Having presented a none-too bright fact sheet on the condition of the ummah, in this issue the author traces myths that he believes form the bedrock of the questionable logic of Muslim practices today.
Our ideas are born in the womb of our assumptions. Do our assumptions pass the test of reason? Are they supported by historic evidence? What harm do they inflict if they are fundamentally erroneous? How wrong assumptions lead to ineffective, even counter-productive, action?
In this and the forthcoming issues the author analyzes some assumptions that he regards as pure myths.
This series is largely based on the author’s Urdu audio presentation KHITAB available from SPRAT .
If actions proceed from ideas and if ideas are born from knowledge and assumptions, then wrong beliefs and presumptions constitute a grave threat to the outcome. I believe that many of our popular assumptions defy evidence.
Myths may be classified as those planted by vested interests and those cultured by the victims themselves. We seem to suffer both, but are harmed more by those we cultivate. Here are some. In their import they are lethal in the long run.
The World Wants to Weaken Muslims
An oft-repeated lament we nurture is: “nobody really cares for us”. Indeed, deep down we believe that the world actually wants to hurt us. A sarcastic friend remarked that the world doesn’t take us seriously enough to hurt! Also, few – much less the Christians of the Developed West – are driven by the bigotry of the crusades today. Indeed, evidence points to the contrary. Consider the following:
· Who protested the Gujarat genocide most? The Arabs? Malaysians? Well, the Indian Hindus, the Europeans and the Americans did. In Delhi Aman Ekta Manch, in Ahmedabad the Citizen’s Initiative spearheaded the public outcry. Narendra Modi remains persona non grata for the US to date.
· Who challenged Bush’s excursion into Iraq? Again, the largest public rallies were organized by the civil society in Melbourne and Madrid, New York and London, Paris and Berlin. We did not hear of such public outrage in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Muscat or Riyadh.
· Who is providing greater economic assistance to the depraved Muslim populations around the world? Who has funded the education of global Muslim stars of today? African Muslim countries are not too far from the Middle East but collectively receive far greater aid from the West.
Also, contrast this widely held Muslim lament with more convincing causes of our deprivation, as listed by the well-known economist, Dr Kenneth David: He lists with evidence Illiteracy – specially of women – lack of industrialization [around 16%, vis-?-vis 60% of Christian population] and high population growth as the chief causes of Muslim suffering.
No Harm Can Come to Islamic Relics
While the intelligentsia may not endorse this but a vast section of Muslims actually believe this. If Babri Masjid demolition were not sufficient evidence, consider the hundreds of mosques and dargahs desecrated elsewhere in India in the rioting that followed. In Gujarat alone hundreds were destroyed or damaged. SPRAT has documented desecration around Ahmedabad. World-wide in enemy bombing, Tsunami, earthquake etc religious relics, like any other structures, perish.
Powerful people are able to protect their heritage; the weak lose them. Muslims have conveniently abdicated the responsibility to protect their shrines to God. No imam or keeper was known to have sacrificed his life protecting his shrine in Gujarat, while many shop-keepers did, trying to protect their properties. “Allah will protect His house, I must protect mine!” Practical wisdom, indeed! Sadly Allah didn’t.
Muslims built majestic shrines when they were also economically and politically powerful. When on these fronts they lag behind they lose what they already have. In the sprawling new Western Ahmedabad there is not one single mosque, but there are Gurudwaras and churches.
The Muslim Stock is Rising
I beg to differ. Quantitatively, yes. qualitatively, no. Maulana Azad had underlined this difference. Our growing number is NOT our strength, rather, it is our chief weakness. Jews account for less than 1% Muslims. Why are they more powerful, then? Again, by merely having world’s tallest structure or exquisite 7-star hotels and golf clubs our stock does not necessarily rise. It is as far fetched as to say that female prime ministers show that women of Pakistan and Bangladesh are empowered. US, incidentally, never had a woman president. On international front the Global Muslim bankruptcy is [v]indicated by absence of headquarters of any major UN organ, or the right of veto to the Muslim block in the Security Council.
Consider our pathetic performance in science. We contribute just about 1% of all the scientific papers published world-wide. The 500 odd Universities of the entire Muslim world collectively produce barely 500 Ph.D.’s in Science while UK alone accounts for six times as many. The total population of Muslim Engineers and Scientists counts far less than that of a single European nation. If only we had heeded Iqbal’s warning: “Teri barbadiyon ke mashware hain aasmanon mein” (Your downfall is being contemplated by the heavens) we may have averted this.
