New Age Islam
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The War Within Islam ( 6 March 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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India’s Composite Culture: Emerging Threats

What Muslims Need To Do To Neutralise Them

By Sultan Shahin, Editor New Age Islam

One of the pillars on which our composite culture stands is our sense of unity of religions, what Maulana Abul Kalam Azad called wahdat-e-deen. Many thinkers have intuitively perceived a symbiosis between Islam and Hinduism, though not described it as such. But despite this sense of symbiosis, serious threats to our composite culture have emerged in recent years. We have already reached a stage where many mainstream Muslims are shifting, willingly or unwillingly, from the Indian mainstream to Muslim ghettoes, intellectually and spiritually as much as physically. The recent case, the heart-rending story, of a part of India where both Hindus and Muslims informed a department of the government in writing that they cannot live in mixed localities is known to all of us. While sections of both communities are responsible for this state of affairs, I would like to confine myself to introspecting as a Muslim and trying to see if there is something we Muslims can do to improve the situation and neutralise the growing threat.

But first, let me focus a little on the symbiosis of our religious traditions that has sustained us, and kept us together, for centuries and, I am sure, will continue to sustain us in future.

The one Indian saint who saw this most clearly was Swami Vivekanand.

On June 19, 1898, he wrote:

“I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.” (Letters of Swami Vivekananda, p. 380).

He explains:

 “Principles that we practise in our day-today life constitute the philosophy of nature and is likely to be a more acceptable religious philosophy of the enlightened future generation. Except in the religious ideology brought by Muhammad, I do not see this aspect effectively and practically implemented and well entrenched. It is my humble assertion that, though Hindu Vedic philosophies are immensely beautiful, without the day-today practical applications and approaches of Islam, they (Vedic principles) may not adequately serve the humanity.”

One of the greatest Islamic scholars and mystics, Ibn Arabi, affirms in his masterpiece al-Fusoos his belief in the unity of all religions: "Beware of restricting yourself to one particular religion and disbelieving in everything else, so that great good would be missed by you, indeed you would miss attainment of knowledge of the affair in the form he is following. Rather be ready to accept all forms of belief. This is because Allah is higher and greater than to be comprehended by one belief to the exclusion of others. Rather all are correct, and everyone who is correct receives award, and everyone who is rewarded is fortunate, and everyone who is fortunate is one with Whom He is pleased."

It is hardly surprising in this backdrop that many Sufi saints in India, among them prominent names like  Mazhar Jan-i-Janan accepted Hazrat Ram and Hazrat Krishna as Prophets of God as Allah has stated in the Qur'an that He has sent prophets to all nations in all ages who preached to their ummah in the local languages. Allama Iqbal, as is well-known, called Hazrat Ram Imamul Hind. No wonder students of comparative religion have discovered passages in Hindu and Islamic literature corresponding to each other almost word for word.

But, while we intuitively realised the symbiotic nature of our religions and remained together, seeking intercession for the betterment of our daily lives from the same saints, for instance, we did not articulate this fully involving the masses of our people. It seems to me, that even Swami Vivekanand did not fully realize the truly great importance of his own intuitive vision. For, he did not develop the idea further. If developed further in his age and time his intuitive insight could have saved India from a century of strife and perhaps the tragedy of partition. It can still save India from future wars that are staring us in the face. But we will need to understand the colossal import of Swamiji’s vision. We will need to flesh out the idea, develop a consensus around it, and try to translate it into reality.

Now what can we, as Muslims, contribute to this project. How can we help reduce the impact of the fanatics and divisive forces in our own community?

The first task before us, admittedly a rather difficult one, is to recognise our own mistakes: the aspects in which we have betrayed our religion’s teachings. The list is long; so I will confine myself here to just a few. God told us in the Quran, our Prophet told us repeatedly in the Ahadees, that Islam is not a new religion; it is the same religion that God has been sending to this planet through tens of thousands of prophets in all parts of the world in all times. We were told that the Holy Quran is merely a reiteration and validation of the messages that were sent before and in some cases are partially or fully lost in the mist to time. We were specifically told not to fall in the trap of considering ourselves the chosen people, a mistake that some of our predecessors had committed and paid for. But we did not listen. We developed an ideology of Islam-supremacism, contrary to all Islamic teachings. We have developed a theory under the tutelage of our jahil ulema that Muslims alone will go to Heaven, all others are going to be consigned to Hell, no matter how righteous. It was the job of our ulema, the scholars of Islam to stop us from taking this route, but the vast majority of them not only did not do so but actually encouraged this phenomenon and continue to do so. Clearly any one who harbours a feeling of superiority over others, indeed even a feeling of contempt for the others’ beliefs, cannot possibly expect to have good relations with them.

Then we have allowed a section of Muslims to spread among us a version of exclusivist Islam that wants us to get away from each and every pre-Islamic tradition. Pre-Islamic traditions like Hajj and veneration of Kaaba sharif are intrinsic to Islam itself. But we are told that we should behave and even look different from followers of all other religions and forego all our local cultural traditions. Indeed we should even stop going to seek intercession from our saints venerated by followers of all religions. We are told this amounts to kufr and that these saints themselves were kafir, deviants and apostates, deserving of being killed. Tens of billions of petrodollars are being spent to propagate this pernicious ideology and we have been silently falling for this petrodollar Islam; we are surrendering our mosques and their imamships to people belonging to this creed. Supporters of petrodollar Islam are becoming more and more aggressive, particularly in the matter of installation of imams from their institutions.

