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What is Islam and who speaks for it today?

Nafasat Khan

For me, the advent of Islam was more a social revolution than a “religious one”! “ “the concept of social and economic parity”  as was envisaged nearly 1400 years ago was an entirely someting new  than and even “unthikable” upto 17th century ( when French revolution rocked the Europe). The world was following the path of “class supremacy”.—the ruling class and its allies (rich traders) and those under “the rule” were far apart . In some part of the world an entire “group of human beings” was socially outcaste and was excusively entrusted with the job of disposal of human  night soil  and animal hides ! Yet another group was “designed” to deal with the disposal of human dead bodies and animal carcass ! These were their source of livelihood!  Yet in another so called “old civilization” an entire ethnic group was reduced to”‘construction labor” and by their toil, the world got the monuments like”pyramids” and “sphinyx”the picture was not different in other part of world, including the Arabia. Oppression and discrimination was at zenith and these oppressed” groups were so inhumanly treated that concerned so called “old civilizations” need a public apology for the misdeeds of their “forefathers”!

The belligerence of inter-fighting tribes of Arabian peninsula was at peak and who was the ultimate gainer? The rich  jews money lenders who use to extend loans to the warring factions for purchase of arms at exorbitantly high rate of interest! Female   infanticide was the order of the day.

Then came the second decade of 7th century and  the world saw “a new ray of hope” for entire mankind! Holy Quran declared “ wa’maa arsalna ka illah rehmatul lilalemin” [and we have deputed(prophet Muhammada PBUH) for the betterment of all the worlds!]  There is very significant implication of this declaration “ as   it applies to  all the worlds,means not only for the world we live !  This transformed the perenially ,   inter-fighting  tribes of Arabia into a cohesive force! The renowned poet hali has put  this  “ transformation” as: “ghata ek paharon se batha ke uthhi/ jo tegas pe garji to ganga pe barsi/rahe us se mehroom aabi na khaki/Arab ki zamin jis ne saari hiladi/ek awaaz main soti basti jagadi”  this ‘awakening” of the masses resulted in their unification and lo! Within just hundred years of the death of Holy Prophet , the major portion of the known world then accepted the message of Islam as it was “something very new, very attractive “then and amazingly still is!  The last sermon of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cleared the last piece of cloud, if one was remained “ neither an Arab has a supremacy over an ajami (non-Arab,outside of Arabia) ,nor the reverse of it  holds good, neither a black would be disriminated against by the fair-skined people, only basis of preference would be one’s  character, virtues and deeds”

We can conclude that it was neither  the propagation of the theory of “oneness and onlyness” of the god, commanded to be worshipped nor the prophecy of Muhammad (PBUH) that caused the wide spread of Islam but the doctrines of “social and economic parity” which attracted the oppressed and those at the bottom of society!

If we closely look into the personal and public lives of the prophet (PBUH) and his immediate successors ( the shaikhen), they demonstrated the teachings of Islam in practice.  Hadhrat Umar is said to put on very simple clothes and used to live in mosque, and what was the financial position of “Islamic empire “then?   Two of the most strong and wealthy empires of the world ,  the Roman empire and the Persian empire had been fallen in line and the “riches” of these empire was pouring in the Muslim world! Stray rulers adopted this way of living afterward also. Hadhrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz, Nasiruddin, Zainul Abedin of Kashmir and even “much cursed” Aurangzeb!

Arabs were familiar with a vast zone of world outside their homeland   before advent of  Islam because of their “trade activities”. They were regular visitors to syria, south-western coast of Indian sub-continent, countries of eastern africa et al. Much earlier the entry of mohammad bin qasim in India and of khalid bin waleed in syria, Arabs have very strong business relations with the people of these countries.”Cultural swap” was in progress and gained strength with the adven t of Islam.

When people with different cultures and different languages  confront with each other, the cross  acceptance of cultures and languages give rise to some thing“hybrid”.this come to fore when  we study the traditions of the Muslims  belonging to non-Arab lands.the converts synthesised their social practices with Islamic beliefs. While core values   of Islam remained unchanged, the converts continued to observe their pre-Islamic   social customs and social practices and are still following the trend!  As a result, an indonesian Muslim would certainly differ   socially   and linguistically  from his/her counterpart in Indian sub-continent,  who, in turn would  not match apparently with a  bosnian Muslim, though their “core religious beliefs” would be the same and their “supreme” books  would certainly be Holy Quran and compilation of the traditions and sermons of the prophet(PBUH)

Any attempt of so called “uniformation” of Islam would be counter productive. People have “emotional attachment” to their traditions. Till such time, these traditions and practices don’t contradict the basic beliefs and tenets of Islam, there should be no harm in the continuance of such social practices. We would have to distinquish between “Islamization” and “Arabization”. Whosoever believes in”oneness and onlyness” of allah for worship and prophet Muhammad ( PBUH) is his “messenger” is a Muslim. The diffrences beyond these basic beliefs are trivial and secondary. All “kalemahgo” can be accomodated under the vast umbrella of Islam—hanafi, maleki, shaafai, humbaali, then shias, ithna ashari or imamia, ismailis, bohras, memons etc.

Prophet mohammad(PBUH) had  been sent as “rehmatul li’lalemeen”. Any attempt to limit   him (PBUH) to this sect of Islam or that set of Islam can be done at the peril of erosion in univerality of Islam. Islam is for all the people across the globe   over all the periods of time.

