I know you probably don’t have time for this long a video, but for the record, here’s my February 19 keynote speech at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, MI — on fundamentalism, stereotyping, and (with suitably Jewish agnostic chutzpah) religion, as well as on the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and the effect they may have on American attitudes toward Islam.
The occasion, at the largest Shia mosque in America, was the celebration of the birthday of Muhammad. The still shot has a somewhat disturbingly preacher look to it, so please tell me I’m not preaching, just talking…
(The sound comes in fully after about 45 seconds.)
Being a Muslim, I have read my share of prophet Mohammad’s (s.a.w.w)biographies and siras but I have to say one of my favorite parts of his life was revealed to me recently by Karen Armstrong’s “Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time”. When the prophet was 19-20 years old (can’t remember exactly) he liked a girl and wanted to marry her but his uncle suggested that he was not in a good financial position to support a wife. This is not much, I know but that revealed a very human side of the prophet to me. I saw him as a flesh and blood person rather than an ever illuminating, floating in the air, long haired, blue eyed guy, and hence putting everything in a new perspective. His teachings now seemed like really good advice rather than an order. His religion a very flexible and tolerant way of life rather than something you have to have to follow.
Your words are as always, enlightening.
fantastic, you are a noble female, i admire you very much.
“a noble female” now what is that supposed to mean?
Congratulations! This is wonderful. And aren’t our similar interests dramatically divergent…
Or maybe they go round in a huge circle and turn out to be convergent…
Bravery is going against the the tide.
and Lesley has it
Wonderful talk Lesley, it brought to mind a couple of ideas I’m thinking of:
First: Truly, religion’s goal, and the reason religions were formed, was to support the innate striving to be human, to be closer to the ideals of humanity. Thats how and why Sufism seems to be (at least in my mind) in many aspects more similar to buddhism than literal Islam. While Sufism in itself has imperfections as well, I have felt closer to much of what it says (and gnostic christianity) than literal religious belief. The idea that religion and faith comes from the heart, that religion is not about dogma, but about treating others as you would be treated, about forgiveness, and about love (general love not necessarily romantic love). Funny that I would be agnostic and gnostic simultaneously.
Second: a question/note. I am saddened by the literalist/extremist interpretation of the holy books in general. The holy books have enough subtleness to allow some people to highlight specific words and twist them to support their ideas and take sentences out of context. Why did they have to be so subtle that the average person may be sucked into that literalism? That is my biggest problem with religion; more than trying to believe in a supreme creator, it’s the idea that it takes a higher level of understanding and “brain power” to understand what religion wants us to do. Whats the use if a bigger percentage of people are going to take it wrong and use it to kill each other? Why couldn’t the creator be more clear to lessen the sadness and suffering in the world. Why allow millions to be killed in his/her name? Would love to hear what u think about these 2 points.
Quran was revealed in single shot on Lailatul Qadr…then it was re-revealed in 23 years with cause and effects and circumstances to make sure people can not misinterperet its verses. The idea that Quran was re-revealed further strengthened that Prophet was warned not to haste but to wait for revelations [….]
But still we have history and collections of traditions to help us understand the background of revelations in their true spirit. The key to understand Quran is 3:7, which Lesley has pointed out. She is not only eloquent but on the right track. It’s possible she already know more Quran than many of us, she understand the difference between Reader’s Digest and Holy Quran. Sometimes I feel not sure to guide her to some Quranic lead. Chances are she is already there.
Metaphors are not there to mislead but we can not conceive them in their true interpretations. Tahir ul-Qadri has given a beautiful interpretation on “Judgment Day is near” He says no one knows when is Judgment day but for every individual his judgment day is his death day and tha’ts very near. [….] Metaphor does not mean that we doubt the reality of that day…reality of that Day is literal, nature of that day is allegorical. [….]
Imam Ali said “You will never know truth and follow the right way unless you know the person who has abandoned it.”
