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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

August 16, 2003

proslytezation as heresy.

There's a great amount of fascinating debate that occurs at the weblog intersection of Zack Ajmal, Ikram Saeed, Al-Muhajabah, Jonathan Edelstein, and Bill Allison. I am sometimes tempted to withdraw from the political blog world and immerse myself in the literary, religious, and philosophical worlds within their comments sections. If there were some way to unify these writers on a single forum the net impact would be truly impressive.

In the course of one of these bloggers' conversations, Bill makes the following observation:

The juxtaposition of these two ideas—potential salvation through ignorance on the one hand and religion providing the ethical construct for society—suggested to me a kind of heresy. If one accepted both Al-Muhajabah's statement of the orthodox view of salvation and that it is more important to treat people well rather than to pray, then it might follow that the religious duty of the heretic is to maintain a complete silence, lest he inadvertently condemn those who do not share his faith and whom he wishes to treat well to damnation by exposing them to the basics of Islam. And surely, the heretic would find fault with Al-Muhajabah, who goes to great lengths on her main site to introduce non-Muslims to "a good understanding of the basics" of Islam.

Note that Bill is not picking on AM here, but speculating about the extrapolation of the broader beliefs of many Muslims about who is (and who is not) eligible for paradise in the afterlife. AM's own writing on this topic is part of an ongoing attempt to "respond to those Muslims who believe that no non-Muslim can ever enter Paradise, no matter what, and to present information to those non-Muslims who also think that is the position of Islam." I often tackle the more conservative beliefs of Muslims (and the perception of those beliefs by non-muslims) myself, and AM is a great ally in this (though we do sometimes disagree on tactics, more on that later).

Bill makes an interesting point. Speaking from my own Ismaili Fatimi perspective, there isn't any "threshold" for admission to paradise. Heaven is not a Michigan grad school. On the part of the believer, there is either acceptance or lack of acceptance (or outright enmity) of the message of Allah. Entry is a matter of Allah's judgement, which is postulated to be both infinite and perfect. There is always room for Allah's mercy or intercession.

It's almost heresy to definitively assert that ANY particular person, muslim or not, is or isn't bound for paradise. The sole and final judgement is Allah's. And the only thing the religion tells you, really, is HOW to get there. That doesnt necessarily preclude another path, but
there are an infinite number of very, very wrong paths. There is only ONE "right" path, however.

As a result, from my perspective, proslytezation is a value-neutral activity, and the heresy angle doesn't really come into play. My community does not engage in prosetyzation but we have a number of converts each year, usually from the Hindu faith in India, but also some Sunni conversions (mostly in Pakistan) and occassionally even a European.

in the comments, Bill expands upon his point:

Aziz, I think, raises an interesting point as well. Is God bound to follow the law he promulgates? Suppose it is written that man must wear at all time green hats or be damned; suppose a man who otherwise follows all God's laws, and is exemplary in spirit, wears a blue hat. Suppose he does so because he genuinely believes the divinity intended men to wear blue hats, or because he simply prefers blue to green. Would God be bound to cast that man into hell?

I think asking whether God is bound by God's law is equivalent to asking "Can God create a rock He cannot lift?" - essentially, a logic trap. The question itself really is meaningless, like asking "What color are the eyes of the King of the United States?"

Likewise, the issue of what gets someone into Heaven is not reducible or analogous to the color of your hat. It's a far more complex judgement - with the absolute perfection of Allah's judgement as the foundation.

The bottom line is, that God has shown all mankind the religion of Islam. And whether you follow or not, and the degree of that following or not following, is ultimately your personal choice. Whether you attain Paradise will in the end be unknowable until you actually get to that stage - and you can rest assured that the judgement is, by definition, Just. :)

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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