Defending Islam: Corpus juris must be seen as a whole; the cancer of Islamofacism

I’m suggesting the general formula of a new argument for defenders of Islam and religion in general. This is not only relevant to defense of Islam, but also to how we can accurately describe phenomena in general. Not an Islamic scholar, I will entrust the elaboration and further development of this argument to Islamic scholars and people interested in Islamic culture. One of the most significant mistakes made by people suffering from extremist thinking is to ignore the diversity within people that wear the same label, such as failing to distinguish between Mother Teresa and KKK and between Galileo and the Church. Islamophobes also tend to assume that all people who call themselves “Muslims” think in the same way as ISIS, which is not true. Related are the failure to distinguish between God and Church (or any religious institution), between cultural and theological definitions of religion, and between intellectual and lived corpus juris. (What are cultural and theological definitions and intellectual and lived corpus juris? See a previous post) Here, I’m adding more to the point about intellectual and lived corpus juris: Islamophobes and Islamofacists ignore that fact that the corpus juris functions as a whole.

The life of a person would reflect this whole. Anti-theists and Islamophobes fail to take this into account. An intellectual corpus juris can function as a whole instead of a one-dimensional list of rules, with some laws defining the functions of and relationships between laws within this system. The same applies to a lived corpus juris. Since the intellectual and lived corpus juris of the same person can be radically different, the same element can play radically different roles in the intellectual and lived corpus juris. Two systems that function radically differently do often have modules in common; these modules can be invoked in very different circumstances. For instance, meditation is more and more popular among Westerners. It was taken from Buddhist rituals. Yet obviously Westerners who meditate generally behave very differently from devoted Buddhists; they meditate for different purposes and have very different intellectual and lived corpus juris. In other words, meditation fit into their corpus juris in different ways. Not radical enough an example? Here’s a more radical example: Our jaws evolved and developed from gill slits (like those of fish). We used to have gill slits when we were embryos. Similar events occurred frequently in evolution. Biologists have also taken advantage of biological modules such as RNAi in their experiments, using them in a way alien to the original biological system.

Religion can be viewed as a module that plays different roles in the lives of different people, who behave very differently. To highly devoted people, it penetrates every part of life, while to people merely wearing a label, it’s merely a cultural heritage not well-integrated into life. To people like Michael Faraday, religion powers science, while to fundamentalists, religion and science are at war. Obviously Faraday and fundamentalists behave very dfferently. The same principle applies to elements in a certain religion, such as a scripture or parts (or verses) of a scripture (I’ve already addressed the ritual called meditation). This shows the different structures and functions of the lived corpus juris. Reducing the diverse and complex structure of the entire lived corpus juris into a few isolated laws taken from the intellectual corpus juris, out of context, is simply an inaccurate description of the person’s system of belief.

Cancer and Islamofacism

Let’s consider a specific example: Islamophobes like to cite a few war-like verses from Chapters 8 and 9 to indict Islam as inherently violent and has no hope to be reformed. But the mistake they make is to take those verses out of context, in particular, they ignore how those verses are regulated. Other verses throughout the Quran regulating the war-like verses are clear in the following: War is only permitted as self-defense and invasion is never allowed; force conversion is impossible and futile since no messenger can guide those who don’t will to be guided; we should leave those who reject alone unless they invade us; not all Jews and Christians are despicable; saying that Muhammad is the center of Islam instead of God is just like saying that everything in the solar system orbits the Earth instead of Sun. There is ample Quranist literature arguing for these points in the internet so I will not repeat them (for instance, see Ahl al-Quran and 19.org). I’m already tired of reading those repeats over and over again. What I’m doing here is to illustrate the importance of regulation of interpretation of verses using the analogy of cancer.

