RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM: AN EXPLORATION THROUGH SCIENTIFIC EYES

Once upon a time… this iconic fairy-tale starting phrase is common among all regions and languages. Mostly fairy-tales have morale in it and the story is used to propagate that morale. All global religions have a fairy-tale beginning,

Once upon a time, there was God who created… everything

In religion, the continuation of this ‘story’ proceeds in a direction drawn by the respective religious leaders, not the religion because status quo is determined by the leaders, not by God, let it be Brahmins who claim to be the higher caste among other human beings in Hinduism or ascetics called as ‘Thangals’ or ‘Chishti’, who claim to be Descendents of the Prophet Muhammed which gives them the ‘special status’ among the mere mortals. All of them claim to be closer to God and thereby make them higher among human beings. From this arise the connotations of Hindutva ideology in the Hindu society and the Islamist ideology in the Muslim society.

CROC’S DILEMMA AND RELIGION

Crocodile is a reptile that has very small limbs for its body size. This results in its clumsy movement on land but in water, they are at ease moving 15 Kilometers an hour. Both land and water are critical for a crocodile’s survival. A crocodile usually hunts in water and she is an ambush predator who usually preys on big mammals when they come to water bodies to hydrate themselves. This fiery predator is gifted with the most deadly bite force in the animal kingdom. This bite force is sheer power which is equivalent to the falling force of a mini lorry from the sky to the ground. Her jaws have only up and down motion hence however strong the bite force is she cannot gulp down the large prey until and unless she has the flexible jaws of a snake but the gift of bite force comes with strong joints which hinder the flexibility of her jaws.

A Crocodile

Humans are the most vulnerable of all the animals and susceptible to mass extinction. But they are gifted with an excellent brain that exceeds all other organisms on Earth. Developmental and behavioral zoologists often attribute societal living to organisms that have a developed brain compared to other organisms. Owing to having the most developed brain in nature, humans have the most complicated emotional and societal structure. As societies become large, differences in identities become an apparent conflict zone when fuelled with emotional caricatures called ego. Hence, similar to the crocodile humans are also gifted but now face a dilemma. Crocodile has to find a way to cut away the part of the flesh that she can gulp and humans have to find a way to avoid conflicts arising out of ego.

Crocodiles, after they have killed their prey is known to rotate on a horizontal axis to tear away the large chunks of flesh from the prey’s dead body. Herpetologists call this ‘the death roll’. This tears away the flesh enough for the croc to gulp down. The croc used it’s firm grip and body shape to overcome its disadvantage.

As identities became an important differentiation between humans it became their purpose to stay together. As societies became large and complex, these criteria became the basis of characterization among human societies more efficiently. The farmers who cultivated and reaped from their farms, traders, and merchants who collected the goods from farmers and sold them in the markets to people who needed them. Clothes, footwear and shelter, all of these needs paved way for a variety of professions. Complexity in their society was used to their advantage by humans.

A crocodile lays eggs in a pit made by her. As her offsprings emerge, she has the sole responsibility to take care of her young ones. She has to protect her babies from other male crocodiles (one of them would be the father of her babies) and other wide arrays of predators as hatchlings are often vulnerable. For a creature that has such small limbs, how can she carry her babies from one place to another?

Religion among the many identities formed was meant to be a virtuous path based on truth for a just society. It was meant to create universal amity among fellow beings of nature, liberty of character from the darkness of ignorance, equality for a just society and fraternity to promote humanity’s core.

A mother crocodile with her hatchling

What the croc does is, she uses her weapon that is, her mouth which has a larger surface area for carrying her babies. As she carries her babies inside her mouth, she has to be extra careful as her mouth with its strong and sharp teeth especially famous for its raw power does not tear into her babies at the same time be sure that her naughty babies don’t come out of her mouth. This is the croc’s dilemma. Either an individual can choose to believe in any religion or they can choose not to believe in any religion. The concept of theism and atheism begets another article.

