By Sultan Shahin
4 Sept 2012
It seems some readers of New Age Islam, in discussions on various threads, have been for the first time introduced to early biographies of Prophet Mohammad (saw) by Salafi Arabs written within a few decades of his demise. Also, perhaps they were not aware of the pornographic portions of what is considered authoritative Hadees like Bokhari and Muslim.
I remember the outrage I had felt when I first read them. But I have found that though one respected Arab chronicler in those days did call Ibn Hisham a liar, Hisham, Ibne Ishaq and Tabari continue to be respected sources of Islamic history, Prophet’s biography and even Qur'anic exegesis in the case of Tabari. No Islamic library is complete without books by or on or quoting from these despicable figures. Saudi Judges give judgments allowing, indeed forcing rape of young girl children based on what they learnt from these books. Sharia laws are based on what was reported by these and other contemptible Salafi Arab chroniclers of those times.
Those who collected these abuses of the prophet (saw) are considered authoritative chroniclers by nearly all Muslims today and respected as imams. “Maulana” Abul Ala Maudoodi (many Muslims around the world write rahmatullillah or r.h. against his name today) wrote his entire book on the status of women in Islam based on what are called weak Ahadees.
If at all we question the authority of any hadees, we call them weak, not concocted or fabricated, thus maintaining their “sanctity” while reducing somewhat their authority. But these normally considered non-Sahih (non-authoritative) books of ahadees (other than Bukhari and Muslim) too, at least six compilations of ahadees (Sihah-e-Sitta), continue to be taught and discussed in madrasas at the level of Aalim and Fazil, etc.
It is only natural for enemies of Islam as well as those Muslims who have left Islam at least in their hearts to throw these books in our faces, ask us believers in Islam to read them, if we haven’t. Immediate angry response apart, it would serve no purpose to lash out at these people and question their motivations. What if they are being paid by committed Islamophobes in the West or elsewhere! Does that make their quotations wrong?
In every research work the earliest biographies and chronicles, either written by the contemporaries of the subject we are studying or the writers of the nearest generation are accorded the greatest respect. Why do we moderate Muslims keep repeating that one of Ibne Hisham’s contemporaries called him a liar? Obviously because that is very relevant and buttresses our point of view if we want to discredit Hisham. So whatever contemporaries or near contemporaries of the prophet said about him or reported him as saying is relevant and will be accorded recognition by those whom it suits. Why do we ourselves respect ahadees? Because it is purportedly a collection of chronicles, legends, even myths reported by early generations of Islam.
Let us not forget that the most dynamic and growing force within Islam today is that of Salafis and Hadeesis. They go under various names. They are very well funded by Arab petrodollars and protected by the West. An offshoot of this group is that of armed, militant, radical Islamists which is being installed into power in most parts of the Middle East and North Africa with support from the Arab petrodollars and Western firepower.
The second growing group is that of those moderate, thinking Muslims who are leaving Islam quietly, at least in their hearts. They may retain Muslim affiliations for pragmatic reasons. Some fear their wives leaving them. [Salafis may be misogynists but many women just love them.] Some fear daughters not getting married, etc. Some may see safety in staying a nominal Muslim for the time being. They have begun to believe that Islam is what Saudis, Salafis, Hadeesis, Tableeghis present Islam as, and since that is not a religion that any sensible person can accept, so it is best to leave. The more moderate Muslims are beaten up for watching TV and listening to music, as was done by Tableeghis in Karachi yesterday, the more this group will swell.
Mostly these people have not read Hisham and Tabari, Bukhari or Muslim, but go by what Muslims are reported as doing in various parts of the world. They are also influenced by what they see as the Muslim character. They had been told in childhood that Islam meant possessing good character and decent education. Rabbe zidni ilman was one prayer they were asked as children to recite hundred times a day. It means, God increase my knowledge. Now they see rampant corruption and ignorance all round in the Muslim world. What difference has Islam made to Muslims, even to Arabs, even after 1400 years? Are Muslims any less corrupt, any more educated than others? Are Muslims achievers in any field? Islam has failed like all other religions and philosophies, they conclude, rather simplistically.
Some from this group, particularly in Africa and recently in Kashmir, are converting to Christianity.
A very dynamic, though still very small, offshoot of this group is that of ex-Muslims who do not accept any other religion and are not prepared to remain silent. They want to loudly tell the world why they left Islam and why other Muslims too should do so. This group has memorized Hisham, Ibne Ishaq, Tabari and pornographic portions of Bukhari and Muslim by heart. They can quote chapter and verse from these books at the drop of a hat.
In this scenario all that is happening, is that the number of moderate, mainstream Muslims is dwindling. Are we still mainstream, I now have doubts. The reason I say so is that while if you did a survey in India or perhaps even in Pakistan, majority of Muslims would refuse to accept that they are Wahhabis now. But their thinking, language, idiom, practice, everything has changed. Many do not know it yet, but hey indeed are Wahhabis. The tens of billions of petrodollars spent in their radicalisation have not gone in vain.
We send our children to either religious schools (madrasas) or secular educational institutions, Christian-run schools, colleges, convents or private schools. A curious thing is happening. The radicalisation that takes place in madrasas is widely documented. But the reasons behind even greater and even more dangerous radicalisation of secular school graduates is not well understood. It’s only now coming to be widely noticed too. None of the 9/11 terrorists were madrasa graduates; all had gone through secular education. Osama bin Laden himself was an engineer, Aiman al-Zawahiri a medical doctor. In the earlier generation of fathers of Islamist radicalism “Maulana” Maudoodi was a non-madrasa-trained journalist, Syed Qutb received British style of schooling with a slight early brush with religious education which made him a critic of madrasas. While different factors may be responsible for different individuals in the past, massive propaganda on the internet and the almost total reliance of the present-day secularly educated youth on this resource is, however, considered the main culprit for the modern phenomenon.
Our numbers are depleting fast. Wahhabies are trying to convert us, radicals trying to kill us in our mosques and shrines, silent ex-Muslims ignore us, not-so-silent ex-Muslims crucify us with their memorized quotations from early biographies and pornographic portions of “authoritative” hadees. How do we respond?
It will not do to lash out at critics of Islam from either side of the growing divide. If we want moderate Islam to survive even till the end of the 21st century, not to speak of the present millennium or beyond, we have to urgently come together and brainstorm.
This is what New Age Islam is for. It has already brought many thinking Muslims from all over the world together. Let us stay together and think together. Let us feel grateful for the gift of some articulate critics. They give us an opportunity to try articulating our own ideas. We may passionately believe in something and yet not be able to express that with any degree of eloquence. We need sounding boards. God has given us a few. Let us use that. Who knows we may bring some of them back to the fold of moderate Islam.