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A Case for Islam
|by Dr. R. K. Lahri|
Islam was born in the sands of Saudi Arabia in 622, the first year of Muslim calendar. Islam literary means 'surrender', surrender to the God Almighty. History tells us that prophet Mohammed started getting revelations at the age of 40 in the cave of Hira near Mecca. He came to realize, through Archangel Gabriel, that there is but one God Allah and everything else is surrendered to His wishes. Islam considers Mohammed as its prophet and advocates surrender to God into one brotherhood called 'umma'. It preaches us to give alms for His love, at least 2.5 % of one's yearly income, for the poor. It is called 'Zakat' and asks us to pray five times a day, facing towards Mecca, the center of Arab power. It preaches us to fast during the ninth lunar month, Ramadan, and make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in one's lifetime. It prohibits use of wine and allows keeping unto 4 wives.
Islam believes in Jihad. It is considered a holy war. Those who do not submit to God get themselves destroyed by the call of Jihad against them. Islam is not very specific as to who is authorized to make a call for Jihad, as is seen today in such random calls by self-made groups of terror. Even the true spirit and relevance of Jihad is not transparent. Every one seems to have his own interpretation to serve his own self-interest. The liberals have no voice as against the fanatics and the fundamentalists.
Islam vividly lays down that on the last Day of Judgment when all the dead would be raised from the grave to hear God's judgment, Muslims would surely get favor of a like of paradise and a nymph. This reflects that the God of Islam is a selective God and not the God of all mankind and of other religions. Is it not the fact that there is but one God and the ways to God are many?
As an Equalitarian Religion
It is generally believed that Islam is an equalitarian religion. It stands for equality and rejects all systems that are discriminating. For centuries Islam remained in the forefront of civilization. Since its advent, for three centuries, the Arab army of Islam conquered Christian lands of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and even South Europe. The march of Islamic forces lasted till the extinction of Ottoman Empire. In the meantime the religion was spread with the might of the ruler's sword, whose superior military power dominated and terrorized the land and the people with threat of extinction Later on. The Islamic march of forces was repelled by the more superior fire-power of cannons, muskets, and trained and organized military of the Christians.
The continued Islamic conquests resulted in the feeling of superiority among Muslims. This gave birth to aristocracy at different times and under different circumstances. The emergence of elite or caste was never the part of Islam. It was denounced as non-Islamic yet it prevailed. There are several institutionalized groups now in Islam. Besides Sunni and Shiite, there are twelvers (Ithna-Asharis); Seveners (Ismailis) and Fivers (Zaydis). An off-shoot of the 19th century is Bahais (Ahamadiyans). Then there are Sufis in both Sunnis and Shiites. Among small sectarian groups with unorthodox beliefs can be counted Druza; Alevis; and Alawis. In India the division is more distinct between sects such as Wahidies, Deobandis, Bareilvis, Ahle Hadies, Jafaries and so on.
The Nature and Meaning of Equality in Islam
Islam on Slavery
Islamic law opposes hereditary privileges of all kinds and also monarchy inheritance but it is seldom followed in practice. It is true that it accepted concessions in human rights for slaves. The slaves and the woman remained part of the household but were never treated on equal footing. Islamic law sanctioned slavery but no one dared to raise a voice against it. It was the Ottoman Empire that effectively tried to abolish slavery but could succeed only in 1830. The Christian slaves had to be set free despite orthodox Muslim opposition. On the request of the British in 1846, the Shah of Persia in 1857 issued a Ferman and the slave traffic was brought to an end.
Ahmed- Khalid-Al-Nasin (1834-1897) wrote that 'the unlimited enslavement of the Blacks and the imposition of many droves on them every year for sale in the town and country when the men traffic in them like beasts or worse.(2)'
The orthodox Muslims on the pretext of Islamic law always defended slavery, but the Ottoman Empire and Persia in the 20th century succeeded in contributing solidly in the field of slave emancipation. Though they could not pass a law until 1962, when it was finally abolished in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In India, it was the slave dynasty that temporarily ruled over some part of the country but slavery gradually vanished away. The progressive Islam today is getting inclined to treat others on equal basis and learn to co-live with them as man and man.