A derivative of this same petrodollar Islam is what is known as Jihadi Islam. This Jihadi Islam is taking away our youth, brainwashing them and turning them into human bombs. It is using some verses of the Holy Quran as weapons of war. We all know that the Prophet had to fight existential battles to safeguard Islam. Had he not done so there would have been no Islam. These verses were revealed then to buttress the war effort. Today they are valuable to us as pointers to the insurmountable difficulties the Prophet had to face in establishing the word of God for us to benefit from. They tell us the story of how he did it. We have to learn from the spirit of generosity and forgiveness he displayed towards all non-combatants and the forgiveness he showed even to the war criminals, some of whom had mutilated the dead bodies of his own beloved relatives.  So there is much we can learn from these war verses, particularly how a Muslim should behave even if he is forced into war. But these war verses are not meant for us to act upon today.

However, while the Jihadi Islam is using these verses to brainwash our youth into following these dictates to the letter even today, the petrodollar Islam helps the process by saying repeatedly from all platforms available to it that every word, letter, comma, full stop, in the Quran is of equally universal significance, clearly implying that the call to war contained there has the same value as the call to prayer, for instance, or the call to righteousness. They have turned Jihad, in the sense of Qital, into the sixth pillar of Islam.

Obviously the petrodollar Islam and the Jihadi Islam are two sides of the same coin. We mainstream Muslims are silent spectators. We are allowing both of them to devastate our societies, create permanent fissures in our relations with other communities. We are allowing them to suck the spiritual content out of our religion and fill it with a desiccated, dry, desert version of Islam in which there is no room for any of the Islamic heritage buildings, any art or music, anything that is cheerful or beautiful.  Incidentally, one of the attributes of God is beauty, but there is only ugliness and strife in the hearts of petrodollar Islamists.

Mainstream Islam is still mainstream. These exclusivist and warring sections are still small, though with the infusion of massive money power they have grown quite aggressive lately.

But if we want to contribute to the safeguarding of India’s composite culture, we will have to take the bull by its horns. Time for dilly-dallying is long past. We will have to go back to our roots, our Quranic roots, our philosophical roots, our greatest saints and their teachings.

WE will have to once again inculcate the broadmindedness of our saints, the generosity and forgiveness, the attitude of gratitude that was the hallmark of our prophet. It has now become a question of safeguarding not only our religion and our composite culture but also our children, our youth from being whisked away to Jihadi camps and active and sleeper cells. The very least we can do to safeguard our own youth as much as India’s composite culture is to explain the following to our community loudly and repeatedly:

1.   That we are not a chosen people; Islam-supremacism is nonsense and that the ummah of all prophets are equal in the eyes of God who will judge them according to their own faith, not ours. It is nonsense to believe that only Muslims will go to Heaven.


2.   That the Holy Quran is not a book that was revealed in one sitting. The war verses in the Quran were meant for wars being fought then and do not apply to situations today. These verses were revealed to the prophet as guidance for the situations he found himself in. As those situations cannot be replicated today, that particular course of action is no longer applicable to us. This is important to defeat the Jihadis who are using these verses as weapons of war to brainwash our youth and turn them into human bombs. 

 3.   That Islam is not the exclusivist religion that the Petrodollar Islam is preaching. It is a religion of co-existence encapsulated in the verse lakum deenakum waleya deen (For you be your religion and for me mine). It is also the religion of La Ikraha fid Deen (There can be no compulsion in religion.)

4.   That the Sufi saints who brought Islam to this sub-continent and to the entire South-East Asia are not, God forbid, religious deviants as Petrodollar Islam proclaims them to be. It is because of them that we are Muslim today. It is they who gave us access to the teachings of Islam. It is not wrong for Muslims to show reverence to them along with people belonging to other communities.


5.   That Islam itself teaches us Ijtihad, rethinking, so that we can adjust to the newer realities of changing times. We have to rethink every postulate of Islam in the light of today’s realities.


6.   That religious freedom is indivisible. If we as a minority community need freedom, it becomes our duty to also fight for the religious freedom of minorities in Muslim lands, particularly in the Indian sub-continent. It is shameful that when two Sikhs were recently beheaded in Peshawar, reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam under compulsion, our ulema remained completely silent. We have been completely unmindful of the plight of religious minorities in both Pakistan and Bangladesh while enjoying full citizenship rights in our country. This must change.

Let us pray that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s doctrine of Wahdat-e-Deen once again gains converts. Let us try to flesh out and translate into reality Swami Vivekamad’s vision quoted before: “I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.”

 In order to be ready to become a part of the Vivekanad project, however, the Islam body will have to rid itself of the many viruses it is harbouring in its system today.

This essay was presented at a seminar organised by on “Terrorism: the response of India’s Composite Culture” in Mumbai on 28 February, 2010.