Monday, January 21, 2008

Myths about Islam

By Asghar Ali Engineer - TAM The American Muslim - Bridgeton, MO, USA
Friday, January 18, 2008

There are several hostile myths around Islam thanks to Western media and to communal forces in India. The Western media by and large was never sympathetic to Islam but after 9/11 it became downright hostile and did not feel shy in spreading all sorts of myths about it. The Zionist factor can also not be discounted. In India the Sangh Parivar and particularly the RSS have gone an extra mile to defame Islam. Lastly, we should not ignore the role the Muslim extremists play in discrediting Islam through their own shameful role.

Generally people form their opinion about anything by reading newspaper headlines. And newspaper headlines tend to be sensational. The events of 9/11 provided newspapers one more opportunity to sensationalize news about Islamic militancy. Even social scientists and scholars studying Islam in Western world project Islam as religion of violence and fanaticism. Also, Islam is projected as anti-modernism, anti-science, anti-democracy and anti-women.

If not media people at least social scientists and scholars should be able to make a distinction between what a religion teaches and how social structures impact a believer’s behaviour. But most of the western scholars also do not make such distinctions and whatever happens in a Muslim society is blamed on Islam. A religion finds its own level in a given society. Thus one has to understand social structure as much as religious faith. A religion is not practiced in a vacuum, it is practiced in a concrete historical and social conditions. A religion may stand for most modern and democratic ideals, but same cannot be practiced in a backward feudal society.

If the Muslim countries do not have democracy and modern political institutions, it is not because of Islam but because these countries have feudal social structure. There is nothing in the Qur’an or Islamic teachings, which opposes democracy or democratic governance.

(...)

There are peaceful trends in Islam represented by Sufi Islam, which is followed by a great majority of Muslims. The very basic doctrine of Sufis Islam is sulh-I-kul i.e. total peace and peace with all. There is absolutely no place for violence and intolerance in the Sufi Islam. Peace, tolerance and respect for all faiths is very basic doctrines among the Sufis.

One of the Sufi schools believes in what is called wahdat al-wujud (i.e. Unity of Being) which implies all are manifestation of one being and so all distinctions of caste and creed become irrelevant. This is the most inclusive trend in Islam.

Ibn al-Arabi of Spain was founder of this doctrine. Love is very central to this school of Sufism. Most of the Muslims all over the world follow Sufi Islam and not Wahabi Islam which is purist and tends to be quite intolerant. Unfortunately the western media often cites example of Wahabi Islam of Saudi Arabia and show that Islam is intolerant.

In Saudi Arabia too reality is not static. It is changing and now changing fast. The Muslims, as well as the ruling family, is realizing the consequences of sectarian and intolerant approach and are bringing about changes and working for peace and attacking terrorism.

One should understand that Islamic world is no more static. It is changing and trying to adjust with new realities although its pace may not be satisfactory for some. People take time to adjust in matters of religion and tradition. Social change is very complex process and requires great deal of patience.

(...)

The word kafir has assumed very different internal dimensions too. Every sect of Islam considers the rival sect as being kafir. Thus one can say the Muslim theologians have declared more Muslims as Kafirs than non-Muslims. Thus there is great need to sensitize Muslim religious leadership itself in this matter. In fact the word kafir has been used by the Qur’an for those who actively opposed Islam when the Prophet (PBUH) was preaching. They were not only opposing but persecuting him and his followers. The whole concept of Kufr has to be related to that historical situation.

If we carefully study the general tenor of the Qur’an it should be left only to Allah to decide who is kafir and who is not. Secondly, even if there is consensus on someone’s being kafir, one must coexist harmoniously with him unless he adopts hostile and aggressive attitude towards Muslims. It is also important to note that in history of Islam there has not been general consensus among Muslims who is and who is not kafir. In view of all this it is best left to Allah to decide, as He alone knows the inner thoughts of human beings.

Thus it will be seen from above that there are so many myths about Islam and these myths are not grounded in reality. These myths must be critically examined before being accepted. One should not, as it often happens, quote the Qur’anic verses without understanding their historical context. It is, to say the least, being either unaware of methodology of understanding a scripture, or adopting a priori hostile view. Most of the scholars take a priori hostile view and help spread such myths about Islam.

Such myths create unnecessary hurdles in promoting peaceful co-existence, which is so vitally needed in modern world which is becoming more and more diverse and plural, thanks to the faster means of communication and economic migration which is taking place on ever increasing scale due to globalisation. There is great need to understand world religions more objectively and sincerely to promote world peace. There was time when religious rivalries were rampant. But now time has come to shed these rivalries and promote peaceful co-existence.

[Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is a renowned Indian scholar and activist, recognized for his work in promoting communal harmony and peace in India.].