The treatment of woman as totally inferior to man still remains justified on orthodox level. The Ottoman Empire really brought about revolutionary change in their status but even today the problem still remains unsolved and needs introspection. The condition of woman in Islamic states is not a matter of pride as is expressed in the protesting voice of Afghan women today. It is mainly the concern of the Islamic world and it is they who could finally do the needful. The experience of India is not encouraging. The Shah Bano case under orthodox Muslim influence surpassing the Supreme Court and influencing the ruling party for vote bank politics has opened the Pandora box of anti secular trends. The mentality of issuing fatwas in case of rape and talaq many times surpasses the Supreme Law of the land which mars the secular character and creates bad blood among progressive people.
Treatment of People of Other Religions
The status of non'Muslims under Islamic rule was totally based on inequality in the garb of Islamic law but in the 19th century, Ottoman Empire granted equal citizenship rights to all its subjects. It declared on Nov. 3, 1830, 'The Imperial concessions are extended to all its subjects, of whatever religion or sect they may be.'(3) Even security of life, property, and justice was granted equally to all.
The Islamic rulers always treated the subject people as inferior, unequal and a second-class citizen. The obligation of Muslim state to wage war on non-Muslims in order to bring them under Gods Law led to negative views in non-Muslim people towards Islam. The Islamic rulers levied Jazia (Protection Tax) on non-Muslims and banned bearing of arms. They called the protected people as Dhimmi and imposed on them many shameful restrictions and special taxes so that they may feel compelled to convert.
The bare fact is that Islam started as religion but soon after turned into an organization of states and brutal army based on fundamentalism of Islam. The religion sharpened the sword to increase the number of religious followers. Jazia was the way to pressurize and humiliate the subject people in order to get their conversion or extinction.
The Ottoman Empire in 1856, abolished all these inequalities. There have been occasions when the Islamic world has succeeded in overcoming the orthodox influence to march with the time on the road of progress according to the needs of the age, The various Fatwas issued by the extremists challenging the onward march fell flat and void. The law restricting the religious freedom of non-Muslims is in affect even today but fortunately it is limited to Islamic countries only and depends upon ruler to ruler.
Islam in India
The Islamic invaders of India were made of a different stuff. Mohammed Bin Quasim in 712 AD was first to invade Sindh, a part of vast India. The Arab commander of the first Islamic force to reach India had reported from Sindh to caliph in 644, "Water is scarce, the fruits are poor, and the robbers are bold. If a few troops are sent, they will be slain, if many they will starve.'(4)
It should be noted that Hindu kings ruled over Afghanistan during this period and no Muslim power dared attack. After the invasion of Sindh, no Islamic force dared to come for 300 years unto 997, when Mohammed Ghazni made an invasion after failing at least 17 bloody times each winter into Punjab places waging Jihad on infidels as they called the Hindus. Are the invading forces qualified in Islam to invade in the name of Jihad and also decide the nature of infidels? No one in Islamic world raised a voice against them and their forces, even when they abducted women and destroyed countless idols, erected masjids along its side in the name of Islam, indulged in looting, plundering and killing thousands as part of Islamic Jihad.
Ghazni singled out Somnath temple of Gujarat, which was known for its fabulous wealth and even upon 50,000 stained corpses in one single day, destroyed the temple and looted away 2 million of Dinars worth of gold and jewels.(5) The Mughal Emperor Babar got the Ram Temple of Ayodhya destroyed to erect a mosque in its place. (Some Muslims of today dispute this fact).
Historian Cunningham writes,'Hindus united to face the attack on the Ram temple. There were 180,000 dead. Only then Meer Baqui destroyed the temple.'(6) Hamilton reports,'The masjid was built with mortar mixed with blood and fat from Hindu corpses.'(7) Thus in India, killing, raping, robbing and enslaving in the name of Jihad went on under ruling powers of the Islamic forces from the foreign lands. Even the Indian forces of Islam indulged in such brutal acts. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir tortured the Sikh Guru Arjun Deo to death for refusing to convert to Islam and for favoring his son Khusaro. The ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur (1621-1675) was beheaded for refusing to convert.
