Attraction and opposition
Know that the Apostle of God is among you: if he agreed with you in most matters you would surely come to grief. But God has made faith more desirable to you and attractive to your hearts, and rendered disbelief and sin and disobedience repugnant.
It is an inherent aspect of prophethood to contradict and criticize certain aspects of society. Every time a civilization becomes too obsessed with the material world, prophets and sages stand up to bring the spiritual world into remembrance. We all have inclinations towards things that eventually bring us no good. Our greed, egocentrism and fears often drive us to do things that hurt ourselves or others. Even more so, over time, the greed, egocentrism and fears of certain people produce certain habits and patterns in our society. And those habits and patterns become norms. It is the task of prophets to speak out against these faulty norms for, in the end, those norms only serve to keep the power and wealth in the hands of a particular group of people.
Religion should thus always contain an aspect of ‘societal self-reflection’ for when religion is only used to protect and consolidate the norms of society it lost its propheticness and became a tool to protect the position of the powerful. But when religion retains its ‘spiritual opposition’, it will always attract people that are seeking true freedom.
What Christians can learn
In the Catholic Church there has been a long debate about liberation theology. After heated discussions between theologians who worked among some of the poorest and most abused people in the world and the scholars of Rome, many of the proposals of the liberation theologians eventually became accepted. Sadly enough, however, that acceptance didn’t anchor the liberation theology of people like Camara, Pieris, Boff and Romero as strongly in the general Catholic theology as perhaps it should have. Has the world at large been liberated of all oppressive structures of injustice? Most certainly not. So would it not be good, therefore, for the Catholic and Christian world to re-read the classics of the liberation theology? Should we not, once again, find the spirit to criticize and oppose all the socio-economic systems that still oppress and abuse many people?
Questions for Muslims
Both within the Muslim migrant community as well as within many majority Muslim countries I have the feeling that it is often quite difficult to criticize certain rusted social norms or taken-for-granted cultural patterns. But isn’t freedom of speech one of the essential needs that allow the prophetic aspect of religion to come to the surface? And shouldn’t it always be allowed to say something oppositional? Even more so, if Muslims wish to follow the prophet, shouldn’t they more often, as he did, criticize and oppose certain present-day norms? It is not because something is done within an Islamic setting that it is by definition good. And when it’s not, it should be addressed from within Islam. Shouldn’t faith therefore sometimes lead to criticizing the Ummah, when parts of the Ummah do things that bring harm to others and, as such, are ‘sinful and disobedient’ to the will of God?