Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
By New Age Islam Special Correspondent
Pune: 14 December, 2013
Islam is based on the foundation of mysticism, total trustworthiness of the Prophet and his social activism, fight against oppression and exploitation, said Sultan Shahin, founder and editor of the multilingual Islamic website NewAgeIslam.com, addressing a mixed gathering of intellectuals, activists and youths in Pune, Maharashtra.
Mr. Sultan Shahin was speaking on “Muslim: Education, Reform and National Integration” at a talk organized by Dnyaneshwar Mulay Education Society at S M Joshi hall in Pune on December 14. The lecture was organized as part of monthly lecture series “Towards light”, in which distinguished people from all walks of life around the country are invited to share their experiences with the local populace. The session was chaired by Syed Bhai, president of Muslim Satyashodhak Samaj, Pune. The founder of the Society Mr. Dnyaneshwar Mulay is at present Consul General of India, New York and was earlier India's High
People who peddle hate and intolerance, exclusivism and fascism, in the name of Islam, should study the character of the Prophet (saw), his early life as much as his career as a prophet, said Mr. Shahin. He went on: "It is very important for us to study what the Prophet did before he was chosen by God to be his messenger. We don't know much but what we do tells us that he spent hours and days in mediation, in the way of our Sufis and Rishis, was considered a man of impeccable honesty by the people of Mecca including later his enemies and ran what today would be called a human rights NGO, called The Alliance of the Virtuous, fighting oppression, protecting the weak."
Mr. Shahin continued: "The mystic meditations of the prophet in the cave of Hira (Ghar-e-Hira) for weeks at a stretch are well known, and so are his personality traits like honesty and total trustworthiness, for which the Meccans had named him al-Ameen (The Trustworthy). But perhaps not many know about his social activism and his fond memories and moving descriptions of these activities during his days as prophet. The Prophet and his allies in the organisation were active in search of justice for all, particularly the wayfarers, traders from foreign soil who had been wronged by Meccans and other oppressed and exploited. "
"This group of Meccan activists The Alliance of the Virtuous," explained Mr. Shahin, "had been formed by the prophet's uncles Zubair and Abu Talib, in his presence, in a meeting at the house of Abd Allah ibn Judan. The circumstances in which this Alliance was formed and the purpose behind it is quite instructive. South African author Farid Esack quotes a narration by Ibn S'ad (1967,1, p., 144) to tell this fascinating story of pre-Islamic Mecca.
"A visiting Yemenite merchant had sold some expensive goods to a leading figure of the clan of Sahm in Mecca. The Sahmite refused to pay the agreed price. The trader was merely a visitor to Mecca and had no allies to turn to for help". In what Mr. Shahin likened to perhaps an early manifestation of Gandhi's Satyagraha, the foreign merchant stood on the slope of Mount Qubays near Mecca, told his story and appealed to the Quraish to see that justice was done to him. In response, several clans like Hashim, Zuhrah and Taym decided to come together and swore to fight for Justice for the oppressed like this merchant and other exploited and helpless. They decided to remain in solidarity with the weak and oppressed against the exploiters and oppressors, even if the latter belonged to the Quraish.
So with the formation of this Alliance of the Virtuous, said Mr. Shahin, not only this visiting Yemenite merchant got justice but a human rights activist group started working to safeguard the rights of the weaker sections of society. And, most important of all, for us, from its very inception, as founder-member, Prophet Mohammad (saw) played an active part in this struggle for justice for all and was always very grateful for having been able to do so. So it is for us Muslims to understand the foundations of Islam and strengthen them.
Regrettably, despite Prophet Mohammad's pronounced mystical inclination and practices, Mr. Shahin continued, Islam is being turned today into an exclusivist, totalitarian, fascist political ideology. Bearded thugs are taking control of the religion in many countries. Islam was going through a difficult phase at the moment, he said. The danger of extremism catching the imagination of many of our youth is growing. An extremist, exclusivist, political, fascist interpretation of Islam is being propagated in our country as much as in other parts of the world though a variety of media. A number of very well-funded TV channels and hundreds of websites and scores of newspapers and magazines have come up to propagate a Wahhabi-Salafi version of Islam with its extremist ideas that say that one cannot be a true Muslim living in the midst of non-Muslims and integrating in a multi-religious, multicultural society.
Recent reports of a Tehreek-e-Taliban, Hind, functioning in the south-western parts of the country, as well as the alleged involvement of young preachers from Saudi-supported ahl-e-Hadees sect being involved in Patna blasts, etc. are alarm bells for those in the community who will care to hear them.
Petrodollar Islam seems to be drowning out the voice of spiritual Islam. Mr. Shahin asked Muslims to choose between Islam that had been brought to them by our revered Sufi saints as a spiritual path to salvation and the supremacist, exclusivist, fascist, political Islam that was being propagated today with the help of massive petrodollars by a number of Salafi-Wahhabi organisations.
