Since rationalist and secularist movements became a dominant discourse in Europe from 18th century onwards, religion became a controversial issue. Even today rationalists demand proof for everything and refuse to accept anything higher beyond the realm of visible evidence. On the other hand, believers in religion maintain that reason is too fragile to rely upon and what is divine is incomprehensible by reason. They rely on revelation, institution and faith: at times in extreme cases, faith turns to blind faith. Thus reason and religion have become mutually exclusive and irreconcilable. Both tend to reject each other.
Religion does not and should not deal with observable phenomenon. All moral and ethical questions fall in its sphere besides matters relating to the metaphysical sphere. God is not an observable phenomenon like any empirical fact as often stated by rationalists. ?God is beyond any form or perception. He has no form or attributes (nirgun, nirakar in the Hindu tradition) and is unique and beyond human perception, according to Islamic tradition. The Mutazila and Shiah (as well as Ismaili) theologians maintain that if God had attributes, He would have become dependent on human thinking. Thus it should be seen that certain matters pertaining to the higher realm of ultimate mysteries cannot be subjected to rational analysis like theories based on observable phenomenon,? says the author.
He continues that the modern world is getting more and more globalised and more and more globalisation means coming together of more faiths. He says, ?The Western world was so far, by and large, more religious whereas Asia was always multi-religious. Arabia before Islam, was multi-religious as Christianity, Judaism and paganism co-existed there.?
Asghar Ali Engineer attempts to demystify some of the beliefs and perceptions about Islam propagated by Western media and ?communal? forces in India. His complaint that the Western media had never been sympathetic to Islam but after 9/11 even became downright hostile holds some truth. He says the people tend to believe the media which tends to sensationalise events, particularly Islamic militancy.
He laments that Islam is projected as standing against modernism, science, democracy and women. He wonders why social scientists and scholars are not able to distinguish between what a religion teaches and how social structures impart a believer'sbehaviour. He clarifies by saying that religion finds its own level in a given society and is not practiced in a vacuum, ?but in concrete historical and social condition?. He adds, ?A religion may stand for most modern and democratic ideals but the same cannot be practiced in a backward feudal society.? He has a point when he says that if the Muslim countries do not have democracy and modern political institutions, ?it is not because of Islam but because these countries still have a feudal social structure?.
Engineer says that the myth propagated about Islam being religion of violence?a religion of jihad?is far from true. He says Islam ?is a religion of compassion and love as much as any religion like Buddhism or Christianity is?. He admits that Islam came into existence in a most violent society and the Prophet had to face violent opposition ?and it was not easy to establish peace in that society?, but the aim of Islam was to establish a just and compassionate society. He agrees that the ?Muslims also had to respond to the given situation?. He says, ?It is true that there has been abundant use of violence in the Muslim history but that is because the Muslims hardly ever followed the Quranic ideals in their lives.?
The author says that the Quran stresses on four fundamental values??adl (justice), ihsan (benevolence), rahmah (compassion) and hikmah (wisdom) and a good Muslim should be just, benevolent, compassionate and wise. He says one must constantly struggle to establish these values and ?that is real jihad?.
He feels that shariah has come to be taken by Muslims as a one-time formulation, eternal and divine. But the approach has to be very different. He wants that shariah rules, while based on the Quranic values, must keep pace with time. ?Values are more important than laws. While values provide the basic philosophy, laws respond to social needs. If they do not respond to social needs, they tend to become irrelevant to our life.? He concludes by saying that in the current international scenario, powerful political interests are misusing religion and religious hostilities for their own ends, just as Bush'spolicy of ?confrontation with Islam and belief in an anti-Islam ethos through the media? has been doing. The author says that through this book of his he is trying to create proper understanding of every religion in this pluralist world ?where everyone can live in peace and harmony?.
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