Islam Without God?
A new BBC Radio 4 documentary asks if you can be Muslim without believing in God. Alom Shaha, who was interviewed for the programme, explains
This Tuesday at 4pm BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a documentary called "Islam Without God?". When I tweeted about the programme, for which I was interviewed, I got this response from @AbdullaMunnim: "Can life on Earth be sustained without the Sun?" It’s pretty clear what he thinks, before listening to the documentary, but I’m not sure he’s right, and I would hope he does listen.
For many of the “Muslims” I know, Islam just happens to be the religion they were born into; they have very limited knowledge of the Qur’an and their practice of Islam seems to consist of not eating bacon, fasting for one or two days during Ramadan and celebrating Eid. For such people, “Muslim” is much more an inherited identity label than a statement of religious belief.
I’ve also got many friends who don’t believe in God but identify as Jewish and I’ve met Christians whose definition of God is so loose that I couldn’t tell whether they really believe in it/him/her or not. So why should Islam be any different? Why can’t there be people who define themselves as Muslim yet don’t believe in God?
Abdul-Rehman Malik, a devout Muslim and the presenter of the documentary, says that “If Islam is about anything, it is about the oneness and transcendence of God”; he is not convinced that Islam can exist without God in the same way that, for some people, Judaism seems to. However, Abdul-Rehman concedes that “religion... is a complex set of overlapping values and identities wrapped up in belief, culture and politics,” and acknowledges that increasing numbers of people from Muslim backgrounds are self-identifying as atheists and that these people may want to cling on to some of their cultural heritage.
There is a growing “ex-Muslim” atheist movement, and many of them are, understandably perhaps, keen to leave behind any trace of Islam in their lives. However, there are others who have given up a belief in Allah but find the term “ex-Muslim” one that doesn’t quite fit, and prefer to refer to themselves as “cultural Muslims”. I think it’s a label that may find increased usage as people from Muslim backgrounds around the world find the strength and freedom to embrace rationalism and reject the supernatural elements of Islam while retaining its rich cultural heritage.
When Abdul-Rehman interviewed me for his documentary, he asked me if I retained any practices from my Muslim upbringing. I made a confession which may surprise some readers. I won’t reveal it here, listen to the documentary tomorrow to find out (assuming Abdul’s kept it in the final cut) how, despite being an outspoken atheist, I am still a “Cultural Muslim”.
The documentary will be avaible to listen again after broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 website