approach to Islam
Then what do we mean by intellectual approach to Islam? Is such an approach desirable? Before answering this question one has to properly define religion itself. What does one mean by religion? What areas does it embrace? It is often claimed by followers of different religions that it is a way of life which means it embraces all areas of life. No area of life can be excluded. If it is so religion does qualify for intellectual approach in several areas of life. What we generally mean by religion is quite comprehensive. It includes as it is known in Islamic terminology 'ibadat and mu'amalat. But what common people mean is even more comprehensive.
It includes for them all customs, traditions and even superstitious beliefs. All that they have inherited from their forefathers is included in religious beliefs and then one acts according to these beliefs. Any opposition to these beliefs is condemned as unpardonable heresy. Often even primitive knowledge about the universe became part of these religious beliefs. Thus both in Christian and Islamic tradition entire Ptolemaic astronomy and Aristotelian observations about the universe became part of religious traditions. In many Islamic institutions of higher education even today Ptolemaic astrology is taught and Aristotelian beliefs are considered part of Islamic teachings. The Christian world has, by and large, changed its outlook in these matters. Islamic institutions and the 'ulama have not.
Thus, if religion
is so defined, and made all inclusive, there is great need for intellectual
approach to religion else we will become only a backward superstitious
community. There is another difficulty here.
It does not mean
there are no superstitious beliefs at the level of those who are better
off in terms of income and education. Often one finds even rich and educated
believing in superstitions. Superstitions at such levels are borne out
of insecurity, tensions due to irresolvable problems or incurable diseases;
not for want of intellectual incapabilities or lack of proper understanding.
Such people often expect miracles - miraculous cure, miraculous solution
for their problems, and miraculous way of becoming rich.
If our behaviour
is value-based there would be no need for miracles and for superstitious
behaviour. The whole problem is our behaviour is not value-oriented, it
is interest-oriented. We act not according to the values of our revealed
scriptures, but to promote our personal interests. It is for this reason
that we behave unjustly, greedily, maliciously, exploitatively, egoistically
to promote our interests and in turn create conflict, bloodshed, murders
and wars. The rulers wage wars for territorial ambitions and then pray
for victory to the Almighty and expect miracles. And by sheer might of
physical force if he or she wins the war it is projected as miracle and
The specificity, we
should not remember, is not superiority. Much of irrational fights between
religions can end if we accept specificities of 'ibadat for every religion
and emphasise, as the Qur'an does, the ethical aspects of individual and
collective behaviour. Also, it must be borne in mind that 'ibadat is a
way of creating relationship between human being and her/his creator.
Through this relationship one orders ones metaphysical aspects of life
or builds theories of other worldly life. One also gives meaning to ones
existence through spiritual relationship. One cannot lead meaningless
life. One must give meaning to ones life through some or the other spiritual
system. One thus enriches ones life through metaphysical relation with
ones creator. Such an exercise of imparting meaning to ones life cannot
be irrational though it may be beyond limitations of ones reason or comprehension.
The role of intellect is very important as far as mu'amalat is concerned
i.e., the human interactions in social matters of this world.
Throughout human history justice was defined by the powerful. Might was considered as always right. But according to the Qur'an, any relationship based on exploitation of one by the other is unjust, unethical and punishable in this world by worldly laws and by Allah in the world hereafter. Thus the Qur'anic concept of non-exploitative relationship between human beings is an important contribution to human ethics and in the sphere of mu'amalat. This is, it must be admitted, very rational approach to morality and ethics. "Might is right" approach is most irrational and though prevalent even today where intellect is considered most developed, must be totally rejected. The Western world where reason is supposedly prevalent in relatively much more than in 'backward' countries of Asia and Africa, justice is often decided through use of might. The inter-human relationship is far from being non-exploitative.
The West dominates
the world because of its might. Science has not been used rationally to
promote common good but to monopolise resources for a few and hence there
is so much conflict and violence in the world today. Today with all human
intellectual development it is not difficult to understand that what is
just is rational and only what is rational can bring stability on earth.
Even the most advanced countries on our planet experience great turmoil
because their system is exploitative and not just and what is unjust cannot
be stable and hence that system is not rational despite its breath taking
progress in science and technology. Science and technology is means to
an end, not an end in itself. It is important to note that intellect is
a tool and tool must be used in keeping with certain values to make it
a boon for entire humanity.
