By Zakia Soman
In his book, Islam is Good, Muslims Should Follow It; Sanjiv Bhatla invokes the link between the present realities of Muslims and milestones in Islamic history.
The book elaborates how the ambience of secularism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence was laid down by the Prophet of Islam in his dealings with followers of other faiths. Credit: mrehan/Flickr(CC BY-SA 2.0)
We live in a world where religion and religiosity may be on the decline, generally speaking. But at the same time, the Islam religion invokes a lot of curiosity and interest. It may not be an exaggeration to state that in recent times, perhaps no other religion has invoked so much global attention as Islam. The turn of politics in different countries from the US to India is in some way linked to popular perceptions and misperceptions about Islam and Muslims.
An increasing number of people want to know more about a religion that has invoked so much political debate in the present century. Many view it with fear or prejudice. How different people view Islam depends on geo-political developments, acts of terrorism, ISIS narratives, the so-called global war on terror, the various bans on women in Saudi Arabia etc. Islamic injunctions notwithstanding, people view Islam based on actions of Muslims. We live in times of political narratives linking acts of ISIS or violence to religion. The collective social actions of Muslims become very important in this context.
The latest book by Sanjiv Bhatla is important reading for anyone who wants to know more about the religion and wants to make a difference. The title says it all – Islam is Good, Muslims Should Follow It. While reading the book I felt … if only this could be so.
Writings on the religion and its teachings abound. But this book gains importance owing to the treatment given to the subject by interweaving the birth and spread of a great religion in the socio-political context of the time 1,400 years ago and its meaning today. This is done as the author ably portrays the benevolent character of the Prophet. Bhatla’s smooth-flowing narrative invokes the link between the present realities of Muslims and milestones in Islamic history, several of which are centred around the strong and humane character of the Messenger of Allah. The Prophet comes across as a modern mind, a reformer, a just and fair leader, a strategic thinker, a statesman who is at once human in his dealings with fellow beings. The book elaborates how the ambience of secularism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence was laid down by the Prophet of Islam in his dealings with followers of other faiths. The Constitution [Charter] of Medina encouraged democratic values by prescribing representation of all sections in important decisions.
The crucial chapter about the Quran records all the important principles enshrined and underlines their relevance in modern times. Fair play, decency, trust, honesty in daily transactions are emphasised in the Quran. Peaceful co-existence, non-violence, non-dynastic rule, freedom of religion, impartiality, compassion, kindness, justice, decorum and good behaviour are some of the values explained at length using quotes from various verses and anecdotes from the life of the Prophet.
My personal favourite is a particular emphasis on women’s equality throughout the book beginning with the statement of the fact that the first Muslim [after the Prophet] was a woman. Equality between ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is almost axiomatic in the Quran. The promise of equal reward for man and woman, the use of the word spouse rather than wife, the complementary nature of the sexes, the emphasis on friendship rather than rivalry between spouses, all point towards equal treatment of women. The book also highlights how this was in stark contrast to the condition of women in pre-Islamic Arabia. That Quran advocates respect towards women, gives them inheritance rights, right to divorce and prohibits female infanticide is all brought out convincingly. There are several instances of women’s participation in consultative processes in society and in governance, which are listed down by the author within the narrative.
The book closes meaningfully with an epilogue called ‘The Third Factor’. Here, Bhatla poses a direct question to Muslims and to Islamic jurists: What would the Prophet have done in the present case, if he were with us at this moment? He is sure that this question would bring to life the personality of the Prophet in the judge’s mind and encourage him to use his own conscience. This “third factor” would remind every Muslim about the Prophet’s concern for the struggling common man and guide his thinking. It would go on to provide a way forward if they can evoke the Prophet’s spirit of kindness and fair play, their judgments would match with the best in the world. It would lead every Muslim to listen to their own inner voice, as was the Prophet.
There are several scholarly books on Islam penned by writers of all races, regions and religions. But this is a laudable work in that it speaks directly to the reader and goads her to think based on the life of the Prophet. The well-researched account of the Prophet’s life and the society that he was trying to change leaves the reader with deep reflections. It is a must read not just for Muslims but also for those with stakes in a just and peaceful world.
Zakia Soman is co-founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.