer, “Jesus, save me from your followers!” 
        As may be the case in Islam, proclaimed followers of Jesus seldom follow the major themes of his words and actions around love, forgiveness, care for the poor, acceptance of the outsider, justice, and mercy; they instead “baptize” their own prejudices and insert them retroactively into the mind of Christ, e.g. racism, homophobia, patriarchy, plutocracy, and jingoism.  Perhaps the three great Abrahamic faiths need to discovery a new “fundamentalism,” based on the true fundamentals of our faiths- love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the healing of creation.

  2. dear Rev. Hay, thank you so much for your kind words.  I am in full agreement that all of our traditions are in need of revitalizing this deep tradition of love and compassion for all of God’s creation.  May we all be participants in making it so.  in peace and blessings, omid

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