By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Soviet Russia disintegrated with the failure of Communism. Two decades of globalization-led capitalism is in bad health. With market forces having been given free run of the world, consumerism is taking heavy toll of the environment. Disparities are growing. Social unrest is spiraling. Mines, forest, rivers and hills of the developing world are up for grab by the multinational firms from the developed West. West is shifting its polluting industries to poor nations in the South where tax, environment and labour laws are lax and anyone can get away by bribing the corrupt politicians and bureaucracy. A henpecked world media monopolized by a few individuals in the West fails to report the havoc wrought by the MNCs and highlights non-issue to obscure the corporate loot of the world. The UN has been consistently pursuing a policy of peace without justice rendering the world into a chaotic place.
If indeed there is need for an alternative ideology, it was never more pronounced than today. One wonders if the Muslims would measure up to the task. I would certainly not use the word ‘Islam’ which in my perception, requires much rerailing and revision as what passes for Islam today is mostly fiqh based and ritualized to such an extent that its ideological essence has been lost. It requires much contextualization and fresh interpretation. With Allah having sent the final testament and the prophet, it will be Muslims alone who will be called upon to make fresh interpretation of the divine commands and the Holy Prophet’s directives.
There are two reasons why Muslims could be expected to provide the alternative. One because they are the recipients and bearers of the only book that carries the divine guidance in its pristine pure form. Second they are the underdogs in the current world. It is only the victims and underdogs who can look for alternatives, who should and can think and among whom urge to change is most vigorous.
Currently, Muslims form nearly 23 per cent of the world population. A sizeable percentage, i.e., 34 per cent of them is young, energetic and amenable to change. Majority of them inhabit the part of the globe that lies on the major thoroughfares, sea lanes and flight routes between the two hemispheres and major civilisations. If they could rise as a powerful and creative group with a vision for the humanity—opposed to one merely for themselves—they can certainly make some difference to the global situation.
They face a tall order. This would require the Muslims to develop a vision of the world which is people-centric. Currently they follow a highly ritualized Islam which in their own perception is God-centric and merely emphasizes accumulation of sawab for the hereafter. There are several believers among the Western nations, but they have never indulged in holy rhetoric as is witnessed currently in the Muslim world. It is where the Muslims need a paradigm shift from rhetoric to substance, from advocacy to activism, from following to thinking, from mere belief to action and struggle. The West came up the hard way. It discarded its religious mumbo-jumbo in favour of knowledge. It threw away the yoke of priesthood even though Christianity had religious sanction for it. It limited the ambit of belief and rituals and laid a firm foundation for development of knowledge based on reason and rationale. Blind beliefs were questioned without hurting the basic doctrine.
On another level, it replaced the excessive display of religiosity with values. Hence we see some modicum of rule of the law in the West which has however been weakened considerably due to the excesses of capitalism, consumerism and materialism and disintegration of family. Elections are held periodically, heads roll if misdemeanours are reported, political succession follows a smooth pattern, the administration holds someone accountable for lapses, moral turpitude gets penalized, irrational statements are questioned, chauvinisms find it difficult to penetrate, civil liberties of minorities are protected and economic benefits are assured for anyone who shows enterprise and research and creativity are rewarded. No wonder then why intellectuals from even the rich Muslim nations would like to kick the luxuries of their own lands and settle in the West.
The Muslim world makes a beg fetish of religiosity. Of course, the people are individually pious, respectful of others’ rights, generous, charitable, hospitable, modest and caring. But values that ensure a system based on justice are conspicuous by absence. Rulers and families continue in their seat for years without end, succession is never smooth, social, economic and political justice is seldom available as a rule. Fear of coups and civil unrest drives the rulers to steal national wealth and stack it in the Western banks. Women suffer in silence and minorities of all denominations—linguistic, ethnic and religious—can barely raise their voice against suppression of their rights. Halo of sanctity is such that issues of public interest cannot be discussed. Reformers live in perpetual fear of being dubbed heretics and excommunicated.
It is where Muslims need to look at their own religion and public issues afresh. Reason, rationale and justice needs to be the criterion for legislation rather than holiness of the ancient text. The Quran and the Prophet’s sunnah provide ample space to be interpreted in all situations and societies. But the Muslim mindset has imprisoned itself into juristic schools of Abu Hanifa, Hanbal and Shafii and refuses to emerge out of it. So three utterances of talaq in one sitting is still binding, women cannot travel alone despite social mode of transport and moon’s visibility cannot be determined through astronomical data, zakath cannot be used for schools, modern education and media and hospitals and research. What a travesty of spirit of Islam! Even a cursory look at the Quran reveals that Allah has emphasized values of rahm (compassion), adl (justice), taqwa (God consciousness), haqq (truth) and ihsan (beneficence). But the ill-educated clergy still hangs on to the coat tails of what was said by the jurists in third century Hijrah. Islam was opposed to the priesthood from the day one. But spurious sayings with effect to the madrassa educated clergy are bandied about to prove that this set of ignoramuses have inherited the mantle of leadership from the Prophet, peace be upon him. Unless we look into the travesty of situation, no remedy could be found.
Overall Muslim must discard the culture of following the ancient text and learn to think. Most Muslim researchers believe in quoting rather than drawing inferences from what has been said and acted upon in the past in the light of the current circumstances. This attitude does not help in eliciting guidance. Following leads to mental stagnation while thinking leads to regeneration. The nations that think, march forward. But those who follow remain stuck in the groove.