23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Preconditions for Reforms

After presenting a none-too-elevating fact sheet and exposing myths that camouflage these harsh realities, this column now makes bold to begin discussing a corrective course. For any serious treatment, however, certain preconditions must be met – rather like the assumptions that qualify sound theories. These Recognitions constitute the subject for some of the following issues. In so doing the author may continue to hint at blunders that cost the ummah dearly.

This series is largely based on the author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT.

As we saw earlier, amongst the four major religious communities, globally, Muslims as a whole are the poorest, least literate, win the least noble prizes and Olympic medals, suffer poorer health, have least democracy and freedoms, are less liberal; their women are least empowered and they collectively face more violence from within or without.
Could all this be accidental, merely due to the “conspiracy of the Zionists and the Crusaders”? Wouldn’t that be too simplistic, if not outright a lame excuse? Particularly when these deficiencies are not confined to a region but pervade right across the globe shouldn’t we sit up and examine where WE are responsible?
What is it that connects all these Muslims across various cultures, regions and climes? Islam. Yes, this is the only common connection. So, there has to be something about the way we understand, interpret and practice Islam that inhibits progress amongst us. A harsh question? But is it false? And will we benefit by evading it, ostrich-like?

It appears that we hold on to beliefs that have long worn out, or are refusing to recognize realities that are inconvenient. Until due recognition crystallizes we will hardly be able to cure the disease.

Changed Times

Let us recognize, to begin with, that the times have changed from the days of the prophet. We are certainly living in a different world - in terms of human awareness, availability of tools of knowledge and investigation, invasion of privacy and influx of communication that has shrunk time and distance, connecting people of myriad faiths and cultures intricately.

This, in turn, makes it obligatory to develop a global culture, a universal set of values for intercourse amongst different people. Religion being very personal cannot be that medium. This metaphor has to be secular, based on reason, science and humanism.

In this dynamic, changing, world that is far more pluralistic than ever, we will have to go beyond the stated word, to the spirit, to the context. We must learn to distinguish between form and substance, core and peripheral, religious and cultural, absolute and relative or eternal and contextual, indeed, between means and end.

Huqooq-al Ibad

Fortunately Muslims are already empowered on this front. Besides Huqooq-al-Lah Muslims are expected to cater to the needs of their fellow humans. Not surprisingly they have been known historically to build orphanages, schools, rest-houses, tree-lined high-ways, hospitals, libraries, public tanks, gardens etc.

Unlike Huqooq-al-Lah, [namaz, roza, zakawt etc] which are personal to an individual and relate him with God, Huqooq-al Ibad are univeral, common and secular. Everybody can be engaged in this duty, together. If Zaid fulfils all Huqooq-al Lah he may be rewarded by God but this hardly benefits his fellow-men. But if he fulfils Huqooq-al Ibad he is acknowledged by mankind and may also be rewarded by “rabbil-alameen”. Doesn’t Quran [3-110] declare Muslims as “kuntum khayr 'ummah ukhrijat li- an- naas” [the best community for the good of mankind]? And doesn’t it remind: [13-17] “Only those would find permanence, stability and firmness in this world that proved themselves useful to others”?

We must recognize, therefore, that our status in this world will depend upon how much of Huqooq-al Ibad we fulfill.
Based on these two recognitions we must learn to dilute our criticism and to respect other faiths, other practices. It is not only democratic to respect opposition but intelligent to provide space for divergent points of view. The “fee naar-e-jahannum” [consigning the infidel to hell] mindset must go. Doesn’t Quran proclaim [11-56] “There is no living creature whose destiny is not controlled by Him”? [see also 11-6]

Dissecting the holy books of Hinduism and Christianity some of our learned men, unfortunately, work hard to prove these faiths unscientific, inconsistent or incomplete, inviting their abrogation in Islam. This is bound to prove counter-productive. Hundreds of anti-Muslim websites do precisely the reverse, deriding Islam and Quran, using similar “pick and question” methodology. These people question why Quran, the book for all times, makes no mention of gravity, America, computers, lasers, cloning, unisex creatures, dinosaurs etc.

