DAWN - Opinion; 14 May, 2004

May 14, 2004

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A perfect reformer

By Prof Mohammed Rafi

Today, more than ever, the Muslim world needs to look back at the practical aspects of the Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) life and try to imbibe them in our daily lives for peace and harmony. This is what Islam is all about. When Muslims accept some person as a Nabi (Messenger), they must as well believe in emulating the example set by the Nabi.

It is understood that anything actually taught by the Nabi was either done or would have been done by him had the occasion arisen. The Quran tells us that all Messengers were charged by Allah with the same mission (2:136). It is also written that all people are a single nation, so Allah raised Messengers as bearers of His news and as warners and He revealed unto them the Book with truth (2:213).

In other words the message that comes from Allah of human guidance is a practicable verity and not a dreamer's ideal. Prophet Mohammad received Divine Revelation and translated it into action through his own example (2:129 & 151). He was the first to obey these laws (39:11-14) and led others to pursue the path of guidance.

Earlier Messengers had come with Allah's message and guidance, but people changed these, corrupted them or simply hid them. The Quran says 'O people of the Book there has come to you Our Messenger revealing to you much that you used to hide in the Book' (5:15).

Pre-Islamic Arabia was a seat of different religions and sects, each decrying the other as is being done nowadays. Prophet Mohammad denounced division and sectarianism and decried the hostile attitude of the followers of these separate religions and sects.

'And the Jews say that the Christians do not follow anything good, and the Christians say that the Jews do not follow anything good while they recite the same book' (2:213). People were more inclined, like today, on rituals which were supposed to be the essence of all religions.

The Quran says, 'It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East or West, but righteousness (Taqwa) is that one should believe in Allah, the day of judgment, the Malaika, the Book and the Messengers and give away wealth out of love for Him to the nearest of kin and to the orphans, the needy and the wayfarer.

The captives pray and pay Zakat and fulfil the performance of their promises and be patient in distress and adversity and in time of conflict. Such are the righteous ones' (2:177).

Prophet Mohammad did not propagate Islam through miracles. He worked what was more than a miracle: striving against odds and achieved success never seen before or since in history, and in the adverse circumstances to which he had been subjected. But to achieve this unique success he did not resort to things beyond human reach, in which case he could not have acted as an exemplary personality.

He used all honest and honourable means that were open to others. He would plainly say that he was a man like others (18:1110) and 'It is not in my power to cause you harm or bring you to the right path' (72:21) and 'The unseen is only known to Allah (10:20) 'with Him are the keys of the unseen, the treasures no one knows but He' (6:59).

One supreme quality that shows he had achieved the zenith of character and morality that must be the final goal of human endeavour, where man reflects Divine values, was his steadfastness.

In victory or in defeat, in power or in adversity, he remained the same. According to Washington-Irving 'His military triumphs awakened no pride or vain glory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes.

If he aimed at universal dominion, it was the dominion of the faith'. Gibbon writes in the "Rise and fall of the Roman empire" that even at the zenith of his worldly power, the good sense of Mohammad despised the pomp of royalty.

How many of us claiming to be his followers practise what he advised to do? In Madinah he had the opportunity of practising what he had preached at Makkah. He ennobled and enlarged the laws of Moses and brought upon earth the kingdom of heaven prayed for by Jesus.

He established a state with those at helm of affairs not ruling but serving the citizens. There was no prejudice of class, colour, race or descent.

To demolish this long prevailing social injustice, it was emphasized that the noblest in the sight of Allah was he who was most virtuous among men. The state belonged equally to one and all, male and female - and all, in turn, belonged to one universal God, all obeyed one law, not man-made but sent down from the All Merciful and impartial God, which was the same for rich and poor alike.

His life was very simple. He would put on whatever kind or quality of cloth he could get. He would eat whatever was placed before him. He would sit wherever he could find room, whether on a mat, carpet or the ground (Tirmizi 'Shumail').

Unlike the rulers of the modern world, he entered into treaties with his enemies and honoured them. Following the treaty of Hudaybiah in 6 A.H., he discouraged the Muslims of Makkah to flee the city.

The surrender of Makkah offered him ample opportunities of revenge, but he did not avail himself of them. As a role model we must remember that he ordered us to obey Allah's commands, give alms, speak the truth, give back safe and whole what is entrusted to us by others, to be affectionate to our neighbours, to shun wicked acts and avoid bloody quarrels.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica says: "It is easy to make good and far reaching plans, but more difficult to carry them out. Moses, Jesus and many of the prophets before Mohammad did not live to see the success of their respective missions.

