By Mushtaq ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, New Age Islam
11 December 2019
An International Conference titled, “The Nation-State, Territorial Conflict and Peace” was organized by Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) on 9-10 November, 2019 at Bangkok, Thailand. I was also invited as a panellist in one of its sessions. Time and again it was emphasized by scholars of the subcontinent that in Asia Nation-States have been created at the end of colonialism. So this Western import (Nation-State) is creating numerous problems for the inhabitants. The partition of the Indian subcontinent is still a wound that bleeds different communities. In other countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar the problems are on ethnic lines, of survival of indigenous people and stateless people. The perpetuators in few cases are ‘Muslim’ (Muslim politicians or ideological groups) but victims in all these conflicts are Muslims. Further most of these temporal conflicts are political, regional, ethnic or topographical in nature but use of Islam and its interpretation of Jihad has been predominantly used to give these conflicts a religious colour. Religion does seep in a conflict particularly if a party is Muslim but it has its negative ramifications.
Muslims have not gone through a process of secularization. Unlike West, religion still remains the primary identity marker and motivator for any struggle. Plus Islam like other religions has a strong belief and emphasis on Life after Death. The process of colonization of Muslim lands and the accompanying exploitation by the Imperialists coupled with process of secularization gave rise to two main trends among Muslims. One of those who out rightly rejected the process of secularization and resisted it by trying to boycott its institutions and confining themselves in what they describe as “islands of faith”, “Noah’s Ark” and “continents of salvation.” The other trend deeply influenced by modernity tried to Islamize its own institutions and using the idiom of the opponent tried to create Heaven on Earth. Its epitome was the struggle for establishing Islamic state in every Muslim majority country. The concept of Afterlife was not too much emphasized by these groups as they intended to establish the values of absolute justice, tolerance and subduing the opponents of Islam in this world only. They for long tried to play God but ultimately failed to Islamize the modern concept of State.
They have not yet acknowledged this failure or accepted the secularization and its institutions, except Elections and Democracy. In case of Democracy they try to portray and appropriate it by making way for Theo-Democracy to use the term coined by Maulana Abul Ala Mawdudi. Elections and Democracy are the facts that they have to acknowledge and accept otherwise their programme of establishing Heaven on earth will not be accomplished. It helps them stand apart from those Islamists who have confined Islam to the islands of salvation. Again it cannot be generalized for all of the soldiers of struggle who intend to establish heaven on earth as their strands, stairs and streams are diverse. They are not a monolith but surely they stand against secularization and its accompanying values.
It is a factual reality that Islam did not need a secularization process unlike Christianity or Judaism where clergy was brutal, stalled progress or was confined to a certain section or class of Muslims. The Muslim clergy that developed over the course of few centuries is not without its flaws, but certainly clergy was not confined to a particular section, there were diverse centers of clergy (though it cannot be termed as clergy in literal sense of the term). Sufis, Islamic theologians, jurists and independent scholars has been always a reality of Muslim world. Many who remained associated with the state and administrative sections of the empire did not generously enjoy the status, power, clout and influence as those who were independent and acted particularly in contradictory manner to the State policies. So secularization of the Muslim world was something whose need was never felt.
The kings and executive heads did revere the religion in public though in most cases they paid a lip service to the principles of Islam and did undermine its teachings when need arose to secure their own interests. But the need for the revolt against clergy or religion was never a reality. So the religious class still is revered among Muslims and this religious class overtime did retrograde into a clergy and today behaves in a similar manner in which redundant clergy of every religion acts. They are obscurantist, resistant and intolerant to every alternative interpretation of Islam that questions their own. Islam and Quran do not envisage a clergy but for Muslims it is a lived reality. In Sunni Islam unlike the Shias clergy or Imamate has no ideological or theological foundations but it is a reality and enjoys a strong influence and clout as Shia clergy does.
This clergy still acts and behaves as if they exist in a medieval age when Muslim empires were a reality. They have not yet been able to understand and acknowledge this fact that Muslim rule is over and the titular caliphate has been abolished in 1924. They are yet to discard the terms like Darul Islam and Darul Harb. They fail to understand this fact that today we exist in an era of Nation-State where territorial borders and citizenship rights are a reality. They are yet to reconcile themselves to the fact that Muslims can be a minority. Fiqh ul Aqliyat is still an under developed and neglected area of our jurisprudence. So the Ulama are yet to understand the fact that Nation-States are a reality and Muslims should start behaving like citizens instead of acting like Transnational and Non State actors!
Quran does use the term Jamaat, Ummah and Hizb to describe Muslims and upholds the fact that they are a transnational, trans-border and international group. But Muslims have reduced these universal concepts confining them to just Muslims. These concepts are used by politically motivated violent groups to undermine the territorial sovereignty and citizenship rights. So these groups decry that the Ummah has no borders, so they go and participate in violent activism terming it as Jihad everywhere. The glaring example of this dangerous trend was ISIS and how the fighters from worldover joined the ‘Jihad’ and ISIS continued to undermine the territorial sovereignty and expanding its borders. A section of Muslims was happy that ‘caliphate’ has been revived and Heaven on Earth created. But it ended in brutal failure with grave loss of life, property and brought a bad name to Islam and its universal teachings.
The Ulama and Islamic reformers have a role to reinterpret Islam in the current era according to the prevalent idiom. The universal Ummah is nonexistent and if we have to uphold this concept it should be inclusive not confined to Muslims only. Quran uses the terms Waliullah (helpers of Allah)-Walius Shaitan (helpers of Satan) and Hizbullah (party of Allah)-Hizbus Shaitan (party of Satan) and both these groups have members who are Muslims and Non Muslims. The world is so complex that Muslims cannot remain immune to its complex problems and they have to come out of this mindset that all those who are Muslims are on the straight path. Ummah is universal concept that includes Non Muslims too who believes in the values of Islam. Muslim Ulama and theologians are still struggling to understand and accept the Nation-States, and this has resulted in the violent activists joining the ‘Jihad” in lands where they do not constitute as citizens. Citizenship again is a concept that Muslim scholars are ignorant about. If the legality of treaties, upholding of territorial sovereignty, non legality of non state actors according to the principles of Islam in the changed context is not thoroughly understood, deliberated and disseminated then lone wolf attacks, joining violent movements like ISIS and other such organizations will continue. We have to make Muslims understand what existence of Nation-States implies and what the meaning of being citizens is? Till this task is not accomplished political conflicts and terrorist organizations will continue to draw, inspire and seduce young gullible Muslim minds.
M.H.A. Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir