Written by Shaykh Mustafa Umar

There is a new religious trend that has emerged. It is to identify with a particular religion without actually believing in its fundamental principles.

For many, this may seem strange. How can someone be a Jew without believing in God or Moses? How can someone be a Christian without believing in God or Jesus? It would appear to be contradictory.

Bur for some, this is precisely the trend that they have been searching for. They like certain aspects of the religion, but dislike the idea of believing in all of it.

For example, Benjy Cannon wrote an article for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz titled, “You Don’t Need to Believe in God to Believe in Judaism.”[1] In it, he explained that he stopped believing in Judaism but still practices it. He said, “I practice Judaism for myself and my community, not for God.” He further goes on to argue that Judaism was merely a “vehicle…[with the] capacity for bringing comfort and mobilizing the collective.”

In another article published in the Huffington Post titled, “What Does it Mean to be a Christian Atheist”, Christian Chiakulas posits belief in Jesus, but not God.[2] He likes the idea of religion because it “provide[s] an elegant structure to our lives.”

More recently, Reza Aslan, an admirably eloquent defender of Islam and Muslims, wrote a piece for CNN titled, “Why I am a Muslim.”[3] In it, he clarifies that he doesn’t believe Islam is true, in the absolute sense of the word. For him, Islam is no more than a “language” which he “feel(s) most comfortable with in expressing [his] faith…it provides [him] with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that [he finds] useful.” Aslan concludes that, in his opinion, “religion is a fairly recent human invention” and that “faith is mysterious [but] not necessarily…rational”. He goes on to say that it is nice to have a religion but it is “not really necessary” and that although people speak in different religious languages they are “often expressing the same faith.”

These are trendy ideas to some people who have such inclinations. However, there is something very important that is missing. When Islam is viewed in its proper context it implies that a person believes that there is one God who chose Muhammad to be His messenger and revealed the Qur’an to him. The Prophet Muhammad conveyed the message of Islam to people explaining that it is the truth and anything that contradicts it is false. Therefore, if there is a religion that encourages the worship of idols, it is in direct contradiction to everything Islam stands for. It is not merely a different language “expressing the same faith”.

Islam, like most other religions, has a historical context. Believing in Islam is a choice. That is what the Prophet Muhammad taught. He claimed he was a messenger sent by God and that the book he received, the Qur’an, was a direct revelation from God. You either believe the Prophet was telling the truth, or you don’t. You either believe the Qur’an is a revelation from God, or you don’t. People, past and present, have good reasons for accepting Islam and it is usually on very rational grounds.

It is possible for someone to want to interpret things a different way, even put a far-fetched spin on a few verses or teachings of the Prophet, and still be considered a Muslim; but to reject the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad and then still lay claim to the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ is not only contradictory, it may be the very mystical, irrational faith that people have been criticizing religion for all along.[4]

[1] See http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/the-jewish-thinker/.premium-1.669381, last accessed 2-28-2017.

[2] See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-chiakulas/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-christian-atheist_b_8866378.html, last accessed 2-28-2017.

[3] See http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/26/opinions/believer-personal-faith-essay-reza-aslan/index.html, last accessed 2-28-2017.

[4] People who want to claim to be Muslim for the political purpose of combatting Islamophobia, such as those who have offered to enlist themselves into the potential ‘Muslim Registry’ of President Trump to disrupt the database, are excluded from this statement because they do not really claim to be Muslim at heart. Also, from a purely political perspective, since all people who claim to be Muslim are likely to face discrimination by Islam-haters, there is a possibility to have two definitions of ‘Muslim’, a political one and a theological one. This article focuses on the theological aspect of the term.