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Pitfalls of Faith
by BS Murthy Bookmark and Share
 

Continued from “Perils of History”

If the ecstasy of the Quran is the soul of Islam, the legend of Muhammad is the mind of the Musalman. The exalted sense of his pedigree could have made Muhammad fiercely honest, even in the state of deprivation. It is to be appreciated that neither his insignificance as an orphan affected his self-worth nor his poverty dented his self-esteem. While nature endowed him with a shrewd mind his destiny seems to have helped him cultivate a sense of purpose. Though unlettered, he obviously possessed native intelligence, and thus was alive to every opportunity that came his way. Above all, at some stage at least, he seems to have developed an unwavering faith in his own destiny. As can be seen, he was an uncanny man manager and mob manipulator extraordinary.

His exemplary personal courage in battle enabled him lead by example, and this single character of his played no mean a part in the battles his faithful fought to raise the standard of Islam in the nations of the world. Though he grew up in an environment of sentimentality, he imbibed a balanced outlook that his stint as the Czar of Medina turned into statesmanship. The frugal lifestyle he adopted at the height of his fame and fortune could be owing to his personal proclivity or the public posturing, and/or both. It was thus, he was known to avoid material comforts, save his fondness for perfumes, apart from women. And that his faithful didn’t mind as their culture acquiesced in both. Traditionally, there appears to be an inbuilt advantage for its prophets in the Semitic faith in that while it granted them to indulge as humans, it ordained the believers to revere them as divine just the same.

While Muhammad’s reconciliation with Abu Talib’s refusal of Fakhitah, nay Umm Hani’s, hand for him reflects his pragmatism, his marriage to Khadijah underscores his practicality. However, it would be erroneous to misconstrue his devotion to her as a necessary evil to ensure her munificence, for he remained faithful to her memory till the very end. It is worth noting that he considered his years with her as the happiest of his life. But what is remarkable was his fidelity to her in spite of her advanced age, and that too in the prime of his life. That was, notwithstanding his gusty libido. Needless to say, it reveals a rare strength of character and a great ability for self-sacrifice born out of a strong personal conviction. And, for all that, it might have been for a purpose. But, whatever it was, that served him well in sustaining his creed in spite of odds.

The very fact that in his otherwise well recorded life, there was nothing amiss in the lengthy chapter of Khadijah indicates that he could have led an amiable married life unmarred by scandal or quarrel. Sans Islam, still he would have had his place of honor in Meccan memory as Al Amin, and possibly remembered for long in his country. But that night of Ramadan, in a cave of Mount Hira, made all the difference to his memory. Given that the legend of Muhammad is memorized byline of the Musalmans, for the teeming multitudes of believers there is much in the Muhammad’s life to give solace and hope in this world whose worth the Quran deprecates any way. It could be owing to Muhammad’s influence on them that the poorer sections of the Muslim community, even in today’s materialistic world, tend to lead as frugal a life as possible.

Thus, even as his billion strong faithful across the globe revere him as the Messenger of God, the rest of the world is wont to be skeptical about his personal ethics and question his credentials for prophethood. And what is worse, it decries his legacy for the fanatical intolerance and extremist adventurism of a band of his faithful. But then, one has to pay the price for power and fame. And if anything, so extraordinary a life like that of Muhammad would naturally earn the envy and suspicion of many. Whatever, in the history of man, there is no other man like Muhammad who vertically splits the world opinion about his character and legacy, and/or both.

However, even the genius of Muhammad could not have anticipated the antipathy of the Jews towards the Quran though he would have expected the hostility of the Quraysh on account of his attack on their idols. On the other hand, he could well have hoped for the Jewish support in his tirade against the Arab idolatry as the Quran co-opted the Torah and the Jewish Prophets alike. Unfortunately, the overbearing Jews made fun of Muhammad’s prophethood and poked holes in his preaching beside.

This unexpected development gave rise to a unique situation in which Muhammad, while pursuing his agenda against Arab idolatry, had to defend Islam in the battle of dogma that the Jews forced upon it. After all, with the Jews being a formidable race who mastered the Torah for ages; Islam faced a theological crisis to Muhammad’s chagrin, and that occasioned a schism amongst the Semitic religions. While the Quran accused the Jews and the Christians as renegades, the accused in turn called the Islamic Prophet an imposter.

This mutual acrimony has disastrous consequences for the human destiny, as the hostility that the Quran exhibits towards the kafirs, besides infusing a sense of separateness in its believers, inculcates a streak of aggression as well in them. Nevertheless, in the face of the Jewish onslaught, ‘the God’ tried to defend Muhammad thus:

“Or they say: He hath invented it? Say: Then bring a surah like into it, and call (for help) on all ye can besides Allah, if ye are truthful.”
 
