Muslims and Dialogue

Dialogue between people of different faiths is a pressing necessity. Yet, relatively few dialogue initiatives have been launched by Muslims. This is because Muslims, generally speaking, don’t believe in building bridges with non-Muslims in religious matters. They believe in converting them. And there is a deep-seated sense of superiority over people belonging to other faiths. Therefore, by and large, they don’t like to enter into bridge-building religious dialogues.

Many traditional ulema or religious scholars don’t think dialogue with non-Muslims is the way out. Some of them believe in either conquering non-Muslim lands through Jihad as the solution to the problem or preaching to convert them. They do, however, agree that no one is to be forced to accept Islam.

The fact is that our ulema do not consider speaking to non-Muslims with a view to coming close to them as a priority. Moreover, few of our religious scholars have any social contact with non-Muslims. And of these few people, hardly any might genuinely wish to learn about their religions so as to understand their point of view sympathetically. Lamentably, a feeling of superiority, which leads to looking down on others, is the most significant factor in causing this lack of enthusiasm in Muslims coming closer to non-Muslims.

In this regard, I’d like to suggest some changes in conventional Muslim perceptions of others. Firstly, a genuine study of the Qur’anic verses and Hadith reports, which will help in creating true respect for non-Muslims—there are many such verses and reports that stress genuine respect for others. Alongside this, an earnest attempt should be made to clarify the era-specific context-specific nature of Quranic verses and Hadith reports that might seem to give an impression that non-Muslims are not worthy of respect. Also, other religions must be taught in madrasas, where the ulema are trained, to open the minds of the students to have a more accommodating attitude towards non-Muslims. Yet another step that would help in building bridges would be to invite non-Muslim scholars to teach courses on their respective faiths in madrasas.

In the name of dialogue, some Muslim groups seek to rebut and criticize other religions and point out the errors in their scriptures and belief systems. Some try to prove other religions as inferior and mock them.They see this as one of the purposes of dialogue. The question is: Is this compatible with the spirit of dialogue? Can this be called dialogue at all or is it simply inter-religious polemics?

In my opinion, the purpose of dialogue should be to present positively one’s own view with arguments and clarify one’s position in response to questions and criticisms raised by others. Whether one’s faith is superior or not should be left to individuals to infer from the presentation. There is no need to directly target the views of others. That is what I think the Qur’anic expectation in this verse demands: “Invite towards the path of your Lord with wisdom, pleasant instructions, and debate with them in a good manner.” (16:125)

I think clarifying one’s faith in response to questions raised by people belonging to other faiths is natural. However, it needs to be done in a decent, academic way. If differences are not discussed in an academic way, the impact it has on people of other faiths is indeed negative. They feel insulted, and rightly so. An insulting rebuttal to the faith of a believer is very unlikely to bring him closer to the views of the one who is rebutting his beliefs. It doesn’t truly help in promoting better relations between Muslims and others.

It is not just in the field of interfaith or inter-religious dialogue that Muslims are, by and large, quite inactive. There are hardly any efforts among Muslims to promote dialogue among themselves, too—between different sects and schools of thought among Muslims, even though the Qur’an gives great stress to the unity of believers. This has happened because even though the Qur’an is the most frequently read book for Muslims, it is not studied in a way that it is given the status of the text that enjoys ultimate religious authority. Sectarian literature of scholars and ahadith that support the views of one sect or another enjoy a higher status than the Qur’an in practical life for the traditional Muslims.

This situation has occurred because Muslims believe that the Qur’an is too difficult to be understood directly and therefore they need the support of their scholars and hadith reports to understand it. Unless Muslim scholars and intelligent non-scholars decide that the Qur’an has to be the ultimate criterion for them in all religious matters, it will not be possible for Muslims to relate properly with fellow Muslims and with non-Muslims.

That said, in the present atmosphere, when Islam and Muslims are much demonized because of ongoing violence involving Muslims and others, often wrongly in the name of Islam, it is very heartening to note that some Muslims have become more aware of the need to engage in dialogue. I think the situation is ripe for Muslims to wake up and undergo a process of reformation in their religious thinking.

I can see three trends in the Muslim intelligentsia at the moment: a worrying movement away from religion; an equally worrying trend towards religious extremism; and a realization that Islam needs to be understood properly. The third possibility is likely to be effective only if a critical mass of Muslim intelligentsia lends their full support to the efforts undertaken by some scholars who are inviting Muslims to understand Islam on the basis of the Qur’an.

