Islam: A peaceful religion

Co-Exist

A few days ago, Reza Aslan (an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions), gave a fitting rebuttal to Bill Maher on his views about Islam. Reza rightly pointed out the ‘phobia’ which has taken it’s roots among ‘westerners’ (apparently after 9/11) to justify their hatred towards Islam. Reza is of the view that religion in itself isn’t violent, it is the violent nature of a certain follower which is covered up in in religious veil that gets the religion denounced. He quotes the example of the Buddhists, who claim to be the followers of the most peaceful teachings (of Buddha), yet they are involved in the brutal massacre of Rohangya Muslims in Myanmar (former Burma).

Video clip of the interview follows:

It’s a strong argument, if you take into account the fact that every religion in the world have had some sort of violent history in the past (Islam is still young compared to others). The infamous Spanish inquisition marks the darkest history of Christianity, the persecution of Christians in their early days by the Jewish depicts a period of ignorance on the part of Jews. Hindus persecuted Muslims for over a century in the undivided  sub-continent and the Buddhists’ current drive of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar are accounts of violence in the name of religion.

What Reza’s interview did is reduce (if not eliminate) the negativity in the viewpoint of those who don’t fully understand religion, specially Islam. But, as usual some criticism was due. I came across this post, which is circulating the internet and is written by two ex-Muslims (I am guessing they are atheists now since the blogs are more about atheism). They go as far as to state that everything Aslan said is completely false. So let’s take a look at the argument they are trying to sell:

Shariah Law & Gender equality

Indonesia has increasingly become more conservative. (Notoriously anti-women) Sharia courts that were “optional” have risen to equal status with regular courts in family matters. The conservative Aceh province even legislates criminal matters via Sharia courts, which has been said to violate fundamental human rights.

Let me make it clear, Islam does not have a church (a governing body that interprets the holy scriptures and is the final authority on it), which means every individual or community have their own interpretation of the Holy text. That is why we see so many sections sprung out of it in the very early ages (The Shia Sunni conflict took roots as soon as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) died). True Islam keeps religion and state as affairs separate. We have examples of governing from the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where verdicts were carried out according to the religious interpretation of the conflicting parties (Jews and Christians lived in those states governed by the Muslims). Justice system within Islamic states was heavily overhauled, eliminating conflict of interests, equality of justice for the peasant and the Calph were some of the features of early Muslim rule. Another example we see during the rule of the last ‘Rashid’ Caliph Ali (may blessing of Allah be upon him). Muaviya created an independent state and became it’s (self appointed) governor within what is now Syria (which became the center of the Umaiyyads later on) and Caliph Ali did not pose any challenge towards him.

Now the Shariah law in modern times is a separate issue altogether. These days, it has become a mean of strengthening one’s rule on the ‘throne’. Religion specific state laws were first implemented during the Abbasid Caliphate, prior to which we see little or no reference towards such laws. For example, the punishment for apostasy is no where to be found in the holy scriptures, but some how a Hadith (which isn’t even attributed to the Prophet) circulates regarding the punishment of an apostate. Regarding the issue of gender equality, Islam was the first religion to truly talk about women rights.

While talking on the issue, one must certainly keep in mind the time when Quran was revealed. It was a dark era, especially for women. Girls were buried alive upon birth in pre-Islamic Arabia. People of every religion or cast were accustomed to this ignorant practice. It will be worth while mentioning that many atheists of pre-Islamic Arabia were following these practices.

Women were denied heritage and were traded freely. With the arrival of Islam, the Arab society (of those times) saw a gradual change in their attitude towards women. The change was not abrupt, rather it eased into people over time. Muslim women fought with men at times leading them in battles, they were working on their own and traveling across the world without any man chaperoning them. Things were changing for the better until the in-fighting began once again and Muslims were forced back into dark ages.

It was then everyone started making up laws, defining them ‘religious’ and using them against rebellions and enemies of the state.

Religion promotes violence

On the contrary, take any religious scripture, you will always find messages of peace and compassion towards fellow humans, even plants and animals. The notion that religion promotes violence is truly baseless, and here’s why. All fatalities committed in the name of religion are still less than the fatalities committed otherwise. The wars fought in Europe during the dark ages, the massacre of innocent people by the Mongols, the atrocities of Alexander (apparently titled ‘the great’) and the persecution of Jews at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar are all but trailers to the crimes against humanity committed by the ‘non-religious’ states. Both the world wars are recent examples of ‘non-religious’ wars. So for all these killings, should the atheists be held responsible?

