VOL. 29 . NO.03. march 2016
journel of socialist thought and action

The Missing Introspection A Critique Of Current Muslim Approaches A Review

I wish to thank Sultan Shahin, who has published this book, for opening up a new vista about Islam and Muslim Indians for people like me. 'The Missing Introspection - A Critique of Current Muslim Approaches - The way forward' is a compilation of lectures Mr. Shahin has given at various UN and other forums on human rights and religious freedom etc. There are also a few of his articles in this book. Most important of these being last chapter that tries to offer a syncretic view of Islam vis-à-vis Hindu traditions wherein he quotes copiously both from Vedic wisdom, Sufism and Quran.

Frankly speaking all the beautiful or ugly that I had read so far about Islam was from secondary sources. To read from a scholar and a devout Muslim has helped me understand different aspects of Islam.

Sultan Shahin explains that 'Petrodollar Islam' has promoted Wahhabi and Salafist view of Quran and Hadees and this is the root cause of radicalization of Muslims across world. He quotes from books taught in Madrassas being funded by petrodollars that brainwash young minds with worse form of bigotry in the name of Islam. He is unsparing in his criticism of perpetrators of 'Islamo-fascism' in the name of Islam that he strives hard to portray as religion of peace and brotherhood. He asserts that Arab supremacist ideas are feeding Islamophobia.

Thus, it is a book not only for Muslims but also others who wish to understand struggle within Muslim world to take Islam out of clutches of Islamo-fascists nurtured by Petrodollar Islam.

Due to limited space, I will just underline his major submissions -

  1. Quran is not an uncreated book: Quran is a created book that progressed with march of events. It is a divine revelation that was received by Prophet Mohammed over 23 years as he faced various situations in life and when he faced adverse situation arising out of attack on young faith of Islam propagated by him as the word of Allah. It is not a copy of original lying secure in lauh-e-mahfooz safe in heavens, which means most of its contextual, war-time verses are not applicable to Muslims today, except those that advocate shunning aggression.
  2. Revelations of Quran can be broadly divided into two periods of Prophet's life - his stay in Mecca where he propagated Islam as a religion of peace and brotherhood to his people fighting each other. Second part of revelations belongs to the period when he had to fight for survival of young Islam and protect his faithful followers. Muslims were allowed to defend themselves by picking up sword 13 years after Quranic revelations began. This was a violent part hence revelations support violence to protect Islam and wage war against infidels or enemies of Islam. 
  3. His second contention is that only Quran can be treated as holy revelation, not Hadees. Hadees are based on stories about life of Prophet Muhammad collected and produced up to 300 years after his death. These cannot be treated as Holy Scripture to be followed in Toto. The Prophet's life and lectures were product of that time and civilization of Arabia where he lived. It cannot be transposed onto Muslims living in different civilizations and geographies, of say India or Indonesia. 
  4. His third argument is that Shariah was codified much later and, apart from some verses of Quran, it was largely based on jurisprudence practised in Arabia of that time; so, it cannot be sacred or unalterable. Shariah codification has been done throughout Islamic history. Present form has source in the codification done 120 years after Prophet's demise in Umayyad and then later in Abbasid era. It has to be in tune with civilization where Islam is being practised. Shariah has been rightly modified in Muslim countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia in keeping with local conditions. One cannot have 1400 year-old systems forced onto modern societies in different parts of the world. 

Sultan Shahin goes on to quote well recognised authorities on Islam and argue his case about modifying Islam as it is being practised today. He believes that if radicalization of Muslims is to be stopped it can be done mainly on the basis of above three premises.

He has rightly pointed out both so called Islamophobes and ISIS kind of people of different hues quote same Verses of Quran or narrations of Hadees without reference to their context, so people cannot be blamed for taking a negative view of Islam as broadcast by extremist and violent groups.

He reminds his fellow brothers that there were hostile conditions 1400 years back in arid deserts of Arabia. It is very important to keep this reference to context when Prophet exhorted his followers to kill enemies. Unless the followers of Islam decide to modify their world-view vis-à-vis other civilizations and religions they cannot really claim not to be what they are accused of being.

He contends that extremists feel they are still fighting early seventh century battles of Badr and Uhud. They should come out of this mentality and stop dreaming of that scenario. He goes on to stress that Muhammad never picked sword for conquest but only to defend his faith when there was no other alternative. These war-time verses must not be taken literally and used to justify violence today. He submits that parts of Islam that teach brotherhood, peace and tolerance to other faiths must be highlighted and adopted more vigorously by followers of Islam.