Can we forget the disturbing pictures of scorched Iraqui soldiers beseeching Americans, in the “mother of all wars”, for drops of water? Or of Afghans toppling one another to collect food packets dropped from western relief planes? Or ignore the everyday scenes of burqua-clad women queuing up before hospitals and charity centres run by other communities?
The Rajinder Sachar Committee findings reveal all-round backwardness of Muslims. Indeed, the Indian Muslim stock lags behind that of the Hindu Backward! If prison is the only avenue where Muslim stock is rising, it indicates both, discrimination, and, no less, deprivation. Empty belly knows no law, after all. And we have a belly too many. Have you come across one major Indian mosque or dargahs that was not lined up by Muslim beggars? We shall in due course discuss the causes of our abysmal poverty.
Religious Piety Determines Our Stock in the World
While we refrain from delving into matters spiritual, in the temporal context we scarcely find this assumption working. Let’s ask who today’s Muslim stars are, both for us and also for the non-Muslims. Compile a list of well known Muslims – globally or just around you – and delete from it Nobel laureates, scientists, sportspersons, engineers, performing artistes, doctors, politicians, lawyers, industrialists and traders that are not known for their piety. One is afraid we will not be immensely proud of the pruned list. Non-Muslims wouldn’t have heard of most – and wouldn’t care. So, is the author making a case for sinful life? Far from it. Presented here is just the distinction between our belief and the reality, between matters material and spiritual.
This begets the question: what type of people are better equipped to speak for Muslims? In other words, whose voice is heard with attention? Does our cruel world pay attention to piety or power?
Conversely, when we fall sick do we consult the pious doctor or the most medically competent doctor? Indeed, is piety factored at all for our bypass surgeon? When choosing between a namazi but raw driver and a competent old hand, do we go by piety? Ditto for flying our planes, buying our goods from, taking dealership and commission agencies of. Do we seek jobs with the most pious employer or opt for better growth options? So, where lies the dichotomy? While piety is a virtue, so is professional competence. Piety may – and often does – complement but certainly cannot substitute professional competence.
Religion and Culture are One and the Same
Sounds quite like VHP’s cultural nationalism! Not long ago in a neighborhood mosque the imam chided a child on speaking English thus: “Arabi nahin bol sakte to Urdu bolo, yeh angrezi Masjid me kyoon?” [if you can’t speak Arabic at least speak Urdu, why English in the mosque?]. Surely the pious man believed the Prophet spoke Urdu, too. Sadly most Muslims did not know that Urdu was evolved a millennium after him.
“Islami libas” [clothing and appearance] is a whip that is often wielded mercilessly. One wonders if the expressions Islamic food, Islamic profession, Islamic sports, Islamic business etc are logical. Is the repairing of automobiles, PCs, working in call centres, organ transplantation, playing tennis, eating noodles or pizza, speaking French or piloting an aircraft an Islamic activity? Now, contrast the expression “Islamic clothing” with “Islamic injunctions on clothing” and a paradigm shift will emerge.
The lungi-clad, Idli-eating, Tamil speaking Haji appears outright un-Islamic to the Hyderabadi rickshaw driver, but the Lebanese Christian doesn’t. No, this presumption is not harmless; it reflects in his attitudes, alters his world-view grievously. And HE constitutes the bulk of us.
Not distinguishing between the geo-economic part of Arab practices and the essence of Islamic ideology is probably adding to our confusion between the substance and the form. It will possibly help to recognize that most mid-eastern religions [Islam, Christianity, Judaism] permit non-vegetarianism, while most Asiatic ones [Hinduism, Jainism] discourage it, or that polygamy was a plausible solution to adverse gender-ratio of Arabia, or that desert people [marwaris of Rajasthan included] do sport some veil to shield against sun and sand.
When extended to applications of technology the context changes even more. For instance, today much hue is raised if Iftar is delayed by a minute or two. But ask if the Prophet broke his Ramadan fast at 6:03 PM on such and such day? Indeed, is there a single Hadith that mentions time in minutes? Or even in hours? How could it? The clock acquired the minute hand 1200 years after the Prophet.
Products that didn’t exist, context that has drastically changed, discoveries and explorations that were made subsequent to the Prophet’s times.. do they merit intelligent, contextual assessment or application of straight-jacketed solutions by men who know little of our world? Culture, we are afraid, does not appear to be the soul of religion.