The Good and the Evil of the Militants

Why is the Pakistani Society ambivalent about the militants? The fact is that a large number of Pakistanis see Taliban doing what they think are some extremely good and some extremely bad things which cause them to not be able to decide whether they are on the balance a blessing or an evil. A brief analysis of the two aspects of them would help in understanding the real problem many Pakistani Muslims are going through in their minds.

Most of the Pakistani Muslims have formed an idea through their religious learning of what a good Muslim is. They see in the extremist militants living examples of what a devout Muslim should be like, both in appearance and religious commitment. While ordinary Pakistanis would like to be practicing Muslims themselves, saying their prayers regularly, leading a simple life, following God’s law completely, they find the ideal difficult to be achieved either because they are not strong enough or because their environment is not conducive or because of a combination of both reasons. While they see that they are struggling to come closer to the ideals of religion, Taliban are leading a very tough life following them to please their God. They conclude that they have no right to criticize the militants who have achieved a very high level of religiosity to which they can’t even imagine to come anywhere close.

The majority of ordinary Pakistani Muslims consider Jihad as an important part of the requirement of their faith. They are not very clear about what it entails but they vaguely know that it is a holy war that is fought against non-Muslims to achieve supremacy of Islam. While they are unsure of what the conditions of Jihad are, they don’t want to blame their Muslim brothers who have decided to put their lives at stake for it, supremacy of Islam, and dominance of Shari’ah law over the entire globe. Rather than criticize the militants for what they are sincerely doing even if their arguments are not fully clear, they want to quietly admire them.

Another merit they see in Taliban is that they aren’t hypocrites. Unlike many Pakistanis, they speak what they believe is the truth no matter what the consequences are. They are willing to lay down their lives for what they consider to be the truth. The Taliban also promise quick justice which ordinary Pakistanis don’t get in their society. It is an attractive slogan for a justice-starved nation which sees quick and genuine provision of it as a basic requirement of an Islamic society.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the situation that confuses many Pakistanis is that while Taliban always quote Qur’an and Hadith to justify their acts, Pakistani politicians, journalists, and even scholars are either avoiding to present any religious arguments or even if they are doing it, they are not as clear and to the point as Taliban are. Since these sources are considered the right way leading to the true understanding of our religion, their commitment to the cause of Islam appears to be far more impressive than that of the rest. Even if they are making mistakes of interpretation and judgment, they still don’t deserve condemnation and annihilation, especially when the ones they are fighting with seem no where close to them in their religious commitment.

However, the Taliban have another side of them as well which is what makes Pakistani Muslims not fully convinced that they are genuine representatives of Islam.

One huge problem with the Taliban is their disrespect for human life. Their inhuman, barbaric, and beastly attitude towards human life is what threatens to wash away every aspect of their apparent virtue. Killing innocent people on the basis of irrelevant, unconvincing arguments and disrespecting corpses has become such a norm for them that a common Muslim feels disgusted and wary of their existence. The fact that they cause innocent minds to be brainwashed to resort to suicide bombing is a further evidence of their disrespect for human life. Their barbaric acts make a mockery of their ideology. They have in fact caused rewards of the paradise to be mentioned as a joke by some people who quite often see those rewards mentioned as the motivation behind their insane acts.

The brand of Islam they have presented is so impractical and rigid that it has become very difficult for a common, intelligent Muslim to associate himself with it. Women seem invisible in their societies. Education of girls seems to threaten their sense of dignity. Extreme punishments of Shari’ah which were meant to be given in an ideal society where inclination to do evil was minimal are inflicted by them after following a very shady investigation process. Music and images of living beings are not allowed by them even though Hadith condemned only their evil aspects. Their leaders destroyed statues in Bamyan, Afghanistan even though the companions of the prophet didn’t touch the religious statues of the places they invaded.

Another ugly aspect of the Taliban is their unbending attitude. Whenever they would appear on media it would seem that discussion with them is not getting through anywhere. They seem to have made up their mind on the matters they deem are their ideals. If Qur’an and Hadith are presented to them from the other side, they have a ready, firm answer already prepared with them. They consider all religious views other than their own untenable, worthy of condemnation, and heretic.

Indeed one of the biggest problems of Taliban is that they are not prepared to see the point of view of others if it is different from what they have already learned. This one problem has caused them to be highly stubborn in their approach. However, one can’t blame just the Taliban for showing that approach. Most religious people of our society are afflicted with it. In the case of Taliban however the evil of this irrational religious approach has gone beyond acceptable limits which is worrying religious Pakistanis, even though they themselves are unmistakable models of it at less damaging levels.