Mr. Shahin went on: "This was creating an impression in the world that Islam is an extremist religion. Islam is being linked with global terrorism today. Most of the visible terrorists of today's words do indeed belong to our religion, so we cannot avoid this linkage. As a result several conferences are being organised across the country and the word, one is going on even now in Delhi, describing Islam is a religion of peace. This is good as far as it goes. But it is not going far enough. Islamophobia continues to grow. The religion that had come as a blessing for humankind has started inspiring fear in the minds of a large number of people around the world. And the reason is not far to see. Even the terrorists say that Islam is a religion of peace. They claim to be establishing peace by killing "the first and foremost enemies of Islam," the moderate, spiritually-inclined Muslims, who do not believe in their fascist ideology. Thus it is imperative that Muslims make a choice between spiritualism and fascism and stand by it."
Mr. Shahin extended his appreciation and support to efforts being made by local organisations like Muslim Satyashodhak Samaj for reform in Muslim personal laws to bring an end to the un-Islamic practices like triple Talaq and polygamy in the name of Islam. He demanded that the government of India at least implement the reforms that were brought about by President Ayyub Khan's government in Pakistan and left untouched by the Nizam-e-Mustafa government of President Ziaul Haq who even implemented the criminal punishments of the Sharia laws. After its independence from Pakistan, Bangladesh has taken the reform process even further and codified the Anglo-Mohammedan law that goes in the name of Muslim Personal Law in India and made it more in conformity with the demands of our time and place.
Making Laws is a dynamic process and each age and each society makes its own laws in the social context of the times and place, said Mr. Shahin. He went on: "The various schools of Islamic Shariah laws too are based on the tribal-social-cultural context of the times in which they were instituted by the learned scholars of the time and place. But those who believe Sharia laws to be divine and thus valid for all time and place should be given the choice to follow these laws in full. This means that in cases of crimes too these people should be given the barbaric punishments of the various medieval Shariah laws like cutting off hands, being flogged or stoned to death. If Shariah laws are divine then its criminal punishments too are divine. Muslims should have a choice to be punished with Sharia law punishments or from the common laws of the country. You can't just hide behind the supposed divinity of Shariah laws in order to get rid of your wife quickly or to get multiple wives without fulfilling the conditions laid down by God while refusing to be flogged or stoned for adultery and getting your hands cut for theft and fraud."
Mr. Shahin likened the facility of triple Talaq given by the Anglo-Mohammedan law in India to a Damocles' sword hanging over the head of married Muslim women all the time. He said he had heard women being threatened every day with divorce by their barbarian husbands who would be brandishing the sword of triple Talaq all the time. Women cry out in pain, from their life that is a specimen of hell, but no one hears in the male-dominated Muslim society. And this when Prophet Mohammad (saw) has been rightly called the first person to qualify being called a feminist. Many right thinking Quran exegetes have pointed out that triple Talaq is un-Islamic but the community, at least in India is not willing to listen.
The New Age Islam founder-editor reiterated his demand that the government should implement in India at least the reformed personal law that is available in Pakistan or Bangladesh. He said Ulema in India belong to the same schools of thought as those in Pakistan; their reactions to events like the murder of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, for instance, on the issue of blasphemy, are the same as those of their counterparts in Pakistan. So why can't they be made to accept the reforms in personal law as implemented in Pakistan.
(From left to Right) Sayyid Bhai, Sultan Shahin, Kulbhushan Birnale and Vinod Shirsath, editor, Sadhna, Marathi rationalist magazine.
In his presidential remarks, Syed Bhai, president of Muslim Satyashodhak Samaj, Pune, supported Mr. Shahin's ideas and spoke largely on his demands for reform in Muslim personal law. He has waged a heroic struggle in this regard. Sayyad Bhai founded the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal in 1970 with the support of another well-known social reformer Hamid Dalwai and has been ceaselessly working for women’s rights and reform in Muslim society for the past 50 years. Sayyad Bhai was bestowed the Sudharakkar Gopal Ganesh Agarkar award 2012 at the hands of actor & rationalist Shriram Lagu on 29th July 2012. This annual award is given by the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (ANiS).
While Sayyid Bhai shared with the audience his experiences in this regards, Mr. Shahin later described him as a wise, and yet angry young man. Angry, he explained he has been for the last 60 years since he found himself all of a sudden one day saddled with a 16-year-old uneducated, unskilled, sister, already a mother of two, and divorced, a victim of this barbaric system of child marriage and triple Talaq. Young, he explained Sayyid Bhai should be considered as, at the ripe old age of 79, he still drives his two-wheeler all day long, going from meeting to meeting, from demonstration to demonstration, helping the distressed in the community sort out their issues, using his wide experience in dealing with personal and family issues. "We are lucky to have an activist like him in this part of the country and invite him on behalf of New Age Islam Foundation to come and work in Delhi,” said Mr. Shahin.
At the end of a lively question and answer session, the conference ended and local social activist Mr. Kulbhushan Birnale thanked the speakers and the audience on behalf of the organisers, the Dnyaneshwar Mulay Education Society. He expressed regret that Mr. Dnyaneshwar Mulay, our Consul General in New York could not even attend the conference through video-conferencing as had been planned on account of his extraordinarily busy schedule that day.
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