08 November 2009

Representation of Islam in a Plural Society

Representation of Islam in a plural society

Suhail K.K

We are living in a country with diversities of multiple spectrums. A country with not only religious diversities but pluralistic in multiple domains – Culture, ethnicity, linguistics and color. It is very important for an Islamic movement working in a country like India to learn and understand how Islam and Islamic tradition viewed religious pluralism. I hope that the discussion and discourse on ‘Representation of Islam in a plural society’ will give a new outlook and approach in shaping the organizational behavior and setting new priorities for Islamic Movement in the social realities of contemporary India. There have been drastic changes since the last 50-60 years, in the way people think and perceive. Societal values have changed. It is inevitable for an Islamic movement to rethink on the way we see and address the society around us at this point of time. Let me remind two things here. First, it is not presenting Islam or ‘Dawa’ (of which meaning has been made very limited) which is being discussed in the whole discourse; But its representation of Islam by Muslims in general and Islamic movement in specific in a plural and secular society especially India. Secondly, the discussion is not on dissolving, diluting or compromising Islam in a plural society. It is about the pure nature of Islam itself.

First let us look at the Qur’anic teachings and the Islamic tradition on how religious diversity has been accommodated, embedding with creative dialogue.

“And if your Lord had so willed, He could surely have made mankind one Ummah [community (following one religion only i.e. Isl├óm)], but they will not cease to disagree” (Surah Hud 11:118)

The constitutional safeguards of Islamic khilafat ensures that regional cultural diversities are not ruined, rather accommodate them even if against basic fundamentals of Islam. Even while framing laws applicable only for Muslims Islamic state takes account of ‘urf’ (Local custom and tradition). Most of the fatwas of Imam Shafi issued from Misr and Iraq varied and the teachings of Abu yusuf and Mohd bin Hassan Shibani both of whom were from Hanafi school of thought were only based on the characteristic of society where they represented Islam. In short Islam is organic and takes account of the social realities.

Regarding the etiquettes and attitude towards the non-Muslims, the nature of Islam is accommodative and inclusive, unlike the dominant ideologies of secular modernity like communism or capitalism or hindutwa which believes in eliminating their ideological enemies.

“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.” (Surah Al-Mumtahinah - 60:8)

The history of Islam is enough to prove that Islam is an ideology with teaches the most beautiful art of co-existence.

The mushriks in Makkah declared Muslims as their enemies and punished them in all ways they could. The Muslims had to move from Makkah to Madeena for refuge. But when Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) comes to know that the people in Makkah are in famine, he sends food from Madeena to feed the enemies.

Even at the time of hijra, the guide to Madeena was Abdullah bin Uraiqid who was a Kafir.

The doctor of Prophet Muhammed was Haris Ibn Qandan Saqafi who was a Christian.

People belonging to all religions used to have dialogue with prophet sitting inside Masjid un Nabawy.

It is very popular that at the time when Prophet Muhammed died, his chest shield was with a Jew.

When Hazrat Aboobacker was moving to Madeena was called back by Ibn Dugna who was one amongst mushriks and tells him not to leave Makkah.

After continuous propaganda that Islam is intolerant and could not accommodate other thought s in society, the worst thing that has happened is that the Muslims themselves started to believe that Islam does not allow accommodating other ideologies and religious groups! The Medina pact on the basis of which the first formal state was formed ever in the history of mankind is a classical example of the social and political order we dream of.

The Jews were the religious group that declared Muslims as the worst enemies. Quran says it in Surah Al-Maida (5:82). But still when Islamic state was made the Jews formed the majority or at least they were equal to Muslims in number. Banu quraida, banu qainuka, banul musdalif, banu naleer were some of the Jew tribes with whom prophet Muhammed (SAWS) joined hands to form a state. The first point of the Medina Charter was "We are one Nation (Umma)". This is the first classical example of inclusion in a state, ever in the history of humanity. Neither was this the contribution of secular modernity which emerged after centuries nor was Islam secularizing itself (!). This has been embedded in the whole teachings and traditions of Islam. This is the very reason why Hamas and Hizbullah have Christian suicide bombers and Ikhwanul Muslimun in Egypt and Syria has non-Muslim parliamentarians. At the same time we need to realize that historically colonial modernity can never and was never able to accommodate the socially and politically engaging opposite ideologies.

