Why Is It All Happening In Pakistan & Egypt?

What is happening in Egypt and Pakistan these days (August 2013) is horrible. In Egypt it apparently seems to be a blatant act of double standards committed by the US and and her supporting countries who on the one hand keep lecturing everyone on the merits of democracy while on the other they conspire to undo democratically elected governments which don’t suit their ideological tastes.

In Pakistan there seems to be trouble everywhere, be it Karachi, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Kashmir border, or Wazirisitan. No day passes without news of killings in one place or another. There seems to be a proxy war going on between India and Pakistan which is taking innocent lives of people who had never been a part of the crimes for which they are getting punished.

While hypocrisy of the rulers of countries who are responsible for masterminding these atrocities is highly condemnable, one is troubled by the question as to what is the real cause behind all that is happening. Is it sheer madness, arrogance, sadistic pleasure, a grand Jewish conspiracy, a US plan to invade the globe, or some such other indefensible reason behind the designs of the aggressive states that is causing this mayhem to happen or is there something else behind these unending tragedies?

The fact of the matter is that the two sides of this highly immoral war are at odds with each other over an ideology. That ideology is the belief of some Muslims that their faith makes it incumbent upon them to ensure political dominance of Islam and its Shari’ah law over the entire globe militarily if peaceful means of doing it aren’t working.

Whether it is the establishment, intelligence agencies, and the think tanks of US, Israel, or India, they all are fearful of religious zealots who they believe would spare neither effort nor resources to crush the existing political system, culture, and freedom of the developed world which has helped in creating a civilization which has no parallel in the history of mankind. Many Muslim scholars and other religious activists don’t mince words in mentioning that the grand plan of dominating the entire globe is the most significant part of their faith. “The purpose of my life is the supremacy of Thy faith; I am a Muslim for this purpose only and a worshiper for this reason alone” says a popular couplet in Urdu. After all, if the US is against Islam, why should it not stop Christians and others converting to Islam in its own territory? Why shouldn’t India force Zakir Naik to discontinue his efforts to attract people towards Islam if the state hates Islam?

Is the ideology requiring forcible political dominance of Islam really Islamic? Many Muslim zealots are convinced that it indeed is. They believe its their religious duty to announce Jihad against all the Satanic forces which by their definition are all the regimes of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim, who don’t accept their demand of enforcing Islamic Shari’ah in their lands, liberate them, and enforce God’s law in the land. They present Qur’anic verses and statements of the prophet, alaihissalam, to vouch their stance. While common people are ideologically influenced by this view whenever it is presented forcefully, many members of the intelligentsia, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are scared of and drawn away from Islam, somehow convinced that what zealots are presenting is the true Islam. Both Jihadis and their faith are thus feared and abhorred.

The fact of the matter is that the ideology these religious extremists are presenting has nothing to do with the true Islam. The prophet of Islam was the last messenger of God. Like all messengers, God sent him with a mandate to implement His will in this world by punishing the enemies of His message either through natural calamities or military might of believers accompanying His messenger. Such action was taken because the enemies rejecting God’s message had received all evidences to make them believe that the message was from God. Rejecting the message in that case meant rejecting and challenging God Himself knowingly. The punishment inflicted on the enemy nations would in addition serve other multiple purposes through real life examples of the vanquished nations: that this world is being run by a mighty God, that He is bound to make humans accountable for their performance, and that His messengers have brought truth from Him. The episode of punishments mentioned in the divine scriptures thus were specific for those eras alone. The Qur’an has repeated the tales of those episodes in several passages to serve the above-mentioned purposes and to warn the immediate addressees that they too are in the range of God’s punishment if they don’t mend their ways. And the Qur’an also mentions the various stages of the manner God’s punishment was inflicted upon the enemies of the last messenger of God.

The description of the entire prophetic mission in its various stages until the climax has become a part of the eternally preserved text of the Qur’an that enables the reader to strengthen his faith in God, the life hereafter, and the last messenger. That part of the text has an eternal message but is era-specific as far as implementation of its practical details are concerned quite the same way as the declaration of the last messenger that he received divine revelation had a lasting impact on the faith of all believers but was not meant for others to emulate.

Many zealot Muslims claim strongly that the description of the messenger’s dominance over his enemies carries a message that is binding for all later Muslims to practically follow. The fact that what they are saying is clearly against the Qura’n can be shown through evidence in a decently held discussion. However zealots have the advantage of emotional rhetoric by their side that causes the common man to take their side.

The fact that the era-specificity of many Jihad-related verses has not been properly appreciated is to me without doubt the greatest tragedy of our times. It is the mother of many other tragedies that inevitably emerge from its womb.

It is a challenge for the intellectual honesty of all Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, to look at the two narratives and decide which of them is correct: the one that claims its basis on the verses mentioning fighting against the enemies and declares the message of them to be binding on Muslims for all times to come or the one that claims that many of these verses were era-specific in their application but universal in their underlying theme.