Religion is a weapon for an individual that believes in it just like the croc and her jaws. The belief in an entity that is far beyond the realms of human understanding can bring emotional security and mental strength. The concept of divine creation has also been used by some scientists who are theists to explain the unanswered questions of science like the existence of multiple dimensions of space and time as a result of the wave and particle nature of light. John Haught has immaculately laid down why instead of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, considered as the catharsis of theism by major religions like Islam and Christianity, actually makes the case of a Divine being all the more strong. Einstein an atheist in his initial days is known to have remarked in his later days that can seem contrary to the concept to atheism,

‘That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God’

But it is quite evident that Einstein doesn’t bow down to any religion’s concept of God. He is famously known to have remarked in another occasion,

‘I cannot imagine a God that rewards and punishes the objects of his creation whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God’

Similarly, the belief in God and religion being the virtuous path whose foundation is truth and justice can flock together humans on the idea of truth, justice, and virtue just as the mother croc uses her jaws to carry her babies to their destination. But, that same jaws, if the mother croc is not careful can crush her offsprings to death, thereby killing not only her children but destroys the very reason behind her existence. Religion and croc’s jaws have a single line of demarcation between two extremes of life and death. If the jaws come a little closer together her offsprings will be lost forever. Man’s relationship with his religion has to be cordial, the moment it becomes an obsession, the relationship which is meant to be constructive becomes destructive and extremism takes root. It won’t be long before Extremism leads to terrorism.

Sir Albert Einstein

Religions should be inclusive and harmonious through acceptance and in cases where acceptance is not possible at least tolerance should take credence. As truth is vital for virtue to have a quintessential form, finding truth calls for knowledge and knowledge in its essence makes the seeker wise. This is why the proverb,

‘An empty vessel makes a lot of noise’

Therefore if a religion makes a lot of noise in forms of extremism induced bigotry, intimidation and violence it ceases to be a religion, rather it becomes a grouping of ignorant people who revels in the false notion that the little knowledge that they have amounted to the conquering of the seven seas of knowledge and wisdom. This false sense of glory is reminiscent of the Chinese Philosopher Zhuangzi’s reflection that,

‘A frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean’

When such a group of people claims to be the representatives of religion just like a well’s frog claims to be of the ocean, it is a call for chaos. What they quintessentially represent is religious extremism which is the very antithesis of religion just like Hindutva ideologues claim of Hinduism and Islamist ideologues claim of Islam.

HINDUISM AND HINDUTVA IDEOLOGY

Equating RSS Hindutva to Mahatma Gandhi’s Hinduism is like equating violence with peace. Let us tread a little deep into why it is so?

Hindutva is an ideology that speaks of India being the motherland of all Hindus. It boasts of Aryan supremacy over other races. Brahminism which champions the case of brahmins as the superior authority of Hindus who is noble by birth plays an important role in Hindutva ideology as ‘noble by birth’ connotation is a casteist construct which the ideology covertly encourages. The exclusivism of Hindutva is obvious from the above precincts. This exclusivism resulted in the Hindutva’s championing of riots and polarization based on hatred towards people of other religions, obliteration of rights of people from lower strata of caste, inter-racial conflict, and various other falsity, deviltry, and injustice. This brings forward the fact that Hindutva is an ideology put forward by the RSS stalwart Savarkar after the organization took form in 1921. It is also insinuating that Savarkar and Golwalkar (second head of RSS) epitomized Nazism and nurtured a class hatred towards Muslims, Christians, and communists, by calling them ‘enemies’. This is the anti-thesis of Mahatma’s Hinduism. Hindutva is the basic foundation of Rashtriya Swayamevak Sangh (RSS), their student organization-Akhila Bharatiya Vidhya Parishad (ABVP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and their student organization — Bajrang Dal.