If I am not wrong you are Muslim, so I apologize beforehand for possible offense that my remarks may cause you.
a) It is wrong to believe that Quran was revealed at one go and Mohammed was refrained from making it known at once. There is no real evidence of the fact, an equally plausible explanation is that it was “revealed” as Mohammed was in a position to understand it.
b) It is also wrong to assume divinity of Quran, it is work of a man for it shows all that is concern of man nothing more nothing less.
c) The reason why people interpret Quran differently is because Quran is not like a mathematical treatise and hence is ambiguous. The writer of Quran was limited in his/her knowledge because it was limited by what was known at the time. If a religion originates today it will suffer the same limitations perhaps 1600 yrs later.
d) There can not be just one true religion, if it is can it be demonstrated it is so, unfortunately every holy book claims it and Quran claims it more than others perhaps.
Now it is possible that I am wrong about some things, and if I am okay. I’ll learn something.
Aijaz — It really is time to cool it, and to find some way to acknowledge that you are human, that you do not have a stranglehold on “the truth.” There are many ways to approach this whole matter, and the ways others choose may be as valid and as well-intentioned as yours, no matter how different. As the Quran says, “you have your way, and I have mine.” Mine, as should be clear on this blog, is that there is no such thing as absolute truth, and that it’s precisely this absolutist idea that causes so much conflict. I think it would be far more productive and respectful if you reflected a lot more and judged a lot less.
Chad — Simultaneously gnostic and agnostic makes sense to me. In fact I sometimes call myself a gnostic agnostic — and some day, will have to figure out more precisely what I mean by that. You may be ahead of me there.
But doesn’t your second point kind of undermine the first? It seems to assume the existence of an omnipotent creator with a will — that is, a conventional idea of God. Me, I’m really not into the whole idea of religion or of God ‘wanting’ us to do anything. The idea of a “purpose-driven life” is horribly mechanistic to me, leaving no room for what we were talking about earlier: for mystery, for poetry, for music.
Sacred texts are really only sacred because human beings have made them so — either because they see them as prescriptions for how to behave, or because they find in them inspiration or an invitation to transcend their own limitations. (Well, and a vast range of possibilities between those two, but you get my point).
Oh, I agree Lesley. There is a contradiction. My second note was simply me just showing that even if I played devil’s advocate (pun intended) on behalf of literalists, I still couldnt excuse how some extremists act and “misquote” scriptures.
I do not have stranglehold on truth but I am entitled to hold my views as other humans have it here like shishir, and I am not offended by his/her dissent.
I see nothing wrong with sticking to my views with a belief they are true.
Humane side is to share my views without offending others.
@Shshir — You are not wrong I am Muslim. Beauty of any discussion forum is disagreement on issues otherwise its nothing more than exchanging the pleasantries, that may feel good but it serves no purpose. Purpose is served when we understand each other through civilized arguments with logic and common sense.
I am glad you disagree with my position but unfortunately you did not present your argument instead you posted your opinion and what you believe. [….]
Isa [Jesus] himself never claimed to have come in the fulfilment of the prophecy about the advent of the promised prophet, nor any other prophet, after him did so, except the Holy Prophet Muhammad al Mustafa.[….] The Christian Church had no alternative but to give currency to the belief in the second advent of Isa. Musa [Moses] and Muhammad were the law-givers, whereas Isa was the follower of the laws preached by Musa.
Similarities between Muhammad and Musa are many. No two prophets, in historical background, resembled each other more than these two. [….]
@Aijaz — I am glad that you are not offended by my comments. Your argument is that I’ve only stated my opinion. I beg to differ. I have stated my exact position with regards to revealed religions.Be they Islam, Christianity or Judaism.
Again I apologize if the following offends you. I do not accept the holy books of these religions as the word of God. These religions were created by men, for fulfilling needs of men living in a certain geographical region, living under certain social-economical conditions. The people all had a shared history, hence the similarity and often concurrence in what they say. It is redundant if Bible, Torah or Quran concur with each other or even that they describe same events.
