Monday, August 06, 2007

Islam and its Discontents

What is jihad? What is the status of non-Muslims under Islamic leadership? Is Islam compatible with democracy? Is the world divided into two zones: belief and disbelief/non-belief, and if so, do Muslims have a holy mission to convert us? These are some of the serious questions that crop up in the minds of non-Muslims in the present political climate. The public is driven to form opinions based on the availability of popular discourse: that of an Al Qaeda spokesman holed up in a cave with the hottest technology or anti-Muslim commentators. There is seldom a middle ground, as reactionaries on both sides are gratified by the deception. Let me give you an example. In Islam, there is no concept of holy war. But several Muslims and non-Muslims will tell you otherwise. I was debating with an apparently sophisticated poster on a forum, and he countered by providing a link to an unheard of Muslim website that explicitly defined jihad as holy war. Fair enough. Better yet, why not establish that Islam is evil by lending your ears to some other outrageous Muslims like the merry men of the Taliban? It is not unusual, hence, to be charged by some non-Muslims “for sugar-coating Islam”, and by Muslims for being a Muslim apologist. Muhammad Asad fits the bill perfectly for earning the wrath of some Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and Bernard Lewis the fondness. Let’s think it over. There are some non-Muslim individuals who are aware that jihad doesn’t mean holy war. Nevertheless, the Muslim who tells them so is sugar-coating Islam and someone bending of knowledge and tradition is honest. A Muslim who tells you that Islam is here to conquer is a candid spokesman to the oft-discussed, however a first-rate myth, dangers of Islam, and a Muslim who tells you that Islam is a religion of submission to One God and peace is an idiot. Because, you see, conceited people…and I mean those who try to invalidate Islam by believing that Islam is evil anyhow i.e. those who make their personal belief and civilisation look superior, not by irrelative, unannounced intellectual jihad (struggle), but positioning the favourite fruits of their belief with those of the distorted teachings of another. Take up ‘race’. Since infancy, we have been fed the myths that white man is superior. This has not been achieved by science, assumed staple of the European Enlightenment, but a reductionist and colonial exposition. Indeed, even science as religion claims that all of us are equal, that the Palestinian/Iraqi victim of American/Israeli state terrorism is as worthy a victim as a New Yorker or a Tel Aviv club-hopper.

What is my point exactly? I think we have an immediate need to question the contemporary discourse of Islam both among Muslims and non-Muslims. Fourteen centuries ago, God said in His speech, the Qur’an, to come to “common terms”. This doesn’t mean twisting the verses in religious texts out of context like it is the habit of armchair bombers who are hostile to Islam, often parading as sophisticated enlightened free spirits. You might say “liberal”. And nor like an Al Qaeda terrorist who wants to kill innocents, not because he understands the message in the Qur’an, which he clearly doesn’t as mainstream Muslim scholars have affirmed in their writings, but that he believes there is no hope. Of course, this may also lead us to question words like “civilisation”, “democracy” and “liberty” which are callously tossed about by terrorists, apartheid appeasers and stooges of Western triumphalism we never read or hear about.

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