By Mary Lahaj
Jan 2, 2011
Can A Muslim Wish A Christian Merry Christmas? Not according to Dr. Zakir Naik and the Doctrine Of Extreme Culpability
When a student of mine asked me if it was okay to wish merry Christmas to a Christian, it was one of those emails that I needed to put aside, think about, research, and talk over with others, before responding. My student confessed to being confused and included a link to YouTube, where a man with a thick accent, a beard, and a PhD (Dr. Zakir Naik) –PhD of who knows what—was fired up and preaching to young Muslims on the topic. (Actually Dr Naik is a failed physician, though he still calls himself doctor. – Ed.) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Iml9VX4348)
Because of the pervasiveness of Imams and PhDs on the Internet, who appear very persuasive and authoritative, I felt it incumbent, as a person who knows her religion, but does not have a PhD, to respond and respond publicly.
After viewing the video, I understood immediately that Dr. Zakir was someone who struggled with extremism in his own personality. In fact, he personified it. Dr. Zakir, like so many of his ilk, suffers from what I call an extreme culpability complex. He argues that to wish someone a merry Christmas is endorsing the belief that Jesus is the son of God. “Therefore,” he raves on, “You have made a place for yourself in hell!”
For Muslims there is the Divine (the One God) and then there is everybody else. So, Muslims don’t believe that Jesus was the Divine Son of God. But what if my student isn’t thinking about theology, when she is wishing her Christian friends a merry Christmas? Dr. Zakir’s response on the video was indicative of extremism. While he acknowledges that building relationships with Christians is important, he calls wishing them a merry Christmas “going too far.” Make a note: Extremists are always worried about going too far. Students should watch for that characteristic and judge for themselves if the person making the argument is balanced or not.
In an effort to reconcile their Muslim identity and assimilate American culture, many foreign students struggle daily with different aspects of American life. They wisely seek out scholars, like Dr. Zakir and myself, to help them decide the right thing to do. After examining the video of Dr. Zakir, the notable thing that I figured out about the extreme culpability complex is that it can affect many aspects of American life, and not just this one issue. More on that later.
First, I invite students to dissect an argument to see if it is logical. Zakir’s argument begins with two faulty premises. In logic, this is generally unacceptable. 1) He presumes that by wishing someone a merry Christmas, you are endorsing the belief that Jesus is the son of God. And, 2) He presumes that you will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment, and furthermore, will go to hell.
Now, how would Dr. Zakir know the effect that wishing a merry Christmas would have on someone? It seems to me that he would require ultimate knowledge in order to be held ultimately culpable. But Muslims believe that only God is All Knowing. As to the matter of who is going to hell? Muslims believe that ultimate justice also requires ultimate knowledge, and again, only Allah has this.
The fact that Dr. Zakir does not seem to recognize the limits of his knowledge is another flaw in his character. It is pure arrogance to ignore the limitations of human knowledge that we bring to any situation on earth. If there is a crime, we are limited in what we have witnessed. We are even limited in what we are hearing in the courtroom from a witness, who is also limited in his knowledge. Therefore, I invite any thinking person to examine Dr. Zakir, who claims to wield justice and measure accountability, very closely for other significant flaws.
Since one of the basic tenets of Islam is that God Judges an action based on its intention, this also begs the question: Is Dr. Zakir really qualified to be the judge? There are times when good intentions do not yield good outcomes, and vice versa. Once again, only Allah has full knowledge to judge justly. Dr. Zakir is too quick to enter the realm of the haraam, which is God’s realm not mans.
Dr. Zakir’s thinking is extreme on so many levels I cannot list them all. But to truly evaluate his thinking, we must demand proof that he has incorporated into his argument all the tenets, precepts, values, morals and ethics in Islam, and especially those guidelines in the Qur’an that pertain to the view of Christians. For example, the Qur’an devotes more than a whole chapter anticipating and describing the birth of Jesus. Muslims believe in all God’s Prophets and Books and are shown how to talk to the People of the Book (Christians and Jews-Surah 29:46). In fact, God has made their food and women lawful to Muslims, which seems to me to scream, beyond any doubt, that we are supposed to form good relations with them in society, even strong kinship bonds. I wonder what Dr. Zakir would recommend you do at Christmas dinner at the home of your in-laws?
Now, I’d like to point out some other areas where the extreme culpability complex is applied, areas where life and religion intersect. For example, it is applied in a democracy, where Muslims are actually told not to vote. The argument goes that voting is sinful because when you vote, you are endorsing someone who might turn around and do something egregiously wrong. In this way, you are culpable and have “made your place in hell.” Here I feel compelled to add that the Qur’an says: … “And whatever [wrong] any human being commits rests upon himself alone; and no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden” (6:164).
According to the extreme culpability complex, listening to music is also sinful because when you listen to music, you might want to dance to it, which could possibly lead you to having sex with someone you’re dancing with and not married to. The same is true about dating. We’re all going to hell because we’re “going to go too far.” Tell me: Are these rational arguments, or are they the product of a fallible and extreme mind, beset by a propensity for always “going too far,” while trying unsuccessfully to cope with life in a different world?
Through my limited understanding of extreme culpability, it has already occurred to me that walking the path from extremism to violent action and youth radicalization would be simply taking one more step. For example, the arguments that you are culpable of sin because you wished someone a merry Christmas, or because you voted for someone share a certain logic with another argument: i.e., All Americans are culpable for what their leaders do, because they endorsed and elected them. That makes them accountable for our foreign policy, and therefore, culpable for the injustice in the world. To eradicate injustice in the world therefore requires violence against all the American sinners.
Students of America, extremism dwells in darkness and overreacts to differences. Fundamentalists of all faiths are threatened by difference in the world. Yet this is the world in reality and the world described in the Qur’an. Think of what Islam teaches us about how to get along in this world: Diversity is considered the greatest gift of Creation. Muslims are taught tolerance; shown the perfect paradigm of pluralism (Surah 49:13); and taught to love and respect God’s creation out of love and respect for Him. We read in the Qur’an about people who are left to believe what they want, whatever God wills for them. In Surah 109, it says: “To you your way and to me mine.”
So, here is my advice to help you navigate the differences of religion and culture, reconcile those with your Muslim identity, live your faith, protect you from confusion, and by all means, help you to recognize and avoid extremism:
1) Think for yourself. Reason, ethics, and balance play a much bigger role in Islam than Dr. Zakir revealed in his video. The Qur’an challenges all of us to be the “best community”—to witness the middle way. Our purpose is to find the middle way and exemplify it, the way our Prophet (pbuh) was an example for us.
2) Don’t judge others. Because ultimate justice requires ultimate knowledge, and we don’t have it. Only Allah will Judge us on the Day of Judgment, based on our intentions.
3) Know yourself. Purify your intentions and know what you feel in your heart when you wish someone a merry Christmas. Your heart will tell you what is right for you.
4) Build healthy relationships with those who are different from you, even those in your own family.
At the risk of not practicing what I preach, I must write this note to Dr. Zakir. I’m really angry with you and I think you are totally irresponsible. For although you may not be violent, you were young once and you should know what induces a young person to go one step further in this crazy world. And when that youth in your community, that young man who listened to you, Dr. Zakir, who felt the pain of injustice and learned from you how to rationalize and change the parameters of culpability…prepares to take that next unimaginable step, it is my sincere hope that he will be arrested and held accountable for contemplating violence and sin. Because this poor, misguided youth will spend the rest of his life in jail, Dr. Zakir, I will hold you and your ilk in contempt and accountable forever more.
Mary Lahaj, Muslim Chaplain