Thursday, July 23, 2009

Am I a skeptical Muslim?

By Saeed Qureshi

I am a Muslim but I am a skeptical Muslim. There should be countless like me. My skepticism remains stuck up on several intellectual roadblocks that I keep clearing. I believe in the five basic pillars of Islamic belief which are: belief in one God, belief in angels, belief in prophets or messengers of God, belief in the Judgment Day, belief in God’s pre- knowledge and determination of all things.

I believe in the five pillars of observance which are: Kalima Tayyab (confession of faith in one God and Muhammad as his prophet), Prayers, Zakat (Islamic Tax or charity), Fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca. I believe in three sources or authorities of Islamic guidance, which are The Holy Qur’an, The Sunnah and Hadith. The Shariah or Islamic law as I understand is based upon five principles, 1. Fard (absolute duty), 2. Mustajab (good deed), 3. Mubah (permissible deed), 4. Makruh (vile deed), 5. Haram (completely forbidden)

There are about 48 Muslim majority countries on the planet. The Muslims’ population is more than a billion individuals. The Muslims possess most of the oil reserves and other precious natural resources. Many Islamic countries such as Pakistan have strategic importance. Muslims have an ideal religion that encompasses and regulates their whole life and even ensures a place in paradise depending upon one’s conduct in this world. With all these boons and assets, the whole Islamic bloc is mired in myriad problems ranging from poverty, illiteracy, poor civic conditions to appalling economic, political, and social and stability problems. Islam and the Islamic countries have always been kept on the receiving end by their rivals, be it Communism, Christianity or imperialism.

The suffering of the Muslim world keep compounding and aggravating. Should the failings and miseries of the Muslim states be attributed to some inherent deficiency in Islamic teachings or the ruling classes’ deliberate efforts and intentions to block the true implementation of Islam’s code of life? Despite Islamic teachings and discourses being disseminated by Muslim clerics, round the clock, from countless religious seminaries and mosques, the character of Muslims from a ruler to a common man generally remains uninfluenced. The cleavage between rich and poor, privileged and unprivileged, high and low and massive inequalities between Muslims by virtue of their wealth and status are paramount.

Someone should guide me by naming a functional model Islamic state after the demise of the last prophet of Islam. The twenty nine years of the Khilafat-e-Rashida period is too primitive to be quoted as a model. It was the formative stage of Islam and Islam was yet to come in contact with other civilizations and to be put to test of its resilience and moral tenacity. But the fact is that out of four successors of the prophet, three died at the hands of assassins. So apart from the personal piety and rectitude of the caliphs, the society was in turmoil. Islam could not have survived if after the death of the prophet, the first caliph had not suppressed with sword, the heretic dissident movements.

But whilst the society took a rebellious course and various tribal leaders refused to show continued allegiance to the nascent religion, and there was also opposition to the payment of the Zakat tax; the caliphs themselves entered into a race for succession of the prophet. The annoyance of Hazrat Ali, the son in law and cousin of the prophet, over the choosing of Abu Bakr as the prophet’s successor led to the division in Islam that continues to this day.

The murder of Hazrat Osman, the third caliph of Islam and a prominent scion of the powerful Umayyad clan was the clear demarcation between the supporters of Banu Hashim and those of Umayyads. One of the assassins of the third caliph Osman was the son of the first caliph Hazrat Abu Bakr. The assassination of the third caliph took place in full view of the all Islamic nobles and stalwarts living in the city of Medina.

Osman’s murder triggered two fierce battles between the close companions and relatives of Prophet Muhammad. The first took place between Hazrat Aisha, the wife of the prophet on one side and Hazrat Ali, (who by that time became the fourth caliph) on the other. The second battle was between Hazrat Ali and the Syrian Ummyad governor Muawiyah. These wars resulted in thousands of Muslims killed on both the sides. Now Hazrat Aisha was the most loved wife of the prophet and Ali too was very dear to the prophet. Aisha fought Ali to avenge the death of caliph Osman. The second bloody feud continued for five years between the Omayyad Syrian governor Muawiyah (also caliph) and caliph Hazrat Ali causing countless deaths of the Muslim faithful in the battlefields.

How come that these pious people who grew up under the direct flawless and divine guidance of the prophet could not live in peace with each other and instead of deciding their mutual feuds through peaceful means, chose the battlefields. The son in law of the prophet drew sword against an exalted woman and the wife of the prophet: both belonging to the same house. Why they were not influenced by the chaste upbringing of the prophet and instead violated his exhortation to the effect that it was “forbidden for a Muslim to kill another Muslim”. Why the assassins of caliph Osman were not punished?

