Sarah Mbuyi, The Bible and the Literalist Approach

Very sadly, a Londoner, Sarah Mbuyi was sacked because she allegedly  ‘refused to read gay stories’ to children as well as ‘harassing a lesbian colleague’  by giving her a Bible during her recovery from an accident (you can read the report here).

It’s a pity it had to come to this. I know people like Sarah who are very passionate about their faith and feel they are ‘saving’ a soul from sin and hellfire. That’s her view and she has a right to it. However, she should respect the mood of the public space in which she lives and works.

I did watch Sarah on TV  as well (ITV News, 6.30-7pm on 21/4/14) where she said that this is clear truth in the Bible that in fact homosexuality is forbidden. She portrays herself as the sole reader of the Bible.

This is a rather simplistic outlook to the entire process of interpretation. The Bible, as far as I know, isn’t aware of itself. It’s a compilation of narratives which was authorised during the Council of Nicea in 325 CE (the process of canonisation). This makes it somewhat difficult to simply lift one verse of the the Bible and say ‘The Bible forbids homosexuality’ because the Bible does not tell you how to interpret it (since it does not talk about itself). Some Bible-believers may even say ‘maybe it did at some point but Jesus came and abrogated that law by dying for us’ (Paul said something to that effect, I think) or say something like ‘if you want to obey that law in Leviticus, you need to obey all laws’ trying to appeal to the notion that some laws are not applicable anymore. This is called ‘relativist readings’ while Sarah’s is called a ‘literalist reading’.

I hope Sarah appreciates this fact. As a Muslim, I am trying to promote the same thing – that Islam is a matter of human experience and that every person should understand and interpret Islam for him/herself.

Some Comments on Monotheist Supremacy

I had a great session in my study group earlier this evening. We study passages of the Quran but not in the didactic , top-down way. Quite the opposite, rather we go through Quranic passages and discuss various interpretations.

I don’t quite know how the conversation go to this subject (it all went rather quickly!) but for some reason, we came to the discussion of monotheism vs polytheism. Was Hinduism really polytheism? With 6 million gods, the answer seemed pretty clear. Except it wasn’t. Having lived with a Hindu (well two Hindus and a Sikh, to be precise) during my university days, I came to know that Hinduism has more diverse interpretations than even Islam or Christianity.

It is therefore difficult to discern what Hinduism actually says. Rather we need to go to individual Hindus to find what they think. Individualism is welcome in Hinduism, unlike Islam in its current form. So here’s how our conversation roughly went. Please note that I’m recalling the essence of the conversation only. This recall is not verbatim, few 22 year olds speak like the conversation below:

My Hindu Friend: I consider the pantheon of Hindu gods to be manifestation of the One Reality. Does that make me a monotheist?

Me: No. (my view has long changed since). Those manifestations are trapped within imagery like that of Krishna, Brahma, Vishnu. You have ascribed forms to the formless, hence associating (yushrik, shirk) God with an earthly depiction. (Ok, I used much more street language, innit? But you get the picture).

My Hindu Friend: Ok, and what did you do with the Quran? You trapped Allah within a finite set of words. You call it His Book and so He cannot say anything else.

Me: Ok but a Book is different from an image. It offers words of guidance which actually translates into action.

My Hindu Friend: Every image of God in Hinduism conveys an understanding of God. Shiva is the God of destruction and sits in the lotus position denoting perfect balance. You use words, we use images. Ultimately it all becomes information about God.

I could not answer Him there. His logic was impeccable. Why did I choose to believe in one earthly manifestation (a book) and reject another (a picture)? Both entities appeal to  the human being and gives him/her an interpretation of the Divine. Therefore I cannot say Hindus are polytheists any more than more than I can say Muslims are polytheists. After all, in the Quran, we see that the most severe of false gods is ‘hawaa’ (delusions, constructions of false realities). According to the Quran 25/43 and 45/23, there is nothing that can be done for one who has taken ‘hawaa’ as a false god.

Perhaps there should be more attempts towards understanding rather than judging our fellow human beings. There is a kind of Monotheist Supremacy which exists among Muslims which makes us see people of other faith as polytheists. I don’t believe it’s as cut and dried as that. We are after all dealing with the most abstract concept there is, that of the Divine.