Disenchantment with Islam

Those who call themselves Muslims while simultaneously disowning political aspects of Islam are in a strange dilemma: they do not want to leave the fold of Islam and they do not want to fulfill its rights. Instead, they choose to talk around the matter and find a way out of their collective obligations as Muslims by finding scapegoats. By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

A very large number of Muslims now openly express disenchantment with Islam. This is a global phenomenon: one can witness it in Islamic Republic of Iran as well as its name sake republic called Pakistan just as easily as it is apparent in the geographical region where Islam first appeared on the world scene to the shocking bewilderment of the custodians of the two sanctified houses. These men and women are not angry young men of a bygone era; they are mature, responsible adults in their middle ages and beyond. Most of them are educated professionals, although a small minority comes from working classes.
This disenchantment with Islam is expressed in many ways but it mostly takes the form of expressing a strong disillusionment with “political Islam”. It targets the character of men and women who do politics in the name of Islam: the so-called Islamists of Turkey; bearded men of Pakistani politics, the “Ruhanis” of Iran—as the Islamists are called in Iran—and gilded, often fat, and always self-proclaimed kings, emirs, princes and princes of the Arab lands.
During a recent visit to Iran, I asked the professor in a famous university: would you despise and disown wealth because most rich people are corrupt? He looked at me in astonishment and when he grasped the meaning of my question, he explained that it while it is true that he cannot equate Islam with the character of mullas, yet, he cannot ignore the fact that he is being watched for his religious obligations. “If I do not go to the mosque for my noon prayers, because I am busy in the lab, it does not mean that I do not pray; I take time to pray in my office. But the point is: why are they watching me? Why do I not have the free choice to practice or not to practice?
“You do have the choice,” I said, “as far as religion is concerned; there is no obligation on anyone, because Islam is a matter of choice, there is no compulsion in religion,” I quoted verse 256 of Surat al-Baqra, but explained that it means that no one is forced to take Islam as religion, but anyone who proclaims the two testimonies of faith, comes under obligation of fulfilling the rights of religion, otherwise, he or she is either a hypocrite who has pronounced the two shahadas or is simply a sinning believer. This much he granted. Honesty demands that one fulfills the rights of one’s beliefs.
But those who call themselves Muslims while simultaneously disowning political aspects of Islam are in a strange dilemma: they do not want to leave the fold of Islam and they do not want to fulfill its rights. Instead, they choose to talk around the matter and find a way out of their collective obligations as Muslims by finding scapegoats.
While it is true that many mullas of Iran have become corrupt and most Pakistani politicians who have been politics in the name of religion since the early years of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are inefficient, corrupt, and have often served as stooges of the dictators, but how does it absolve the self-proclaimed liberals of their duties? Or do they not consider themselves part of the collective Ummah or do they not believe at all in the Qur’anic concept of Ummah of the believers?
Where do they stand in terms of their political beliefs and practices as Muslims? Why do they not show their commitment to a worldview based on political thought that stems from the Qur’an? Why do they, instead, seek refuge in some imaginary “liberalism” or “humanism” which does not exist anywhere?
The worst case is that of intellectuals who are Muslim by faith, but utterly lost in the wilderness when it comes to the foundation of their “liberal” beliefs. Recently, when I proposed a Union of Muslim States (The News, February 03, 2012), the knee-jerk reaction was to label it an attempt to “take its subscribers back into an imagined past where Muslims were strong, united, uncorrupted and followed Shariah law” rather than look at the political, economic, and social benefits of the proposal. There was not an iota of idealization in the proposed Union; no one ever said that there was an imagined past when Muslims were uncorrupted. Indeed, they were strong; even a freshman course in history will teach that Muslims held the balance of global power from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries. Not only that, they were the most advanced in science and technology, and it was their gilds, artisans, and poets who stood head and shoulders above any other collectivity.
But that is not the point. The weight of such a proposal against an imagined “humanism” is simply naïve; and then to side track by giving an example of “Christian Aid”, which supposedly works universally across the globe whereas “Islamic Relief” does not, shows a cloudy mind which is trying to escape from the thrust of the original proposal. First of all, the spectrum of work of “Christian Aid” and “Islamic Relief” has nothing to do with the proposed Union. Second, both organizations are working within certain material constraints and they have their own goals and agendas which are decided by the people who have established them. Furthermore, to claim that “a Muslim who has a claim to piety and religiosity will be charitable for Muslims alone” is to deny history: numerous documented facts about the wealthy Muslims of Baghdad, Cordoba, and Saville would easily dispel that erroneous claim.
But what is most puzzling in the argument is that the proposed Union of Muslim States was taken indicate that my approach was somehow “narrow” and I was urged to be “more inclusive and humane”. What does it mean to be more inclusive and humane in a world dominated by brute force? Have these liberals not seen the face of humanism in next door Afghanistan during the last eleven years?
Let it be said, once again and even at the cost of repeating oneself: a political philosophy based on the Qur’an does not mean politics of a Fazalur Rahman and to live in denial because Fazalur Rahman is a corrupt politician is childish absurdity. No one owns Islam and the current global realities demand that those who have proclaimed that there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger are all responsible for the collective state of the world’s 1.6 billion believers. If a sizeable number of them, and especially the educated, cannot come up with solutions based on their faith, there is no hope for a turnaround in their individual or collective lives.


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