My personal thoughts on Islamic Topics, not a form of ijtihad rather than applying my mind.

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Location: Cairo, Egypt

Friday, March 12, 2004

The Cry Of A Muslim

There have been many reactions from all over the world to the speech by the Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahatir Mohamed, at the opening of the tenth session of the Islamic Summit Conference. Reactions were as diverse as the nationalities who voiced them or the points they reacted to, be it fundamentalism, militancy or anti-semitism to name a few. However leaving the reactions aside, there was one very important point made by him, namely that Islam is no longer the way it used to be.

Mahatir said :
-"From being a single ummah we have allowed ourselves to be divided into numerous sects, mazhabs and tarikats, each more concerned with claiming to be the true Islam than our oneness as the Islamic ummah."
-"We ignore entirely and we continue to ignore the Islamic injunction to unite and to be brothers to each other"-"But this is not all that we ignore about the teachings of Islam. We are enjoined to Read, 'Iqra' i.e. to acquire knowledge."
-" But halfway through the building of the great Islamic civilisation came new interpreters of Islam who taught that acquisition of knowledge by Muslims meant only the study of Islamic theology."

This is the root of all problems we have with Islam today. Islam needs desperately to be reformed, like all other religions before it, Christianity as well as Judaism, which stripped away bad interpretations and ostentatious rituals. To name a few : the Catholic Reformation in 1451, Lutheran Reformation in 1518, Protestant Reformation in 1533, Calvin Reformation in 1844 as well as both reforms of Judaism in 1819 and 1842.

Reform does not necessarily mean a change towards something unknown and unfamiliar and therefore to be rejected. In Islam's case it should be a change back to its roots and foundations. It means going back to Islam the way it was meant to be, before it was hijacked by politics, personal gains and power struggles. A true reform should do away with all the additions that were artificially introduced into it and which were not part of the original. It also needs to re-adopt the elements that drowned in all the different interpretations and re-interpretations yet again and again. Once we eliminate the superfluous additions we can then expose its original glory again.

Take for example democracy. Recently there has been a long standing debate about how Islam and democracy cannot exist together and are incompatible. If by democracy we mean government by elected leaders, then yes, Islam started off electing its leaders! A look at the four rightful caliphs and Omar in particular would make that apparent. Omar Ibn al-Khattab ruled, but he had a government to rely on, comprising of elected and appointed, male and female cabinet members. Aisha was appointed to deal with religious matters. So even in case of the appointed members, he did that with a public reason, which was accepted widely. His point being that who else would be more knowledgeable than the person closest to the prophet's heart and life.

Take Sharia as another example of required reform. Omar questioned the practice of cutting off a thief's hand when there was famine and he felt responsible for people stealing to satisfy the hunger of their children. Didn't he then ask that it should be rightfully his hand to be cut off instead because he failed to provide for his people? Didn't he seek answers to his questions and follow the practice of arriving at a Sharia ruling as it should be done? Sharia is supposed to be arrived at from the Quran first and foremost. Then if there was nothing in it to help, the next chronological sources to be used are the Hadith and Sunna. The fourth step, if there was still nothing that satisfied the querent’s mind, would be ijtihad (deduction) to be decided by ijmaa’ (consensus) and following qiyas (analogy to similar events already ruled on). If this was still practiced today then how come we have incidents such as with Amina Lawal?

Take the rights granted to various minorities or groups, such as women. Didn’t Islam allow them to work, insist on their education as they would be raising the next generations? Didn’t Islam grant them the right to keep their own wealth, assure them of fair treatment and respect by their husbands whom they are allowed to chose? Are they not permitted by Islam to ask for divorce and still keep their dignity and their children and receive alimony and a place to live in a dignified way? What happened to all these rights? How is it that rulings such as in Afghanistan and Iran, where women are not granted even the basic human rights, are attributed to Islam? When pressed on the Islamic justification of these rulings, they say its tradition. How can it be tradition when it was never part of Islam but reminds of Jahiliya practices?

What we have now is sadly not Islam. Today we seem to have four versions of Islam. -Islam the way it should be and is not-Islam the way it is practiced by the moderate Muslims, which is close but still not right -Islam the way it is practiced by fanatics, fundamentalists, fatwa happy mullahs and ignorant followersand finally Islam as it is perceived by non-Muslims.

What we need to have is just one version for all and by all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. A version that has no room for vast differences in practices and understandings. How is it that there are such huge differences between Shiites and Sunnis? Bahaiis and Aga Khanis? Ismailis and Ahmadis? Sufis and Mutazalis? Wahabis and Naqshabandis? etc etc. How come all those did not exist 1500 years ago? How come we have three sets of Hadith collections today : a collection of 3.500 said to be the only collection with unbroken links straight to the Prophet, another said to be planted and fake, called Israeliyat and yet a third with 750.000 in total? Why do we have different schools of jurisprudence? Isn’t it one Quran and one prophet with one Sunna for all?

Muslims live in different countries all over the world, with different traditions and customs, which are a part of their daily life and intermingle with religion as well. They live in countries with different political practices and societal norms, varying between monarchy, democracy, dictatorship and theocracy as well as tribal rule within these systems. Education levels vary between people. And all these factors unite to result in their diversity and create different priorities and outlooks. These differences could be the reason why numerous interpretations slowly crept into the original message provided by the Prophet 1500 years ago. These variations are the cause of contention today. However they could be employed gainfully to strengthen the Muslims by allowing unique traits to benefit the whole, as was the case when the Islamic empire stretched from northern Africa to Andalus and into India. The empire that capitalised on all talents and valued learning, prized scholars, maintained great libraries, preserved the works of ancient authors and made innovations.

Shouldn’t we stop fighting each other and amongst ourselves because of these differences? Why can’t we unite as an ummah and fight for Islam itself and not accuse an imaginary enemy for all our woes. We should pursue the jihad that was asked of us as Muslims. This does not mean misusing the true meaning of jihad and translating it to mean waging a holy war against everyone else, including the followers of the other books, our fellow inheritors of the Abrahamic traditions worshipping the same God. True jihad, which is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, means the struggle against one’s own evil and unrighteous inclinations. This is the real jihad. To overcome external enemies, real or imaginary, while leaving one’s own heart steeped in vice is pointless. Jihad is an effort, a diligent endeavour for a better way of life. Jihad has three levels. It starts with the personal struggle within one’s self to achieve higher moral and educational standards, continues to fight against evil, injustice and oppression and ends with a battle against all which prevents Muslims from serving God and knowing Islam.

Muslims should unite in jihad to make Islam a better religion again, reform it and return it to its roots. By having too many different versions of Islam, they can never move forward, but will always move in circles and remain confused and doubtful about which version is the right one. There will always be fights to have one version declared as false and implement another. We saw that in many parts of the Muslim world. Sectarian violence flared in Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. We had riots in Saudi Arabia and tensions in Kuwait. These fights will only dissipate the strength and energy of Muslims better used to improve their lives and conditions.

Muslims should take the first word revealed of the Quran “iqra” and read again. They should start by reading and learning about their own religion, and educating themselves about it to prevent anybody from convincing them of misrepresentations by saying it was ‘written’. Before looking outside they should look within and become confident again. It is only when we are better people that we then can rise to achieve great things. We have to take matters into our own hands and not wait for someone to help us. Don’t take my word for it, take God's word for it [13:11]: “… surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition …”


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