Thereafter, the split of Islamic believers into two main branches of Shia and Sunni is manifest in the entire Islamic world from the day Caliph Osman was killed. It was further intensified when Muawiyah’s son and his successor Yazid, cold bloodedly massacred Ali’s son, Hussein and the male members of his family near Baghdad. This gruesome incident happened because of Hussein’s challenge to the caliphate of Yazid whom they thought was a usurper.

The Shia and Sunni conflict somehow exists even now between Iran as Shia state and Saudi Arabia as the Sunni state. Besides, in other Islamic countries these two sects run as confrontational parallel faiths. Where had gone the Islamic pristine teachings to remain fastened to the rope of Allah with steadfastness as one Muslim nation? Never was there an Islamic issue than the caliphate that brought about more bloodshed among the Muslims. Fighting with enemies of Islam was all right but how can the fight among Muslims be justified.

Yet in the present day world of technology, humanism and social liberalism, the Islamic religious zealots, the fuming preachers from the pulpit and the militant Islamic bands like Taliban, exhort the ordinary Muslims to remain united in the face of enemies. The fact is that Muslims were never united between themselves. So to ask them to unite against the enemies of Islam is asking for the moon.

The story of Islam from the rift on the succession of the prophet, the end of the Muslim glory in Spain in 1492, to the pillage of Baghdad by Hilaku Khan in 1258 and finally to the end of Ottoman caliphate in 1924, is all about the struggle for power. It started with the tussle between Banu Hashim vs. Omayyad’s, then Umayyads vs. Abbasids, followed by trail of Muslim dynasties snatching lands and ascendency from their Muslim counterparts by dint of sword and carnage. Islam’s grand and pious teachings were completely ignores by those caliphs or kings who established fearsome despotic regimes in the name of Islam. They had the least regard or care for Islamic lofty values of tolerance and fraternity.

For power and land, these Islamic dynastic rulers killed millions of simple common Muslim faithful. On both the sides were Muslims rulers. How they should be labeled: as good Muslims or the violators of Islam? In Islamic dynasties the monarchs who called themselves caliphs, lived majestic and glorious lives with countless women brought to their harems from the defeated countries as slaves. They built huge and grand palaces and lived like pharaohs despite Islam’s emphasis on modesty. They wallowed in luxury and opulence which was just the opposite of the life of the prophet characterized by simplicity and self- denial.

As stated earlier, practically there is not a single model Islamic state ever established in the preceding 14 centuries of Islam’s existence. The Islamic history is replete with Muslims killing fellow Muslims. The renegades and traitors from among the Muslims had been joining the enemies of Islam, against their own Muslim rulers either to replace them for power or sectarian reasons. Baghdad was decimated and burnt to ashes by Mongol hordes in 1258 because of the sectarian rift between a Sunni caliph and a Shia prime minister or grand vizier.

In the present times, the radical pontiffs of Islam want to revive the golden era of Khilafat-e Rashida. Now if these attempts never fructified in the past, how can these succeed in the modern times when religion is losing its glare because the modern society offers better life and dignity and equality to humans than the religions. For Muslims the basic dilemma is that any Islamic state will have two parallel competing faiths of Shiaism and Sunnism, not to speak of other equally strident and radically militant sects. So religious peace in an Islamic country would always remain elusive and religious feuds would always pose threat to the social harmony and stability of the state.

That is what is happening in Pakistan. With brute force and an iron clad tribal despotism, the religious factionalism can be rooted out or subdued. But the peace thus obtained would always remain hostage to the simmering unrest by the religious minorities. Such a system of government even otherwise cannot be permanent because as long the rulers are repressive they would stay in power. The moment they are weak, the fissiparous tendencies would reappear. For sectarian harmony either a state should be completely a Sunni or Shia state as we can see in Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively or it should be brutally repressive.

The theocratic governments are run in the mould of old dynasties by the kings as in Arab countries or as divine imamates as in Iran. These are islands of Isolations and, therefore, cannot function for long time, in today’s world, shaping up as a global village. This obscurantist, tribal, monarchical cum religious outfits are out of sync with the emerging dynamics of the changing time. These are clumsy dispensations as compared with the modern democratic nation states and civil societies.

The kind of Islam practiced in autocratic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan and many others is not Islam at all. The royal families, and their filthy rich members, otherwise as custodians of Islamic heritage are usurpers of the country’s wealth and their conduct is a slur on the fair name of Islamic faith as enunciated by the prophet of Islam. These hereditary rulers, in fact, are extension and perpetuation of the despotic Islamic dynasties that dot the entire history of Islamic governance.