I live in India, a country with more diversity than the whole of Europe, and it gives me a unique perspective, which is not to say that you may not possess that perspective, leading me to conclude that certain stories will get adopted, absorbed over a long period of time by people so much so that they may even claim ownership of it. I believe that the history of Islam, Christianity and Judaism are so entwined with the history of middle east that to figure what one has borrowed from other would be a difficult exercise. [….]
I’d say that Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed were closer to being social reformers than they were “prophets” [….] I can assure you, that if Gandhi, Dr.King, Mandela etc had been born in 500 A.D. they’d have founded major religions too. [….]
just dropping again by to say: Wonderful 😉
Lesley, are you a Muslim?…..lets start off with a nice easy one 😉
Maybe read the blog. I’m an agnostic Jew. Firmly agnostic. Firmly Jewish.
Sure, But since you submit to a higher Being would mean that you are in a sense a Muslim i.e. one who submits to God. You may not follow the rituals and traditions ascribed to Islam but your principles, I assume, are the one and same and noticeble in your exegesis of the Quran and you can only do that if you have a clean and conscientious heart which the Quran lays as one of its first principles for understanding the Quran.
I’m Jewish by birth, identity, and interest, not by belief, which means I really, honestly, do not ‘believe in’ or submit to any higher being, whether upper or lower case. As close as possible to “a clean and conscientious heart” (and mind) sounds good enough. And a glimpse, here and there, of the mystery of existence.
So please, just let me be me.
Maybe see here for more: http://accidentaltheologist.com/2011/01/18/an-agnostic-manifesto-part-one/
And here: http://accidentaltheologist.com/2011/01/10/the-100th-post-a-non-mission-statement/
Why won’t people just let agnostic be agnostic. I just hate it when someone wants you to “pick a side”. I hate when people view agnosticism as weak. Or when someone says “I would respect you more if you were atheist or religious than agnostic”. Why is someone’s personal belief such an issue for everyone to interfere with? I think people miss the idea of what a “jewish agnostic” or “muslim agnostic” means. It means that the person is agnostic from a belief standpoint, but from a birth and family event standpoint, they may follow what their culture has them do. Just like americans celebrate Thanksgiving, I would (as a muslim agnostic) celebrate Ramadan and eid, even though I am agnostic from a god belief standpoint. If someone can’t grasp that concept, how will they grasp the concept of gnostic agnostic?
Lesley Hazleton, you are you although Agnostic is someone who is doubtful, non comittal to God or not sure whether you are a theist or a non theist, so I was asking. Point made, looking forward to see what you have to say about faith of people who believe in a God.
Chad Tabba relax , take a deep breath. No one is out to change you or Leslie. Just trying to understand and now I even understand what a gnostic agnostic theist atheist. Who Knew!
Lesley, whats your take on the following verses:
Surah 4:157 – 158
Sorry to put you on the spot but nows your chance to really shine 😉
Re 4:34, its another of those better-if-you-don’t things. I think what most Muslims think: it may have been acceptable for a man to beat his wife in the seventh century; it sure as hell isn’t today.
Re 4:157-8: I don’t need to be exonerated of killing Jesus by the Quran any more than I need it from Ratzinger. Though the Quran did beat him to it by 14 centuries.
LOL, oh come’on Lesley. You know when you read the ayah/verse 4:,34 it makes no sense. I mean first you tell your wife off, and if she still does not listen you leave her bed chamber and then if she still does not listen you beat her? How about BEATING a retreat and not BEAT about the bush and say cya! The Reformist Quran by Edip Yuksel explains some of the questionable interpretations.
and now to 4:157. You know this is where you make friends or enemies. So you are wise not to answer it. There is only one interpretation of this verse and that is that Jesus was not raised into the Heavens nor was he killed on the cross but made to appear so (no doubt by some gall and vinegar) and ultimatley survived. I can and have been called a heretic for making such remarks nay whole schools that profess have. At least in Judaism, I can still be a Jew and not believe in the Prophets. Oh well I will leave this one for someone who wants to challenge it.