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Avoiding Extra-Marital Sex: Two Extreme Views

It seems to me that societies are prominently divided in the manner they choose to arrange interaction between men and women to a large extent on the basis of how they deal with the question of extra-marital sex. There are societies which are overly relaxed about the question and there are others that are exaggeratedly rigid. The end result are two hugely different arrangements which are primarily based on their attitude towards this important consideration.

There is one society which either believes extra-marital sex is a matter of personal choice and not an evil at all or even if it is, it is a small matter. People belonging to this society are quite carefree in the manner they dress up, the way men and women greet, talk to, and behave with each other. A man deals with a woman, whether his wife or not, in almost the same way. Most certainly, some men and women are more careful than others but even those who are, they do it as a matter of personal choice, and they consider it a personal matter of those who are not careful. Physical relationship between a man and a woman whether between husband and wife or others is not a serious matter to be even talked about. They believe there are other more important matters in life than this petty one. To show that they are quite relaxed about this matter, they have gatherings where couples dance wherein a husband of one woman pairs up with a wife of another man. And life goes on for them merrily.

There is another society which belongs to the other extreme. The possibility of extra-marital sex is so seriously dreaded that it is made almost impossible for men and women to meet each other except if they are very close relatives. If women appear before others, one can only see a human-like structure, fully wrapped from head to toe in clothes. Human vulnerability on the face of weakness of sex is so seriously feared that no chances are taken. The kind of social life that results as a consequence of this attitude is based on same-gender interaction: Men interact with men and women with women. Family life too is confined to meeting only the male relatives with whom marriage of women isn’t legally allowed: father, brothers, and uncles. If conditions of intermingling are going to be relaxed, it is feared, the end result would be a society ridden with extra-marital sex. Quite often when people belonging to the first group become religious, they immediately adopt the ways of the second group, taking a complete u-turn, fearing the inevitable if they would compromise on anything less.

In one society consideration of chastity is compromised for social life while in the other social life is compromised for chastity. Going by their attitudes it seems that a balance between the two considerations is not possible. If you want to achieve one goal, you will have to sacrifice the other.

Thankfully, there is a third society which is equally concerned about both considerations: leading a meaningful and rich social life and taking measures of avoiding all forms of obscenity leading to extra-marital sex. It is a society that functions according to the principles mentioned in Qur’anic verses 24: 30-31 and 58-61. People meet each other, whether relatives or friends, they are mindful of how they dress up, they are careful about the manner they look at others, but they are also concerned that life should be led in a normal manner. One doesn’t need to abandon worldly engagements to achieve self-purification and salvation in the hereafter. One needs to be disciplined in the manner one operates and be clean at heart.

While one society is a poor advertisement of liberalism which decent humans can’t join the other one gives a scary picture of religiosity which repels people instead of attracting them. God wants humans to lead a normal life of decency.

War Against Militant Islam- the Ideological Frontiers

It all started in 1979 when the then Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. The US, the rival superpower, engaged the local traditional Muslims and many others who volunteered from outside Afghanistan to fight the invading army to throw them out. In the process they trained the local people in the art of modern military warfare, equipped them with military hardware, and called them the Afghan fighters of the holy war (Afghan Mujahidin). The US achieved its purpose of ousting USSR from Afghanistan culminating in the collapse of the Soviet empire. Both parties, the US and Afghan Mujahidin, were supremely confident that since they had defeated a super power, they had become invincible. In this war, they were ably supported by Pakistan who provided them the ideology, the manpower and the training ground for these Mujahidin.

The Afghan Mujahidin did not fight the Soviet army for the love of Americans. Their fight was a holy war for them which had its roots in their religious narrative that urged them to fight non-Muslim enemies until the entire globe was conquered for establishing the political authority of Islam. Not long after the collapse of Soviet Union, the Taliban established the first model of what they thought was the ideal Islamic state in accordance with their narrative. When a group of people caused 9/11 to happen and the US invaded Afghanistan on the plea that the alleged chief instigator, Osama bin Laden, was given protection by the Taliban government, the religious narrative was challenged. The Taliban took it as a further opportunity to realize their ideal. From then on, they are fighting, going by their religious understanding, the Kafir Americans who conquered their land and destroyed the Islamic regime in Afghanistan. Their first goal is to oust the Americans from Afghanistan and the next, bigger one, is to convert the entire globe into an Islamic state by invading it through Jihad (holy war). The fallout of that war in Pakistan is not coincidental. TTP is the Pakistani version of the group inspired by the same ideology.

