Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Quran and Acceptance of Other Religions

The Quran stresses acceptance of other faiths as a fact, this being an important Islamic principle. Acceptance here necessarily means that people should be not be coerced into following a particular religion. This is entirely in consonance with Islam. The Quran (2:256) insists There shall be no compulsion in religion’. The occasion for the revelation of this verse further clarifies the Quranic understanding of religious acceptance. This verse was revealed in connection with a certain Muslim from among the ‘Helpers’ (Ansars) of Medina named Husain, who had two sons. Some traders from Syria had made them Jews when they were young, without their consent, and had had taken them to their land. Husain complained about this to the Prophet. He wanted that his children should be made to embrace Islam. This Quranic verse was revealed in this regard.
The Quran clearly states that human beings have the right to choose whatever religion or ideology they like. It is against God’s Cosmic Plan that everyone should follow one religion—Islam. Thus, the Quran says:
Had your Lord pleased, all the people on earth would have believed in Him, without exception. So will you compel people to become believers? (10:99) […]and had God so willed, He would have made you all a single community, but He did not so will, in order that He might try you by what He has given you (5:48)
It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)It was He who created you; and some of you are those who deny this truth, and some who believe [in it] (64:2)In this way, the Quran has accepted both faith and denial as eternal and natural realities. The Quran (22:69) clearly states that God will judge with regard to faith and denial on the Day of Judgment:
On the Day of Resurrection, God will judge between you regarding your differences.
Meanwhile, in this world, even deniers have freedom in matters of religion. As the Quran (109:6 ) says:
          Say, ‘[…] You have your religion and I have mine.’
The deniers also have freedom of action in this world, as the Quran (42:15) says:
‘[…]we are responsible for what we do and you are responsible for what you do […]’
Further, the Quran (6:108) forbids the believers from abusing deities worshipped by others:
Do not revile those [beings] whom they invoke instead of God, lest they, in their hostility, revile God out of ignorance.
The Quran (16:125) advises Muslims to adopt a beautiful approach in reasoning with others:
Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation and reason with them in a way that is best.
The believers are advised to always act justly:
Believers, be strict in upholding justice and bear witness for the sake of God, even though it be against yourselves, your parents, or your kindred (4:135)
The Quranic insistence on justice does not apply just among Muslims themselves. Rather, it relates to the whole of humankind, and Muslims are expected to act justly with everyone, irrespective of religion or community:
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do (5:8)
The Quran provides for full religious freedom for members of other faiths, who also have the right to judge their affairs according to their scriptures. They even have the right to deal in things that Islam considers forbidden or haram, such as alcohol and pork.
The Quran talks about two types of disbelievers. The first are those who have unleashed aggression and war against Muslims, who refuse to give Muslims their religious and social rights and who have made the Prophet and his Companions a target of their oppression, forcing them out of their homes and lands. The Quran advises stern measures against them, granting permission for engaging in war in defence against their oppression. On the other hand are those disbelievers or deniers of Truth who are not bent on waging war against Muslims and who have not compelled Muslims to leave their homes. The Quran (60:8) advises Muslims to deal with them with gentleness and goodness:
He does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you on account of your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just.
It is important to consider here that the Quran considers even the fiercest enemy to be a potential friend. Thus, it says (41:34):
Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend […]
This Quranic wisdom is related to the fact that every human being, even one’s staunchest foe, is born on the same natural state or fitrah, and fitrah has a tendency to like what is good. It is external factors that become a barrier to some people’s acceptance of goodness and truth. As the Prophet is said to have noted:
Every child is born in a state of fitrah, then his parents make him into a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.  
The Quran basically addresses this fitrah, which requires us to relate with others with love and gentleness, not hate and sternness.
Another expression of the Quranic spirit of tolerance is the fact that the Quran (31:15) commands Muslims who have non-Muslim parents to deal with them in a good manner:
Yet be kind to them in this world and follow the path of those who turn to Me. 

Had your Lord pleased, all the people on earth would have believed in Him, without exception. So will you compel people to become believers? (10:99) […]and had God so willed, He would have made you all a single community, but He did not so will, in order that He might try you by what He has given you (5:48)The Quran, as is readily evident from this discussion, reflects a universal notion of religious tolerance. If this is not reflected in Muslims’ behavior, the fault lies with Muslims themselves, and not with the Quran
The Islamic Understanding of Politics

Worldly affairs are not divorced from spirituality in Islam. Islam considers the two as necessary for each other, as well as complementary to each other. The Quran (28: 77) explicitly says: ‘do not forget your share of the world’. A hadith report, contained in theSahih al-Bukhari, terms the world as the field of the Hereafter. In this way, religion and worldly affairs are necessarily interlinked in Islam.

