By Asif Merchant, New Age Islam
31 August 2014
There are so many intelligent people who have been fooled by the Islamic terminology and the name Caliph assumed by the leader of this group. The Holy Prophet has been invoked to justify their methods. How much of this is genuine? A random group claims that they are the army of Islam, and that their leader is the Caliph of Islam. Learned articles appear in Islamic journals explaining that all Muslims everywhere have a desire for unity, and this is a step in that direction. How sensible is such a viewpoint?
The name of the religion of the Prophet is Islam, which means Peace. That is the paramount aim of the religion. It is more important than Unity, as is being proved daily by the actions of the ISIS. This group is disrupting peace everywhere in the name of the ‘unity’ of Islam. Was that the intention of the Prophet?
What has gone wrong? At present, there are so many good people all over the world who believe that the world would have been a better place if Islam did not exist. There is so much beauty in Islam. It would be tragic if Islam ceased to exist, but at present, the ugliness seems to have taken over, and that is the visible face of Islam.
I think there are two aims the Prophet had when he presented Islam to the world. First is Islam as a civilizing agent. There are various laws presented, all aimed at making the world a better place. All these laws have considerable flexibility, which is usually ignored by the clerics who portray Islam as a rigid, stern way of life, where even smiling is a sign that the Devil is nearby. Every law has a phrase following it beginning with, “But even if you don’t . . .”. None of the laws are rigid. There is plenty of scope for interpretations according to changed circumstances.
I think Muslims have displayed intellectual laziness when they decreed that the best way to live according to the teachings of the Prophet was to follow his example in everything. This led to the evolution of so-called ‘Alims’, ‘Muftis’, etc., who were specialists in linking every problem with something alleged to have been said by the Prophet. The civilisational aim and the promotion of peace, all were ignored. These so-called authorities have no clue as to how their interpretation of Islam will make the world a better place.
Absolute unity requires a centralized authority, with no deviations from the official viewpoint. The whip would be used freely to keep order. This is nothing but a naked quest for power by some people. The name of the Prophet and Islamic terminology is used to fool the rest. The meaning of Islam is not ‘Unity’. The meaning of Islam is ‘PEACE’.
What is the way out of the mess we find ourselves in? The truth is that those we considered ‘learned’ have failed us. It is futile to look towards them for guidance. In that case, where should we look for guidance?
My own view is that we need not seek guidance from anyone. If indeed Islam is a civilizing agent, with the aim of making the world a better place, we can act accordingly. We can safely discard uncivilized acts, and whatever is preventing the world from being a better place. The Quran is there for our guidance, but not the traditional interpretations. These have failed us. We should have the courage to interpret the Quran from the civilization point of view. Islam cannot be made an excuse for creating havoc all over the world.
As I see it, the second aim of the Prophet was connected with Creation and the Creator. Some points to ponder:
In the Holy Quran, there are as many as 756 verses on the Universe. Shouldn’t this spur us towards studying the Universe as the Supreme Creation, as a means of getting to know more about the Creator?
In the Holy Quran, there is no mention of ‘Namaaz’, though worship is given importance. The form of worship was standardized as the ‘Namaaz’, perhaps in the Prophet’s lifetime or just after, but it is also true that Holy Prophet did not have any fixed way of worship. The excessive importance given to ‘Namaaz’ now came much after the demise of the Prophet. All this is based on stories about the Holy Prophet written about two hundred years after the Prophet.
Despite all this, there are disputes, sometimes violent about ways of worship. We should accept that whatever goes towards making the world more peaceful is compatible with Islam, because Islam means peace. The converse is also true, so we should shun as un-Islamic, anything that disturbs the peace.
Studying the Universe is also a very legitimate form of worship. Maybe, that is why the Holy Prophet is reputed to have remarked that one hour spent in the study of Science is better than a whole year of Namaaz.
Sitting all alone on a hilltop at night, with the whole of Creation all around you, gives a strange sense of peace. Personally speaking, I have not explored this feeling to its logical conclusion, but I think this is what the Sufis aim for. A Union with all Creation even if it is only for one instant. The descriptions of this ‘Union’ vary from Sufi to Sufi, probably because such an experience is beyond words. I think, this was the Prophet’s own experience that night, which is called ‘Meraj’. The Quran gives a very brief and thought provoking mention. There is a long and detailed story in the Hadith, the veracity of which is highly is questionable.
The Union with Creation gives rise to the feeling of love for all. I think that was what the great Sufi Saints like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and others expressed. These people are responsible for the spread of Islam all over India. They did not tempt anyone with Heaven, nor did they threaten anyone with Hell. All they had with them was love, and the people responded.
Asif Merchant is an independent thinker, based near Panchgani, Maharashtra, India