MORE often than not, when one hears the word ‘fundamentalism’, the mind somehow always relates to its Islamic connotation, for such extremism by other religions is always mentioned with proper prefix, like ‘Hindu’, ‘Christian’, ‘Jew’ and so on.
But without a prefix, ‘fundamentalism’ on its own has become synonymous with its Islamic variety alone. That is a sad reflection of the state of affairs, but, despite all the external machinations — presumed or otherwise — the enemy lies within, not outside.
The books in hand, both written by Dr Syed Hussain Mohammad Jafri, try to bring home this very point — and several more, of course — in a subtle and scholarly way, which has made it relevant in the modern context of which interfaith and intercultural understanding is a key component.
The Political and Moral Vision of Islam is actually aimed at a foreign audience in an effort to address ‘a sort of Islamophobia’ that has gripped the West in the wake of the 9/11 happenings.
With the help of the media, says the author, ‘Islam has been denied its divine origin and spiritual character and has been described as a militant, violent, reactionary, fundamentalist, extremist and even a terrorist religion.’
Taking the argument further, he stresses that for those in the West who wish to have a better understanding of the religion, there is not enough material available in their own languages on the discourses and interpretations given to divine and prophetic tenets by the closest disciples of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Studies related to the Quran and the life of the Prophet, according to the book, are not enough to have a proper understanding of the religion for both the believers and the non-believers alike.
‘Interpretations and explanations of the early exponents of a religious tradition are very important in that they confirm, authenticate and validate the concepts, beliefs, teachings and practices of the religion for generations to follow,’ it says.
Having set the scene thus, the author has used the life and sayings of Hazrat Ali (RA) — mostly quoted from the famed Nahj al-Balagha — to establish his argument that in setting up the first Muslim political state in Madina, theocracy was never the aim or intention of the Prophet.
Though the book suffers from single-source limitations, it does sketch out the contours of Islamic political history without being verbose. That is some achievement, indeed.
In the second book, which is in Urdu and, as such, targeted towards the local audience, the author has rightly stressed the need for introspection in the Muslim world.
From Imam Ghazali and Shah Waliullah right down to Sir Syed and Allama Iqbal, the author has discussed various efforts made by individuals at various stage of history to emphasise the point in their own individual manner.
Backwardness of Muslim societies is the focal point of the discourse. ‘The world is living in the 21st century and planning for the 25th, while Muslims are still living in the 17th century in terms of scientific and sociological knowledge.
‘Why? Muslims respect the institutions that were set up in the 17th century, but can they be put in place in their original form in the 21st century? Is the form of institutions more important than the global, eternal, moral and humanistic principles on the basis of which these institutions were formed in the first place?’
To any thinking mind, these are relevant questions.
While condemning the West, Muslims tend to forget their own follies as a result of which they stand today where they do in the overall scheme of things. While we take much pride in how great our ancestors were, and how the West learnt its initial steps towards enlightenment from them, no one bothers to spend a moment wondering what made the Muslims themselves give up the tradition of learning and exploring that was once an integral part of the Islamic world.
If anything, we should feel remorse and not elation while talking of what we were, and are no more. In contrast, the West not only acquired but also sustained the true spirit of learning, which is not aimed just at making a living out of that knowledge. There is no harm giving credit when and where it is due.
Book: The Political and Moral Vision of Islam, By S.H.M. Jafri , Tehrik-i-Tarsil-i-Qur’an Inc., New York, ISBN 978-1-879402-25-6, 125pp. $14.95
Asr-i-Hazir Mein Fikr-i-Islami Ki Tashkeel-i-Jadeed Ka Mas’ala, By S.H.M. Jafri
Idara-i-Saqafat-i-Islamia, Lahore, 46pp. Rs100
Politicl and Moral Vision of Islam: http://wp.me/pCgrB-h6