The narrative the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani counterparts are striving to realize is taught in the religious seminaries of Pakistan in a way that the Muslim world is described as Darul-Islam (or Darul-Salam, the land of peace) and the rest as Darul-Harb (the land of war). This war will continue according to the narrative until all territories of the world are subjugated and made Darul-Islam. A similar narrative was forcefully presented by Mawlana Maududi and his followers and Dr Israr Ahmad in the later half of the twentieth century. They quoted verses after verses from the Qur’an to show that the purpose of a believer’s life in this world was to ensure supremacy of God’s law over the entire globe. His task would remain incomplete until that goal is realized. Neither of them wanted their narrative to be realized through military adventurism of such devastating proportions as the TTP is doing. In fact, Jama’at e Islami decided after the creation of Pakistan to achieve that goal democratically. Dr Israr Ahmad resigned from the Jama’at in protest, declaring it as a deviation from the ideal Mawlana Maududi himself presented. No matter what these scholars had in mind, military adventurism of the Taliban has its ideological roots in their works.

The soldiers who are fighting for TTP are therefore convinced that what they are doing is the noblest of the causes their religion has taught them. They are engaged in a holy war (Jihad). But the narrative is not believed in by the Taliban alone. A substantial number of religious Pakistanis are influenced by the same approach. The non-combatant sympathizers are put off sometimes by the barbaric killing of the innocent civilians by the Taliban. Many of them also disagree with suicide bombing as a tactic for achieving this goal. Some also dispute their strategy of achieving their end by fighting fellow Muslims. But the ideal of ensuring supremacy of Islamic law one way or the other is shared by many as an undisputed ideal.

The war against the Taliban is therefore not going to be a simple affair. It has both military and ideological dimensions. The latter too has to be fought resolutely by presenting convincing arguments to show that the concept of Darul Harb is absurd, dangerous, and un-Islamic. It needs to be clarified that the battles fought against the non-believers at the time of the Prophet alaihissalam were mostly divine punishments for the people who rejected the messenger of God despite knowing him to be the true representative of God. The Qur’anic verses referring to those battles have nothing to do with later times. It also needs to be clarified that the task of introducing Islamic Shari’ah is not the direct responsibility of the masses. The elected representatives need to introduce it through mutual consultation. Muslims need to be convincingly reminded that fighting against Muslim rulers is not Jihad (a holy war); instead, it is fasad fil ard (mischief on earth). And above all, they should be made to realize that killing one soul is as big a crime as killing the entire humanity. Arguments for all these ideas are firmly rooted in the Qur’an.

If the outcome of the war against TTP is to be positive, it will have to be fought as much on the ideological frontier as it needs to be fought on the military front. No army can fight a war convincingly if it is fighting an enemy who enjoys considerable sympathies of many of its own soldiers and civilians.

Two Examples of Forgiveness

Magnanimity which includes forgiving others ranks at the very top of all human virtues. If you are magnanimous you are one of the very best of humans no matter what your worldly status is. If you are someone who carries grudges in his heart against others you are a very ordinary person no matter how seemingly virtuous your deeds are. All prophets were magnanimous. We Muslims take pride in mentioning magnanimity of our prophet and rightly so. He forgave his worst enemies many times. If there are examples of him punishing the non-believers, they belong to the category of God’s instructions which he had to follow. A careful reading of the Qur’an gives a clear picture of his magnanimity, God’s concern for justice, and the manner the two realities interacted with each other.

I am mentioning two living examples of two non-Muslim couples, one Jew and one Christian, whose magnanimity surpasses my imagination of what lofty heights this virtue can attain in human beings. To me these two examples are worthy of being acknowledged and wholeheartedly praised by us even if they are not possible to be followed. Acknowledging an act as good many a times opens the way for doing it later.

Daniel Pearl was a journalist who was brutally murdered and butchered in the most barbaric way by the people who called themselves Jihadi Muslims. I had the misfortune of watching the video showing that ghastly act. The Jew parents of the late journalist responded to this tragedy by making it a lifetime project of their of promoting Jewish-Muslim understanding through dialogue. Daniel Pearl Foundation continues to work with Muslim scholars to bridge the unfortunate divide between the two religious communities. Professor S. Ahmad has been associated with them in their noble endeavours. What an act of magnanimity! What a revenge! You can read more about it here:

Many Muslims make it a point to ensure that they convince others that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy. Some of us have always been good at distorting history. But there was a repeat of 9/11 in London underground railway in 2005 which is described as 7/7. The fact that it was masterminded and executed by Muslims is beyond doubt. One of the victims of that tragedy was the twenty-eight years old chartered accountant, Helen Jones, the daughter of a devout Christian couple, Mr and Mrs David Gould. I had the pleasure of meeting this down-to-earth couple a few months ago. The Muslim lady who introduced me to them mentioned that it is now one of the lifetime projects of the couple to promote the cause of Muslims, the very religious group whose members were responsible for taking the life of their dear daughter! She informed me that at times when they have been approached to help out Muslims financially, they have been spontaneous in their response. See to have a glimpse of it:

Can we imagine Muslims doing likewise to Christians and Jews? My head drops in shame when I ask myself this question.

