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Are We Really So Special?

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Message Reza varjavand
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My children often remind me of how infatuated I am with my Iranianness and how obsessed I am with my cultural distinctiveness. Admittedly, we Iranians are not shy about acknowledging the superiority of our culture, especially of our religion. We have a keen tendency to over-glorify our historical achievements. Some of us are indeed puffed up with pride, particularly when it comes to our past, no matter how upset we are with our present. Unlike in the West where detachment from the past is almost viewed as a benchmark of progress, in Muslim countries, living in the past is viewed as faithfulness and provides fodder for demarcation, self-aggrandizing, and bullying.  

Exceptionally, we Muslims have a mental predisposition to become obsessed with everything, whether real or imagined it does not matter, especially with our religious rituals which sometimes have an almost pathological influence over us. A few centuries after Islam was exported to Iran by the early conquerors, we defiantly crafted an exaggerated version of it, known as Twelver Shiaism , which we believe is the real deal, the pure and legitimate Islam. Even to this day, the ultra faithful Muslims in Iran are so obsessed with their overcast version of Islam that they have placed, often moronically, the word Islamic at the front of almost every word. They have created an Islamic version of everything imaginable, no matter how trivial. There is an Islamic swim suit, an Islamic Barbie doll, Islamic beer, Islamic fashion show, and preposterously, an Islamic way of conceiving a child! The autocratic Islamic regime has unilaterally abolished anything deemed to be even remotely un-Islamic. Shamelessly, they think that ordinary, non-fanatic adherents are a bunch of pinheads who live in a hunter-gatherer society and need to be herded around like mindless sheep. I wonder if Christians or Jews identify everything through the lens of conformity to their religious standards and if Christian countries have ultra-national, strictly conservative organizations such as Muslims countries do. Could this be the so-called Moral Majority in America?

Islamic fanatics have created their own Islamic God made in their image and likeness. They have bestowed upon him the personal characteristics they would like to see in him, the ones that serve their whimsical or self-serving purposes. It is very convenient to have a special kind of God who is merciful to those who are blindly obedient believers such as themselves, and a vengeful God for those who critically observe, form opinions, and are different from them. They have so far come up with 99 attributes for Allah, the God of Islam, failing to recognize that the Allah they claim to have a monopoly on was already the God of Christians and Jews before the advent of Islam. They fail to recognize that the only difference was, and still is, in the name. We are so special that we believe heaven is exclusively reserved for Muslims while hell is the only possible destination for all others. Some Iranian Muslims are so obsessed with Arabic, the language of Islam, that they have made themselves even more Arab than the Arabs, no offense intended, they even claims that Arabic is the official language of heaven and Ajami -" non-Arabic language - is the only language spoken in hell! Some of these Islamic fanatics remind me of one of my colleagues, a devout Muslim from a prominent non-Arab Muslim country, who claims distinctiveness by being a descendent of the Prophet Mohammad! One day he was telling me about the birth of his new daughter. I offered my congratulations and asked him what name he gave to his daughter. He said he named her Reza. He most likely was unaware that Reza is a male name; I know this because, it is my name and I am most definitely a male! He is not alone in his blind complacency and obsession with something vaguely known to him; millions are like him. I call them confused Muslims. They are confused because they don't understand the language of Islam and subsequently they don't understand what they hear in the exhortations of Mullahs -" Muslim clerics - or read in Holy Scriptures. However, they don't dare to question what the Mullahs try to shove down their throats because they have been told these things are unquestionable and eternal truths.

Muslims are taught to believe that only their Holy Scriptures are authentic and the Islamic laws are the irrefutable words of God. Mohammad was the last prophet who came to complete and supplant all the previous religions. Islam is the chosen religion and Mohammad is the last prophet chosen by God, mainly because Christians and Jews either distorted or corrupted God's sacred revelations and in so doing failed to preserve their authenticity. Muslims believe that Mohammad came to fulfill God's ultimate intent for humanity and to supersede all previous prophets. "It is He [God] who has sent His Messenger [Mohammad] with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religions, although they who associate others with Allah [nonbelievers]   dislike it." (Quran, Chapter 9, verse 33). His book, Quran, is the only authentic Holy Scripture directly revealed by God, and all other so-called Scriptures have been distorted and corrupted over time by ill-equipped adherents. According to some Muslims, Quran has always coexisted with God from time immemorial.   

Consider the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, for instance, which was initially instituted for the purpose of commerce and intertribal trade before the emergence of Islam. Look at the kind of extravaganza devout Muslims have created out of it over time. Currently, almost every Iranian, from children to grownups, has travelled to Mecca at least once to perform the Haj rituals; most have done this a few times at great expense just to enhance their specialness. Shia Muslims also greatly revere Imam Ali, one of the successors to the Prophet Mohammad and the most celebrated Shia godlike figures there ever was and still is; he is so special that he was born inside Ka'ba, the holiest Muslim shrine. No one else can claim such a prestigious distinction. Come on, what difference does it make whether a religious leader was born inside Ka'ba or in a stable like Jesus? The most important things are what kind of values a religious figure instills in his followers and what kind of messages are communicated through his deeds.     

Islam, contrary to what Mullahs want us to believe, was not born as a result of original revelation; it is mostly an amalgamation of Christianity and Judaism. Lack of chronology and consistency in its Scriptures indicate that its messages may have been uttered mostly in reaction to what was currently happening and the mundane or momentous situations that the prophet Mohammad was faced with and had to remedy. Given that compromises with the Jews, Christians, and even the tribal pagans of Arabia in the early years of Islam were necessary for its advancement, Islam was not a radically innovative religion with a completely a new character. It basically fed off the existing systems of belief and is in fact a mixture of them. Noting this is not in any way a judgment of deficiency; it is merely a statement of fact and the same could be said about other religions.

It seems like fanatic religious people claim specialness simply because they have nothing else to be proud of or to capitalize on. Or, they want to create distinctiveness as the instrument for generating fictive bonds that could grow and lead to domination. I believe things would be so much better if fanatic religious people gave up some of their specialness and learned how to live with others on the basis of mutual cooperation. They have to leave the vestige of their specialness behind and cherish a global, borderless world. When they give up some of their specialness, they will then be able to live much more in peace and harmony with others. If they think that they gain by despising and deprecating others, or fomenting an artificial status for themselves, they are creating and enlarging a profound deficit in their lives.



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Reza Varjavand (Ph.D., University of Oklahoma) is associate professor of economics and finance at the Graham School of management, Saint Xavier University, of Chicago. He has been an avid participant in many professional organizations and active in (more...)
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