New Age Islam
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Islam and Pluralism ( 19 Oct 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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SAVING THE SHIP OF ISLAM: Realising a symbiosis with other cultures

By Manzoorul Haque

There was a scene in Titanic where the supporting actor, who was engaged to the heroine (Kate Winslet), was chasing the runaway couple – the hero and the heroine. There were two stories going on. There was a chase. And the ship was sinking.

For quite some time both stories moved independently that is without affecting the course of each other. The man chasing the duo was influenced by two factors. He had not seen the true nature of the accident which made him immune to the external circumstances. Since we as observers of the movie knew exactly what had happened and also from our knowledge of history we knew the fate of the liner, we felt the ridiculousness of the chase. The chaser was also so determined in his emotional pursuit that he had blocked his rational thinking for a time.  This described his internal situation.

Can we apply this scene to the life of a community – our community to be exact?

Let us have a look at the community life of the Muslims. This community began its journey from the day of the conferment of prophet-hood on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Along its march in history the community went on to acquire size –to the extent that at one stage there was little need to look outward. The enormity of the civilization it created had eclipsed the known spaces of the world. Its psychological separation from the rest of the world became so complete that the outside world did not exist for the Islamic world. That psyche of the Muslims continues to exist till this date. It is not possible for a Muslim to visualize how the outside world is continuously impinging on the Muslim world.  But the Muslim inside has no such cultural habit to dissociate himself for a moment to have a look at things from the outside, even to know what is hitting the Muslims. That the ship of Islam is being hit by an iceberg is not a matter of concern for him. Like our anti-hero he is busy chasing the bride.  He is fully embroiled in his own silly story whose ridiculousness is visible to an objective eye. He is engaged in terrible fights  over non-issues such as splitting of hairs on the finer aspects of his ideology forgetting that the forging of unity is possible only at the macro-level because the devil does lie in details;  because at the micro-level we have to necessarily handle our affairs not by unity,  but by tolerance of the differences. He has ceased to see the non-issues rationally for what those are. This describes the inside situation of the Muslim world.  Meanwhile the ship of Islam is sinking steadily because of continuous impact of the icebergs outside.  I can prepare a very long ‘bride-list’ of issues that the Muslim community is busy chasing but I am sure most of us can prepare a reasonably impressive list. Besides I would like to consign this list-making to the micro-world of little consequence for me.

My focus is on the macro-aspects of Muslim life - the inability of the Muslims to develop a proper language for the management of their affairs. The development of language includes not only the physical aspect of language but also the nuance of language and the culture associated with the practice of communication in the contemporary world. Then comes the need for the Muslims to manage their ideological unity at the level of principles and learn to shun the differences at the level of practice, which is inevitably a local affair. This shall take care of the inter-sect rivalry of Muslims to the extent possible. Of course this is possible, as also many other programs that follow, only by deploying the necessary language skill developed in the first instance.  From here the Muslim mind must move on to managing the inter-community relationship. There is no point in blaming that the Palestine question cannot be solved because of Israel, the Kashmir problem cannot be solved because of India, Chechnya because of Russia, Uyghur because of China, Af-Pak because of US etc. etc.  The point is that the onus to resolve these conflicts lies on Muslims in order to be able to move on.

 I am afraid there is an umbilical link between the continuation of these geo-political conflicts, and Muslims’ inability to forge ideological unity at the level of principles and to shun the differences at the level of practice. A Muslim’s inability to grapple with the ideological situation has led him to acquiesce into accepting the stalemates in other areas of community life. Unconsciously, he knows that the scope for movement is very limited with an ideology suffering from an internal siege. Therefore the will to bring about breakthroughs in other areas is very weak. The result is that the weak will is not strong enough to manage the inter-community relationship and thus all matters are pending in his life. All out effort is needed for the strengthening of this will by the proper resolution of the internal conflicts first and then by the employment of the right semantics to carry on a discourse with the rest of the world.

Equipped with this kind of home work alone, the Muslim world can see what is impinging on it from outside and develop necessary symbiosis with the outside world.  If today a Muslim is informed that there is grave danger of the outside forces sinking the ship of Islam, he is likely to say that we should try to destroy the outside world. That shows his lack of understanding of the outside world which also manifests in his inability to see things from outside even in self-defence. In fact if he can step out of his cocoon he would know that the only rational possibility is to strike a symbiosis with the outside world that is, the rest of the world - the non-Islamic world. Any other formulation is doomed to failure.  It is important for the Muslims to understand this. Very, very important!! I have to write this because I know, a very large number of Muslims want to blast the outside world by waving a magical wand from inside their cocoon. Meanwhile the ship is sinking.