Red: CEP2, which marks the centromeres of chromosome 2; each chromosome should only have one centromere. Green: MYCN, an oncogene. (A) Amplification of MYCN in neuroblastoma tumor cells. (B) Gain of copy of MYCN. (C) Normal diploid cell. What's striking is that the amplified copies of MYCN form their own autonomous bodies independent from other chromosomes. Image credit https://diagnosticpathology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1746-1596-8-5

Red: Centromeres of chromosome 2; each chromosome should only have one centromere. Green: MYCN, an oncogene. (A) Amplification of MYCN in neuroblastoma tumor cell nuclei. (B) Gain of copy of MYCN. (C) Normal diploid cell. What’s striking is that the amplified copies of MYCN form their own autonomous bodies independent from other chromosomes. Image credit https://diagnosticpathology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1746-1596-8-5

Regulation of interpretation of verses is analogous to how genes are regulated does seriously affect biological functions. Please focus on the essential features here common to regulation of interpretation of verses and regulation of genes if the war-like verses sound too controversial. For instance, oncogenes such as Myc, Ras, and Src are essential to the cells, but when they’re overexpressed, the cells will form tumors, which can form cancer when the tumor spreads beyond where it started. Tumor suppressors such as p53 can halt cell division and initiate genome repair or apoptosis if the cell has some sign of developing into tumor, and loss or repression of tumor suppressors is a common cause of cancer.

If it’s correct to say that because Islamofacists cite a few war-like verses and claim that the peace verses were abrogated from the Quran to justify terrorism and oppression, the Quran is inherently violent, then it’s also correct to say that because cancer cells overexpress oncogenes and disable tumor suppressors and DNA repair to be cancerous, the genome inherently makes cells cancerous and tumor suppressors should be abrogated in healthy cells. This statement assumes that cancer cells are regulating their genes correctly, but in reality, cancer cells are not properly regulating the oncogenes and tumor suppressors to begin with and they usually have extremely screwed up genomes, such as crazy aneuploidy (abnormal number of chromosomes), crazy amplification of certain genes (see photo), and crazy abnromal DNA methylation patterns.

Just having oncogenes in the genome doesn’t mean that a cell is a cancer cell; the oncogenes are important to the normal life of the cell when properly regulated, and in normal cells, tumor suppressors are also properly expressed and DNA repair functions normally. Similarly, the “oncogene” war verses, when properly regulated (remember those “tumor suppressor” peace verses), as self-defense and to fight against oppression, is essential to the viability of a nation; otherwise evil forces too easily rule the world because righteous nations are not defending themselves. The war-like verses, when properly regulated, are thus important to Islam. The verses about how some (again, the Quran is very clear that this is not all) People of the Book turned away, when properly regulated, serve as a warning for us that we should not do the same thing again; but Islamofacists made exactly the same mistake, so they too deserve to be called swines and apes. This warning is very important in defining the correct attitude and method to interpret the Quran.

Some Islamophobes claim that Islam can only be reformed if those war-like verses are deleted from the Quran; I would reply that if you want to eliminate cancer from our species, then you must delete all oncogenes, but the problem is, our lives depend on those oncogenes, so you have not only eliminated cancer, but also eliminated the entire human race. For instance, oncogene Ras is a hub of many signaling pathways including those for cytoskeleton modeling, cell division, cell migration, differentiation, and etc. Cancer will form when cell division, dedifferentiation, and migration are out of control, so no wonder Ras is an oncogene, but cell division, migration, and differentiation are how the single-celled zygote develops all the way to the adult human being and how your skin renews and heals. The key is REGULATION!

A healthy cell not only needs the correct content of the genome, but also correct regulation. In fact, cancer can begin without a single mutation (though cancer cells can pick up mutations and chromosomal disorders after this beginning to become even more cancerous, and this is especially easy when tumor suppressors are disabled), as messing up with epigenetics can upregulate oncogenes and/or repress tumor suppressors. Similarly, the argument Islamophobes borrowed from Islamofacists that even if all Hadiths are deleted, the Quran is still inherently violent is inherently flawed, because it doesn’t interpret the Quran the way defined by the Quran and still carries over the way Islamofacist cancers regulate their genes. Content without regulation (or more generally the relationship between parts of the whole) does NOT tell the entire story.

In sum: If Islamofacism represents genuine Islam, then cancer cells represent healthy cells in your body. If all Muslims are terrorists, then all your cells are cancer cells. Even if cancer is correct and it’s wrong to be any other types of cell, it’s still fallacious to claim that a normal, say, endothelial cell – terminally differentiated and can’t divide anymore, so lacking everything that makes a cell cancerous – is a cancer cell just because those endothelial cells have oncogenes in their genomes; those genes are regulated in such a way that those cells can’t turn cancerous.

Finally, I would like to note that all analogies will break down at some point. The purpose of analogies is to use an example that can be more easily understood and easily accepted to illustrate a more abstract or hard-to-accept concept; this does not require the example to be identical in every aspect to what’s to be illustrated. Conversely, non-essential discrepancies do not show that an analogy is not appropriate. An analogy is good enough as long as it captures the essential features of the concept to be illustrated. I would like to note a few important points about my analogy here, so the analogy will not be stretched beyond the essential feature illustrated, namely, the importance of regulation and holism. This analogy should NOT be stretched to interpreted as the following:

Number one: The genome is perfect and self-explanatory. This is not true, since there’re many things outside the genome that control the regulation of genes, such as the epigenome and transcription factor binding. In this aspect, the genome is very unlike the Scripture, since the correct way of interpretation is encoded by the Scripture, but not by the genome. How do our normal cells know how to correctly interpret the genome? Remember that we did not start de novo with just a genome; the zygote started with epigenome, proteins, mRNAs, and so many other things from your parents so your genome is properly interpreted to ensure proper development. From generation to generation, this traces all the way back to the origin of life. Messing up with the epigenome can cause severe developmental disorders even if no mutation is introduced, as an example, see http://science.sciencemag.org/content/350/6261/aab2006. What counts as a correct interpretation? Cells in every different tissue interpret their genomes differently; I mean by “correct interpretation” the interpretation that makes the cells capable of making up healthy functional tissues and organs. In this sense, cancer cells are not interpreting their genomes correctly since they do not allow proper function of tissues. In contrast, I mean by correct interpretation of the Quran the method of interpretation as defined by the Quran itself (e.g. reading the scripture holistically, reject interpretations that contradict since there shouldn’t be contradictions in the Quran, etc.). I wouldn’t say that the genome is perfect, because perfection is a very slippery concept to define so I use this concept extremely carefully and many common diseases have genetic contributions.

Number two: All forms of Islam that is not Quranism is as cancerous as Islamofacism. This is not true. The analogy of cancer is used to illustrate the importance of regulation. Furthermore, I picked cancer here because of how hazardous Islamofacism is. However, not all forms of Islam (by the cultural definition of the term “Islam”) that uses Hadith is Islamofacism just like not all cells that mess up with gene regulation are cancerous. For instance, some cases of imprinting disorders are caused by getting both copies of a chromosome from the same parent; the chromosomes actually have an epigenetic mark saying whether it’s from mom or from dad. In this case, the genes in all (or most) of the patients’ cells are not properly regulated, thus causing the disease, but it doesn’t mean that all cells from those patients are cancer cells, since they do not regulate genes the way that makes cancer cells cancerous. In other words, bad gene regulation is necessary but not sufficient to cause cancer. I actually do have some Sunni and Shia friends; they’re nice charitable people and are nothing like terrorists. In their case, the laws of interest are not regulated in the way that makes Islamofacists Islamofacists. For instance, even if the Hadith has violent and chauvinist rulings, they can just be silenced like transposons (whose transposition, BTW, can possibly lead to cancer) are strongly silenced so they don’t transpose. Again, regulation is the key. Whether or not their belief system or method of regulation is correct, it’s the way they regulate their laws in the corpus juris that tells me that most Sunnis and Shias are nothing like terrorists.

