Holier than thou

Published: August 28, 2012

An Islamic society is marked by pluralism, and is incomplete without the peaceful existence of men and women from other religions. PHOTO: REUTERS

It seems as if a large portion of the population will have to be decimated so that the adherents of a certain ideology can create an ‘Islamic’ society. The binaries of ‘self’ and the ‘other’ are now frozen, with the ‘other’ being essentially damned and the ‘self’ being essentially blessed – a pompousness which has absolutely no place within a religion which embraces difference, encourages criticism and celebrates diversity.

Islamic history boasts of centuries and centuries of coexistence between people of different faiths. Sadly, historical narratives suffer the same fate as religious texts do: they’re either ignored, or are split apart from their contexts. Dissociated fragments of texts (both religious and historical) are then splashed around to substantiate violence and hatred. For instance, it is not a surprise to note that Quranic verses which enjoin cooperation with Jews and Christians are relatively unknown.

Rimsha Masih’s plight and repeated Shia killings in Hazara are inconceivable in a society which aims to be ‘Islamic’. It must be understood that all kinds of faiths are often determined by geography than human choice. Thus, targeting human beings on the basis of what they believe is the most grotesque exhibition of exaggerated superiority notions.

Most disturbing is the use of Islamic rhetoric to substantiate violence. If the aim is to realise an Islamic society, then the ongoing violence on the grounds of faith retards the process like nothing else. An Islamic society is marked by pluralism, and is incomplete without the peaceful existence of men and women from other religions.

A basic insight into seven centuries of Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula would suffice to prove the claim. From 700-1100 AD, parts of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Muslim rule, known as ‘al-Andalus’, offered the most breathtaking example of coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Not surprisingly, this unity led to one of the grandest  intellectual exchanges the world saw after the Greek civilisation – with many Jewish and Christian canonical works translated into Arabic.

This all-embracing nature of Islam might be in stark contradiction to the popular narrative which explains it as an intolerant faith, baying for the blood of every non-Muslim. However, this is not the case as the public sphere of Islam is one of tolerance and equality. It embodies all the merits of the secular public sphere, without offending any religious sensibility. Thereby, it renders the secular-religious divide completely redundant while embracing every ‘non-believer’ – quelling the alarm bells of religious violence altogether.

Read more by Faiza here.

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Faiza Rahman

The writer is a subeditor for the Opinion & Editorial section of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    @Writer

    A basic insight into seven centuries of Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula would suffice to prove the claim. From 700-1100 AD, parts of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Muslim rule, known as ‘al-Andalus’, offered the most breathtaking example of coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Not surprisingly, this unity led to one of the grandest intellectual exchanges the world saw after the Greek civilization – with many Jewish and Christian canonical works translated into Arabic.

    Above is a good reference proving Islam teaches to coexist and live with harmony with other religion. While there are many other. Islam is the religion which teaches to respect other religions and their followers as well. People doing against this are not promoting Islam’s teaching, but making otherwise impression about Muslims.Recommend

  • John B

    The point of this article is appreciated but the reasons are not supported by actual history.

    Even before the conquest by Umayyad, Christians and Jews were living side by side along with others peacefully and conquest by Umayyad was a period of turmoil. Like all conquests of the middle ages the strong survived. The Umayyad dynasty was only interested in the trade tariff. Hatred towards the Goth by the Christians and Jews due to excessive taxation formed a natural alliance with Muslim conquerers for survival against the Goths.

    “The unity led to Grandest exchanges after Greek civilization” is overly dramatic.

    Many of the translated jewish Canons and later Christian canons were already in existence even during the emergence of Islam ( remember, Mohammad’s family had Jewish and Coptic Christian background and were literate) and brought to Arabia by traveling Christian monks and Yemeni Jews.

    Umayyad do however patronized art and architecture as is the custom of every ruler of antiquity and art and literature was not suppressed. The tradition of state funding for art and literature of antiquity continues even today in the modern world.

    All conquests must come to an end and like many rulers before, Umayyad dynasty withered away and the strategic unity between Jews, Christians, and Muslims disappeared when Christian Europe was reconquering all the lost territory.

    The poll tax imposed by later Umayyad rulers did not help either.

    The Arab north african Muslim population did not prosper as the ancient wealth of trade and crafts were with the natives of the land: ie Christians and Jews. The muslim rulers were more interested in keeping the commerce open than the welfare of north African muslim populace who helped in the conquest.

    The region is critical for global trade and many wars were fought over it for trade tariff than religion. Post conquest, peace is inevitable since the purpose of conquest was wealth and wealth comes from peace.

    Religion followed the ruler once peace is established. That is the rule in world history.

    In places were the Muslim empires survived, Islam was established and coexisted with other religions. Until then, the conquest was bloody, like all conquests. The same is true for Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Bhuddist or pagan conquests of antiquity. Recommend

  • 3rdRockFromTheSun

    So what’s been the record after 1100 AD? Why must all examples of “progress and tolerance of Islam” be from a 1000 years back? Ever wondered that….?Recommend

  • Umair

    @John B
    The author is right. From my own lectures in Muslim history I know that most the classical literature was translated into Arabic during this period. Read up on Ibn-e-Rushd and Ibn-e-Sina and their huge contributions. The Christian world in the dark ages had shunned all the classical works. It was only this civilization under Muslims which took up all this knowledge, translated it and introduced it back to the Western world. I feel she is not claiming that canonical works weren’t translated before. Only that a huge amount was translated by this civilization.
    And obviously this unity withered away when al-Andalus was gripped by Christians again. I feel Faiza should have elaborated more on that. However, I feel that this article is addressing a very very important point and should have been longer. Gives the feel as if she knows more but has to stick to a small word limit. Faiza, you should go ahead and write in detail!Recommend

  • Sane

    @Umair:

    What you say, I totally agree. This subject being very important is curtailed probably due to limitation of no. of words.Recommend