Politics is a necessary part of worldly affairs. It relates to the regulation of life at the collective level. Hence, any ideology that relates to life cannot remain without reference to politics. This is a basic reality. But another aspect of this reality is that politics has its own particular sphere in its relationship with Islam. It is certainly part of the overall understanding of the deen of Islam, but it is not part of the basic or foundational understanding or conception of the deen. In other words, the deen is as complete without politics as it is with it.

The fact is that Islam is a pragmatic religion, and pragmatism is a basic condition for success in politics. That is why Islam cannot make it binding on its followers to engage in forms of actions that are generally not possible for them. The Quran (2: 286) clearly makes this point.

Islamic commandments (ahkam) are of two kinds: those that are fixed and unchangeable—or what the ulema term as ghayr mujtahadfih, commandments with regard to which there is no scope for ijtihad or new thinking and formulations; and those in which change is possible in response to changing contexts and conditions—or what the ulema term as mujtahadfih. The first sort of commandments are integral to Islam’s belief-system, while the latter are a practical aspect of the deen. Many Islamic rules about politics come under of this second category of commandments.

Islam does not make a rigid distinction between religion and politics. But at the practical level, it is not necessary for politics to be a part of Islam. That is why Islam is present across the world along with its religious and spiritual system, but, with just a few exceptions, nowhere is it present along with any fixed and homogenous political system. This definitely does not mean that Islam, in this form, is incomplete and faulty, as some radical Islamist ideologues allege. This is because it has never been at all possible—and nor can it be—that wherever Islam is found, it is found along with what is claimed to be its particular political system, and that too with this system becoming dominant over other systems.

All of God’s prophets taught one and the same deen or way of life. All of them invited people to the deen of God in its entirety, and they themselves lead their lives according to it. But from the Quran and Hadith it is amply clear that many prophets did not get the chance to establish themselves in their own communities, leave alone exercising political power. Only a relatively few prophets, such as the prophets Moses, David, Solomon and Muhammad, were bestowed with political power by God. The prophets who did not receive political power focused simply on conveying to people the essentials of the deen, such as faith in the one God and prophethood and belief in the Hereafter, as well as moral values, because this was what God expected of them. The mission of Jesus, for instance, did not go beyond conveying the Divine message. Many prophets were killed by their opponents. But every Muslim believes, as a matter of Islamic faith, that these and all the other prophets were fully successful in the mission for which they were sent by God—that is, to teach people about God-realization (marifat), to enable them to establish a connection with God and to show them the way to purify their souls and make them eligible to enter and inhabit heaven.

The deviation that has come about in Muslim political thought actually owes to deviation in the very understanding of the deen. Changes in the understanding of the deen have led to deviation in the understanding of the relationship between God and man, too. The deen, from the very beginning, has remained one for the whole of humankind. Its basic values and conceptions have remained the same. Islam is not a separate religion, but, rather, a continuation of the one and the same primordial religion, the first prophet of which, the Prophet Adam, was the first man. Therefore, it is not possible that Islam should depart from the basic values of the primordial deen, for the Quran instructs the Prophet Muhammad to follow the prophets who came before him. Thus, it says (6: 90):

‘Those [the previous prophets] were the people whom God guided. Follow their guidance then and say, ‘I ask no reward for this from you: it is only a reminder for all mankind.’
Islam seeks at the true welfare of humankind. It seeks to preserve the proper relationship between man and God as well as to promote good relations between and among human beings. In this regard, then, one can safely say that radical political (mis-)interpretations of Islam, that have unfortunately become quite prominent in  our times, are totally counter to Islam and its underlying spirit and values. These misinterpretations of Islam wrongly project Islam as a sort of political party, negating completely its reality as a spiritual tradition based on concern for universal welfare and goodness.

