(ISLAM AND MODERN AGE)

An interesting seminar was held in Bangkok, Thailand from 28-29 January 2012 organised by AMAN (Asian Muslim Action Network) which is an Asia wide organization with Muslim initiative for promoting inter-religious peace, human rights and women’s rights. There were participants from several Asian countries like Philippine, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Bangla Desh etc. Also, there were three participants from Sweden who also took active part in the seminar and made an interesting presentation.

Mr. Mohammad Sabur, the Secretary General of AMAN welcomed all the participants and threw brief light on the purpose of the seminar. I, as Chairman of AMAN, gave introductory remarks and purpose of the seminar. I said that we often believe in certain philosophy or ideology or religion but unfortunately our conduct is not entirely determined by that belief or philosophy. That is why Qur’an asks a relevant question why don’t you do what you say (li ma taquluna ma la taf’alun)?

The answer to this question is that human conduct is very complex one. Human conduct is determined by several factors i.e. social, cultural, geographical and above all one’s own interest. A human actor may convert to a religion, or ideology or philosophy but it is not necessary that he/she would start implementing the tenets of that religion, philosophy or ideology straight into action. Had it been so our world would have been a perfect, peaceful and harmonious place to live in.

Our world, despite more than 5 thousand years of history and hundreds of prophets, seers and thinkers is still full of conflict, war and bloodshed because of non-action and non-implementation of what we believe in and what we profess to be our philosophy. And it is precisely for this reason that we remind ourselves every year on great persons and great thinkers’ birth days what they preached and we repeat this message year after year and yet implementation remains as poor as it ever was.

As for we Muslims we celebrate Prophet’s (PBUH) birth day every year (Eid Miladun Nabi) and every year our Maulanas and Maulavis keep telling us we must act according to the sirah (Prophet’s life) and yet we continue to behave as we were behaving all these years. Not only this even those who preach – the Maulavis and Maulanas, do not ever behave according to the sirah of the Prophet. There are hardly any role model for us.

We make tall claims that Qur’an has given equal rights to man and woman, that it is democratic in spirit, that it respects human rights and several treatises have been written on that, that there is complete freedom in Islam and so on. Why don’t we critically think whether these ideals are in practice? Do we treat our women equally? Do we give them even those rights which Islam has given? We find all sorts of excuses to deny them those rights and if someone advocates those rights he/she is accused of being western feminist.

Thus we keep on contradicting ourselves in one breath. How many Islamic countries have democracy? If at all democracy is being ushered in, in some countries it is because of people’s agitation, not because Islam advocates it. Hundreds of people had to die to make democracy acceptable in countries like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia etc. If we had gone by tenets of Islam, there would have been democracy throughout centuries.

Similarly human rights, though quite explicitly stated in Qur’an, was always, and still is, a dirty word in several Islamic countries, Human rights activists are also dubbed as foreign agents by dictatorial rulers. And those who claim the Qur’an to be the only constitution (a clever pretext to deny democracy) violate them most. If only Islamic world had implemented the provisions of Qur’an they would have had better world to live in today. But everywhere practice has never been what has been preached.

And it is not with Islamic world alone. Western countries have been no less hypocrates. The people of western countries sacrificed a great deal to usher in renaissance, freedom and democracy. They had to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives for that purpose. But soon democracy for their countries became imperialism and colonialism for Asian and African countries. England, France, Germany, Italy and other western powers reduced several Asian and African countries to their colonies and denied democracy and freedom to peoples of these countries.

These colonies had to fight against their colonial masters to achieve their freedom in turn sacrificing thousands of lives. Just see how bloody was the battle Algerians had to fight against France. What Americans did in Congo for the sake of diamonds, killing Lumamba was most shameful. Western powers never allowed genuine democracy to function in these Afro-Asian and Latin American countries.

