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

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Location: Cairo, Egypt

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Theory versus Practice

I was thinking about discrimination, which sadly is abundant in this day and age. Discrimination occurs for various reasons like colour, social standing, wealth, gender, health, education, ethnicity, religion, age, etc. Islam is strongly opposed to discrimination of any kind. We find many suras in the Quran which address the issue of discrimination and warn against it. Let us take a look at what Islam says in theory and what is practiced today.

Islam does not discriminate against women. The first believer was a woman, Khadija. She devoted herself and all what she possessed to this new faith. The third believer was also a woman, Fatma Bint As'as, the mother of Ali, the second Muslim, and it was a woman who converted Umar, the second of the four rightful Caliphs. Throughout the Quran, women have been addressed in equal terms. In fact it emphasises the equality of women and men. They may be different in nature, but that does not make one better than the other, just different. The Quran says: [4.1] O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you. Being created from a single being and being mates of the same kind negates any difference in value. Both are equal. There is no single criterion that differentiates between men and women, except their deeds in this world. [3.195] So their Lord accepted their prayer: That I will not waste the work of a worker among you, whether male or female, the one of you being from the other; they, therefore, who fled and were turned out of their homes and persecuted in My way and who fought and were slain, I will most certainly cover their evil deeds, and I will most certainly make them enter gardens beneath which rivers flow; a reward from Allah, and with Allah is yet better reward. So women are supposed to labour and work and strive and they will be rewarded, in the same way men are, that means that they play an equal role in society and are equally responsible. [33.72] Surely We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to be unfaithful to it and feared from it, and man has turned unfaithful to it; surely he is unjust, ignorant; [33.73] So Allah will chastise the hypocritical men and the hypocritical women and the polytheistic men and the polytheistic women, and Allah will turn (mercifully) to the believing women, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

The Quran goes even further and provides men and women with equal opportunities to collect rewards for the same deeds, in the same ways [33.35] Surely the men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obeying men and the obeying women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women and the humble men and the humble women, and the almsgiving men and the almsgiving women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember-- Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward. So the Quran does not discriminate against women in any way, it is Muslims who do that and also Muslims who allow it. Islam is innocent of such discrimination and the results thereof. Perhaps these Muslims, both genders actually, those who discriminate and those who are discriminated against and allow it for whatever reason other than Islam, like tradition or society or customs, need to take a closer look at [33.36] And it behooves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Apostle, he surely strays off a manifest straying. Islam is a far cry from what the mullahs of say the Taliban or the Islamic Republic of Iran would have us believe.

But it is not only discrimination due to gender that is practiced, but also due to religion and belief. Muslims brand others as non-believers. They reject the people of the book (Christian and Jews) as enemies, whereas the Quran says: [4.150] Surely those who disbelieve in Allah and His apostles and (those who) desire to make a distinction between Allah and His apostles and say: We believe in some and disbelieve in others, and desire to take a course between (this and) that. [4.151] These it is that are truly unbelievers, and We have prepared for the unbelievers a disgraceful chastisement. [4.152] And those who believe in Allah and His apostles and do not make a distinction between any of them-- Allah will grant them their rewards; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. So all Prophets are equal and no distinction is made. Why then do Muslims discriminate against Christians, Jews, Hindus etc? Why do they discriminate against other Muslims with different beliefs from their own? We have seen too numerous fatal clashes between Shias and Sunnis, between both against Ahmadis and many others, whereas the Quran demands peace between the believers [49.10] The believers are but brethren, therefore make peace between your brethren and be careful of (your duty to) Allah that mercy may be had on you. Who can judge what these people have in their hearts? Whether their beliefs are right or wrong? They say they are Muslims, so why are they discriminated against? All believers are brothers, equal parts of the same faith and therefore should not be killing one another over faith questions [4.93] And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is hell; he shall abide in it, and Allah will send His wrath on him and curse him and prepare for him a painful chastisement.

Race, ethnicity and colour are other aspects of discrimination. And perhaps the saddest one of all, because the Quran tells us: [49.13] O you men! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honourable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware. Differences in colour, tribes, race, ethnicity, or traditions are not to be used as excuses for unjust behaviour or treatment. We are all the same, of the same origin. The differences are there for a purpose, the purpose of identification and exchange, of learning and knowledge. The only difference that distinguishes humans is their degree of piety and the strength of their belief, which is only known to Allah.

