"LIBERATION FROM MYTHOLOGY AND THE POWER OF A WHITE JESUS"
13 December 2019
Dr. Abou El Fadl reminds us that the message of God and His prophets has always been the same in its central themes, its basic precept, and in the normative, ethical, moral message and trajectory brought to humanity time and again, which can be summed up in the phrase, “There is no god, but God”. We worship no One but God and submit to no One but God. It is a simple and straightforward message. There is only One God and God is the One worthy of your commitment. This message has faced two specific challenges throughout history.
One is that humans have repeatedly been drawn to the idea of polytheism or shirk (associating partners with God). There has always been a tug of war between the idea of a single and only god, and the sociological dynamic that always mythologizes the one and only god into a pantheon of gods. If the idea of one God was an idea that lent itself easily to the socio-cultural demands of power structures in the ancient world, or if the idea of one and only God was consistent with the cultural, psychological orientations of people in the ancient world, it would have had a much easier time anchoring itself in native cultures.
The second challenge relates to the very concept of divinity in ancient history and why the idea of monotheism was constantly corrupted in ancient history. Modern minds categorize beings into either divine or not divine. But the ancient mind viewed divinity as a gradation. For example, a human could start out as human and become Divine. There was a serious and practical political reason for this mindset. Those who held political power and wealth wanted to lay claim to divinity. If a ruler was Divine, then challenging or disobeying them becomes a crime that is practically unforgivable. The claim of divinity was very important in order to grab and hold onto privilege. Looking at our world, it is clear how this system continues in some countries today. In dictatorial countries, like Saudi Arabia or Egypt, rulers can make no mistake and are praised constantly. A deification for all practical purposes occurs.
God consistently sent, and continues to send, the same message: there is no god but God. But this message clashed with the sociological reality of mythology, particularly mythology that served the power structures of the day. Rulers, noble men and human beings want to claim a divine-like right to be obeyed, and in order to do that, there is always an alliance between the clergy or religious class and the ruling class, as the religious class spawns off mythology; the mythology always serves the ruling elite because it allows for deification. That is why God tells us that shirk (associating partners with God) is a great injustice. God is not talking about God’s own right only. There are practical, sociological consequences to the compromising of the idea of monotheism, which is that human beings deify other human beings or even deify institutions, such that they can leverage power without accountability.
Monotheism has always posed a challenge to rulers. If you submit to God, you submit to no one else. Your liberation as a human being is through God, because if you submit to God, you submit to no one lesser than God. It is, and was throughout history, a revolutionary idea. If you submit to no one but God, then no one can claim superiority over you, or be entitled to obedience simply because of their status. Appeal must come through reason or your heart, but not mythology or the claim that “It’s a secret” or “It’s a mystery.” The polytheistic ethic is strict obedience to the ruler whether they do right or wrong.
Every single prophet that has been sent by God has always coupled the message of monotheism with a struggle against injustice. By the time of the Prophet Muhammad, humanity had matured and reached a level in literacy, which compared to the time of Jesus or Moses, was non-existent. Thus, with a living preserved text – the text of the Quran – humanity's relationship to writing and language reached a point where monotheism would have a fighting chance over mythology.
Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, prophets say there is one God, and only one God. There is no mention of trinity, there is no mention of duality, there is no mention of a son of God, in the Old Testament. Despite the Old Testament, polytheism was firmly perpetuated again and again among the Israelites. Ultimately, when Paul decided to take the Christian message from the Israelite people to non-Jewish populations, there started the adoption of the polytheistic mythology of the three-headed god from Greek philosophy with some influence of Egyptian mythology. Then there was the theology of modalism, in which there could be multiple gods with multiple functions, either all done at the same time or at different times. Trinity is not an adoption of the modalist mythology; it was the persistence of a mythology of polytheism. All of this was very inconsistent with the idea of individual accountability, individual responsibility, and rationality. In fact, Islam was a critical step in the history of humanity for the birth of the Reformation and the Enlightenment.
Every week, there are developments around the world that scream what Islamophobia is doing to us as Muslims. A local, recent example is Trump’s executive order regarding Title VI. Title VI prohibits educational institutions from discriminating based on race, ethnicity, national origin, but does not prohibit universities discriminating on the basis of religion. For a long time, universities trying to invest money into studying the Israeli occupation would face complaints of antisemitism by Zionist organizations and risk losing federal funding as a result. Trump recently signed an executive order that says, for the purpose of Title VI, Jews are not a religion, they are a nationality. So now, any university that doesn't study Islam “in the right way,” ie. the Islamophobic way, or criticizes Israel’s human rights record or colonization of Palestinian land, can lose Title VI money. A form of clear, outright censorship.
One would think with all the Muslim suffering around the world from Kashmir to China, Muslims would fight for academic freedom and the future of Islam. Where are the Muslim voices, especially those at Zaytuna that defended Trump and said there was no Muslim ban? Where is Hamza Yusuf serving on the human rights commission? Why have they remained silent on this issue, as if Trump is a King? We don’t disobey or challenge him. Why are they bringing Islam back to shirk? The gift of Islam was liberation from mythology, irrationality and subjugation.
Dr. Abou El Fadl was recently asked what he believed was the single most important factor, aside from political oppression that accounts for the spread of Christianity around the world after colonialism? He answered: the idea of a white, good-looking Jesus. Jesus is represented in every image since Paul as a handsome white man, far from his description in the Bible. He looks nothing like the Palestinian man from Galena that he was. What if our image of Jesus was the Arab Jew? The image of the white Jesus conquered because racism conquered.