By Hisham Mazhar Qureshi
November 22, 2011
When people abandon their faith to a mere practice of rituals assigned by clerics, and accept religion as a means of social acceptance rather than for personal reform, the whole concept of moral right and wrong becomes distorted
A few years after the appearance of the Essays of Montaigne, there was published in France a work, which though few are aware of now, that possessed, in the 17th century, a reputation of the highest order. This was the celebrated Treatise on Wisdom, by Charron, in which we find (for the first time) an attempt to construct a system of morals without the aid of theology. In that era of renaissance, myriads of stars appeared on the horizon to enlighten the darkness of ignorance, to inspire the age of reason and to create the awareness of intellectual thinking. They deconstructed myth bound societies living in the haze of clergy based dogmas, superstitious values, norms and traditions.
Later, in the 19th century, Henry Thomas Buckle, a famous English historian, extended the same critical thinking to his masterpiece History of Civilisation in England, Volume II. He stated: “Charron reminds his countrymen that their religion is the accidental result of their birth and education, and that if they had been born in a Mohammadan country, they would have been as firm believers in Mohammadanism as they were in Christianity. If we look a little deeper we will see that each of the great religions is built upon that which preceded it. The religion of the Jews is founded upon that of the Egyptians; Christianity is the result of Judaism, and from these two last, there has naturally sprung Mohammadanism.”
Hence he opposed proselytism and took up philosophic ground by saying that religious opinions, being governed by undeviating laws, owe their variations to variations in their antecedents, and are always, if left to themselves, suited to the existing state of things.
Religion is known as a code of life. It guides people in shaping their ethereal and temporal lives and prepares them for the reward hereinafter of their deeds in this world. The good one does here, the better the reward afterwards. People tend to follow religious rites and practices with the hope of reward in the next world and to be known as ‘pious’ in society.
But when religion is blended with politics it becomes the most powerful exploitative force. The citizens of Pakistan are still paying the price of General Zia’s religio-political policies in terms of sectarian violence, religious extremism, a drugs and weapons culture and turf wars in the country. In India, the Gujarat carnage was the comeuppance of a religious zealot’s mentality. The Burqa ban, minaret controversy and caricatures of the Prophet (PBUH) in Europe show the same mindset of hate mongering through religious politics. The war on terror has provided an opportunity to xenophobes to give vent to their religious fury against Muslim immigrants. If we cast a cursory glance over the world’s religions we find that many people generally practice religion either to obtain a spiritual thrust (mostly unsuccessful) or just to keep their ancestral tradition alive without having to implement it in their lives. Most of the time, religious seminars and gatherings are little better than socialising parties where a religious figure harangues a discourse on the significance of adhering to religious tenets and covenants. However, people can easily discern the nuance in the precept and practices of such figures. None of them possesses a vision to improve the lives of the general public. They inspire a blind and ignorant form of practicing the faith.
A French scientist, Blaise Pascal, once said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” The governor of Punjab was assassinated amidst a blasphemy row. The assassin was motivated by an inflammatory sermon delivered by a religious cleric during Friday prayers. In the US, the Quran burning campaign led by a pastor ignited anger and resentment in the entire Muslim world. The Prophet’s (PBUH) caricatures appeared in the European press and ignited a new fire. Officials added fuel to the fire by defending this hateful act. They termed such acts as ‘freedom of speech’ but one wonders where their freedom of speech vanishes when it comes to discussing the Holocaust in a scientific manner.
A few months back all hell broke loose in Norway when 77 people were gunned down by a man who killed them to send a message to European governments to stop immigration, particularly of Muslims. Here, the horrors of the Gojra carnage and assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti are proof of Blaise Pascal’s thesis.
When people abandon their faith to a mere practice of rituals assigned by clerics, and accept religion as a means of social acceptance rather than for personal reform, the whole concept of moral right and wrong becomes distorted. Muslims need to regain the moral high ground and escape their current paradigms. Consider Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and his famous book Quran ka Shaoor-e-Inqilab” (Revolutionary Sense of the Quran). Maulana said: “The purpose of Abrahamic religion is to get mankind to excellence in accordance with nature.” Unfortunately, we do not see many adherents of his concept. There is vast room for improvement and restructuring the religious educational system. This will help train our younger generation, which aspires to learn religious tenets, achieve excellence in their lives and become the engine of growth and development of society rather than a burden and liability.
All religions on earth had one purpose in common at the time of their advent: to improve the common man’s life and to develop a progressive society where freedom, equality and justice prevail. Those religious doctrines changed the course of history and revolutionised their followers’ lives. However, with the passage of time, their teachings could not evolve and keep pace with society’s requirements. Consequently, they were removed from their followers’ social lives and their revolutionary spirits vanished. Such religions were termed as “opium for the masses” by Karl Marx and supplanted by other progressive doctrines, which provided relief to their followers and catered to society’s needs. The law of nature says that change is inevitable. When societies become so rigid and irrational that no innovative ideas are welcomed then their destruction is the writing on the wall — one need only recall the Egyptian civilisation, Babylonian civilisation, Mayan civilisation and Mohenjo Daro, etc. Their ruins tell the story of their destruction, caused by maintaining the status quo.
The spirit of the age demands us to work for the common good of humanity. All faiths’ fundamental teachings revolve around ‘love for all’ and ‘service to mankind’. We should develop the broad based strategic vision needed to make this world a peaceful place. For this purpose, the UN has developed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We should all strive to achieve them so as to live in an educated, progressive and developed world.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Source: Daily Times, Pakistan