Challenge Before the Muslims

Many like me would be grateful to Mr. SM Murshed for writing about Taslima Nasreen (“To you be your way and to me mine”, 16 December). 

He decided not to go out with a can of petrol or diesel or kerosene to the streets to incite the mobs to indulge in arson or loot. He instead decided to write about it. One is grateful to him because after weeks of confusion and ignorance regarding what she wrote that provoked protests and arson, one now knows what it was all about. 

It is necessary to quote from his article: “Such then has been the character of this rascal of a prophet; and concealed within the folds of his raiment is the hoax known as Allah”. This is outright abuse. And abuse cannot be accepted, cannot be permitted by anybody against any religion. 

Mr. Murshed follows his quotation by a question: “Can the Muslim world be expected to look on with equanimity as mute spectators on this wholly uncalled for, insulting and derogatory remark against Allah and his Prophet?” 

An emphatic no, but with a difference. The entire civilized world in an increasingly globalized atmosphere could come to a mutual understanding / agreement that religious abuse will not be accepted, will not be permitted, by anybody against any religion. Similar developments are taking place all around us. Why not this? Should such a day come when such a broad understanding is reached, it will be possible for members of the civilized world to object to abuse against any religion. 

This should open up another prospect: that of the civilized world asking the protesters of the other kind ~ arsonists et al ~ to channelise their protests properly. The pressure on the erring abusers will then come not just from the people of the abused religion but from the whole world. 

The purpose to stop religious abuse, however, should not be to stop freedom of expression, or to stop the desire to reform through arguments and discussions.
Such steps could lead to a calming of nerves, avoidance of violence, and a reduction in intolerance. Another likely consequence could be that sensitive matters may gradually come to be handled by the members of the civilized world who generally are educated and thoughtful, rather than by the variety of clergies who are not so thoughtful or so broadly educated. 

Another good thing that Mr. Murshed has done is to join issue with the use of the word “fundamentalist” in the debate. The word is often used with an accusing finger. He quotes the Oxford Dictionary for its meaning and then goes on to say: “Going by this definition, I am a fundamentalist Muslim, for I believe, and practice, the five fundamental tenets of Islam, namely I believe in one God and that Muhammad was his Messenger, I pray five times a day, keep the fast during the entire month of Ramzan, give in charity the prescribed amount of my savings, and I have performed the Haj. So is everyone else in the world who regards himself as a true Muslim”. 

One can see from his writings that Mr. Murshed is an upright man, he is proud that he is following the fundamentals of Islam truthfully, and that he feels similarly about others like him. Prima facie no one can take objection to this, irrespective of one belonging to this religion or that, or even if one is a non-believer. 

There is another aspect of fundamentalism that needs to be taken into account in a serious debate of this nature. Time was when these fundamentals were formulated and set for the good among the followers to accept and follow. 

Permit me for the sake of argument to shift a little. At one place in the article it is pointed out: “The custom among Arabs those days was to take more wives than one. Upon Khadija’s death he was miserable and lonely. He was persuaded by friends and relatives to marry again which he did. He then had to fight many battles and each of them took its toll in lives lost, which created a large number of widows with no one to look after them. He proceeded to set a personal example by taking war widows as wives.” 

And further: “At no time were there more than four wives, the maximum prescribed in the Koran.” 

Countless number of fundamentalist Muslims must have been practicing it since the days of the Prophet. Those few who may have abused the permission by devious means may be left out of our discussion. This provision, peculiar to Islam, is another fundamental tenet. Let us for the sake of discussion look at it this way. It is provided in the Koran and the example for the same was set by the Prophet Himself, therefore, it is the accepted thing. This would be the fundamentalist position. 

Now let us look at it another way. It is pointed out that the custom among the Arabs up to the time of the Prophet was (1) to take more wives, actually even more than four and (2) many battles during the time of the Prophet resulted in a large number of widows, with no one to look after them. 

For the Prophet and for the Koran to restrict a man to a maximum of four wives and to lay down rules regarding the treatment of these wives was a matter of great social reform in those days. Permitting up to four wives because contemporary wars resulted in a large number of war-widows also suggests an attitude of trying to find practical solution out of a difficult situation. This also shows a reformist attitude. 

Taking the discussion further we find that in the first instance the faithful follower takes in good faith what is laid down and permitted. Since the days of the Prophet to this day he is sticking to it. This is fundamentalism. 

Arguing on the other hand that to restrict a man to a maximum of four wives when earlier there was no restriction on number was a matter of reform. It must have improved the position of women in that society. The solution found in case of a large number of war-widows also suggests practical social reform.  