The best example of a Muslim father doing likewise is that of Tariq Jahan who appealed to the protesters who were threatening riots on the murder of his son Haroon Jahan in August, 2011 in Birmingham, telling them: “Why do we have to kill one another? Why do we have to do this? Step forward if you want to kill your sons. Otherwise, go home — please.”

It was indeed a brave gesture from a devastated father. It would have been a great contribution if someone would have taken the initiative at that time to let both Muslims and non-Muslims know from the teachings of the Qur’an how God wants all humans to be treated alike and how far removed from Qur’anic teachings are the views of those Muslims who create hatred against non-Muslims. That project is awaiting an initiative from a Muslim even now to match the efforts of the parents Daniel Pearl and Helen Jones.

Sectarian Scourge

Originally published in Dawn

SECTS are created when people begin to develop differences in beliefs and practices and these become so strong as to demand distinct identities.

Whenever members of a religious group hold their views simply because their religious leaders hold them and no evidence is demanded in support of them, a religious sect has appeared.

The Quran condemns sectarianism in strong words. God tells the Prophet (PBUH) “As for those who have created schisms in their order, and formed different sects, you have no concern with them. Their affair is with God. He will tell them the truth of what they were doing” (6:159). In God’s eyes, it is a crime to be involved in sectarianism. He urges all Muslims to “Hold on firmly together to the rope of God, and be not divided among yourselves. …” (3:103). He enjoins Muslims to come together as brothers.

Sectarianism has several causes, some of the more prominent of which are mentioned in the Quran. The main reason seems to be extreme attachment to religious personalities. Such individuals are revered to such an extent that whatever they believed in, whatever they said or did, is often considered to be the final word.

Asking questions of an elder who professes to be a religious individual may be tantamount to sacrilege. When people follow their own religious leaders to such extremes, they do not listen to any other point of view, and their perspective is likely to be clouded by emotions.

Such a phenomenon is not restricted to Muslims only. When God sent his messengers one after the other, essentially carrying the same message, the idea was that people would accept those messengers too who came later. God made some messengers different, or superior, to others in some ways.

As a consequence, people who followed these messengers were so impressed with them that they refused to follow any others. They disputed and fought with each other, despite the fact that each messenger had brought the same message. The fact was they had become completely besotted with the personality of the messenger whom they accepted first, and their own ego thereafter played a role in not allowing them to listen to any other message.

Another main reason for sectarianism to flourish is exaggeration. People exaggerate the virtues of their beliefs and practices, and downplay and even badmouth other beliefs to the extent that strong prejudices for and against are created and no one is ready to listen to and reflect on an alternative point of view. God requires people to “… not exaggerate in your religious matters unjustifiably, and follow not the wishes of a people who had erred before, and led many others astray. …” (5:77)

Sectarianism is carried so far that people begin to declare those who differ from them kafir, and at times even begin to believe that killing them is a religious deed. This is the biggest crime in Islam, for it is not only murder, but it is murder in the name of Islam, and those who commit this crime also commit the audacity to take upon themselves the task that belongs to God only.

The solution to sectarianism lies in taking a rational view of what religious people say, always searching for the truth, and letting go of what may or may not have happened in the past. The Quran says: “Those were the people who have passed away, theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds” (2:134).

The Quran also asks us not to force our views on others. “There is no compulsion in matters of faith. …” (2:256). Others should not be coerced, directly or indirectly, into accepting a belief or a practice to which their hearts and minds do not relate.

When we speak about others, we should not use abusive or insulting language: “Do not revile those who invoke others apart from God. …” (6:108).

If all sects decide that all are Muslims, despite their minor differences, and vow to discuss their views politely and with mutual respect, sectarianism may well be eliminated altogether.

Ironically, one of the important reasons proposed to justify sectarianism is a hadith which says that the Muslim ummah shall be divided into 73 sects, all except one of which are doomed. The sect promised salvation shall be the one that will follow the Prophet and his companions.

Many sects present this hadith to claim they are the ones who have been promised salvation. In truth, the hadith is condemning the same evil that the Quran condemned: sectarianism. The only group of Muslims who were free from even a shadow of sectarianism were the companions of the Prophet. They were known by no other name except Muslims.

