Talking out loud – Islam needs a reboot

Published: November 14, 2014
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The Muslim holy site of the Dome of the Rock on the Al Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. PHOTO: AFP

At the very outset, let me clarify that I am neither a religious scholar nor do I have disciplined knowledge about the Muslim faith. The views expressed in this article are purely based on the perspective that one has developed over the course of the past many years. This is by no means a critique of a faith that millions of folks all over the world follow.

To begin with, as paradoxical and contradictory it may sound, amidst all this opulent irreverence, the Muslims claim that there is a ‘back-to-religion’ movement the world over, as a reaction to the incessant indulgence in pleasures of the flesh or maybe as a refuge from the feeling of emptiness it leaves within. The religion is attracting more adherents compared to other faiths. Interestingly, many of the new converts and the ‘not-so-happy Muslims’ are keen to find out for themselves how the ‘old faithful’ are handling their religious commitments. What is attracting them to Islam is its claim that it abhors rituals like the ones elaborated by the Catholic Church or the ceremonials adopted by the Brahmin to elevate himself into a superior caste.

The religion is based on a complete code of life combining the spiritual with the temporal. But what is offering the greatest attraction to the common folk? To the Afro-Americans, in particular is Islam’s stern repudiation and rejection of any distinction of race, colour, caste or social standing.

The outsider’s quest for true Islam should induce the followers of the faith to re-examine themselves and to see if they are repelling and driving away the new converts or helping them consolidate their faith. Some tough questions, therefore, need to be answered and a minute soul-searching is called for.

The first point we have to bear in mind is that more mosques do not necessarily mean more Islam or greater compliance with the Islamic code of life. If that were true, the estimated five-fold increase in the number of mosques across the land since the establishment of a country like Pakistan should have resulted in evidence of more devotion, piety and piousness.

Unfortunately, that has not happened.

If anything, there has been a terrible deterioration in the overall national character, which includes religious intolerance, hatred amongst various sects of Muslims, and a virtual nullification of the good and the virtuous.

It is indeed reprehensible, and Muslims will have to admit, that today they have more of dishonesty and debauchery, and more of normal failings than ever before. The worst of it is the insensitivity toward other religions and disrespect for those who do not ‘qualify’ to be regarded as Muslims. What ISIS demonstrates, therefore, is an absolute brutal decline/downfall in the fortunes of Muslims the world over.

Muslims need to look into the phenomenon more closely without inventing excuses or shifting blame. There are, undoubtedly, economic forces that are grinding the followers of Islam down to desperation and there also is the communication revolution that provides a vision of a more colourful life in the hereafter, all have contributed to the quandary, to the situation in which Muslims find themselves today.

Worst of all, Muslim religious divines, instead of rebuilding/reconstructing the overall Islamic character, are busy brainwashing the young for waging jihad on the Jews and the Christians.

This begs the questionwhat has Islam done to save Muslims from this disastrous fate?

The answer is to be found in separating the spiritual from the temporal in flagrant renunciation of one of the basic principles of the Muslim faith – namely that Islam is a complete, ‘indivisible’ code of conduct. Muslims seem to have split between Christ and Caesar.

Furthermore, this state of affairs points to the inadequacy of the sort of religious teaching that induces compliance with its tenets. Learning the Holy Quran by heart or reciting it with fervour is hugely commendable. But the real benefit accrues only from a comprehension of the crux of God’s message. Most khateebs (Muslim religious scholars) in their sermons tend to dwell on the supernatural and the far-fetched, and try to regulate the lives of their followers with stories they think will excite and hold their interest, while others seek to enhance their popularity by arousing sentiments on parochial sectarian/religious issues.

It is difficult to figure out how much of it is prompted by ulterior, materialistic motives.

The first fault can possibly be easily remedied by convincing the khateebs that what the Muslim society needs most today is convincing the followers that observance of Haqooqul Abad (rights of the people) is at least as important as Haqooq-Allah (rights of God), if not more; that is to say, while God might condone missing a prayer or two (out of the five mandatory ones during the course of the day), He will not forgive any wrongs to our fellow human beings, irrespective of their race, creed or religion.

On a larger scale, suicide bombings are not allowed; taking away innocent lives in the name of God is absolutely a no-go area; crashing planes into buildings and playing havoc with other nation’s integrity in order to ‘teach them a lesson’ is perhaps the most intrusive form of recklessness that characterises modern-day Islam.