Looking at it this way, it is not a case of fundamentalism. This instead is a case of reformism. 

After Islam spread beyond Arab shores where it was not the practice earlier for a man to take more wives than one, the provision of up to four wives was not withdrawn. That was one state when reformist, progressive Islam turned backwards and turned reactionary. 

Even in Arab lands where reform had first been introduced it should have been taken progressively to a stage where no man will have more than one wife. After all, so many centuries since then have elapsed. But nothing of the kind happened. This is fundamentalism. 

Taking the case of war-widows in those days further one may give a look at the intervening period since then. There must have been periods of peace and tranquility in lands governed by Islam. Were the provisions of multiple wives withdrawn then? If not, it was due to fundamentalism taking a different shape and acquiring a different meaning. 

One wonders if the educated well-meaning Muslims who believe and practice the five fundamental tenets of Islam know that the Prophet during His time and under his lands had encouraged the most wonderful centers of learning. If it is no, or alternative if it is yes and they have done nothing about it, either way it is a consequence of fundamentalist thinking. 

Take for instance madrasas. There must be countless numbers of them. They tend to be controlled by the clergy. Their purpose dies not seem to be to impart education. They seem to be imparting “fundamentalism” of a certain kind. Nobody knows how many of them are churning out terrorists and jihadis. Looking at them from the standpoint of centers of education, they are at the bottom of all the education systems of the world. From great centers of learning to terror centers! 

Why this degeneration? Could it be that education is not an important tenet and could be ignored, allowed to degenerate and die. Overindulgence with the fundamentals of religion to the exclusion of all other matters is always dangerous for any society. 

Take the case of wars during the early period of Islam. The believers who fought them must have been charged with a mission, for they fought so brilliantly and effectively that they brought within the ambit of Islam such a vast area of the globe within an unimaginably short period of fifty years. Nobody else could repeat/achieve that feat in the entire human history. 

On the other hand, the Arabs have been fighting Israel for a period longer than that. And the Arabs have achieved nothing except failures and losses. This, despite the fact that the Arabs around Israel constitute fifty times the area and fifty times the population of Israel. What has happened? Could it be that Islam has so thoroughly degenerated over the period? How come when the Israelis are aiming guns at the Arabs, the Arabs are pelting stones at the Israelis! Could it be a consequence of fundamentalism, of inertia, of socio-cultural fossilization?
Take a broad glance at the major religious groups the world over ~ Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Where would the Muslims place themselves overall? 

Take the case of women. The position of women all over the world is a matter of great concern to all thinking people. But the position of Muslim women should be a matter of greater concern. 

Take this very recent news item from Dubai for instance. “A year-and-a-half ago in the eastern province town of Qatif, seven men gang-raped a 19-year-old girl 14 times. Three judges from the Qatif General Court sentenced the rape victim to 90 lashes for being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape. The court also suspended the victim’s lawyer Al-Lahem for defending her and confiscated his license... She and her companion were kidnapped at knife-point and brutally gang-raped by the seven men”. (The Statesman, 18 December) 

Being an outsider to Islam, I should not like to say anything further in this matter, as this is a sensitive issue. Persons from within the fold could take it up. But I should like to bring in one point here because that has already been a matter of widespread discussion. 

One such person who has taken it up is Taslima Nasreen. Muslim society should let her do the work she has taken up. Who knows the coming generations of Muslims may one day look upon her as a liberator. After all Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in his times faced tremendous opposition to the educational institution he wanted to establish for the Muslims. So much so that the Imam of Mecca had at that time issued a fatwa against him. 

We should not be carried away by emotion or fundamentalism, nor should we allow the elements in our societies or clergies to persecute such persons. We know enough about how the Christian clergy persecuted the scientists in Europe during the Middle Ages. Who would bother to remember those Christian clergies today, and who would like to forget Galileo Galilee and other persecuted scientists like him. 

All religions, all fundamentalism, all ideologies tend to degenerate with time. Because they stick to the original, because they refuse to budge, refuse to move with times. In so doing they stiffen and harden and get fossilized. These words do not represent life, they represent approaching death or death. 

Let us take an example. We all knew what was happening to China behind the bamboo curtain. Then one day around 1980 China decided to break loose from or go back on one of the fundamental tenets of its ideology ~ anti-capitalism. It decided to swim with time. It took to capitalism with a vengeance. The world gaped in disbelief. Today that China is a determining factor in world economy. Socialist India did a similar thing in 1991. 

Religions in their time were meant to be liberators of mankind. Let us not turn them into shackles of humanity. Let the Muslims take a re-look at themselves, at their past and at their future.    


More by :  Vinod Jain

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