Islamic Perspectives

Five suggestions for the Islamic World - ii

Today we hardly find religious freedom in Islamic world and it is one of the causes of our stagnation. The moment one exercises such freedom one attracts Fatwa of kufr. Our great institutions of Islamic learning like Al-Azhar of which one can just be proud suffer from the same problem. When one of its great scholars Abu Zaid Nasr tried to understand tanzil and ta’wil (revelation and understanding the revelation by human beings) he was immediately declared kafir and even his marriage was declared invalid and he had to flee from Egypt.  

Earlier Prof. Fazlur Rahman from Pakistan who also was a great scholar of Islam had to leave Pakistan and go to Chicago and teach there. This is how we treat our great scholars who try to develop new theological outlook and contribute richly to our Islamic heritage. Islamic world would never develop until we break the stranglehold of traditional ulama who have powerful vested interests in perpetuating what is past.

Women’s status

Another problem with Islamic world is the status of women which is also a result of our stagnant theology. In case of women Muslims are very strong in rhetoric but very weak in practice. Muslims never tire of asserting that Islam gives women equal rights and high status but record of Islamic world in empowering women is very poor. In fact Islamic world’s record in respect of women’s status is one of the poorest in the world. For years modern education was a taboo for them.

Now after great struggle they have won some rights including going to schools and colleges. Even this is not free of problems in many Muslim countries. In Afghanistan even today Taliban burn their schools and throw acid if they do not cover themselves from head to foot. In tribal areas of Pakistan in North-West same fate is in store for women. In Saudi Arabia too they have won some rights after a great deal of struggle and still their problems are enormous.

Though the present king is more enlightened and is encouraging modern education for women but situation is far from satisfactory. Women cannot drive car, cannot go alone from home, cannot do their own business and representation of women in work force is just 17 per cent. They have to cover themselves from head to foot while going out. They cannot vote in municipal elections.  

In many Muslim countries also the above situation is not very different. Hijab is purely cultural and has not even been mentioned in Qur’an, let alone been made obligatory. Yet hijab is being enforced more and more in all Muslim countries. It is not a healthy sign. Muslim societies are highly patriarchal. There are very few women who can make independent decisions and can assert rights over their own bodies and affairs. 

Qur’an again is the first scripture which gave them not only equal rights but also liberated them from man’s authority and made her absolutely independent a legal and individual entity fully autonomous in every respect.  But in entire Muslim world women have failed to achieve such a status. On the contrary women are utterly dependent on man’s authority and they can hardly exercise any independent authority.

There is, therefore, a great need for liberation of women in the Muslim world and giving them freedom, individuality and dignity granted to them by the Qur’an and our rhetoric should match our practice. If our women do not progress our community cannot. We must realize that women are half the population and by keeping half the population backward how can the entire community progress.  Many Muslim women have shown they are great achievers and when given opportunities they do not lag behind. Thus if we give them their rights and full freedom, a great potential of energy pent up so far will be released and Muslim ummah will be in for great achievements.

Democracy and human rights

Like our record on women’s status the record on democracy and human rights is equally woeful. There is lack of democracy in Muslim countries except a few countries. It is because of such lack of democracy that ignorant scholars maintain that there is no place for democracy in Islam or that Islam and democracy are antagonistic. Far from it. There is nothing in Islamic teachings which can go against democracy. Islam is as democratic as any religion can or cannot be.

In fact it is feudal culture and feudal authority inherited by Islamic world that keeps democracy out of Islamic world. And western imperialism and its interests are more responsible for this than Islam. The western countries have kept feudal rulers in power in most of the Muslim countries to serve their own oil interest. Regimes are highly oppressive and violate elementary human and democratic rights of their citizens. When this happens in regimes supported by America they conveniently overlook and launch propaganda offensive if the regime happens to be defiant of the western interests. 

The best examples are from Iraq and Iran. Both countries have defied US interests and authority in the region and America sent its troops to Iraq on the false pretext of possessing ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and destroyed the whole country killing more than half a million of its innocent citizens. US is also sworn enemy of Iran though it can hardly do to Iran what it could to Iraq for a number of reasons.

Apart from serving American interests the Muslim world has to see that authoritarianism does not thrive in Muslim world and democracy and human rights are ensured to its citizens and they can live with full dignity. It is high time Muslim world overthrew all authoritative regimes or that kings and sheikhs become only nominal heads and power goes into the hands of people.

All that has been suggested above is possible to achieve only when there are democratic regimes responsible and accountable to their people. Today in many Middle Eastern countries any protest is still put down ruthlessly. This is highly undesirable. America forgets all its obligations to human rights and democracy where and when this suits it.

Intra-religious unity

There are very sharp sectarian divisions among Muslims throughout the world though again here also there is empty rhetoric of unity of ummah. We would like to suggest that Muslims must put pressure on their leaders to sit down and talk to followers of other sects in the spirit of dialogue and promote unity at one level while adhering to ones belief with full freedom, on the other.

It is minimum requirement to cease the violent and physical attacks as it is happening in the Muslim world today especially in Pakistan. Pakistan, unfortunately has become a battle ground for such sectarian fights due to powerful interests involved. Even mutual polemics must stop forthwith denouncing each other as kafirs. In India, as a democratic and secular country, all Muslim sects coexist: peacefully, though occasional denunciations do take place.

Thus if democratic and human rights culture develops in the Muslim world, intra-religious differences can also be minimized and peaceful coexistence can become possible. This can be further ensured with modern education and rational outlook. As suggested above the whole madrasa culture also has to change and moderation and tolerance of mutual differences should be made integral part of madrasa education.

One can say what has been suggested above is a dream. Yes, apparently it is but one has to begin in the right earnest to achieve all this over a fixed period of time. Otherwise we will always remain lackeys of some or the other power in the world and moreover would never be able to fulfill our commitment to Qur’an and Islam. We will never become achievers but tools for others achievements.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 December 2011 on page no. 29

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