Lessons from the Life of the Prophet

The Prophet Muhammad exemplified the highest level of virtues and spirituality, to teach which he was sent to the world. The Prophet spent 13 years in Mecca after having received prophethood, during which he quietly worshipped God, engaged in conveying God’s message, and patiently faced persecution at the hands of his opponents. In Medina, he received from God the opportunity to establish a polity, which he set up on the basis of pluralism and common values and principles. Accordingly, at the Constitutional level, Jews and the polytheists (mushrikeen) were given the same rights as Muslims. In this way, the state of Medina, headed by the Prophet, was the first regularly-established polity to be based on the concept of multiculturalism.

The Charter of Medina that outlined the structure of this polity was the first written Constitution in the history of Islam. According to this treaty, all those who were bound by it, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, enjoyed equal rights. Muslims and Jews (there were no Christians in Medina) were given the status of a united ummah. Ibn Hisham relates in his biography of the Prophet that according to the Constitution of Medina, the religion of the Muslims was for the Muslims, and the religion of the Jews, for the Jews.

According to the Quran (5:47), every religious community should be given complete internal autonomy:

“Therefore, let those who follow the Gospel judge according to what God has revealed in it. Those who do not judge by what God has sent down are rebellious’’.
Not only should every religious community have full freedom of belief and worship, but it should also have the freedom to judge its own affairs according to its laws, administered by its own judges. That is why the Prophet could not limit the range of rights and freedoms given by the Quran to non-Muslims in the polity that he headed.

In the course of his peaceful mission of dawah or inviting people to God, the Prophet had to engage in armed confrontation with some of his opponents on some occasions. These were battles of a defensive nature, as the Quran (2: 192; 9: 36) clarifies. These battles aimed putting an end to the religious persecution that was a legacy of the age of imperial despotism and was the biggest barrier to the exercise of freedom of belief and thought. This is what is meant by the term fitna in the Quran. This fitna was ended during the time of the Prophet.

The Prophet’s movement was not a political one. Rather, it was a purely religious and ethical movement. However, in the early biographies of the Prophet that came to be compiled after his demise, the battles in which the Prophet had been engaged were given particular focus, and so these biographies themselves came to be known as maghazis or battle-chroniclesIn the medieval period, some Muslim rulers who were confronted by non-Muslim powers, such as the Byzantines, and others who wanted to expand the sphere of territories under used Islam for their own purposes and sought to portray Islam as a political project. And so, in this environment of confrontation and conflict with people of other faiths, a certain political image of Islam came to be constructed that did not reflect Islam’s true spirit. The crystallization of Islamic law in the form of fiqh or Muslim jurisprudence in the fourth century of the Islamic century was also greatly influenced by this environment, as reflected, for instance, in the invention of the concept of the world being divided into darul-Islam (‘abode of Islam’) and darul-harb (‘abode of war’), the notion of offensive jihad, and several rules about dhimmis or non-Muslim subjects that the world simply cannot accept today. Muslim scholars must go back to the teachings of the Prophet and rethink issues related to religious pluralism afresh, unhampered by such medieval accretions.

In our understanding of God, it is important to remember that according to Islam, God is the Sustainer of all creatures. He loves and protects all of them. He will decide the fate of every person on the Day of Judgment. God has made man as a dignified creature. That is why all human beings—be they Muslims or others—deserve respect and dignity. This point is expressed by the Hanafi jurist Ibn Abidin al-Shami (1783-1836), who says that from the point of view of the Shariah, every man is dignified and respectable, even if he is someone who denies the truth.

Islam supports pluralism. In fact, its ideological and practical structure is based on it. In Islam, diversity is presented as a requirement of nature and also as beauty. It sees the differences of languages and colours among human beings as among the signs of God.

Thus, the Quran (30:22) says:

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.

It also says (49:13):

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.

The Quran (2:256) relates, as a clear principle, that there is no compulsion in religion—that people can choose to follow the religion or ideology of their choice:
There shall be no compulsion in religion
Elsewhere, the Quran (18:29) says :
Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve.

It is against the Creation Plan of God that everyone should conform to one way of thinking or one way of behaviour. Thus, the Quran (10: 99) says:
Had your Lord pleased, all the people on earth would have believed in Him, without exception.
The Quran (64:2) also relates:

He it is Who created you, then some of you are disbelievers and some of you are believers. 

In this way, Islam accepts that along with true believers (momins) there will also be deniers (munkirs), taking the existence of both to be natural realities.

