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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Blasphemy Law: Coming a full circle

via Dawn.com: Blasphemy Law: Coming a full circle.

It was bound to happen. When you have a vaguely worded law with so many loopholes, and a clergy hell bent on defining religion in asphyxiating, rigid boundaries, its supporters and enablers were bound to get scorched themselves. The law was eventually going to come and bite them in the back and that is exactly what happened two weeks ago.

According to the news story, a student of a religious seminary in Chakwal, Junaid Ahmad was arrested for being blasphemous. He was apparently seen burning pages of Quran a week ago, was beaten by a crowd and handed over to the police. Ironically, however, a shaken and frightened Junaid claimed that he was in reality disposing off Quran’s loose pages to save them from desecration.

The story behind Junaid’s action was simple enough. His teacher, who belongs to Tehrik Khuddam Ahl-i-Sunnat, had told him that burning Quranic pages was a legitimate way of disposing them along with putting them in flowing water (stream etc) and burying them. As he was unable to find the other two options, Junaid resorted to the third one. It was just his luck that the man who saw him as he set the pages on fire had heard from another cleric that burning the Quran amounted to desecrating it. What followed is an ominous reminder of sharply converging, and rigid, interpretations among various schools of religious thought.

Diversity, whether religious or cultural, is always a good thing. But here, this diversity of belief within sects and sub-sects is stamped with unflinching righteousness, intolerance, and violent knee-jerk reactions. Leaving the organised sectarianism between Shias and Sunnis aside, these widely varying interpretations in such an environment result in friction and veiled hatred towards other sects within one’s circle. In such a situation, incidents like the one in Chakwal are in reality a mere prelude to what can follow. One of the most obvious possibilities, while remaining within the ambit of law, is the misuse of the blasphemy law against those who are fanatically in favour of it.

This misuse has already started albeit it is infrequent at the moment. In January this year, an imam and his son from Dera Ghazi Khan were convicted for life for committing blasphemy. They were accused of ripping posters from outside their grocery shop which advertised an event to observe Eid Milad un Nabi (the birth and death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad). There was strong speculation that the issue was not of blasphemy but difference of belief. The Deobandi philosophy, to which the imam and his son prescribed, do not believe in commemorating such days. So where the incident might have simply been that of removing a poster from their personal property, it was forcefully catapulted in the sphere of intentional blasphemy.

The problem, boiled down to its essence, is this: In all this ritualistic madness, this manic obsession with the act rather than the intention behind it, these “men of faith” have lost the plot. And that is an under-statement. Here school girls are ostracised for misplacing a dot in a word. Doctors are locked up for throwing away a person’s visiting card who shared the prophet’s name. People are persecuted for greeting others in Arabic language. Supporters of blasphemy laws obsessively defend its need to deter people from taking the law in their own hands; but when a man defies this very logic and kills a sitting governor whom he had taken an oath to protect, they cheer and holler themselves hoarse in his support.

So far, most of the victims of these laws are minorities and those belonging to lower and lower-middle income groups. But it won’t remain the same forever. With ferocious intolerance being allowed to breed unchecked in our country, it was only a matter of time before the factions started using this law to target religious rivals at will.

Right now a broad spectrum of religious right is united in its defence of murderer Mumtaz Qadri. Their slogans, demonstrative of their tunnel-minded support for his actions, should be deafening alarm bells for the rest of us.

It is a matter of time before these stout believers, momentarily united in their hate against
“liberal fascists”, turn on each other. With such varied interpretations of religion, how will the courts interpret criteria of blasphemy? Will they take the easiest way out and just continue sentencing people in the hope the High Courts will correct the injustice? Will these cowardly actions really serve as a long-term pre-emptive solution or will the religious factions soon interlock horns?

If there is a legal or public showdown between people of different beliefs, the result will be more bloody, brutal and long drawn out than we can imagine. With all sides equally sure of their virtue and willing to die or kill for it, there might not be anyone standing at the end.

On a sardonic note, that will work out just right for the rest of the country.

Justice according to Ameer Jamat-e-Islami

Today while browsing youtube, I stumbled on this interview of the ‘Ameer’ (leader) of Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan.

