Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Book Review: "Eternity" by Anwar Shaikh

by Anwar Shaikh

The Principality Publishers
Box 918, Cardiff, U.K. CF2 4YP
340 pages, $22

Reviewed by David Frawley

[Editor's intro: "Dr. David Frawley's latest book is Ayurveda and the Mind. Among his many publications is the
highly acclaimed Gods, Sages, and Kings." -- c.j.s. wallia]

Anwar Shaikh is an original thinker on a great search to find Truth. He has a real intuition of the spiritual reality toward which the universe and all human beings are evolving. He is striving to understand this imminent Divinity in his own way and express in his own language. Mr. Shaikh is not willing to accept the standard answers from various religions and philosophies for what Truth is supposed to be but is developing his own experimental approach. In his path he questions everything and challenges accepted dogmas and mythologies of all types, both religious and non-religious. In his book Eternity, he examines the religions of the world, particularly those of a Biblical origin (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), as well as philosophy, politics, economics and mysticism, taking a grand historical sweep of what we have known as human civilization which as any real thinker knows, contains much confusion, violence and corruption, even in the field of religion.

His view of what we have called religion is not particularly flattering, but is honest, logical and generally well informed. It is not the view of an atheist but that of a mystic who has enough real inner perception so that he cannot bow down before any organized religion. His words, though often critical are never destructive in their intent. He is looking for Truth and not accepting as truth what may be mere human opinion or contrivance, even if it is part of a religion.

Many of his comments about religion are similar to what European thinkers from Voltaire to Bertrand Russell have made in the past few centuries, as since this period the authority of the church was no longer there to prevent people from challenging the dogmas of Christianity. Other

comments of his reflect a mystic's criticism of religion, which as an outward show is designed more for purposes of social control than connecting people with higher reality. His view of the evolution of the soul reminds one of such Indian systems as Sankhya, Vedanta and Buddhism, though he is clearly thinking for himself and not trying to conform to any system.

The unfortunate thing for Anwar Shaikh is that he was born a Muslim and such writing has put his life in danger. Otherwise he would be an important thinker who has questioned religion and civilization from both a rational and spiritual perspective, whom genuine seekers should be willing to read. Shaikh has dared to examine Islam with the same critical scrutiny that he has examined other religions. In fact his critique of Islam is milder than his critique of Judaism, and he does not spare Hindu yogis and Tantrics from his polemics. He even respects Mohammed as a great man and social leader, but not as the last of the Prophets. But this is not enough as for orthodox Muslims; for them one born a Muslim should remain a devout Muslim and not criticize Islam or Mohammed at all.

Yet no member of other religions is going to ask that a writer like Anwar Shaikh be punished for writing such a book though they might not agree with some of the things that he says. However, the Islamic world still largely lives in a medieval era, pre-age of reason, when the church could punish or execute a person for writing something questioning its dogmas and authority. A fatwa can be made in any Islamic country calling for punishment or even death of any Muslim who commits blasphemy; that is, who finds Islam or Mohammed to be not entirely holy.

Such a fatwa, though so far with less publicity, has been leveled against Anwar Shaikh like those against Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen. Yet while Rushdie has spoken more as an artist and Taslima more as a social reformer, Anwar Shaikh has taken a deeper approach and is speaking as a truly religious person, one that is concerned about the ultimate Truth. And the conclusion he comes to is very simple. Man is God and God is Man. Man is evolving toward God and need not subordinate himself to any external divinity. Is this such a terrible thing for any one to say? Have not most mystics said something similar?

There is a tendency for other countries to tolerate or ignore this intolerance in Islam, which has left true thinkers from Islamic countries, like Anwar Shaikh, with little support from the world outside to protect them. Fortunately for the world Mr. Shaikh lives in Great Britain, which is not an Islamic majority country that can carry out such an edict, though the Islamic minority in that country has asked for it to be enforced.

In previous ages religion held an iron grip on the minds of people and prevented free thinking. Today religion has to confront serious questioning. It can no longer say that it is written in the Bible or the Koran, or the priest or the mullah said so and therefore it is beyond question. I think the religion that can honestly dialogue with such as Anwar Shaikh, face his questions and work with his insight, has genuine value for all people. But a religion that must silence such a genuine seeker only in the long run risks destroying itself. In any case, we must admire not only the intelligence but the courage of Anwar Shaikh who is willing to speak out on these matters.

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