Thursday, August 09, 2007

All religions carry a huge baggage of customs that are social rather than spiritual

Revisionists Hijack Islam Murad Ali Baig times of india LEADER ARTICLE: 9 Aug 2007
The glorification of violence is not only fostered by popular action films but is also endorsed by many religious traditions. Revenge is one of the most popular justifications for all the arson, torture, murder and mayhem that plague our world today. The slaughter of Sikhs after 1984, or Muslims after the Mumbai bomb blasts or in Gujarat after the torching of the Godhra train and even the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq were all justified by the idea of revenge. Evil is never committed with such enthusiasm as when it is done out of revenge and especially if it is done in the name of religion.
All religions preach the faith of their founders but they also carry a huge baggage of customs that are social rather than spiritual. Easter and Christmas were never part of the teachings of Christ while Eid and Ramzan were ancient Arab customs that long predated the advent of Islam. Revenge was also an old Arab custom that has unfortunately become a part of the Muslim tradition worldwide. Revenge had been a necessary survival custom in the precarious times when small tribes of Arab Bedouins had to protect themselves from bigger or more powerful tribes.
Life in the desert was always very tenuous and there was fierce competition over the scarce sources of food or water. Individuals could not survive except with the protection of the bonds of blood within their tribes and through alliances with other tribes. This was expressed in the Arab ideology of muruwah that not only meant manliness, pride and courage but endurance in suffering, protection of the weak, avenging each and every injustice and boldly defying stronger enemies regardless of consequences. This philosophy also glorified the most generous hospitality to friends and equally intense hatred for enemies.
Oppressors had to therefore be very careful for this well-established tribal code made it certain that any injustice would be avenged at some future date. Regardless of power and position no one could ever be absolutely safe from attack, had to tolerate lesser tribes and be very careful not to incite any serious animosity. The American cowboy glorification of revenge arose out of similar compulsions. Paradoxically we today see America's cowboy spirit pitted against the muruwah spirit of the Muslim world that views America as an oppressor.
This revenge philosophy has plagued Islam from its earliest days. The early khalifs, Umar and Uthman, as well as the Prophet's own son-in-law Ali were all assassinated. The predominantly Bedouin Kharajite faction, who were unhappy that Ali had not avenged the assassination of Uthman, mainly caused the split into Sunni and Shia sects that was to result in so much bloodshed. The Kharajites had a very narrow and extremist view of the words of the Prophet. Their successors, especially the Wahhabis, from the late 18th century were to gain great importance when the Al Saud family captured Medina and Mecca in 1924 and then used the power of oil riches in 1938 to export their extreme brand of Islam. This was later to become an intrinsic part of Taliban thinking.
Actually, many Wahhabi ideas were a heresy to the words and actions of the Prophet whose conquest of Mecca had been achieved without shedding a drop of blood through a year-long, almost Gandhian, campaign of patience and moral principles. Muhammad preached peace, except in times of actual combat, and the very word Islam means absolute submission to the will of a merciful god.
The word jehad is rarely found in the Qur'an but is referred to 199 times in the Hadith that was written two centuries after the death of the Prophet. The Wahhabis interpreted jehad to mean a holy war even though it had actually meant a striving and Mujahideen was no holy warrior but only one who strives. For Muhammad there were two jehads and the greater one meant a struggle against one's own weakness while a lesser jehad was to fight against injustice. But there were strict rules and an authority of widely accepted repute could only declare jehad.
The Qur'an clearly says that killing in the name of Islam was the opposite of jehad and had expressly forbidden an attack on anyone who had offered no offence. It was forbidden to harm or to kill women and children. It was also forbidden to take hostages or to torture or kill prisoners. Even suicide was forbidden. There was no need for such a philosophy of revenge in more affluent pastoral or urban communities and was thus unknown in the philosophies of China, India, Europe or in many other societies. In fact, mature cultures understood that accommodation was much preferable to violence. This was so well enunciated in Buddhism that preached that hatred could never be appeased by hatred but only by love.
Muslim clerics must understand that the philosophy of revenge has made Islamic communities viewed with suspicion in almost all countries. They should go back to the words of their Prophet instead of following the words of the revisionists who have hijacked the faith. The muruwah spirit will ensure that Islamic terrorism will not surrender to brute military force. But it can be eroded when terrorists begin to believe that, far from serving their religion, they are disobeying the words of their Prophet and will go to hell instead of the promised paradise. The writer has authored books on religion.

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