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The worst of times

A Church in Peshawar gets blown up by suicide bombers sent in by religious militants, killing over 80 worshippers. In their view, by killing non-Muslims these suicide bombers would go to heaven and through this vile act, the American government may be forced to reconsider its policy of drone attacks.

Around the same time Al Shabaab, a militant organisation based in Somalia, guns down nearly 70 people in a Kenyan mall, where a children’s event was being held.

In Pakistan the Council of Islamic Ideology sits in judgment on whether DNA is acceptable evidence for cases of rape, while failing to differentiate between rape and adultery, and often causing blame to shift to the victim rather than the perpetrator.

The implementation of the Hudood, Qisas & Diyat and blasphemy laws make a mockery of a religion that is supposed to stand for peace and tolerance for all humanity and for all times to come.

And amidst all this, while so-called religious scholars and clerics claim that Islam is in danger, a smaller but increasingly visible group puts the blame squarely on the intrusive manner in which religion has been forced into each and every sphere of life.

Today, more than ever, Muslims are in a state of moral, social and intellectual disrepair and decrepitude. Those who claim to be religious have closed their minds to thought and reflection, follow traditions and rituals set down by their forefathers blindly and have assumed an arrogance of proportions similar to the peoples who were destroyed by God in earlier times.

Those who claim to be secular, modern and liberal see religion as an anti-rights, anti-justice set of rules that may have some relevance to an individual privately, but none at all to the collective growth of society.

Many have debated the causes due to which Muslims find themselves in their present state. Some point fingers at Western conspiracies, some at the lack of education, others at lack of internal solidarity and still others at lack of religious piety and failure to observe the tenets of Islam properly.

Our clerics are vocal, giving sermons about empty mosques, unveiled women, coeducation, ‘obscenity’ in the media and so on. A frenzy of home- and hotel-based duroos (lectures) begins. And suddenly, one observes an increase in the number of beards and burqa- and niqab-clad women.

In reality, Muslims took the decision to stagnate hundreds of years ago, when some put a stop to ijtehad. Since then, rigidity, blinkered visions and the tendency to fragment into groups added to a general intellectual lassitude and led to acceptance of rituals that were easy to perform, and interpretations that were made by others who were perceived to be learned men.

Instead of turning to the Quran and Sunnah to seek clarity on what is essential according to Islam, and what has been left for its followers to determine according to the social and economic characteristics of the times, Muslims have found it easier to consider somewhat unproven sayings to be the final word for all times to come.

Instead of following the Quranic injunction to reflect, consult and decide, it has been found more expedient to take certain decisions that had been taken at the time that Islam was revealed, as a given. Any debates, arguments or discussions have been considered akin to blasphemy. The Quran — that ultimate book of wisdom — has been kept aside and relegated to rote recitation, or literal translation at best, while oft-quoted sayings attributed to the Prophet (PBUH), some of which may be questioned for their authenticity, are used to prove a point.

It seems that God has sent His punishment on Muslims for the manner in which they have misused and abused His Book and His Prophet’s Sunnah, for they commit the very crimes He has warned against, and claim to be His chosen few, just as those who perished even when prophets such as Nuh, Lut and others warned them. The difference is perhaps that the destruction wrought on earlier peoples came swiftly, and the Muslims today are going through a long-drawn-out process of self-destruction.

In this era of darkness, there may still be hope for a renaissance. Scholars of the calibre of Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, for example, are among several in Pakistan who have been engaged in conducting in-depth research and writing on contemporary issues and Islamic teachings, and presenting solutions.

Civil society, the Pakistani intelligentsia, the government and those religious scholars who seek the truth and not personal power need to pay attention to these analytical and thoughtful writings that could lighten a path that appears dark and troubled. Consider, for example, what Mr Ghamidi says about religious extremism:

“We will also have to seriously repent for using religion for achieving our political ends … the monster of extremism is in fact the vile product of the religious thought that is taught in our religious seminaries under the topics of implementation of the Sharia and armed jihad and for the eradication of disbelief, polytheism and apostasy.”

Mr Ghamidi presents a three-step formula to eradicate extremism: religious seminaries should be bound by law to give admission only after students have gone through a compulsory 12-year period of general education, as is the standard for anyone who wishes to take up science, arts or commerce; private holding and management of Friday sermons and mosques should be banned and all mosques should come under the single management of the government; sect-specific mosques should not be encouraged. Society needs to seriously ponder over these suggestions.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Nikhat Sattar, "The worst of times," Dawn. 2013-09-27.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social rights , Social lwas , Religious extremism , Church-Peshawar , Ideology-Islam , Islamic society , Hudood ordinance , Education , Muslims , Jihad , Quran , Prophet (PBUH) , Javed Ahmed Ghamidi , Peshawar , Pakistan , DNA