The emancipated children of the Egyptian bondage repeatedly disobeyed Moses; Peter and other disciples denied their Master and left him in the moment of his dire need. But Mohammad the humble preacher to the haughty Makkans, who had only the other day been ridiculed, stoned and hunted out of their city of his birth, had within the short span of nine years after his flight from Makkah lifted up his people from the abysmal depth of oral and spiritual degradation to a conception of purity and justice.

"These who had dwelt in a state of permanent warfare among themselves and had revelled in bloodshed and murder on the most trifling pretexts became wedded into a unique brotherhood. Those who cherished no respect for women became the foremost champions of female rights."

The spirit infused by Mohammad enabled the Muslims to face courageously the most formidable foes that a man has to grapple with - one's own corrupt nature and evil habits.

He understood human nature and mind and did not propose to kill our instincts or crush our passions. Instead he propounded a system to control them so that they may function to our best advantage and pass from the bestial to the noble.

Muslims today are more inclined towards an individual and self-conceited Islam for entry into heaven which lies somewhere beyond the sky. Mohammad pointed out the error of such crude notions.

Heaven is the evolved condition of our soul, the casting or not casting of human passion into the mould of divine attributes that makes our Heaven both here and in the hereafter - for the Quran promises two Heavens (55:46) and also its reverse - Hell. He repeatedly said that every person who seeks to observe good morals must tread God's earth reflecting Divine attributes.

Every Muslim should examine, search and assess his deeds and review his conduct several times a day. For this we were ordered to establish the system of 'Salaat' five times a day. This involves the total submission to the laws of Allah in a practical shape.

Mohammad also proposed greetings through "Salaam Alaikum" (Peace be upon you) as As-Salaam is one of the attributes of Allah and means peace. The western equivalent of this is 'Have a nice day' which is oft repeated.

He also quashed a centuries old system of invoking God's mercy through an intermediary. This belief had crept into almost all religions. No religion of Divine origin in its subsequent stages remained free from it.

Islam has no priestly class. Addressing Mohammad (PBUH), Allah says, "And when my servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am near; I answer the prayers of the supplicant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me, that they may find the right way" (2:186).

For the first time, the principle of 'No compulsion in religion' was enunciated and acted upon by Mohammad. Differences of opinion in religious matters were respected and freedom of conscience was allowed. History is full of religious persecutions of the worst type and that is evident even today.

Mohammad preached religious tolerance that had never been known before. To the Christians of Najran and adjoining areas he promised the security of God and his own pledge 'No cross or image shall be destroyed, they will not be oppressed, they shall not be required to furnish provisions for the troops' were his standing orders.

Today a large part of the wealth and brain of the West is expended in discovering ways in which they may utilize destructive weapons to pander to the spirit of aggression.

Mohammad allowed the use of force in three conditions only 1) To protect a house of worship from destruction be it Christian, Jew or Muslim (22:40) (2) In self defence (22:39). (3) To establish freedom of conscience and fight religious persecution.

He was the first leader of a religion that made religion and science help-mates. He abolished dogma and made reason and logic the test of religious truth. He placed the cultivation of knowledge on top.

For him, exploring the realms of nature for the benefit of humanity was the real glorification of God. He gave such an impetus to learning that it brought forth within a century after him a tremendous upheaval in the world of scientific research work.

In the wake of Indian polls

By M.H. Askari

Contrary to what most pre-election forecasts indicated, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had quite a bumpy ride in India's general elections which concluded on Monday.

With the counting of the votes still in progress, the final results will not be known until after these lines have appeared in print. However, it is already obvious that the BJP has had to face some unpleasant surprises. Yet, it will probably scrape through.

First reports after the polling suggest that by an unofficial count the BJP and its allies could be short by as many as 54 seats as against their present strength in the Lok Sabha.

The major opposition, the Congress, is said to be in a position to gain by about the same number of seats as those lost by the NDA. The view has been expressed that going by their poor governance in the outgoing government, "most sitting (NDA) MPs should not get another shot at power."

However, the NDA may yet be able to muster enough seats in its support to be able to remain in power for the time being. The social status, caste linkages, family connections, and of course wealth, of the sitting MPs count for a great deal whether in India or Pakistan.

What has been a setback to the NDA is the humiliation suffered by some of its prestigious constituencies in South India. A particularly nasty jolt has been the defeat of the NDA backed Telegu Desam party's Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, in the state elections. His fate in the national elections is not likely to be better.

Another major South Indian political leader, M. Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu appears disillusioned with the BJP's policies. He has announced that he would not be returning to the NDA coalition.

Of the greatest significance to the BJP's future, however, would be its performance in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two states that between them command the largest (120) number of seats in the Lok Sabha.

According to a recent opinion poll, the NDA could gain eight seats in the UP but in Bihar, it could lose five. However, in the UP, a close supporter of an overzealous BJP leader, Lalji Tandon, to celebrate his birthday, decided to distribute free saris worth Rs 40 each to poor women.