When a Muslim ridicules Hanuman or Ganesh he begets sarcasm on rafraf-o-burraq, indeed, on gins, houries and angels. As for “scientific validity” we will be hard put to explain “creation”, paradise, hell, seven skies and a whole host of other entities.

One wishes such religious leaders spent the same effort in building institutions of public welfare, honouring Huqooq-al Ibad or in improving the temporal character of Muslims.

Temporal Character

Which brings us to the secular or worldly character of Muslims. Punctuality, promise keeping, cleanliness, desire for learning, fair trade practices, kindness and compassion, forgiveness, chivalry, generosity etc. are traits that humanity globally respects. Let’s ask if Muslims are any better, which they should be, than any other class of people, in these traits. There is no evidence whatsoever that in any free society, such as India, their temporal character is any better than that of the general society or class they belong to. Indeed, the author knows several concerned Muslim industrialists and traders that usually do not appoint Muslims precisely because they falter in this area. A leading pharmaceutical conglomerate and a famous garment company of India, both owned by Muslims, have no Muslim employee in their senior ranks. It may be pointed out here that it is far easier to practice the basic rituals of Islam than to abide by its spirit.

Similarly one might ask if Muslims are less prone to criminality. Are Muslims, for instance, less corrupt, less violent, less cruel? Do they lie, cheat and steal less often? Our studies have shown that for a given socio-economic background the Muslim character is indistinguishable from others. Indeed, as stated previously, several Muslim countries figure very high on corruption index. I am told that to run a competitive industry in an exclusively Muslim mohalla is a veritable nightmare. Consider, for example, that a Muslim girl in a Muslim ghetto is less safe [and can scarcely hope to take a late evening walk alone] than her Christian contemporary in a matching Christian locality. Is that why we shut our women inside purdah?

I wish some credible institution offered verifiable evidence showing that Muslims, as a class of people, fare better on temporal character. SPRAT is willing to commission a serious research on this issue.
Outgrowing Fear
The fear of being ostracized, boycotted or of becoming unpopular is a fear we must overcome for the sake of truth and out of love for Muslims. Sadly even Muftis tend to issue fatwa’s that are populist in nature. If fatwa is a potent weapon can it not be put to constructive use? Consider, for example, fatwa’s being issued enjoining Muslims to produce fewer children, for educating girls, going for polio vaccination, keeping streets clean. Surely Islam offers enough grounds for these reforms to progressive clergy that truly cares for the advancement of Muslims. As things stand, we must recognize that all fatwa’s are not necessarily binding.

Over-emphasis on rituals, the form and upon minor issues has cost us dearly. Examples: Length of the beard – or of the pyjama, entering with right or left foot in first, tying hands in namaz above or below the abdomen, Allah hafiz vs. Khuda hafiz.. the list is endless. Then imagine the fate of the Muslim who said “Namaste” or practiced some Yoga asana? An eminent scholar observed that while Quran wants religion to be easy [“ad deen-o-yasrun”] the ill-informed clergy complicates it.

Core and Peripheral

And this raises the pertinent question of what constitutes the Core of Islam. Clearly a definitive answer – if there is one – is beyond both the capacity of this author and also of the mandate of this column. Yet for common Muslims this dilemma, even if unarticulated, is utterly destructive.

If we were to ask a randomly formed group of average Muslims to record what they consider ten [not five] top tenets of Islam, the latter half of the list will be pretty diverse. And, taking the study further, if we were to ask another group to list their top ten priorities in life, this may well not contain even the former half. So what is the core and what should be the priorities for the Muslims?

“Who are they to decide the core?” the clergy may question. In all humility it may be pointed that it is these people that have to live those tenets out in their respective situations, outside the protection of Muslim mohallas.



?You wrote that Muslims are either battling with non-Muslims or fighting within. Wasn’t that harsh? £ It was. Indeed this column deliberately provokes introspection. Sadly the objected statement is being proved correct by the merciless killing of Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and of the Fatah and Hamas in Palestine. More Muslims have been killed by Muslims than by non-Muslims.

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