A new approach for the Islamic world
The world of Islam is in turmoil today. The events of 11th September in New York have given it a new jolt. The Muslim world was far from stable even before that. It had experienced many crises, conflicts and revolution. The post-colonial phase in whole of Africa and Asia that way has not seen long lasting stability.
There have been frequent changes of regimes and revolutions. Most of it has been due to post-colonial problems, lack of economic development and widespread discontent. The Islamic world, particularly the West Asian region, has been more conflict prone due to its sensitivity because of oil.
It is oil politics, which has caused much turmoil in this region and from Islamic point of view it is the core area of Islam. It is this core area of Islam, which has been much in turmoil. The western powers prop up in the countries of this region either puppet rulers or support dictators, monarchs and shiekhs who have no popular political base. Iraq, Iran and other countries in the region have witnessed several revolutions or political turmoil. And it being the core area of Islam, the political developments are foisted on it. Islam, thus becomes the cause of dictatorships and it is argued that Islam does not admit of democracy.
These monarchical or dictatorial regimes often survive by enforcing medieval theological formulations, which are based not on core teachings of the Qur'an but on medieval theological formulations and term it Islamisation of politics. Thus this legitimisation game by unpopular rulers has serious social and political repercussions of their own. These rulers then enforce measures which look anti-modern, anti-secular and anti-women and bring upon harsh criticism on Islam.
The media also has its own anti-Islamic prejudices, which make media comments on Islam even harsher. Instead of looking at things in political and social perspective every thing is blamed on Islam and its bigotry. Or madrasa system of education comes under attack. It is not madrasa system per se which is responsible for social bigotry. On the other hand, madrasas are themselves reflection of political manoeuvrings by the undemocratic rulers.
The madrasas, which produced Taliban were dominated by people with political aspirations. In fact these madrasas were created for producing students who would wage jihad against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. These madrasas with jihadi- orientation were financed by CIA and Saudis to meet their political needs. Madrasas by themselves do not produce bigoted students. Madrasas are basically meant for religious education. Pakistani politicians, particularly Zia-ul-Haq, was instrumental in promoting Islamic orthodoxy for his own purposes.
His entire Islamisation project was inspired by his political needs. He promoted Islamic orthodoxy and jihadi mentality in Pakistani army also. The ISI was nothing if not political instrument of military rulers. All these had no popular sanction of Pakistani people. There has been no truly democratic regime in Pakistan. During so called democratic spells in between military rules in Pakistan it has always been a controlled or rather authoritarian democracy.
The Taliban regime, which was ultra-orthodox regime in Afghanistan, was backed up by Pakistan, not because it was religiously needed, but because it was political necessity to perpetuate Pakistani hegemony in the region. And jihad has been nothing but legitimisation of political violence in the region.
It is also true that the Saudis have financed extremist Wahabi groups in South Asia region, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight other political influences, particularly Soviet influence during the Soviet period and Iranian influence during the post-Soviet period. The Saudi rulers were shaken by the Islamic revolution in Iran and wanted to counter it by financing extremist Sunni outfits in the region. The Sipah-e-Sahabah and similar other groups depended for their finance, apart from internal sources (ISI or donations from people) on sources such as Saudi.
Also, the Pakistani politicians directly or indirectly incited feelings in Kashmir, not because they really wanted it ‘liberated' but it paid rich political dividends internally. And this also could be legitimised through the Islamic idiom of jihad. It does not mean there is no discontent among the Kashmiri people and their grievances are not to be redressed. It is a different issue altogether. The Kashmiri Islam, being sufistic Islam, has no place for jihadi mentality. Its outlook is sulh-i-kul (peace with all). But jihadi outfits were created and financed to suit political requirements of the Pakistani rulers. The jihadi idiom caught on easily among the educated unemployed youth that could let out their frustrations through armed fight.
It is also important to note that there is potential for violence in all societies, including industrially highly developed societies. In American societies too one finds great deal of internal violence as witnessed from time to time. As pointed out by Khaled Al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News, there are many instances of inhuman violence in the American society.
He writes, "Before advising Saudi Arabia on how to monitor its Islamic seminaries, the US should take stock of its own schools, a breeding ground for scandals." He points out that Charles Whitman, the University student who climbed up the university tower in Texas in 1966 with an arsenal of weapons, and then killed 17 of his fellow students and teachers and followers of Charles Manson, who believed the latter was God and blindly obeyed his orders to go on killing spree were not product of any Islamic madrasa.
Or violence in Palestine particularly by Hamas is not product of Islamic madrasa system. It is product of Israeli policies in Palestine. The media after every suicide bombing rushes to denounce Islamic militancy but hardly says a word about Israeli ruthlessness and overuse of violence against Palestinians in the name of its security. Some papers even go to the extent of saying that the state of Israel is surrounded by number of militant Arab states out to destroy it and it has to take steps to ensure its security. No one points out that Israel alone has capacity to destroy all those states put together and has powerful backing of American arms.
Having said all this it is necessary to urge upon the Muslims to reflect deeply about the state of affairs in Islamic world today. May be the world media over-projects its anti-Islamic biases. Also, it is true that instability in the region is more because of oil politics and western interest but Muslims themselves also cannot escape all responsibilities for promoting peace and development-oriented politics in Muslim countries.
The times are changing fast and there is great deal of necessity for re-thinking the issues. The rulers have their own interests but the Muslims have to work for their own political and social liberation through modern education, on one hand, and, ushering in democratic culture, on the other. It is not enough to say Islam stands for peace, one also has to promote peace in Muslim societies. The jihadi discourse will have to be countered by discourse of peace and democracy. Islam itself was a revolution against injustices and ignorance in the Arab society of the time. The Islamic revolution gave values of justice, peace, human dignity and wisdom.
It is thus duty of all Muslims today to create societies in keeping with these fundamental values of Islam and fight, through democratic struggles, for realising these values. The jihadi discourse must be replaced by democratic discourse. Violence will not solve any problems of modern society. Industrial and technological development can take place only through education and proper developmental perspective.
In critical periods the societies have thrown up leadership with future vision. Militancy and extremism must be completely shunned and Muslim youth must be inspired by these fundamental values for its struggles for better and more just societies. To raise cry for jihad is to play in the hands of vested interests that oppose any structural changes to perpetuate their own rule.
Persons like Osama bin Laden are not going to liberate Islamic countries. They will bring only more destruction and war. Frustration cannot be equated with change. What Osama and his supporters represent is anger and frustration. Jihad is not use of violence in the state of anger and frustration. Such violence is totally destructive not of ones enemy but of oneself. Real jihad will be against ignorance and vested interest using all available democratic space in ones society. Medieval theological idiom with an air of finality and dogmatism will not be an effective weapon. Such theological discourse will only breed stagnation.
The whole sprit of the Qur'an is dynamic as pointed out by so many great Islamic thinkers like Jamaluddin Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Sir Syed and Muhammad Iqbal. They waged real jihad against stagnation, dogmatism, ignorance and superstition in the name of Islam. It is highly necessary to revive the spirit of these great Islamic thinkers and activists. Their jihad was real jihad. Their main weapons were knowledge, understanding and constant efforts to change.
Iqbal represented this spirit in his much quoted verse which says "Firm conviction, constant efforts and overpowering universal love are the weapons of men in jihad of life." This is a challenge for us all Muslims. We must turn into a great opportunity and change the image of Islam in the modern world.