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Justifying Irreligious Behavior Using Religion   

Gender Relations


Abdul-Lateef Abdullah


People can manipulate religious teachings to say (or mean) virtually anything. The practice is often done to further personal or group agendas. It is embedded deep within the very history of religions themselves. In current times, its most notorious culprits are extremists who take advantage of the needy, oppressed, and ignorant to justify terrorist acts on their behalf. Unknowingly, it is even done by many of us in our everyday lives to validate our own behaviors.

Some people even use religious teachings to justify “domestic terrorism,” also known as domestic violence, or violence within the home. Psychologically and spiritually speaking, this practice is based on the ego’s “hijacking” of religious knowledge to fulfill its own agenda of self-preservation. Violent reactions to anger and frustration that could have multiple root causes are eventually released on the “weaker” members of the household, usually wives and children. The twisting of religion to justify acts is the abuser’s way of making it, dare I say, halal (permitted by Allah), at least in the abuser’s own head. Religion, thus becomes the scapegoat. We often hear in Muslim communities, “well, the Qur’an says …” or, “the Prophet said …” in a futile attempt to justify an abuser’s inability to effectively address his own problems.

Starting With the Self

The fair-minded individual knows that such behavior is the exact opposite of the primordial purpose and function of religion, which is to purify the nafs (ego or lower self) and overcome such gross perversions in the application of religion. Religion’s true aim is to unify in the spirit of truth and common destiny, rather than to divide for the sake of oppression and domination. Religion is meant to show the way to resolve conflicts within ourselves and between others, not to be used as a means of control and instilling fear in the very people for whom we are responsible before God.

One of the most misunderstood areas of religion, particularly within Islamic teachings, is relations between men and women. This misunderstanding exists despite the volumes that scholars have written on this very important topic. The current article does not wish to gloss over the main points from existing scholarly treatment of the subject, but rather add a modicum of understanding to one of the underlying issues, that is the role of the self and its contribution to relationships.

It has been said that the ultimate battleground in life is the human self. As Ansari tells us:

We all have the deep yearning to know our selves. This yearning exists because it is God's purpose through His creation to manifest Himself. We are created for this purpose. Whether or not this seed, our innate desire for deep knowing, grows to fruition depends upon the strength of our individual inclination (called himmah, or “willingness”) to listen to it and nurture it.

The point of Islam is peace, from internal to external. Yet, because we often exist in a state of internal war (not at peace with Allah nor ourselves), we tend to take out that war on others. However, a war against reality can never be won and can only result in enormous casualties. Often, those closest to us and those perceived as weaker than us bear the brunt of this inner turmoil and frustration. Feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, purposelessness, when not understood in Allah’s light, become sources of frustration, anger, and eventually hatred and oppression. When our self-control and self-regulating abilities go, then we transgress; often in ways that are inconceivable. The perceived weak among us (our women and children) are often the victims of this inner hostility and frustration. When the lion chooses to roar inside the home as opposed to outside of it, the lambs within must face the fallout.

The Role of Culture in Perpetuating Negative Social Relations

What often adds fuel to this fire is culture. Culture is often used as an excuse for wrongdoing and sometimes ugly, immoral behavior. Islam was sent to the world to purify, perfect, and beautify culture, by showing humanity how to embrace the positive aspects of it and leave out the negative. However, because the ego is so endeared to and proud of culture, we often excuse it as an unalterable truth that cannot nor should not be questioned. In reality, culture is nothing more than ‘the beliefs and practices of our parents; something which Allah warns us in the Qur’an, not to follow blindly. Often, culture is even idolized, in a way that blinds us to its negative aspects. Without questioning the assumptions behind culture, without holding them up against the light of truth, we run the risk of engaging, albeit unknowingly, in different forms of shirk (associating other beings or gods with Allah).

It is culture that often hinders us in the Muslim world. Certain people even dare say that Islam is culture. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Islam is universally applicable knowledge, values, principles, and practices that transcend culture, which is specific to a certain people and context and makes no claims of upholding truth in any form. Islam acts on culture by forcing people to question it and its assumptions, resulting in its betterment. Many great scholars, including the contemporary Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas, have written on this danger of claiming that Islam is culture. According to Al-Attas:

Islam is not a form of culture, and its system of thought projecting its vision of reality and truth and the system of value derived from it are not merely derived from cultural and philosophical elements aided by science, but one whose original source is Revelation, confirmed by religion, affirmed by intellectual and intuitive principles

A culture can be Islamic in different ways and degrees, but as Al-Attas indicates, Islam is certainly not culture. Islam’s source is Divine. Culture is only as good as the knowledge that comprises it. It is the sum total of what a certain nation or society has, thinks, and does. Unless it is infused with Divine knowledge and unless there is a critical mass of people who are at a level of awareness and consciousness (such as walis or friends of Allah) who have the knowledge, courage, and strength to reject cultural elements that are of no benefit to man, culture can perpetuate negative practices and ideas and even act as a barrier to positive reform. Thus, when we start to believe that Islam is culture, suddenly any culture of Muslim peoples becomes sacred and impervious to change, as it is seen as Islamic and thus divine. We then excuse ugly and often despicable cultural-based practices as being “Islamic,” when, in fact, they completely go against the actual teachings and reality of Islam (such as the practice of honor killings in certain societies).

