By M. Husain Sadar
Muslims should consider modifying some of their religious practices and rituals in order to bring them in line with realities of the modern age. Such a step is needed to ensure a better future for the coming generations of Muslims.
Followers of Islam and those of Judaism and Christianity, share a common belief that in order to deserve a handsome reward a place in heaven after death- people should live life on earth as prescribed by God through various prophets.
These divine proclamations and requirements started with Prophet Adam and have continued through numerous other emissaries of God such as prophets Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and Mohammad (peace be upon all of them.) These prophets not only conveyed the divine messages to the people but also designed and promoted various rituals and practices for ensuring proper compliance with the divine revelations.
Obviously, such religious rituals were designed according to the prevailing socio-economic conditions and cultural traditions of the society which existed at that particular time period. For instance, Prophet Mohammad ( p.b.u.h), taught his followers, mainly nomad Arab tribes, how best they could put into practice the five pillars of Islamic faith namely, belief in God (shahda), prayers(salaat), charity (zakaat), fasting during the month of Ramadan ( Saum) and annualpilgrimage to Mecca ( Haj).
Most major practices were originally designed by the Prophet of Islam but were further expanded by various Islamic scholars (Imams) such as Imam Abu Hanifa and others with good intentions and for good purposes. However, most of these rituals and practices were put in place several centuries ago. Obviously, since then the human race has experienced numerous irreversible changes in its socio-economic, political and cultural conditions and circumstances. But most importantly, this evolutionary process now has accelerated dramatically due to the growing influneceand cumulative effects of modern technology. Whereas I have been fasting during the holy month of Ramadan over the past half a century, I have now started to wonder about the real purpose and benefits for observing this and other major Islamic rituals.
We have been told that fasting makes us realize the sufferings of a starving person. But having seen starving Somali women and children on TV, millions of non-Muslim people around the world have been collecting and sending help to end the sufferings of Somali people. It simply means that one does not have to fast in order to generate the needed sympathy for a starving person. According to the Holy Quran and other previous books of revelation, our Creator is very loving, kind and gracious (raheem and rahman). Since Godis most knowledgeable and fully aware of everything, He knows about the harsh and unbearable conditions created by hot June and July sun or by the freezing cold in various parts of the globe.
As has been the case in the past, during this Ramadan too millions of poor Muslims workers have continued their back breaking work under slave like conditions in numerous countries and especially in oil rich Gulf states. Millions more farm workers had to harvest wheat or corn or pick vegetables and fruit under the burning heat of the summer sun. Surely, God does not want to punish these folks further by asking them not even to drink some cold water during the hot summer days.
Muslims living in predominantly Arab/Islamic countries do not experience such large variations in the movement of the sun as those of us who are living in the northern hemisphere. Consequently, people in those countries can fix times for five daily prayers and for fasting during Ramadan according to the position of the sun. However, those living in other parts of the globe but more specifically closer to the Arctic circle cannot always follow old ways of performing various Islamic rituals. Unfortunately, the so-called ‘Islamic scholars’ but especially those based in the Arabian peninsula or in Iran consider it their exclusive right to impose their opinions (fatwas) on other Muslims. In addition, the mosque imams keep on projecting all old customs, traditions and practices as the final word of Allah which is written in stone. Consequently, Muslims are not allowed to think rationally and act reasonably and independently no matter where they live or what climatic and working conditions they are subjected to. It particular, the ‘imams’ imported from Arab countries to serve the growing Muslim communities in western countries, keep on promoting blindly the religious practices or Sharia laws of their home countries which have little in common with the laws and value systems and practices of European and North American societies.
For instance, covering the entire body of a woman from top to toe (burqua) may be considered as an “Islamic dress” in some Arab/Islamic countries. However, such practices are now being declared as illegal in many European countries. Similarly, marrying more than one woman or ending marriage, divorce (break up) verbally, may be common and a convenient way for Muslim males to project their power or superiority. However, such practices are illegal in non-Muslim countries and societies.
Consequently, even the talk of the so-called Shariah Law is creating unnecessary misunderstanding and tension among Muslims and others living in Europe and North America. One of the most confusing examples in the Arab/Islamic societies is the selective use of modern technology. It seems that these communities are deeply in love with cell phones, DVD’s, cable and satellite TV. However, some Muslim and their ‘imams’ cannot determine the start or end of Ramadan without seeing the moon with their naked eyes. Apparently, the scientific evidence or use of modern technology cannot be allowed to decide such religious matters.
As has been done in the past, this year again one local ‘imam’ along with his few followers ran around frantically over Ottawa area to find a suitable place for sighting the Ramadan “moon”. For him , such moon sighting was a must for deciding the starting day of Ramadan. Amazingly, in doing so, the Imam was armed with a high-powered pair of binoculars in order to assist him find the very thin slice of the moon. Obviously, binoculars, wrist watches, telephones, internet, cell phones, TV and other such modern devices were not available during the time of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h). Hence, the only way to set times for fasting or daily prayers during those days was by looking at the sun or the moon. However, these days sophisticated technology provides highly accurate predictions and reliable relevant data about all the movements of the sun and other planets in the entire solar system. Surely, the “Islamic scholars” and imams must be aware that we all live in a technologically dominated world. Mosques use loud speakers to ensure that the call for prayers is heard far and wide. Muslim preachers use television for reaching to larger number of viewers. Considering that the message of Islam is supposed to be a universal one, Muslims have to rely on modern technology to spread Islamic concepts and to design associated practices.
Why not take advantage of available technology in order to plan and organize prayers, fasting and Eid celebrations in an efficient and effective fashion? Undoubtedly, the modern day society will continue to undergo even more rapid changes because of greater use of rapidly expanding information technology, space travels, internet economy, global trade and commerce and fast emerging multicultural communities and nations. Moreover, in today’s competitive world, everyone is required to have solid work ethics, high professional standards and strong commitment to team work. Consequently, it is not going to be always easy or convenient to leave work for performing every daily prayer at the designated time and/or fast from dawn to dusk. Reforming some of the Islamic rituals is even more important for younger generations of Muslims who are born and are living in the Western countries.
These coming generations of Muslims may be partly engulfed at home by the cultural background of their parents. However, once in school these youngsters are fully exposed to the value system of the society in which they live. Hence, they are growing up in a democratic and secular environment which encourages open and free discussions on all topics including the religion. It is a common knowledge that all major religions are struggling these days to attract younger followers. Consequently, it is safe to assume that Muslim youth growing up in various western countries may not be as devoted to Islam, at least not to the version as followed by their parents. It may also mean that some of the expensive mosques which are now under construction or are in operation today in the West, may look partially deserted or neglected in the near future.
Obviously, there is great need for meaningful reforms of various Islamic rituals and practices in order to make them more adaptable in the technologically dominated modern world. Failing that, future generations of Muslims in the West may find their own ways to rectify this situation. Another alternative and perhaps an attractive one, will be to abandon completely some if not all such rituals and practices.
Dr. M. Husain Sadar is a former Canadian civil servant and retired Professor of Environmental Sciences. He has travelled frequently in several O.I.C. member countries on UN-sponsored training missions.
Source: The View Point