I shall be a good Muslim if the Muslim rulers present an example of being good Muslim first. Is it possible for the ordinary Muslims to meet King Abdullah or kings and despots of other Islamic countries as they could do it during the period of first four caliphs? After their death, the prophet or the caliphs did not leave any assets or money behind them. Can there be any remotest comparison of that absolute self abnegation with the prodigious wealth of the Muslim rulers from the Umayyads to this day?

From the parameters set by Islam and the examples presented by the early Islamic caliphs, these rulers have no right to proclaim them as Muslims. These outposts of obscurantism are destined to vanish. An enlightened version of Islam that is responsive to and compatible with the needs of changing times is the recipe to the doctrinal and faith based dilemmas, factionalism and retrogression of the Muslim polities.

So I shall be a good practicing Muslim without skepticism if kings and the royal families as well as fearsome autocrats ruling the Islamic states adopt a simple life, shun their glamour and grandeur and distribute their excessive wealth among the poor Muslims around the world. My apprehensions about Islam would dilute when the opulent among them will share their wealth with the indigent and the poor among the Muslims. They should, in line, with the teachings and instructions of the holy prophet stop living in the fortified palaces and indulging in the dubious and lewd activates that Islam does not allow. The poor Islamic states will stop looking to the west for aid and to become subservient to them, if a portion of the rich Islamic countries’ wealth is given to them. Mere lip service by the Muslim demagogues to ask the ordinary Muslims to adopt the way of Islam is counterproductive. A common Muslim is nevertheless a better and sincere practicing faithful than the rulers and even the Islamic hypocritical preachers.

I shall be a clear headed Muslim when Shia and Sunni and other sects within Islam will sink their canon differences and say prayer along with each other in the same mosque; when they would love instead of cutting each other’s throats? That would be a great day of rejoicing for me when the regional and tribal schisms like Arabs and non Arabs and Muslim of east and west and Africa and Asia would disappear? If a Muslim pontiff asks someone to be a good Muslim, he in return should be asked which brand of Muslim: Shia or Sunni, Wahabi or Naqaahbandi, and so on.

So in Islamic societies, faith -based unity and accord is difficult to achieve because there are deep and unbridgeable differences between various sects. The very teachings of Islam and Qur’an become controversial because of the variety and multiplicity of their interpretations. Shias can never recognize the first three caliphs as the legitimate successors of prophet nor can Sunnis believe in the 12 imams of Shia. The Shias’ slander and filthy vituperation against Hazrat Aisha, the most beloved wife of the last prophet of Islam and the first three caliphs is an unpardonable sin for the Sunnis. Wahabi consider it as their bounden Islamic duty to destroy and raze the shrines and tombs of the dead saints, while their protectors decree it as abhorrent sacrilege against the sinless ascetics. So where do we go from here?

The answer to the religious ambiguities, the galore of militating beliefs and colliding sectarianism within Islam is the establishment of the modern, secular, liberal Islamic states resplendent with democracy, constitutionalism, humanism, and civil society accountability, rule of law and where free observance of all shades of beliefs is permissible. One may call it a secular Islamic state. Malaysia offers a pragmatic model of a modern Islamic secular state where the state religion is Islamic but all sects and denominations are free to pursue their religious obligation without any let or hindrance or state coercion. There prevails an exemplary religious harmony between Islam and Unislamic faiths on one hand and among the sects within Islam. Can Pakistan and other Islamic countries beset with sectarian strife take a cue from Malaysia?

The Islamic Sharia needs to be radically modified and modernized to conform to the needs of the changing times and to fit into the paradigm of a modern nation state. There is a dire need to modify the Islamic religious legal system, leaving personal matter to the jurisdiction to the Sharia courts. Turkey was the first country to bring about a complete overhaul in the religious law in 1926. Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco have modernized Islamic legal system up to the level of enlightened modern standards. These religious reforms have been carried out within the framework provided by the four orthodox school of Fiqa or Islamic jurisprudence. Pakistan’s stability and social harmony depends upon transforming it into a modern secular nation state, with an enlightened Islamic legal system.

1 comment:

  1. excellent article, saeed! as always, you tell it as it is.

    I saw the same article on beacon, and shabbir's satirical comment. don't worry about him. he thinks he is god's gift to the world. if pope makes a statement, he thinks pope made the statement because pope had read all his books and was influenced by his books.

    actually, shabbir has plagiarized all his works from Pervez and labeled it #2 islam. sooner or later, his pride will hath a fall:)-

    keep up the great work, saeed!!!!