EditorSeptember October 2004

Futurizing Islam

Future Islam

When people will be connected together
When the female child buried alive will be questioned for what crime was she killed
When the dissemination of written material will know no bounds
When the Garden will be brought to near
Shall each soul know what it has put forward (Al-Qur'an 81:7-14).

While reading these lines of the Qur'an one comes across a post-modern spatial scenario and is immediately reminded of the world wide web. Here, the vision of the Day of Judgment suddenly gets mixed with a mundane living, a world where modern life has almost taken over the traditional space. No wonder, the Qur'an, as the word of God it is, enables us to see the past, the present and the future in one single vision like a sudden glimpse in a thunderbolt.

The creation of a virtual space away from the real world is no ordinary wonder. A world where millions are actively engaged in deliberations on issues almost anything under the sky, is a phenomenon rapidly molding even the most conservatives amongst us. The cyber world has no official clergy whom one has to look at for approval nor is it possible here to subdue an alternative opinion with the barrel of a gun. In the cyber world there is no capital city, no focused metropolis, no center and no periphery. It is a truly post-modern scenario where the human mind is free to build his/her own mental picture from the flood of floating thought fragments. In a world so created ideas are judged on their own merit without any weight of the pulpit attached to them. Endowed with a profound sense of good and evil, here human mind is equally exposed to Satan and his adversaries. Amidst a plethora of set answers of pet questions dug from ancient books there are also issues inviting us to think afresh. From superficial propaganda to serious academic debates, the net world has created much of a scenario of  a big bang of ideas.
 
The stage is set for a free, frank and truly international debate, for the emergence of a pure message of God without any local color or cultural and geographical moorings. Islam, as it is the message of God to humanity and Mohammed as he is a Warner to all and a blessing for the entire world, where then such a universal message and its prophet can find a better appreciation than the Cyber world? The traditional Muslim mind is baffled as the new space has pushed the old division of the world as Darul Islam or Darul Kufr into oblivion. It is not possible any more to live in watertight compartments. Those fond of looking at the world through a cultural glass or identify the message of God with Arab culture may find uncomfortable with the new, culture-free understanding of God’s message in the world wide web. Calling Islam a Middle-Eastern religion is a fashion on steep decline and so is the traditional projection of Islam by some of its revered exponents who fashioned it in Arab cultural straitjacket.

In some weak moments of Muslim history our intellectuals and Ulema believed that the only way to ensure survival of Islam was to protect the outer manifestations of the traditional mode of living. Ibne Taimia’s famous treatise Iqtidha Sirat al-Mutaqeem fi Mukhalefah Ashab al-Jaheem, a desperate move to arrest our decline, is perhaps the most telling document of a misplaced vision. Islam that emerges from such treatises is all about a sense of dressing and a penchant for staying away from the ‘other’. This fake and unworthy tradition, a mere asnad jayyid by Ibne Taimiyah’s own admission, has been instrumental in shaping the Muslim mind of the decline period. Identification of Islam with the Arab culture created serious doubts about its universal claim and brought the Islamic dawah to a halt in non-Arabian regions. So influential was this single treatise that its echo is found in different places throughout the ages. In India, Ahmed Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah considered it an obligation for the faithful to resist any thing non-Arab and pride in everything Arab. Unfortunately, this exclusive Arab color of Islam has come to be regarded so natural that for most of us today it is almost impossible to visualize an authentic Muslim without an Arabian or Eastern dress. For centuries we are told that wearing a non-Arabian dress or even getting to a non-Arabian hair-style can make one’s faith void. Even learning a foreign language is not spared. Based on their understanding of this fabricated tradition, it became completely Haram to learn Persian language. And this unlawfulness, by all implications, should now be extended to English, French, German and other foreign languages. For it was mistakenly believed, as Ibne Taimia has it, that Persian language makes one munafiq. Worse still, according to this view, if a Muslim gets settled in a non-Muslim land, on the Day of Judgment he will have his fate with the Kuffar.
 
This geographical and cultural projection of a universal deen not only forced Muslims to limit themselves within the psychological boundaries of their own making, it also created a sense of fear and hatred for the other. As opposed to the message of the Qur’an calling for a global society based on tawheed, the upholders of the neo-tawheed were claiming that they alone have patented the worship of one true God. Unmindful of the far reaching negative implications of this closed-mind set attitude, the neo-tawhidis went on preaching: ‘it is commonly held belief of ahl-sunnah wa al-jama’ah that the Arab race has an edge over the non-Arabs’. Besides betraying the essential Islamic teachings, such highly irresponsible pronouncements paved the way for an Arab versus non-Arab and East versus West clash.
 