Female heads of states

The article states that famous leader’s like Benazir Bhutto and Sheikh Haseena Wajid had little to do to achieve their greatness, which is utterly preposterous. Mrs. Bhutto, even though she was the daughter of the former Pakistani Prime minister had to face tough circumstances in her country. Her father was hanged and she fought her way through a dictatorship to become the Prime minister of Pakistan. Surely, the Ex-Muslims of North America can tell us when was the last time a female head of state was chosen for America? In Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, women are free to work and have all the rights (at least in the constitution). The practice of these rights is a separate issue altogether. Pakistan is plagued with illiteracy and people are very narrow minded, it is important to note that these people still have ‘cultural’ (not religious) practices of sheer ignorance they are accustomed to in this era. Blaming religion for it is ridiculous.

FGM

You can clearly feel the ignorance of the author when he puts forth a Hadith (saying of a Prophet) to prove that FGM is supported by Islam. The Hadith of Abu Dawood clearly indicates that FGM was already a practice (within non-Muslims of that area), but the Prophet requested them to be more gentle towards the women who come with the desire for it. The article claims that ‘two major’ Sunni factions support FGM. They don’t quote their sources but let’s say even if they do support it, they will be around 25 to 30 percent of the total Muslim population. To suggest that Islam supports it is absurd.

Towards, the conclusion the author attempts to further malign Islam by articulating the age old ‘myths’ and ‘allegations’ on Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I have written about them extensively in my previous posts which I hope will catch the authors’ eye.

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Prophet Muhammad: A blessing for mankind

I am writing after a very long time, I have been busy with certain things in my personal life, I apologize to my readers. There is nothing better to resume my blog, other than the most gracious blessing of God upon mankind, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him.

Not so long ago, an infamous amateur film maker (not sure if he is that or not) released a short-film, in which he depicted the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) as an inhumane personality. Which has caused ripples of protests across the Muslim world, enraging then across the globe. I haven’t seen that infamous video myself but the act of this Coptic Christian was provocative and saddening. Surely one can see the lack of research on this subject by the team who publicized this video. I will prove it, without quoting any scripture today, I will give references of other (non-Muslim) personalities who analyzed and described the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in their words.

Reverent Bosworth Smith wrote:

Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Popes pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports.’

(R. Bosworth Smith ‘Muhammad and Muhammadanism’. Page 262)

Washington Irving wrote:

‘His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vainglory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power, he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance.’

(Washington Irving, The Life of Mahomet, page 272)

Karen Armstrong writes in her book ‘Muhammad – A Biography of the Prophet’:

‘Muhammad had to start virtually from scratch and work his way towards the radical monotheistic spirituality of his own. When he began his mission, a dispassionate observer would not have given him a chance. The Arabs, he might have objected, were just not ready for monotheism: they were not sufficiently developed for this sophisticated vision. In fact, to attempt to introduce it on a large scale in this violent, terrifying society could be extremely dangerous and Muhammad would be lucky to escape with his life.

Indeed, Muhammad was frequently in deadly peril and his survival was a near-miracle. But he did succeed. By the end of his life he had laid an axe to the root of the chronic cycle tribal violence that afflicted the region and paganism was no longer a going concern. The Arabs were ready to embark on a new phase of their history.’

(Karen Armstrong, Muhammad – A Biography of the Prophet page 53-54)

She also writes:

‘Finally it was the West, not Islam, which forbade the open discussion of religious matters. At the time of the Crusades, Europe seemed obsessed by a craving for intellectual conformity and punished its deviants with a zeal that has been unique in the history of religion. The witch-hunts of the inquisitors and the persecution of Protestants by the Catholics and vice versa were inspired by abstruse theological opinions which in both Judaism and Islam were seen as private and optional matters. Neither Judaism nor Islam share the Christian conception of heresy, which raises human ideas about the divine to an unacceptably high level and almost makes them a form of idolatry.’

(Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, page 27).

Mahatma Gandhi’s statement published in ‘Young India,’1924:

‘I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind…. I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life.’

And finally here is the famous Sir George Bernard Shaw:

‘I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion for from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.’

