Ever thought why Islam has lost credibility and why Muslims count for next to nothing today? It is very common now that non-Muslims tell you that Islam is a good religion but Muslims are not. It was not long ago in our own country that Hindus used to prefer a Muslim mediator and witness to a Hindu one in their disputes. Pages of history have recorded many such instances when Muslim mediators found Muslims at fault. People in north India still remember Awadh's Maulvi Madan (woh baat kahaan Maulvi Madan jaisi) who decided against his own Nawab in favour of a Hindu raja. Or that old man who was required to witness in a land dispute between Muslims and Hindus but refused to see the English judge saying that he has vowed never to see the face of an Englishman. The English judge sent him a message: OK, you come, keep your back to me and say whatever you want to say. The old man relented and told the judge that the land indeed belonged to Hindus.
That spirit has eroded so much today that a Muslim's word is no longer taken on its face value today. The erosion began long ago during the colonial times. Generosity, truthfulness, humaneness - all good qualities of a Muslim kept eroding. A writer recorded in early 20th century that it is not possible to recognise if these are the same Muslims who used to live in this country before the advent of the colonial period. One wonders what would be the observation of that writer was he to witness the Muslim life now in early 21st century?
Our Prophet, peace be upon him, had taught us that there are three signs of a hypocrite: "When he speaks, he lies; when he is entrusted, he breaches his trust, when he makes a promise, he breaks it." This hadith is a perfect standard for every Muslim to check if he is one-third, two-thirds or a complete hypocrite. I think very few Muslims today will be to satisfy themselves that they do not suffer from one or more of these signs of hypocrisy…
Now let us see why we have come to this impasse? We repeat every day in one form or another that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is His servant and messenger but our outward behaviour fails to testify that we even understand the meaning of shahadah, let alone act and behave according to this belief.
Our mosques are still full but seldom a face betrays the signs of humility, piety and fear of Allah which should be the direct outcome of salat (Qur'an - 29:45).
We fast in Ramadan but abstinence from what Allah has prohibited is not visible in our daily lives. Ramadan, instead, has become a season for culinary competition and gluttony in all Muslim societies. The month of abstinence is the month of wasteful consumption for us.
We go to Hajj, which is the combination of all Islamic forms of worship, but the returning hajis show that almost nothing has changed in their lives. They were more busy shopping for the latest electronic gadgets in Makkah and Madinah than spending time in the blessed House of Allah and the Prophet's Mosque.
Some of us still pay zakat but not as an obligation and responsibility but as a favour to the poor. No attempt is made to pay it to a reliable fund or to the beneficiaries named by Allah (1. Poor, 2. needy, 3. collectors of zakat, 4. new converts, 5. [to set free] prisoners, 6. debtor, 7. in the cause of Allah and 8. travellers - Qur'an - 9:60). Rather zakat is paid these days to the seasonal beggars who make a beeline to the doors of wealthy Muslims during Ramadan or to the mushrooming madrasahs whose entitlement to zakat is questionable except to the extent of spending zakat on poor students. These days a few known madrasahs mop up most of the zakat funds while really needy Muslims remain deprived, especially those who do not beg whom Allah has specifically named as a beneficiary of charity (51:19, 70:25).
Having deprived every Islamic "pillar" of its spirit, we have turned them into rituals. Every religious act today is a mere ritual which is performed again and again without any attempt to understand its underlying spirit and demands on our daily life and character as individuals and as a community.
Ramadan, when life slows down all over the world of Islam, is a good time to pause, think and try to regain some lost ground. This alone will change our plight: "Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves" (13:11).