One potent propaganda line of the radicals that surprisingly influences many Muslims is their claim that the era-specificity of Jihad-urging verses is at best a timidly apologetic approach and at worst a ploy of the Jewish and other anti-Islam forces. The fact is that the understanding we are suggesting is accompanying our claim that it is coming directly from God. The Qur’an is not a vague book, using unfamiliar words and juxtaposing unrelated verses. Going by its own claim, the Qur’an is an absolutely clear book that has come to dominate the intellectual, spiritual, and ethical lives of believers. Its God-ordained arrangement has made the book remarkably coherent for the reader who is willing to ponder over its contents with an open mind. Let the book decide whether what we are saying is right or wrong.

Even though the outcome of the exercise of finding out as to which view makes more sense should be based on a dispassionately intellectual reading, it goes without saying that if the end result is in favour of the pro-Jihad stance, the end of the world, given the presence of nuclear weapons, will be imminent. In that case, however, we would conclude that God is planning for it to happen Himself. I am absolutely confident though that such conclusion is well-nigh impossible to be drawn.

Messengers of God Are Different from All Others

The fact that messengers of God were all humans is a well known reality. The fact that they were exceptional humans and therefore chosen by God for the noblest of all tasks is also well appreciated. What isn’t quite as clearly acknowledged is that their times were unique: No other era can replicate them.

Does it mean that we should forget about idealizing and emulating them? Not at all. They are our role models. What they did was the ultimate example in human virtue and conduct. But they cannot be followed in every aspect of what they did. And the reality mentioned in this last statement is what hasn’t been properly acknowledged. And not understanding its implications has caused immense confusion and damage.

The fact that the last prophet, alaihissalam, had a special law relevant to him alone (and to other messengers of course) for marriages is well known. The fact that only he could declare that he received divine revelation is well acknowledged too. It is also fully appreciated that he alone enjoys the status that entails that his verdict on the explanation of Qur’an and Sunnah stands final. Likewise there were some other such exclusive domains of his personality which no other human can share.

The most significant unique aspect of his era was that it was his inimitable personality and the accompanying circumstances of his times that enabled God to declare that if someone rejected his claim of being a prophet of God despite the individual being present during the lifetime of the messenger, such a person would be eligible to God’s wrath in this very life. That wrath was inflicted through swords of his companions upon the criminals who rejected him. Anyone who didn’t believe in his message was considered a Kafir: a criminal guilty of not believing in divine message despite knowing it to be from God. Anyone who turned his back after believing in his message (became apostate) was therefore considered worthy of being punished to death for the same reason.

Unfortunately this unique aspect of his times was generalized to other times by a large number of Muslims, not realizing that in doing so they were contradicting God’s word. This life is a trial for all humans and because the reality is never completely obvious except during small patches of time of messengers’ era no one can be forced to follow a faith nor can he be killed except if he himself is a killer or a criminal of a crime worse than killing.

A man who claims that he too receives divine revelation like the prophet did will be strongly rejected by the entire Muslim ummah. An individual who claims for him an exclusive right to be followed in religion will be ignored by a vast majority of Muslims. Someone asking for a right to marry more than four wives at the same time will be ridiculed or snubbed for doing that. But it is a tragedy that a claim made by some Muslims that is even more serious and damaging is sometimes welcomed with enthusiastic support: That it is a religious duty of all Muslims to ensure that the message of Islam politically dominates the entire globe, crushing whoever comes in the way.

Confusing this divine chastisement for the criminals who rejected the prophet for a universal principle of the Shari’ah requiring political dominance of Islam is one of the biggest problems of our present times. It has tarnished the good face of our religion. Many youngsters are getting attracted towards this version of Islam because Qur’anic verses and ahadith are presented out of context to support the view in a way that it appears convincing to the common man. It is indeed one of the most significant challenges of our times to ensure that the misunderstanding about our religion be convincingly removed for as many peoples of the world as possible.

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Essence of Ramadan: Be in the Driving Seat

We have two aspects in our personality which influence us: our thinking process and our inner inclinations. If our thinking goes wrong, we are doomed. And so are we destroyed if our inner desires move in the wrong direction.

It’s possible that we have the right thinking and yet we are not sufficiently motivated because our desires are not in line with our thinking. It is also possible that our thinking is wayward but we are otherwise disciplined in our life, doing what we want to. But neither of the two situations is acceptable. We need to simultaneously think correctly and behave in accordance with our right thinking.

The month of Ramadan helps us in achieving both. On the one hand it puts us (back) on the right course by (re)linking us with the Qur’an and thus enabling us to think correctly, on the other it also gives our authority on our personality back to us by making us fast.

Let’s avail the tremendous opportunity this Ramadan is offering us to know the right path yet again and follow it genuinely. It’s just a matter of focusing oneself properly for the task ahead. If we are mentally prepared for it, it will be an experience of a lifetime in shaa Allah. If not, it will come and go without affecting our soul even slightly.