“Say: Verily though mankind and the Jinn should assemble to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce the like thereof though they were helpers one of another.”
 
“And if ye do not and ye can never do it - then guard yourselves against the fire prepared for the disbelievers, whose fuel is men and stones.”
 
“And if they deny thee, say: Unto me my work, and unto you your work. You are innocent of what I do, and I am innocent of what ye do.”

As can be seen, the unceasing Jewish nagging seems to have had an unintended effect on the Quran itself, making it repetitive as if to drive home the issue rather desperately. Even otherwise, by and large, repetition is the characteristic of the Quran. Innumerable admonitions such as we have seen above, and elsewhere, get repeated, over and over again, in chapters and verses in similitude. It’s as though ‘the God’ wanted to zero in on the human propensity of believing fervently what is repeated frequently.

Besides, wouldn’t censure directed against those whom we tend to abhor sound music to our ears? The Quranic accounts of the verbal tussles that Muhammad had with the Jews, the Christians and the idolaters invariably colored its divine message itself. Moreover, the private conduct and the public campaigns of Muhammad that are integral to the Quran make it contextually mundane and temporally aggressive. Thus, the body of the Quran in its instructional mode accords Islam a code of conduct sans philosophy of discourse.

However, as love and hatred are the obverse and the reverse of the same human emotion, the feeling of alienation towards ‘the others’, nevertheless, brings in the Musalmans a sense of rare togetherness. In turn, this tends to inculcate amongst them the lofty ideal of the Muslim Brotherhood, which, ironically, in modern times causes them so much emotional hurt. Herein lay the dichotomy of Islam in that while it tries to bestow peace on the believers, it pours out scorn on the nonbelievers. While many Musalmans, probably unaware of the genesis of the WE -THEY syndrome steeped in many a contextual Quranic verse or those who deliberately ignore these, conclude that the rest of the peoples are unfairly hostile to the Muslim populace, and thus come to grudge the kafirs for that.

On the other hand, and sinisterly at that, the misguided Islamists, by taking the many inflammatory verses of Quran out of context, would be able to indoctrinate the gullible Musalmans in madrasas and the masjids to set them on the course of  jihad. Well, in turn, to the dismay of the world, the cynical turn them into fidayeen. It is thus; one comes to hear two voices of Islam–the hurt voice of the well-meaning Musalmans that their ‘religion of peace’ is being unfairly dubbed as the ‘doctrine of death’, and that of the Islamic fundamentalists spewing venomous hatred on the nonbelievers.

Nonetheless, this dual dimension of Islamic reaction is not difficult to fathom either. That the Quran is recited in Arabic the world over, its ayats rendered to rhythm would have no more than a reverential impact on the majority of the Musalmans. Thus, they would be unaware of the Quranic instigations against the kafirs in such surahs as Al-Baqarah, Ali-Imran, Al Ma idah, Al-Anfal etc. Such of the run of the mill Musalmans in the know it, whatever their intellectual perception at finding such in a Holy Book, would not wager much on them. But the fundamentalists and the Paradise seekers swear by these very inimical verses of the Quran.

It is another matter, that such surahs of the Quran would only sicken the nonbeliever of a reader soon enough, though he might realize they are all contextually linked to Muhammad’s life. Even a cursory reading of the Quran would bring to the fore the paradox of banning books perceived as offensive to the religious sentiments of a community in a country. Oh, how the Quran can afford to abuse the Jews and the Christians, and still have a free reign everywhere! And the poor kafirs, so roundly condemned, still have to contend with it being referred to as ‘The Holy Quran’ by the believers.

Be that as it may, the Muslim mind finds itself doubly squeezed by a wronged feeling on one side and the change of value system on the other in the modern era. It is the tragedy of the Musalmans that they would be trained to treat the contextual content of the Quran as the unalienable code of Islam. And that hampers the fluidity of their thought that is needed to cope up with the realities of the given times. Muhammad’s autocracy and obscurantism that denied freedom of expressing what he himself had led them to believe, leave alone to thinking for themselves, might have inadvertently contributed to this debilitating Muslim inability. The following episode in Martin Ling’s biography of Muhammad would be illustrative.