The interviewer questioned Mr. Munawwar Hasan in regards to his party’s opposition towards the ‘Women protection bill’. Prior to this bill, justice towards women (especially the rape cases) came under the jurisdiction of the infamous Hudood Ordinance. Here is how it worked, it required the victim of rape crimes to produce four witnesses if she claimed to have been raped by someone. If the victim was unable to produce the said number of witnesses, she was to stand trial for adultery, while the criminal roamed freely.

The interviewer asked Mr. Munawwar Hasan if this was the form of justice Islam and Qura’an upholds, since due to the very same Hudood ordinance the number of females accused of adultery is upto 80%, to which he asks the interviewer to recite the ‘Shahadah’ and become a Muslim again, since he questioned the Qura’anic teachings. According to Mr. Munawwar Hasan, Islam discourages such crimes (ofcourse it does). But Mr. Hasan goes as far as to say that “if the woman cannot bring four witnesses (which she cannot), she should not demand justice”. And to imagine their agenda is to uphold shariah and Qura’anic ways in the country.

The most remarkable thing in this video is that the interviewer practically cornered Mr. Hasan, seeking no way out, he ‘blamed’ it all on the Qura’an and ‘revoked’ the status of the interviewer as a Muslim. During this short clip, Mr. Hasan failed to produce any verse or Hadith from the Qura’an, rather he claimed this happened ‘during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him)’ the age long claim of the religious groups. If they cannot prove something from the holy texts they refer to the ‘times of the Prophet (peace be upon him)’ and make up stories which they know no one can claim.

Islam is a complete religion. It upholds justice and social values, therefore creating a peaceful society. But unfortunately, people like him have distorted the image of this beautiful religion. No one can question them as they are the ‘final authority’ over Islam. Islam upheld the status of women in society, but after viewing this video one might be forced to think otherwise.

In Islam such issues which are related with the dignity of men and women have been strictly emphasized upon in the Holy Qura’an.

[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

Though these self-proclaimed scholars fail to see such instruction in the Holy Qura’an. Rather they create their own version of Islam and portray it as the real deal. May God keep us protected from their shenanigans.

Justice in an Islamic republic

I came across a very shocking news on BBC today, I am embarrassed as a Muslim and as a Pakistani. Pakistan, which is supposedly dubbed as a ‘Fort of Islam’, humans are treated as badly as animals. For example, take the famous case of Mukhtaran Mai, I fail to understand a country with ‘two’ parallel judiciary systems (shariah court and the supreme court), many of the culprits went home unharmed. What good are these systems if they can’t deliver justice? Pakistan is a country where a legal case can (in some cases) go down till generations.

While I mentioned the two ‘major’ judicial systems in Pakistan, there is a commonly known and swifter (than the other two) known as the ‘panchayat’ or ‘jirga’. It is found in a vast area, majorly because majority of Pakistanis reside in rural areas. It is evident with the case of Mukhtaran Mai, these trivial (and feudal) judicial systems are influential in their surroundings. It consists of a certain amount of influential people from that area who decide the fate of individuals and families there. Many people raise the question as to what is wrong with these ‘little courts’. To begin with, they can order someone’s killing, these systems are ‘eligible’ to annul a legal marriage and they can order illegal marriages. There have been many many cases of child marriages, majority of which came from a ‘little court’ decisions.

Many ‘traditional customs’, such as the infamous tradition of burning the widow when the husband is dead (still found in many parts of Sindh) are ordered by these self-proclaimed judges. They can dub a legally married couple as ‘karokari‘ and get them killed in front of an entire village.

What is more shocking is that, those who demand the ‘Shariah law’ fail to condemn these incidents and turn their eyes from it completely. Their argument is that they cannot ‘interfere’ in someone else’s customs. The most glorified shariat institute, the shariah court fail to notice such events, which happen right under their noses. As for the ‘normal’ courts of Pakistan, they are already littered with cases one cannot even imagine. Living in this ‘divided’ judicial system; suffering and humiliation is the fate of majority in Pakistan.