If it’s true that life can end anytime and we don’t even know if we’ll see tomorrow, never mind next Ramadan, this sacred month is an unprecedented opportunity of a lifetime. Let’s avail it.

Two things in particular need to be done: Reading and understanding the Qur’an as much as is possible and learning to control our desires through fasting so that we are in the driving seat of our journey of life.

Let’s pray that both changes take place during this Ramadan. In case it happens it will indeed be the most important experience of our life.

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Paving the Way for Non-Muslims

The message of Islam has the potential of appealing to a very large part of the world population, if three factors are properly addressed: The propaganda that it encourages terrorism is effectively shelved, the parts of its teaching that are misunderstood are properly clarified, and the difficulties confronted by non-Muslims while converting to Islam are removed. While the first two aspects are getting attention from many Muslim scholars, the latter aspect is by and large getting ignored.

When a non-Muslim begins to take Islam seriously, he/she is confronted with challenges which at times are so enormous that for an ordinary person the idea of conversion seems impossible: changing the name, announcing before everyone that he/she has changed faith, saying prayers openly, using Islamic expressions while conversing in a way that the change appears quite noticeable, for instance using Allah instead of God or the equivalent expression of it, women becoming prominently overdressed to the dislike of the non-Muslim family members and friends, at times women announcing they were parting ways with their husbands if they weren’t going to change faith likewise etc.

The end result of all these expected changes is that the interested individual is discouraged from making the change and even if he/she converts, the rest of the non-Muslim community makes it a point that the person is either ostracized or at least not taken as a normal member of the group anymore. The important questions we must address ourselves are: Are all these changes necessary? Is it important to undertake these changes immediately? What is the most important thing God desires from His servants after learning about His message? Did all companions of the prophet, alaihissalam, convert immediately exactly the same way as the most prominent among them did? Do Muslims by birth adapt immediately to the expectation of change on learning about Islamic teaching?

The fact of the matter is that God wants first and foremost that His servant should have a change in attitude towards life on acknowledging a few realities called beliefs: That God is one; He is the only creator and sustainer of this entire world; that He arranged for His messages to be disseminated to the humans through His chosen men, the last of who was Muhammad, alaihissalam; that this worldly life is to be followed by another one, a reality which is important to always be considered while leading this life. Apart from acknowledging these realities, God wants His servants to say their prayers and pay Zakat regularly. Having done that, they are complete Muslims in the eyes of God. All other changes applicable to them must follow gradually, keeping into account the circumstances of the individual.

In most of the cases, overnight turnaround in an individual’s life is neither helpful for the individual nor for the people living with him. The individual starts practicing a faith which he hasn’t properly appreciated in its entirety and his non-Muslims relatives and friends begin to become wary of the newly embraced ideology. The fact is that companions of the prophet, alaihissalam, took different routes to reach their faith and took their own pace in adopting Islamic way of life. So much so that while on the one hand it was declared at a certain stage of the Madinan period that all able-bodied men must migrate to Madinah to prove their faith, the Almighty nonetheless didn’t allow Muslims to attack Makkah because there were some believers residing there who hadn’t declared their faith openly. (Qur’an; 47: 25)

Many Muslims are non-practicing Muslims and yet are considered a part of the faith. Why is it that when it comes to non-Muslims who are beginning to appreciate the basic idea of Islam that we must put all the burden of practice immediately on them? Is it not a good idea to do the task gradually? After all, once they are inside the fold of Islam, whether by formally announcing conversion to it or not, they are more likely to take other matters more seriously in a gradual way.

What I am suggesting is that while spreading the message of Islam we should be gradual, polite, and intelligent. If a person shows interest in learning more about the message of God, facilitate him/her. If his/her circumstances don’t allow formal announcement, just ask the individual to make a commitment from inside to God and begin saying prayer privately, paying Zakat, reading the Qur’an, and learning about Islam. That way, inshaaAllah, we will be able to bring many more people closer to believing in and accepting Islam.

Our task is to invite people to the truth and pave the way for them to believe in and practice Islam. Our task is not to force them to conform to each and every aspect of Islam we think is important for them to follow. The Qur’an says “Your job is to remind; you are not their keepers (to force things down their throats)” (Qur’an; 88: 21-22). It also says: “Allah desires from you ease; He doesn’t desire from you difficulty.” (Qur’an; 2: 185) The prophet alaihissalam is reported to have said: “Make things easier for others; don’t make them difficult. And give them good news; don’t scare them away.” (Bukhari; 69) It is said about him: “Whenever two different options were offered to him, he would always choose the easier of them.” (Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal; 24890)

The Frozen Society

Some of the Pakistanis living in the countries they have chosen to settle in have created frozen societies: They are a group of men and women who have not moved an inch intellectually and culturally from the point of time when they shifted to their countries of migration. If they shifted in the 1960s to the UK for instance, their thinking and culture has remained frozen in that period. The important contributing factor to this phenomenon is the fear that the new society will swallow them: Their culture will be brutally damaged and their progeny will be transformed into the new, unacceptable ways irrevocably and thus they will completely lose their original identity. This fear has partly to do with lack of confidence in the ideas and ways of their culture and religion of origin: If we are going to expose ourselves, we’ll jell in the new society. There is no doubt about the fact that the society of the new adopted country with its cultural dominance has the ability to suck in the smaller groups. There is thus some merit in the argument of the immigrant Pakistanis.