Every community has its own mentality, environment, natural capacities and the possibilities of rebutting or accepting Truth. That is why God has established a law (shiratun) and a way (minhaj) for each community. The Quran leaves the choice of one’s religion and one’s action to each person:
For you is your religion, and for me is my religion’ (109:6)
‘For us are our deeds, and for you are your deeds’ (28:55)

Another expression of the importance of pluralism in Islam is the fact that the Quran (22:40) condemns the destruction of places of worship of both Muslims as well as others. In doing so, it mentions churches and synagogues before it mentions mosques:

If God did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of God is much invoked, would surely be destroyed. God will surely help him who helps His cause—God is indeed powerful and mighty.
This Quranic verse indicates that God has taken it as His own responsibility to protect non-Muslims and their places of worship. The treaties that the Prophet entered into with the people of Najran and Hirahmany of whom were Christians, provided for full freedom and autonomy for non-Muslims.

The understanding of Islamic pluralism that emerges from the Quran and the practice of the Prophet indicates that relations between Muslims and people of other faiths and persuasions should be based on joint efforts to promote goodness, justice, and equality. ‘Believers, be strict in upholding justice, the Quran (4:135) says. The Quran (5:8) gives great stress to justice in inter-community relations. Thus, it lays down:

Believers, be steadfast in the cause of God and bear witness with justice. Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing.
On the issue of equality, the Prophet declared that people (and this includes Muslims as well as non-Muslims) are brothers of each other, and that they are the equals of each other, like the teeth of a comb.

Islam aims at enabling people to rise above narrow boundaries of colour and race and work together for welfare and justice and help each other. The Treaty of Medina is a brilliant illustration of this objective. After the Prophet’s demise, Muslim history went through many ups and downs. Yet, even then people of other faiths often enjoyed considerable religious freedom, although not everywhere and at all times. However, as Muslims became politically dominant over a large part of the world, prejudices against people of other faiths did creep in. In this regard, the corpus of fiqh that developed in this period of Muslim political dominance failed to retain Islam’s true universal spirit.