As an Islamic movement working in India, these teachings of Islam must act as the guiding principles in shaping the organizational behavior with the society around us. We need to teach the Muslim umma on how to bridge the gap between two huge communities of India; how to join hands and work for the wellness of the society and the country we live in. Being “a brother amongst the society they lived in” (wa idh akhakum hudan, swalihan..) was the status of all Prophets that came till now. They lived Islam as part of society, never detached from them. Icebergs between communities will melt by itself when we mould our organizational behavior in such a manner, especially in this liberal society. Social change is impossible without changing the social psych and consciousness. For this the distance must end.

Identifying the problems faced by the society and working to solve it was the most important aspect of representing Islam by prophets. Hazrat Yusuf (ASLM) after proving his capability to resolve a crisis faced by the country, claimed that "I am a good keeper and knowledgeable" (12:55) and asked for the throne. He was given the responsibility with trust and confidence. Let us 'live Islam' rather than only speaking Islam. Let us come out of representing Islam only by speaking of moralities and ethics (Akhlaqiyyat). Let the people around us feel Islam by the way we manifest this ideology in social, political, economical, educational affairs and all domains of Civilization. Rather than claiming that Islam is the solution to all problems, let us show it on the ground as living realities.

Mawlana Mawdudy (RA), has showed us the way on how to creatively dialogue with modernity of the 20th century. He debated with the logics and reason of modernity and questioned the veracity of secularism, democracy and nationalism using its own language and parameters. His books were its theoretical manifestations and Jamaate Islami was its practical implication. The Islamic movement working in the 21st century when post-modernist approach and logics are ruling the individual, social and political realms, must upgrade and equip ourselves to be compatible and effectively dialogue with this society.

The agenda of an Islamic movement must be deep rooted and evolved by the political, geographical, economical, cultural and historical eco-system of a society. That is how the priorities and focuses of Prophet Hud differ from Lut (ASLM); Prophet Shuhaib from Ibrahim (ASLM); Prophet Musa from Isa (ASLM); Makki period from Madani period. The priorities set for the Islamic movement need to be reviewed according to changing realities.

The India-Pak partition was not a mere geographical division, instead it created deep consequences. In India, Communal ghettoization and polarization was one of the most dangerous aftermaths. Muslim and Hindu population concentrated in different ‘bastis’. All transactions became limited within the community. Muslim community thought only of their own problems and shrinked to themselves. This unfortunately has indeed created an influence in shaping our organizational character too. Whereas the whole teachings of Quran emphasizes on the social aspect, while mentioning of each and every icon of Islam. Muslims are missioned to work for society (3:110); Quran has been revealed for the whole of society (2:185); Masjids are appointed for society (3:96); prophets had been sent to the whole of mankind (21:107).

Teachings of Qur'an that Prophets of all times dealt with the living problems of their society, though has been by hearted by us with the correct reference numbers, we as an Islamic movement did not as much involved in the burning problems of our country like education, employment, housing, health, environment, water, human rights or social exclusion. If the reality is so, instead of manifesting Islam we are manifesting secularism; which teaches us that religion must not involve in social and political realms. We need to re-think why are we not able to feel the problems faced by any section of the society as ours. When we work for humanity, the humanity will work for us. Let us socially engage Islam and make the society feel the warmth of the beautiful values that Islam speaks about, unlike the secular neo-social movements.

Hoping that this seminar will create deep impacts in the way we think and work and also open doors for more discussions


Fahad Ahmed said...

Nice and interesting post!!

Sibghat said...

Good post Suhail Bhai.

saiful said...