The true essence

Dec 06 2013


BOTH individually and collectively, we are often troubled by the question of how Muslim societies have developed into some of the most degraded and brutalised societies in the world.

They wage war not only on others but on each other, kill and rape their own and perpetrate horrendous crimes, ironically, in the name of Islam. They murder in the name of a book, yet hold the reading of books an offence. They take lives, destroy wealth and dishonour men, women and children with impunity, in the name of a religion and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who taught that tolerance, peace, mercy and forgiveness were best loved by God.

They wave the Holy Quran to show they are doing all of this to protect Islam, and they quote from the Sharia to prove they are justified. Even those who may not be militants abide by a set of rules that at times defy justice and fairness. So-called religious scholars offer rigid interpretations that differ from each other, and lay the blame for all the woes befalling Muslims on American and Jewish conspiracies (as well as on each other).

As this goes on, the world moves ahead, making quantum leaps in its knowledge and control of material and natural sciences. No one bothers to remember that Muslim scientists had laid the foundation of modern-day mathematics, physics and astronomy through their reasoning and logic. What happened?

Somewhere along the way, Muslims lost the true message of Islam. The true message, enshrined in repeated injunctions to believers in the Quran to observe and reflect, to read and to listen, has been set aside in favour of blind beliefs, senseless actions and baseless prejudices.

Where Islam taught forbearance, many Muslims developed grudges and enmity; where it called for fairness and justice, Muslims became the epitome of oppression and injustice against those they deemed of lower rank; where it asked for tolerance and temperance, Muslims became consumed with bigotry and fanaticism, and where Islam would spread its message through love and kindness, Muslims do it with hatred and violence.

Many Muslims, indeed, have become the very antithesis of Islam. Today, a large number of Muslims have interpreted the Quran and Sunnah using beliefs that appear to justify many of the actions of the Taliban and people of their ilk around the globe. These interpretations have caused much misery to millions, often leading many to question the very basis of religion.

A few of the most damaging interpretations include: jihad means killing those that any group of Muslims perceives to be enemies of Islam, and any individual or group can take up arms against such a perceived enemy; women are only half as intelligent (and of value) as men and their evidence is half that of a man; anyone who is accused of saying or writing against Islam or the Prophet deserves death; anyone who leaves Islam also deserves death; the punishment for adultery is stoning to death; all education other than rote reading of the Quran is un-Islamic; all ‘hadith’ are to be believed and God wants Muslims to conquer and attain their past glory.

Some of these supposed injunctions were relevant for a certain group of people during a certain period of time, some for a specific issue. Most unfortunately have been so distorted and misunderstood — outside of their wider context — that they now form part of the national laws of some countries, including Pakistan.

They are widely and openly used to justify the smallest or the most terrible of crimes, and those who dare speak of even the possibility of revisiting their understanding and implementation are immediately suspected of blasphemy and of being anti-Islam. As one journalist put it, Pakistan is in a state of religious terrorism. It is not only non-Muslims but thinking Muslims, too, who find the country’s air highly oppressive to breathe.

For those of us who are Muslims still despite the efforts of some of our fellow Muslims to turn us away from Islam, the recourse is to revert to the two true and basic Islamic sources: the Quran and Sunnah. We need to read the Quran with understanding of each verse, and with an aim to arrive at an answer to our questions.

As we reflect on the verses and the more objective interpretations (tafseers), we should keep our own logic and analytic powers alive, and where we find these at odds with what we read, we should find learned scholars to interact with. Non-Muslims, too, would benefit from such readings.

Equally important for us is to find ways of disregarding religious differences whether among Muslim sects, or among religions, and stand up to prejudiced and bigoted statements from and actions of so-called religious personalities. We should be able to pray in each other’s mosques and encourage people of other religions to visit mosques to reduce the sense of fear that has developed around them.

We should be able to denounce killers, whoever they are, and raise our voices against oppression, wherever it exists. Above all, the ordinary Muslim should shed fear and awe of the scholar, and be ready to question him, politely, with a sincere desire to achieve understanding of the truth.

One of the great scholars of contemporary times, Maulana Amin Ehsan Islahi, who has written the excellent Taddabur-i-Quran, opening a whole new vista of Quranic understanding, once said: “There is no blessing greater for a human being than the true religion, and no evil greater than a false religion.”

The writer is a freelance contributor.