As a consequence of the inward-looking policy of extreme restrictiveness no change occurs in either the thinking process or the apparent ways of conducting life in these frozen societies. The intellectual progress is completely stationery. While back home things have changed, the culture in the new country they have chosen to settle in has stagnated. It changes back home because human society is dynamic. The more there is debate and discussion as a consequence of new challenges, the more it is likely that a change would occur within the ideological limits of the group. This process is facilitated by the fact that the participants in the debate for change back home are all ‘insiders’. No matter how weird an idea is, provided it is presented by someone belonging to one’s own religious or cultural group, it is considered worthy of consideration. However, since there is a deliberate policy of not interacting with any other group in the adopted country of the immigrants because they are aliens, no change is ever possible.

There is an additional factor that contributes in the freezing of immigrant societies: Some strong personalities who enjoy the status of leaders of the group make sure that the status quo is maintained. Their awe-inspiring presence guaranties that even if in their absence some change was possible, it wouldn’t happen whilst they exist. If there are any members of the group who would want more openness to the new ideas and ways, they are left with the choice of either to meekly submit to the authority of the leader and live a hypocritical life or completely part with the group and disappear into the culture of the new country.

Another factor that strengthens the process of freezing is the existence of institutions that ensure that the culture of the country of birth of the immigrants is maintained in its original form in its entirety. There are special, alternative schools run for the kids to make sure that they don’t learn the new ways of the society. At times, double standards are maintained for boys and girls: the latter are sent to schools meant exclusively for them and boys are allowed to learn ways of the new society by joining the local institutions. Quite apart from the fact that traditional Muslims have turned out to be more sensitive about women in cultural matters, women are also seen as a more important gender when it comes to the question of preserving the culture of the country of origin. If a compromise is to be struck, boys can be sacrificed, not girls.

Another important factor that contributes in the sensitivity attached to preserving the culture of origin is the example of some of the compatriots who didn’t exercise caution while mingling with the new society and were therefore lost in the new culture. Their glaring example is seen as a deterring factor for others to keep completely away from the influences of the new society. Many of these people have assimilated the new culture so completely that they appear more local than the locals in all the bad ways but hardly in any of the good ones.

Are frozen societies completely wrong? No, that’s not what I am trying to say. They do have merit in their arguments. However, in their extreme form they are a big hurdle in the way of promoting the message of God. When communication with the locals of the adopted country is completely nonexistent, there is no possibility of the message of God getting across to others. However, if efforts of getting close to the new culture are undertaken too far then all the good along with the bad ways of the culture and religion of the immigrants are in danger of being lost. It seems that the key factor the new social groups should be looking for is balancing the two competing considerations.

In order to maintain the right balance, the immigrants must create opportunities which allow meaningful dialogue and exchange of views and cultural practices in a way that the dangers of overindulgence in assimilation don’t mar the process. That way, it seems that the best of both worlds might be successfully achieved. These opportunities should be designed in a way that while on the one hand the important part of the ideas and culture of the country of origin is fully preserved on the other dialogue continues to ensure the possibility of desirable change through a dialectical process.

For Muslims that objective calls for at least three important factors to be in existence: Islamic Centers that not only welcome Muslims but non-Muslims to their programs as well to allow the opportunity of exchanging views in an atmosphere of learning and mutual respect. There is also a need for enlightened Muslim scholars who not only have a deep understanding of their religion but are also fully aware of the challenges of the modern times to guide these programs. And a group of intelligent Muslim professionals and traders are also important for the process to continue: individuals who mingle with the locals of the society ensuring that the process of continually improving and evolving continues. There is no doubt in mind that this process is important for both immigrant Muslims and the local non-Muslims.

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Tweet on Eligibility for a Muslim Leader

I sent a tweet on April 30 which read like this: “A former playboy can be an angel after repentance; he can be eligible to the best paradise but not to lead Muslims. U’ve a right to disagree.”

The tweet met with an unusually negative response. So strong was it that I had to decide that I would stop using my twitter account until after the elections were over.

My view was partly a personal opinion and partly a religious one. I will explain what I meant by it.

The Qur’an states a unique punishment for extra-marital sex (Zina): flogging them (both man and woman) with hundred lashes in public and denying them the right to marry a chaste person ever in the future. It is seemingly a harsh punishment. But the reason behind it is that it is in the nature of this particular crime (extra-marital sex) that if it isn’t dealt with an iron hand it has the potential of spreading like an epidemic. Human weakness is particularly vulnerable to it; and opportunities of committing it are numerous. If strict measures aren’t taken by the society against it, it would amount to trivializing the crime and allowing it to spread like an epidemic.

