New Age Islam Special Correspondent
27 December 2019
The new year—2020—is around the corner. One of the resolutions with which Muslims in general and Indian Muslims in particular can start the New Year is: Rethink the Islamic postulates in the light of the 21st century’s changing dynamics, the key objective behind the formation of this forum as a New Age Islam movement.
In late 2018 and early 2019, we have witnessed a silent historical development in the Arab world which can be called the ‘Theological Arab Spring’, particularly in West Asia and North Africa. The West Asian Muslim population in general is turning less ‘Islamicist’ and more multi-cultural and tolerant. An in-depth regional survey and various research studies show that the number of those who consider themselves as “not religious” increased from 8% to 13%.
Radical Islamist movements which were popular during the Arab Spring are now facing trust deficit. The level of trust in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has decreased almost by 20% in Jordan and Morocco and 25% in Sudan. Even in the Palestinian territories, trust in the Hamas movement fell from 45% to 24%. These are some of the Muslim countries which witnessed major decline in traditional attitudes towards religion and the ideology of Islamism. Even those countries which emerged as epicentres of Salafist Jihadism no longer trust the radical religious organisations. While Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco have recorded the greatest increase in secular sentiments, there is considerable increase in the proportion of non-religionists. This has happened in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine as well.
A new narrative is emerging in the West Asian region with Islamists losing their appeal and both Sunni Arabs and Shiite Iranians changing their theological discourses. In this backdrop, it would be pertinent to look into the major theological overhauls in the West Asian countries and study the shifting dynamics with an aim to chalk out a progressive, modernist path for Indian Muslims to strengthen the religious and social fabric of the country. Following are some of the cases in point:
Transition from Islamism to Secularism in Iran
NozhanEtezadosaltaneh, an Iranian political analyst and author of ‘Islamic Parties and the Laicist perspective of Turkey,'. notes that the dominant discourse on the 1979 Iranian revolution was the Shiite Political Islamic discourse in which concepts such as martyrdom, jihad, revolution (Inquilab) and social justice were the key elements. Even the leftist groups borrowed several Islamist discourses to the extent that the Marxist philosopher Khosrow Golsorkhi said that he came to Marx’s teachings on social justice through Imam Ali and Imam Hussein. But what is interesting now is the shifting narrative and changing dynamics of the Iranian religious discourse. In the recent mass protests in Iran four decades after the 1979 revolution, the non-religious slogans such as “neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran,” “independence, freedom, Iranian Republic,” or slogans in favour of Reza Pahlavi calling for the separation of religion were clearly heard in Iran. While Iranian slogans in 2009 protests, similar to the 1979 revolution, were Allahu Akbar (God is great) or slogans like “Oh Hossein”, the new generation wants to embrace modern values and relations with all countries. Thus, what appeared to be an attempt to Islamize Iranian society over the past four decades has now backfired, resulting in more secularization of society.
The Amman Message:
Under the leadership of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, Jordan has exerted concerted efforts to evolve and promulgate a non-Takfirist theology. The universal declaration of the “Amman Message” issued in November 2004 by King Abdullah had a great resonance in the Arab world. It underlined the need to re-emphasise Islam's core values of compassion, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance and freedom of religion. Around 200 Islamic scholars from over 50 countries issued a three-point declaration (popularly known as ‘Amman Message') focused on: (1) inadmissibility of Takfirism (2) inviolability of blood, honour and property (3) audacity of non- qualified Fatwa-givers.
The Marrakesh Declaration:
Through the convening power of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Islamic scholars from around the world came together in a conference called in response to the persecution of religious minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis, by ISIS. Their resolution called the “Marrakesh Declaration declares that the provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in harmony with the Islamic principles, particularly the Charter of Medina, an early Islamic contract in which Prophet Muhammad entered into a constitutional alliance with members of other faith communities.
The Marrakesh declaration calls upon Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of ‘citizenship’ which is inclusive of diverse groups. “Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic principles mindful of global changes”, it says.
Although noble in its intent, the Marrakesh declaration falls short of offering any explicit legal opinion, instead sticking to principles and objectives of the law to make pronouncements that are aspirational. The declaration leaves the grunt work to others. It only addresses the rights of religious minorities and does not mention issues like radicalism and gender.
Tunisia’s “Democratic Islam”:
The head of Tunisia's Salafi Muslim party Ennahda Movement is calling for “democratic Islam”. Speaking at the TRT World Forum in Istanbul, Rached Ghannouchi, founder of the movement said: "The real reasons behind the uprising in the Arab world are the injustice in source in social life, the corruption for those ruling the countries. And that's why the youth are asking for a change”. He highlighted that the Arab youths are now "empowered" by technology, modern communication and social media, and "they are able to show the world that the Arab countries and the Arab world are not about terrorism". "The revolution brings values of being with your nation and respecting the willingness of the people of the nation what is being brought by Islam," Ghannouchi noted.
Notably, the Arab Spring started from Tunisia, which is now struggling between the Islamic and secular movements. To resolve this conflict, they have gathered under the umbrella of the country's new constitution. The Ennahda Movement, which continued as an Islamic movement for many years, has acquired the identity of a political party. The transformation of the movement from Islamic Jama’ah to a political party strengthens its role in the democratization process in Tunisia after the Arab Spring, its contributions to the new constitution, and its influence in the governments in which it has participated.