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2 thoughts on “Defending Islam: Corpus juris must be seen as a whole; the cancer of Islamofacism

  1. I would like to add an extra note. Islamophobes are obsessed with a kind of logical fallacy that goes as follows: Elephants are animals, therefore, a small elephant is a small animal. But this is obviously false. In this statement, the definition of the first “small” is different from that of the second. The first “small” means small relative to an average elephant, while the second “small” means small relative to all animals on average; a small elephant is still pretty big compared to all other animals on average. In the arguments of Islamophobes, similarly, the definition of the term “Islam” shifts around to fulfill their agenda. So I’ll first give several possible definitions of the term “Islam” as used in everyday speech:

    1. A family of religious orders that ideologically gives special significance to the Quran and Prophet Muhammad. I put the word “ideologically” because in fact, many people who call themselves “Muslims” and consider themselves part of those religious orders don’t read the Quran, though they will be offended if the Quran is under attack. This is the most common way the term “Islam” is used in everyday speech. I call this the “cultural definition”.
    2. The way extremist Wahabis interpret Islam. Note that the vast majority of Muslims by definition 1 reject such interpretation.
    3. The system of pure monotheism and submission to God as described in the Quran. This is how we Quranists define the term “Islam”, and I call this the “theological definition”. Under this definition, most of what counts as Islam by definitions 1 and 2 are not Islam, because of polytheism, such as idolizing religious leaders and saints and seeking intercession from Muhammad.

    From now on, Islam(x) or Muslim(x) denote Islam or Muslim under definition x, where x is an integer from 1 to 3. There can be more possible definitions, but I’ll focus on these 3.

    Here comes the fallacy of Islamophobes. Their arguments generally follow this form: Islam(2) is intrinsically violent and backward; therefore, saying that Islam(1) should be eliminated is not discrimination or hate speech. When arguing that Islam is intrinsically violent and backward, they refer to Islam(2). However, when arguing for discrimination against Muslims and for eliminating Islam from earth, they refer to Islam(1). In fact, Islam(1) and Islam(2) are pretty much incompatible to each other. According to Islam(2), all members of Islam(1) that is not also a member of Islam(2) is not Islam at all. So if Islam(2) is intrinsically violent and should thus be eliminated, this should by definition not include anything in Islam(1) that is not a member of Islam(2). In other words, if something is Islam if and only if it’s Islam(2), then Islam(1) shouldn’t be relevant here because it’s not Islam to begin with. Moreover, 99% of what counts as Islam(1) is not Islam(2). I agree that Islam(2) really deserves to be eliminated, but saying that this means Islam(1) should be eliminated is doing injustice to over a billion people. Here, the switch of definition reflects the bias and bigotry against Islam(1) as well as xenophobia by Islamophobes.

    Islamophobes also like to assert that Islam(2) is the pure form of Islam, so Islam(1) is supposed to become Islam(2) to be pure. But most Muslim(1)s will reject this; they would say there’s no logical way in their corpus juris to justify Islam(2), which means 99% of Muslim(1) don’t have any potential to become Muslim(2). Furthermore, why is it the Islamophobe’s business to write the corpus juris for Muslim(1)s? Isn’t this ridiculous? To ask a similar question: Why is it the
    atheist’s business to tell a theist what to believe?

    Atheist: Science has always been in war with religion. Science has successfully explained what people used to attribute to God, so science has eliminated the need of God.

    Theist: This is not true. Throughout history, faith in God has inspired great scientists like Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Maxwell, Francis Collins, and etc. to do science. To them, science is a way of worship, since knowing more about how God created the universe is just like knowing the mind of God. The God of the gaps mindset is bad theology that most theologians reject, and is incongruent with Scripture, because everything is the work of God. The completeness and intelligibility of Nature further shows the glory of God, in His immanent involvement in the universe, to paraphrase the eminent theologian David Bentley Hart.

    Atheist: No, God has been eliminated by science. God can’t be otherwise, and you describe God your way because you’re ignorant and scientists in the past are ignorant. If you correctly understand what God is, then you’ll know that God has been eliminated by science.