The Quranic Understanding of Jihad

The word ‘jihad’ is a broad term that connotes making strenuous efforts for a certain purpose. Jihad is not limited to waging war with external enemies. Nor does it always have that connotation. For war against one’s opponents the Quran uses another word—qital—which is an exceptional form of jihad.
Jihad, in the basic sense of making great effort for a noble purpose, appears in numerous verses of the Quran.
Thus, the Quran says (29: 69):
We will surely guide in Our ways those who strive hard for Our cause, God is surely with the righteous.
The Quran also speaks of believers engaging in jihad through their wealth (49:15) and through the Quran (25:52). The Prophet is said to have remarked that a mujahid is one who engages in jihad with his nafs (baser self).  To engage in jihad against one’s nafs is to struggle against one’s base desires and evil inclinations. Itis called jihad-e akbar or the ‘greater jihad’ in another hadith report.  But in addition to this sort of jihad is, as mentioned above, another one that is generally termed as qital in the Quran, permission for which is also granted in Islam. However, this permission is subject to various conditions. Accordingly, not every war fought in the name of jihad (in the sense of qital) deserves to be called a jihad. Its intention must be proper and pure, and so must its purpose.
Misunderstanding about jihad abounds, among not just non-Muslims, but among many Muslims, too. This is basically because they have not tried to understand the Quranic conception of jihad in its proper perspective. A large section of Muslims—in addition, of course, to non-Muslims—make major blunders in their understanding and application of Quranic verses that speak about jihad. They err in assuming that the illat or cause or rationale for qital in these verses is ‘infidelity’ (kufr), and so they conclude that Muslims must engage in jihad in the sense of qital against all ‘disbelievers’ and ‘polytheists’.
This, however, is not correct. The illat of qital is not kufr, but, rather, muharaba or waging war against God and an Islamic polity. The Hanafi scholars of jurisprudence and the majority of the ulema of the other schools of Muslim jurisprudenceuphold this opinion. Had infidelity been the illat of qital, then numerous hadith of the Prophet and reports of his Companions would not have forbidden the killing of non-Muslim women, children and recluses living in non-Muslim places of worship.
The Quran gives permission for jihad in the sense of qital for two reasons: putting an end to fitna, understood here as religious persecution (2:193), and defence (2:191). The Quranic term fitna refers to the situation that prevailed at the time of the Prophet when people did not have the freedom of belief and conscience, and when those who accepted any belief system different from the socially dominant one were persecuted. We can term the sort of jihad that was permitted in order to put an end to this situation as ‘offensive jihad’. All other forms of war in Islam are defensive.
The Quran ordains mostly this defensive jihad, and the fact is that today only this command remains applicable. Following the ending of the state of fitna by the Prophet and his Companions, who put an end to religious persecution, today the need for war to abolish fitna no longer remains. A very large section of the ulema, from early Muslims like Sufyan ath-Thawri (d.778) and Ibn Shuburma, to important ulema of our times, have insisted that war in Islam is permissible only in defence. This is linked to the argument that after the Prophet and his Companionsput an end to fitna or religious persecution, the illat for offensive jihad, no longer exists. In this sense, Imam Awza‘i (d. 774) and some other ulema of the early Muslim period confine jihad in the sense of qital only against the Quraysh opponents of the Prophet of Mecca or against the polytheists of Arabia in general of the times of the Prophet.
The noted Indian Muslim scholar and political leader Maulana AbulKalam Azad makes a related point in his book Rasul-e Rahmat (‘The Prophet of Mercy’):
It should be remembered that the commandment for war is only in relation to those groups of polytheists who were engaged in fighting to stop the Islamic dawah [at the time of the Prophet], and not the polytheists of the whole world. Hence [in the Quran], reference is, from first to last, to these particular groups.
Voicing a similar opinion, the Egyptian scholar Shaikh Abu Zahra opined in his Nazariyat al-Harb fi al-Islam (‘The Concept of War in Islam’):
Qital was restricted just to the Quraysh, because it was they who had launched aggression and were continuously persecuting the Muslims who had remained behind in Mecca. The battles of Badr and Uhud were specific to the Quraysh, but in the battle of Ahzab, the Quraysh had brought together the whole of Arabia, who wanted to uproot the Islamic polity of Madinah. That is why qital had become necessary with regard to the whole of Arabia—because all these people had launched aggression [against Islam]. It was in connection with this that this Quranic verse (9:36) calling for war against all the polytheists was revealed: ‘Fight the polytheists all together, as they fight you all together’.                                                    *
In the Quran, when the commandment to engage in qital is given, it is generally explained that the reason for this is the believers’ undergoing oppression, their being driven from their homes, or war being unleashed against them, and so on. The first Quranic verses (22: 39-40) to grant permission to engage in qital read as follows:
Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right - only because they say, "Our Lord is Allah." At the time when these verses were revealed, the Muslims and the polytheists of Arabia were engaged in violent confrontation with each other, and so these verses should be seen in that particular context.This very clearly indicates that particularly in today’s context the Quran gives permission only for qital for the sake of defence.
In addition, it is important to remember that while the Quran does give permission to engage in qital in unavoidable situations, this is with the following condition:
Thus you may exact retribution from whoever transgresses against you, in proportion to his transgression (2: 194)Further, while the Quran permits war in defence, it says that patience in the face of oppression is a better response: If you want to retaliate, retaliate to the same degree as the injury done to you. But if you are patient, it is better to be so (16:126) In this regard, it should also be noted that with regard to people of other faiths, the Quran (9:7) advises Muslims that:
‘As long as they act straight with you, act straight with them’.
Here, it should also be noted that the aim of jihad is not just the protection of Islam and its followers, but also to protect places of worship of people of other faiths. As the Quran (22:40) says:
And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. (In this verse, mosques are mentioned at the very last of the list of places of worship).
In the light of this discussion, it is clear that the issue of jihad is greatly misunderstood, not just by non-Muslims but also by many Muslims themselves, and that this urgently needs to be addressed. The wrong policies and actions of radical Muslim groups in this regard have only further magnified these misunderstandings. It is necessary for Muslim thinkers and organizations to counter their wrong interpretations of jihad and to present the proper, Quranic understanding of the concept.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Need for a New Hilf al-Fudul