Some 15,000 women were crammed in a small confined enclosure, and 21 women were killed in the ensuing stampede.

The opposition in the state demanded Tando's arrest under Section 144 which bans an assembly of more than five persons. A widely influential news journal India Today offered the comment: "...with the birthday blowout turning into a horrible mishap, party leaders are in a fix over its ramifications for the polls."

A significant outcome of the election campaign has been the emergence of Ms Sonia Gandhi as a major national leader, capable of providing an alternative to the ruling leadership.

She is no longer regarded as an outsider with no place in India's national life. A typical comment about her performance in the elections has been: "... having cobbled together a few formidable alliances in different states, the doddering Congress party (under her leadership) has begun to bounce back in the campaign even as the NDA juggernaut, with fewer allies this time, has begun to lose its early lead."

Ms Sonia Gandhi filed her nomination papers from the Rae Bareilly constituency. Her field trips have generally been popular. Since December 27, she has travelled some 42,000 kilometers and even campaigned in parts of the unsettled upper regions of Assam where militants have been carrying out anti-BJP agitation.

Such hectic involvement with the national elections has given Ms Sonia Gandhi enough confidence to say: "Deport foreigners but don't harass genuine citizens." Her party's manifesto was released by two ex-foreign secretaries, K. Natwar Singh and J.N. Dixit.

The former also served as a close aide to the late Mrs Gandhi while she was at the head of the Congress. Dixit was once India's ambassador in Islamabad and is now Congress Party's foreign affairs adviser.

No political writer in India seriously speaks of Ms Sonia Gandhi as having a chance to come to the head of the next government. None of the election analyses published in the press have said that the Congress could be the single largest party in the next Lok Sabha.

However, there is also the view that under Ms Gandhi's leadership, the Congress may be able to cobble together an alliance that would enable it to "hold the reins of national power for the first time since 1996."

This may seem far-fetched but with the erosion of the NDA/BJP's popularity this could be possible. Whether Pakistan would feel complacent or uneasy because of the developments is not an easy question to answer.

Pakistan's alienation from India began at a time when the Congress came into power i.e. virtually at the beginning. Pandit Nehru's ideal and his commitment to secular politics did not prevent Pakistan from drifting away from India. Over the subsequent decades, the gap has only widened, despite attempts by both sides to bridge it.

Since J.N. "Mani" Dixit once served as ambassador in Pakistan (1989 to 1991) and he has even otherwise expressed his view at length in his book Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance dealing with India-Pakistan relations (1970 to 1994), his serving as Sonia Gandhi's close aide on India's relations with Pakistan, if she comes to power, is a possibility which should be seriously considered.

Dixit is something of a hard-liner, although he is generally rational and seldom impulsive or sentimental. But he is also very nationalistic.

While it is generally believed that both the BJP and the Congress are committed to staying with the ongoing India-Pakistan peace process it is only natural that Vajpayee should be expected to be more flexible in any negotiations with Pakistan: he is the father of the peace process.

The negotiations would reach a crucial stage around July-August when the Kashmir issue comes up for resolution. At that stage the personality of whoever is negotiating from the Indian side will be a critical factor.

If the view on Kashmir expressed by J.N. Dixit in his book are any guide, he is not likely to deviate from India's position under the Simla agreement. He also has certain fixed notions about the psyche of the Pakistani leadership with respect to Indian leadership relations.

He believes - and he has stressed this more than once in his book - that during the freedom movement Pakistani leaders such as Jinnah were "eclipsed" by Hindu leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. The consequent "bitterness still permeates the psyche of the Pakistani power elite."

He is honest enough to recognize that India's strong stand on the accession of Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh generated a genuine apprehension that India would try to nullify the partition by subverting the state of Pakistan, by breaking it up or by reabsorbing its territory according to the Hindu plans for Akhand Bharat.

As far as I can recall, nowhere in his book does Mani Dixit suggest as to what India should be doing to help Pakistan overcome such fears. He merely wants Pakistanis to accept his words that all these fears are baseless.

Perhaps one is getting rather prematurely concerned with the matter. In reality, there is no imminent prospect of Ms Sonia Gandhi holding the office of prime minister of India and there is even less of a prospect of Dixit calling the shots if Pakistan has to deal with Ms Gandhi and not Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Perhaps what merits much more serious thought is a plea made by one of Dixit's eminent colleagues, Mani Shankar Iyer, who too for some time served in a senior diplomatic post in Pakistan and continues to have a large circle of friends and well-wishers here.

Mani Shankar at the launching of his book Pakistan Papers, in New Delhi some time ago, said: despite all the difficulties and tensions between the two countries, they should continue to work towards a friendly relationship.

(This piece was written before the BJP conceded defeat.)