Reform the mindset, not individuals

Recently I went through an article observing the militant behavior of the tribe dwellers of Pakistan. I appreciate the good intention of the author, but her insight on this menace of ‘Islamic militancy’ is incomplete or limited.  It isn’t just Pakistan, majority Muslim on earth are brought up with the same interpretation of Qura’an. Muslims may or may not agree, but the whole theory of the ‘glorified Jihad’ (the armed one) is fed since they are very young.

This early radicalization of one’s belief is the root cause of these people being exploited by the extremists. I was reading the interview of one of these failed bombers in a Urdu newspaper and I was shocked and disgusted what they did with this innocent minds, turning them into killing machines. Please be cautioned that it might be explicit to certain readers, here is the abstract of that report.

The young boy claimed he was shown videos of Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan and told that he must wage Jihad against these people who are fighting with Muslims. In return, he will be married to 72 virgins in heaven. Then he was taken into a completely dark room, where he was asked to touch a girl/woman for a brief moment who was brought so closely he could feel her breath. He was told that he would get not one not two but seventy-two virgins like this up there.
……………
While they were driving him to the site, his eyes were covered, the driver started to drive wayward claiming that the 72 virgins are here to claim him that is why he is avoiding them to get hit.

Quite the craftsmen I must say, they exploit every inch of deprivation of these young men. Not only do they tell them of the fruits of heaven, they actually make them feel closer to it. And to imagine the Taliban want ‘Shariah‘, just thinking about this makes me sick. In the light of the report I quoted above, I must say that Talibans aren’t the culprit, the real con are religious clerics and the beliefs they put in the heads of young children. It is an open fact that what you put in a child’s mind grows firm as they age. The concept of Jihad and heaven is built within a young ones since they learn to talk. Apparently what the Taliban / Al-Qaeda is doing, is using this ‘Muslim belief’ and turning it against them.

I agree that reforms are required, but not just in the militants, in every Muslim, every individual. The solution is that we (the Muslims) need to take up religious beliefs and try to rationalize them. Take interest in it as we take interest in other subjects like arts or science. Once we are free from the ‘helping hand’ of these clerics, difference will be eminent. Those who are hell-bent on feeding their clerics, claim that not everyone is the same, it might be true, but they are teaching from the same books. There might be nothing wrong with these clerics but, I for once never met a cleric who knew what Andromeda is, or what was Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The holy scriptures are filled with scientific knowledge if read with a clear mind and pondered upon. But these (self-proclaimed) clerics fail to understand that, and in turn preach the same to the young ones. Religion is something which is personal to every individual, it has been stolen from the Muslims and controlled by these clerics. History has taught us that religion has been the basic attribute of all civilizations. When religion is no longer in ones discipline, then there is no stopping to its use against them.

A metaphor for secularism

(originally published in Dawn News)

‘SECULARISM’ may be a bad word in the dictionary of our ideologues, but it unites Pakistanis like nothing else. Take cricket as a binding force, for instance.

There’s nothing Islamic or un-Islamic about the sport, and in that it defines what the much-mistaken term ‘secularism’ means: neither religious nor explicitly irreligious, and certainly not anti-religion; secularism is religion-neutral; it can hold all religions in its fold, like in India and Bangladesh.

Of course, there are a handful of those on the fringes of society who oppose even cricket because it is too ‘secular’ for their liking. It is not about going up in the rugged mountains and training to kill in the name of God, but a sport that is enjoyed and played most passionately right down to the grass-roots level — from the dusty streets of Gwadar to the valleys of Hunza. It is everything, including popular, that the Taliban are not.

That is perhaps why they attacked the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009, putting an end to Pakistan as an international cricket host; they even called football ‘a waste of time’ when football fever was high during last year’s World Cup, ostensibly because it distracts the youth from their mission which is to kill and maim to enforce their version of Islam.

It can be argued that historically populism in Pakistan is tied to secular causes, the kind of populism that sweeps across the land and brings people together. Basant did that for years in Punjab before the killer twine killed it under orders from the highest court.

