MILITANT groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State, have unleashed unspeakable terror in the world. Yet they also attract Muslims in large numbers, driven by a desire to establish what they believe is Islam’s supremacy and global power. This, to them, is the right of Islam that others have usurped.
They also believe that Islam gives them the right to enforce their understanding of the Sharia on everyone, and carry out punishments which they consider to be divine instructions. They view democracy as anti-Islam and a Western concept. Not only do they believe that polytheism, blasphemy, apostasy and adultery deserve capital punishment, they also demand that non-Muslims either convert to Islam, pay the jizya, or face death.
Combine these factors with strong hatred against other sects and lack of intellect-based debate on religious issues, and you have the fearsome environment that prevails, including in today’s Pakistan. The narrative of the militants has extensive support, underscored by the fact that few among the so-called ulema have denounced it, or produced a counter-narrative. In fact, according to Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, the renowned exegete and scholar, all of them seem to agree with this ideology: they differ only with the strategy that has been adopted.
When Ghamidi wrote a counter-narrative to that of the Taliban, there was a flood of criticism from religious quarters. Using extensive analysis and reasoning based on Quranic verses and authentic ahadith, he shows that all of the above are completely wrong interpretations of Islamic teachings. Specific verses meant for specific times and conditions are often taken out of context to validate political interests.
Muslims should pay attention to internal reform.
God does not instruct Muslims to wage war at any time in order to rule the world. Jihad cannot be waged by non-state actors. There are strict conditions that must be followed. God does not require Islam’s global power. According to scholars like Ghamidi, it was only the Arabian peninsula that was designated for Muslim rule. They believe the spread of Islam, during the time when the Prophet (PBUH) was alive, was ordained on the basis that the Prophet had initially provided conclusive truth to all nations of the world. It is only during the lifetime of prophets that — when their people consistently refuse to accept divine guidance — God vanquishes them, either through divine punishment or at the hands of believers.
When prophethood ended with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), such punishments, too, ended. Forced conversions are not allowed, and jizya is no longer valid. There is no coercion in Islam. Everyone, regardless of religious or tribal affiliation, has an equal status and should get equal justice.
Muslims have reached such low levels of reasoning, ethics and morality today because of their own misdeeds and failure to follow Quranic guidance. They did not develop expertise in the sciences, nor did they ponder over the systems of the universe; they used the Quran merely as a book to be revered but not reflected upon and discussed freely, and they developed a complete disregard for moral training that is the real spirit of Islam.
They allowed clerics to control their minds and emotions. They are responsible for their downfall and, instead of plunging the world into chaos by fighting endless wars, they should pay attention to internal reform.
Ghamidi has also been criticised for his take on an Islamic state vs an Islamic government. The Objectives Resolution of 1949, made a part of the 1973 Constitution, resulted in the state being given a religious identity, relegating minorities to second-rate status. A modern state can be a monarchy, autocracy or democracy. If the majority has declared a state to be Christian, Hindu or Muslim, this is unacceptable to Islamic justice.
Islam requires governance by the majority. If Muslims are elected, they have the right to govern, provided true democratic principles are followed. This is indeed what the Quaid had envisaged, with everyone having equal rights. The majority has no power to own the state. It is the collective — including non-Muslims — to whom Pakistan belongs.
The role of the ulema is to educate and communicate, not to implement Sharia by force. Islam will be manifest only through the people’s behaviour as they absorb its essence. In an Islamic democratic state, people would have the right to full information and freedom of expression; leaders would be chosen freely, and not on the basis of coercion, bribery and deception; representatives would be free from fear, greed or vested interests, and the decisions of the majority would be implemented.
This is the narrative that requires attention from both government and civil society if we are to counter the evils of extremism and rampant discrimination. Unfortunately, we have given the state the name of Islam, but we are an un-Islamic society.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2015