Sir Yadunath Sarkar says that the Muslim rule ended the secular rule of Hindus and instead established purely a fundamentalist Islamic rule. It treated non-Muslims as enemies of the royal power and made it a sacred religious duty to eradicate them and their power. It was based on the principle that those who do not convert to Islam or do not fight on their side or keep neutral are Zimmies. The ruler may protect them but never without charge of a prize called Jazia. They were not to be treated equally. Many other restrictions to make them a second-class citizen were imposed on them. They had to wear ordinary dress. Neither they were allowed to ride on horseback before a Muslim nor bear any arms. Even religious rites had to be conducted so as not to disturb or offend a Muslim.(8)
RCMajumdar quotes Hamdin Zakhiratul Mukluk in History Of Culture of Indian People that such restrictions on Hindus were imposed in the name of Islam. Neither new temples were allowed to be constructed nor old ones repaired. Muslims could enter and stay in any temple without any restriction. Non-Muslims had to pay respect to all Muslims. They were not allowed to put on a Muslim dress or take up a Muslim name or live in any Muslim locality. Hindus were even prohibited to lament loudly at the loss of their dear and near ones(9).
The Quazis and Mullas were always more oppressive. Ziauddin Barrani demanded still more restrictions on Hindus so that the flag of Islam ever remain unfurl on the Hindu sky. Mugisuddin, a quazi, asked Allahuddin Khilzi to place only two options before Hindus ' Convert to Islam or be hanged. However Hanifa advocated the third option of Jazia. Ibne Batuta from Africa has vividly described the brutal tortures and persecutions by the Muslim rulers in the name of Islam over the Hindus.(10)
It should be noted that the Muslims in India were never more than 10% but always remained first class citizen, calling 90% of Hindus as Zimmies and levying Jazia (protection tax) and so many other restrictions to make their life hellish and inferior or coerce them to convert in Islamic faith. The Hindu merchants were made to pay double the duty on some products bought and sold by Muslims. The protesters were trampled under foot of the royal elephants'all in the name of Jihad and Islamic law. (11)
No one came out among Muslims to oppose such atrocities committed on majority Hindu community of India in their own homeland by the minute minority of Islamic rulers. The invading foreign forces and the Muslim rulers of India got full clandestine support from the followers of Islam. Somehow or other, the Muslims were led to believe that the Sunnat and Quran justifies the barbarous execution of non-Muslims for their forceful conversion as the highest test of their faith. Later during the process of partition of India, the entire Hindu population was wiped off in the Pakistani part to remain at 2%. Tikka Khan, the martial law administrator of East Pakistan saw dissemination of 25 million Hindus (More than the then population of Palestine).(12) Even in Bangla Desh, the Hindus are relentlessly persecuted and its population has dwindled to 8.57%n as against 29% during its foundation. (13)
It is a fact that Hindus never surrendered its homeland without a struggle. Its forces on occasions became stronger. History tells us that the last Mughal Emperor was banished by the British and not a dog barked. Actually Delhi at that time was being dominated by Maratha power. Maratha kingdom, though later got divided, always was powerful to give tough fight to Mughal rulers. The brave Rajputs were very fierce and challenging. There were many Hindu kingdoms that were strong to face the Islamic march like Vijaynagar and Chola dynasty. Even in the north planes the spiritual light spread by Tulsidas and Surdas was sufficient to infuse fresh vigor and enthusiasm among Hindus. The secret of Hindu might and spiritual strength was realized by Akbar. His diplomacy succeeded in winning over Hindus as he changed all previous rules and treated all its people equally without any distinction or favor. He abolished the hated Jazia and brought forth the mullah and Imams to welcome the changes as in accordance with Islamic Law.
The Superiority Complex
The invaders of Islamic forces lived in the world of their own. The subjugation of Europe and a part of Russia for centuries and then a large part of India under Islam made Islam as a great military power on earth. Its army's non-stop invaded China, India, Africa and Europe. Africa gave them gold and slaves and India gold and jewels. Slave trade flourished. The superiority sense dominated and gripped it with overconfidence so much so that the meaning of 'treaty ' changed and came to be known as total surrender to the wish of the victor. Actually the struggle leading to the propagation of Islam was given a religious sanctity in the name of Jihad.
Some Muslims say that the term Jihad stands for financial enterprise, industry, struggle for a prosperous and peaceful brotherhood. Nabi permitted fighting in the name of Jihad when the Muslims were compelled to fight in self-defense in Medina. The best Jihad is considered in a visit to Haj pilgrimage. Later on the quazies termed it for war during the days of Islamic conquests so that there be mass conversion under threat or compulsion, failing which extinction of the people as a whole or part. The world was divided into two parts ' Darul Islam (The land of peace) and Darul Harab (The land of war). The conquest of Harab was a part of Islamic Jihad.
Jihad came to be known tool for conversion out of terror, thread, and forceful compulsion under ruler's sword. Notable is the example of the famous Urdu poet Iqbal of Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindosita Hamara, Hindi hai Ham Watan Hai, Hindosita Hamara. His forefather Sapru of Kashmir India had to embrace Islam as he was given only two options'Be converted or get hanged in a case of financial mismanagement by the Muslim ruler. It was this very Iqbal who said that Hindus and Muslims can not live together. He is not alive today to see that Muslims with a population bigger than that of Pakistan are living with Hindus in India today.
Daniel Pipes in his study, 'Islam and Political Power ' writes, 'for Muslims power comes first. Ruling Hindus became so routine that political ascendance came to be seen as a Muslim prerogative. Hard as it is for a Muslim to accept British domination, this was at last mitigated by the fact of the Hindus being subjugated as well.' Wilfred Cantwell Smith in Islam in Modern History says that "Muslims want to be in power or not in power." Never before they knew of a share in power, how to live with others as equals this is the psychological mindset.
It is also a fact that during the British rule, the criminal law was passed abolishing the beating and torturing of the accused. Under Islamic law, the punishment for theft is the amputation of hands and a deterrent punishment for fornication is flogging with 100 stripes ' a 7th century deed of barbaric cruelty. The British made Crpc. changed all this. No Muslim cried, Islam is in danger. The progressive world of Islam welcomed this timely change with grace.
Islam and Human Rights
Provisions of Islamic law are sometimes so interpreted by the orthodox clergy that it comes into conflict with human rights and international law. International law and Human Rights require recognition of the rights of all people to freedom of religion. It recognizes full equality of women. The countries are required to relate to each other on basis of peace and reciprocity. Shariat law says that war can be conducted, as obligation on Islamic states, to bring people under control of Islamic Law.
Muslims in modern India
Secular India is liberal and knows to Co-live and co-exist. Panch sheel is its declared policy. We do still have a road in the name of Aurangzeb where as we can hardly find a Muslim named Aurangzeb. There is Tughlaqabad, one of the seven cities of Delhi and a railway station named after him although we do not find any Muslim bearing his name after Tughalaq.
Our outlook has to be based on reason, toleration and cooperation. Unfortunately the orthodox clergy stood in the way of progressive Islam and the moderates liberals are lost in the dint of slogan,'Islam is in danger'. The truth still remains that Islam has all along been a religion wedded to the Absolute Truth and surrender to the Almighty Allah. Hindus know that so long as spirituality is alive, the nation can not die. Surrender to God makes Islam something eternal and Infinite. It has simply to guard against the tendency, which prevents and keeps it away from progressive thoughts, trends, and times. It has to guard against those who supply irrational thinking and distorted interpretation of Islam as and when it suits their interest. Exaggerated accounts and fake stories of oppression and humiliation based on immature imaginative thoughts, misinterpretations and shortsightedness create anger and angry people can never think properly.
No religion on earth approves of indiscriminate killing of innocent and unarmed people. or the old, infirmed people, widows and women. Children, even unborn children and unarmed people are targeted, the fair sex raped, others mercilessly killed and butchered. Even the killing of fellowmen who disagree with them in such barbarous acts is executed without any shame or sorrow. Anger brings disgrace to mankind. It is for the liberals and thinkers to raise their voice against it effectively and discharge their religious responsibility.
Today Islamic movement has to co-live with others and accept the existence of other religions by respecting their viewpoint and expressing belief in freedom of religion and expression. The God of Islam is not only the Allah of Muslims; it is the god of all mankind. He is the Absolute Truth, Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient. God is One Absolute but the ways to reach Him are many.
Emperor Akbar in his letter to the king of Iran, Shah Abdus Safri wrote long ago, 'The different religions are all divine treasure and God himself has placed them in our hands. It is our duty to love all of them.' Abid Hussein in TOI Nov. 20, 03 writes, 'Truth is one, but spirituality through which we seek it has many hues. The Creator has never commanded us to hate someone because of his belief. We have no right to denounce another religion or faith.'
This is rational thinking. We have to appreciate the value of rational thoughts Strong denunciation of religious obscurantisms and mindless terrorism is the demand of the day. The real Islam has known it since its birth and knows it even today, as rational thinking in Islam is not anti-Semitic and cannot be ignored. Amen.
1-Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong p 157
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