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.
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.