During his final pilgrimage, the Prophet delivered his last sermon and made sure to remind the believers, all of the believers, of their equality despite their differences. He is reported to have said: 'O people listen carefully, your Lord is one Lord, there is no doubt about it. Your ancestor, is one ancestor, there is no doubt about it. Listen well to my words: no Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, and no non-Arab is superior to an Arab. No black is superior to a brown or red, and no red superior to any black. If there is any superiority in anyone, it is due to his God-fearing qualities. Have I conveyed the message?' the Prophet asked the people. The people answered from all corners, 'Indeed so! God be witness.' Then the Prophet said: 'Let him that is present tell it unto him that is absent.' And yet the discrimination continues.

Another very despicable and vile form of discrimination is the one due to health, or rather lack thereof, namely the discrimination against people with special needs, with some form of disability or other. In Islam a disability is not a punishment, but is considered a test. Nevertheless the Quran says [2.286] Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability; for it is (the benefit of) what it has earned and upon it (the evil of) what it has wrought: Our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake; Our Lord! do not lay on us a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us, Our Lord do not impose upon us that which we have not the strength to bear; and pardon us and grant us protection and have mercy on us, Thou art our Patron, so help us against the unbelieving people. What matters in Islam is the heart and mind, but not any other body part. Disabled persons are relieved from many a duty and arduous ritual. Most duties and rituals are asked of able people with sound minds. Muslims are instructed to treat disabled people with mercy and compassion [48.17] There is no harm in the blind, nor is there any harm in the lame, nor is there any harm in the sick (if they do not go forth); and whoever obeys Allah and His Apostle, He will cause him to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, and whoever turns back, He will punish him with a painful punishment.

The Prophet himself was chastised in the Quran for being short-tempered with Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum, who was blind, but still among the first to accept Islam. He was so eager to memorise the Quran that sometimes he seemed to be trying to control all of the Prophet’s attention. The reason for the chastisement came about because the Prophet was conversing with a group of notables from Mecca trying to invite them to join Islam. Abdullah barged in and requested a certain verse of the Quran to be told to him, so he could memorise it. The Prophet frowned and turned away from him because of the interruption and an entire Sura was revealed to address this issue, the Sura of Abasa [80] to remind Muslims not to be short with disability, to show mercy, patience and compassion. On a different note, Abdullah is remembered today, not for his disability but for his bravery. Despite being exempted from fighting and going to war due to his disability, he still insisted on finding a role for himself to participate. He asked the Prophet to allow him a place on the battle field and said: “Place me between two rows and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind and cannot run away.” He died the death of a shaheed protecting the flag and is now remembered for his bravery, not his blindness.

And another form of discrimination is the one due to age. In this busy competitive world, the elderly are not taken care of as they used to be a few hundred years ago. People get busy and some immigrate to other countries in search of better economic conditions and the elderly are left alone to tend for themselves. In the Middle East and South East Asia the idea of homes for the elderly has not been implemented like it has been in Europe and America, so many of these elderly people are left alone and lonely, not being able to really look after themselves. It is perhaps the most selfish form of discrimination practiced and stands opposed to what the Quran asks of us: [31.14] And We have enjoined man in respect of his parents-- his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years-- saying: Be grateful to Me and to both your parents; to Me is the eventual coming.
One of the gravest sins in the Quran, second only to shirk (associating partners with Allah), is zulm (oppression, injustice). The Quran and the Sunnah are replete with texts and examples describing zulm in all forms as the most abominable of all sins. [22.71] And they serve besides Allah that for which He has not sent any authority, and that of which they have no knowledge; and for the unjust there shall be no helper. As well as [40.18] And warn them of the day that draws near, when hearts shall rise up to the throats, grieving inwardly; the unjust shall not have any compassionate friend nor any intercessor who should be obeyed. But this still doesn’t stop the discrimination against servants at home or hired help in the house. We hear horror stories about how foreign servants are treated in Saudi Arabia. When the Prophet saw one of his Companions treating his servant roughly, the Prophet said, “They are your brothers whom Allah has entrusted to your care; so be careful how you treat them. Remember, Allah has power over both of you!” What would the Prophet have told all those families abusing their servants today?

Sura [9.91] says: It shall be no crime in the weak, nor in the sick, nor in those who do not find what they should spend (to stay behind), so long as they are sincere to Allah and His Apostle; there is no way (to blame) against the doers of good; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful; and this clearly shows that ALL are equal in front of Allah, regardless of their strength, health, wealth or any other criterion. The only thing that matters is their sincerity and what is in their hearts.

Although the world today tends to view Islam in terms of schools and creeds, I believe that there is a much more fundamental conflict. It is between those who cling to the literal letter without applying their minds and compassion and those who stress inner values, the understated Islamic ones, now almost forgotten in the changing world of Islam. I do hope that we go back to the word of Allah and apply it using our hearts and try to fight all those different forms of discrimination.