The other aspect of Qur’anic treatment for this evil is that you can’t even talk about ordinary people’s involvement in this crime unless you have four witnesses who testify that it has happened. If you accuse someone of doing it without bringing four witnesses, you’ll be flogged with eighty lashes. In other words, the Almighty wants that if the filth is happening in secret, we shouldn’t even share it with others so that the filth remains isolated and is not allowed to affect others. And if it has happened in a way that public has learnt unmistakably about it, deal with it so mercilessly that others are deterred from coming close to it.

That much is the Qur’an.

A playboy is someone who has a carefree lifestyle. He is seen around with one woman or another in a way that the apparent relationship and the manner they show around are not very convincing to a decent taste. If taken lightly, this lifestyle carries a very similar danger of spreading like wildfire.

With someone who is quite openly known for such a past and the Qur’an clarifying that when crimes of this nature become public, in order to condemn the crime — not the individual — strict measures are necessary to be taken, people with a past of that kind should not be allowed a prominent status and the highest office of a Muslim state. If that clarity is not adopted, it would tantamount to taking the evil lightly. People would start talking on the lines that it isn’t really a big deal. If our leader can do that — and he being otherwise a great man — why can’t we? We too can reform later after having spent an exciting, unbridled youth. A still more dangerous stance Satan can whisper into the heart is that probably the natural path to greatness is what our hero has experienced. If you can’t relive his past, you can’t be what he has become now.

My point is that even though no one has a right to call a playboy a Zani, (if he does it, he will deserve eighty lashes) his apparent lifestyle should not be allowed to get popular in the society by allowing its evilness to get trivialized. While we don’t have any right to accuse or punish him, we shouldn’t make him our hero. Someone who is not allowed to marry a chaste woman, I argue, can’t be considered eligible for leading Muslims politically as well. That doesn’t mean that he should not be respected in the society. Likewise is the case of a former playboy.

Because the link between the example of a person who commits Zina in such an open way that he is caught and punished and the one who has spent a part of his life with women in suspicious circumstances may not be completely convincing for all, I mentioned that people had a right to disagree with me. My point is that a playboy who hasn’t been punished for Zina can certainly marry a chaste woman legally, but his public reputation in this matter is something that causes the same concern of trivializing evil as is caused by a Zani being allowed a normal life. A Muslim society should be sensitive enough to not give him the status of their leader. Doing so, strictly speaking, wouldn’t be against the law; but it would certainly be against the spirit of the law.

I mentioned in another of my tweets briefly that when John Profumo who as an important part of the British government was caught in a scandal with a woman in UK in 1963, he quit his office and served public quietly for the rest of the forty three years of his life, washing toilets in a hall run as charity etc It is reported that towards the very last part of his life some respect was restored to him because of his relentless attitude of repentance by being invited to the eightieth birthday of Mrs Thatcher. This firm stance is adopted in that otherwise relatively liberal society because of the realization that if an important government official is afflicted with such a moral disease, he can be vulnerable to more temptations and therefore he is unreliable to be given an important position of authority.

My whole line of argument can be incorrect but how on earth can I be accused of saying anything against the “basic teachings of Islam and basic ethics” when I express these views? If people disagree with my argument, they have a right to. It is the beauty of democracy that facts are put across with arguments from both sides without hurling accusations and filthy language at each other. And I will fight for my right to claim that for a Muslim society religious arguments are no less important.

Several questions were raised in response to my tweet. I am addressing some of them.

Were some of the companions not involved in the sin of extra-marital sex earlier and yet they later became leaders of Muslims? We don’t know if that claim is true. What is mentioned in history, in particular pre-Islamic history, is not fully reliable. What I have mentioned above is a principle that I am pleading to be applied on people whose past is as visible as their present by virtue of newspaper clippings, photographs, television clippings etc. Moreover, when you belong to a religious group, whether willingly or otherwise, you are judged by its principles. If a playboy is a Muslim, his conduct shall be judged by the principles of Islam. The companions of the prophet, alaihissalam, changed their lifestyle after embracing Islam. Also, the Qur’anic law mentioned above was introduced at a particular point in time. It couldn’t have had application with retrospective effect.

Doesn’t the Qur’an say in verse 24:5 that God will accept repentance of the people involved in sex-related crimes? Why would God punish someone for a life time? The punishment for a fornicator is a part of the Islamic Shari’ah. God has given His verdict on certain important aspects of the moral life of humans in His Shari’ah which were beyond the grasp of their intelligence. That’s what Shari’ah is all about. Clearly, we couldn’t have thought of that punishment ourselves. But God knows the nature of crimes and human weakness that inclines man towards it. If He doesn’t allow a person found guilty of committing such a crime despite his repentance to marry a chaste woman, there has to be a reason for it. And if you have a doubt about the whole argument, look at another punishment of the Shari’ah: In an ideal Islamic state the hand of an established thief is amputated. The question is: How can a thief restore his self image after he has repented sincerely given that the absence of one of his hands is advertising his past? The only answer that comes to one’s mind is that although he deserves respect from all decent members of the society and he can attain the highest level of piety in the eyes of God, his amputated hand is a living testimony for the society that theft is an intolerable crime even though a thief who has repented has a right to respectability.