The khateebs will be doing a greater service to the society and Islam by driving home these points related to everyday life and, in the meantime, refrain from entertaining their listeners/followers with fascinating stories/tales of ‘another world’. More than that, their sermons will carry conviction only if people see them practice what they preach. Ironically, they do sermonise equality and brotherhood during Hajj sermon, yet, the Saudi royal family has an exclusive enclosure in the Kaaba. Is it hypocrisy or is there something inherently wrong with Islam?

The religious divines who take upon themselves the onus of determining which sect is right and which is wrong or who is a good Muslim and who is a kafir are being too presumptuous, rather audacious. God has not entrusted them with any such mission. Frequently their own party is in question, and by defying God’s directive against setting judgment over faith of fellow Muslims or those from other faiths, to the extent of killing them, they render themselves liable to be treated as any other murderer – a common criminal who deserves no mercy. In fact, they merit divine wrath of dividing the Muslim world.

One does notice that a lot many Muslim countries indulge in sectarian strife at the state level. We would have been sparred of the wrath of the Taliban had the Saudis been not so keen on spreading Wahabism in the Muslim world. They are a classic example of inciting intra-Muslim dissension and using their oil money to fight their ‘war’ for political, economic and sectarian primacy.

Worse still is the racial bias that, despite the religion’s strict prohibition of any distinction between Muslims (save on the basis of piety), still shows up consistently. The way almost all Arab States lined up with Iraq back in the decade of 1980s in its aggression against Iran profoundly compromised the religion’s claim to be a unifying force that makes no distinction among its followers on the basis of race, colour or culture.

There is also a feeling that the Arabs do not take the same measure of interest in overall Islamic causes the Muslim world collectively does on issues that are a primary concern to the Arabs; the issue of Palestine is the case in hand.

Finally, it is flagrant failures of the so-called practicing members of the Muslim world to comply with the basics of the Islamic moral code that is causing deep distress and disillusionment amongst those who can be regarded as the silent minority. What angers them even more is the pretence of being ‘superior’ Muslims by virtue of the fact that they follow the Islamic practices habitually even though they violate the fundamental tenets of the faith. But for this blatant hypocrisy, a lot more people the world over might have been swarming into the Islamic world.

Despite the change of times, Muslims enjoy unprecedented freedom in the United States to worship and preach their faith. Young Muslims who come here for education worship together as Muslims and not as Shiites or Sunnis, Indians or Pakistanis – bow, pray, plead and implore forgiveness from their Lord, mix-up with each other without prejudice or discrimination. The fact that most of them are educated and enlightened and act the same way enables them to rise above parochial, sectarian and ethnic interests, and work for the betterment of the community as a whole.

As for ‘the politicised Muslims’, things will not improve unless the teachings of the ‘real Islam’ are followed; an Islam without sloganeering against Jews, Hindus, Christians, Shiites or Sunnis; an Islam without moral and spiritual corruption; an Islam without guns and grenades, suicide bombings and the ‘grand plans’ to destroy the West; an Islam which grants due respect to any one and every human being; an Islam which provides rights to all individuals irrespective of their colour, caste, creed, sect or religion; an Islam that leads by example.

Muslims need to stop pointing fingers at other religions and take stock of their own situation. They need to learn from other faiths; respect the ideals for which the followers of those faiths stand for; preach peace instead of prejudice that ends up in abstract hatred that conveys no sense whatsoever.

Muslims need to loosen up! Confining the religion to orthodoxy hasn’t gotten them anywhere. In fact, so far, it appears that it has been a campaign, a mad rush for the dark ages! For some odd reason, Muslim countries seem to follow their ‘Arab (read Wahabi) brethren’ and look for a leadership role from the sheikhs. It is a faulty arrangement. Can there be a separate and distinct leadership that can be created? Can the moderate Muslim countries come forward, take the lead and enlighten the Muslims?

May be one day or may be never.

However, what Islam really needs now is a self-sustaining movement within the enlightened spheres. For starters, taking the route of ijma and ijtehad (religious consultation to keep pace with the changing times) may not be a bad idea. This process of consultation does not necessarily have to be conducted by the bearded and the turbaned but people who wear suits and ties, jeans and khakis, who can probably take the initiative and thereby end up doing a much better job.

Islam needs better leadership. The followers, the sincere ones and not the wretched al Qaeda, ISIS or the Wahabi crowd, have to make hard choices. This is the time to put the house in order. This is the historical opportunity to make amends and seek forgiveness from those who have been hurt, bruised and battered by militant Islam and make a decision, once and for all times to come, that the faith itself is all about universal peace and harmony and free from those draconian hollowness of violence and aggression. Like a computer system that needs some servicing, Islam needs a reflecting reboot.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

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