Search For Religious Moderation
We don’t need a new Islam for the twenty-first century. We need the very same Islam that was revealed and presented more than fourteen centuries ago in the Arabian deserts. That was a moderate Islam. That indeed was the real Islam
It is fashionable these days to criticise religious extremism. But what exactly constitutes it is not clearly known nor is the alternative to it agreed upon either. It is important to have clarity on what constitutes religious extremism and what is meant by religious moderation, which is the expression generally used for the alternative religious understanding. Humans can’t live a life of contentment without a religion. That religion for most Pakistanis is Islam. We need to know what kind of Islam we have decided to believe in and live by.
What we call extremist version of Islam is referred to by some cynics as traditional Islam, conservative Islam, or sometimes even the real Islam. Many of us strongly disagree with the suggestion that traditional Islam is extremist. However, there are certain aspects of religiosity that do come within the ambit of extreme understanding of the faith. Considering non-Muslims unworthy of respect and friendship, carrying ill feelings against people belonging to other religious groups within Muslims, shunning all forms of music and pictures of living beings, observing strict segregation of sexes, men keeping a certain appearance clearly distinct from others, and women wearing face-covering are some of the forms extremism can take. Many educated men and women start observing these manifestations of religiosity as soon as they turn religious. Many others are kept away from religion because these symbols appear to them repelling.
Not long ago, “Enlightened Moderation” was a glossy expression that was coined to offer an alternative to the extremist version of Islam. No clear understanding of it was made known beyond the expression itself. The fact is that when it comes to the question of alternatives to extremism, only two appear prominently: Sufism and Liberal Islam.
God doesn’t condemn music, for it is one of His blessings; instead He condemns immorality spread across through it. He doesn’t proscribe pictures of living beings; instead, He prohibits only obscenity and polytheism promoted through them. He has not demanded segregation of sexes in homes and public spaces. He has most clearly allowed it but has demanded a code of decency to be observed while conducting oneself in situations of gender interaction
Many Muslims believe that Sufism represents the real Islam. There are two aspects of Sufism: one that has to do with its appearance and the other that deals with philosophical justifications for its distinct identity. While some aspects of its appearance indeed seem impressive manifestations of Islam, most part of the philosophical explanation of what Sufism stands for bring forth a picture which offers contours of a parallel religious understanding that has little to do with Islam. Every existence originating from the physical being of God, rejoining Him physically being the ultimate goal one should seek through religious devotion, saints getting divinely guided even now, joining a Sufi group to follow a code of conduct over and above the Sharia‘ah called Tariqat to achieve ultimate success and many other aspects of real Sufism give a picture of a religious understanding that is certainly not Islam.
Liberal Islam on the other hand seems to be an attempt at carefully sifting the aspects of Islam that are acceptable to the modern mind from those that are not. The criterion for deciding what to include and what to jettison from the description of religion is based strictly on what is acceptable to the modern society. The text of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) are at the mercy of some intelligent minds who act like plastic surgeons to remove the ‘unwanted’ parts of the faith on the one hand and carefully add some other ‘desirable’ ones on the other to present, like in case of Sufism, what is not a true representation of Islam.
What then is the true Islam? Extremism is popular among many Muslims because it has earned for itself the reputation of being the true representation of Islam. Even many of the non-practicing Muslims are often heard saying that the true Islam is the one practiced by the extremists. It is this very version of Islam which is often taught in madrassas and heard through the pulpits in mosques.
If any other interpretation of Islam is to reach the same level of approval among masses as the extremist Islam has, it will need to effectively interpret the Qur’an and Hadith in a manner that one could see that God and His messenger are indeed saying what the interpretation is claiming to be the message of Islam. Anything short of it will confine the view to a few admirers who will always remain a tiny minority as is the case with Sufism and Liberal Islam.
The truth is that if properly understood, Islam is indeed a religion of moderation. It criticises what is wrong, for it is a guidance from God, but teaches respect for all humans. Condemnation of some individuals in the Qur’anic text is referring to a group of people who had become incorrigible criminals. That condemnation most certainly cannot be generalised to all non-Muslims. God doesn’t condemn music, for it is one of His blessings; instead He condemns immorality spread across through it. He doesn’t proscribe pictures of living beings; instead, He prohibits only obscenity and polytheism promoted through them. He has not demanded segregation of sexes in homes and public spaces. He has most clearly allowed it but has demanded a code of decency to be observed while conducting oneself in situations of gender interaction.
What has been expressed above is not a mention of a wish list of what Islam should look like. It is a mention of the real Islam that emerges on carefully reading the Qur’an and Hadith. The misfortune is that many people believe the strict, extreme version of Islam to be its true representation. The challenge is to prove this false claim wrong. This challenge can only be met through academic research and dialogue. It can only be realised if people are encouraged to be open-minded.
Islam is indeed a religion of moderation. One doesn’t need to change its identity to make it appear as one. However, one will need to rediscover it for it to appear to be what it in reality is. We don’t need a new Islam for the twenty-first century. We need the very same Islam that was revealed and presented more than fourteen centuries ago in the Arabian deserts. That was a moderate Islam. That indeed was the real Islam.
“The article by Dr Khalid Zaheer was published at dailycapital.pk on 20-FEB-15.”