America, established several dictators in various Latin American countries and reduced them to impotent Banana republic’s and yet took pride in America being a genuine democracy and ridiculed Russia for being a dictatorial regime. Hollowness of its democratic claims is being exposed in every day action. It destroyed both Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of democracy. It used media for false propaganda against Saddam and Taliban regime and killed hundreds of thousands of people by its own weapons of mass destruction rather than finding any weapon of mass destruction there.

America flagrantly supports Israel in killing innocent Palestinians in thousands and supplies it with money and weapons for this purpose. It does not speak a word against Israel possessing about 200 nuclear weapons (even justifies it) while it is using every possible means to make Iran give up its nuclear programme although Iran says it is not meant for weaponization but only for developing nuclear power. And all this even before International Atomic Energy Commission comes to any final conclusion. Is it not hypocracy?

Israel claims to be a Jewish state but is doing everything possible to violate teachings of Judaism. The behaviour of Israeli state is indeed in conformity with Zionist ideology than Judaism. Qur’an, as is well known accepts Judaism as religion of the people of the book and throughout history relations between Muslims and Jews have been quite cordial and Jews have lived in Muslim countries with peace and security and even acted as high functionaries in the Muslim countries. Jews were in fact persecuted by Christians.

Today western countries support Israel and consider Jews as friends. Why? Because they have made Arabs as enemies of Jews and themselves as friends of Jews for the sake of Arab oil. The Americans fear that Arabs may stop supplies of oil and choke the wheels of their industries so they have planted Israel in their midst so that they can suppress Arabs with the help of Israel. It is nothing but a clever strategy.

In order that it may not appear anti-Islam, they have also befriended a section of Arab regimes like Saudi, Kuwait and other Gulf countries and established their military bases there. These Arab countries also need American help to suppress democratic aspirations of their own people and for the sake of weapons they need not vis-ŕ-vis Israel but to suppress rebellion on the part of their own people.

Thus America is exploiting the situation it has cleverly created. On one hand it controls Arab oil and on the other, it runs wheels of military industrial complex on which American economy greatly depends. No Government of America can ignore pressures of these industries and their powerful lobbies. In the process they violate all possible principles of democracy and freedom.

As for press freedom less said the better. It is a great illusion. The media itself is totally controlled by powerful vested interests. What is published in print media or shown on electronic media is so carefully selected that while it may appear freedom of media, also, at the same time serves the interests of media and industrial barons. Common people who cannot see through the game keep on singing the praises for freedom in America.

Yes, freedom is very fundamental value of democracy and only if un-manipulated freedom were available to people in democracy things would have been much different. However, as pointed out above, freedom itself is cleverly manipulated to create an illusion of freedom and then the vested interests exploit this very doctrine of freedom and democracy in their own favour.

All this is being pointed out to show that philosophy of high morals on one hand, and behaviour to the contrary by powerful vested interests on the other, go hand in hand and that is why despite such philosophies human beings continue to suffer. In theological terms we can say that despite the fact that Allah sent 1,24,000 prophets the people are still waiting for a messiah or Mahdi to rid it of injustices and fill it with justice.

Allah promised in the Qur’an that it is on the side of the weaker sections (mustad’ifun) and sent Prophets like Moses to liberate the weak but the weak still are waiting for some Moses to liberate them again and perhaps thereafter they will be weakened again and again need a Moses or a Mahdi to liberate them again. This is going on unending because we are not able to produce a human being whose behaviour is free of selfish interests and free of all other constrains.

We are still unable to free us of tradition of patriarchy and hence women are unable to liberate themselves once for all. We will need Qur’anic doctrines again and again to provide women with equal opportunity. The women in most of the Muslim countries are far from being equal. Even today the honour killing goes on and the killer gets away with lighter punishment as talking to any stranger man or marrying of her free will is considered as having dishonoured the family.

Islam is strongly in favour of distributive justice and Qur’an exhorts all believers to give away surplus wealth to the needy and advises them to lead need based, not greed based life. According to certain hadith men have been prohibited to wear gold ornament except a ring. According to hadith Muslims have been prohibited to eat from gold and silver vessels and yet the ruling classes of Muslims starting with Umayyads indulged in luxuries unimaginable for ordinary believers.