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Hostility to Vaccine

Originally published in Dawn

SOME people in our country are campaigning against polio vaccination on the basis of apparently religious reasons. It is important, therefore, that the reasons they are presenting are analysed on religious grounds to see if they are valid.

Two reasons are often presented: the campaign is a conspiracy of the non-Muslim world against Muslims to check their population growth by making their future generations impotent and infertile. It is said that Dr Shakeel Afridi’s fake hepatitis campaign has lent further credence to this theory.

The other religious argument presented is that the disability of polio-stricken children is ordained by God as a test for a Muslim, one that he should face with patience.

Both arguments have apparent merits for gullible followers of religious leaders who the former rely on completely for spiritual guidance. Both should therefore receive a proper response if the anti-polio campaign is to succeed in our country.

As far as the conspiracy theory goes, the Holy Quran has suggested a clear solution to it which all believing Muslims must follow.

While talking about rumours spread by mischief-mongers during the time of the Prophet (PBUH), the Quran suggested this strategy: “Whenever these people receive information regarding peace or threat, they spread it across. Had they presented it before the Messenger and the ones in authority among them, those who have the ability to get to the truth of the matter would have verified it. …” (4:83).

In other words, the Quran is suggesting that if there is disturbing information circulating in society relevant to collective matters, it must be verified by the rulers through experts in the field.

That is exactly what should be done in response to the apprehensions that are being expressed regarding the polio vaccination.

A team of experts in the field of medicine should be appointed by the government to look into the question of fake vaccination campaigns. To make the exercise credible, the government should have at least one member in the inquiry committee who enjoys the confidence of the clergy.

And it should be made known to everyone that the task is being done exactly in accordance with Quranic guidance. Once the report of the commission is made public, every Pakistani shall be bound to follow the decision of the government which will decide on the matter in light of the report.

As for the reason that this life is a trial and therefore we must face its difficulties as such, the truth is that the trial does not require us to be casual about our well-being and security. God expects us to do our bit as best as we can to protect ourselves from the dangers to our life and health and then trust Him. The Prophet said to a person who did not tie his camel, leaving it in God’s care: “Tie it and then trust God.”

The Quran mentions the fact that God has arranged for certain elements to cure diseases in nature. If polio is a threat to the healthy body, God desires that we should benefit from all scientific discoveries human beings have made to counter it. Doing so will very much be consistent with the will of God.

It also needs to be emphasised that the Quran makes it binding on the believer to obey the rulers. “Believers, obey God, obey the Messenger, and those in authority among you. …” (4:59).

Religious leaders should not be allowed any authority to block a campaign which is approved by parliament and implemented by the executive. Parliament legislates on the basis of the Islamic principle of consultation (42:38). The executive implements the decisions on the basis of the authority they enjoy from God mentioned in 4:59.

God-fearing Muslims are under obligation to obey both divine rulings. If they have to say anything against the decision of parliament and the executive, they can influence parliament by presenting their arguments or have recourse to the judiciary which would satisfy the condition of the second part of 4:59, which says “…If you dispute in any matter, then refer it back to God and His Messenger. …”

The result of the phenomenon of blind following of scholars in religious matters is that numerous mini-states within the state have emerged. The common man follows his religious leaders instead of the state authority whenever he is convinced that the matter under consideration is religious in nature and the state authority should have no say in deciding about what God and His Messenger have already decided.

The real solution to the problems like the one we are facing in the form of challenge to the polio vaccination drive lies in establishing the state’s authority over all its citizens.


Definition of a Shaheed

Published in the Dawn on 22 December, 2013.

THE word ‘shaheed’ has assumed a common place in the lingua franca of the subcontinent, particularly of Pakistan, often used as part of the name of the deceased who has been killed in pursuit of an honourable cause, or in an accident.

More recently, it has assumed greater significance and created even more confusion in the minds of many, as it is being used for Hakeemullah Mehsud, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan commander who was recently killed in a US drone attack.

Some religious and political leaders have proclaimed him a shaheed. Muslims and non-Muslims, in Pakistan and abroad, are questioning the meaning of the term. It is indeed an appropriate time to reflect a little more deeply on what we say publicly and the connotations our words may have, particularly in the religious sense.

The Quran uses the word and its variations (shaheed, shahid, shuhada) several times in its discourse. In ‘Surah Fath’, it addresses the Holy Prophet (PBUH) thus: “We have sent you as witness (shahid) of the truth, and harbinger of good news and a warner” (48:8).

The same expression has been used by God for the entire first generation of the companions of the Prophet in ‘Surah Baqarah’: “We have made you a (middle) people that you act as witness (shuhada) over man, and the Prophet as witness (shaheed) over you” (2:143).

