RUMORS OF THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL discoveries in Mecca have been circulating lor some time. W hat are the implications if these rumors are true? Let me be clear: I have no first-hand knowledge of the matter and no professional knowledge of archaeology. Nor do I have anypolitical agenda. Instead, I wish to comment purely as a concerned observer and practicing Muslim.

I like to look at Islamic matters through the lens of perception formed by my Anglo-American upbringing and nearly a half-century of trying to find my way in our complex and controversial religion while maintaining a normal and optimistic outlook on life. In my view, Steadfastness is one thing; obstinacy is another. Traditionally, for Muslims, political change has come through violence or coercion. This pathology has to be derailed. It is obstinacy – not steadfastness – to defend a view that impedes the public welfare.

Are momentous archaeological finds in fact being covered up? The behavior of the Salafists lends credence to the rumors. Smug and self-satisfied, running their closed loop of reasoning, they let nothing get in, nothing get out. As a result, nothing improves. Their cult-like paranoia has pervaded most of the Muslim world, so that Salafist concepts are accepted as normative when, in fact they are way off base. I have seen the ugly signs at historical sites all over Medina, attaching to any Muslim who merely says a dua there the dreaded allegation of shirk. This is a travesty. Islam is large. Muslims are not mushriks.

How do the Salafists get away with making ordinary Muslims ashamed of their basic human feelings? When the tsunami killed so mam in Indonesia, it was heart rending to hear poor, innocent Muslims – fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers, all driven by unbearable grief racked with guilt that the) might have caused this horror by not being sincere enough, strict enough in their Islam.

It was the Salafists who told them that. But if God slaughtered those whose faith was not strong enough, we would all be dead. That is primitive thinking. That is ideological Islam – not the religion put forth by the tried and true imams, which has been the guide for the perplexed multitudes for 14 centuries.

The Salafists must stop impeding archaeological investigation. Let Muslim archaeologists go in, with sensitivity and concern, and find out what is really there, if anything. There is nothing to fear and much to gain. We might learn important truths about the early history of Islam and, in the process, learn something about ourselves and earn the world’s respect.
Real religion is hard. It requires the heart and brain to work together. As deeply as it is a matter of spirit, it is also a matter of intellect. Our religious leaders should be helping US along this path, but instead they are dumbing the religion down, turning it into a mishmash of slogans and jingles, mumbled incantations, superstitious talismans to ward off benumbing fear – in short, magic. This seems more like propitiation for an angry deity, more like a Baal or Moloch than the Light of the Heavens and the Earth.

The ascendancy of the Salafists deprives Muslims of the difficulty and complexity – the depth and texture of our religion and, ultimately, of its essential meaning. It deprives us of the chance to drink of the elixir of know ledge and become fully realized adults.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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