Some two decades before the Prophet Muhammad was appointed as a prophet, a trader from Yemen sold some goods to a Meccan man called ‘Aas ibn Wa’il, but the latter did not pay him for them. In order to secure justice for the trader, a meeting was held at the house of Abdullah ibn Jud‘an, attended by several respected inhabitants of Mecca. They entered into a pact, according to which in incidents like this, collective efforts would be taken to ensure justice for those rights had been violated. This treaty is known as the Hilf al-Fudul, which is often translated as ‘League of the Virtuous’.
The Prophet was present on this occasion. At that time, he was around 20 years old. After he was appointed as a prophet, he expressed his contentment at having joined the association, saying that the oath of the Hilf al-Fudul was more pleasant than owning red-haired camels (This sort of camel was very rare and so was very expensive, being considered very precious). If he were summoned to it during the Islamic era, too, the Prophet said, he would accept it.
The Hilf al-Fudul and the Prophet’s response to it can form the basis for joint efforts by people irrespective of religion to work together for the preservation, protection and promotion of human values. This sort of unity can be envisaged at various levels—from the local to the regional to the national and even to the international level. True, some people who simply cannot tolerate the idea of Muslims and non-Muslims joining hands may balk at this idea, as might those who take a very narrow view of ‘Islamic’ causes. But the Hilf-e Fudul shows how such unity can bring people of different faiths and ideological persuasions to work together for the collective good of humankind.
Today, people across the world—from diverse countries, faith backgrounds and cultures—are closely inter-connected, perhaps as never before. Hitherto largely mono-religious countries are increasingly becoming multi-religious—and this is happening in both the Muslim and non-Muslim ‘worlds’. Both these ‘worlds’ are now being impacted upon by external religious, cultural and economic influences. This is leading to the walls that have stood for centuries around them beginning to crumble. No longer is it considered necessary for religious minorities to have to completely assimilate into majority populations and lose their faith and identity. In an atmosphere of increasing tolerance and respect, they can now maintain their faith and culture and at the same time work with people of other faiths for common purposes. True, there may be some exceptions in these regard, but these are temporary, and are definitely not the rule.
This coming closer together of various religious groups is in line with the Prophet’s saying that all creatures are [part of] God’s family. The Hilf al-Fudul underlies the need for us to unite this family of God by rising above religious and other ideological differences and working together for protecting and promoting common human values.
In today’s world, there are numerous problems that necessitate such joint cooperation and untied action by people of different faiths and ideologies—endemic poverty, global warming, the nuclear race, ecological devastation, rampant immorality, the crisis in the institution of the family, violence in the name of religion, racism, war, terrorism and so on. These problems are not specific to just one community or nation. Rather, they have become global phenomena. They simply cannot be effectively solved without the joint efforts of all communities and nations. In the absence of such unity, humanity’s race towards destruction cannot be halted. Some people might think that such unity is a foolish dream. But, then, the fact is that we simply have no choice but to dream this dream and try to work to make it a reality. All communities, Muslims included, need to enkindle the spirit of the Hilf al-Fudul. Muslims especially should pay attention to this task.

Friday, March 3, 2017

‘Westophobia’ is Dangerous for Muslims

In recent years, what is called ‘Islamophobia’ has become a major issue globally, including and especially in the West. Many non-Muslim political leaders, scholars, journalists and ‘ordinary’ people in the West have come to think of Islam as a grave threat to their culture and values. At the same time, the ‘Muslim world’ has witnessed the emergence of a certain sort of xenophobia that may be termed as ‘Westophobia’. Many Muslims who have fallen prey to Westophobia consider the West and everything that has to do with it to be a source or symbol of a menacing threat to Islam and Muslims. They look at all such things with hatred and dread, mistakenly taking this hate to be almost like a necessary article of faith for them.

This mentality has its roots in the period of Western colonialist control over most of the ‘Muslim world’. It saw its genesis in the late 19th and early 20th century. At that time, Muslims who had been infected by Westophobia believed that even the best and most useful scientific inventions of the West were against Islam and a threat to Muslim culture. These included the printing press, the telegraph, the radio, the wall-clock, railways, trams, and even loudspeakers! The Shaikhul-Islam of Turkey, who was considered that country’s top-most religious authority by his followers, even issued a fatwa declaring that the printing press and Western-style military training to be forbidden according to  the Shariah!

This hatred for the West gradually declined in the years following the decolonization of Muslim lands, when Muslim countries became political independent. However, in recent years, his mentality is emerging once again. Contemporary Westophobia is a worrying development for the West—because Western interests are crucially linked to the ‘Muslim world’—but the ‘Muslim world’, too, will also have to pay the heavy price of this phenomenon if necessary steps are not taken soon enough.

Islamophobia and Westophobia feed on each other, and both, it must be realized, are gravely harmful for both the non-Muslim West as well as for Muslims. As a result of growing Westophobia, there is a very real danger of the good things of the West being ignored or even condemned by Muslims who fall prey to this tendency, with ominous consequences for Muslims in general. In blindly denouncing the West, Muslim Westophobes ignore the goodness to be found in the West—for instance, values such as honesty, punctuality, the spirit of social service, respect for the law and human rights, discipline and so on. Muslim Westophobes either completely ignore these things or else cynically claim that they are simply a cover-up to promote Western economic interests. They just do not want to see anything good in anyone but themselves. 