    But the reality is, for us theists, the atheist here is ignorant (I’m not generalizing to all atheists here). Many Islamophobes are Christians, and in this example, Muslims and Christians can find a common ground to ease understanding. I know that stronger arguments for atheism exist, but I deliberately picked a terrible one to illustrate how weakness of argument generates the need to mold the opponent into a straw man. Our scripture is clear that everything in the universe submits to God and that God is the Sustainer, not God of the gaps. But the atheist here has to feed us God of the gaps for his argument to be successful; otherwise his argument will fall apart. The atheist might not know that his understanding of God is rejected by the vast majority of serious believers, and he might think that his understanding is correct, but here, we see how we can’t accept his understanding of God. In the same manner, vast majority of Muslim(1)s will not accept the Islam(2) that Islamophobes are force feeding. So this further shows that most of Muslim(1)s have no potential to become Muslim(2)s even if they seek doctrinal purity. And there’s a need to force feed because the Islamophobe’s argument will fall apart without Islam(2).

    Another point to make about the Islamophobe’s claim above is that there’s no such thing as THE Islam(1). There’s many different kinds of Islam: Sufi, Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Quranist, etc., and they differ vastly from each other. For instance, while Shias venerate saints, we Quranists reject it as idolatry. While Sunnis venerate their religious scholars and claim that we need the scholars to understand Islam and be guided, we Quranists reject this as idolatry as well. Because the vast majority of the Sunni corpus juris is outside the Quran, rejecting all those and keeping the Quran alone makes us Quranists much more different from Sunnis than Protestants are different from Catholics. It’s not the business of any one school to define the doctrine of other schools (for similar reasons as the previous paragraph); each school defines its own doctrine. There’s no such thing as THE Islam(1).

    When Muslims are talking about something like THE Islam, they’re actually referring to the definition of their school, like Quranists are referring to Islam(3), but not Islam(1), as THE Islam. In the West, where most Muslim(1)s are non-denominational, every single person defines what Islam is for himself, and they mostly respect differing opinions of other Muslims(1). To some Muslim(1)s, Islam(1) is just a cultural identity and they’re not into the Quran. While other Muslim(1)s are into the Quran, but anyone familiar with Quranist culture must know the palpable diversity in our interpretation of many verses and concepts. To some Muslim(1)s, other schools of Islam(1) is unacceptable and will not deserve salvation, while to some others (I believe it’s the majority of Muslim(1)s in the West), other schools are also valid, as long as they’re peaceful and sincere. We should keep these differences of mindset and corpus juris (just like the “biochemistry” of concepts) in mind just like we keep the vast differences between the biochemistry of archea and that of bacteria in mind though both archea and bacteria are prokaryotes. These differences mean that while some bacteria are infectious, archea are not, so it’s fallacious to generalize infectiousness of some bacteria to all prokaryotes.

  2. Here I’m responding to more potential objections.

    Objection: Islam is already cancerous. I think a similar form of this objection is that Islam is a convenient marker for terrorism.

    Again, please define your term: What do you mean by “Islam”? I would agree that Islam(2) (from the previous comment) is cancerous, but this can’t be generalized to all members of Islam(1). Actually it’s not my business to defend all possible creeds of Islam(1), since many of them are polytheistic and thus not Islam(3), which I hold. I’m defending Islam(1) because Islamophobia is not doing justice to Islam(1) and I uphold justice.