Hinduism has an ancient history and the way of Hinduism is of respect and universal harmony with one’s fellow beings. Hinduism is known to have a deep respect for nature. It is quite notable that Thirukkural, the book of Tamil Saint Thirukkural revered by many South Indians, has its introductive chapter consisting of notes on rain and embarks upon poetic excellence to explain about the importance of Rain for the sustenance of life and calls it ‘Ambrosia’ which translates into immortality. It is the second sub-part of the first topic in the first chapter of Thirukkural. Topic-2 on domestic relationships calls upon topics of patience and self-restraint as important virtues for an individual that can heighten her position towards asceticism. Topic-3 about the qualities of an ascetic has verses on abstinence from eating the flesh of animals. It is also of significance here to note that contextual meaning is of prime importance. While Thirukkural speaks of abstinence from eating the flesh of animals it comes under the topic of qualities of an ascetic, therefore, it is evident that it is not forceful of this prohibition upon common man but rather its a qualification needed for someone to become an ascetic.

The 14 Upanishads which form one of the basic texts of Hinduism has a basic philosophy called Atman and Brahman. The Atman is the self or soul which is part of the higher entity called Brahman (God). The concept of reincarnation called samsara will continue as long as the atman doesn’t achieve moksha (serenity). For an atman to achieve moksha, she must fulfill her dharma (destiny) so that her karma (consequence) works in favor of her moksha and reaches the brahman to become a part of it again. For an individual who seeks moksha if he treads into a path of falsity, deviltry and injustice would result in hard Karma of many rebirths with infinite pains until she recognizes and does dharma. For an atman to do justice to her dharma destroying or even hurting a part of brahman of which she is a part reckons doom and amounts to self-destruction. Hence the Hindutva ideology which beckons its followers to create havoc through deceit, communal polarization, and violence is the arch-nemesis of Hinduism because a religion based on Upanishads and holds Thirukkural in reverence is a champion of love, peace, and serenity.

ISLAM AND ISLAMIST IDEOLOGY

Islam is a monotheistic religion whose only holy scripture is the Quran which is regarded by Muslims (the followers of Islam) as the words of God. Historians point to Prophet Muhammed’s birth in 547 A.D. as the beginning of Islamic history. However, it is one of the Abrahamic religions which has a conjoined history. History till prophet Moses from the beginning of human life is the same in all the three main Abrahamic religions which are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, the life of the Prophet Moses makes a turning point in Judaism. The jews don’t consider Jesus as either a messenger or god’s son. The turning point in Christianity is from Jesus. Jesus is considered a messenger in Islam while in Christianity Jesus is considered as the son of God. In Islam, Muhammed is considered the last messenger of God and hence the script called the Quran is God’s message for humanity till the end of Time. The holy book Torah of Jews and Bible, the old testament is considered as holy and as words of God in Islam. The difference stems from the fact that since the Quran is the last holy book in that chronology it is given credence over the others in Islam.

In Islam, the Quran along with the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammed is the basis of teachings for a believer of Islam called Muslims to follow and shape her life. The word ‘Quran’ comes from Arabic word ‘Iqra’ which means ‘read’ so, the word roughly translates ‘to read’ or ‘to be read’ and the word ‘Muslim’ translates into ‘one who is obedient’. Throughout history in the Islamic world, there have been leaders who influenced the way Muslims saw their religion. But, the Quran still holds the sway although the life and teachings of the prophet called Hadith underwent manipulative interventions through fake and unreliable additions. These unreliable additions are the reason behind the rise of a ‘high status’ hierarchy of people who claim to be the prophet’s blood relation and gave rise to the Shiite sect of Islam.

With Quran being the basic tenet of the religion, it would be wise to understand the worldview of the Quran to conclude whether any form of extremism is encouraged in Islam because life and teachings of prophet Muhammed are the extension and explanation of the Quran. As Islamic scholars referred to Prophet Muhammed as ‘walking Quran’.

Ka’ba in Masjid Ul Haram, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

According to Quran, the first verses to be revealed to the prophet by Angel Gabriel were the first 10 verses of Surah (chapter)al- Alaq. The English translation of the first five verses are as follows,

‘Read in the name of lord who created you, who created man from a leech-like substance, who taught man the knowledge to write with a pen, who taught man of what is not known.’