Like hardened Islamophobes, blind Muslim Westophobes imagine themselves to be paragons of virtue and consider those whom they berate as having a virtual monopoly on vice. While it is true that, like every other civilization, the West has its share of drawbacks, it is hardly acceptable to insist that the West is incorrigibly and wholly evil. The fact of the matter is that all civilizations—including both Muslim and Western civilizations—have their good and bad aspects and they should freely learn from and adapt and adopt good things from each other. However, victims of both types of phobia—Islamophobia and Westophobia—insist that this is impossible or unwanted.

A good number of Muslim preachers routinely rant and rave against the West. It is almost impossible to hear them praising anything about the West. Many ulema and other Muslim religious leaders who themselves live in the West never tire of railing against it. This is indeed very lamentable. The issue here is not how far this anti-Western sentiment is a result of or response to actual realities, but, rather, of how this sentiment further reinforces the fear of Islam among many non-Muslims.

Westophobia makes Muslims who have been infected with it blind even to the many good things that have been developed by the West that are today helping the cause of Islam and Muslims. The printing press and the Internet, for instance, which are today being used on a vast scale to introduce Islam to others, are inventions of Western scientists. It is because of the freedom of thought and expression in Western countries that Muslim missionary organizations there are able to work in those countries and freely invite people to Islam.

Many years ago, while talking with a teacher of mine, I expressed my anguish that the ‘Muslim world’ has become simply a consumer of goods made in the West, deriving benefits from the inventions of the West but not doing anything creative itself. He replied, very smugly, ‘Our status is that of masters, and the West are our servants’. Needless to say, with a mentality such as this, such Muslims fool themselves into imagining that the Muslims’ decline and degeneration are actually a cause to celebrate, fondly imagining that their downfall is actually their victory!

Westophobia has become so extreme in some Muslim circles that adopting anything that departs from traditional ways of thinking is lambasted as ‘blind imitation of the West’. What is called ‘modernity’ is a result of the development of human civilization. The fact is that contemporary modern civilization is led by the West. That is why those who are infected by Westophobia see almost every modern thing as ‘Western’ and, therefore, supposedly something to be shunned. They simply have no idea that there are still some traditionalist circles in the West who may be even more traditionalist than they themselves are. They wrongly equate ‘modernity’ with Westernisation, although the two are not the same. That is why they roundly condemn every new thing or thought as ‘Western’.

It must be admitted, though, that, to some extent, this is a reaction to the tendency in some circles where blind imitation of the West is seen as necessary in order to be considered ‘modern’.

Muslim Westophobes are often ignorant of the fact that there are many Muslims in the West today and that these Muslims have the freedom to practice and propagate Islam and lead their lives in accordance with it. There are numerous mosques, madrasas and Islamic centres in Western countries. Despite widespread Islamophobia there, many Westerners are ardent advocates of understanding and dialogue with Muslims. All this Muslim Westophobes are either ignorant of or willfully turn a blind eye to.

Muslims and the non-Muslim West cannot wish each other away—which is what both Islamophobes and Muslim Westophobes both might ardently hope for. The fact is that Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners have no choice but to seek to relate to each other through dialogue and understanding. Muslims, for their part, must make efforts to establish good relations with non-Muslims (including non-Muslim Westerners), even through unilateral means and even if the other side initially does not reciprocate. By reaching out with genuine well-wishing for others, Muslims will also disprove the claims of Islampohobes, who insist that Muslims are necessarily inimical to other people and that they are addicted to terrorism. In addition, good relations with others are a means for Muslims to learn from them and benefit from their knowledge and experiences in various fields.

Islamopbhobia and Westophobia are two sides of the same coin. They cannot survive without each other.  Mounting Westophobia can only further strengthen the forces of Islamophobia. This is something Muslims must realise. They must also recognise that hatred for the West is no solution for anything—unlike what Muslim Westophobes might insist. On the contrary, it can only further exacerbate the problems that Muslims face. Westophobia can only take Muslims even further away from the urgent need to engage in introspection and see where they have gone wrong, instead of blaming others for all their woes.