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.