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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim World and the contemporary Ijma' on rules of governance - iii
By Syed Shahabuddin

When the Muslims form a 'regional' majority within a nation state which has a non-Muslim majority there is a tendency to demand autonomy and even claim secession under the principle of self-determination. For example, the Muslims of Mindanao in the Philippines, the Arakans in Myanmar, the southern districts of Thailand, Kosovo in Serbia, or Jammu and Kashmir in India are making such demands. The OIC or the Muslim States cannot support secession but may offer their good offices to evolve a solution based on autonomy within a federal model as it did in the case of the Philippines. The OIC must keep a tab on similar demands and aspirations within the Muslim world whether it is the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, or the Azeris in Iran or the Shias and non-Pakhtoos in Afghanistan or the Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain or the Berbers in the Maghreb. State boundaries historically determined cannot be revised at will to reunite ethnicities or particularities divided by lines of separation drawn in colonial times or to break up States as they emerged from the colonial era. Yet a modicum of peace can be established by application of principles of federalism and autonomy. But independence is the only solution when a territory has been conquered by force of arms and the people have not accepted defeat, as in Chechenya which has been waging a war of liberation against Russia for nearly two centuries or the Palestinian people groaning under Israel

The essential problem lies in the treatment of Muslim minority by the state of which they are citizens, particularly in relation to the recognition of its Islamic identity and freedom to profess practise and propagate its religion in a peaceful manner, without let or hindrance, without any physical restraints and without any ideologically motivated attempt to subvert or undermine it or to reduce it through religious assimilation. If religious identity and freedom are guaranteed, for the Muslim minority the State is Dar-ul-Aman. If they are not, it becomes Dar-ul-Harb. And then it becomes incumbent on the Muslim community to endeavour to regain its status by all means at its disposal, including passive and active non-violent, and, if necessary, violent resistance, in the face of oppression and persecution, by itself or in conjunction with other minorities and those elements of the dominant majority which show understanding and sympathy. In the modern world when submerged identities are surfacing and clamouring for recognition, how can a conscious religious minority be systematically suppressed?

Muslim scholars often contrast unjust and unfair discrimination against Muslims in modern non-Muslim states with tolerance and generosity accorded to and high positions attained by non-Muslims in medieval Muslim States miss the point. Howsoever, one explains the concept of 'Zimma', it undoubtedly amounts to discrimination; the Zimmi is tolerated, he is protected; (for which he pays the jiziya), his life is sacrosanct; his property is secure and he is exempted from Zakat and from military service. By merit he may reach the highest executive position. Yet he remains a second class citizen. He is not equal in status to the Muslim citizens. Absolute equality is attainable, but only if he embraces Islam. Therefore, if the Muslim world desires that 40% of the Ummah be treated as equal citizens of their respective States, it has to guarantee equal citizenship and equal rights to all non-Muslims, born or domiciled in Muslim States. The Shariat has found a way. If the non-Muslim citizen participates in the defence of the State and otherwise abides by the law, he is to be exempted from the payment of Jiziya. He is no longer a protected person but an equal citizen, nothing more, nothing less.

But Muslim jurists entertain the apprehension that the non-Muslim citizens may aspire to, indeed occupy higher echelons in the state structure and enter the policy and law-making arena. This is far removed from reality. It took 200 years for a catholic to be the President of the United States of America though there is nothing in the Constitution of the USA to bar one from the highest office. It would be equally impossible in a democratic Muslim State for a non-Muslim to become the Head of State or of the Government. He may enter the legislature but his essential interest would be to protect the interest of his community within the limits of the Constitution rather than to thwart the will of the Muslim majority. But equality demands that the non-Muslim citizen should be trusted and the highest offices should be open to him. It is not necessary to write a prohibition into the Constitution or even to declare the Republic as Islamic to bar a non-Muslim becoming the head of State or Government!

To survive and grow as a religion not only in terms of numbers but in terms of influencing the life of the individual Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, Islam has to be reoriented towards the quest of piety and social excellence, away from the quest of power. Power ultimately is held and misused by the few against the many; it is more often an instrument of oppression. Historically it has never been contained by any religion or ideology from embarking upon reckless destruction of life, liberty and happiness of man. Power has always been used to enrich oneself, one's family and one's clan through corruption and nepotism. Power has been, at best, exercised by a class against the masses.

The only exception in terms of austerity and accountability, equality and justice, social concern and personal sacrifice was the Enlightened Caliphate which also failed to root out ancient animosities and sometimes personal rivalries. Later, Islam turned to imperial pursuits, when the Caliphate became monarchy and the Arabs of the desert succeeded Rome and Persia in the seats of imperial power.

Today, as explained above, the resurrection of the Caliphate is an impossibility. Even the unification of religious Muslim majority States, speaking the same language and sharing the same culture is a dream. The League of Arab States in a skeleton without flesh. The OIC exists but on paper. There cannot be an Islamic mega-State. But why can't be at least one Muslim State which can become a model modern democratic welfare state, serving all its people, keeping peace with all its neighbours and faithfully implementing all its obligations arising from the expanding body of international law and internationally accepted norms. (Concluded)

See also:

Muslim World and the contemporary Ijma' on rules of governance - ii 

Muslim World and the contemporary Ijma' on rules of governance - i


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