    What a Muslim(1) is like is not reducible to what unites Islam(1) and what a human cell is like is not reducible to the human genome (which unites human cells), because so many things controlling what Muslim(1) or a human cell is like are outside what unites Islam(1) or human cells. What makes Islam(2) Islam(2) is outside what unites Islam(1), and that’s why the vast majority of Islam(1) is not Islam(2) and will not become Islam(2). There’s no such thing as THE Islam(1) just as there’s no such thing as THE human cell, as the property that unites both the category Islam(1) and the category human cell is not predictive of other important properties (properties besides those that unite members of the group and what’s common not only to members of this group but also the larger group that includes this group) of members of the categories that all members must possess. I call this kind of property a mandatory property. For instance, while cell type is not reducible to the human genome, every single human cell must have a cell type. Similarly, while what unites Islam(1) does not entail what Islam means for every single person, all Muslim must have such a definition. For some, Islam means a cultural identity, and for some, it’s a system that governs every aspect of life. So what is THE human cell? Is it a pluripotent stem cell? Is it a cancer cell? Is it a neuron? A fibroblast? An epithelial cell? A chondrocyte? A goblet cell? A cardiomyocyte? A lymphocyte? Or a combination of some of them? To be honest, there is even no such thing as THE white blood cell or THE neuron, for the same reason why there’s no THE human cell. What is THE Islam while there’re mandatory properties within Islam(1) that are mutually exclusive? Definition of the corpus juris is also a mandatory property for Muslim(1), but many such definitions are mutually exclusive, such as while Hadith is central to Sunnis, Quranists reject all Hadiths. A cell can’t be both a white blood cell and a neuron. It doesn’t matter who’s right; everybody is happy with his own definition and won’t be easily persuaded to change. I’m sure that from the perspective of Islam(3), seeing Islam as merely a cultural identity is wrong, but since there’s no way that Western Muslims who think that way to derive terrorism from their corpus juris, then whatever Islam(2) does has nothing to do with them. Another thing here is that Islam(1) does not even have a definition of who’s right or wrong; I said so and so is wrong based on Islam(3), since I can’t find a criterion from the definition of Islam(1).

    Disagree with my definition of Islam(1)? Just pull out some article from the media or pay attention to everyday speech and try to infer the definition from context. You should get something in the same line. (For example, see how the terms “Islam” and “Muslim” are used in http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/22/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/) Don’t ever think that there’s no such thing as Islam(1) and that Islam is nothing but Islam(2) and that the media usage of Islam(1) is political correctness. If you think that way, then just walk out of your community, visit a Sufi center (or just a random person in a university Muslim student association, etc.) and try to force feed the members Islam(2); you will soon reach an impasse due to the different definitions of the term “Islam”, and the Sufis might say, “Who are you to tell us what to believe while you’re not even a Muslim(1)? You don’t even have the authority and we have our own authority. My religious leaders and my best reading of scriptures said that Islam(2) is not Islam at all.” if they’re not trying to defend Islam(1) in general (that defense also often entails why Islam(2) is not the benchmark of Islam(1)). This is what I tried to say in my previous comment in addition to force feeding as a signal of weakness – the failure to face something as it is and the need to coerce it into a straw man to make a case – and hopefully this will speak out many Muslim(1)s’ heart. I know that appeal to authority is wrong, but here I’m not talking about who’s right or wrong; what I’m talking about is that someone who has not and is not willing to conduct terrorist attacks does not deserve punishments for terrorism. The punishment should suit the particular crime, and even if the defendant is guilty of other crimes, he should not deserve punishment of a crime that he did not commit.

    What about correlation between membership of Islam(1) and say terrorism, ignorance, and etc? Correlation doesn’t mean causation, but can Islam(1) be a marker for those attributes even if there’s no causation? But even if there’s some correlation, a marker that yields 90% false positive is still a terrible marker. Even 40% false positive should be more than enough to make a marker bad. For both judicial and medical purposes, we must strive to minimize false positives and true negatives, and when it comes to Islam(2), it doesn’t take much effort to somewhat cut down false positives – simple things like questionnaires should at least help. But we should try not to wrong a single person. If justice is of great value, then we must invest much more on it and shouldn’t use a marker that yields 90% false positive. Health is of great value, and we did and should invest on it. If it’s right to spend millions of dollars on biomedical research in order to improve medicine, then anthropological research of particular Muslim(1) communities that might be problematic (which I don’t think will cost nearly as much as research done to understand cancer or other kinds of common diseases) should be warranted for the sake of justice. But what anthropologists said is that it’s not the wish to spread Islam or restore Caliphate that makes people terrorists, but imperialism, poverty, discrimination, identity crisis, and etc. (see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/anthropologist-seeks-the-roots-of-terrorism/, http://19.org/blog/terrorism/) If you don’t have the expertise to judge which anthropologist is right, then please stop judging what you can’t judge if you’re rational. A precise understanding of the problem is required before the problem can be solved. It seems that here, I’m just reiterating something many Muslim(1)s and liberals have already emphasized: Nuances!

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