The word is used for the entire ummah in several places in the Quran. In ‘Surah Nisa’, it says “O you who believe, be custodians of justice, witnesses (shuhada) for God. …” (135:4).

The word is used for one who is witness, of God and His religion. The term as used in the Quran implies that the one who is referred to as shaheed understands and comprehends God’s religion in the manner in which it should be, practises it, and is so clear in his actions and conduct that the rest of mankind sees him as a witness of God.

He spends his entire life being a witness to God’s teachings, and would easily give his life in pursuit of the same aim. He is so devoted to the true path that he would not hesitate to lay down his life in order to bear witness to his convictions.

As human beings pursue the path of spiritual purification and development, they achieve various levels of excellence. God describes these as those of the anbia, siddequin, shuhada and sualeheen. The four groups have been seen as people who are blessed by God.

In one verse of ‘Surah Aal Imran’ God refers to the word in the sense of those who have been killed in the battlefield: “…We alternate days of glory between men so that God may know those who believe, taking some as witness (shuhada) of truth from your ranks, for God does not like those who are unjust” (3:140).

Shahadat, as a status after death, is one of the highest honours, comparable to and categorised with that of siddiqiat and sualehiat. One must live one’s entire life according to the highest principles propounded by Islam and be prepared to lay down one’s life in a manner that testifies to the same principles. In that case, God may decide to include the person in the group of shaheeds.

There is ample evidence, therefore, in the Quran that the status of a shaheed is one to be bestowed on a Muslim by God alone, and not by fellow human beings.

As a word that has come to be used in an emotional sense, the matter takes on a different hue. In Urdu (and Hindi and Bengali), it is used to honour a person who is dead, in a war or an accident. The purpose is to soothe and provide some comfort to the bereaved, and is probably meant as a prayer to God.

It has no relationship with the actual, religious meaning and with what the Quran says. When we attach the term to the name of any dead person, the most we can expect is that we are praying to God to have mercy on him and to grant him the status of a shaheed.

We must also note that the word has crept into contemporary times and did not exist during the time of the Prophet. The best of men, whose lives were exemplary and who were martyred as well, have not been mentioned as shaheed following their names as frequently in the scholarly texts of the first few generations of Muslims.

Once we understand the context of the usage of the term, does it apply to Hakeemullah Mehsud, an individual who was known and who took responsibility for attacks that killed several innocent Muslims and non-Muslims? Giving a known criminal and offender a status of excellence at par to that of siddequin and sualeheen is self-contradictory and unfortunate.

People, especially those who present themselves as religious personalities, need to be careful in what they say, since their statements are too often taken to be representative of their religion.

The situation is worsened by the declaration that this has been done in retaliation against the US.

Let us remind ourselves once again of God’s message, where he instructs us to be careful, lest either our desires or our hatred stand in the way of justice. He says in ‘Surah Maida’: “…And do not let the hatred of a people … lead you to aggression. …” (5:2) and “…Do not let the hatred of a people deviate you from justice” (5:8).

In summary, no one should be called a shaheed. This judgment shall be made by God, on the Day of Judgement.

Qisas and Diyat Ordinance: Seeking the Spirit

It is generally believed that if the relatives of a murdered person wanted a compromise with the murderer, by forgiving him and demanding blood-money in compensation, the life of the murderer could be spared.

But the saga of Shahzeb’s murder case has prompted the confused and anxious Pakistani society to revisit the law of Qisas and Diyat (Q&D).

A startling fact in the story is the demeanour of Shahzeb’s killer who comes across as an arrogant, careless son of a filthy rich father. Despite the initial firm resolve of the parents of the deceased to get him punished for his crime, Shahzeb’s remorseless killer seems to be getting away with it, apparently because the law on Q&D seems to allow him to be spared.

There are two questions that arise while justifying the law: Why should someone who kills as blatantly as the young Jatoi be spared by the Islamic law, even when ordinarily the punishment for the crime is to kill the murderer? And if blood-money can spare a killer’s life, why should the poor be deprived of this opportunity?

The response of most scholars seems to suggest that, although the Q&D law is correct and a true reflection of God’s verdict on the issue, Shahzeb’s case should be treated differently. The alternative suggestion being that Jatoi should be declared guilty of creating mischief on earth and as a consequence be treated by a different law according to the verse 5:33 of the Quran, which stipulates capital punishment or banishing of the guilty.