One of Allah's names
is Hakim (wise) and if wisdom is exercised there will be no suffering
on earth. The power of intellect will be used for doing away with human
suffering and never for intensifying it. Unfortunately today power of
human intellect is being used more for increasing human suffering than
minimising it. Violence has been with us throughout human history and
it is one of the greatest causes of human suffering in the world. With
inventions of science and technology the power to perpetuate violence
has increased beyond human imagination and this power is utilised by the
most powerful nations to subjugate others or dominate others and to exploit
the weak. The retaliatory violence on the part of the weak also tends
to be horrific claiming innocent lives in the name of justice. Since the
weak cannot match the power possessed by the powerful it adds another
dreadful weapon - religious rhetoric to its armoury. 'Jihad' is such a
religious rhetoric being employed in the Islamic world.
It brings even more disaster and invites self-destruction as it happened in Afghanistan after attack on World Trade Centre, in New York. One must reflect seriously whether violence will pay to the weak. Violence, it should be obvious on little reflection ultimately benefits the powerful who possess much greater capacity to retaliate. Should one be then permanently subjugated or dominated? Certainly not. The world is increasingly accepting democratic values, human dignity and just governance. It still appears to be an empty rhetoric. But it is acquiring increasing urgency in the modern world. What is needed is ever greater efforts to disseminate these values through modern means of communication. This 'weaponry' of democratic values is far more powerful for the oppressed than arms. However, and it is important to note, before flinging these values i.e., democratic values, human dignity and just governance before the international powers, one has to struggle hard to apply them at home. Today in the entire Islamic world these values have no meaning. In the first place there is no democracy in these countries.
The very discourse
of human dignity and human rights is rejected as 'western' while the rulers
of these countries ironically depend for their very existence on the western
powers whose values they reject so contemptuously. Thus it is quite a
challenging job to struggle for political acceptance of these values of
democratic governance at home. It is then alone that these Islamic countries
will be able to confront the western dominating powers for a dignified
and meaningful relationship with these powerful countries. Today the dictatorial
governments of Islamic countries dependent for their existence on western
powers cannot build any such relations with western countries. Also, there
being no democratic freedom in these countries, a section of the youth
uses violence against dominating countries in sheer frustration. And this
violence, as pointed out before, proves more disastrous and also brings
bad name to Islam. If one tenth of energy is spent on struggle for democratic
governance by launching peaceful agitation it will be far more fruitful.
The Qur'an clearly
says "..whoever kills a person, unless it be for manslaughter or
for mischief in the land, it is as though he had killed a whole humanity.
And whoever saves a life, it is as though one has saved entire humanity.."
(5:32) Thus it will be seen that saving a life is as if one has saved
entire humanity but suicide bombing instead of saving a life takes so
many innocent lives who are neither responsible for manslaughter nor for
mischief in the land. Suicide bombing is, thus, clear violation of the
Qur'anic injunction. Suicide bombing not only kills the person himself
which is certainly suicide, and not permissible, but also so many others,
even a greater sin. Compassion for innocent lives is the greatest virtue.
Even in jihad one is not permitted to kill women, children and old men
whereas suicide bombing kills all without any distinction. How can it
be justified? Also, it is no way to humiliate the Israeli Government,
which is real culprit. There is no better way of shaming an oppressor
than invoking justice and compassion.
One who takes cynical
view can still insist that 'human rights discourse' is meant for weak
and the powerful understand only the language of violence but it is not
a wise view. If non-violence and discourse of peace is intensely and repeatedly
applied it is bound to produce result and it has been tried by many. A
real intellectual approach would reduce bloodshed in the world. A man
of religion, a true Muslim, should be full of compassion as he/she worships
Allah who is compassionate and merciful. Religion is nothing if not source
of values and a religious person will be inspired by these values. Unfortunately
religion is also hijacked by the powerful vested interests and rituals
which occupy the centre stage, rather than values. Also, religion has
become a source of submission to (unjust) authorities rather than a powerful
resource for dissent from it. An intellectual approach will inspire us
to be critical of unjust authorities and for submission to justice and
compassion. A religious person will negate all that is unjust and will
carry on jihad against unjust social structures. Compassion for life,
to all forms of life, is real submission to its creator. Any person who
destroys life cannot be real worshipper of the creator of this world.
Negation of all forms of oppression through sustained peaceful struggle
is real iman (faith) and a passionate commitment to justice and peace
is real submission to Allah. It is both intellectual and compassionate
approach. Not the love of tradition but tradition of love is the way out
for suffering humanity. Human intellect and love of humanity and human
dignity will redeem humanity