Not long ago, an Islamic Studies teacher in a famous Pakistani university, let’s call it Pakistan’s Premier University (PPU), had to go on a sabbatical leave for one year. Since the inception of the graduate program, he was single-handedly shouldering the burden of teaching the subject which was mandatory for all Muslim students to take. The teacher, let’s call him The Moderate (TM), was neither hugely popular nor unpopular. However, he was able to carry the burden of teaching the important subject reasonably well until the time of the leave. While he was able to bring some intelligent students closer to Islam, there were a few conservative students who were not impressed by his ideas which they felt were non-conventional. TM himself began to feel the need to have another teacher, a conservative one, who could help in maintaining a balance by catering to the needs of the conservative students too who felt that the subject of Islamic Studies was not being treated fairly at PPU.
Incidentally, just about the time when TM was leaving for his sabbatical, there appeared a conservative candidate, let’s call him The Traditionalist (TT), for taking over the assignment. The gentleman had several features that made him a better candidate for the job for PPU which primarily caters for the English-speaking elite of the country: He was born and brought up in the US; he graduated from the same top country of the world whose citizens are an envy for most students of PPU; he then shifted to Pakistan to graduate from a local seminary; he joined the ranks of Sufi saints by becoming a part of one of the many Sufi traditions (silsilah) by doing bay‘ah (oath of allegiance to attain spirituality) of a Sufi master; his appearance of white clothes, flowing beard, and a turban all work to add authenticity to his credentials of being a genuine traditional Muslim. His wife has a similarly American-cum-madrassah background.
TM was one of the interviewers of TT when the latter was being considered for the job of teaching Islamic Studies. On talking to the polite, fluent, and intelligent TT, he got convinced that the ideal man he was looking for to balance things off in teaching Islamic Studies at PPU has arrived at the right time when he was about to go for the leave. Of course, TT impressed all others too who mattered.
As anticipated by TM, TT was supremely popular amongst a large number of students. Many of them started following him and the lessons he taught. His classes would be crowded. For reasons best know to him, however, TT designed a plan to get rid of TM. On his return to PPU after the leave, TM realized that his students weren’t coming to him any more. He was informed that TT has convinced his students that since TM was not a madrassah-graduate he was not a scholar and therefore was not qualified to guide people on Islamic matters. He also convinced many of his students that the only right approach one could adopt to follow Islam was to follow the madrassah scholars blindly. TM was alarmed at learning that many students of the premier educational institution of the country had started believing in his ideology. Frustrated by the situation, TM started sending e-mail messages to the students, informing them that taqlid (the policy of blindly following scholars) was unacceptable in Islam. TM’s e-mails caused a strong reaction amongst the students many of who launched a signature campaign against him and the VC took action against him by demanding an apology to the students. TM had thought that he was doing a service to PPU by warning its students against blindly following anyone. However, he submitted to the authority of the VC and apologized to the students. And he soon left PPU, the institution that prides itself in promoting values like independence of thought and openness in exchanging views. No tears were dropped nor any regrets expressed on TM’s departure. It was an unceremonious ouster of, as if, an unwanted element that had accidentally joined the institution.
TT meanwhile celebrated the departure of TM by mentioning not just within the campus but outside of it too that he was able to, by the grace of God, get rid of the ‘deviant group’ and PPU, by His supreme kindness, was cleansed of impure elements from the team of Islamic Studies teachers. He then set about the objective of taking to task in the ‘over-westernized’ PPU the ‘Satanic elements’ in the other departments.
TM left PPU with a resolve that he will work to create institutions that would produce Islamic scholars of the right kind. He was convinced that TT was not just one person. He symbolized a prototype that was causing huge damage to the youth of the country. In order to improve the cause of education in the country, especially religious education, it was imperative that a system of education parallel to the madrassah-system be introduced. He joined an NGO that had set forth as one of its objectives the task of creating open-minded Islamic scholars. Meanwhile, TM was also able to get the opportunity to express his moderate approach towards Islam in the media on a scale he could have never imagined. He realized, and still does so, that his projection in the media far beyond his potential was a manifestation of God’s policy according to which if a man was unfairly treated, He will make sure that he finds adequate compensation elsewhere. Indeed TM has far less abilities than the response he has received through his television appearances. But then who can stop God from doing what He wills to do?
Meanwhile things have taken a new turn at PPU. Within a short period of three years, the tables have been turned at the university. The once all-empowered instructor of Islamic Studies, TT, has been denied the opportunity to teach his favorite subject. The obligation of teaching Islamic Studies is now being shared by many instructors, TT not being one of them. PPU hasn’t approached TM to take over the assignment once again nor would he be interested in doing it even if he was offered. He is happily involved in the task of pursuing his now life-time project of creating the right kind of Islamic scholars elsewhere.
Neither TM nor TT is an angel; nor is any of them a Satan. They are both ordinary mortals living in God’s world where He is at the helm of all affairs. We can fool others but we can’t fool Him. More particularly, when we try to bluff people in the garb of religiosity, God takes immediate action. Both TM and TT would do well to take that reality into account. Indeed if they continue to live for a few more years, the story is likely to take a few more turns and twists. However, no turn in this life is accidental and no twist without reason.
God can tolerate mistakes and, at times, blunders of humans in this life. He can however never tolerate injustice done by one individual to another, especially when the one who is being unjust is a religious person.