by Michelle Khan
Student, AU Sociology of Religion
Religious adherence holds a great deal of power over religious individuals. With this power comes an opportunity for that power to be manipulated and used to accomplish goals outside of a particular religion’s scope. The means used to achieve these goals are justified through the warped interpretation of religious text. Magnifying in on my own personal experiences, I am able to draw on instances where the religion I was raised in was interpreted in a corrupt manner to carry out opportunistic goals.
I am originally from Pakistan, a country deeply rooted in rigid patriarchy. Islam is practiced by the majority of Pakistanis and governs their personal, political, economic and legal lives. The dynamics of the relationship between Pakistani society and Islamic beliefs does suggest that the powerful elite often use religion to exploit opportunistic avenues. I have seen the immediate effects of this through my parents. My mother inherited a substantial amount of land after the passing of her parents. Living in Canada, she wished to sell her portion of the land in order to use her inheritance towards the mortgage of our family home. This seemingly straightforward notion has been nothing short of a nightmare for my mother. Even though my grandparents had left detailed written documents outlining the distribution of the properties, the male successors, my mother’s brothers, hold primary possession of the land and are responsible for its’ distribution. Although Pakistan has progressed quite drastically in the past couple of decades, certain elements of patriarchy remain intact. The justification for this societally accepted ruling stems from the interpretation of the Quran, the central religious text of Islam. Many Pakistani men, including my uncles, use the Quran to justify their unwarranted power. The Quran states that the inheritance of women is half that of men (Al-Islam, n.d.). The social context in which the text was written in was comprised of a society where men had more responsibilities than their female counterparts and had to incur the expenses of their spouses and children in addition to their own expenses. In the present day, where women are increasingly contributing to household income by means of employment, the unwritten rule of men having more power in legal ruling over inheritance is corrupt. Individuals who use Islam as a defense against their unjust actions are therefore using religion in a corrupt and opportunistic manner.
Another way in which religion can often be viewed as a corrupt structure is when extremists butcher religious texts by distorting and misinterpreting their meaning for opportunistic reasons. Most individuals have seen the ramifications of forms of extremism bolstered all over the news and through various social media outlets. My personal experiences with extremist groups being associated with the religion I was raised in has been anything but a positive experience. Al-Qaeda is a multinational militant Sunni Islamist organization which is composed of a network of Islamic extremists (Wikipedia, 2017). As CIA Director John Brennan once stated, Al-Qaeda’s ideology is built on “a perverse and very corrupt interpretation of the Quran” (Spencer, 2014). Al-Qaeda has used Islam as a scapegoat to justify the numerous atrocities that they have committed to accomplish their own political goals. They distort the context and the meanings of passages in the Quran in order to paint a picture that fits their motif. One of the countless examples of misinterpretations of the Quran is the phrase which translates to “kill them where you find them” (Khan, 2015). This quote has been taken completely out of context, the phrase comes right before another phrase which states “but if they cease fighting, then let there be no hostility except against oppressors” (Khan, 2015). Analyzed in the correct context, the phrase does not seem to be indicative of promoting aggression nor hostility. Al-Qaeda has misinterpreted Islam and their unnecessary use of violence is counter-intuitive to the practice of Islam. Al-Qaeda’s goals have been outlined in multiple statements by leaders like Ayman Al-Zawahiri and they have consistently presented a series of objectives that Al-Qaeda is actively pursuing such as liberating all “Muslim lands” from occupation by both non-Muslims, imposing their version of sharia (Islamic law) on Muslims and non-Muslims alike in these lands and thereby erecting a state that they call the “caliphate” (Habeck, 2012). Caliphate, according to Al-Qaeda, means that the entire world is ruled by their version of sharia law (ibid). These opportunistic goals are not the goals of Islam; they are the goals of Al-Qaeda. Failure to recognize this clear distinction between Muslims and extremist groups are what make it so difficult to change the stereotype of who a Muslim is.
Unfortunately, religion sometimes is opportunistically utilized in a corrupt manner that deviates away from the religion’s core philosophy. Religion is a powerful institution and where there lies power, there an opportunity for the abuse of power. Although it is evident that this abuse exists, knowing its true value to many makes me unable to belittle religion’s value solely to its potential for opportunistic corruption.
Al-Islam. (n.d). Women’s inheritance in Islam. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from
Habeck, M. (2012). What does Al-Qaeda want? Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/06/what-does-al-qaeda-want/
Khan, M. (2015). Top 5 misquotations of the Qur’an. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://spiritualperception.org/top-five-misquotations-of-the-quran/#fn3-96
Spencer, R. (2014). CIA chief Brennan: Al Qaeda’s ideology built on “a perverse and very corrupt interpretation of the Qur’an”. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from https://www.jihadwatch.org/2014/03/cia-chief-brennan-al-qaedas-ideology-built-on-a-perverse-and-very-corrupt-interpretation-of-the-quran
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Al-Qaeda. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Qaeda