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Challenges Facing Islam
There was a time when debates were held over the merits of various isms - Feudalism, Capitalism, Marxism, and Communism. The era is over. The last three decades have been characterized by a revolution in the fields of travel and communications. We are now in the computer age and the era of Information Technology. Developments in audio-visual media and telecommunications have reduced the world to a global village. As a consequence, everyone now has the facility to know what is happening in different parts of the world. Action and responses thereto are known and seen within the shortest possible time.
Views of Muslim Scholars
Muslim scholars hold dramatically opposite views on how the Muslim societies should respond to the challenges unleashed by technological and industrial developments.
M.R.A. Baig, in his book The Muslim Dilemma in India writes:
The separation of civil law from the moral or religious law can no longer be delayed. The separation is not simple; it will be considered even un-Islamic. But the attempt at a rethinking of the Shariat can only begin with the acceptance of this principle. But the question: "Should Islam be reformed?" begs the questions: "Can Islam be reformed?" It is the thesis of his book that Islam not only should be but can be reformed. Baig goes on to observe: the fate of two innovators come readily to mind. In the late nineteenth century, an Iranian, Mirza Husain Ali, later known as Bahullah, claiming to be the latest divine irruption into human affairs, preached a humanist faith designed to overcome the disunity of religions. Persecuted and driven out of Iran, the Bahai faith developed as distinct to Islam as Christianity to Judaism. The second to exercise ijtihad was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Quadian in the Punjab who died as recently as 1912. His claim like that of Bahullah, to be the promised Mehdi, also violated the basic Islamic tenet that Muhammad was the last Prophet. Ahmadiyas are persecuted in Pakistan till today.
Many who read these lines will live on into the twentyfirst century. One can only hope that the compulsions of the future will make change compulsive. But if it does not, two developments are likely to occur: First, individually, more and more Muslim will exercise personal ijtihad and become, as myself. "Muslim" only in the sense that their parents, were Muslim. Second, collectively, the rest who remain rooted in out of date concepts and anachronistic social customs can continue their steady descent to the lowest level of Indian society. Indian Muslims therefore must either change or sink into oblivion.
This is the Muslim dilemma. Where does religion end and where do the affairs of the world begin? Where does religion and where does religiousity begin? The line which divides them is the line which divides stagnation and progress. It is the line which sets apart the camel age from the jet age.
Ziauddin Sardar, Director, Centre for Policy and Future Studies, East-West University, Chicago, in his book The Future of Muslim Civilization says: Together, the Quran and Sunnah are the Absolute Reference Frame (ARF) of Muslim civilization. Within their parameters there is a state of Islam: outside there is a state of non-Islam. The ARF provides the criteria for differentiating between Islam and non-Islam� There is unanimity among scholars that the Medina State founded by the Beloved Prophet after the migration from Mecca is the ideal society as far as Muslims are concerned. This was the closest one could get to perfect society; and this is the goal we strive for. It is our model and our paradigm.
Deviation from perfection, from the model, can only be a decline. The present state of Muslim civilization is a result of this deviation. Going forward to Medina State would require Muslim society to raise its levels of Islamic consciousness to a level that was achieved by the companions of the Prophet. It is necessary to view some of the dominant paradigms that have brought Muslim civilization to the situation where it has one foot in the state of Islam, and the other in the state of non-Islam.
Taqlid: The Dominant Paradigm
Taqlid means blind and unquestioning following and obedience. The antithesis of taqlid is ijtihad, to exert the utmost effort, to struggle, to do one's best to know something. It is not clear why the gates of ijtihad were closed by the Islamic theologians. The most probable reason was the common abuse of ijtihad, by many people who were not qualified. Fearing a massive misuse of ijtihad and aiming at stopping the unqualified, it could have been declared that the exercise of independent reasoning was prohibited. However, when taqlid was accepted as the dominant paradigm, the dynamic phase of the Muslim civilization came to an end.
The values of the Islam since do not admit of any change. The values that shape the boundaries of the Muslim system hold for eternity. Socialism, Nationalism, Capitalism and, by implication, much of modernism are all against the spirit of Islam. Terms such as Islamic Nationalism and Islamic Socialism are self-contradictory and absurd.
Islam and Woman
It is quite frequently asserted that the position of the woman in Islam is far superior to that in any other religion of its early period. In this context, Prof. S. Khuda Baksh in his Essays, Indian and Islamic says: The author of
Reforms under Muslim Rule seeks to make out that polygamy is an institution which Islam does not sanction, but I am not quite sure that he is right. At all events, the unanimity and consensus of opinion is the other way. It may, with growth of education and freedom of women die out, but the question which we must answer, and that once for all, is whether it is an institution compatible with present day notions. Is this institution to be retained or done away with? Is it conducive to the interests of society or otherwise? If the general sense of the Muhamadans would condemn it as pernicious to the stability, happiness, comfort and peace of the family, let it be expunged from our law. If it approves it, retain it by all means. I do not believe in the argument constantly put forward, that the conditions which the Quran imposes upon its practice cannot be supported or sustained. But this is no answer to the question raised here. Is the institution per sea good or bad? Is it beneficial to the interest, or subservice of the well being of society? There can be no two opinions on this point. To our mind, the social corruption behind the zenana is to large extent due to this system.
