Intro: The malaise of Islam is clearly far deeper. The problems are basic, fundamental to Islam. But Ulema, the supposed custodians of faith, continue to be in denial.
We seem to be living in an era of Islamist terror. The massacre of 132 children in Peshawar has been followed by the massacre of 10 journalists and 3 cops in Paris.
India has faced this threat for decades but mostly from foreign terrorists. Now scores of local Muslim youth seem inclined to join the Jihadi war against humanity. And their number is constantly growing.
Indeed, thirteen years after 9/11, the world is facing a more complex, more diverse and more dangerous threat. While the world has focused on fighting the terrorists militarily, the challenge of their ideological narrative has gone essentially unchallenged. The Jihadis have worked out a complete theology of violence, a coherent narrative of hate and intolerance, totalitarian and akin to fascism that is capable of attracting large numbers of gullible Muslim youth and desensitise them to human instincts of compassion and kindness. Normally, persuading someone to commit suicide should be the most difficult job in the world. But an army of suicide bombers emerge from Muslims societies capable of untold cruelty, wherever and whenever some determined, resourceful group needs them. This is obviously the attraction and power of the Islamist ideology, vastly different from the understanding of Islam the overwhelming majority of Muslims have had for centuries.
Under mystical, Sufi influence, Muslims have prided themselves on having an inclusive, tolerant religion which came to reiterate and revalidate the truth of all previous religions.
Muslims believe their religion is a blessing for mankind. So when a supremacist, exclusivist, intolerant interpretation of Islam started being propagated with the establishment of Saudi-Wahhabi monarchy early in the last century, Muslims rejected it out of hand. But the phenomenal oil wealth and cold war imperatives helped the ideology spread rapidly. The international community did not hamper the process even after 9/11. Indeed it even created several new swamps for terrorists to prosper.
However, despite rapid radicalisation, many Muslims still remain moderate, firmly anchored in the Sufi traditions, who consider Islam a spiritual path to salvation, an ethical, moral standard to follow. They believe in modernity, inclusiveness, pluralism, gender equality and democracy. Prophet Mohammad called his community ummatan wasata-the median community, centred and balanced. Extremists have existed among Muslims throughout Islamic history. But ultimately, the peaceful majority has always defeated them. Hopefully, they will defeat the powerful Petrodollar Islam and its offshoot Jihadism too.
But this is easier said than done. Moderate Muslims are facing an uphill task. The method Sufi saints who used to spread moderate, mystical Islam cannot work in the internet age. Sufis used to emphasise the positive teachings of Islam and simply ignore the rest. But the age of brushing things under the carpet is gone. Moderate Muslims have to think of new strategies. I believe that moderates must expose the radical ideology in all its perversity, and refute it, along with emphasising Islam's moral teachings.
Jihadism's enormous success in
capturing Muslim imagination lies in following core beliefs, among others:
a) For several centuries now Ulema have encouraged Muslims to develop an unquestioning belief in the Quran as an uncreated divine book, almost like God. This is a dangerous proposition. If Quran is created, that is, if it is a compilation of verses that came from time to time to guide the prophet as the need arose, the contexts of the verses become important and only verses that do not require a context to be understood assume universal applicability.
But if it is uncreated, as all the madrasas teach, then each and every verse is of eternal applicability and has to be followed without reference to the context. The very distinction between essential, constitutive part of the
revelation and the contextual, instructive part is lost, making it easier for extremist ideologues to misuse the contextual as essential, the instructive as constitutive.
That is why all our madrasas that teach the uncreatedness of Quran are creating radical literalists who see no reason why they should apply their mind. So, if the Quran says somewhere, in whatever context, “kill the kafir,” they can go out and kill the kafir, regardless of the fact that this exhortation was made in a certain historical context and was valid only for that time.
b) Great reverence is attached to Hadees or so-called sayings of the Prophet. Jihadi literature makes full use of a large number of possibly fabricated Ahadees to further their cause. Compiled up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet, Ahadees simply cannot represent authentic sayings of the prophet, though it is possible that the prophet said something like what is narrated in some of the Ahadees.
c) Muslim scholars of all persuasions give Shariah divine status. In fact it is a man-made body of laws, codified by different Ulema over a century after the Prophet's demise and has been changing since. There is no question of it being divine.
The malaise of Islam is clearly far deeper. The problems are basic, fundamental to Islam. But ulema, the supposed custodians of faith, continue to be in denial.
What does the larger society do about it? I think the world needs to first inform itself of what is going on within the Muslim community. We should have credible surveys to find out the extent of radicalisation, monitor Friday sermons, study text books of different madrasas, and confront the Ulema with the fundamental questions raised here. If the Ulema really want to save Islam from being considered synonymous with terrorism, they should at least make the following commonsensical declarations, which are also consistent with the faith:
- Quran is a created book of God, not divine as God Himself;
- Contextual, particularly militant verses in Quran are no longer applicable to Muslims;
- Hadees is not an Islamic scripture a la Quran;
- Shariah cannot be considered divine.
What the Ulema, intellectuals and politicians have done so far amounts to nothing more than a cosmetic endeavour.
So clearly Muslim theologians will need to go beyond superficial statements, walk further in the direction of rationality, prepare a coherent theology of peace and moderation, and propagate it among masses, if they want Islam to survive as a moderate religion, a moral standard, and a spiritual path to salvation.
If the Ulema do not agree to walk their peaceful talk, the larger society should encourage and support those few moderate, progressive Muslims who are willing to go out on a limb, perhaps putting their heads on the chopping block in this process. This section should be able to go to the community directly, bypassing the Ulema and campaign for sanity.
Sultan Shahin (The writer is the founder-editor of the moderate Islamic website NewAgeIslam.com)