Qur’an strongly condemns accumulation of wealth and there are several verses to this effect in Qur’an and yet Muslims never desisted from accumulation of wealth. Only Sufis adopted need-based style of life but all other Muslims except those who were poor and economically weak, all others believed in leading luxurious style of life. If these Muslims had adopted Islamic philosophy poverty would have been wiped out much before communism appeared in Eastern Europe.

As Marx famously said it is not enough for philosophers to interpret the world but to change it and for change what is needed is praxis. But sadly enough even communists were no exception. As Djilas of Yugoslavia had shown in his book a privileged class came into existence in Russia who enjoyed all privileges. It is common weakness of human beings that those who wield power try to seize all possible opportunities to have privileges. The Muslim ruling classes became mainly feudal and lived off the land though the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) had clearly banned share-cropping which amounts to exploitation of a peasant.

Despite this unfortunately the Ulama did not condemn share-cropping as they did riba’ (interest). The main reason seems that while Qur’an condemns riba’ (though there is controversy as to what exactly the word riba’ means) whereas share-cropping has not been mentioned. But Prophet (PBUH) condemned it when his attention was drawn to such a practiced in some parts of Arabia.

Islam appeared in Mecca which was international centre of trade and finance and riba’ was practiced which was flagrantly exploitative practice and hence Qur’an condemned it while in a predominantly desert country there was not much of agricultural operation and hence Qur’an did not mention this form of exploitation but the Prophet did. However, in later history of Islam when centre of power shifted to Central Asia which was predominantly agricultural area, feudal practices like share-copping was prevailing and ruling class was predominantly feudal, theologians and jurists maintained silence about share-cropping and went on condemning riba’ as trade ceased to be central to the economy of these regions.

Baghdad, Egypt, Iran, India and similar other countries which became centres of power, were all agricultural regions and share cropping a common practice, it became approved form of practice and trade became subservient to agriculture and hence riba’ was much easier to condemn. Riba’ a form of compound interest, is highly exploitative and hence Qur’an strongly condemns it but today its function has changed and banking interest is not really as exploitative as the theologians and jurists make it out to be and many among Islamic scholars feel that banking interest could be permissible.

But since a section of Muslims did indulge in trade and needed interest bearing transactions, the Muslim jurists did find ways and means to indulge in these transactions in a way which would hide its real nature. It was called hila (plural hiyal) or contrivance so that interest could be legitimately charged and yet could not be called interest but trade transaction. Thus what was unjust and exploitative became just and non-exploitative.

Thus the whole problem is of philosophy in action. A philosophy, and ideology, even though it appeals to us, we do not put it in practice because either it goes against our interests or because it goes against the predominant form of economic practices in the society as shown above. Socio-economic structure and socio-cultural practices play very important role in determining our practices.

Even if we want to practice a philosophy or ideology these factors (socio-economic and socio-cultural) become powerful deterrent in our practice. Another good example is of caste system in India. Even those who oppose caste system and believe in equality of all, find it very difficult to do away with caste in their day today life. Very deep is the impact of socio-cultural factors.

The appeal of Islamic equality and brotherhood and sisterhood attracted poor and backward masses but soon they discovered that conversion to Islam hardly changed their low social status. Socially they remained what they were before conversion. This is particularly true of Indian sub-continent. One can see low caste Muslims in India and Pakistan. Several studies have shown that these low caste Muslims cannot even stand in first line to pray in a mosque. First few lines in a mosque are always occupied by Muslims of high status.

Thus it will be seen that it is most challenging to put philosophy into action and, as pointed out earlier it is so irrespective of religion or ideology. In every such community based on egalitarian philosophy or ideology some privileged classes come into existence after a short initial period and these privileged classes are more concerned with maintaining their privileges than the core teachings or values of that philosophy. They do pay, however, lip service to those values or teachings.

But more privileged you are, more you stress those values and less and less you practice them.

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