In this context, Prof. Bernard Lewis writes: "The slave could be freed by his master; the unbeliever could at any time become a believer by his own choice, and thus end his inferiority. Only the woman was doomed forever. Prof. Lewis goes on to quote Turkish writer, Namik Kemal, who wrote: �Our women are now seen as serving no useful purpose to mankind other than having children; they are considered simply as serving for pleasure, like musical instruments or jewels. But they constitute half and perhaps more than half of our species.�
The arguments made by Prof. Khuda Baksh remain valid till today. The community leaders have to take an initiative in this regard.
Triple Talaq (Divorce)
Prof. Khuda Baksh says: �In eastern Bengal divorce is the order of the day, and wives are put away as we cast off our old clothes � No judicial inquiry, no positive proof, not a little of evidence of any sort is needed. The lord of creation is invested with the power of divorce, and he makes full and free use of it�. Dr. Iqbal, at the same time asserts that the only way in which a woman can get rid of a scapegrace of a husband is by becoming an apostate (PP,213-214, Indian Islam by Murray T. Titus, London 1930).
The law of divorce, whatever its utility during the past, was so interpreted, at least in the Hanafi School, that it has become an one sided engine of oppression in the hands of the husband. (Outlines of Muhammadan Law by Asaf A.A. Fyzee).
Arab Human Development Report, 2005
The Arab Human Development Report, 2005 has exhaustively dealt with the position of woman in Arab countries. The report persuasively argues that "the long hoped for Arab renaissance cannot and will not be accomplished unless the obstacles preventing women from enjoying their human rights and contributing more fully to development are eliminated and replaced with greater access to the tools of development, including education and health care". Arab women have made outstanding national and international contributions in different fields of human development. Yet many continue to struggle for fair treatment, they enjoy the least political participation.
Conservative authorities, discriminating laws, chauvinist male peers and tradition minded kinsfolk watchfully regulate their aspirations, activities and conduct. Employers limit their access to income and independence. High rates of illiteracy and the world's lowest rates of female labour participation are compounded to create serious challenges. Many women still remain victims of legalized discrimination, social subordination and enshrined male dominance. Unacceptably, physical and mental violence against women often destroys their personal health and security and even their right to life.
The Report inter-alia stresses the need to eliminate the seeds of discrimination against women in Arab tradition and to promote ijtihad in religious matters to overcome cultural obstacles. Arab women's economic participation remains the lowest in the world; not more than 33.3 percent compared to the world average of 55.6 percent. The highest level of Arab women's Parliamentary participation in 2006 was 26 percent in Iraq and the lowest percentages were zero in Bahrain and 0.3 percent in Yemen and 2 percent in Egypt.
It is well known that no society can develop or prosper without women playing a pivotal role in its formation.
Observations by Prof. John L. Esposito, Editor, The Oxford History of Islam, 1999
While commenting on the issues and prospects for the future, he raises the following fundamental questions: Whose Islam? And What Islam? Regarding the former, he observes that historically, rulers were the protectors of Islam and the
ulama were the guardians and interpreters of Islam. The second half of the 20th century has seen rulers as diverse as monarchs, military leaders, ex-military leaders, religious leaders and students. As for the latter question, Islam like all religious traditions, has been subject to multiple interpretations throughout history. The key issue here is the relationship of tradition to modernity. In other words, the issue is not change but rather how much change.
There are, according to Prof. Esposito, four discernible orientations towards change: Secular, conservative, traditionalist, neo-revivalist or fundamentalist and neo-modernist. By now the stand taken by each of the above is well known. All in all, though the Quran and the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad remain normative for most Muslims, questions of interpretation, authenticity and application have become contentious items. Apart from issues intrinsic to Muslims, the other issues that have come up for debate are: the status of non-Muslims in Islamic States; and status of Muslims in non-Muslim States.
Prof. Esposito concludes his authoritative work with the following remarks of Fazlur Rahman, a distinguished Muslim scholar: Muslims need some first class minds who can interpret the old in terms of the new as regards substance and turn the new into the service of the old as regards ideals.
Bernard Lewis, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University, U.S.A, concludes his book, The Crisis of Islam, London, 2003 with the following words: Meanwhile, there is a more urgent problem. If the leaders of Al-Qa'ida can persuade the world of Islam to accept their views and their leadership, then a long and bitter struggle lies ahead, and not only for America, Europe, more particularly Western Europe, is now home to a large and rapidly growing Muslim community, and many Europeans are beginning to see its presence as a problem, for some even a threat. Sooner or later, Al-Qa'ida and related groups will clash with the other neighbors of Islam - Russia, China, India - who may prove less squeamish than the Americans in using their power against Muslims and their sanctities. If the fundamentalists are correct in their calculations and succeed in their war, then a dark future awaits the world, especially the part of it that embraces Islam.