In an ever-shrinking world where the believers have no other option but to ride on the same globe alongside with the non-believers, the neo-tawheedi understanding of Islam is put to scrutiny. Sitting in an Internet Café in the Arabian city of Qaseem or Riyadh, the faithful is virtually breathing in the same world with millions totally stranger to him. What otherwise might be considered abhorring, in a private chat room the believer and the non-believer, the male and the female get mixed. A dialogue, fraught with all kinds of danger though, becomes unavoidable.

The neo-Tauheedis alone are not to be blamed for this closed mind-set. There are the Indians, the Chinese, the Jews and the Americans all up to claim a sole right on the 21st century. For quite sometime they have been conditioned to think in purely nationalistic nay, rather jingoistic terms. For many among them the vital question is for whom the 21st century? In a situation where the buzzword is domination over the ‘other’ it is no surprise if a group of Muslims too sincerely feels that after the dismantlement of the ‘evil empire’ the only hurdle in establishing their hegemony are the ‘evil Americans’ whose fall they must engineer. While this attitude otherwise appears to be a natural corollary of what goes on in the real world, nonetheless, it belittles our hope in the future. If religiously inspired Muslims, who still have some vague sense of being given the responsibility of leading history till end time, envision the future of our globe in terms of domination, where would one look for a refuge? Islam has come to liberate people from all kinds of domination and if Muslims end up in replacing other’s domination by their own, it will defeat the very purpose of their existence.

It is high time to visualize a future world in which no one single group is let free to dominate the center-stage but all are united as one single family in worship of one God. For such a broad, all embracing vision of Islam to put forward effectively Muslims must come out of their traditional mind-set. Unless we realize that we too, like our ancestors, have been endowed with heads on our shoulders and that the sole function of our head is not just to place a cap or a tarbush on it, we cannot put aside the intellectual garbage that we have so willingly accumulated in course of our centuries long intellectual journey. For a people so fond of using epithets like ‘Islamic Art’, ‘Islamic Philosophy’, ‘Islamic Architecture’ etc. it would be a great challenge to concede that we as Ummah Muslimah were not entrusted to create, what we did, the grandeur of Abbasid Baghdad, or the splendor of Moorish Spain. It needs no less than a paradigm shift to realize that the architectural wonder of the Taj and other marvels of Mughal India that sometimes reminds us of our ‘glorious’ past, was in fact a digression from our original prophetic plan.

The traditional mind that considers ‘Islam as history’ equally valid as ‘Islam as Revelation’ and insists that the latter must be understood in conformity with the former, has posed a great challenge to our return to pure Islam. It has created serious confusion in young minds about the nature and function of Islam itself. For example, in the West, revival of Arab or eastern culture has acquired religious sanctity. National liberation struggles in different parts of the world fought by Muslims are looked as Jihad activity, a religious obligation. True, Muslims as a nation are the worst victims today of the Bush-Blair tyranny. And it is also true that a nation being continuously inflicted with fresh wounds has the right to fight back, to resist the way it can. But a prophetic vision and concern for all demands from us that we, as upholders of the last Revelation, must look beyond mere self-rescue operations. No doubt, it were we who were dehumanized in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib prison and burnt alive in the streets of Gujarat. It is our blood spilling on a daily basis in Palestine and other places. Yet we should not forget in our most nerve shaking moments that we cannot inflict on others what they did to us. God forbid! We cannot indulge in dehumanization of fellow humans or take innocent lives. And this is the source of our strength.

In a world where the religious leaders have long established the norm of looking at each single issue from a communitarian angle, securing the interest of their community more than the truth, calling on Muslim Ulema alone to look beyond mere Muslim interest will raise many eyebrows. But if we are sensitive to the plight of Man and aware of our religious responsibilities we cannot let each day pass sitting idly in our fortress of Muslimness hoping that one day everything will be fine.

Future Islam is a post-modern prophetic voice though not coming from the mouth of a prophet.  It is a call to give direction to our wayward globe by rediscovering the pristine purity of Islam. We understand that that putting history again on its original prophetic course is no ordinary venture. We also understand that there are no set answers to the highly complex situation that we are in today, nor we, at futureislam.com, intend to gather various possible answers, rather we insist on creating one. We are no prophets nevertheless we carry on the legacy of Abraham. It is a great challenge. But who can be better prepared to accept this challenge than those who uphold the Last Revelation?

Rashid Shaz
New Delhi
September 01, 2004

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