(Sir George Bernard Shaw in ‘The Genuine Islam,’ Vol. 1)

James Michener writes in ‘Islam: The Misunderstood Religion,’ Reader’s Digest, May 1955:

‘No other religion in history spread so rapidly as Islam. The West has widely believed that this surge of religion was made possible by the sword. But no modern scholar accepts this idea, and the Qur’an is explicit in the support of the freedom of conscience’

I recon these references will be enough for the reader to wonder why on earth, some mad men came up with such filth about a personality that has been analyzed, studied and followed by every living person on earth? It is nothing but ignorance that prevails in the minds of such people.

اللهم صل على محمد وعلى آل محمد كما صليت على إبراهيم وعلى آل إبراهيم إنك حميد مجيد، اللهم بارك على محمد وعلى آل محمد كما باركت على إبراهيم وعلى آل إبراهيم إنك حميد مجيد

Bless, O Allah, Muhammad and the people of Muhammad, as Thou didst bless Abraham and the people of Abraham. Thou art indeed the Praiseworthy, the Glorious.

Prosper, O Allah, Muhammad and the people of Muhammad, as Thou didst prosper Abraham and the people of Abraham. Thou are the Praiseworthy, the Glorious.

The distribution of hate

Social MediaSocial media, over the years have become (somewhat) integral in our lives. Hence, it was a matter of time before our emotions became digital too. Social media provides means of mass information sharing, here a message can reach millions in mere seconds, it is playing a vital role in shaping point of views of people who are linked with social media.

Of all the social media portals, facebook have been in focus for spreading hatred and religious bias, while it is also responsible (some say) for bringing the uprising in the Arab countries. Last year, facebook was under heavy criticism from the Muslims for an event that called for the people to depict the Prophet (pbuh). Many people left facebook, some deactivated their accounts and it was banned in certain countries (for a certain time). Many users protested over facebook, and shared an ‘anti-depiction event’ on their facebook walls and with friends. The same thing (with a twist) is going on again, some ignorant has made a page which is defaming the holy places of Muslims and Muslims are spreading the ‘anti cause’ everywhere on facebook, demanding the page to be removed.

While I do not judge the intensity of anyone’s faith and love for their religion, I think these ‘religious e-warriors’ fail to understand that they are the prime bearer of the message the ‘anti-Islamic entity’ wants to send out. Many of the Muslim users were unaware of this ‘anti-Islamic page’  until one of their deeply Muslim friend shared the message of protest and invitation to join the cause with them (same was the case with the previous anti-Islamic facebook event). If the few Muslims who saw this earlier would have had succeeded in ignoring it, they would have stopped this menace from spreading in the first place.

I am yet to see any of my non-Muslim friends spreading that anti-Islamic agenda for which our Muslim friends are protesting and asking other Muslims to join in. These people who are spreading this protest fail to understand that by spreading this protest, they are actually bringing more attention to an otherwise stupid, baseless, lame and an ignorant facebook stunt, directed towards enraging Muslims and mess with their emotions. By sharing the ‘Islamic cause’ is more of a damage rather than service to Islam.

The problem with Muslims (specially those who are familiar with the use of internet), in my opinion, is that they fail to ignore things which are insignificant and successfully ignore something thing which can help them stand united against these menaces which pop up every once in a while. The only way one can fight such menace is by ignoring its existence. It is not hurting Islam in any way, nor it will hurt us if we ignore it. But if Muslims keep spreading the word about it, then it is we who are helping this otherwise insignificant menace, to spread across the medium.

P.S: The purpose of writing this post is not to spread this menace (since it has already spread on facebook), rather ask my fellow Muslims to stop falling for this scam again and again.

The importance of knowledge in Islam

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was quoted saying:

Seek knowledge, even as far as China.

On another occasion the Prophet (peace be upon him) is recorded saying:

Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim (man & woman).

Many ‘hard-line’ Muslims have a common yet bizarre perspective to these sayings. A few days ago a group of people from the mosque (تبلیغی جماعت) came to my house to ‘preach’. These are the people who go house to house and meet with people and invite them to mosque and charities. One of them referenced the first saying and said, “You know, the Prophet was talking about Islamic knowledge, the spiritual knowledge and he emphasized so much as to ask the Muslims to travel to China at that time to seek knowledge, the science is just for skills, it isn’t real knowledge”. I respectfully disagreed with him and asked, “But, Islam at that time was only confined to Arabia and some eastern parts of Africa. What Islamic / ‘spiritual’ knowledge was to be gained in China at that time?” To which he had no answer, only to tell me that I have less religious knowledge and walk away.

