As Cletus pointed out to me, Islam doesn't have the cheat of "Jesus = God" to get out of the trap laid above, which leaves this question unresolved. Does Islam, as a religion allow me to be who I am, or does it place restrictions on me, effectively limiting my freedom to express myself?

The same question has been asked about nearly every mature paradigm for thought since the beginning of time, and I would have to say that there is definitely some truth to the answer that it DOES restrict freedom of expression. The important point that often gets neglected in these questions, is that it is supposed to. We have incredible potential to do both good, and evil, and presumably we wish to be unshackled to choose a better course by virtue of our freedom, rather than to degenerate. Well, religion's main gift to mankind, is just that. It frees us from society, from culture, from tradition and superstition, and allows us to choose those things that are truly best for us.

And it does this in a way that most modern western thinkers will find shocking, it doesn't put physical restraints on the person, changes the nature of the person so that physical restraints are unnecessary.

Do I have the right to adopt my own religion, to choose and neglect as I see fit? Of course I do, but in doing so I am no longer a Muslim, and I have thus lost my identification as a Muslim, and also my integrity. Even if I feel compelled to make a change in my faith, I should remember that I like as not don't understand it well enough to judge, from ANY standpoint.

The issue is whether the progressive engagement with the religion is bringing me inner peace and clarity, and strength. I have questions, and if the answers I hear from Islam ring true, then it is my duty to remain Muslim.

Where then does this leave my freedom? Intact. What about the Religion? Intact also. To use Christianity as an example, Jesus did indeed re-interpret the Jewish faith's approach to religious life. But he was a Prophet, and that is what they are *supposed* to do. No one had to follow his teachings at the time unless they chose to, it was only afterwards that conversions became compulsory.

Even if we leave him out of it, to a lesser extent the Jewish authorities have been re-interpreting the words of Moses and Abraham for millenia, and have a broad sprectrum of approaches to problems in daily life, in perceptions of the divine, and of course to the religious texts given by lots of different and differing Rabbis.

Christians have the diverse array of saints, and to some extent the differing opinions of the churches to parallel this, and while they may despise each other, they *do* see each other as Christians.

For Muslims the system is much easier, and much looser, we have no centralised or organised clergy, and the only thing a person needs to interpret the Quran is his or her own mind, and the wisdom to have read it and understood it. In a very real sense it is a bit like e2, those who know, contribute, and everything is checked, cross checked, and if you like it after that fact, then you follow it, if not you don't.

Islam also has the concepts of fiqh, and of aql, and ibadah. Or, in English, Intelligence, Reason, and Obedience. When something is directly written about and unequivocal, then you obey (Quran). When something is disputable with precedents, then you Reason, (Hadith) and take the best of those opinions available. When it is a new situation, then you use your own Intelligence and bring the Islamic spirit of openess, and inquiry into it. This last in invaluable for everyday life, and brings the personal element into Islam, giving you the chance to define what a Muslim is from day to day, from place to place.

I honestly don't think then, that religion prevents you from being you are. Sects might, cults almost always do, but as we have seen above the mature broadbased religions are marked by a certain flexibility while defining the relationships of their followers in the light of their holy messages.