By M Zeb Khan
February 12, 2015
Today we Muslims love Islam and fear it too. We want the world to convert to Islam but we never practise it ourselves – or we are selective about it. We are more concerned about symbols and rituals than the spirit and substance of Islam.
We blame others for every calamity that befalls us but we never look inside ourselves to trace its roots. We try to fool others but we end up fooling ourselves by denying reality and defying reason. Is it all due to misinterpretation of the holy scripts or misrepresentation of the Muslims – or both?
The reason for fearing Islam is not that it is inherently a religion that induces fear, in fact far from it. Islam is a religion of peace but, unfortunately, it has been distorted by followers of various sects and states to serve their interests. The Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, were using Islam to justify their actions against women and minorities in addition to invoking the concept of jihad to launch attacks against their adversaries.
Islamic Shariah as understood, preached and practised by some Muslims on the fringes is not what it really is for the majority of Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. The outlier brand of Islam is what frightens common Muslims to vote Islamist political parties into power.
Why on earth should a non-Muslim make Islam as his/her faith of choice when we have not yet internalised it ourselves? Since we are born Muslims, we take faith for granted and make no efforts to reflect on it and transform this chance into choice. The inner force of faith and peace should have made us beacons of light and role models for the entire humanity.
The last Messenger (pbuh) and his companions strove to spread the message of Islam more through personal examples of honesty, justice, and mercy rather than by force and coercion. The Treaty of Hudaybiyah was ostensibly a kind of capitulation for Muslims but Allah declared it as a “manifest victory” in the Holy Quran primarily because it had given peace a chance and an opportunity for Islam to win the battle for hearts and minds.
Similarly, before the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet (pbuh) had directed everyone to avoid unnecessary conflict and bloodshed and declared the day as a ‘Day of Mercy’ when a Muslim group commander had reportedly uttered some vengeful words.
The unfortunate degeneration of Muslims today is due primarily to a disproportionate emphasis on symbols and rituals with no or little regard for the underlying spirit and substance. The ultimate purpose of Islam as a religion is to strengthen one’s relationship with Allah; all else is just the means to attaining this end.
Imam Ghazali in Ihya-ul-Uloom (the revival of sciences) and Shah Waliullah in Hujjatullah-e-Baligha (the conclusive proof) have elucidated the inner meaning and purpose of various rituals that Muslims are supposed to perform. Any form of worship (prayer, pilgrimage, and charity etc) without understanding its spiritual and practical utility leads to lacklustre conformity and dogmatism.
Contentment with superficial conformity is what hinders self-fulfilment and social change. The scientific breakthroughs in the west over the past three centuries are the result of challenging conventional wisdom and conducting rigorous research into natural and social phenomena.
Paradoxically, contemporary Muslims have turned their backs to science notwithstanding their ancestors being its founders. All our problems – political, economic, and social – that we attribute to others are largely the outcome of our deep slumber. We have failed to catch up with the times by investing almost nothing in education and research.
Are we not fooling ourselves by waiting for some miracle to occur to uplift the Ummah from an abyss of backwardness to enduring glory without doing the necessary soul-searching and hard work? If this is the case, rest assured, we are doomed. The condition of a people is never changed for the better until they change their condition themselves.
Our future generations, if they turn out to be different, will remember these contemporary Muslims in general as a stigma on human civilisation rather than as the embodiments of truth, honesty, and justice that Islam so earnestly enjoins.
M Zeb Khan teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.