He notes that silence of majority of Muslims over destruction of precious Islamic heritage, most prominently in Saudi Arabia is 'overwhelming'. He questions the right of Muslims' to claim religious freedom when they don't speak up against religious persecution of other religious minorities in Islamic nations.

Muslims demand not only Shariah where they are in simple majority but now even where they are in a minority. None has agreed except India so far and now UK in a small way. We can see consequences of such ghettoization in UK as well as in India. Wahabi Salafists are discouraging logical debate in their Madrassas, whether in Pakistan or UK. Reports from UK about radicalization of youth through Madrassas are alarming.

Sultan Shahin reminds readers that Prophet Muhammad set up a secular state. Medina was declared a nation state, not a religious state. Whole multi-religious population was called Ummah not only Muslims as done now. All religious groups, for instance, Jews, followed their own religious laws (i.e. Shariah). Islam is not exclusivist but preaches peaceful living with others. He quotes authoritatively from Quran to prove his point.

Sultan Shahin tries valiantly to spell out how Muslim Indians need to think or follow clear thoughts propagated by truly moderate Muslims. Muslims of India can play a role in bringing together Sunnis and Shias he feels as they have lived together most peacefully here as compared to other countries. Muslims need to promote debate within community to establish the Quranic ideal that killing even one innocent is like killing humanity. He asks them to come out of and fight victimhood mentality and conspiracy theories being fostered by exclusivist Wahhabi theology and propaganda.

Another point he makes forcefully is that Hindus are people of book (ahl-e-kitab) mentioned in Quran in God's own words. So, Muslims must live peacefully with them, like all other people of book. Repeatedly stresses tolerance of allowing followers practice their religion. He cites example of Prophet Muhammad allowing visiting Christians to offer prayers in his own mosque.

Quran tells us that there were 1,24,000 prophets before Muhammad and asks its followers to respect all of them equally. Though Prophet asks all people following these prophets to be treated as Ahl-e-kitab, Wahhabi-Salafists now treat all others as Kafirs even if they are ahl-e-kitab, leading to blood and mayhem.

A chapter towards end of the book talks of parallels between Vedic thoughts and Islam starting from concept of One God (advaita) that both follow. He then quotes various Hindu scriptures - Vedas, Upanishads and modern Rishis and from Sufis to show how two world views can be synthesised. He talks of a spiritual symbiosis between the two great religions. He quotes Swami Vivekanan who had wished for a new India with a Hindu soul and with a body of Islam and laments why we cannot take that syncretic path.

I have always wondered how a moderate Muslim thinks and responds to intolerant scenario in our society, on one side created by their own brethren who have closed minds and resent majority; on the other side support or lack of it from Hindus around them.

In fact, such questions also come to my mind when I see wonderful young Muslim full timers or volunteers of organizations like ABVP or BJP that are closely associated with Sangh, or those who interact closely with RSS workers or work in RSS. How does their own society react to them? Not an easy life, I am sure.

I feel Christians have less of a problem as there is no Wahabi ideology promoting extremist violent thoughts. Some of the Churches here have grown out of Vatican shadows and become Indian Church. Resentment against Christians is more to do with evangelism practised by many groups who treat India and Hindus as harvesting fields. Reasons being that primary source of modernism as we see it and practice comes from Western Christian countries.

Will moderate Muslims be able to have their way and come up with an Indian version of Islam like Indonesia did years back that is synthesis of 'respect for all faiths' and their own monotheism? That adopts Ramayana with as much ease as it practices Islam. Will they be able to establish a softer version of Islam that highlights the peaceful side of Quran but shuns the violent part; something Christians did with modification of Bible to suite new age and modification of world view in changing world? Or will they be brow beaten or silenced by vocal orthodox followers who are in a minority but rule with powerful backing of vested interests of political parties masquerading under mask of secularism.

I look forward to talk to more friends in Muslim community someday who are against extremism and feel as Indian as any other Indian to understand them better and try to understand how they can feel more empowered and close to the mainstream Indian society. I also hope that we as majority community will stop treating all Muslims with cynicism and give space to Muslims who truly believe in universal values of religious freedom and human rights. Let India have more Sultan Shahins and Tufail Ahmads.

Articles published in this book are also available on the website created and promoted by Sultan Shahin - www.newageislam.org. Source: News Bharati English23 Mar 2016

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