Why did I withdraw from tweeting?
Answer: God doesn’t want me to let people know about His religion when they aren’t interested in it. When I saw people were more interested in ensuring that a certain candidate wins the elections and not quite as much in learning if a certain argument was religiously more valid, I felt it was about time that I withdrew tweeting to let them be assured that my interest was not in helping one candidate to win or another. Now that the period of frenzy is over, I am clarifying my position to those who care to understand.

Why didn’t I talk about the weaknesses of other candidates?
Answer: I didn’t talk about weakness of any particular candidate. I talked about a principle. I wasn’t launching a political campaign. I was raising a religious point. As soon as I realized that an angry mob was accusing me of launching an indirect, clever political campaign for a certain political party, I decided to withdraw from using tweets for communicating the message until after the elections were over. Only one person sought my advice from Pakistan on whom he should vote for. My response was: Respond to the voice of your conscience! In fact, when I noticed that he wanted to vote for the party of my choice, I dissuaded him from doing so and urged him to vote in response to the voice of his conscience.

But why after all did I have to send a tweet like this just before the elections?
Answer: Because a principle must be mentioned at the time when its application is needed the most.

Aren’t you guilty of accusing someone without any real proofs?
Answer: I am accusing nobody. I am simply stating a principle. If you think it is applicable to a candidate and you think the principle I stated is correct, think about it. If you think the principle isn’t correct, ignore it.

If you can talk about one person why not about several other candidates’ past whose scandals are well known?
Answer: I am talking about scandal of no one. If someone talks about scandals of others, it is his responsibility to bring their cases before the competent authorities to prove his point. Hurling unsubstantiated blames on others, I have already stated, isn’t an Islamically acceptable thing to do.

What was I trying to achieve?
Answer: I was trying to create awareness of an Islamic principle and invite discussion on its application on other aspects of life at a time when that principle was needed the most. A well established principle is more important than an individual. An individual can rise very high and then fall; a principle can never fall.

How would you respond to the claim of a scholar: “A former playboy can certainly become head of the state of a Muslim state so long as he enjoys the support of the majority; in fact even if he continues to be playboy while being the head of the state, he will continue to enjoy the right of that status”?
Answer: I am sure this statement is correct. I am not contesting the legal right of an individual to be the head of the state of a Muslim country if there is no law preventing him from becoming a head of it. What I am pleading are two things: Conscientious Muslims shouldn’t support a candidate who had a suspect past even if he/she has seemingly repented and a Muslim state should ideally have a law that bars such people from becoming the head of the state. In the absence of that law, I am sure the claim of the scholar is correct.

Another response was this: “Even if the weakness you are mentioning about my leader is correct, he is an angel compared to the other candidates.”
Response: The fact is that I didn’t point out any particular candidate. If some people think that their leader was a former playboy it’s for them to worry about. But the comment in this response is confirming my worst fears. If my line of argument is correct, a man who should be considered unworthy of becoming a leader because of his suspect past is being declared an angel relative to others. Satan will have little difficulty in pursuing his task thereafter.

May God Almighty guide us all to the right path!

 

Has Religion Caused More Evil Than Good?

Has religion been useful for mankind or has it caused more harm than good? How does one respond to it given the teachings and the history of the practice of world religions in general and that of Islam in particular?

Religion in its pure form is God’s response to the yearning for guidance man is born with. If properly understood and practised, it is an undisputable blessing. In case it is misunderstood and misused, there could be few evils more dangerous than it, as we have witnessed over the history of mankind, more particularly the very recent one. It is irrelevant in the context of this debate whether religion’s contribution to the welfare of mankind on the balance has been predominantly good or evil. It is not a great idea to view the matters pertaining to truth purely from the narrow lenses of utilitarianism which is what the concept of good and evil is normally associated with. Religion should be viewed in the light of its claims. If its claim of divine origins makes a convincing case, it should be accepted; if the claim doesn’t make sense, it should be rejected; and if the verdict of the conscience on it is not clear, one should keep considering the arguments to reach a final conclusion.

Viewing the acceptability of religion or otherwise from a purely utilitarian criterion is like deciding whether one’s old, ailing parents are useful to be looked after anymore. If the parent-son relationship is established, which is not a subjective issue, it’s then a moral requirement that they be looked after well.

