Monday, 2 May 2011

Reclaiming Islam : Part 1 (State, Ummah, Democracy)

After 9/11, a number of American Muslims began to reclaim the core values of Islam. One vehicle for this was a book entitled “Taking Back Islam - American Muslims Reclaim their Faith (Ed: Michael Wolfe, Pub:Rodale) which contains essays from a number of prominent American Muslims, as well as non-Muslims working in faith related fields.
This post touches very briefly on some of the topics discussed in the book, in the hope that this will provide some food for thought. And in keeping with the theme of this blog, some emails sent by BFTF as a results of the comments in the book are also listed:

Reclaiming Islam : Part 1 (The Muslim State and the Muslim Ummah, Democracy)
Reclaiming Islam : Part 2 (Women and Islam)
Reclaiming Islam : Part 3 (“Critical Friend” Emails)

The Muslim State and the Muslim Ummah
Farid Esack (a Pakistan trained scolar) points out that the Muslim community has only two paradigms to work by - that of a community under oppression in Mecca, and that of a community in control in Medina. It does not have a paradigm for co-existing with people in equality. Farid suggests that exactly such a paradigm can be found in the way in which a group of emigrant Muslims lived peacefully under the rule of the King of Abyssinia during the time Muhammed (PBUH).

He is also aware of the sense of resentment against the global economic system that exists within much of the Islamic World. This resentment is present elsewhere in the third world. Farid points out that, “on 9/11, people in many black townships in South Africa were rejoicing, as were some in Latin America. But the news value of this rejoicing was only extended to reactions in the Middle East”

Having said that, he goes on to explain that, for many Muslims, there is an extra resentment because they are unable to reconcile their glorified past with their current reality, and that this results in a “pretty messed-up psyche”

Dr Khalid Abou El Fadl(Lecturer in Islamic Law at the University of California) comments that “the real challenge that confronts Muslim intellectuals is that political interests have come to dominate the public discourse, and to a large extent, moral discourses have become marginalised in modern Islam”. This in turn, results in Islamic groups that work from a viewpoint that “is akin to a perpetual state of emergency where expediency trumps principle and illegitimate means are consistently justified by invoking higher ends. What prevails is a siege mentality that suspends the moral principle of the religion in pursuit of political power.”

Esack feels that this kind of mindset is driven by fears and insecurities and that to engage with it you need to address these fears.

Taha Jabir Alalwan (Al-Azhar trained scholar, now head of the Fiqh Council of North America) comments that “In all of my studies, I never felt that Islam was too concerned about building a state. Islam, from the beginning, was working to build an ummah, and there is a big difference between building an ummah and building a state. . . God created us and gave us certain values. He told us (that) the details of how to build your political or your economic system are up to you”

Alawan also points out that “In our religion, we have many obligations to the community. You must have hospitals, doctors, engineers. . . Muslims think, by mistake, that if you pay to build a mosque, you will get more reward than from Allah than is you pay to build a hospital. . . .This is a misguided and distorted understanding of Islam.”

Development of Democracy
Karen Armstrong (former Catholic Nun and writer of a number of book on religion) points out that the democracy we know in the West today emerged only gradually over a period of some three hundred years and that during this time there was religious extremism, worker exploitation and destruction of the countryside. Society found that it needed to provide a basic level of education for everyone in order to function efficiently, and these newly educated people began to demand a share of the decision making process.

Whereas the West has had hundreds of years to undertake this huge change, the developing world is having to make this change in the space of a few generations.

Regarding the problem that some Muslims have with ruling by the majority (i.e. democracy), Alawan says “If there is any protection from Allah, it is for the majority not the minority. Prophet Muhammed(PBUH) said “My Ummah will never agree on wrongdoing”. There are about 18 hadiths like this. . .Thats why the concept of ijma (consensus) should be revived to move away from the individual and minority rule”

Of course, the West has not been as keen on democracy in other countries as it has been at home. Karen Armstrong reminds the reader that in 1900s Iran the Ulema demanded representative government and got it in the shape of the “majlis” parliament. But this was shut down first by the Shah (with Russian help), then the British rigged elections to get the result they wanted, then, in 1953, the US and UK restored the Shah to throne -and he set about closing the majlis and denying the population their human rights.

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