I think the idea is not trying to interpret specific surahs without knowing the specific context. I don’t understand what “sa” is trying to prove with these questions. Are you trying to give us proof that there are (for lack of a better word) “unsavory” verses in the Koran that may be used out of context (or in context) to be harmful? Lesley is obviously not saying that the Koran is a book from god, but she is just saying that it gets a bad reputation due to a minority of people who take verses out of context and that it is no more violent than other scriptures. I think that for someone who knows the Koran, that point is undisputable. What the Koran says or doesnt say about Jesus (if he existed to start with) is insignificant.
On the contrary @Chad Tabba, that is precisely the point. You have to explore the specific context in order to understand the verse. The problem is that certain verses are intepreted by both Christian and Muslim fundamentalists to advance their own violent agenda as Lesley has pointed out. But I would also argue that traditional Muslim thinking supporting the creation theory is also unfounded in the Quran [….] People then believe that AntiChrist is a one eyed monster running around the Earth and that Jesus will come back and battle it. Some Muslim scholars and clergy believe that a great final battle will take place between good and evil. This type of thinking goes against the ethos of the Quran.
Also I don’t believe that Lesley is saying that the Quran is violent but rather that God in the Quran discourages violence. I therefore disagree with you that the Quran is violent or promotes violence. As a Muslim, I try not to allow the dynamics of a culture dictate my faith only to then have doubts about a God – but each to their own.
Finally, all major traditional faiths have prophecized about a future Kalki, Soashoyant, maitreya, Messiah, Jesus, Isa. [….] Over 50% of the worlds population follow a faith tradition that is expecting a savior. If all are waiting then this can only be fulfilled in one person who would unite all peoples and he/she does not have to make a grand entrance by dropping in from the sky. It’s quite possible that this savior comes from the people.
Seems you misunderstood me sa. In my comments about “what are you trying to prove” I was referring to you not Lesley. I didn’t see the point in bringing up that first surah. I understand Lesley and what she thinks very well, and she expresses many things I think about too, but expresses them in a very interesting way.
As for the other surah about Jesus, reading many sources has showed my that the whole idea of death and rebirth of a savior born of a Virgin mother etc. (in any form, and regardless of each religion’s details about how it happened) is an idea that was also there in ancient Egypt even before Judaism. Its more about rebirth of the human soul after the person finds and understands his/her deep self. Whether there was an actual Jesus and the details of when and how he may have died and if he will return are irrelevant. We need to understand the idea behind the story.
I was interested to know what her understanding of sura 4:34 was. Just as she explained Sura 2:191 in her speech, which BTW, is also how Islamic scholars have understood these verses to mean.
Agreed Sura 4:157 is irrelevent to Lesley.
i am not posting to discuss this but just to make a correction
4:157-8 says that jesus was not killed and was not crucified and WAS raised by God
@hossam, you just did and here is my response.
No mistake, verse 4:157 does not mean that Jesus was raised in body or soul. It also does not mean that he was slain or crucified but was made to appear as if he was but actually survived.
5:117 plainly states that Jesus died a natural death.
3:144 says that all Messengers before Mohammed (SAW) passed away. That would also include the prophet Isa (AS). Abu Bakr, used this verse to convince the companions on the death of the Holy Prophet that he indeed had died just like messengers before him meaning that no one was immortal.
It’s your annoying camera-man here. Yes, we finally got it up and working on YouTube. I want to thank you once again for the talk, I heard a lot of good feedback from our community and we really enjoyed it.
Hey MZ — thanks for the work! Am amazed and delighted people are watching it. — L.