“At his (‘Uthman’s) funeral the Prophet heard an old woman address the dead man with the words “Be glad, O father of Sa’ib, for Paradise is thine.” The Prophet turned to her somewhat sharply and said: “What giveth thee to know that?” “O Messenger of God,” she protested, “It is Abu s-Sa’ib!” “By God,” he said, “we know naught but good of him.” Then, to make it clear that his first remark had been in no sense directed against ‘Uthman’ but merely against her for saying more than she had right to say he turned to her again and added: “It would have been enough for thee to say: “He loved God and His Messenger.”

It was as if the purity of Islam would have been polluted even by the noble utterance of a pious believer. Just as Muhammad’s Quran is averse to having partners to Allah in Mary and Jesus so it seems he himself kept out others from the legacy of his hadith. It’s thus Muhammad saw to it that Islam is all about Allah and His Messenger unlike Jesus who thought it fit to Commission the Twelve for the sake of Christianity. It’s as though the Seal of the Prophets imbibed the divine character of Jehovah the jealous God who couldn’t stomach sharing the Jewish affection with any other god.”

The Muslim dilemma about how to tread on the straight path in the ever changing world of every age owes to the constraints and contradictions of Muhammad’s life in his quest to establish Islam. Needless to say, the mullahs who follow the Prophet’s suit deny freedom of expression to the congregated faithful even in the precincts of the masjids. Try putting an inconvenient theological question, or air an unconventional Islamic view, and one should consider himself to be lucky if only he were debarred from the masjid, and not manhandled as debauched. Thus, the tune of the Quran came to be set in the “O ye believe” tone sans accompanying instruments of debate and discussion. It is no wonder thus; the intellect of a Musalman is measured on the scale of the Islamic theology.

Coupled to this is the ghetto mentality that only accrues the ‘frog in the well’ vision to the Muslim intellect which furthers their inability to see things from the others’ angle and this makes it hard for the Musalmans to gain cosmopolitan insight to nurse an egalitarian mind-set amongst them. On the other hand, the Islamic emphasis of Muslim separateness insensibly leads to the stagnation of the Musalmans in the medieval Quranic age. This is about the burden of belief that Islam imposes upon its believers, to which, without a demur, the Musalmans submit.

And that is something to say about how faith can condition the mind and the mood of its followers regardless of the change in the surroundings. True, the faith of Allah needed a band of blind believers to help Muhammad achieve his ambition to hoist the flag of Islam on the Kabah. But how the Musalmans are to progress in modern times without imbibing the process of inquiry that is so essential to acquire knowledge and wisdom? It is this trap of belief into which Musalmans are born and there is no reformist around anymore, after Kemal Ataturk the Great to extricate them out of the Islamic mire.

Continued to "Blinkers of Belief"

26-Jan-2013
More by :  BS Murthy
 
Views: 780
Article Comment Dear Jafri saab and Jalal ji;
It is heartening to note, from your inputs, that you have approached 'Puppets of Faith' the way I set it out in its Preface - "that it might not only enable the ‘the others’ to appreciate the Muslim constraints but also understand their own aberrations. Likewise, it could be hoped that the Musalmans too would ponder over the apprehensions of the ‘the others’ as well as their own afflictions that are behind the Musalman-kafir confrontation".
What is needed for a religious rethink is a critical mass of reformist minded and hopefully, people like you make it possible for the good of the Muslim-brotherhood in times to come.
Do please keep up with my work as it unfolds in these columns.
With best regards,
BS Murthy
BS Murthy
01/30/2013
Article Comment
When our strengths become our weaknesses, there is only one way forward...i.e strive to change the paradigm.

Those who believe in status quo, or thrive in past glory, often find themselves on the wrong side of history. Religion, as an essential part of life for the majority, shouldn't be viewed differently than other 'practices' for the enrichment of our body and soul, which has changed over time. Nothing can stay in a vacuum for too long to remain relevant.

Organizing for any reform ideas in the name of religion has been extremely hard, most Muslims fall shy of this struggle due to personal limitations. But all hope is not lost and there are still reformists trying to make a difference. The challenge for the believer is to look for the reformers and thinkers within their community to strengthen their efforts to make a difference. As they say, charity begins at home!

Pl take advantage of Google, which has redefined the word "search" for the whole world. Peace and Cheers!!
Jalal
01/28/2013
Article Comment An excellent explanation of the paradox of the Musalmana. Now I can understand why my learned father, Ali Sardar Jafri ran away from becoming a Maulvi. He was sent to Lucknow to learn the ways of the teaching of Islam to a Maulvi. His progressive mind could not fathom it though he is well versed in the Quran.
Ali Nazim Jafri
01/28/2013
 
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