There are however two problems ensuing from this suggestion. If left to the discretion of the judges to decide what case belongs to the category of mischief on earth, legislation with far-reaching consequences becomes vague and discretionary. The other problem is that the verse points to either merciless killing like stoning to death for the criminal or abandoned him to a different region. In one case it is more than ordinary killing, which no one seems to be demanding, and in the other it is either too lenient a punishment or unworkable for the present times. The solution seems to be an attempt at punishing Shahzeb’s killer according to the verdict of the public conscience without looking at what the text actually says.

The correct understanding in my opinion is what the religious scholar Ghamidi states: Even though the Quran allows the heirs of the deceased to forgive the murderer and receive blood money instead, this clemency clause is not a binding concession. The case of the law of punishment of murder is in a sense like the law of fasting during Ramadan. (Quran; 2: 178-185). The Quran discusses exemption for those who are taken ill or are on a journey from fasting during Ramadan and they can complete the number of 30 compulsory fasts later.

Everyone agrees that it is not compulsory for an individual to ‘not fast if he is on a journey or is taken ill’ but it is just an option. Likewise is the case of concession of sparing the life of a murderer on taking blood money.

It is a discretionary concession and not compulsory for the society to implement. The discretion must be exercised by the society and in this particular case by the judges. They will decide if the concession should be made available to the relatives of the deceased or not. The decision should be based on the question whether the murder was blatant, the killer showed any signs of remorse, and if the relatives of the deceased have a real interest in the life of the deceased.

This is a new understanding of the Quranic verse 2:178-179, presented for the first time by Ghamidi. Our traditional scholars do not validate any new understanding of the Quran because they believe that all authentic interpretation of the Quran has already been done earlier and Muslims in the present day need only to understand and implement what has already been interpreted. The truth of the matter is that the Quran is meant to be a source of guidance for mankind for all times to come and the act of reflecting upon the Quran is an ongoing process. After the Prophet (PBUH) no one is infallible. The process of understanding the true meaning of the Quranic text therefore must continue for ever. The question whether a certain interpretation is valid should not be based on the mere count of heads or time of interpretation. It should be based on pure merit of the quality of argument which claims to be the true reflection of the intent of the text.

As for the poor benefiting from the option of getting their lives spared after payment of blood money as well, the onus lies on the state to take responsibility to arrange payment for those who can’t avail the opportunity of paying blood money on their own. If their case deserves clemency and the relatives of the deceased are inclined to forgive, the amount should be provided by the public exchequer. In the earlier days such payments used to be made by the entire tribe (A’qila) to whom the accused belonged. The state should play the role of A’qila now for all its citizens who cannot negotiate nor afford the payment of blood money. Our parliament should ideally develop an appropriate legislation to this effect.

As appeared in DAWN


The Peshawar Incident

The ghastly act of suicide bombing that left more than eighty people dead in a church of Peshawar yesterday (September 22, 2013) is condemnable on several counts:

While a crime of taking one life is as condemnable in the eyes of God as killing the entire humanity, taking as many lives as were lost yesterday is an evil of unimaginable proportions. The fact that the time chosen for committing this crime was when people were involved in their Sunday worship is even more condemnable. God has mentioned in the Qur’an that the purpose of Jihad is to protect the places of worship (22:40); what these criminals have done is the very opposite of what God has desired. The prophet of God stated that if someone violates the rights of a citizen belonging to minorities in an Islamic state where the law protects their rights, he himself would plead for the case of such individuals on the judgment day against those who violated their rights. And when we add the fact that those who are involved in doing such acts are claiming to be doing it for the glory of Islam, the evilness of it goes beyond all limits of imagination. What makes yesterday’s incident even more tragic is the fact that the entire Pakistani nation had come to agree that terrorism shall be eliminated through getting involved in negotiations with those who are responsible for it. Yesterday’s incident seems to be a clear indication that despite the noble intentions, the nation was moving in the wrong direction.

While we protest against what happened in Peshawar, we must also look for ways to overcome the curse of terrorism. It seems that the way out of the situation is to confront these enemies of humanity with force and not through negotiations. Their malicious claim that what they are doing is Islamic jihad should be exposed through effective religious arguments. In particular the context of those verses and ahadith should be explained that are often quoted to motivate Muslims to fight against non-Muslims. There should be a complete ban imposed on hate speech and hate literature. All religious groups who speak negatively against others by belittling them should be declared unacceptable in the eyes of law. Disagreeing with other points of view through arguments is one thing and ridiculing and cursing other groups is quite another. Last but not the least, all books of syllabus should be carefully reviewed to see if they contain any material that promotes hatred against other religious groups. A serious review of what is being taught in religious seminaries should be an important part of the reform effort. It is only when people learn to respect each other that the root cause of religious terrorism would be eliminated.