Sunday, December 25, 2022

The (Im)morality of Shirk in Islam

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam 24 December 2022 Would An All-Powerful Creator Be Vengeful Towards His Creation? Main Points: 1. The concept of Shirk is central to Islam; simply put it means that only Allah is worthy of being prayed to. 2. Wahhabis think that even the intercession of Pirs and Sufis is not allowed in Islam; Barelwis of course think differently. 3. But they all agree that all those who pray to anyone other than Allah are destined for hellfire. 4. Can this religion inspired attitude promote any kind of religious or social solidarity? ------ The dominant theology of Islam informs us that Shirk is the most reprehensible act in the sight of God. Shirk is normally understood as associating partners to Allah. In other words, the Muslim belief should hinge only on the grace of God, his pleasure or displeasure. This theology informs us that nothing can happen without the permission of Allah; that even a leaf cannot flutter without his will. It follows therefore that seeking help from anyone except Allah should normally be forbidden in Islam. And if we follow the Wahabis, this is the doctrine that we very much get. Within this doctrine, asking for any help or intercession is forbidden; it does not matter whether the intercessor is the Prophet himself or Sufis whose graves dot the various parts of the Muslim world. On the contrary, subcontinental Islam has made a huge place for intercession. For the vast majority of Barelwis, intercession is in fact the preferred mode of experiencing Islam. They argue that the Almighty is too exalted to be approached directly and only those with plain hubris would attempt to do so. They say that just as a ladder is required to reach high places, Sufis and Pirs are required to reach the nearness of Almighty. For them, the vast majority of Wahhabis are egotists who think that a mere mortal could have the power to reach and access God directly. However, this does not mean that the Barelwis have no conception of Shirk; simply that their notion is different from that of the Wahhabis. Both these groups have different boundaries when it comes to defining what constitutes Shirk. For the Wahhabi, a Muslim goes out of the pale of Islam when he requests a saint to intercede on her behalf; while for the Barelwi, a human being gets condemned to hellfire when he accepts the intercession of anyone who is not a Muslim. The concept of Shirk therefore becomes central to what constitutes a Muslim. It is therefore important to dwell on this concept and see its possible implications. Imagine a Muslim going to a Hindu friend’s house who has organized some puja. The Hindu offers Prasad to everyone present but this constitutes a dilemma for his Muslim friend. Human courtesy dictates that he should accept the Prasad as a mark of respect for his friend or because he does not want to offend the religious sensibility of his Hindu friend. But for the Muslim, this very acceptance and consumption of Prasad constitutes Shirk, which will make him suffer in hellfire till eternity. Both the Barelwis and the Wahhabis are would be unanimous in condemning this Muslim man for having consumed the Prasad. They would advise this Muslim to seek forgiveness from God if he wants to escape his wrath. All this, simply for consuming some sweet which was offered to the deity. If the Muslim man knows about the dictates of his religion, then he would outrightly refuse the Prasad, or make some excuse not to have it. Chances are, either he will offend his Hindu friend or will be unable to partake whole heartedly in the function. In both these scenarios, it is his religion and its dominant interpretation which is directly responsible for creating a wall separation between friends. We can multiply such examples to argue that Islamic theology outrightly discourages going beyond religious boundaries. Can this attitude be helpful in forging any form of social solidarity? More importantly though, what kind of a God would become upset simply because a random believer bowed in obeisance to some other deity? Arguably Allah is the very cause of creation; there is nothing before or after him. How does it affect these qualities of his if a Muslim goes to a shrine or a Hindu prays in front of an idol? Does it behoove the Primary Cause of the known and unknown universe to be annoyed with a creature like man who is infinitely powerless in comparison? Would a God, who is Most High, Most Powerful and Most Exalted, be bothered that men are not paying attention to Him? Clearly, these do not appear to be characteristics of all an powerful and omnipotent God but simply the reflection of crass human traits. Islamic theology has projected these human traits on God and have made her into a jealous and vengeful God. Very much like us mere mortals. Islamic theology tells us that God can forgive every possible sin but not Shirk. What this simply means that those who die Muslim will eventually be forgiven but those who die in the state of being non-Muslim will forever be roasted in hell. A Hindu, according to this reading of Islamic theology, despite being an absolute gentle creature, will go to hell because he did not exclusively pray to Allah. It does not matter whether the person had done acts of immeasurable charity or social work; he will simply be condemned for eternity for associating with Gods which the Islamic God does not approve of. It is not surprising therefore that Mohammad Ali Jauhar would publicly proclaim that even a venerated Hindu like Gandhi was “inferior to an adulterous and fallen Musalman”. Now one can certainly have differences of opinion regarding the persona and character of Gandhi, but Mohammad Ali Jauhar continued to believe that the Mahatma was a noble soul and yet, because of his Islamic lens, he was unable to comprehend and embrace Gandhi’s religiosity. Not just that, when he wore his religious lens, Mohammad Ali had no option but to condemn Gandhi simply because the latter did not pray to Allah alone. Now imagine a situation wherein a Hindu who has plundered and murdered people, has a change of heart and converts to Islam. What will be the fate of such a person according to Islamic theology? One would think that despite his conversion, God would judge him harshly. This is true but only partly. For ultimately, he will be forgiven, his sins will be cleared and he will have a place in heaven. This is the promise of God. No matter what evil you have committed; if you die on Iman, then you have an assured place in heaven. On the other hand, if you have done nothing but good on this earth but you were in ‘error’ of belonging to some other faith, then you can never even have a glimpse of heaven. What kind of a God would think like that? And why should Muslims pay obeisance to such a partisan God? Or is it that this God is just a reflection of our own baser emotions? ----- A regular contributor to, Arshad Alam is a New Delhi based independent researcher and writer on Islam and Muslims in South Asia. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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