After this (rather insignificant incident) I had forgotten about it, until one day while watching a documentary (Engineering an empire) on the History channel I was literally amazed at what I saw. It was a documentary about China and how over time it was engineered by its emperors. According to it, Chinese were one of the first astronomers, chemists, mathematicians and engineers. They were the first to modernize naval warfare. They put mercury and other elements to various tests and discovered many properties that the world had never seen. They  were on their way towards inventing rockets and torpedoes. They constructed the great wall, which to this day, stands as a monument to human engineering.

While at that time (during the 6th century) Arabia was in the age of darkness, ignorance ruled hearts and minds of the Arabs. But China at the same time was advancing intellectually, socially and technologically. The vision of the Prophet(peace be upon him) was so vast, his sense of urgency was spot on, He must have known what is happening in China (at that time). Ofcourse at that time, journey to China was a life long experience, which goes to show how much importance knowledge had in the eyes of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

It is sad how Muslims today have ‘limited’ the great vision of the Prophet (peace be upon him), by viewing his sayings in a perspective which (more often) doesn’t even make sense. It was this knowledge & technology which has changed the world to what we know today. It was this knowledge which has helped nation progress and overcome their rivals. It is this knowledge which has made nations like United States and China, world leaders. It was this knowledge that the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Muslims to seek 1,400 years ago.

اسلام اور توہین رسالت کا قانون

Some of my friends asked me to write my posts about blasphemy law in urdu language, so I am posting this summarized version of all my posts about blasphemy law in urdu.

(click on the image to enlarge)

The art of deception

Fareed Ahmed ParachA few days ago, I was watching a recorded program called “Faisla aapka” recorded on 8th January 2011 by Samaa News. The topic was tolerance, two participants of religious views and two participants of liberal views were invited to debate on the after math of the incident of 4th January 2011. One of the clerics while defending blasphemy law justifies it from the Holy Qura’an quoting verses from Chapter 33 (Surah Al-Ahzaab).

I was shocked to see that Mr. Paracha (from one of the politico-religious parties) was so confident when he was distorting the verses and the audience was applauding him for that, while the show host and the other cleric (from Sunni Tehrik) was backing him up referring to Chapter 9 of the Holy Qura’an. Let me explain to you what Mr. Paracha was referring to from the Holy Qura’an:

[33:56] Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! you also should invoke blessings on him and salute him with the salutation of peace.

[33:57] Verily, those who malign Allah and His Messenger — Allah has cursed them in this world and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them an abasing punishment.

[33:58] And those who malign believing men and believing women for what they have not earned shall bear the guilt of a calumny and a manifest sin.

[33:59] O Prophet! tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw close to them portions of their loose outer coverings. That is nearer that they may thus be distinguished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.

[33:60] If the hypocrites, and those in whose heart is a disease, and those who cause agitation in the city, desist not, We shall surely give thee authority over them; then they will not dwell therein as thy neighbors, save for a little while.

[33:61] Then they will be accursed. Wherever they are found, they will be seized, and cut into pieces.

— Surah Al Ahzaab

As you can see here, clearly Mr. Paracha is deceiving the crowd and imposing his views of the Qura’an. What he does is, read the first two verses and then joins verse 61 with verses 57 and 58, which ofcourse changes the entire context of the message. Allah (God almighty) is clearly saying that He alone is the one to punish those who malign Allah and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). To understand the rest of the argument one must know the pretext of this chapter(Surah Al Ahzaab). It deals with the vicissitudes through which Islam had to pass during the early years of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Medina. The Jews of the surrounding tribes gave a hard time to the Muslims, even those tribesmen who were included in the pact of Medina didn’t leave any opportunity to create mischief. Those are being referred to as hypocrites. The main weapon in their armory against Islam, was spreading of false news to friendly tribes. This was an act of treason not blasphemy, the punishment for treason was capital punishment.

Now let us see what is written in Chapter 9 (Al-Taubah) to which the second cleric is referring to.