Well said Lesley. I enjoyed every minute, even though it did take me two sessions since last night to watch this. I had started taking notes last night on my wife’s laptop but after finished watching it now i decided no to look at those notes but rather comment on just one thing i picked out today and that is when you said not aiming for a perfect future. I personally in my life would rather think of it as not aiming for a Utopia in life where everyone is a perfect muslim but rather aim more for the perfection of truth and justice in human relations. I personally could care less if a person chooses to pray or have an ‘Islamic’ appearance and all the other bells and whistles that go w/ religion. My main concern is that we don’t do the bad/and wrong against each other rather than enforcing the obligatory practices which indeed are only between an individual and God. The prophet was told he was sent to send glad tidings (for the followers) and warning (for the astray) and not to run peoples lives. and not to yearn when they do not accept the correct path because even then only God guides those who wish to be guided.
A big ‘Amen’ from the unguided!
I take that ‘unguided’ as sarcasm, because no one is misguided so long as they follow the good that is programed in them. After all isn’t that the object of religion to hone us into following our good instincts?
Not sarcasm. Irony.
We love you Lesley, offcource we have time to see your 50 min video.
Dont forgot people of Bahrain, they in a new Karbala,
they need help ….. please
I wish we could help. It’s a nightmare there right now.
Lesley I applaud your efforts. I will always have time to listen to your talks. Your wit and intelligence, thoughtfulness and perceptiveness are a breath of fresh air. Also, I just love your hat 🙂
As a muslim – thank you for this vdo. In addition to your excellent insight on Quranic expression and meaning – thank you for your political perspectives.
Looking at conservatives on both sides of the divide as followers of a similar religion is something I have thought about, but never been able to express as eloquently as you have.
[This came in to my spam file, but for the sake of light relief, I couldn’t resist running it. After all, how often do you get email from ‘Jesus@heaven.com’? — Lesley.]
Jesus was song of God and a Jew, all prophets and even Jesus were Jew, God did not send anybody after Christ…its in word of God!
Really appreciated the considered talk, Lesley. I like that you opened discourse, rather than shut it down. It wasn’t as if I was left with more questions or answers than before, but I was left with more curiosity. Thank you!
Hello Ms. Hazleton,
I just wanted to extend my heartfelt gratitude for this resonating, and insightful speech. I hope you have tailored similar versions to non-Muslim audiences as well; that being said, I also enjoyed your talk on TED.
Along a similar vein, as a Muslim college student, I have cast some light in interfaith circles with the intent of enlightening and sharing with others about the dynamics of Islam, as well as its very basic tenets that create its backbone.
With your positive influence, coupled with inspirational scholars such as the late Edward Said and Karen Armstrong, I have lived gained, in light of Ben Zoma’s teachings, wisdom by learning from all people. This is the kind of plurality that I believe Islam embraces, especially for the imagination (as you referred to in this video). The more I have found myself feeding my soul with discourse, and newly processed information coming from a diverse spectrum, the more Muslim I feel, the closer I feel to the beautiful messages of the Qur’an.
I’ve recently dedicated myself to writing small pieces, essays to properly establish my thoughts in formal, comprehensive order over concepts and tiers of the Qur’an that I happen to intrigue myself with at a particular moment. I hope that as I continue, I may reach a deeper understanding of my faith. Thank you for being an inspiration, and a contributing catalyst on my religious journey.
You inspire me … a beautiful talk
50 mins! and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. Thank you Lesley! I’m a muslim (the degree of submission or islam, I feel is a very subjective matter but if one has to put a label on it, I think of myself as being quite religious) and that’s why it’s so refreshing to hear someone speak as you do – with the objectivity of the outsider.
But what I found delightful, in additional to your graceful and inimical style with its wonderful touches of wry humor,was both the empathy and open-mindedness especially as they seem to be rooted in quite a deep well of knowledge which you do not hesitate to divest of its traditional interpretations, and so allow it the flexibility which is its due.
Dare I say that it reaffirms my own beliefs – which I know is not your intent – but there it is, none the less! Again, thanks!
Thanks Talia. True, not my intent, but there’s a gentle irony to it that makes us both smile.