Scrutinizing these verses would give the following conclusions:

  1. The importance of learning and knowledge in Islam, the beginning of a book with instances of reading and writing signifies this.
  2. The affinity of Islam with nature and science. The term ‘black’ in Arabic roughly translates into ‘leech-like substance’ in English. In embryology, there is a stage for the embryo which reminisces that of a leech and gains its nourishment from the mother’s blood through the placenta.
  3. The presence of a higher entity that is all known and ushers knowledge to humans

The monopoly of Islamic structure and function of society in the name of relation with Prophet Muhammed is a Shia construct that slowly intruded into the mainstream Islamic world. As a result, Chishtis of North India and Thangals of South India took on a role similar to Brahmins of Hinduism and a distorted worldview similar to Brahminism took root in Islam. It is quite clear from the verses of Surah al-Alaq that knowledge and science are given credence in Islam than any false prerogatives of family, position or money. Chapter 2 verse 247 clearly states about the basic qualification of an individual that is to be chosen as a ruler rests in her knowledge and stature. Therefore, it is quite clear that this distorted worldview that came into existence in many parts of the world including India finds no place in Islam just like the Hinduism of Upanishads and Thirukkural has no place for Brahminism.

For a religion that epitomizes knowledge and science, let us see what the Quran has to say about extremism. Chapter 4, verse 60 implores people not to exaggerate in Islam. chapter 2, verse 256, firmly makes the point that there is no compulsion in Islam. There are numerous other preferences in this regard to not to tread into extremism. Hence, Islamist ideology is an exclusivist ideology that stems from religious extremism similar to the Hindutva ideology. The former nurtures the very same ideas as that of the latter of a Muslim State where ‘Muslims’ are higher than other people.

The very idea that an organization that had killed hundreds or even thousands who are innocent people calls themselves Islamic State is a misnomer. The terrorist organizations as for the likes of the Islamic state as a result of ‘little knowledge’ and all the people who patronize them-are like ‘the frog in a well’.

The 9th chapter in Quran has a tone that cannot be seen in any other chapter of the Quran. The overall character of this chapter is that of God’s anger and speaks of the punishments that people would be met with if they call on God’s wrath. The terrorist organizations like Islamic State and their sister organizations might or might not have used this chapter for their political propaganda of ‘waging war’. A case of religious fundamentalism because of ‘little knowledge’ can be found here.

The 9th chapter is the only chapter in the Quran that is told not to start its recitation ‘in the name of God’(the word ‘Allah’ can be translated into God in English). For a Muslim who starts everything from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night with ‘in the name of God’, this might seem out of their routine. But the very reason why the same scripture that beckons its followers to start every one of their activities ‘in the name of God implores them to abstain from that when this particular chapter of the Quran is read. The reason is quite obvious, this chapter has been narrated by Prophet Muhammed when the Muslims of mecca was attacked by the dominant tribe there called Qureshi, from every nook and corner. The Muslims were physically and mentally harassed. Food, water, clothes, and shelter were forbidden for them in Mecca by the Qureishi tribe which made them migrate to Medina. But, when they were not allowed to escape either and the Quraish conspired to kill and plunder every individual leaving mecca and when finally they managed to reach Medina, the Quraish waged war against medina. It was at this juncture that this chapter was revealed to Prophet and he narrated it to his followers. It’s quite evident from here that this chapter came into being as a result of immense trauma and its a chapter that should not be taken into consideration by a believer until and unless such extraordinary situations arise hence the underscoring aspect that this chapter has to be recited without ‘in the name of God’. One another fact to strengthen this understanding is the name of this chapter. The chapter’s name is ‘Tawba’ which translates into repentance in English which signifies that God’s reprimanding tone in the chapter is aimed at Quraish for their relentless vendetta against Muslims for them to realize their mistakes and repent rather than to punish them.

Chapter 6 verse 108, calls on secularism and strictly implores Muslims to respect the beliefs of other faiths as insulting them sets a bad precedent of tit-for-tat with grave consequences. Chapter 9 verse 6, calls upon Muslims to protect people irrespective of their religion who come to them seeking protection and to help them. Chapter 60 verse 8, asks Muslims to be just to people of all religions. There are numerous other instances to speak of the level of importance that the religion called Islam gives to secularism. Therefore its imperative to understand that Islamist, the ideology which stems from religious fundamentalism, that arose as a result of Shiite constructs of family or status based monopoly, is religious extremism and leads to terrorism. It is the anti-thesis of Islam, the religion. The latter is a nemesis of the former as chapter 5, verse 32, signifies how grave an offense a murder is and amounts to killing the whole of humankind and how virtuous saving a life is which amounts to saving the whole of humankind.

Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and its sister organizations reign in Islamist terrorism along with Pakistan based Jaish-e-Muhammed and Jamat-Ud-Dawa to name a few. Religious fundamentalism enthused religious extremism called the Islamist ideology can be found in various organizations of India like AP Kanthapuram Faction and Wisdom Global Islamic Mission. If an Islamist has a destructive worldview, its because of ‘lack of knowledge’ induced religious fundamentalism giving rise to extremism in his mind which in time gets transformed into terrorism.

Islamic State Recruits

Religious fundamentalism in Islam of India arose as a result of the practices of falsity and deviltry from the Shiite constructs of family and status monopoly of religion and the power that they enjoyed as a result of it. To break free of the falsity of these factions, the movements that arose as a counter to them took on a puritanical form and ended up in religious fundamentalism which paved way for religious extremism. Islamic fundamentalism stems from the fact that they are neither aware of the contextual meaning of the verses of Quran or Hadith nor are they aware of the history, science, and philosophy of the religion. As a result, the religious extremism in Islam called the Islamist sprouted from religious fundamentalism. It is imperative to conclude that both the Shiite constructs of ‘Chishti’ or ‘Thangal’ and similar family-status monopolization of social order and the puritanical movement of Islamic fundamentalism that arose as a result of this status-quo of religious leaders is entirely based on subsets of Islamist ideology in different forms. Islam, the religion, is the anti-thesis of them both and the teachings of it are far more nuanced.

SCIENCE AND RELIGION

The scientific worldview might be at loggerheads with the worldviews of Hinduism and Islam But there are points of similitude between them. The concept of ‘one formless God’ or ‘A superior reasoning power’ finds a point of consensus between Upanishads and Thirukkural, the Hindu scriptures and with the Quran, the Islamic scripture along with Einstein’s take on God. But it is rather of significance to note that Einstein or Hawking along with other eminent scientists doesn’t find credence in the belief of reincarnation as a result of good and bad deeds in Hinduism or of a God that punishes and rewards creations for their actions like in Islam. Science is bound for change but what makes science immaculate and fearless is its evidential way of proving the facts and theories put forward by it. As a result, if a new theory is proven with shreds of evidence it would find credence over Einstein’s relativity and the latter would be underscored as the truth rather than the former. While the problem with religions is once they set a standard or a fact with the theory, they are obdurate in their stand even if shreds of evidence pile up rather otherwise. Science welcomes change if it is proven substantively and substantially but religions are rather unwelcome to change even if it is proven substantively and substantially. In science, truth is given credence while in religion virtue is given credence but the moment virtue lacks a foundation of truth the religious belief systems will crumble which will give rise to religious extremism and terrorism in forms of Hindutva and Islamist ideologies. A belief system based on substantive and substantial backing of truth is the key to combat religious extremism. Religious Fundamentalism is not the way to combat either religious extremism or religious falsity, deviltry and injustice but the rather rational understanding of religions through inter-religious and intra-religious discussions by the backing of science should be the way forward. Truth is the basic foundation of both virtue and justice. Therefore, to find an aspect as valuable as truth, it should be sought with forbearance and perseverance.

The more you see truth nearer to you, the more you realize you are farther from it but the journey that you undertake makes you nearer to the truth than you were before. Truth can be objective as well as subjective. In philosophy, science, and religion, truth is objective until it becomes disproven by another, then the previously held ‘truth’ becomes a ‘fact’ and the newfound ‘fact’ which disproves the former becomes the truth. Therefore, truth itself becomes subjective and the journey in search of it a part of the truth. In the end,

‘On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain, either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher up tomorrow’ — Friedrich Nietzche

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store