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the overall sentiment but then one must understand the general impression that we in the West have. I will not speak for or against either side, as I will only share my own perspective. As for me I find Sufism and Islam to be incompatible positions. Granted, I am neither a Sufi and I am not a Muslim but then I see the two as opposed in every way. One is truly egalatarian, democratic and evolutionary, whereas you would be hard-pressed to find a single example of an actual Muslim Government that is similar.

To blame "history" and not Islamic thought in itself, is well, to indulge in apologetics to say the least. I am not saying that Sufis are responsible for Islamic Governments or extremist and fundamentalists in the Islamic world. But, in Spiritual terms, alignment equals accountability. I for my part am not aligned with the policies of the U.S. Government and I am not aligned with Christianity. Can Sufi's honestly affirm the same when it comes to terrorist actions carried out by Muslim's and by Governmental structures that are ultimately Islamic? You can't have it both ways!

To say that some random joe just goes around blowing people up, is as unfair as to say that Islamic Governments are not a product of Islamic Law. Maybe, your laws need to be reexamined. Sufis who are true to their Spiritual Principles will face physical death for freedom and freedom does not just include spiritual freedom but all human freedoms.

So, are the "myths" of Islam really myths or are they true? What if those who are so vehement towards the West were to express their discontent with their own Governments, would they live to tell it? Can you honestly say that Islamic Government is any less outdated and outmoded than the caste structure in India?

It is interesting the dynamism and adaptability of Sufism and the utter inability of Islam to get past who knows how many centuries back. If Sufism will not serve as the mirror of Islam, who or what, can or will?

If God, or Allah is Truth or al Haqq, then why is Islam afraid to face its own falsehoods, failings and fictions? Is not a Muslim to examine his or her own faults in the Greater Jihad? Why are Muslim societies incapable of addressing their own problems and resolving them? Sufis seem so knowledgeable of Reality and Spirituality, so why are they not applying their own Realizations directly, practically and as One Living Spiritual Body, to Islamic problems in general? I don't agree with a so-called Spirituality that is in life and that yet is not engaged fully in life, whether it is the monasticism of Buddhism or Hinduism or the dhikr of Sufism, what is the difference of your Baraka is not benefitting all?

When this nur grows it must express in whatever ways are necessary Socially, Politically or Economically. This is the completion of action. As if, one is truly Spiritual, of what value is a life that does not serve the Spiritual and since not all are destined to be Sheik's that leaves many other ways for this power to effect change. As change is life and life is change.

These are my thoughts. Truth is the ultimate measure of all things and IT MUST BE MEASURED OUT EQUALLY UNTO ALL!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Myths about Islam
By Asghar Ali Engineer - TAM The American Muslim - Bridgeton, MO, USA
Friday, January 18, 2008

There are several hostile myths around Islam thanks to Western media and to communal forces in India. The Western media by and large was never sympathetic to Islam but after 9/11 it became downright hostile and did not feel shy in spreading all sorts of myths about it. The Zionist factor can also not be discounted. In India the Sangh Parivar and particularly the RSS have gone an extra mile to defame Islam. Lastly, we should not ignore the role the Muslim extremists play in discrediting Islam through their own shameful role.

Generally people form their opinion about anything by reading newspaper headlines. And newspaper headlines tend to be sensational. The events of 9/11 provided newspapers one more opportunity to sensationalize news about Islamic militancy. Even social scientists and scholars studying Islam in Western world project Islam as religion of violence and fanaticism. Also, Islam is projected as anti-modernism, anti-science, anti-democracy and anti-women.

If not media people at least social scientists and scholars should be able to make a distinction between what a religion teaches and how social structures impact a believer’s behaviour. But most of the western scholars also do not make such distinctions and whatever happens in a Muslim society is blamed on Islam. A religion finds its own level in a given society. Thus one has to understand social structure as much as religious faith. A religion is not practiced in a vacuum, it is practiced in a concrete historical and social conditions. A religion may stand for most modern and democratic ideals, but same cannot be practiced in a backward feudal society.

If the Muslim countries do not have democracy and modern political institutions, it is not because of Islam but because these countries have feudal social structure. There is nothing in the Qur’an or Islamic teachings, which opposes democracy or democratic governance.

(...)

There are peaceful trends in Islam represented by Sufi Islam, which is followed by a great majority of Muslims. The very basic doctrine of Sufis Islam is sulh-I-kul i.e. total peace and peace with all. There is absolutely no place for violence and intolerance in the Sufi Islam. Peace, tolerance and respect for all faiths is very basic doctrines among the Sufis.

One of the Sufi schools believes in what is called wahdat al-wujud (i.e. Unity of Being) which implies all are manifestation of one being and so all distinctions of caste and creed become irrelevant. This is the most inclusive trend in Islam.

Ibn al-Arabi of Spain was founder of this doctrine. Love is very central to this school of Sufism. Most of the Muslims all over the world follow Sufi Islam and not Wahabi Islam which is purist and tends to be quite intolerant. Unfortunately the western media often cites example of Wahabi Islam of Saudi Arabia and show that Islam is intolerant.

