Islamic Reformation- With Special Reference to India
By R. Upadhyay
Feb 13, 2015
The recent Islamist terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo cartoon journalists in Paris and army children in Peshawar school perhaps prompted Sultan Shahin, Indian Editor of New Age Islam to write an advisory paper entitled “Muslim must confront Islamist terror ideologically –An Islamic reformation required”. While it is conceded that reforms within Islam will have to come from within, this paper examines whether at all it is possible when indications are to the contrary!
Another author Muhammad Yunus in the Urdu section of the same web site maintained that “Hadith Is Not a Divine Scripture of Islam”.
Similarly, on Jauary 23 a group of Muslim intellectuals led by Anjum Zaidi protested at India Islamic Cultural Centre against inviting Zakir Naik, a “terror sympathiser” and owner of a controversial TV channel Peace. Zaidi also lodged a complaint in police for arresting Zakir Naik under terror Act (Pioneer dated January 24).
Egypt’s president opened the New Year with a dramatic call for a “revolution” in Islam to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of “destruction” and pitted it against the rest of the world.
Speakers in a Conference on “Islamic-Perspective on Extremism and Moderation held in California on November 2, 2013 maintained that the Muslims who are opposed to extremism should take a stand by actively opposing extremism. “We do not want to merely have “moderate” Muslims who do not take a stand against extremism. The opposite of extremism is actively opposing extremism.”
One speaker in the Conference said that Saudi Imams have no place in the American Muslim community and the entire audience applauded enthusiastically. One of the clarion calls for action given by the Conference included: “Let’s stand together and declare a unified and unequivocal condemnation of extremism by: Rejecting any religious interpretation or ruling that contradicts the core Islamic principles of justice, mercy, wisdom, and compassion”.
Dennis Prager an American Jew in an article in frontpagemag.com in September 2013 a supporter of terror, the leaders of the most important Sunni institutions, such as the Al-Azhar Mosque and University in Cairo, and religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and the in Gulf states — must announce that any Muslim who participates in any deliberate attack on civilians goes to hell”.
These appear to be lone voices, yet one should appreciate their courage in coming out with their true feelings. These do not reflect the general trends as yet though one may hope that someday it would.
In view of the scientific revolutions that have produced new ideas and thoughts, the professed goal of the above writers who want to bring radical reform in Islam may be to purge the Islamic texts of extremist ideas of intolerance and violence that fuel various Islamist terror groups and motivate them for launching war to create Islamic state. But how far they would be able to stop the long march of the Islamic movements which are propagating the extremist ideology of the seventh century faith is a million dollar question. Since the endeavour of the above rational thinkers is contrary to the Islamic teachings which are being propagated by various institutions, its acceptance in Muslim society may be a difficult task.
The modern world may believe in societal laws which are rational, realistic and in accordance with the contemporary reality. But despite the fact that Sharia (Islamc law) and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) are not divine revelations like Quran, the terrorists as well as Muslim orthodoxy misinterpret them as Allah’s law and therefore they are not ready for any reform in these Islamic texts. Apart from it, numerous wars were fought on interpretation of Islamist theory in Arab world and as a result the Ulema following the different schools of Islam are also divided on this issue.
The problem as I see it is that the younger generation of the Muslims has developed a mindset that there is a lot of injustice to their community locally and internationally. Result- they get sadistic pleasure in the destructive and supremacist view of the terror groups that are armed with the ideological motto -“The prophet is our leader, Quran is our constitution, jihad is our way and death in the service of Allah is the loftiest of our wishes”. Interpreting Quran as a tool to justify the oppressive and violent Jihad, the Islamist terrorists will never be ready for any saner debate as they are rigidly following the Quranic concept of war. Please see the book written by Brigadier Mallik of Pakistan on this subject.
Although, it is impossible for the terror groups which are in a minority to Islamise the entire population of the world as per the institutionalised ideology of the faith- yet they are so loud, swift and violent that the supporters for moderation of Islamic scriptures may not dare for any Renaissance without the active support of the masses following the faith. But the masses appear to be under the control of Imams who still think that they are there to support and entrench the medieval concepts of the faith.
Apart from it, the support base of all the terrorists organisations in the world are being funded by the oil-rich Muslim countries as well as by the world powers for their self-seeking political interests. It means the terrorists have unwittingly become a part of Islamist political movements.