Egypt’s Counter-Extremist Narratives:
Egypt is the first Islamic country which banned extremist ideologies and radical Islamist activism in the country’s religious seminaries and other educational centres. Consequently, Egyptian schools and universities, prominently the top global Sunni seminary Al-Azhar, ousted the literature written by political Islamist theologians—Sayyid Qutb, Hasan al-Banna and Maulana Maududi etc. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who in his visit to India emphasised “robust security cooperation” with India, is known for his bold ventures in counter-radicalisation. Sisi hits out directly at the very ideology of violent extremism to eliminate the violent creeds from their roots. His ideological clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is an evidence. When Sisi moved in 2013, he dethroned the MB-backed former Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi who already faced the ire of Egyptian people. The mainstream Egyptians are traditionally anchored in a strain of Islam which did not reconcile with the MB political Islamists, with an impact from Al Azhar’s counter-extremist narratives.
Of late, Grand Imam of Al Azhar signed a historic joint declaration with Pope Francis on peaceful human co-existence in Abu Dhabi. Titled the “Human Fraternity Document”, it pledges that al-Azhar and the Vatican will work together to fight extremism. “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood,” the document says.
UAE’s Tolerance Manifesto:
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan proclaimed the year 2019 to be the "The Year of Tolerance", highlighting his country as a ‘global capital for tolerance’, and emphasizing tolerance as a universal concept and a sustainable institutional endeavour through legislation and policies aimed at entrenching the values of dialogue, coexistence and openness to different cultures, especially amongst youth. The Ministry of Tolerance in the UAE embodies the approach adopted by the current government to engage with various cultures, in an environment of openness and respect that rejects extremism and promotes coexistence. Consequently, Hindu temples and Catholic churches were built recently to uphold the shared values.
Malaysia’s “New Narrative” on Islam:
Islamic affairs ministry in Malaysia has pledged to come up with a “new narrative” on Islam that it said would not repeat ‘past mistakes’. The Malaysian government is proposing a new narrative of what they call "compassionate Islam”. The aim is to "trigger the national unity" in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country.
The minister in charge of Islamic affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa, on the government’s track record on contentious issues affecting Islam, said: “We rejected being a government which used and exploited religion and race for political purposes. That is why we are now proposing or advocating Islam as a very progressive religion”….. “The PakatanHarapan (PH) government must not “repeat the same mistakes of the previous government” concerning the Islamic issues. “Therefore, we need to have a strong narrative of Islam”.
On Oct 2 this year, the minister in charge of Islamic affairs also announced that the working paper on the “Rahmat ul lil Alamin” (mercy to all creations) policy was ready to be presented to the Cabinet as the country’s new Islamic administration policy.
Though Malaysia sounds very promising and progressive in all this, it might be attempting for a profound show of global leadership for Muslims by Mahathir Muhammad much in the way as Tayyip Erdogan is doing, given that the policies of the two emerging Muslim leaderships are not in favour of India.
Indonesia’s Islam Nusantara:
“Islam Nusantara” is a distinctive narrative of Islam developed in Nusantara (Indonesian archipelago) and is a result of contextualization, indigenization and vernacularisation of Islamic values, according to socio-cultural reality of Indonesia, which is an ongoing process since the 16th century.
The Indonesian government engages in counter-radicalism both through military and cultural-ideological approaches. In the wake of terror attacks at Mako Brimob Depok, West Java, Surabaya and East Java, Islam Nusantara was seen as strong response to religious intolerance and radicalism. Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Indonesian organisation in terms of membership, helps the government to promote Islam Nusantara which counters transnational radical movements such as Hizbut Tahrir and Salafi outfits. However, there are continued attempts to debunk “Islam Nusantara” by extraneous preachers like those of NU GarisLurus who seek to undermine local culture in Islam.
Despite its local limits, Islam Nusantara can be emulated by Muslims in the neighbourhood, especially in India, to accommodate localethos and internalise multiculturalism. Important lessons can also be learned from battle for soul of Islam in Indonesia. Husain Haqqani observes: “Indian Muslimness still holds. Islam Nusantara (Indonesian Islam) is cracking up a bit.”
Action Points for Indian Muslims:
The main focus of the India’s participation in this theological renaissance should be on "contextualizing the theological tradition." Over the past centuries, Islam in India has been lived and looked at as a pluralistic, progressive and multicultural tradition. In this project, we will need to look at the cultural, historical and social context in which Islam emerged in India, the Indian civilisational influences that shaped its intellectual and doctrinal discourses, the logical conversations that took place between Islam and Indian civilisation across a few centuries, and thus reconceptualise "theological tradition" in light of the Indian history. India’s religious plurality should be highlighted in this exercise.
Despite the large-scale conferences on counter-extremism, Indian Ulema have not yet stemmed the tide of Takfirism, which is still ideologically active in the country, though not in its violent forms. Indian Muslims can particularly learn to internalise counter-Takfirism from the Amman Message of Jordan.
The triumphalist readings of Islamic history in India need to be revised, especially as the question of equality before the law within increasingly plural societies comes centre stage. As most Muslim countries and their religious ministries attempt to align their laws with international norms, Muslim organisations and bodies like the Muslim Personal Law Board will have to take cues from them.
In Islamic curricula of Indian universities and madrasas, questions of science and human nature should intersect with ethics, governance, and public policy. The target audience should be intellectually challenged to think carefully about conflicts between the medieval Islamic thought and contemporary international norms, providing practical examples and models from the Muslim world.
The present Islamic theology—being taught from primary to higher secondary level— is not compatible with the requirements of living in a complex, plural society of the 21st century India. An examination and overhaul of exclusivist/extremist Hadith texts in order to contextualise their meanings and applications is required to mitigate the influence of anti-plural doctrines such as—al-Wala wal-Bara, Ghazwa-tul-Hind, Ghalba-e-Islam (Islamic domination), emergence of Masih Dajjal (Anti-Christ), the battle of Armageddon before Qeyamat (Day of Judgement) and all such Hadith-based millenarian theories. Notably, Ghazwa-tul-Hind is directly linked to the Hadith-based Islamic eschatology or millenarianism also known as “Akhir Zaman”.