By Hasan Suroor
November 25, 2016
Today, Islam is facing arguably its gravest
existential crisis since the Crusades. Yet, nobody is asking the one question
that every concerned Muslim should be asking: what is the future of Islam? Will
it survive the crisis? If so, in what form?
I am aware that in the current climate to
pose such questions may be regarded as heretical. But the idea that it’s just a
passing phase (“We saw off the Crusades, we will see off this one too”) betrays
the sort of complacency that has seen inherently tolerant Hinduism mutate into
Crusades were led by Islam’s external
enemies; and it’s always easier to unite against a common threat from outside.
Today, the threat is from within. Muslims are Islam’s biggest enemy.
The conflict is no longer between Muslims
and “infidels”; devout Muslims and “heretic” Muslims; or even Sunnis and Shias.
It has now come down to Sunnis versus Sunnis; Shias versus Shias … one Muslim
against another Muslim.
A community, which took pride in the idea
of a global Umma united by a common faith, today resembles a family each of
whose members is at war with the other. Jihad has come home and is devouring
its own children. Muslim communities across the world are seething with
internal sectarian divisions and hatred. Nothing is sacred any more.
Even the Hajj, the holiest of holy symbols
of Islamic solidarity, has got caught up in the civil war tearing Islam apart.
Once we were all Muslims. Not anymore.
Now we sit in separate sectarian boxes
labelled Deobandis; Barelvis; Salafis; Wahhabis; Wahhabi Salafis. And certified
as “good” Muslims and “bad” Muslims by self-styled arbiters of Islam. And if
you fail their arbitrary test of what constitutes a “good” or a “true” Muslim,
well, hell hath no fury like a mullah spurned.
One might argue that divisions always
existed. Yes, but within the parameters of legitimate dissent. Nobody was
murdered for belonging to the “wrong” sect or school of thought. The only overt
hostility was between Shias and Sunnis, but it rarely spilled into violence
beyond minor clashes during Muhurram.
Now, Shias are killed for simply being
Shias. In Pakistan they are not even recognised as proper Muslims. Once,
Islam’s internal divisions were only of academic interest and barely touched
the lives of ordinary Muslims. In the space of a few decades, however, Islam
has gone from a religion one happened to be born into and which one observed or
didn’t observe according to one’s conscience (nobody put a gun to your head),
to become a 24/7 obsession.
It has been hijacked by extremist
vigilantes with the licence to kill anyone they suspect of not being the
“right” sort of Muslim. I am not talking about what’s happening in Syria or
Iraq or Libya or about the toxic Islamisation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The
menace of often violent vigilantism has now arrived on the streets of Britain.
That #NotMuslimEnough is one of the most
popular messages that recently trended on social media indicates the prevailing
level of intra-Muslim intolerance. In recent months, three Muslims in Britain
have been murdered by fellow Muslims for not being Muslim enough.
One was Ahmadiyya Muslim and two were Sunni
Muslims whose Sufi practices were regarded non-Islamic by Salafi Sunnis. There
are areas of Muslim concentration, including East London, where vigilantes hang
around to enforce Islamic dress code on Muslim women. Those who protest are
abused and threatened.
It has become a cliché to say that what is
going on is a battle for the soul of Islam. But which Islam? These days, Islam
means different things to different Muslims. One Muslim’s Islam can be
another’s heresy. Islam has been reduced to a series of perverse and
It is the culmination of a process that
began in the 1970s and 1980s with the start of Wahhabisation of Sunni Islam and
Khomeinisation of Shia Islam. The Muslim reaction to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic
Verses was a watershed; since then things have only gone downhill with thugs
taking over from mullahs.
What I find extraordinary is the Muslim
indifference towards Islam’s future, as if they couldn’t care less. A standard
smug reaction is that all religions, notably Christianity, have gone through
upheavals and emerged stronger. So will Islam; a “new” Islam fit for the 21st
century will emerge from the debris of the old.
But in the absence of any evidence to
support such optimism, it sounds more like wishful thinking. If anything, all
the evidence points to the possibility of an opposite outcome: the world ending
up with a more regressive, insular and intolerant Islam.
Meanwhile, Islam’s civil war is likely to
get worse, compounded by the unseemly scramble between Sunni Saudis and Shia
Iranians for political supremacy of the Muslim world. The burden of being a
Muslim is going to get heavier.
days, One Muslim’s Islam can be another’s heresy. Islam has been reduced to a
series of perverse and self-serving interpretations.”
the direct fallout of veneration of the secondary sources in Islam and their
prioritization over the Qur’an as a source of guidance. This has been expounded
as below in my jt. exegetic work published in June 2009.
"Considering the canonized Hadith as we have in our hands today,
on their face value as truths supplementing and complementing the Qur’an as
many orthodox scholars advocate, or indirect inspiration as the classical
theory of Islamic law suggests,5 may lead to the following, to the great
detriment of the Muslim community:
The vast majority of Muslims, lay or educated,
will have neither time, nor the necessary books, nor the scholarship to explore
their expansive domains.
Different individuals, agencies, groups and
states, will be able to pick conveniently from their theological sources to
legitimize their views and deeds in the whole range of matters concerning their
societies. Such matters could be of social, political or theological nature, or
pertain to statecraft, educational curriculum and women’s status, for example.
Likewise, they will be able to enter into polemics, and have their clerics pass
fatwas against conflicting views on
all such matters..."