By A Jalal
Today Muslims across the world have a debilitating feeling of being under siege. We find ourselves pushed by big powers, small powers and even the non-powers from all the sides. Violence and devastation have become the vignettes of Muslim societies across the world. Some of the Muslims have come to believe that people of other faiths are our enemy and they are colluding and conspiring to destroy our lives, religion, culture and country. They think that it is duty of all the Muslims to fight the ‘enemy’.
It is not easy to fix the reasons for the present mayhem. There are dozens of factors ranging from history and geopolitics to religious bigotry at work. Scholars have produced thousands of volumes on the causes of all this in order to understand and redress the problem.
Nevertheless, what is the cause of concern is that Muslims population all over the globe are caught in the inextricable web of killing and bloodshed. Our youths perpetually burn with anger; some resort to sporadic acts of violence and blast themselves as suicide bombs. They think that war, and killing the enemy, is the best and the only strategy available to deal with the situation. They think that they are Allah’s warrior fighting for the glory of God on the earth. God’s divine grace is with them in every difficulty and setback, and they will finally triumph in their holy war.
But let me ask: Can we defeat world’s most powerful army and the best brain with infantile anger and a Kalashnikov? Do you think the angry zealots guided by misconceived notion of holy war can vanquish the most powerful civilization of the human history? Or does such a civilization which gave us books, internet, television, telephone, electricity and plane and the theories of democracy, human rights, minority rights, social justice, socialism etc. deserve to be fought and destroyed
More important than that is asking the question: Is there another way of resisting the ‘enemy’ if we believe that the ‘enemy’ is at our throat? This is because the kamikaze tactics is bringing a colossal material and spiritual damage to Islam and the poor and hapless Muslims. You see a bomb blasted on a train, a temple, or a market place throw peace and inter-community harmony out of gear, then every Indian Muslim become a suspect and we run for a cover. Same is the case elsewhere also, in fact, it’s all over the world. This also makes Islamic ideology look anti-modern and illiberal and a source of ‘Jehadi terrorism’ as do scholars such as Francis Fukuyama think.
Therefore, can we the Muslims think of another way of reacting to the injustices thrust upon us? What all these blood and fury will get us? May be a feeling of catharsis, a little dissipation of anger in the heart. But is that all we want at the cost of such colossal loss of life? Can that be the goal and strategy of a thinking Muslim?
Steven Covey in ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ so well expressed it, ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In these choices lies our growth and our happiness.’
Addressing the 10th summit of the Conference of Islamic Organization held in 2003 in Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed tried to convey the Muslim world the flaws in their strategy. He says that mindless violence and emotional outburst against the ‘enemy’ as seen across the world of Islam will take us nowhere. We require doing some critical thinking, reflection on our culture, attitude and strategy which is absolutely fatuous and self-defeating. And make amends in them before the toll becomes colossal.
He cites the examples of the Jews living and flourishing in adverse circumstances and says, ‘…They survived 2000 thousand years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking. They invented and successfully promoted socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.
‘It cannot be that there is no other way. (One thousand and three hundred million)… Muslims cannot be defeated … There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategise ...
‘We are actually very strong. (One thousand and three hundred million)…people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed six million Jews out of twelve million. But today the Jews rule this world ….
‘Angry people cannot think properly. And so we find some of our people reacting irrationally. They launch their own attack, killing just about anybody including fellow Muslims to vent their anger and frustration…Every attempt at a peaceful solution is sabotaged by more indiscriminate attacks calculated to anger the enemy and prevent any peaceful settlement. But the attacks solve nothing. The Muslims simply get more oppressed.
‘For well over a half century we have fought over Palestine. What we have achieved? Nothing. We are worse off than before. If we had paused to think then we could have devised a plan, a strategy that can win us final victory. Pausing and thinking calmly is not a waste of time. We have a need to make a strategic retreat and to calmly assess our situation…
Referring to the oppression of Prophet’s followers by Quraish tribe he asks, ‘Did he launch retaliatory strike? No. He was prepared to make strategic retreats …he was prepared to accept an unfair treaty against the wishes of his companions. During the peace that consolidated his strength and eventually he was able to enter Mecca and claim it for Islam. Even then he did not seek revenge.’
According to a tradition of Imam Muslim, when opponents intensified the prosecution of the believers, the Prophet’s companion advised him to curse them. At this the Prophet replied, ‘I have not been sent to lay a curse upon men but to be a blessing to them.’ According to another tradition, the Prophet once said, ‘A true believer is one with whom others feel secure. One who returns love for hatred.’
As it is, we will have to pause and think what really ails us. Whether it is the full-blown conspiracy of the West to subvert Islam or our own internal weakness which has come to stare us; whether it is the military offensive of the US against the Muslim countries or the inaptitude and blunders of our leaders and people that endanger the Muslims; whether it is the openness and libertarianism of the West or the illiteracy, poverty, aimlessness of our youths which is to be fought.
Mahathir in the latter part of his talk also identifies the problem with the Muslim world and the solution of those problems. He says, ‘The early Muslims produced great mathematicians and scientists, scholars, physicians and astronomers etc. and they excelled in all the fields of knowledge of their times, besides studying and practising their own religion of Islam. As a result the Muslims were able to develop and extract wealth from their lands and through their world trade, able to strengthen their defences, protect their people and give them the Islamic way of life, as prescribed by Islam.
‘At the time the Europeans of the Middle Ages were still superstitious and backward, the enlightened Muslims had already built a great Muslim civilisation, respected and powerful, more than able to compete with the rest of the world and able to protect the ummah from foreign aggression.
‘But halfway through the building of the great Islamic civilisation came new interpreters of Islam who taught that acquisition of knowledge by Muslims meant only the study of Islamic theology. The study of science, medicine etc. was discouraged.
‘Intellectually the Muslims began to regress. With intellectual regression the great Muslim civilisation began to falter and wither....’ We concentrated more on the superficial interpretation of the Quran, forgetting the substance of the Prophet’s sunnah and the Quran’s injunctions. And it is the same with the other teachings of Islam.
We, thus, became the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backwards, the most unhealthy, the most un-enlightened, the most deprived and weakest of all human race. The Islamic world slipped into an abyss of darkness.
Mahathir thus proposes a framework of action consisting of thinking and acquisition of knowledge for the Muslim world particularly the youths. Knowledge which he a stresses has a scope beyond the theological knowledge, something which today’s Muslim scholars have come to define as the only knowledge relevant for the Muslims.
In this context it is important to note that the contemporary body of human knowledge which many of us see as Western and alien is not the special possession of the Europe and the US. Muslims and others equally have a right over them. It is fact that much of this corpus of knowledge was built during Renaissance and thereafter in Europe and America, but this process of large scale knowledge building took off on the works done by the Arabs, the Indians and the Chinese. One small example for instance is the term algorithm which comes from the name of the 9th century Muslim mathematician and the term Algebra which derives from his Arabic mathematical treaties Al Jabar wa-al-Muqabilab.
In the above proposition lies the future of the Muslims. Power comes from knowledge, spirituality, and technology, we should not act as brainless buffoon. In the history of humankind those who did not stop learning and believing have prevailed. Those who acted foolishly perished. Not until we think and rediscover this we will continue to suffer hugely in terms of precious man and material resources. Is the Muslim youth listening?