[9:12] Will you not fight a people who have broken their oaths, and who plotted to turn out the Messenger, and they were the first to commence hostilities against you? Do you fear them? Nay, Allah is most worthy that you should fear Him, if you are believers.

[9:13] Fight them, that Allah may punish them at your hands, and humiliate them, and help you to victory over them, and relieve the minds of a people who believe;

— Surah Al Taubah

Again, if viewed in context of the verse number 12, it makes total sense. It isn’t directed towards blasphemers, it is clearly saying about those who break their, oaths, these were the Jewish tribes which were included in the pact of Medina. No where in the above two verses does Allah (God almighty) asks the Prophet (peace be upon him) to kill any blasphemer. None of the Muslims try to research the references these clerics give out. This points out to two things, Muslims lack knowledge of the Holy Qura’an and Islamic History and two, they blindly follow what the mullah tells them. It was for times like these the Prophet (peace be upon him) predicted.

“There will be a decline in religious faith and nothing would be left of Islam except its name and nothing would be left of the Holy Qura’an except its text. Mosques though full of worshipers will be empty of guidance. The religious scholars will be the worst creation under the canopy of Heaven”.

(Mishkat-ul Masabih, p.88 & Kanaz-ul Ummal, vol.6 p.43).

An idea whose time has come – Daily times editorial

If it were not so tragic, the case of a blasphemy-accused doctor would have made for comic reading. Reportedly, Dr Naushad Valiyani threw the business card of a medical representative “which had his full name, Muhammad Faizan”, in a dustbin. Mr Faizan then launched a blasphemy complaint against the doctor. The absurdity of the charges against Dr Valiyani exposes the nature of the draconian Blasphemy Law, which can be misused for any purpose under the sun. General Ziaul Haq left this country with a minefield in the shape of this law, which lends itself to abuse. The case of Dr Valiyani is just one of the many cases where the complainant is crossing all lines of common sense. ‘Muhammad’ is a popular name over the Muslim world. To say that the doctor committed blasphemy just because he threw a business card that had ‘Muhammad’ written on it is ridiculous. The issue was resolved between the parties when the doctor apologised, although not before Faizan and his friends had reportedly roughed up the doctor. However, the intervention of some clerics resulted in a blasphemy charge against the accused, who was then arrested.

Since we are so fond of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), why not invoke PPC 153 A in cases where false accusations are made? According to PPC 153 A (a), whoever “by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities” shall be fined and punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend to five years. Thus, Muhammad Faizan should be charged with incitement against the innocent doctor.

In another incident, three alleged blasphemers in Karachi — Syed Raheel Masood Wasti, Samreen Masood and Zafar Iqbal — denied desecrating the Holy Quran. As per their statement, they were not in the house when their illiterate maid accidentally threw out some pages of the Quran after cleaning the house. They have expressed fear for their lives and that they can be falsely persecuted under the Blasphemy Law. This is yet another example of the way the mullahs use this law. In almost all the cases under the Blasphemy Law, the accusations are mala fide. The accusations are based on personal vendetta, blackmail, settling scores, property disputes, etc. It is therefore beyond comprehension why the mullah brigade is threatening to launch a movement, Tehreek Namoos-e-Risalat (TNR), in case any amendments are made to the Blasphemy Law, except that it serves their political agenda of keeping the country hostage to their fulminations. This flawed law should be repealed in the first instance, and if that is not possible because our politicians have yet to find the courage to defy the blackmail of the religious groups, at least the amendment bill by Ms Sherry Rehman should be considered seriously. Islam is a religion of peace but the fundamentalists have hijacked our religion and given new interpretations to serve their vested interests. The religious right is committing the greatest blasphemy by distorting the name of Islam. When the British introduced the Blasphemy Law, it was done to maintain harmony between all religious communities in the Indian subcontinent. Ziaul Haq’s Blasphemy Law has done the exact opposite. It has made the religious minorities more insecure in this ‘land of the not-so-pure’. When a state legalizes persecution of minorities, it is time to change the laws.

Pakistan can never progress if it chooses to espouse the values of the Dark Ages. Let us not be afraid to challenge the religious extremists just because they threaten us with ‘dire consequences’. We have been held hostage to their absurdities for decades. It is high time we rolled back Zia’s legacy and moved forward towards a progressive, secular and democratic Pakistan.

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