As such, nothing like “ reform” is needed in  Islam. Islam is a message   for all the people over all the periods, past, present and future. Only requirement is proper “interpretetion” of Islamic dictates and commandments with the change of time. Islam is not a retrogative religion, which should have been   suited only to the medival ages. It is pragmatic, equally applicable to the present scietific period with amazing technological innovations. Turkey has demonstrated that there is no contradiction between modernity and Islam.much earlier in 1923, the father of turkish nation, mustafa kamal pasha, declared turkey a secular democratic modern nation. Now turkey is on the path of integartion with European union and is a fast growing economy. Now world talk of “bisit”( Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey) in place of “BRICS” as Russia and China have already joined the club of developed economies.. This is the reason that Islam has  not commanded any particular dress or language to be labelled as “Islamic”, excluding the rest. There is a prescribed code for the dress” should cover the satar properly.” That is all! Even the covering of head during prayers has not been made mandatory. Dress is subject to geographical and economic conditions and Islam respect this “diversity” . Likewise,  no particular food has been presribed to be Islamic. Only pork has been proscribed.stale food and what has been derived from dead animals is rightly taboo as science and hygeine proves it.  Rest has been left to the availability, suitability   to one’s taste or desire and his/her  affordability .  One thing is very unique about Islam. It is “concept of moderation” Islam has rejected the extremeties on either side. Unlike other religions, Islam has forbidden celebacy because it is against the law of nature. On the other hand, Islam has asked from its followers to desist from over indulgence as well.likewise, “renouncement”  of   world and confining to a cave is not something Islam advocates. To engage with worldly affairs, maintainig the observance of Islamic commandments and obligations is what Islam stand for.  Under certain circumstances and subject to strict bindings, Islam has allowed polygamy but on the other hand, strict punshment has been prescibed for “adultery”. No one is required to be miser, nor   he/she has been allowed to be exravegent. Divorce has been allowed but with riders. Other religions in which divorce was, or still is,taboo, have understood that divorce is inevitable in certain conditions and the suitable amendments in their laws have either been put in place or are being conemplated. Right  of  daughters in ancestral   property has been stipulated in Islamic civil rules since inception. The other religions incorporated this in their laws in 20th and 21st ce. Is it not a testimony of Islam being a religion which is gender neutral! Now media is abbuz with the allegation that Islam discriminate against women. Actually, it is not Islam but Muslims to blame. George bernanrd shaw  has  said” Islam is the best religion but Muslims are worst people” why he has to put this vitriolic comment? Because of our acts which are not synic with Islamic teachings. We have given  wrong interpretations to Islamic commandments. Re-interpretation would set the things right. Again Muslim would be able to lead the world as they have done in medival age.

If, however,   any thing like reform is needed, that is total elimination of caste system. Concept of “ashraf” and “arzal” should be   done away with. There is no place for this none sense in Islam.all sects, “fiqahs” including jafari school of jurisprudence   are valid. We can simply   say Islam has   five “fiqahs” i.e .hanaafi, shafai, maliki, humbali and jafari.  It is rampant in some parts of Islamic world like Egypt. There is no tension between these two sects of Muslims there. Why divide the ummah on the vague basis of “shias” and “sunnis”!

Muslims should be distinguishable  from  others  by their actions, decency  and moral character, not by their mere appearance. Orthodoxy on the basis of fiqhai differences has done tremendous harm to Islam. It should be contained forthwith. It may also be termed as  “reform”!

Now the question arises, can Muslim lead the world once again? The answer should be “yes”! Dr Iqbal,  renowned poet and an authority on Islamic   philosophy, in his famous long poems” shikwah” and “jawab e shikwah” has  said—when Muslim complain that now allah is bestowing his rehmat on non-Muslims, reply from god comes” when non-Muslims aquire the virtue allah expects from Muslims, naturally allah bestow his blessing on them! “adal hai fatire hasti kaa azal se dastoor/Muslim aayin hue kaafir to mile hoor-o-qusoor” Muslims can retrive the lost ground only when they excel in the fields of science, mathematics, astronomy, literature, medicines, chemistry,architecture and philosophy and aquire Islamic  virtues in their private and public life   as their ancestors in medival ages have done. Present day technological and industrial develpment, as also meta physical excellence  owe the contribution of Jaber Ibne Hayyan(gaber), Hakim Bu Ali Sena (Avicena), Ibne Rushd (Avviros), Ibne Arabi,  Khwarzami to name a few. Rather than just being proud of these noble personalities, Muslims should try to emulate them.

The dangerous trend of “politicalization” of Islam, with special reference to India, is doing   harm to its followers. Political parties   lure Muslims, try to polarize them for their narrow political gains. It gives   rise to “counter polarization”. Muslims are trapped in this vicious process without any long term benefit. Non-political leaders from within the community should speak for Muslims.democratic opportunities and an impartial juduciary are available in India for redressal of genuine grievances of Muslims. Their services should be availed of.

While closing my  presentation , i would like to refer an article published as editorial in 1945 or 1946 in the newspaper “harijan” , edited by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi ji wrote” now as Indian independance is at the prawl,we  should ponder upon how should our impending rulers should be. From epical history, we have many heroes to emulate, but from virtual history i can quote the names of Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Abu Bakr, first two Islamic caliphs, whom i wish our future rulers should be like.”

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