In the 2008 election, none of the political parties that got the popular vote harped on religious idiom because they knew that since the imposition of the Islamisation process by Gen Zia’s martial law regime, religion had become more of a dividing rather than a uniting force. Among the top victims of that controversial process have been women and the minorities; sectarianism amongst Muslims also sprung up as its ungodly offspring.

That is why Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, a religious party, now practises public issue-based politics, believing in the electoral process even if their goal is to enforce Sharia — a demand that should be more popular than, say, cricket, as the proponents of Islamic ideology would insist, but what to do when it is not? That’s why the Taliban have come to hate him too.

Then, take the 2007-2009 lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judges sent packing by Gen Musharraf. It united the legal community from across the board, as indeed did the election last year of Asma Jahangir to the post of the president of the Supreme Court Bar. The only ideology embraced by the legal fraternity and which won the day was pushing for ‘rule of law’. And this too leads us to a very interesting point in the sphere of law itself. Consider the Raymond Davis case.

When pressure did not work, the US was forced to fight out his case under Pakistan’s existing, controversial Qisas and Diyat law, which favours the rich — no conditions of faith or nationality or the nature of the crime committed attached — as opposed to serving the cause of justice. The outrage over Davis’s acquittal was shared equally by Pakistanis across the land.

Paradoxically, the religious right which wants more such laws enacted in the name of Sharia was most vocal about the ‘injustice’ done in the case. Paradoxically again, instead of the religious right, the Americans were embarrassed before their own voters for having paid for the release of Davis. Washington denied paying any blood money itself; it was arranged through diplomatic channels with help from friendly governments which had no such qualms.

Davis would have gone to trial and probably have been convicted under secular laws, which Ziaul Haq and after him Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif replaced with the controversial Sharia laws. Dare anyone today say that the cause of justice was served by Davis paying blood money and walking away a free man?

Granted all Pakistanis today want the rule of law under which justice is served and also seen to be done. For this do we need laws that are abused or dispense injustice under the pretext of having divine sanction? In fact, they don’t, for Sharia laws are just as man-made as so-called secular laws. We had rather have laws that we can change to meet the demands of justice as human intellect evolves and embraces values that are universally applicable.

When secular causes can bring and keep Pakistanis together why not secular laws? Secularism does not negate Islam as a popular faith as it was practised before the imposition of controversial laws, under which rape victims can be locked up if they cannot prove the crime; mothers can forgive their sons for murdering their own daughters; the rich can pay blood money to escape punishment while a poor man goes to the gallows for committing the same crime; and minorities are booked for blaspheming against Islam. All this brings Islam only disrepute and no glory.

For God, for unity, for the country, we need to rethink our laws. Meanwhile, keep counting on cricket as the secular binding force at a time when all else, especially an obscurantist state ideology, does all to divide and rule us with its misrule.

Shariah, the Saudi style (protests and rallies banned)

Photo courtesy BBC News

Protests ‘contradict’ Islamic law and are banned, Interior ministry declares

Saudi Arabia has imposed a ban on protests and rallies, the interior ministry declared “the protests and rallies are in conflict with shariah”, hence dubbing them unIslamic.  It amuses me, how Saudi Arabia is the ‘authority’ on Shariah, if it’s in their interest, on a given day, a democratic practice (if it is non-violent and non-raging) which has been there through the history of mankind (not to mention at the time of the Prophet peace be upon him) is suddenly unIslamic! While their minions in Pakistan, continue not only to protest a controversial law, but also glorify a murderer.

Such hypocrisy, from someone who claims to be the ‘servant of the house of Lord’. It isn’t surprising though, we have seen the same ‘twisting of Islamic references‘ from Pakistani (self-proclaimed) clerics too. However, the sad part is that the Islamic world (the common Muslim) fails to see this bigotry. It is due to the ignorance of common Muslims, they are being deceived  by the (self-proclaimed) religious elite. Islam have been hijacked by this elite and being used against a common Muslim. It will be interesting to see how clerics in Pakistan ‘interpret’ Saudi opinion (fatwa) about protests. If they do own it as Islamic, how will they justify their actions on the ‘protection’ of the controversial blasphemy law.

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