In Saudi Arabia too reality is not static. It is changing and now changing fast. The Muslims, as well as the ruling family, is realizing the consequences of sectarian and intolerant approach and are bringing about changes and working for peace and attacking terrorism.

One should understand that Islamic world is no more static. It is changing and trying to adjust with new realities although its pace may not be satisfactory for some. People take time to adjust in matters of religion and tradition. Social change is very complex process and requires great deal of patience.

(...)

The word kafir has assumed very different internal dimensions too. Every sect of Islam considers the rival sect as being kafir. Thus one can say the Muslim theologians have declared more Muslims as Kafirs than non-Muslims. Thus there is great need to sensitize Muslim religious leadership itself in this matter. In fact the word kafir has been used by the Qur’an for those who actively opposed Islam when the Prophet (PBUH) was preaching. They were not only opposing but persecuting him and his followers. The whole concept of Kufr has to be related to that historical situation.

If we carefully study the general tenor of the Qur’an it should be left only to Allah to decide who is kafir and who is not. Secondly, even if there is consensus on someone’s being kafir, one must coexist harmoniously with him unless he adopts hostile and aggressive attitude towards Muslims. It is also important to note that in history of Islam there has not been general consensus among Muslims who is and who is not kafir. In view of all this it is best left to Allah to decide, as He alone knows the inner thoughts of human beings.

Thus it will be seen from above that there are so many myths about Islam and these myths are not grounded in reality. These myths must be critically examined before being accepted. One should not, as it often happens, quote the Qur’anic verses without understanding their historical context. It is, to say the least, being either unaware of methodology of understanding a scripture, or adopting a priori hostile view. Most of the scholars take a priori hostile view and help spread such myths about Islam.

Such myths create unnecessary hurdles in promoting peaceful co-existence, which is so vitally needed in modern world which is becoming more and more diverse and plural, thanks to the faster means of communication and economic migration which is taking place on ever increasing scale due to globalisation. There is great need to understand world religions more objectively and sincerely to promote world peace. There was time when religious rivalries were rampant. But now time has come to shed these rivalries and promote peaceful co-existence.

[Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer is a renowned Indian scholar and activist, recognized for his work in promoting communal harmony and peace in India.].

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the overall sentiment but then one must understand the general impression that we in the West have. I will not speak for or against either side, as I will only share my own perspective. As for me I find Sufism and Islam to be incompatible positions. Granted, I am neither a Sufi and I am not a Muslim but then I see the two as opposed in every way. One is truly egalatarian, democratic and evolutionary, whereas you would be hard-pressed to find a single example of an actual Muslim Government that is similar.

To blame "history" and not Islamic thought in itself, is well, to indulge in apologetics to say the least. I am not saying that Sufis are responsible for Islamic Governments or extremist and fundamentalists in the Islamic world. But, in Spiritual terms, alignment equals accountability. I for my part am not aligned with the policies of the U.S. Government and I am not aligned with Christianity. Can Sufi's honestly affirm the same when it comes to terrorist actions carried out by Muslim's and by Governmental structures that are ultimately Islamic? You can't have it both ways!

To say that some random joe just goes around blowing people up, is as unfair as to say that Islamic Governments are not a product of Islamic Law. Maybe, your laws need to be reexamined. Sufis who are true to their Spiritual Principles will face physical death for freedom and freedom does not just include spiritual freedom but all human freedoms.

So, are the "myths" of Islam really myths or are they true? What if those who are so vehement towards the West were to express their discontent with their own Governments, would they live to tell it? Can you honestly say that Islamic Government is any less outdated and outmoded than the caste structure in India?

It is interesting the dynamism and adaptability of Sufism and the utter inability of Islam to get past who knows how many centuries back. If Sufism will not serve as the mirror of Islam, who or what, can or will?

If God, or Allah is Truth or al Haqq, then why is Islam afraid to face its own falsehoods, failings and fictions? Is not a Muslim to examine his or her own faults in the Greater Jihad? Why are Muslim societies incapable of addressing their own problems and resolving them? Sufis seem so knowledgeable of Reality and Spirituality, so why are they not applying their own Realizations directly, practically and as One Living Spiritual Body, to Islamic problems in general? I don't agree with a so-called Spirituality that is in life and that yet is not engaged fully in life, whether it is the monasticism of Buddhism or Hinduism or the dhikr of Sufism, what is the difference of your Baraka is not benefitting all?

When this nur grows it must express in whatever ways are necessary Socially, Politically or Economically. This is the completion of action. As if, one is truly Spiritual, of what value is a life that does not serve the Spiritual and since not all are destined to be Sheik's that leaves many other ways for this power to effect change. As change is life and life is change.

These are my thoughts. Truth is the ultimate measure of all things and IT MUST BE MEASURED OUT EQUALLY UNTO ALL!