There is no greater example of how a culture can become altered with the infusion of divine knowledge and a critical mass of noble individuals than the advent of Islam in Arabia and how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) turned the pervading cultural assumptions and practices of the time on their proverbial heads. However, despite all the gains made in the early days of Islam, in many ways we as Muslims have reverted to the days of Jahiliyyah or pre-Islamic ignorance, particularly when it comes to male-female relations. In some ways, it is even worse. Take, for example, the practice of justifying gang rape, incest, domestic abuse, and other forms of oppression and violence through religion, even using the Qur’an and Prophet’s words themselves! This has to be one of the most grotesque realities that exist within our Ummah, yet, it goes on. And often the scapegoat is so-called Islamic culture.

When the ego hijacks religion, as in the use of culture, we end up with religion itself being used to justify behaviors that contradict it and its very spirit. It is a telltale sign of who our “God” really is and who rules the “Makkah” of our hearts. The Makkah of the heart is meant to be cleansed of all idols so that only Allah can dwell within. In such cases, there is no chance of our lower selves “hijacking” religious knowledge to use for satanic causes. However, when our fears, desires, ambitions, insecurities, arrogance, and ignorance take up permanent residence in our hearts, then Allah is not alone, He has partners (Ansari). Religion then becomes subjugated by these idols and a tool for Satan himself to use at his discretion and to fulfill his purposes, rather than as a guiding light and a path to Allah. As poignantly expressed by Richmond:

Unfortunately, many do not want to do the hard work of self-purification. So, sad to say, they take up superficial religious sentiments as an unconscious way to hide their own fears of abandonment and loneliness. Terrified of their own psychological darkness, they pervert religion into a desperate attempt to “feel good” about themselves—to validate their pride and their perversions, not to cleanse their hearts and souls of all that is unholy. They might act like pious members of their communities, but deep inside, some part of them holds a dark resentment that the world has not given them the recognition that they secretly crave. And one way or another —through disobedience, through terrorism, or through sexual scandal—their façade crumbles. They talked the talk all right, but they didn’t know the first thing about real love (i.e. love of God). In fact, they feared love all along and were blind to their own blindness. And so they were blind to genuine religion.

Self-Realization and Male-Female Relations

The mutual “work” that is required of each individual in Islam— the jihad al-akbar—in which we all must engage throughout our life course, is the very foundation of the ideal male-female relationship in Islam. Marriage, for example, in traditional spiritual teachings is often referred to as a mutually supportive path toward self- and God-realization, where the goal is not the other, but God Himself. The role of the relationship or partnership on this path is to support one another with tenderness, kindness, open communication, and strength toward achieving the goal. The ideal is that each partner focuses on giving, not receiving, in the spirit of service. This can only occur, however, if each partner understands that the relationship itself does not exist for the purpose of power, subordination, or solely for the fulfillment of sensual desires. It is a truly spiritual partnership, where inherent differences are acknowledged, respected, and appreciated, thus meeting in cooperation to further the mutual goal of achieving true love.

This difficult process, however, requires mutual commitment toward personal wholeness, which can only be achieved through dedication to self- and God-realization. When men and women as individuals are complete and whole, at peace with who they are, and filled with love of God, they have no need to seek another to complete themselves. An ego-based notion of love (also known as romanticism), is nothing but a self-centered desiring that is “the dependent ego searching for a reflection of its need in another’s willingness to support and gratify it. This form of relationship is recognized by the experienced as the mutual gratification, support, and enabling of codependence,” (Ansari) that means the attempt to complete ourselves through another. And what happens when we reach that point when we realize that the “other” cannot complete us? Without understanding and the ability and desire to work through it, the results can be frustration, disappointment, resentment, and even divorce (in the case of a marriage).

To be whole we have to realize that we already are whole. Allah created us whole, yet it is through forgetfulness of who and what we really are, and from whom and where we came that prevents us from realizing our true nature. Remember, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) informed us that every human being is born pure and in a state of Islam. However, because we have been taught to forget, we go “looking” for love in all the wrong places, so to speak. Thus, the path of (self) knowledge and remembrance of Allah is the path toward wholeness, which is our natural state and the source of inner peace and tranquility.


Ansari, Ali. Ansari, A. 2005. The Psychology of Surrender . Accessed 1 Aug. 2005.

Al-Attas, Syed Muhammad Naquib. “Islamic Philosophy: An Introduction.” The Journal of Islamic Philosophy, 1(1), 2004. Accessed 11 July 2005.

Richmond , Raymond Lloyd. Spiritual Healing: A Guide to Psychology and It's Practices 1997–2005. Accessed 11 July 2005.





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