In spite of the odds referred to, if the rationalist Muslim leaders are serious to confront the Islamist terror groups, they are to launch an “intellectual jihad” against the latter. The world has changed and no one is prepared to tolerate any militant/terror group whose ideology is based on religion and religious extremism alone.
It requires a high voltage campaign to clarify that except Quran, other religious scriptures are manmade and that can be moderated according to the contemporary and realistic requirements of the time. The intellectual initiatives taken by the rationalist Muslims are therefore a welcome step and if the ‘moderate’ section in the community could stir the Ummah against the Islamist terror ideologically, they would not only save the Islamic community from the slur they are facing due to terror violence but would also serve the humanity.
The guidelines of Sultan Shahin are therefore, required to be pursued sincerely by the Muslim leadership in a democratic country like India which could not only be a major challenge to the terror groups operating here but even revolutionise the community to confront them.
Shahin has opined that Islamist terrorists have essentially gone unchallenged ideologically. He has asked the community leaders who have done nothing to counter terrorism except a cosmetic endeavour to criticise them must “have credible surveys to find out the extent of radicalisation, monitor Friday sermons, study the curricula of different madrasas, and confront the Ulema with the fundamental questions raised here.
The advisory notes of Shahin have the potential to challenge Islamist terrorists but as the latter are drawing ideological inspiration from the puritanical Islamic movements launched by Saudi-Wahhabi and Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and followed by institutionalised Deobandi, Barelvi, Tablighi Jamaat, Ahl-e-Hadithi and Jamaat-e- Islami in South Asia, the Indian Muslim society will have to first counter these movements that have deeply propagated the concept of Muslim separatism and adherence to the Islamic texts rigidly in their literal spirit.
The ending years of medieval era and the sliding decline of Islamist supremacy due to the rise of British Empire gave birth to puritanical Islamic movements which linked political Islam with Jihad and prescribed it as duty of every Muslim for restoration and creation of Islamic states. The movements gave such a rigid and intolerant interpretation of the religious text that completely left the Muslim society away from the rest of the humanity. The deeds of Islamist terrorists as we see today are the outcome of these movements. Thus, to counter the long march of these movements is a major challenge before the community leadership in confronting the Islamist terrorists. For this, they will have to develop a mechanism to create awareness among the Muslim masses through debates at various platforms particularly in Islamic TV channels. Another device could be to impress upon the Imams of all the mosques for desisting from khutba and fatwas having political overtones.
Before any collective community prayer, the Imam makes a short speech called the khutba. The contents of khutba are expected to be religious as “the Quran or the sharia does not permit misuse of the pulpit for speeches that would disturb civic society. The Quran, in fact, specifically prohibits attempts to create any form of mischief.”
Despite such Quranic restrictions, Khutba has often been used not only to expound on ethical issues but also to mobilise the Muslim masses for political ends. Some of the Imams are often found issuing controversial political statements even at such prayer meetings.
Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Delhi in an interview with Rediff in 2000 however, justified the political speech in khutba and maintained that, “Khutba means a speech. But it need not necessarily be a religious speech. One part of it is purely religious. But the other can be on any current issue. I am just following my religious duty of informing the Muslim community of what is happening around”. Such statement of Imam should be widely debated in Muslim society by those who are opposed to terrorism. Similarly, the fatwa which is only a legal opinion on the basis of Islamic law is often used by the Ulema for political ends.
This so called Khutba/Fatwa should have been condemned or atleast debated by the community vociferously. Sad to say- nothing happened. He got away once again!
Since India is a secular democratic country, it may be difficult for the government to control the Imams and prevent them from misusing the platform of community prayers for controversial political statements having the potential to disturb public peace and social harmony. It is therefore the duty of the Islamic scholars in Indian Muslim society to develop some mechanism for combating terrorism ideologically. Advisory notes alone against terrorism may not bring the desired results.
As far back as in March 2008, the leading Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband held a much publicised conference against terrorism and maintained that it would continue its fight against it in the country but this internationally reputed institution was never seen for any action oriented challenge to the Islamist terror. For this if the Islamic scholars are serious in combating terrorism, they will have to launch a counter ideological Jihad against the terror ideology of Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toyba, Taliban and other terrorist outfits and create awareness among the Muslim masses against such outfits.
Fostering an environment where the faithful could be convinced that the Muslim community needs a contemporary reading of religious texts to deal with the contemporary reality of the country where they live is necessary.
Hussain Haqqani has rightly observed – ‘Terror attacks cannot save Islam’s honour’. We endorse it fully but the change should be from within and not by any externally induced entities!