One might justifiably argue however that even if not completely relevant, the utilitarian criterion to judge the veracity of a religious claim to truth is not completely out of place either. I would argue then that there could be no objective, unanimously acceptable way to reach a final calculus of pros and cons of religion. For a religious person who has found the truth that God has spoken to him in a certain text or some other manifestation of faith all atrocities of the world allegedly caused by religion put together would not make their evil heavier than the solace he or she gets from imagining that what is being experienced is from God.

One must admit however that not all that is religious is necessarily good. In fact some part of religion and religious practice is most certainly evil. Mawlana Amin Ahsen Islahi, the author of Tadabbure Qur’an, an exegesis of the Qur’an par excellence, once remarked: “There is no blessing under the sky better than a true religion and there is no evil worse than a false one.” By true religion he not only meant intrinsic truthfulness of its claims but also the way it was understood and practised by its adherents. How should one decide whether a claim to truth from God, which is what religion is, is right or wrong? The fact is that it is a matter which is both subjective and objective, depending upon the circumstances of the individual. For an individual who has been introduced to the religion of God in its pristine form, it is an almost objective matter. That is what happens when the representatives of God, His messengers that is, deliver the message to a society directly. In their times too, however, the truth gets objectively clear only gradually. In other eras, the question is again less or more objective, but perhaps never completely one, depending upon the circumstances of the individual. The circumstances that cause the truthfulness of the religion of God to be less or more obvious to an individual include the kind of presentation of religion he witnessed in his surroundings, his intellectual abilities, and his own moral performance. While he cannot be blamed if he takes a wrong decision because of the first two causes, he will be held responsible for a wrong decision due to the latter cause.

That is precisely what the Qur’an says: “And those who believe and do good deeds – We shall not make a soul responsible for (any expectation) beyond his capacity – such are the people who shall enter the paradise.” (Qur’an; 7:42)

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The Moon Analogy

We communicate with each other adopting different styles of expression to help in understanding realities better. Sometimes we need to employ analogies to put across our views on reality, since the other person is unable to appreciate them because of a different background. Analogies are able to bridge the communication gap, putting across an unfamiliar concept by referring to a similar idea the receiver is familiar with. Thus the communication gap is bridged and the reality is likely to be better understood.

One needs to be careful however while using analogies in communicating: The reality and the analogy are not identical phenomena. It is only an aspect of the reality which it is helping to clarify. If the addressees aren’t serious in receiving the message in the correct spirit, they can find reasons to ridicule the presenter, referring to the aspects of the analogy which were not meant to be a part of the clarifying plan. “He is as daring as a lion” can be ridiculed by a response stating that lions were beasts and therefore the man referred to was a beast too. And so on.

That brings me to present my new-moon analogy. Many science-influenced minds question the validity of religious beliefs by asking for their proofs quite the same way as Science is able to offer proofs for its claims. “If religious beliefs are realities, why can’t their realness be shown clearly, like we are able to do in the case of scientifically proved realities?” The truth is that religious beliefs are meant to be quite as much a test of character as they are a text of intelligence or observation of the subject. God wouldn’t appear physically before the beholding eye. He will appear unmistakably to the eager mind and yearning heart. However, a mind trained to understand realities through visible demonstration of cause-effect relationship isn’t willing to give any significance to the idea that a reality as important as God can’t be scientifically verified when many less significant truths can be easily confirmed through the fool-proof scrutiny of the scientific process of verification.

Here is the analogy: When moon appears on the horizon on the evening of a new lunar month, in many cases, it isn’t easily visible to the naked eye. However, on a more careful observation, it begins to appear, at least to some people who can then help others to see it by pointing at the exact location where it is appearing. Even though, to begin with, obscurely visible only to a few, it becomes absolutely clear and visible to the beholding eye once the requisite effort is put in. To the one who isn’t prepared to look at the right direction, for one reason or another, there is always a room to reject the idea and ridicule it. However, to those who have done enough to get a glimpse of it, the new moon is as obvious a reality as the shining sun on a bright day.

God, His messengers, and His books are in a sense somewhat similar realities. They are there for the ‘beholders’ to ‘see’. But not everyone can see. One needs to have a genuine interest in attempting to see in the right direction to get a chance of a glimpse of it or else the reality would elude him despite it being very much there. What prevents an individual to see those realities is an absence of interest in observing it out of arrogance, overindulgence in worldly desires and success, prejudice for a contrary ideology or a combination of all these reasons.

Religious realities too appear to an individual gradually once he begins to take keen interest in searching for them. This life has been designed in a way that his search for them becomes a genuine need. (See Why is Religion Needed for details). However, the distracting attractions of the world cause those genuine needs to get ignored. It is less than a sun-like appearance and more of a crescent-like one that makes religious realities a real trial for the character of an individual. If he is really interested in knowing those realities, like he is interested in beholding the new moon, he will be able to see them. If he is not be interested in knowing them, he will bring in excuses to reject and ridicule them by claiming that they don’t exist.

