I have always found the ‘truth’ to emanate from two groups of people: stand-up comedians and Islamic scholars. People like Bill Hicks and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf have in their own ways shown me the light in many moments of darkness. Another comedian I have been following closely for a few years now is Bill Maher.
Maher is arguably America’s foremost political satirist. He is on the front line on the “laughtivism” movement that sprang up ever since Trump hit the political scene. Aside from being quoted in many of my blog posts, Maher is a devout atheist who has made numerous comments about Islam over the decades. Some comments I agree with tentatively, some not at all, and some wholeheartedly. Here’s an example of one of the more tentative ones:
I’m not fond of any religions, but if this were the 14th century when the Catholic Inquisition was going on and they were burning witches, I would be criticizing Christianity as the religion that was way too violent and took itself way too seriously. But this is not the 14th century, and it’s not the 16th century when Catholics and Protestants were slaughtering each other the same way Sunnis and Shiites are now. It’s the 21st century, and in the 21st century, the problem is more about Islam than it is about any other religion. – Bill Maher, from an interview with Newsweek
Harsh but somewhat fair. More recently Maher delivered a 5 minute monologue that really resonated with me. The central refrain was a simple heartfelt request: please fall in love with knowledge again. As soon as I heard this alarm bells started ringing in my mind. Here’s why.
You need not look too carefully to know there is craziness on both sides of the ideological spectrum. On the Muslim side we still have groups like Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, the Taliban, and the rest. We also have bombs going off in Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan. We still have Muslims killing Muslims in Syria and Yemen. We have many a warrior scholar such as the late Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki making comments such as:
The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens! – Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki
And we also have recent events such as the awful Rotherham court case I mentioned in a previous blog. An even earlier blog asks for us Muslims to take an honest look at the bogeyman in the mirror as many of our problems are self-generated, many of our wounds are self-inflicted.
To see the craziness on the other side of the aisle, just watch the constant stream of nerve shredding breaking news on CNN, or have a look at websites like alternet.org and salon.com. There you will see talk of Muslim travel bans, Russian hacks, and warrior advisor Steve Bannon’s attempt to instigate a holy war. You can add to this list the recent comments concerning The Madness Of King Donald. Despite the apparent differences between the two sides, they actually have more in common than you may realise:
You’d think, given the harsh anti-Muslim Trump administration in Washington, that the Arab kings and dictators would be lining up to condemn the ruthless sectarian laws being drawn up by an American President who approves of torture. All that claptrap about “bad dudes” and “Islamic terror”. Pretty sinister stuff. Not a bit of it…If Trump toured those Arab dictatorships not currently at war, he’d feel very much at home. Great security, fantastic police, lots of torture, extremely dodgy elections and massive economic projects which damage the environment but prove absolutely useless. – Robert Fisk
Whilst we cannot do much to alleviate the craziness on the other side, we Muslims surely can do something to tone down the craziness on our own side. I firmly believe that one of the many things we Muslims can do in that endeavour, indeed must do, is to fall in love with knowledge again, specifically the knowledge of the Qur’an and knowledge of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Why is it important for Muslims to fall in love with knowledge again? The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to make the following supplication to God:
O Allah! Show us truth as truth and give us the ability to follow it, and show us falsehood as falsehood and give us the ability to avoid it. – the Prophet Muhammad
If someone of the stature of the Prophet, the Islamic ideal of the perfect human, is asking for God’s help in trying to sift the facts from the alternative facts, then surely people like myself need even more help, especially in the current environment. Today, more than ever in our lives, we Muslims need to make sure we see truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood. We need to know our own truth because the more we know and understand our own truth, the better we can handle their ever increasing lies. We need to stop moving away from the true nature of Islam, our else it will only get worse for us:
We were a disgraceful people and Allah honoured us with Islam, so if we seek honour from other than Islam, then Allah will humiliate us. – Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, 2nd Caliph of Islam
And, as is being pointed out more and more, the ‘truth’ coming from the other side is getting stranger and stranger, a strangeness that seems to be suggesting there is a holy war a-coming, something that Bill Maher himself mentioned recently (remember, he is an atheist):
The counterweight to radical Islam is secularism. In Steve Bannon’s world, it’s Christianity. He’s super Christy on this stuff…And know that the counterweight should be secularism. It shouldn’t be that they want to make this a battle between the two religions who, by the way, have been going at each for over a thousand years. This does go back to the crusades. I mean, it ebbed and flowed in history, but that’s the one thing we do not want. And of course it’s the dumbest thing, Trump’s going to do it. – Bill Maher, interview with CNN’s Van Jones, Feb 2017
Anyways, I leave you with more wise words from Bill Maher. Apologies for the somewhat rude and risqué comments, but the overall point still remains. As always, enjoy!
New rule. With Valentine’s Day coming up everyone must take a minute and remember their first love. I shall remember mine. I went off to college at 18 and I fell hard. Not for a girl, that would have been my first choice, but I was a slow developer socially. You know those letters that college guys send to Penthouse magazine? It begins “I never thought this would happen to me.” Yeah, well that never happened to me. But I did fall. I did fall in love. With books. And ideas. And knowledge. And also my hand, that’s true.
But there is no doubt that it is a truly a kind of love affair when you go off to a place where you have intellectual epiphanies because learning is so revered, and the celebrities are the smartest people. I might not have been able to get a blowjob in college but I got my mind blown on a regular basis.
But you know that was another country. One of the saddest things about the one we live in now is we don’t seem to want smart people in our lives anymore. Smart presidents? Can’t have that. Scientists? What do they know? Newspaper editors? Liars! Fake news!
You know, people used to get their news from newspapers, because professional newsrooms took separating fact from fiction seriously, and employed people who had studied how to do that. But now people get their news on Facebook by sharing, or as it used to be called, ‘hearsay.’ Instead of all the news that’s fit to print you click on a link from your cousin Jodie who runs the tilt-a-whirl.
Why waste money on that subscription to a newspaper when they would just blow it on war correspondents? Gone are the Ben Bradlee’s of the world who brought a president to his knees way before Monica Lewinsky did. A student in a social media focus group once said “If the news is important it will find me.” Except it doesn’t and that’s how we wound up with President Bannon and his dummy Donnie. It’s not surprising that it can’t find you since on social media news competes with videos of Russian car crashes, creepy clowns, and a rabbi doing the mannequin challenge.
And you know how they say you can’t make this shit up? Turns out you can. By Election Day last year the top fake news on Facebook was getting more shares, clicks, and comments than the real news. Millions of people believed some straight-up bullshit that the Pope had endorsed Trump, when in fact after Trump won what the Pope said was “I’m praying for his enlightenment.” To which God said: I’ve done a lot of miracles but give Me a fucking break.
We used to respect scientists. That’s why every stoner in the seventies had a poster of Einstein on the wall, right next to one of the naked black chick with huge Afro. But now only thirty-six percent of Americans say they have a lot of trust that information from scientists is reliable. Well ninety-eight percent of scientists say humans evolved over the millennia but that view is shared by not nearly as many real Americans. Trump supporters don’t think species can change over time. But they do think Trump used to be all about himself but now he’s working for us.
This Valentine’s day can we please fall in love with knowledge again? You know, under President Obama the Secretary of Energy was first a Nobel Prize winner and then a nuclear physicist. Not that Trump’s pick for the job doesn’t have impressive credentials. [Plays clip of Rick Perry dancing on the TV show Dancing With The Stars]. How did it happen? We went from being led by the smartest person in the room to the biggest jackass on Twitter. – Bill Maher, Feb 2017, New Rule: Make America Learn Again, from his TV show Real Time With Bill Maher