The Muslim ‘Ummah’, if it can be termed as such, is on the verge of imploding. Almost all countries in its fold are riven with strife, strife of their own making. The reason is not hard to find: a blatant disregard of the cardinal principle of unity as enshrined in the Quran, which enjoins the believers “to hold fast to the rope of Allah, and not be divided amongst themselves”. Divisions have always been, and continue to be, deliberately engineered by the ruling classes in a bid to indefinitely prolong their reign, using the clergy as a willing accomplice. Instead of the focus being on points of convergence, of which there are legion, the emphasis is regrettably on fomenting differences. Tribes are pitched against tribes and nation states against nation states; no heed is paid to the Quranic injunction about tribes being created ‘so that you may know each other’ and not be antagonistic towards each other. Sectarian feelings are deliberately inflamed, with minorities being at the receiving end, ignoring the Quranic caution to be patient and wait for Allah, Who alone knows everything, to reveal where we each erred. Patience is unfortunately not our strongest suit.
The vast majority of Muslims have always been and continue to be, allied to state structures, religion being thus systematically tailored to work in support of the ruling classes rather than for the benefit of the community as a whole. All Muslims by and large tend to agree that the two foremost sources of guidance are the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah. All well and good in theory, but in practice the unambiguous directives of the Quran, amplified by the equally clear ‘mutawattir’ Hadith, are set aside in favour of a third source: the loudly expressed views of selected clergymen from one’s own denomination(maslak).
These opinions are generally directed at the heart rather than the brain, appealing to emotions rather than reason. Certain fallacies are ingrained in the minds of children of an impressionable age: that Islam is a blind faith, that recourse to reason is forbidden, that their own ‘maslak’ offers the only correct interpretation, that those who plundered and pillaged in the name of Islam did so out of piety, that all muslims will go to heaven and all non-muslims will go to hell and so on.
Even a cursory glance at the Quran would reveal that it constantly appeals to reason. When referring to supposedly natural phenomena that we take for granted, the Quran repeatedly informs us that in them are signs for people of understanding. To rub home the point further, the Quran denounces those who do not use their sense of reason as the ‘worst of beasts in the sight of Allah’. Hazrat Ali RA echoes the same sentiment when he says that religion is to be learned and not inherited, and that those who arrive at their religious conclusions without recourse to reason die as unbelievers.
When people emphasize the correctness of their ‘maslak’ vis-a-vis others, it is less through reason and more through inheritance, due to their unthinking embrace of the ‘blind faith’ concept. Everything they already believe in is thus justified on the basis of their own peculiar, and at times convoluted, brand of logic.
One of the least understood and definitely the most ignored aspect of Islam is its disdain of sectarianism. The Quran advises the believers ‘not to have any part in it in the least’ and promises a severe chastisement to those who disregard this injunction. The problem though that an average thinking Muslim has to come to grips with is that when confronted with so many versions of Islam, what interpretation should he follow.
As an individual would himself be answerable for his beliefs and his actions on the Day of Judgement, he should obviously choose the course that he considers closest to the spirit of the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah. What is of utmost importance is that one should be more concerned about rectifying one’s own behaviour rather than nitpicking the faults of others. Since the Quran invites us towards the path of moderation, which it refers to as exalted, our natural inclination should be to shun extremism of all varieties, display tolerance towards our fellow human beings and resist the onslaught of radicalization.
Hazrat Ali strongly felt that the prime duty of any ruler is to uphold justice, which follows his observation that people can live under ‘kufr’ (disbelief) but not under an unjust system. This furnished a clear answer to the query put forward some six centuries later by Halaku Khan to the Muslim scholars of Baghdad, while their city was being ransacked, that a non-muslim ruler who is just is preferable to a Muslim ruler who is unjust. Ibn-e-Taymiyya by contrast came out ardently in support of an unjust ruler, sixty years of whose rule was preferable to a single day of a just but ineffective ruler. I leave it to each individual to decide as to which worldview he wishes to subscribe to. Most Muslims it seems, knowingly or unknowingly, have gravitated towards the latter view, not realizing that it blurs the differentiation between right and wrong.
The Quran is also referred to as Al-Furqan for its unique ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and to establish the truth. This is precisely how we should evaluate our rulers, past and present, as to how much they tried and how far they succeeded in this prime objective, without being carried away by the Islamic brand which they wear on their sleeve.
Quranic entreaties and warnings are addressed(sometimes directly and at times indirectly through the Prophet) to the people, to the Muslims and to the believers. We seem to have developed some sort of a consensus that the word ‘Believer’ is used interchangeably with the word ‘Muslim’. Allah however clearly instructs us that He is never at a shortage of words, and He in fact chastises the Arabs of the desert for claiming to be ‘Believers’ when they are just ‘Muslims’, as ‘faith has not yet entered their hearts’.
Any discerning mind should be able to make out that the definition of a believer lies in the province of Allah, and it is He alone who will judge our credentials on the Day of Reckoning. On that Day, Allah has promised, no soul shall avail another and what will count is one’s own deeds, and in this promise of His we should place our complete trust. Our focus should thus be on self-improvement and on waging the greater Jihad, rectifying one’s own behaviour, rather than violently raging against our fellow human beings, whose only fault is that they were born in the wrong family. We should remain ever mindful that the Quran denounces both murder and sedition in the strongest possible words and upholds the sanctity of life and property of everyone, particularly the oppressed classes. Therein lies our salvation, both as an individual as well as a part of a broader community.