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Purification of the Soul: Key to the Paradise

Tazkia Nafs is the ultimate objective the message of God wants to achieve in us. In other words, God’s message has been revealed for the purpose that the humans are able to attain Tazkia. Our Creator has decided to allow the ultimate privilege of entry into the paradise to humans on the basis of Tazkia: Only those people shall be allowed to enter the paradise who will have done their Tazkia at a minimum expected level. If that level will not be achieved, first such individuals will have to go through the process of Tazkia (probably through temporary punishment) before allowing them to enter the paradise.

Tazkia means two things: purification and development. We are expected to purify as well as grow. In one sense it is a negative process and in another it is positive. We are expected to get rid of our impurities, weaknesses, and evil within us by following God’s message. When we do that, we also progress morally and spiritually in the process. God has given us a tremendous potential to grow morally and spiritually. We can become individuals of very high ethical standards and come spiritually very close to God. That is what the purpose of our existence in this life is. When we will achieve that objective, at least at the minimum expected level, we will be allowed to enter the paradise. The higher the level of Tazkia we will attain, the better the place we will deserve in the paradise. However, in the way of achieving this objective there are many weaknesses and temptations. Satan exploits them to stop us from progressing. God’s message enables us to overcome the challenge of Satan to our moral and spiritual progress.

What are the areas where the process of Tazkia is undertaken? The entire Islamic Shari’ah focuses on moral, physical, and dietary purification. Each religious expectation is meant to make us cleaner, either morally or physically. The Qur’an not only gives the Islamic law to us but also reminds us to achieve our objective of achieving moral and spiritual excellence. Reading the Qur’an is therefore a very important source of achieving Tazkia Nafs.

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Is Islam Static or Dynamic?

One hears quite often calls for the teachings of Islam to be altered and to be kept in line with the changing realities of time. The conventional scholars are blamed for causing it to have become static. What exactly is the reality about Islam’s message: Should the teachings be adjusted regularly to the pace of the changing times or should the changing trends of the society be considered evil if they do not conform to Islamic standards?

The fact is that Islam’s message was meant to be a source of guidance for humans of all times. However, its immediate addressees were the people who were addressed directly by the Qur’anic text. Their circumstances and the peculiar nature of their trial – which included the fact that being direct addressees of God’s revelation they were to either flourish or perish in this life too – moulded the Qur’anic text to suit their needs of guidance first and foremost. There is a part of the Qur’an therefore which is era-specific and there is another one which is universally applicable to all times. The decision of which part belongs to one category or the other is not subjective. The Qur’an is a clear book of guidance. However, the text expects careful reading for the reality to emerge clearly.

That message – both the Qur’anic text and the authentically transmitted religious practice of the messenger (Sunnah) – is what forms the core of God’s religious guidance for mankind. However, most of our traditional scholars believe that what the earlier scholars have said is sacrosanct too, even though only the word of God and the authentically transmitted religious practice of the prophet are sacrosanct; the rest of the Muslim literature should always be scrutinized in the light of these two criteria.

The reason why our traditional scholars insist that the religious views of earlier scholars have to be accepted as authority is that they claim that no one in the present times can be better than Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i etc. Thanks God other disciplines didn’t follow the same line of argument or else no Einstein could have been born after Newton, no Keynes could have dared to better what Adam Smith had already mentioned, no Bernard Shaw and Iqbal could have produced literature after Shakespeare and Ghalib respectively. Each one of them had his own place in history. The achievements of one didn’t undermine the stature of the other. And what is more important, the disciplines they served were prevented from staying static; instead, they flourished because of the contributions of the later scholars.

Islam is dynamic too. It is simply not possible that what is true for Science, Economics, and literature, the very reverse of it should be true for God’s message. The original teachings of Islam carry ingredients for catering to the needs of changing conditions of the new times. However, its teachings mention some principles and some applications of them which are unalterable. Most certainly some part of the Qur’anic message was era-specific which carries enormous value for our faith but is not applicable to us practically. Unfortunately, Muslims are torn between two extremes: On the one hand are the religious extremists who deem each and every word of the Qur’anic message – including the situation-specific part that requires non-believers to be killed – to be applicable for all times to come, even though the Qur’an makes it unmistakably clear that the message carrying such expectations was meant for a particular occasion only; on the other hand are the liberal extremists who want religion to submit to each and every expectation of the changing times.

To sum up, the message of Islam is dynamic; it has full potential for responding to the needs of the contemporary world. However, it is important to distinguish between what is religiously binding and what is not on the one hand and between new happenings of the modern times that are necessary to be taken seriously and the ones that need to be condemned or ignored. We need to have scholars who are up to the task to properly understand and bring forth the potential dynamism in the message of Islam. We need a perennial supply of Shah Waliullahs and Hamiduddin Farahis who could further the great task done by Abu Hanifas and Shafi‘is without undermining their great contribution. To achieve that task, we need educational institutions where potentially great scholars get the right education, training, and environment to be groomed properly.

Those who are worried about the present state of the Muslim ummah should do something to create such institutions.